Throwback Thursday: WarGames (Colecovision)

Hey there everyone! This past week, I downloaded a new game that was released for iOS called “WarGames: WOPR”. I’ve been a fan of the original film for most of my life, and since it’s release in 1983, there have been a handful of video games that were published, that are based on the movie, made for a variety of systems. ColecoVision, TI 99, Commodore 64, the Atari 8-Bit family, Playstation, modern computers and now the iOS have had games released, some with completely different gameplay. The version that I will be reminiscing about today is the version that I grew up with: “WarGames” for the ColecoVision, originally released in 1984.

For those that have never seen the movie, it is the story of a high school student named David Lightman, who uses his home computer to break into his schools computer to change his grades, while at the same time, trying to impress a fellow student named Jennifer Mack. While reading a computer gaming magazine one night, he learns a company called Protovision is getting ready to release a slew of new video games in upcoming months, but he doesn’t want to wait. He instructs his computer to call every telephone number in Protovisions district, in hopes of gaining access to their system. After finding a computer system with lots of various games stored on it, he begins to research the creator of the source code in hopes of discovering the password to gain access. He succeeds, and begins playing a game of “Global Thermonuclear War”, and while playing the part of the Soviet Union, begins to nuke various cities in the United States. The only problem? He didn’t access Protovision at all, but rather NORAD, who uses the games on the computer to play various war simulations to prepare for WWIII. This causes havok at NORAD, because their system is showing that a massive nuclear attack is approaching, and it is up to David to try to convince everyone that it is not a real attack, but just a simulation, which wasn’t easy.



In the ColecoVision version of “WarGames”, the object of the game is to intercept missiles, bombers and submarines with the help from the civil defense computer (the “WOPR” in the movie). If you are successful, you will prevent the computer from launching a counterstrike. However, if you fail, an ICBM counterstrike will occur, and the game will be over. What is uncertain about this program, is whether or not the game is an actual nuclear attack prevention senerio, or if the game is true to the movie, where if you lost the game, the “counterstrike” would actually be first strike. The manual hints around briefly that it is a simulation, but it’s so vague that it gives this writer enough uncertainty. But regardless, it’s simply fun!

In the game, the lower 48 states are divided up into 6 different zones. (Why not Alaska and Hawaii, especially since there was a part of the movie that took place specifically in the Alaskian Defense Zone?) At any time you can look at a map of the entire lower USA, as well as attacks that are arriving, by pressing button 8 on the keypad. You will see the various missiles coming from above. Buttons 1-6 zoom into the various parts of the country for a closer look, while buttons 0, pound and star will select your weaponry. Only when you are zoomed in to a specific zone can you defend the country by firing your own missiles and bomber aircraft, and if you are on a coastline, submarines. There is also a satellite that will randomly appear in the zones that you can use to nearly intercept everything on the screen, but that only shows up sparingly. (But it works so well!) The game runs in real time, so after you give your commands in one zone, you can immediately go to another zone to continue your defenses.

The game is timed, and the amount of time you have to keep intercepting depends on which skill level you select at the start of the game. While the game is being played, you will want to take note of the DEFCON meters that are to the right side of the map. This is where it counts. Each zone has its own DEFCON level, and there is an averaged DEFCON status reading below that. At the start of the game, each zone starts you off at DEFCON 5, which means complete peace throughout the country. As the enemy attacks continue, the counter will slowly begin to drop to DEFCON 1. As you intercept enemy fire, the status can always return to DEFCON 5, but as more and more attacks occur, and as more and more of the United States gets struck, the DEFCON status will continue to drop, and drop rapidly it will. As soon as the total DEFCON status reaches DEFCON 1, that is when the countdown to counterstrike begins. You will then have 60 seconds to bring the total DEFCON status back up to at least 2. If it doesn’t happen, it’s nuclear armaggegon. If you can get it back up to DEFCON 2, the counter stops, but if the DEFCON status drops again to 1, the countdown starts over. If you have less than 60 seconds remaining in the game when the countdown to counterstrike starts, just relax. You’ve made it!


The game is very much often compared to the Atari program “Missile Command”. And with that type of comparison, I have to admit that it is a pretty accurate way of putting it, although the charm is something a little different. It’s one of those situations that while “Missile Command” was very fast moving and intense (both the arcade and home versions), “WarGames” tends to run a lot slower. But what it lacks in speed, it makes up for the fact that the game is played on 6 different screens simultaneously. At any given time, there could be something happening on screen A, but you wouldn’t know it because you would be looking at screen F at the time. You have to constantly be checking the view of the complete map to see where enemy fire is in the air, and you have to decide which cities you are going to sacrifice in order to intercept a more massive attack elsewhere. It actually gives you an extra challenge twist to the basic Missile Command, which makes this game one that I highly recommend. (Just don’t use the game to intensionally make your 4 year old brother freak out… My brother used to force a counterstrike when I was 4 years old to make the air raid sirens go off, which used to make me lose my mind. I’m still traumatized.)

Over the years, additional games were released that used the “WarGames” title, however it’s one of those situations where each game is almost completely different. For example, there was “Computer War” which was “based on the film”. (Why they couldn’t use the actual title, I don’t know.) This was the most similar, but also incorporated shoot-em-up elements to the gameplay. Then there was “WarGames: DEFCON 1”, which was released for the original Playstation & PC, which while it uses certain names from the film like WOPR, it is nothing more than a vehicular combat game. Then there is the new iOS game that I talked about at the beginning, which ironically, is a clone of “Bejeweled” with WarGames images and sounds. (Which I have to admit, even though it has nearly nothing to do with the movie, it’s a lot of fun to play with the various sound effects and screens.) The only game that came close to the original, is a game called “DEFCON” which was released in 2006 on Stream, PC, Macintosh & Linux.


“DEFCON” takes the original “WarGames” title and concept from the Colecovision days, and punches it in the nuts. Graphically, it’s superior to the already supurb graphics that the original offered. The music is stunningly haunting, complete with mellow music, sounds of crying from the impact, and coughing from inhaling fallout. And the best part of it all? It’s multiplayer! You can play as any country in the world (minus Antarctica), and others play the other countries. Chat with the others playing with you, and try your best to save who you can. The main difference is that in “DEFCON”, there’s always fatalities. In fact, the moniker of the game is “Everybody Dies”. So if you are more into modern gaming, yet like games like “Missile Command”, enjoy war based games but want something different than first person shooters, or have a thing for online multiplayer experiences, “DEFCON” is another one to try out.




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