Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Activision's Fishing Derby:
The most humane way to catch fish

"FISHING DERBY™ is a game designed to be fun for everyone in the family. Now you won't have to get rained on or sunburned when you go fishing." — designer David Crane, describing his 1980 Atari 2600 videogame Fishing Derby.

On the heels of last month's post about Freeway (Frogger for chickens), here's the four-page pamphlet from Activision's Fishing Derby, the game that wanted you to enjoy angling from the comfort of your living room, rather than venture outside into the fresh air. What would Izaak Walton have thought of all this?

Fishing Derby wasn't one of Activision's more well-known games. It certainly wasn't a best-seller like Pitfall! or Kaboom!, but it's probably less obscure than Oink!, which was based on "The Three Little Pigs."

Indeed, Fishing Derby was real, David. It's something that happened. The front of the pamphlet makes it look like you get to control a straw-hat-wearing Mennonite angler. The guy on the right, meanwhile, looks like a construction worker. And I don't know why they're both wearing the Frankenstein monster's shoes.

The game, of course, didn't look like the cover of the pamphlet. Here's the screenshot from inside the pamphlet; it comes closer to how the game appeared on TV screens.

And here's a YouTube clip showing the actual game play:

Here are some instructions and tips about the game from the pamphlet:

  • There are six rows of fish. From the top down, they count as follows:
    • First two rows: 2 pounds each.
    • Second two rows: 4 pounds each.
    • Bottom two rows: 6 pounds each.
    The big ones are down deep. Go for 'em!
  • If you don't do anything after hooking a fish, he will swim slowly up toward the surface (and the shark might gobble him up). If you want to reel him in fast, push the red button.
  • "The most important thing I can tell you is to WATCH OUT FOR THE SHARK! I've made him quick and wily and unpredictable," designer Crane writes.

Left unsaid: what sharks are doing so close to the shore and why these men are fishing in shark-infested waters.

These are Brian C. Rittmeyer's1 thoughts on Fishing Derby from a 2001 retro-review on The Atari Times (a website that I hope is officially archived somewhere):
"Fishing simulation games might be common today, but back when most video games were shooters, Fishing Derby was different. ...

"There is no music in Fishing Derby, just sound effects — the sound of hooking a fish, the chomp of the shark eating your catch and points ringing up. The graphics are good if not eye catching — the players are represented by stick figures on either side and the fishing poles 'extend' in rather unrealistic straight lines. The fish are a bright yellow, while the shark is all black — fitting, but gray may have been a better choice.

"Fishing Derby may not be the ultra-realistic simulation enjoyed by today's video game generation, but it's good competition. While some games may not age gracefully, this one has. The challenge is in getting more fish, and more points, before your opponent does. A game like this is timeless."

1. I am 95% certain this is the same Brian C. Rittmeyer who attended Penn State and worked alongside me at The Daily Collegian in the early 1990s. Such a small world!

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