Rockball

Name:
Rockball
Company: Roklan
Model #:
N/A
Programmer:
Anthony Weber
Year: 1983
Released?
No
Notes:

Port of the unreleased Techstar arcade game

 

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?  Apparently Roklan was willing to bet the answer to this timeless question was an emphatic Yes, as they developed this blatant clone of Atariís Asteroids.  But is there actually more to Rockball than meets the eye?  Read on to find out.

 

On the surface, Rockball would appear to be one of staggering number of Ďme tooí Asteroids clones that appeared in arcades and on home consoles in the early 80ís.  The concept of copyright infringement was still a foreign concept when it came to computer games, so clones ran rampant.  While it is easy to dismiss Rockball as one of these clones, it sports a number of interesting innovations if one takes the time to dig a little deeper.

 

The first change Rockball made is that the asteroids are now, say it with me, rock balls! Each rock ball is composed of three layers in the form of colored circles.  Each time you shoot one of these balls, the outer circle disappears and the ball splits into two. The screen can support a surprising number of these balls with a minimal amount of flicker (although they will eventually overwhelm the processor causing flicker and slowdown).  This can make for hectic and frantic gameplay at the higher levels

 

The next change is actually a new feature that improves on the gameplay instead of merely changing it. At the start of each of your lives, a rectangle (protection box) will appear before your ship warps in.  If there are any asteroids (err rock balls) in the protection box your ship wonít appear until the coast is clear.   This welcome features eliminates the cheap insta-deaths that occasionally occur in Asteroids.  Unfortunately this means you may have to wait a bit before the screen clears enough for you to warp in.  This becomes more a problem at the higher levels where the player can wait 10-20 seconds for an opening.  Thankfully this can be overridden by push up on the joystick.

 

Then we have the small addition of boundary walls.  Both the playerís ship and bullets will bounce off the sides of the screen during the game.  The rock balls however pass right through the screen boundaries, just like in Asteroids.  This is a small but welcome change as it makes it possible to bank shots.  However this also means that you can now accidentally shoot yourself, so be careful.


But what really makes Rockball stand out from Asteroids is gravity force.  Occasionally a gravity force will appear and pull your ship into it (think warp gate).  If your ship gets sucked in it will randomly appear elsewhere on the screen including, occasionally, right on top of a rock ball.  This is equivalent to using Hyperspace in Asteroids, but the player has no control over it.  Although it sounds like it would incredibly frustrating, this random element actually makes the game a lot more interesting.


 

But what's with the fuel gauge at the bottom of the screen you ask?  Well I'm glad you asked because I had completely forgotten about that!  The fuel gauge acts as a sort of timer in the game and slowly diminishes as the game goes on.  The only way to replenish the fuel gauge is to shoot rock balls (or die, but I don't recommend that).  Each rock ball you shoot restores a healthy chunk of the gauge so fuel isn't ever really a huge problem, but it is something you still have to keep track of as you hunt down those last remaining rock ball cores.



Although it may look like an original programming effort, Rockball is actually a port of an unreleased arcade game by an obscure company called Techstar.  Techstar only released one game under their own label (Macho Mouse), but actually created several others including Da' Fuzz (also ported but unreleased by Roklan) and Mr. TNT which was ultimately released by HES for a few home computers.  How Roklan found out about Techstar's arcade games is a bit of a mystery, but Roklan obviously thought they were something worth licensing.  According to Anthony, he was shipped the internals of the arcade machine to study while programming the game.  However neither the arcade game or any of the home ports were released.


Rockball was completely finished and even a sample cartridge was even made before the plug was pulled.  Several other Roklan ports created around this time also suffered the same fate including another Techstar port called Da' Fuzz.  The exact reason behind this is unknown but Roklan was starting to suffer financial issues around this time due to the collapsing market and an ongoing lawsuit with Motorola.  They may have decided to pull out of the publishing market and only work on ports of other companies.


At its heart, Rockball is still an Asteroids clone but itís a pretty good one featuring some oddly misplaced surfing music (really!).  The only real issue with the game is that itís HARD.  Not only does Rockball play much faster than Asteroids, but the rock balls seem to break apart into more pieces than in Asteroids.  Couple this with the ability to accidentally shoot yourself and youíve got a recipe for frustration.  Thankfully Rockball is pretty generous with the extra lives which come every 5,000 points.  However even then you'll find yourself burning through them at an alarming rate on the higher levels.  Speaking of which, you can choose to start at any level between one and fifteen so don't have to suffer through the easier levels once you build up your skills.  Itís a shame we never got to see this clone at home or the arcades, but thatís the way the rock ball crumbles.



Version Cart Text Description
4/23/83
Missing sound and the gravity force
?/??/83 Rockball Final
Final version

 

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