Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Memory Bank: Zombies (a.k.a. Realm of Impossibility; BRAM Inc., 1983)

One of the greatest (and coolest) video games I ever played on my old Atari 800 in the 1980s was Mike Edwards' Zombies (BRAM Inc; 1983), later re-released by EA in 1984-1985 as Realm of Impossibility.

This game was available on both cassette (!) and floppy disk, but my memory is that I played the game on disk.  It was so long ago now, I'm not entirely certain about that detail, however.

Regardless, my father was vice principal at Mountain Lakes High School in New Jersey, and was close friends with a 1980s Atari guru, one who was outfitting the school with a number of computers as the PC era began in earnest.  One day, out of the blue, my Dad arrived home from school (on his motorcycle...) with a bundle of video games on disk and cassette.  I had never heard of any of these games, but it felt like Christmas morning.

They had titles like Blue Max, Trains, Murder on the Zinderneuf, Bruce Lee, Astro Chase, B.C.'s Quest for Tires, Caverns of Mars, and last -- and best -- Zombies!

In Zombies, the goal was to recover the "enchanted crowns of the middle kingdom" from an evil wizard named Wistrik.  The cleric had apparently stolen the crowns and stored them in a variety of hellish dungeons where they were protected by rampaging zombies, giant spiders and poisonous snakes.  The realms had ominous, mythological-based names such as "Cankaya Keep," "The Abyss," "The Stygian Crypts," "Tartarus" and "The Realm of Impossibility."

Designer Edwards was inspired in part by his love of TSR's Dungeons and Dragons, as he wrote in the marketing booklet for Zombies, available here.  But he also wanted to get away from simple shoot-em-up games of the era.  Thus he devised Zombies with a few diabolical and genius twists.  

Among these were the fact that as a player you were not awarded multiple lives.  When you died, and had to begin the game again.  

Secondly, there was no "elimination" of the supernatural enemies and vermin.  Instead, you had to drop crucifixes around yourself (while you ran...) as supernatural barriers to the surrounding threats.  Additionally, the player could acquire scrolls with spells such as "Freeze," "Protect" and "Confuse."  Believe me, these came in handy...

And thirdly, the game was two-player compatible, but the two players did not compete against one another.  Rather, they had to work together, in unison, to avoid the zombies and retrieve the crowns.  This made the game perfect for when my friends came over after school, or on Saturday afternoons, for surviving Zombies was an exercise in team work.

Zombies also featured, according to the promotional material: "3-D graphics, on-line instructions,"..."74 different screens, high-score save to disk, full sound and color, zombies, poisonous snakes, giant spiders, evil orbs, scrolls, talismans, magic spells, lost crowns and spectacular underground scenery."

On that last front, Zombies showcased unbelievable, M.C. Escher-inspired screens that, despite the young age of the form, were authentically mind-blowing in terms of viewer perspective.   I wish there were more screens available that  I could display in this post.

I've written here before how I'd like to see a consistent set of aesthetic criteria applied to video games because I do consider them an art form.  When I think about it, Zombies is likely the game that began me thinking along those terms, even as a teenager.  The game was beautiful to behold, and completely immersing.  For instance, I remember (I hope correctly...) that when the zombies touched you during the game, your life energy would bleed away quickly, but also that the game screen would pop and crackle, like you had been struck by electricity.  If you ask me, I can still "feel" that shock, though of course, no such physical shock was actually delivered.  

I can't even begin to estimate how many hours I spent during my teenage years navigating Tartarus, the Stygian Crypts, or the Realm of Impossibility.  But it was a lot, I'm certain.  I have wonderful memories of playing this game with Bob, Chris, and Scott, my best friends in high school.

I attempted to download a version of Zombies when I was preparing this post, but my Sony Vaio wouldn't accept the game format, dammit.


Below, I've included some YouTube videos of game play, but these videos are from the Realm of Impossibility version (which had 13 levels, six more than I recall on Zombies.)  But still, you'll get the idea.

The graphics may look primitive today, but the game play was absolutely incredible. And the sound effects are pretty much as I remember, though at least one of these videos showcases the game for Commodore 64, rather than the Atari 800.

Makes me miss my Atari 800...


  1. hi,

    Ah, the memories. I haven't played this one, in particular, but many a days have been lost in front of the pretty wiggling pixels, I can tell you that.

    You could try an Atari simulator, if you insist, but I suspect some Nerd to English translations may be required.

  2. Jay-Jay,

    Oh yes, a lot of days have been lost here, I assure you, on these old games. I may have to look into the Atari simulator you mention. Love the Nerd-to-English joke... (or was it a joke?) :)


  3. Anonymous9:21 PM

    I know this was a fairly common thing back then, but still shocking once in awhile when you find out one of your favorite games growing up was actually a renamed (and apparently expanded) port of a different game.