Golfyssey 03 – Intellivision

Oh my god, did I want an Intellivision when I was a kid.  I was quite young when the system was in its prime, but the TV advertisements were everywhere.  One of the slogans they used was “the closest thing to the real thing”.  Well, that was certainly true when you’re only comparing it to the other home consoles available in 1979.

Still, the Intellivision had more power than many people realize.  And the game programmers were far more talented than most people gave them credit for.  I came to know this when I got into classic game emulation back in the early 2000s.  Check out the story of the Blue Sky Rangers on the Intellivision Lives website.  To think about what they could cram onto a 2KB cartridge (yes, 2 kilobytes) is mind-blowing in this day of games that ship out spanning 50 GB Blu-Ray discs.

Back in 1979, the Intellivision had a golf game released for it that was already miles ahead of its competitors.

intellivision_pga_golf_box

And it looks to me like it was the first Major League branded golf video game in existence.  “PGA Golf” takes a full top-down view and also displays some key data about what’s going on as you play.

PGA Golf

You can also see that the system has much better graphics than the Atari and the Odyssey².  It’s easy to tell what’s sand and what’s water, and where you ought to be driving and putting your ball, isn’t it?

Do you see that green square that contains the little dot with the longer bar over it?  That represents your ball and the golfer.  It took me a while to get how this game works, but here’s how you play it.  First of all, you need to be aware of what the original Intellivision controller looked like and how it operated.

IntellivisionController

There are “action” buttons on the side, a keypad and a direction pad on the face.  Some people loved it, and some hated it.  It kind of sucks that they released such a weird design that hardly anybody else would copy because it makes playing some Intellivision games via emulation rather difficult.  But PGA golf is possible.

To make a shot, you need to align your golfer (the long bar) on the left side of the ball (the dot) so that he is aimed to swing toward the hole – or where you want the ball to land.  You must rotate the direction pad to do this, and that can be kind of tricky.  I have a standard Logitech USB gamepad (which I highly recommend for emulation because of its key-mapping software by  the way) and I have the direction pad and some buttons and keys mapped to gamepad controls accordingly.

Logitech44410

After some practice, you’ll get a feel for it.  The actual swing part needs the original controller, sadly.  But fret not, for if you have the right emulator, you can map these to the number keys (or number pad) in your keyboard.

And the numbers 1 through 9 choose clubs.  Pressing an action button swings the club.  It’s that simple.

So evidently this golf game is leaps and bounds ahead of what the Atari and Oddysey² had, yet it came out in 1979.  Atari, I am disappoint.  ಠ_ಠ

This game is plenty good, but the Intellivision has an even better golf game that was released near the end of its life.

Chip_Shot-_Super_Pro_Golf_-_1987_-_INTV

Out of all the golf games I have ever played for any system, this is my second favourite.  And it runs on hardware that came out in the 1970s!

“Chip Shot Super Pro Golf” came out in 1987, a time when not many people were buying anything remotely related to the Intellivision any more.  This was Nintendo’s year, and video games were Nintendo’s domain.  Back then, the word Nintendo meant video game.  After the video game crash of 1983, a lot of very smart people who knew what they were doing had written off video games as a fad whose time had past.  Atari, Intellivision, ColecoVision – these names were all mud.

So the story of how a game for a nearly dead console came to be released in 1987 is the story of dedicated former Intellivision employees who knew they could still make great games because they knew their hardware could still handle it.  They formed a company called INTV and sold remaining Intellivision consoles, cartridges, supplies and new games through mail order.  They kept things going until 1991.

So by 1987 – and this has parallels with “My Golf” for the Atari – many golf games had come and gone.  Game makers and players had seen what works and what doesn’t.   And this is why I consider “Chip Shot Super Pro Golf” to be one of the best golf games you can play on any system.

Chip Shot Super Pro Golf 1

Looks are deceiving.  This might look only a few notches up in gameplay from “PGA Golf”, but allow me to explain what you see on the screen.  Of course you see the hole, top down view.  This is a more artistic rendering which is still blocky, but it’s at the limits of what the machine can do.  Note the wind speed and direction near the bottom right.  The hole is easy to identify, so is the water, and so are the sand traps.  The ball is over on the left side of the screen, and that little “” to the right is an aiming cross.  It can be rotated by moving the direction pad left to right.  Up and down switches clubs.

The black rectangle that contains the image of the golfer also contains information about the distance to the whole, which club you’re using, the par for this hole, which hole you’re on and how many shots you’ve made.  The golfer is also fully animated.  The power meter he stands on uses the kinds of physics present in most golf games.  If you give a swing too much power, you wreck your shot.  Not enough, and it won’t fly the right distance.  If you stop the swing too short you will hook the shot, and if you stop too late you will slice it.

The physics present are also very realistic, and I’m impressed every time I play to think that this is an Intellivision game.  Here is a shot of the putting green:

Chip Shot Super Pro Golf 2

As you can see, the view has zoomed in now.  I am using the putter and I have 9 feet to the hole.  Those arrow-like brackets on the green denote the slope of the green, and you must consider those both when aiming and when putting.  If you don’t, your ball will roll down hill and this might take your ball further away from the hole or not close enough, depending on how they slope.

The golfer on the screen is fully animated too, and he even falls to his knees in joy if he makes a particularly difficult shot or a hole in one.  And there are even digitized crowd noises thanks to the Intellivision’s primitive sound chips.  The ball also sounds like it’s falling through actual trees if it hits one of those chunky pixelated trees and falls to the ground.  The only complaint I can make about this game is that the crowd still goes wild even if it’s your 21st swing to finally get the damn ball in the hole.  Kind of weird, but for all the other spots this game hits so right, it’s a minor issue.

There are five complete 18-hole courses that come with a game, and you can choose to play all 18 holes or the front or back 9 of each.  There’s even a course designer where you can design your course and practice levels (Driving Range, Putting Green and Pro Shop).

And this is on a console that came out in 1979!

If you have even a remote fondness for playing video game golf, I strongly urge you to google “Chip Shot Super Pro Golf” and download it.  I recommend using the excellent Nostalgia emulator to get it up and running.  There is only one golf game that I like better than this one, but when I feel like basking in the glory of 70s tech and blocky 16 colour glory, no other game will do.