Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Stone Age Multimedia: The American Challenge

Posted by Trixter on July 21, 2010


(What follows is a continuation of an article about audio cassettes included with computer games; if you would like to start at the beginning, start with Homeword.)

The American Challenge: A Sailing Simulation

Tom Snyder was creating games while the personal computer game industry was still young. As a result, unconventional ideas in gaming were much more widely accepted than today, as the market wasn’t saturated. Tom liked to sail these uncharted waters (if you’ll pardon the bad pun) and created some games that, while unconventional, were generally good. The Infocomics series are part of his experiments, and are are well-known to Infocom collectors. But what of his other projects?

Sailing and music were two of Tom’s passions, and he created a product that had both: The American Challenge: A Sailing Simulation. The sailing aspect is obvious; the music aspect is in the form of the title track “Win Back The Cup”, included with a tutorial on a cassette. It’s generally a bad idea to call your new song “soon-to-be-a-classic” as mentioned on the box advertising, but the truth is, it’s not that bad. Game designer Tony Van mused it was “kinda homey, sorta folksy”, and that’s about right. It’s got a mid 1980’s light rock feel to it. As a theme to the game, it’s catchy. It stands on its own as well — Tom can probably claim to have written the only song ever dedicated to the America’s Cup.

As for the tutorial, it’s cute: Someone (I’m assuming it’s Tom) walks you through starting the game in the character of a New England sailboat captain, complete with accent. The tutorial takes you from choosing program options, to explaining where common simulations items are on the screen (compass, etc.), to helping you bring in your sail to catch some wind. It doesn’t cover the entire game, but it helps novices get the boat moving.

Highlight: A tie, between the pseudo-New Englander trying to pronouce the words “television set” in accent correctly, and the song lyrics “You’ve got the cup, so we’ve got nothing to lose”.

High Points: The sailing song “Win Back The Cup”; narrator of the tutorial does a passable job at a New England accent (“…it looks like a fye-een afternoon to head out into the hah-bah for a cruise.”).

Low Points: Narrator slips out of accent occaisionally; entire tutorial was recorded in one take, so there’s a stumble over words once or twice; tutorial mentions being stuck in irons (when your boat heads right into the wind) but doesn’t address how to get out of it other than to escape the simulation if you get stuck.

Audio: The American Challenge: Title Theme, as well as The American Challenge: Tutorial

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