The Custom TRS‑80 and Other Mysteries
Stellar Escort was written by Jeff Zinn, and it was the first game distributed by Big Five Software that wasn’t written by Bill Hogue. Stellar Escort has a very distinctive look because of the flashy transition effects when changing screens. There is always something in movement on the screen. Stellar Escort has a number of sound effects, but no music or voices.
Cosmic Fighter was loosely based on Astro Fighter, which was released by Data East in 1980. In many ways, Cosmic Fighter looks similar to Galaxy Invasion. However, the similarities are superficial and the games are very different. Your goal in Cosmic Fighter is to shoot the aliens as they descend from the top of the screen. Unlike Galaxy Invasion, you have a limited fuel supply which is used up as you move and shoot. A gauge at the top of the screen indicates how much fuel you have left. Your ship can be destroyed either by hitting an alien or shot or by simply running out of fuel. You are not likely to run out of fuel in the earlier levels of the game, but it does becomes an increasing problem in the later levels.
Many people remember the distinctive prelude to Attack Force, which was obviously inspired by the opening to the “The Outer Limits” television show. The final part of the prelude takes the video screen out of focus and makes a buzzing sound (without any audio amplifier attached). This effect is created by rapidly switching between normal and double-wide video mode, destabilizing the video synchronization on a Model 1 or 3. The Model 4 features a more robust video system and the video just becomes fuzzy. The buzzing sound is created by rapidly toggling the cassette relay.
Many people thought that Galaxy Invasion was based on Space Invaders (including a reviewer for 80 Microcomputing), but this was a common misconception. Galaxy Invasion was based on the arcade game Galaxian, which was released by Namco in 1979.
Meteor Mission 2, also known as Meteor Mission II, was based on Taito’s 1979 Lunar Rescue, although it differs from it in many ways. Despite the name, Meteor Mission 2 is not a sequel to Bill Hogue‘s earlier Meteor Mission. Amusingly, the first Alpha Products advertisement to feature Meteor Mission 2 mistakenly used pictures from Meteor Mission instead.
Meteor Mission was Bill Hogue’s first TRS‑80 game. It is usually not included in listings of Big Five Software games, and some sources have denied that it was ever sold. But it was advertised in the August, September, and October 1980 issues of 80 Microcomputing. It seems to have been withdrawn at that point, and it never appeared in any future advertisements. I don’t know how many copies of Meteor Mission were ever sold (I’ve only ever seen one copy). Unlike the other Big Five games, there was only a Model I cassette version, but it would work on a 4K Level I computer.
Super Nova was based on the very popular arcade game Asteroids, which was released by Atari in 1979. It was the first big success for Bill Hogue and Big Five Software.
Originally, Super Nova was available only on cassette tape. It required a Model I with 16K and Level I or Level II BASIC. Later, Big Five sold a disk version which saved high scores and required a 32K Model 1. They also sold both cassette and disk versions for the Model III.
Robot Attack was based on the arcade game Berzerk, which was released by Stern Electronics in 1980. The game concept itself is older than that, and can be found in any number of BASIC games, such as Chase, Robots, and Daleks. Robot Attack was notable as the first talking game released by Big Five Software. The game supports the TRISSTICK and Alpha Joystick, but not the original STICK-80 (unless you perform a hardware modification to it). In my opinion, it makes the best use of the joystick of any TRS‑80 game.
Alpha Products produced many hardware products for the TRS‑80, including the Green Screen, the Interfacer-80, the Analog-80, the Newclock-80, the A-BUS, and the VS-100 voice synthesizer. They also created the STICK-80, a joystick supported by almost all TRS‑80 games.
In 1981, Bill Hogue wrote Robot Attack, a variation on the arcade game Berzerk. Unlike most TRS‑80 games, in Robot Attack you can move and fire in all directions. You fire in a direction by moving the joystick in that direction and pressing the FIRE button. This shows up a problem with the STICK-80 mapping; how can a game determine if the player was moving the joystick up or down and firing if the FIRE button is mapped to a combination of UP plus DOWN?