GORF on the Vic-20 is one of the most derivative games I ever played as a very, very young lad. But what wasn’t at the time, right? In the 1970’s and 80’s ripping stuff off was just a bi-product of an industry that was well and truly in its infancy; so much so that even the major players in the arcade ‘game’ were emulating the success of their competitors.
GORF by arcade-savvy Midway lifted the mechanics from the ever popular Space Invaders, Galaga and Galaxian and compiled them successfully into an arcade game that proved that the West was just as capable as the East when it came to arcade shooters. But what set GORF apart from its eastern predecessors was its distinct mission structure. The game itself was seperated into five seperate and distinctive missions, each with a different look and feel from one another. This isn’t to say this differentiates GORF entirely from its peers – upon completing those five missions the player continues to cycle through those levels – but it allowed it to be different enough to single-level wave based games to stand out from the crowd.
It is important to note however that GORF wasn’t the only game at the time to employ a multi-level structure. The same year that GORF was released to (maybe) millions of screaming fans the first entry Nintendo’s diverse and thinly spread Donkey Kong series was also released which famously incorporated an infinitely looping set of four levels. But GORF was relatively unique in that it brought this increasingly important level structure to a genre that, until then, largely did not deviate beyond enemy pattern changes and increasing speed and difficulty.
The game also sported an incredible look that, even today, can be appreciated relative to the time it was released, with vibrant colours, cool explosions and interesting enemy designs that definitely continue to leave an impression.
GORF obviously resonated with people enough to be slavishly ported directly to a number of platforms – including Commodore’s VIC 20 (almost all of my experience with the game is with the VIC-20 version). And what a port that version was. Although it sported only four of the five levels contained in the arcade original the game itself was a fantastic home version of a refreshingly fun arcade game, which was a rarity at the time given the number of horrendous home computer versions of arcade classics. The VIC-20 was not the most powerful of computers, but it more did more than justice to what was at the time an incredibly advanced arcade game. Sure it didn’t look as good and some concessions had to be made to adapt the game to the far less powerful home computer, as witnessed by the more cramped stages (or compact, if you’re more kind), but the GORF gameplay experience remained in tact and as fun as ever. It could even be said that in light of the admirable attempts to mimic some of the (then) advanced graphical techniques used, particularly the explosions and the incredibly impressive emulation of the vector-style 3D in the Space Warp level, GORF was better on the VIC-20 than it ever could’ve been in the arcade just by virtue of what it did do, rather than what it didn’t as the case may have been with the arcade cabinet. And there were some amazing mighty large sprites that to this day still ooze character.
One noteworthy improvement over the arcade version of the game surprisingly came in the audio department. Games of this vintage are not usually pulled up for being decent representations of anything, obviously only having very primitive capabilities when it comes to producing sound. While the arcade version rarely extended beyond the standard ‘blips’ found in games of that era such as Defender (aside from some token speech samples), the VIC-20 game was filled to the brim with ear piercingly – squeals as you fire at the enemies, and incessant hums as the aliens descend down the screen. Of course I’m sure these are the result of the limitations of the hardware rather than purposeful improvements, but for me these sound effects are what makes the VIC-20 version so memorable.
In an era where home computer versions of arcade games were, at best, a representation of what the original would be if your dog got the opportunity to port it, Midway did us a bit of a solid by releasing something that while not perfect at least did the original some justice. It certainly wasn’t perfect and the fast paced arcade game play was in some ways compromised in order to bring it to Commodore’s home computer but given the hardware limitations GORF is as much an impressive an example of 8-bit computing as it is a nostalgia trip to the roots of video gaming.
[penned by Sir Gaulian]