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The TRS-80 hosted a number of experimental games that didn't necessarily lead to greater things. It was the perfect platform for a lone programmer with a quirky idea, and some odd but interesting titles made it to market.
"The aliens are coming! And they're stealing our toilet paper!" That's pretty much the concept in this original arcade action game by John Weaver. The player's laser-equipped spaceship has to protect the local privy from alien creatures that fly through the sky, and, closer to home, zombie-like vandals who walk in from the sides of the screen, violate the sacred outhouse, and begin unspooling the precious TP as the remaining footage counts down.
It plays like any number of arcade shooters, with elements of Space Zap and Stratovox, but it's not exactly like anything else out there.
Dancing Demon (1979)
Leo Christopherson was one of the most talented animators working on the TRS-80, adapting to the system's limited graphics to create appealing characters with fluid movement and considerable personality.
Dancing Demon was not really a game, but a fun creativity tool -- users could enter music, note by note, and arrange choreography to go along with it, stringing together a series of canned dance steps to put a tap-dancing demon through his paces. A wacky and unique entry in the annals of early computer gaming, Dancing Demon stayed in active release for years, issued by three different publishers -- including a stint as an official Radio Shack release.
Paddle Pinball (1981)
What do you get when you combine pinball and Pong? Well, you get Eric Quintana's Paddle Pinball, a not-entirely-successful hybrid. The single-pixel rectangular ball behaves according to something like physics, with a certain amount of randomness built-in and a touch too much gravity.
The game's most notable feature is the playfield editor that preceded Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set by a couple of years, allowing players to modify and save the layout to cassette. The feature is well-hidden and not likely to be found without reading the manual, and the editor also does nothing to prevent the player from creating board layouts that interfere with paddle movement or are prone to stuck balls. But it was an innovation at the time -- though it still feels odd playing pinball with a paddle.
Misadventure #2: Wet T-Shirt Contest (1982)
There weren't a lot of "adult" games released during the TRS-80 era, but Softcore Software's series of text Misadventures, created by "Dirty" Bob Krotts, were a good deal saucier than Leisure Suit Larry could ever be.
This second game in the series was a fairly standard text adventure, but in addition to its uncensored use of mild profanity, it featured one pioneering mechanic: the player starts out as a male, but must switch genders to enter the title competition. Whether intentional or not, the end result allowed the player to feel exploited as a woman and guilty as a man, likely disappointing its target demographic but reinforcing the emotional power of simple, text-based interactive fiction.
I'm not quite sure where the 1970s astrology craze and the TRS-80 met, but their woebegone stepchild was Radio Shack's Astrology program. Given the user's birth date, time and location in latitude and longitude, the program would compute where all of the heavenly bodies were at that moment in history, as defined by the standards of this age-old art of codswallop. It might have been entertaining if it had been able to generate actual newspaper-style horoscopes, but 16K of cassette-based code wasn't about to pull that off; the TRS-80 struggled quite enough just doing the basic solar system calculations the exercise required.
Electronic Handicapper: Basketball (1981)
What kind of entertainment software package retailed for $99.00 in 1981? Acorn Software's Electronic Handicapper: Basketball was not a game, really, but a slyly disguised business proposition. It promised a way to beat the odds with "sophisticated" computer analysis, and while this catalog advertisement doesn't explicitly mention anything as uncouth as sports betting in any way, shape or form, the selling price alone implies a certain you-scratch-my-back ethos.
The first person shooter as we know it was still a few generations off, but Med Systems' early first-person escape adventure Asylum managed to capture a little of that heart-in-throat feeling. While the TRS-80 couldn't handle animated 3D in real-time, the machine-language program runs quickly as the perspective shifts from one straight-on view to another, and never dampens the tension. Navigating an unfamiliar space, with no idea what might lie around the next corner, made for an engrossing experience despite the limited technology.