Memory Lane – Battle for Berlin

I bought my Atari 800 for one thing – Star Rangers. But the computer came with Basic (via a cartridge) and a big manual for how to use that language. And since I had a job as a security guard and had nothing to do in the overnight shift save read, I decided to see how programming worked.

I remember sitting on a loading dock at my little presswood desk, the manual in my lap, having an epiphany.

With a computer, you could hide values!

Even better, you could ACCESS those values! And you didn’t even know what those values were!

This was an amazing thought. Back then, games were physical things, with maps and counters and hexagons. The only way you could hide values was to flip a counter upside down (and let’s not talk about the chance of staining the counter with finger oil or ripping the paper backing or anything like that). The moment you had to check that counter’s identity, you knew what it was. The secret was out.

But with a computer, a value could remain secret. In fact, the actual presence of the counter could be hidden. The possibilities (in 1980) were amazing!

Battle For Berlin was my very first working game. Essentially it was nothing more than a three-way battle (between American, German and Russian soldiers) for the 3×3 grid of “Berlin”. You could move or you could shoot. If you saw someone and shot at them, you had so-so chance of killing them. I think some squares had descriptive elements (so you, and others, could figure out your locations). I even seem to recall random artillery coming down, killing players in a given square and moving things right along. As I remember, the point of the game rapidly came down to assembling your little group of randomly placed soldiers back into something like a platoon, so you could pick off individualists.

I remember playing this thing with my brother and his friends and having a pretty good time. And how amazed I was that the computer could act as a dungeon master and referee, hiding things from its players and acting upon circumstances we didn’t even know.  That idea burned in my head, and came to light fully in my next effort, Shark Lark!

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