|Platform(s)||Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 5200, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum, Atari 7800, Famicom|
|Mode(s)||Single player, Two player|
Ballblazer is a 1984 futuristic sports game created by Lucasfilm Games. It was originally released for the Atari 8-bit family, then ported to the Atari 5200, Apple II, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX. and later the Atari 7800 and the Nintendo Famicom. The game was called Ballblaster during development; pirated versions of the game went by this name as well. The principal creator and programmer of Ballblazer was David Levine.
In 1990, LucasArts and Rainbow Arts released a remake and follow-up to this game, called Masterblazer. This game was released for the Amiga, Atari ST, and MS-DOS. On March 31, 1997, a remake of the original titled Ballblazer Champions was released for the Sony PlayStation.
Ballblazer is a simple one-on-one sports-style game bearing similarities to basketball and soccer. Each side is represented by a craft called a "rotofoil", which can be controlled by either a human player or a computer-controlled "droid" with ten levels of difficulty. (The game allows for human vs. human, human vs. droid, and droid vs. droid matches.) The basic objective of the game is to score points by either firing or carrying a floating ball into the opponent's goal. The game takes place on a flat, checkerboard playfield, and each player's half of the screen is presented in a first-person perspective.
A player can gain possession of the ball by simply running into it, at which point it is held in a force field in front of the craft. The opponent can attempt to knock the ball away from the player using the fire button, and the player in possession of the ball can also fire the ball toward the goal. When a player does not have possession of the ball, his or her rotofoil automatically turns at 90-degree intervals to face the ball, while possessing the ball turns the player toward the opponent's goal. The goalposts move from side to side at each end of the playfield, and as goals are scored, the goal becomes narrower.
Pushing the ball through the goal scores one point, firing the ball through the posts from close range scores two points, and successfully scoring from long range (where the goalposts are not visible) scores three points. The maximum number of total points between the two players is ten, meaning that any points scored that would take the combined total above ten will cause the opponent's score to be reduced by the same amount, resulting in a kind of tug of war scoring system. The game ends when either a player successfully scores ten points or the timer runs out. If time runs out and the score is tied, the game goes into "sudden death", where the first player to score wins.
Ballblazer's theme music, called "Song of the Grid" and heard between matches, was algorithmically generated, a technique designed by Lucasfilm Games team leader Peter Langston and called "riffology". The lead melody is assembled from a predefined set of 32 eight-note melody fragments, or riffs, which are put together randomly by an algorithm that also makes choices on several parameters including "how fast to play the riff, how loud to play it, when to omit or elide notes, when to insert a rhythmic break". The melody is accompanied by bassline, drums and chords, which are also assembled on the fly by a simplified version of the above approach. In effect the music plays forever, without repeating itself but without straying too far from the original theme. Langston, an experienced jazz, rock, and folk musician, said of Ballblazer's music: "One reviewer, an eminent jazz player [Pat Metheny], said it sounded like John Coltrane did it. I think that's my best compliment so far." The Atari 7800 version was one of the rare releases for the system to use the POKEY additional sound chip.
A sample of Ballblazer music from the Commodore 64 version :
Computer Gaming World stated that the "quick and intense" Ballblazer "squeezes more out of the Atari 400/800 than any game I've ever seen ... spectacular graphics". Info rated Ballblazer four stars out of five, stating that "It is undoubtedly the FASTEST game available for the 64" and recommending it to "gamers with strobe-like reflexes".
Zzap!64 gave an enthusiastic review of the Commodore 64 version of the game, their only criticism being weak sound effects. With an overall rating of 98% the game was described as being "The best sports simulation to hit the 64 yet."
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