Parsec

Press fire to begin.

And from there, that’s pretty much all you do. Press fire. And dodge the occasional “alien craft advancing”, “ship attacking” or “asteroid belt.” Re-fuel, then do it all over again in the next level. Easy, right? Well, sort of.

Parsec was first introduced in 1982, and was the first game to use bit map graphics on the TI-99/4a, hence the huge difference in the quality of the graphics as compared to previous games. While a several of the Texas Instruments games were throwbacks to already popular games (think TI Invaders or Munch Man the TI Pacman), Parsec was all TI, and more specifically, all TI-99/4a in fact, it was so advanced graphically that it was incompatible with the older TI-99/4.

So there you are, in your little green spaceship, ready to face 16 levels of, well, objects in your way. You can move up and down (or forwards and backwards, though you don’t often need to), and you can fire. A female voice (recorded by then Texas Tech student Aubree Anderson) warns you, alert, alien craft advancing, and then the alien craft advances. Shoot them. Dodge them. This is the easy part, as they don’t fire back. It’s only after you kill all of these warm-up spacecrafts that the photon missiles show up. They do shoot and follow the direction in which you move. So be on your toes, throw them a few curves, then fire away! Once you defeat that round of missiles then it’s on to more alien craft, then missiles, alien craft, missiles, asteroid belt and so on until it’s time to refuel.

Ah, refueling. Believe it or not, this is actually the most difficult part. Getting gas. In order to do this, you have to navigate your ship underneath this tricky overhang without crashing into the uneven ground, or the overhang itself. One slip, one false move, and it’s over. All that work dodging spacecraft and fighting off missiles, and your biggest danger is outer space’s version of a Sunoco station.

There are a lot of cheats and hidden facts about this game as compiled by fans over the years. One great site to check out is Rare Parsec Facts, run by Matthew Doucette, an avid Parsec fan and player, whose twin brother Jason has beat the game so many times it deserves to be named after him. Matthew lists several tricks and fun facts on his site, and here are some fun ones:

  • The missiles “Urbite” and “Dramite” are named for real men. “Urbite” is named for programmer Paul Urbanus and “Dramite” for programmer Jim Dramis.
  • You can pause the game by pressing “P”. The bottom of the screen will read “Time Warp Activated.
  • Parsec has a little known two-player sequel named Beyond Space.
  • While playing Parsec, there is a danger of firing too much and overheating. However, if you press the joystick and keyboard fire buttons simultaneously, you’ll never overheat and you’ll leave laser trails all over the screen.
  • There are three refueling tunnels. And the third one is twice as long as the first two. (Oh wonderful.)

There’s no doubt this is one of the most beloved video games of all time, one many Gen X gamers remember most clearly from their childhood. And while all the repetition of the levels and the content of the levels (refueling again?!?!?) might sound like it would get old and boring pretty quickly, that’s far from the reality of playing this game. Press fire to begin, but don’t be surprised if you’re still firing hours later perhaps as a result of activating your own personal time warp.

Gameplay Video

Sass Wagon

Sass Wagon (or Dana, if you prefer formality) grew up in Pennsylvania in the 80s and 90s. She kinda needs a haircut.

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