One of my greatest pleasures is reading about the classic arcade titles from the Golden Age of video games, from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Unfortunately, cooperative gameplay, which we love so much here at Co-Optimus, was largely absent from games of this time period. In the latter half of the 80s, the co-op floodgates would open, but before then, teamwork was incredibly rare. Today, we'll look at a very early and unique example of co-op, from way back in 1980: Rip Off.
By today's standards, Rip Off has a bare-bones presentation. The simple, yet elegant graphics, luminous white on inky black, are not exactly impressive by any means. But vector graphics, like those in Rip Off and more famous games like Asteroids, have a certain look to them that is both pleasant to view and difficult to replicate, even on modern displays. Greatly enhancing the aesthetic appearance of the game was the monitor overlay, with a rocky planet's surface before a dark starfield, as well as the exciting tank battle vividly portrayed on the sideart.
Despite it's unusual name, Rip Off was not about bad financial transactions, but instead was based on a very common theme, science fiction. Players drove futuristic tanks, tasked with protecting a central collection of triangle-shaped fuel canisters. Wave after wave of pirate tanks would descend on the fuel, traveling two or three at a time, in order to steal them. Early waves of pirates were slow and stupid, heading straight for the fuel, but subsequent thieves were lightning fast, often working together to trick the players. When the entire collection of fuel cells was "ripped off", the game would end.
Rip Off has several characteristics that set it apart from other games of the time. One unusual attribute was that there were no lives, as such. The player's tank would destroyed when it collided with another tank, or was hit by a pirate tank's short range laser. But after a brief delay, tanks would respawn and the player could get right back into the action. Instead of lives, the limiting factor was the number of fuel tanks remaining. Once the last canister was stolen, it was game over. This unlimited supply of tanks even affected strategy; players could intentionally collide with pirate tanks, kamikaze style, in addition to shooting them with long range weapons. Who would have thought that abusing a respawn mechanic could happen in a game released in 1980?
The enemy AI was perhaps Rip Off's most innovative feature. Intelligent enemies were almost non-existent in arcade games from the time. The alien attackers in Space Invaders moved in easily predictable patterns, with only a speed increase to up the challenge. The titular space rocks in Asteroids displayed no intelligence whatsoever, relying on strength of numbers to defeat the player. Rip Off's pirate tanks had a robust set of instructions that governed their behavior.