Bits From my Personal Collection – The War of the Worlds Computer Game

To the ancient Romans, our planetary neighbor, Mars, was a symbol of blood and war due to its red appearance and was named after the god of war. While Mars has intrigued and played parts in various different cultures for thousands of years it wasn’t until the last part of the 19th century that the idea of life on the planet was ignited when astronomers believed they had observed a network of canals on the surface. American astronomer Percival Lowell published his views in three books printed around the turn of the century. These writings would popularize the belief that Mars supported intelligent life forms. While the canals later were discovered to be nothing more than optical illusions, the idea of life had already popularized among the public and became influential in arts, theatre, and literature of the time. The image of a dying Mars and its ancient culture was retained in numerous works depicting Mars around the turn of the century and in the first half of the 20th century, even when proven to be factually wrong.

In the 1890s the Victorian era was coming to an end. British worldwide expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries had spawned a strong social and cultural sense but people now challenged the imperialistic British empire’s invasive impact around the world. English author H.G. Wells inspired by the current scientific discoveries and the popular invasion culture of the time departs in 1895 on a two-year journey writing how an ancient culture on Mars start plotting an invasion of Earth when their own resources are dwindling. In 1897 his science fiction novel now titled The War of the Worlds was complete and published as a serial in Pearson’s Magazine from April to December of that year. The novel was picked up by publisher William Heinemann of London and published in its entirety in 1898.

In 1937-38 after a series of acclaimed Broadway productions, George Orson Welles‘ independent repertory theatre, The Mercury Theatre, in New York, progressed into a series of radio shows when CBS invited Welles to create a number of summer shows. In July of 1938, the series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, premiered as radio plays based on classic literary works with Welles playing the lead in each weekly one-hour-long show, with original music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.

CBS’s 17th episode of The Mercury Theatre on the Air, on Halloween eve 1938, was a radio adaptation of Wells’s 1898 science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. The novel was adapted for radio by CBS writer and later screenwriter Howard Koch, who changed the primary setting from 19th-century England to the contemporary United States, with the landing spot of the first Martian spacecraft in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.
The program’s format was a simulated live newscast of developing events from the novel, presented as news bulletins interrupting programs of music. Welles wanted to dramatize the broadcast in such a manner that listeners would conceive the show as an actual real-life crisis unfolding. Widespread confusion and panic were reportedly spread among new listeners, who hadn’t heard the introduction, and believed the fictional news reports of a Martian invasion and the ensuing conflict between the Martians and mankind was real.

In the days after the adaptation, widespread outrage was expressed in the media. The program’s news-bulletin format was described as deceptive by newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the broadcasters and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Nonetheless, the episode secured Welles’s fame as a dramatist and he is now considered one of the most innovative and influential directors and filmmakers of all time.

Throughout the 20th century, Wells’ The War of the Worlds science-fiction novel would stay ever-popular and influence feature films, comic books, various television series, and in 1980 game designer Tomohiro Nishikado’s video arcade mega-hit Space Invaders. In 1983 one of the first, if not the first, home computer game based on Wells’ novel was released for the Atari 8-bit by a small board game company, Task Force Games.

Task Force Games was a collaboration between game designers, Stephen Cole and Allen Eldridge, who had met, in the mid-70s, at a local game club in Amarillo, Texas. The two hit it off and Eldridge went on to purchase half of Cole’s, JagdPanther Productions, which published a quarterly board game magazine that featured complete small games in every issue as well as scenarios and variants for existing games. An interest in developing board games rather than publishing a magazine led the two to cease operations and in the fall of 1978 establish Task Force Games. Initially, to sell board games to wholesalers and retailers but the company later expanded to individual sales through mail-order.
In 1979, with the release of four science-fiction titles by Cole, the company starts its Pocket Games line, the first sci-fi/fantasy microgame series to follow in the footsteps of Metagaming’s successful Microgames series. In 1980 Eldridge designs a classic two-player hexagonal strategy war board game based on Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Here one Player would control the Martian forces in attempts to attack and destroy London while the other player would control the Human forces in attempts to try and protect the city and defeat the Martians.

