Introducing the Gazmo IV Classiques: two early TV game systems that never were, each featuring four games never released in the early 1970s. Accurately simulated, warts and all, in glorious Monochromatique CRTVision, you can at last enjoy these new old games only now revealed in all their fictitious reality.
These ‘alternate realities’ aren’t precision simulations - more affectionate retro-reconstructions. The games, for example, use arcade proportions rather than the more pertinent ‘home’ ones (most are uprights, which wasn’t so viable with the family TV). I added some screen curvature, scanlines (thanks, MAME), glows, trails, burn-in and a vertical hold effect for good measure, partly for feel but also to fill the otherwise empty space. (I did think about adding the burn-in to more accurately reflect usage, but decided that’d be too subtle.)
Here’s that link to the APKs and EXEs in case you skipped it earlier…
You can find out more about controls and options below, along with ‘behind the scenes’ deets.
To use the consoles and play the games, use strokes and taps on the Android devices and, on PC, a mouse and its left-hand button.
The Gazmo IV controller.
As was the norm for these vintage consoles, option switches are in evidence.
To return to the console from play, tap anywhere at the top of the screen - well, in everything except Rally and Slalom on Android, which are slightly different because I tend to play with the tablet turned sideways and inadvertently touch that area to quit, so instead you need to swipe (either way along the length of the tablet) long enough to return to the console (there is a subtle colour warning in case you make a mistake and want to change your mind). I may yet change this to a ‘pinch back’ action throughout.
I found the best way to play is with friends and family, like we used to do around the telly all those years ago (only here taking turns to top each other’s scores rather than then competing head-to-head).
A Brief History of Revisionism
My combined disinterest and re-interest, suffused with a curiosity as to what make games tick, led to an obsession with minimalism. What was the simplest possible game? The smallest? The game with the fewest toys? The fewest rules? The least complex interface? And so on.
So I got busy and made up, like, a squillion different prototypes: one-button games; one-dimensional games; games using a single toy and no playscape; games using a single pixel… Some with more success than others. OK, few with more success…
There’s something so satisfying about working within such limitations. I had grand delusions of using reductionism to help identify the gaming equivalent of chords or mother sauces or basic ballet positions - practical repertoire rather than theory or rhetoric.
That led to the (still incomplete) Pong 101: a hundred-and-one distinctive variations of Pong (within reasonably appropriate constraints). The thinking here was to study the effects of (mostly) minor but always fundamental changes on a simple toy and rule set.
(I’m also intrigued by Ralph Baer’s ‘Chase Game’ or Fox and Hounds, but there only seems to be limited and conflicting information available.)
My self-imposed rules for making the Gazmo games include:
Further consoles will also feature games for two, three and four players (some new; some versions of the established Gazmo games).
The Established Gazmo Games
With Rally I wanted to get the ball rolling with a basic Pong-alike and this variant in which you play with both bats seemed as good a place as any to start. This is one of only two of the games played in landscape, ie: with the television at its natural orientation.
To improve predictability and overall feel, the angles at which the ball rebounds from the bats are fixed, determined by where the ball hits along the length of the bat - and rebounding at a maximum angle of around 30 degrees (to the bat) because anything more shallow than that is annoying.
Balldog provides an obvious twist with the player toy, but I wasn’t so sure how exactly to control the ball. Change its angle? Change its speed? Its position? I like Ralph Baer’s English Button on his original tennis game, which seems to simply affect the height of the ball, so I’m doing something similar. Ish. Basically the ball is moved like a bat, only it regains its original direction when you stop moving it.
Keeper is effectively a repeated pivotal Pong moment. There’s also a backstory that this game was originally built to assist the 1974 England World Cup squad with their training but they had second thoughts about using it - and, as history shows, failed to win. I like the focus of only three choices: don’t move or dive left or right - especially when I’m left feeling like an idiot for making a move when I should have made none. With practice you can end up feeling pretty cool using a tiny bat to deflect equally minuscule high-speed balls, particularly when the scoreline is tight.
Dodger is another obvious twist on the original Pong rules: avoid hitting ball for high score. This can get pretty manic and the audio effects end up sounding quite musical, almost like drumbeats. It’s loosely based on my old Crumble! game I did for the first Dundee Jam.
Target is pretty much reducing Breakout back to the core rules and toy set: one bat, one ball, one brick. Again the predictable ball rebounds can help you direct shots. You need to be careful with the low targets and approach them from a more shallow angle.
I tried a few different sizes of brick but eventually favoured this big one because it felt like I stood more chance of hitting it.
In Slalom you have direct control over the ball, only this time with a different interface: the ball automatically falls diagonally down and pressing the Serve button pushes it up. It’s Bips! really, which had its origins in Fast Worm Slow, which itself was inspired by an old Spectrum game written in a single line of BASIC.
Juggler is meant to be the juggling game that came out before Juggle! - but not necessarily its prequel. There’s no gravity affecting the balls - they move just like they do in Pong; the trick is in making the most of the predictable angles at which the balls rebound off the bat to keep a comfortable loop on the go.
Server is basically Keeper with the intensity of Dodger. It’s tough but not impossible to hit multiple balls with a single sweep, which is necessary to score high.
I’m still planning to add secret features as rewards for completing challenges (effectively Achievements). For example, Rally Mode B was originally a simple variation in which the top bat moves in a reverse direction, with the idea that you complete a challenge (say, score 20 points) to unlock Mode C or colour overlays or the inverse mode.
For the console design, the norm for the time seems to be quite plain and black, sometimes with faux wood panelling. I felt more inspired by the cooler, cleaner, smoother, more retro-futuristic look of Nintendo’s Block Kuzushi, the Epoch TV Block, the Ping-O-Tronic and the Société Occitane d’Electronique OC 5000 and Occitel models.
For the name I toyed with TV GameBrick, TV GameBlock, TV GameBox and TV HotBox, all in the spirit of those TV-centric classics. But in the end I settled for the ‘gizmo’ pun and ‘Classique’ because it sounds fancy and I like the ‘Q’ in it.
I’m wondering if it’s worth making these consoles for real, perhaps through crowd-funding support, but I suspect they wouldn’t be cost effective to make - certainly if I went as far as authentic packaging :D
Which reminds me: I still need to create suitable Gazmo manual and box cover illustrations (something like this) and a flyer (like some of these doozies).■