Pac-Man, Space Janitors and softporn adventures in the early days of gaming

Jun 13, 2018 at 10:30 am by Warlord720

Roger Wilco was certainly an unlikely hero. Before Leisure Suit Larry, Roger was out there, and I mean way out there, in space, mopping, cleaning and otherwise fulfilling his space janitorial duties as mundanely and poorly as possible.

In fact, Roger is most famous for taking naps in his janitorial locker during shifts.

His was not a life of excitement until that fateful day when their ship encountered the Sariens. It was then our intrepid space janitor became the low pixel hero of early gamers.

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RELATED: The Original Texting: Playing interactive fiction on computers

In a previous article, I covered the early PC days of the Text Adventure. Now as I look back over the history of graphics I am reminded of the irony of game graphics going backward (in terms of quality and depth) when smartphones burst on the scene.

Side-scrolling platformer games were defined decades before the smartphone era and while smartphone graphics are more refined they are still simple graphics compared to pc and console games that modern players enjoy.

Activision’s Pitfall helped shape the side-scroller platform even though it never actually scrolled. Tarpits be damned.

Mario was a hoot for some and a nemesis for others. This year Donkey Kong will be available June 26th as downloadable content from Mario + Rabbids continuing its long run.

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Pac-Man certainly gobbled his way into gamers hearts in everything from your local pizza place to high-end arcades with dozens of the machines lined up in rows. Home versions were still popular when they hit the market years later.

One of the first games with really good graphics truly was a video game. Dirk the Daring was the hero of the mind-bending Dragons Lair video-based game that actually utilized a laserdisc. Publisher Cinematronics was ahead of the game in 1983 in terms of graphics but the technology was new and at times quirky.  

The arcade versions varied from machine to machine. While one down at the local arcade ran smoothly the one in the - take your money and run - local mall barely operated at all. Most likely due to a lack of understanding of the technology. Early models were not a deliver and forget arcade machine.

Today Dragons Lair exists in many forms including an Android retro entry. Its significance in game history is noted by its being stored along with Pong and Pac-Man in the Smithsonian in Washington.

We can’t talk about important early games without mentioning the creators of Kings Quest, the venerable Sierra On-line.

There was a time when I imagined heaven was really located at Sierra Online. If I had the cult-like inclination to follow anyone it would have been Ken and Roberta Williams, the founders and storytellers behind Sierra. They married at the age of 19 and it must have been one hell of a ride.

Mystery House, Cannon Ball Blitz, Frogger, Manhunter, Leisure Suit Larry and… what??? Softporn Adventure for the Apple II, Atari 8 bit and MS-DOS!!! How did I miss that early entry into the dark side of gaming???

Oh well… you never know what research might turn up and with the internet, it NEVER goes away.

Before wrapping things up one of my all-time favorites is Chris Robert’s Wing Commander.

From the original to the spin-offs I enjoyed that series as it pushed the boundaries of computer technology at the time. I lived and loved on the Tiger's Claw galactic carrier. A starship carrier that was so cool it stunted my growth. At least that’s my excuse for my short man syndrome.

I mean… they had Mark Hamill, Jason Bernard, John Rhys Davies, Malcolm McDowell and even Marty McFly’s nemesis Tom Wilson in the thing! How cool is that???

While Wing Commander was maturing as a game franchise, computers were starting to get some serious horsepower in terms of early graphics and CPUs. From the pilot’s quarters to the ready room the graphics steadily improved over the life of the series.

Wing Commander had adventure, it had fighting, it had flirty love interests. And again… it had Mark Hamill!!!

‘Nuff said.


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M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD at his website