Friday, April 15, 2011

Barrier - My Lowest Rated Arcade Game

I often play randomly selected games on my MAME cab and I try to always assign a personal rating of 1-10 to the games I play. And out of a LOT of games so far the lowest rated game I've played is one called Barrier. The game derives its name from the impenetrable barrier it erects between you and enjoyment.  And since I was subjected to it I'm going to share the misery and subject you to it too.

The flyer describes the game. "Avoid the forces of evil by evading diamond shaped alien forces. Are they supernatural or intergalactic? No time to tell. A second's hesitation means instant destruction. Each forward move scores a point for the good guy!...". Huh? What the hell does that mean? Well, as meaningless as that sales blurb is it adds more depth to this game than it merits.

Barrier was a vector game released in 1979 by Vectorbeam. The game used a large X-Y monitor that was too large for the cabinet so 70% of the monitor was actually covered by the bezel. This only allowed a small triangular playfield to show through.

In Barrier you are a triangle at the front end of a 3x10 grid that leads off into the screen in pseudo-3D fashion and you must use 4 directional buttons to navigate your way forward though the grid while avoiding the diamonds that are trying to collide with you. If they touch you you die. When you reach the far end of the grid your triangle returns to the front of the grid and you keep on going.

So basically this is a full-size arcade version of the old Mattel handheld football game except it runs vertically (in a half-ass 3-D into the screen sorta way) instead of horizontally.

And in fact, I just discovered from reading Tim Skelly's History of Cinematronics and Vectorbeam that is EXACTLY what it was intended to be. Tim Skelly was an arcade designer and programmer with Cinematronics and recalls:

"Somewhere around the time I was finishing Starhawk, we hired Rob Patton as a second game programmer. He stayed busy learning the system while I was working on Starhawk and Sundance. One day Jim Pierce walked into the lab with a Mattell handheld football game. This was the first handheld game and extremely popular, despite being incredibly simple, with just a few LEDs for a display. Jim thought we should turn it into a video game. I told him that it would certainly stink as a video game and would probably mean a law suit from Mattell. He forgot about it for a while, but when it became clear that Rob had run out of things to do, Jim talked me into letting Rob program it strictly as a learning exercise. That game was Blitz, later Barrier. To make Jim happy, we put it out on test. It did very poorly, to put it nicely, and we stuffed it in the closet."

Vectorbeam had released the successful game Speed Freak and was in the market for another game to keep the assembly lines running, but they didn't have any ready so they approached Cinematronics to see if they had any they were interested in selling. Cinematronics sold them Barrier, and in the words of Tim Skelly, "laughed our asses off about it". After extremely poor Barrier sales (surprise!) Vectorbeam ended up selling all its assets to Cinematronics.

Old-day arcade corporate sabotage or just a sucky game and a stupid company? I don't know but the back story is the most interesting part of the game because Skelly was right, it stinks as a video game.

The gameplay, graphics, and sound are all pathetic so if you happen to have a full set of MAME ROMs and have never gotten around to playing this one, well go ahead and play it once just in case you ever encounter some dude who actually remembers this wart. But then quickly delete the files so no Barrier viruses are spread to other games.

The only positive thing I can say is that the bezel artwork is kinda cool - picturing a hooded evil looking individual that I can only assume is a Vectorbeam executive beckoning desperately for you to put a quarter into this turd as their company was circling the drain.

And in case you're curious I originally rated this game 1 company-crippling games out of 10, but then I revisited it and decided if you had 2 players and you were both high and/or drunk then it might be slightly better than punching each other in the nuts so... I upped it to 1.5.

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Fallguy40 said...

I always liked Mattel fooball. Maybe I'd like Barrier.

That marketing description reminded me of the fictional Degenatron home video game system advertised on the radio in Grand Theft Auto Vice City. It played three games:

Defender of the Faith, where "you save the green dots with your fantastic flying red square!"

Monkey's Paradise, where "you swing from green dot to green dot with your red square monkey!"

and finally:

Penetrator, where "you smash the green dots deep inside the mysterious red square!"

MadPlanet said...

Maybe FG, but I doubt it. I always liked Mattel football too and after playing Barrier I discovered that meant I should just get on eBay and get a Mattel football to play instead of Barrier.

like those truthful old-school game descriptions!

PungentOnion said...

I vaguely remember you pulling up this game one evening about a year ago or so. I also remember us shutting it down about 30 seconds later or so. 'nough said!

MadPlanet said...

Yeah that's really about all it's good for Onion - a quick "Can you believe this was an arcade game?" demonstration.

Although I've yet to see a real one. Maybe with the real controls it's awesome!

gnome said...

Always love an interesting development story. Let alone a pretty hilarious one... Ah, the follies of management...

MadPlanet said...

I too enjoy hearing the behind the scenes tales from the golden age. Apart from the Barrier fiasco, I give Cinematronics props for creating several excellent games that I quite enjoy like Armor Attack, Rip Off, and Star Castle.