Review: Texas Intruments TI-99/4A
Author :        Date : 15-Oct-09

I have always been intrigued by video gaming systems, beginning with my first experience with my Uncle Glenn’s Atari PONG system at the tender age of 7.  I was a gaming panhandler during my early years until my father told me in 1979 that he had decided to take the plunge.

Would he choose the Atari 2600 that seemed to catapult my buddy P-Man into demigod status overnight once he got one?  Or maybe the Magnavox Odyssey 2 that was the show-stopper at my cousin’s house the Christmas prior?  Either way, I knew I couldn’t lose.

The day finally arrived when my pops entered our humble abode with the fruits of his efforts – the Texas Instrument TI-99/4A!  Wait a second…. a TI-what???  What was he thinking???  More importantly, what was this thing that looked like an electric typewriter???

The TI-99/4A was a personal computer hybrid that was released in 1979 (as the TI-99/4) by electronics heavyweight Texas Instruments.  This is widely considered to be the first 16-bit personal computer to be available to the general public in this genre and was very advanced for the time period.  This hardware debuted at a retail price of $1,200 – and that was a lot of pesos back then (and now for that matter).  The glorified, shiny silver casing sports an odd ‘ramp’ leading up to the recessed cartridge slot.  I used the term ‘hybrid’ earlier since the TI-99/4A primarily utilizes propriety cartridges for its software (around 300 total titles).  An optional joystick was available, but do yourself a favor and stick to the keyboard for navigation – the TI version is squirrelly as hell and more sensitive than a rug burn on your kneecap.  Better yet, splurge for the Atari 2600 controller adaptor and really live large ($5).

A very nice thing about this beast is that it connects directly to your TV and doesn’t require an external monitor.  Another interesting fact is that there was an optional Voice Synthesis module for use with games – and you could teach the system how to talk!  It also supported a plethora of add-ons including a thermal printer, cassette deck (for recording/saving/playing programs) amongst others.  Check out a fully loaded TI-99/4A below:

I won’t be detailing the specific hardware information in this article – Wikipedia and dedicated fan sites can provide that much better than I.  I will say that Texas Instruments introduced many innovations with this model, some which are common to this very day.  Though initially disappointed with my father’s purchase at the time, I quickly grew to really respect and enjoy this system immensely, even to this day.  You can now score one of these systems on the cheap – say around $20 or so.  I recommend giving one of these a shot – this retro ‘hybrid’ is a low capital investment with a high rate of ‘fun’ return.  My intent in this writing is to share the gaming experience. 

When firing up this hardware, you are presented with a Texas Instruments home screen.  After pressing any key, a text driven menu is displayed to allow your choice of entering into BASIC mode (yes, this baby was programmable) or starting the inserted game cartridge.  Let the games begin…


TI Invaders
Parsec
This was not a bad clone at all of Space Invaders.  Game play was flicker free and fast. The sound effects were much better than the Atari 2600 version.  This game had to be displayed in this article to give you a comparison for the era. This is a classic must-have for any TI owner. It is basically a Scrambler clone, but it is well done and features great voice synthesis work during game play.  Sound effects in general are excellent, but most importantly this game is a BLAST!
TI Football
Alpiner
This was the first game that accompanied our TI-99/4 back in the day.  It is rough by all standards to be honest.  You had a selection of 4 plays for offense/defense and you had to be sneaky quick to rifle through them quickly and set your formation so your opponent wouldn’t catch you locking ‘in’.  After your virtual gridirons (football helmets) are aligned, there is nothing really else to do but to click a button and watch the play unfold – you had no control of your warriors.  This was still a blast with my buddy Drago and we still reminisce at times about him uttering "The Bomb" when I was set in my "Goal Line" defense in a 3rd and 2 situation.  You can guess the outcome of that scenario – Drago 7,
Marriott_Guy 0.
I hated this game to be honest, but I would be remiss not to include it since everyone that has owned or experienced the TI-99/4A has been subjected to this sick form of torture know as Alpiner.  First off, what is even remotely fun about climbing a virtual mountain and dodging a deluge of rockslides that look like ginormous piles of horse dung?  Nothing, in my humble opinion.  Secondly, my ‘hero’ flickers so bad that after playing for more than a few minutes I start to feel like some of those afflicted souls in the movie The Happening – I just want to take a running start and take a dive off of a tall building.  Thinking about it now, that would be a more pleasant outcome to be honest than playing this pig for any extended period of time.
TI Defender
TI Miner 2049er
This big hitter from Atari is a great translation.  The smooth play, deep sound affects set this apart during the day from its rival systems.  The opening sound effect to begin a level still rocks to this day. Another classic TI game, this time by a third party developer, TigerVision.  I am not a huge fan of this game, but this game does demonstrate the advancement in game technology due to TI’s loosening their stance on external software development and embracing willing partners rather than attempting to have a virtual monopoly on all software development for the TI-99/4A.

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