LOAD “JUPITER LANDER” ,8,1
SEARCHING FOR JUPITER LANDER
By 1982, the video game industry already had two titans that dominated the home video game market. The Apple II and Atari 2600 were both released in 1977 and were wildly popular. That same year Commodore introduced the PET, but it’s graphics only allowed for the most rudimentary of games. The Commodore VIC-20 came out three years later and was a good system for gaming, but it wasn’t until 1982 that Commodore would release its masterpiece: the Commodore 64.
The C64 was an 8-bit machine that would go on to become the highest selling home computer of all time. The system eventually supported over 2000 video games and has retained a devoted fan base over the 36 years since its release. Games like Mayhem in Monsterland, Impossible Mission, and The Sentinel would become classics, but it was the humble Jupiter Lander that gave the system its start.
The game was developed by HAL Laboratory, Inc. (who later produced Kirby, Mother/EarthBound Beings, and Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo). It was released on the VIC-20 and was the first game available for the C64. Early packages of the C64 could even be purchased with the cartridge for Jupiter Lander included.
For all intents and purposes the game was a rip-off of Atari, Inc.’s 1979 arcade game Lunar Lander (itself inspired by the text based game Lunar Landing written in FOCAL). Like Lunar Lander, the object of Jupiter Lander was to guide a spacecraft onto various platforms located on the surface of the planet. Also like Lunar Lander, players received fuel for executing good landings. A gauge on the right-hand side of the screen showed the velocity of the ship and players controlled its motion by pressing A to move the ship left, D to move the ship right, and F1 to fire the ship’s thrusters. Score was determined by the landing velocity and multiplied by the number listed below the landing platform (x2, x5, or x10). Gameplay continued until the ship ran out of fuel.
The game’s raster graphics were an improvement on the simple vector graphics of Atari’s Lunar Lander. The ship resembled the Apollo Lunar Module, as opposed to the small dot of Lunar Lander. It also used multi-color graphics as opposed to the black and white of the Atari game. A simple, single voice melody played at the start, and a victory tune was played with each successful landing, but other audio was limited to the sound of the rocket boosters firing. The game only had one screen so play was limited to landing on the same platforms until the ship’s fuel was depleted.
There was nothing earth shattering about the game, but as the first game for the Commodore 64 system it represented a slight tectonic shift, a minor tremor foreshadowing a major shakeup in the gaming world.