Poltergeist was a game for the TRS-80, with the minimum requirements of 16K worth of RAM and a set of TRS-80 joysticks. It came out in 1982 and was based on Tobe Hooper's movie of the same name. Like most games for the TRS-80, it came in a ROM cartridge form and was inserted firmly into a slot located on the side of the computer.
The plot of the game was similar to the plot of the movie. Steve and Diane Freeling lose Carol-Anne to the ghosts in the television set, and they're trying to get her out. They do this by going through three levels, each of which increases in difficulty as the game progresses.
- Level 1 begins by asking you Can you gather the things you need to Rescue Carol-Anne?, then you begin playing. You are presented with a sky view of the Westhaven Development community. There are dozens of houses, each of which has a driveway. The player avatar is a little stick-figure (very small) looking guy who is free to roam around the streets of the complex and enter driveways. It's rather like a big Pac-Man grid.
But you're not getting off that easy!
Cars tear-ass down the street at breakneck speeds trying to run you down. It's not clear if these are ghost cars, or if the residents of Westhaven are just in a really big hurry, but it doesn't matter. As you make your way around the streets, you have to duck into driveways to avoid the oncoming traffic.
Now there is a reason that you're running around the neighborhood, and it's not because Steve Freeling is a voyeur sneaking peeks at nekkit phantasms. You're trying to gather a length of rope, a ribbon, a towel, some tennis balls, and a handkerchief. These items appear in several different houses about the screen, and are indicated by a black dot appearing on the house where it is located. As if that isn't enough, there's is a poltergeist running amok in the neighborhood moving from house to house in a pseudo-random fashion. The poltergeist is indicated by a flashing box on the house where it's located, and you must avoid it until you gather all the items. After you gather the items, you must enter the house where the poltergeist is.
If you get hit by a car, or if you get smote by the poltergeist, you have to start over. Each item you gather is worth 15 points, and you have thirty time units to complete the mission. When you finish the level, you get a bonus of (Remaining Time x 10) x Remaining Lives.
You can cheat, by holding down the button on the joystick, and no cars will come out. (It's not a bug, it's a feature).
- Level 2 starts off by asking you the following sinister question: Can you get past the stairs? The stairway level is nowhere near as sophisticated as the street level, but it is much more difficult to complete.
You are presented with a staircase with barriers - rectangles and ovals with X's in them - moving horizontally along its respective step. And "you" are now represented by a pair of footprints (which look suspiciously like two very thick exclamation points. You can move up one stair, down one stair, right one step and left one step, per maneuver. There is no jumping over obstacles, you must go around them.
The stairs get narrower the closer you reach the top, so it gets more and more difficult to achieve the next step. However, there is a ghost on your heels, so you must move faster the closer you get to the top. If the poltergeist grabs you or if you stumble into one of the barrier obstacles, you must go back to the beginning of Level 1 with one less life. That's right! You have to start all over. It is very frustrating.
As in Level 1, you have 30 time units to finish. Your score for this level is determined by the remaining time when you complete the level.
- Level 3: Can you help Carol-Anne escape? I wouldn't be so bold as to say this game was any sort of precursor to Doom or Quake, however, it is a first person POV, and you are now aiming a firearm into the closet where the poltergeists are holding Carol-Anne captive. You see "The Light" and you see something coming out of the light. It will either be the Poltergeist or it will be Carol Anne.
Don't shoot Carol-Anne.
You do however, want to shoot the Poltergeist. Unfortunately, you can't tell if it's the ghost or Carol-Anne until the last second, so you have to be careful with your trigger finger. If you blow your daughter's head off, you have to go all the way back to the beginning, minus one life. You have to shoot 8 poltergeists to complete the level and complete the game. You get 15 points for each poltergeist you shoot. At the end of the level you get a 60 time unit bonus (which will be figured into your final score), and you'll see the message:
This house is clean.