Atari 2600

Review by Ben Valdes



Graphics: 5

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

The best thing about going to a classic video game show is getting a first look at the latest crop of new homebrew games. Picking up Joe Grand's SCSIcide at this year's CGE was a thrill for me, but getting the chance to speak to Joe about his game made it an honor. I was impressed to learn that he developed the entire game from scratch (his first!), wrote the code, assembled the cartridges, designed the label and the manual, and tested and debugged everything in just under 9 months! He demo'ed his game for me, and I knew at once I was going to buy it. The game reminded me of Kaboom! And Fast Food, yet it is different enough from either game that it stands on its own as a true original. The premise of the game is unlike anything ever written for the Atari 2600, and it's absolutely hilarious.

I asked Joe about how big his game was. He had this to say:

"The game code actually fits in a 2K ROM, but I couldn't find enough ROMs of that size for a low enough price. So I recompiled the game and burned it into 4K ROMs for the run of 50 I made for this show."

I was stunned. The game that was an absolute blast to play, and it fit into just 2K?! It came packaged with a slick-looking, full color label and game manual, and he was only asking $20 for it. All at once, I bought a rare collectible, a piece of art, a truly great game and a lasting tribute to 2600 coding genius, crafted by the hands of the author himself. In all my years of collecting, I have never been more grateful to pay full price for a video game. Never.

SCSIcide, as its name suggests, is nerdiness to the core. You are a disk drive read head, and your mission is to read the color-coded bits of data as they scream past you on 10 separate data tracks. As each bit is read, your read head changes color to indicate which random bit you must read next. Read all of the bits in the required order and you advance to the next platter (level). If you take too long, your latency buffer times out, your disk crashes and the game ends. Your score is displayed at the top of the screen, of course, in hexadecimal notation.

Can a game this nerdy actually be any fun? You bet it is! Despite the game's techno-nerd back-story, it is really quite simple to play. Even my 3 year-old daughter enjoys playing it! In her mind, the game is more like "Move your basket to gather the colored Easter Eggs before time runs out." My 8 year-old son thinks he's flying a helicopter, lifting disabled cars from the lanes of a fast-moving freeway before traffic stalls. To a mature imagination like mine, the game may even be thought of as "Position your drive head to read the streaming bits in the color-coded order before your latency buffer times out." Don't let the name or the story fool you -- SCSIcide is all about game play.

SCSIcide starts you out slowly, as any good game should, and play accelerates as the game progresses. The first couple of levels are primarily there to give you a feel for positioning your drive head with the paddle controller. The drive head moves up and down to any vertical position, but its horizontal position is fixed throughout the game near the right edge of the screen. Now is your chance to snicker at the crude game graphics. Your drive head looks a lot like a boat anchor. The bits are colorful tiddly-winks scrolling past you in straight lines from left to right. You have plenty of time to position your drive head over the matching disc as it drifts lazily by. Click the paddle controller button when you've lined it up, and the bit is read. This is so easy! It's like shooting ducks in a barrel.

By about the fifth level, the boat anchor and the tiddly-winks have faded from consciousness. Things are moving fast now. Your eyes have narrowed and your grin has hardened into a scowl of concentration. If you take time to look at the scenery, time is already up. Your hard drive has crashed. Game Over. But if you managed to get this far, it's too late to simply shut off the console and walk away. The game is already in your blood. It beckons you to play again. Like a freshly opened bag of potato chips, nobody can eat just one.

This game is so simple. There's only a single game screen to it. SCSIcide's addictive game play is what has forced you to come this far. Level 10 comes and goes in a flash. Your heartbeat is pounding, your jaw is clenched, your eyes have forgotten how to blink. You're having so much fun you begin to wonder if the government might find out and outlaw it. Better play on.

The shape of the bits is totally irrelevant now. You're at level 15, and they are screaming by you so fast that all you can see are the blur trails left behind in your peripheral vision. Your consciousness fuses so completely with the game that you can't even feel the controller in your own hands. The universe blackens all around you, condensing into the four fundamental elements: data bits, drive head, bulging eyes and reflexes. The Kaboom! masters will tell you that this is what it's like when you fall into The Zone. You are no longer playing the game so much as you are living it. You're catching a rainstorm of speeding bullets, but you can't spare even a microsecond to begin to imagine how. Pressing the Reset button after each game ends has become so automatic that you'd swear it was the software that was doing it.

A half hour later you look up at the clock. It drifts horizontally across the wall for a few seconds before your eyes can get a read on it. It's 12:55. You're halfway through converting that figure from hexadecimal before it dawns on you that it's long past midnight, and you're forced to call it a night. As you stagger off to bed, don't go grumbling about the four hours that were sucked from your life by an insidiously addictive video game. The game did not kill your evening. You've just committed SCSIcide!


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:31 PM