With the advent of the home computer in the late ’70s, established board game company Avalon Hill, in 1980, establishes its Microcomputer Games division to create computerized adaptions of their popular board games. The same year Joe Billings’s Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) released its first strategic computer games, inspired by classic board games. Especially SSI’s sales at the time were quite remarkable and showed that there indeed was a growing market for digital war game entertainment.
In 1983 with Task Force Games’ Pocket Games line coming to an end, with declining sales, Cole decides to leave and form a new company, Amarillo Design Bureau. With a shifting marketplace and the emerging digital frontier Task Force Games decides to create a computer game label for digital adaptions of its earlier board games. The label,
Task Force Computer Games, initially advertised four computer adaptions among them Eldridge’s 1980 game The War of the Worlds.

Eldrige assigns programmer Joseph Delinski to program a BASIC version of The War of the Worlds board game for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. The game was one-player only with the computer controlling the Martian and the player controlling the human forces in an attempt to save as much of London as possible all while battling the Martian’s tripods.

The War of the Worlds Computer Game was an adaption of Allen Eldridge’s 1980 board game. It was released for the Atari 400/800 in 1983, and only on cassette. The original cassette had a 16K version on one side and a bigger 32K version on the other. The 32K version allowed for replaying a game without reloading (which took a significant amount of time) and also upped the 10 random landing spots of the Martian pods to 20

The stunningly good-looking cover artwork was done by professional artist William Keith who also became a designer, working in the game industry with his brother Andrew, designing games for Game Designers’ Workshop and FASA Corp.

The computer-controlled Martians land randomly in their capsules around London (for the first 10 rounds out of 12). Each capsule, if it lands safely, has three Tripods in it. Your mission, to fight the intruders while at the same time trying to contain and minimize the damage to your city. The game is turn-based and each turn allows you to move and attack. Your strongest and weakest unit differs with each game, but after a few turns you know which units to block of and retain the Martians with (the weakest) and which units to attack the tripods with (the strongest). The game comes with 6 difficulty levels and one modified level (in which you can create your own difficulty levels by adjusting different variables).
I played on the easiest level and ended with a final score of 94, which is considered (by the manual) to be a good game – A score over 140 being an excellent game

Out of the four advertised computer adaptions by Task Force Games, only two materialized (to my knowledge), the other being a version of Bob McWilliams‘ 1980 board game Survival. A title that was re-released, together with Ian Livingstone’s Barbarian, in Task Force Games’ Pocket Games line as Survival / The Barbarian.
Survival was a one-six player strategy game, also programmed by Delinski and released for the Atari 8-bit in 1983.

Up through the ’80s, Task Force Games would continue to design and publish numerous board games alongside the publication of its own magazine, Nexus Magazine, which mainly covered its own games but also games from small publishers.
In the spring of 1988, Eldridge sold his company to video game developer and publisher New World Computing, who at the time had great success with its debut game Might and Magic.
The two companies attempted the first-ever simultaneous release of a board and computer game with King’s Bounty. The two versions of King’s Bounty ended up being released about 9 months apart, with the computer version in 1990 and Task Force Games board version in 1991. With the board version of King’s Bounty being unsuccessful, New World Computing sold Task Force Games to John Olsen. To avoid confusion between the two very different games that had been designed by different designers, future versions of New World Computing’s version of King’s Bounty became the excellent and extremely popular Heroes of Might & Magic series.

H.G. Wells is often referred to as one of the fathers of science fiction and in 2005, one of the biggest directors of our time, Steven Spielberg directs a modern movie adaptation of his novel starring Tom Cruise, keeping the core concept of the novel in the mainstream and enthralling new generations, now more than a century later.

While there, over the years, have been many adaptations of H.G. Wells’ Science-Fiction novel, Bitmap Books 2018 H.G. Wells: The War of the Worlds is the first fully illustrated coffee table book in which the classic scenes are brought to life. The Illustrated 276-page hardback contains the original book text, expertly brought to life through nearly a hundred illustrations by artist, Adam Rufino. Also included is an introduction by science fiction author Adam Roberts, a substantial feature on the life and works of H.G. Wells, and an interview with Adam Rufino that showcases his concept sketches from the book’s development

Sources: Wikipedia, BoardGameGeek, Google Arts & Culture, Bitmap Books

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