Name: Armored Car
Developer: Stern Electronics
From Chris Oberth:
"Armored Car was the first game I made for Stern after being hired by Al McNeil (Berserk/Frenzy). I don't recall how we split up the programming tasks, probably just a free for all. Before working for Stern I was at Marvin Glass designing/prototyping handheld electronic games, such as Finger Bowl.
Armored Car was partly inspired by TARG. I remember coming up with the idea for the TNT truck, and thought it worked quite well". - from the MAME history.dat
Armored Car is essentially what Pac-Man would have been like had it been set in a car. Sort of.
Ok, so it's not as bad a game as that makes it sound. To his credit, Chris Oberth has managed to add plenty of original elements to the basic idea of moving a character round a maze grid, avoiding enemies, picking up certain bonuses, and generally trying not to die.
The first, and probably the most significant change gameplay wise from the Pac formula, is that the grid is no longer an interesting maze with little nooks and crannies. This game is set in a car, which is driving round in a city. Because of this, the game playing field was a simple grid of square shaped blocks of buildings. The player could drive around these blocks in the regular grid of streets. This could be seen as a little disappointing, but some interesting elements added to the basic concept of driving around blocks of buildings which were all the same shape and size.
For one, the idea of the game wasn't to move around one screen and collect all the power ups. In fact, the screen scrolled to the right, and the idea for players was to collect as much cash as possible (cash pick ups were scattered about with about the same frequency as power pills from Pac-Man) and proceed to the right, avoiding all hazards, until they reached the Bank. This heralded the end of the level, and, amazingly, the start of a new one.
Naturally, there was plenty out to stop our plucky Armored Car driver. Numerous other vehicles would drive around the streets too, and if the player touched another vehicle, death was the only result. Curiously, these cars are much easier to avoid than the ghosts in Pac-Man, making playing the game an oddly easy experience in that respect. The problems come with the arrows which exist on many of the crossroads in the game. They are pointed at each end, so they might point both up and down, or both left and right. If there is an arrow at a crossroad, it then limits the directions you can travel to leave the crossroad. So if there is an up-down arrow at a junction, and you drive on from the left hand side, your only options are to move up or down. Trying to move left or right will result in you not moving at all.
This is all well and good, and a reasonably solid basis for a decent enough game, if not a particularly complex one. To add a little variety, some additional difficulties like a fuel tank are added (this is effectively a time limit, but it can be replenished at a gas station, which you find every so often on your quest ever rightward). And to keep people from learning the game well enough to play it blindfold (like everyone did with Pac-Man - this lead to the development of Pac-Man Plus) the arrows at crossroads mentioned above simply change their orientation from time to time. This is fair enough. The problem comes from when they change when you are on top of them.
This means you approach from the left, plan to go up from teh junction (since the arrow is pointing up/down). But when you get there and try to go up, you find that you are unable to. By the time you realise what has happened, one of the CPU controlled enemies has crept up on you and trapped you.
Perhaps hardcore Pac fiends will find this a reasonably easy game. As for me, I'd say it's very difficult. But then, I was always rubbish at Pac-Man.
The rest of the game is average, as you might expect. Graphics are just what you'd imagine, being that it came out over 20 years ago. Music and sound effects are similarly so-so. However, for an example of how someone decided to make a game kind of like a really popular franchise, but also added his own stuff in, with a reasonable degree of success, then look no further.
The ROM of the game is playable perfectly in MAME and probably some others (Vantage, I believe). The ROMset is incredibly small, but it's such an obscure game that finding it might be difficult. Your best bet is finding a site which has a full MAME set, as any small sites will probably not bother carrying it.
MAME parent ROM filename: armorcar.zip
Parent ROM full name: Armored Car (set 1)
Parent ROM zip file size: 17.78 KB
Files in Parent ROM:
- cpu.2c - 4096 bytes
- cpu.2e - 4096 bytes
- cpu.2f - 4096 bytes
- cpu.2h - 4096 bytes
- cpu.2j - 4096 bytes
- sound.5c - 2048 bytes
- sound.5d - 2048 bytes
- cpu.5f - 2048 bytes
- cpu.5h - 2048 bytes
- 82s123.6e - 32 bytes
MAME clone ROM filename: armorca2.zip
Clone ROM full name: Armored Car (set 2)
Clone ROM zip file size: 12.63 KB
Files in Clone ROM:
Playing both the parent and clone rom in MAME32 0.67
Thanks to TehBesto and BlakJak for some corrections.