Thursday, May 27, 2021

Game 71: Epoch

Publisher:Sirius Software
Developer:Sirius Software
Genre:Space Sim
Time:1 hour

For an obscure Apple II game that doesn't look appealing on first glance, I sure as hell had some trouble getting it to run. I'm willing to bet I'm one of the very few people who gave it that chance, and even I came in not expecting much. Its hard to say whether I got that or not. This game feels weird. Like alien in design. In every little way it is wrong, not the way anyone else would do it. What do I expect? Its from 1981. I respect it even though I don't really like it.

After a title screen the resembles something that would be a screensaver, the game begins. Something's shooting at me, so I shoot back. Cool. Nothing else is shooting at me, but I'm shooting at everything I see. Nothing's hitting. Oh, some scenery approaches...I shattered it and nothing happened. Oh, I get it, I shoot the things approaching me. And I'm dead, out of ammo. Huh. Normally, at this point, I'd play it a few more times, check that my thoughts were clear, then write off another title. But somehow Epoch managed to evade that. For some reason I actually wanted to play it a little more.

As I kept playing, it still felt weirder. I was getting better, but I wasn't getting any more time. I was dying due to a lack of fuel, while I still had way more title. My turning had no bearing on this, so I was clearly missing something. Checking, the very thin yet very informative manual tells me there are time gates that restore my time and friendly space stations that give me more health and ammo. I haven't seen anything the manual is depicting as one. Huh. Then when I start looking for one, everything that looks like it doesn't end up helping me.
The technology behind this is really weird. You have bullets that you can see curve around your ship. Its really cool, you get shot at, then you turn into the direction the bullet is heading. It maintains its speed and distance in what is perceivable as three-dimensional space. On the other hand, anything that is outside of my sight is non-existent. There's a ship on your left? Turn right, then left, he's gone.
There's a really awkward control issue that I'm not sure where its at fault. I'm controlling it via the numpad, which is obviously not on the original system. Everything works fine, except I have some drift and going up and left sends me flying for some reason. Its a little slow beyond that.

Generic lasers. 1/10

You've got vaguely Tie Fighter, Klingon heavy cruiser, and some other stuff I don't recognize. The visual range is nice for Apple II, but they're all the same. 1/10

The closest things are more like ammunition boxes you can accidentally shoot. 0/10

None, really.

Player Agency:
Awkward, slow, but as effective as can be. 3/10


There's just something strange about this game. I can't put my finger on it. 3/10

This is genuinely impressive stuff for 1981. Things get bigger as they approach, yet far away they still look like what they eventually look like. Some of the graphical effects here are genuinely good. 2/10

Generic non-story.

This is legitimately the worst thing I've ever heard. What passes for music is some absolute screeches that I think are trying to rip off something, but I don't care. 0/10

That's 10 points. Which is very good for 1981. I found it interesting, but its hard to recommend. For all the positives I found its still 1981 and it also sounds like a cascade of nails on a chalkboard.

The developer, Larry Miller, would go on to make two more games for Sirius Software, this same year, before joining Activision and disappearing. Allegedly the cover artist for this game was the same Richard Hescox who would go on the make art for Sierra games.

So, reviews. Well, I'm chancing that nobody modern has reviewed it, but there's an old issue of Computer Gaming World that mentions this game. Its very generous towards the sound design and seems to think its more complex than it is...but that's 2021 talking.

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