In 1986, a company by the name of Dreamrider Software released what they boasted was “the very first commercially available, full graphics, modem game” retailing at $39.95. It was a huge boast to make, but in those early years of computer gaming, it was an exciting selling point for the home user.
So what was Operation Terminal? As far as I was able to gather, it was a spy game on the Commodore 64 somewhat similar to First Star Software’s Spy vs. Spy in 1984. But instead of playing pranks on each other and restricting itself to a local 2-player split screen mode, Operation Terminal allowed two players to call each other up via modem and compete on their respective systems as another early form of multiplayer.
Scott Thomas for Compute Gazette took a look at the game in Issue 47 and describes the plot as taking place at a secret laboratory where antimatter is being created. The scientist behind it has mysteriously disappeared so it’s up to you to go in and find the antimatter and research papers before time runs out and everything goes boom.
Gameplay takes place in a grid of rooms and hallways. Rooms are separated by four-way halls viewed from a top down perspective. Rooms themselves are shown in a side view. As the secret agent, it’s up to you to search panels in each room for the vital antimatter and papers before time runs out. Bombs triggered by entering trapped rooms can also stun players for up to fifteen seconds, further robbing them of valuable time after throwing them up into the ceiling.
The top half of the screen shows the “action” where players move their agent around. The bottom half shows the vital essentials — grid map, time remaining, antimatter found, papers discovered, and strength left. Strength depletes every time a bomb goes off stunning your agent or whenever they open a panel to search it and if they’re too tired, they can’t do much of anything and need to find the room with a first-aid station to replenish it.
The battery gauge is for the “jammer” that you have to keep bombs from going off if you run into one. As for the number of bombs in your inventory, well, that’s for the other player.
Operation Terminal can be played solo, but if two players are going at it, they can sabotage each other to be the first to find everything they need to safely exit the complex and come home a hero. According to Thomas’ review, there are enough of the mission critical items for both to find in the same game making it a race to get to find them first and delay the other player by trapping rooms with their stash of bombs. Thomas also noted that if one player succeeded, the other player had one minute to try and finish before everything went up in a toasty ball of antimatter/matter.
I’m not exactly sure what might happen if both players ran into each other in the same room since there’s apparently a radar function that can also be used to tell you where they are. There’s also a battery recharge station that can be destroyed with a bomb but would leave both players without it. Griefing, anyone?
Unfortunately, the game is all but unknown today despite what its marketing thought back then. It’s listed up on Gamebase 64 as a part of its massive listing of titles and is floating around as abandonware. It’s really too bad as Scott Thomas concludes in his review that this wasn’t a bad game, and as Mindscape’s Infiltrator had also demonstrated in the same year, spies often knew how to have a good time.