So I was flying internationally and there was an onboard duty-free shop. Since I wouldn’t be doing much with this blog during my absence, I just knew I just had to buy this thing and write it up when I returned: Travel Game 1997 In 1 from Premier Portfolio.
The feature list is a tad sparse. To wit:
- 1997 in 1
- Folding design
- Sound on/off button
- Batteries included
- 12 month int. guarantee
Understandably, you might be a wee bit suspicious of the claim that this wondrous little device actually contains one thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven unique games. My first guess was that it had one game and 1997 different levels for that one game. At best, I figured that it would have several different games and hundreds of levels for each.
This latter assumption turns out to be correct. There are, in fact, 14 unique games listed on the tri-lingual instruction manual– err, instruction scrap-of-paper. Several of them, however, are the same concept repeated over and over again.
On a technical level, the game screen has a tall rectangle drawn around the left 3/4. This is the area that contains 200 individually-addressed picture elements arranged in a 10×20 grid. The right quarter has a few other hardwired elements such as the score. There is a speaker that sounds like one synthesized channel which can still produce a useful array of sound effects. The controls allow you to select among the 14 games, play them, force a hard reset to select a new game, and toggle the sound. Further, when starting the system, “MIRADA” scrolls across the screen. Developer, perhaps? I didn’t have time to disassemble the unit to learn more, though the screws are straightforward enough.
Among the 14 games, 3 of them are racing games– “Car Racing”, “2-line Car Racing”, and “3-line Car Racing”. The 3-line car racing game is depicted below (it’s notoriously difficult to obtain quality screenshots on this system):
The mechanics of all 3 games are the same. You can move to the left or right or speed up (since the car moves pretty slow by default). The car racing game just has the player maneuvering on a narrow race track. The 2- and 3-line car racing games have cars in 2 or 3 lanes that you must dodge.
There is a “Tank Fighting” game where you navigate your tank around the field and shoot other tanks will avoiding obstacles. The tanks each occupy 3×3 grid blocks so it’s a pretty crowded game.
A game called “Shooting” simply has a bunch of blocks gradually but relentlessly descending. Shoot them before they reach you.
There is “Single Pinball” and “Double Pinball”. They are both Breakout/Arkanoid-type games. They also strike me as somewhat flawed. It can probably be proven mathematically given the constraints of the system, but I was able to show empirically that it was easy to get the game into a state where the ball followed the same pattern and could not clear a screen until you let the ball drop. The double pinball game differs from the single variant in that there is a paddle at the top of the screen that you are controlling simultaneously with the one on the bottom. I.e., there is no hard border at the top.
I assumed that the game “Shooting Space” would be a Space Invaders clone. In fact, I have never seen anything quite like it. One row of random blocks descends one level, followed slowly by another. You have to shoot more blocks upwards in order to complete lines and keep the blocks from reaching the lower level. It’s sort of like an inverted Tetris.
Speaking of Tetris, this type of hardware lends itself quite naturally to a Tetris-type game. However, it is simply called “Block Game” in this incarnation. This is what it looks like:
So I can understand why they would shy away from using the name Tetris. But that doesn’t square with the fact that they openly call their Galaxian clone “Galaxian”.
“Cross The Fire Line” is a Frogger clone when it comes right down to it while “Dragon Pearl” is a variation of the common Nibbles theme.
The unit also has a game called “Crazy Ball” which I think is supposed to be a Pong-type game. I’ve never played the original Pong so I don’t know if Pong is supposed to be this naive. The computer player simply moves back and forth in a constant manner. It’s still hard to beat the computer since the paddle is 1/3 the width of the screen.
One last game– It’s called “Block Matching” and it struck me as the strangest. There would be 3 blocks at the bottom of the screen, e.g.:
XX X X
XX X XX
3 blocks slowly descend from the top of the screen, Tetris-style. They do not initially match the blocks in the same position on the bottom of the screen. It is your job to alter the blocks within the group in order to make them match the bottom blocks before the group reaches the bottom. The left arrow rotates through block types for the first block, up or down controls the second block, and right manages the third.
I bought this odd item on my way back to the U.S. and my first stop was to visit some relatives. My young nephew seemed far more impressed with this device than I was. So I just collected enough notes for this post and let him have it. I’m glad it will get some use.