Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Milestones : Crush, Crumble, and Chomp

Back in the early 1980s, or the Golden Age of Videogaming as I call it, everyone in the gang had a console. Most of them had the Atari 2600, and I was saddled with my poorly supported Odyssey 2. It was clear early on, though, from the articles that we were reading in Electronic Games magazine, that some of the best videogames of the time were coming out only on personal computers.

These games had more sophisticated graphics and gameplay, and often had new concepts. But none of us had parents that either could afford nor actually want a computer. The Apple 2 was selling for over a thousand dollars, the Atari 800 not far below that, the Atari 400 was around $500, and the Commodore computers came in not far below that.

But we talked about how we'd like to play some of those games. Once, in a conversation we had about how some of the games were loaded from cassette drives, my good friend Andy dismissed the loading time as no big deal - he said if he had a computer with a cassette drive, he'd come home from school, start loading the game, go make a sandwich, and return in time to play.

That scenario resonated with me for some reason, and after my parents finally got me a Commodore VIC 20 computer in the summer of 1983, I got to live it out.

I found a copy of Epyx's Crush, Crumble, and Chomp in a messy, disorganized glass cabinet at a department store called Swallen's in Mansfield, Ohio. There was only one copy, it was slightly buried under other titles in the mess, but it was the game I wanted. I had done my research on the game by reading a review of it in Electronic Games magazine and it sounded like just the sophistication I was looking for.

I had to also buy the 16K RAM expander cartridge to play this game on my VIC 20. It was the only game I ever had that required it, but the additional memory was useful for other applications. Still, I was plopping down quite a bit of my less-than-minimum wage paycheck on the deal. It was worth it.

Crush, Crumble, and Chomp was the predecessor to the much more polished Movie Monster Game Epyx released in the later part of the 1980s. Players choose from six standard movie monsters archetypes, plop them into one of four famous cities, and select from five different objectives, making the game more replayable and varied than anything else I had at the time.

The aforementioned sandwich-making loading time meant that each game session had to be taken more seriously. The turn-based action had to be meticulously handled to maximize the time before being overwhelmed by the military response of the puny humans who got strangely offended when you came into town.

This game was for me exactly what I needed to really open my mind to computer gaming. By 1983, the home console scene had grown somewhat stagnant, with games that were mostly variants of arcade games, and very few titles like Adventure coming out. Computers were clearly the way to go.

Crush, Crumble, and Chomp was also beautifully packaged in a sturdy box. Inside was a plastic tray to hold the cassette, six monster cards with bios of the beasts, and a thick, glossy, instruction manual.

With this game my path was set for the rest of the decade - I would be playing deeper, more challenging, and more unique games, all on Commodore computers. But on its own merits, Crush, Crumble, and Chomp was very, very fun. And yes, I could finish an entire ham and cheese sandwich in the time it took to load.

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