Chase the Chuck Wagon

By Scott Stilphen


Based on the then-popular TV commercials from the 1970s and 1980s, you must guide a dog through a maze to a chuck wagon (food) while avoiding the dogcatcher.  Conceived and designed by Video Game Industries Corp. in cooperation with Spectravideo, and programmed by Mike Schwartz reportedly in only 3 days.  From Mike:

I was approached by a good friend who ran TMQ/ICOM and he badly needed this game programmed over a weekend.  Yes, it took me all of 3 days to cobble this game together.  I had existing code from my first game, Artillery Duel, to look at.  The sound effects were basically the same.  I apologize for the weak game play, but I was rushed!

This joint venture by Ralston Purina and Spectravideo brought Chase the Chuck Wagon to homes by mail order only.  Available only by sending in proofs of purchase from Chuck Wagon brand dog food.  This cartridge is difficult to find, but not as unbelievably rare as you may have heard.  As with most rare games, the box is valuable on its own.  It appears every cart was made using an EPROM pcb (that was designed by Apollo and later sold by Jameco).

The game features 4 different mazes, and after completing the 4th, they repeat starting with the first.  Your dog, Chuckie, appears in the center of each, and you must maneuver through the maze to the opening at the top, where the Chuck Wagon waits.  2 different settings determine whether you have 30 or 60 seconds in which to escape the maze.  In the maze with you are two objects to avoid - the dogcatcher (depicted by a stick figure) and one of several different objects that will bounce around the screen.  If the dogcatcher catches you, you'll lose a life (you only have 3 w/o the ability to earn more).  If the bouncing object touches you, you'll be stuck in place (for a few seconds in the first maze, but longer with successive mazes).  The longer you're in a maze, the faster this object will bounce.  If you escape the maze, the remaining time is added to your score and you'll advance to the reward screen.

On the reward screen, Chuckie will again appear in the center of the screen, but there won't be a maze.  Instead, you'll see a food bowl constantly falling past you either to the right or left of you.  If you face the bowl and press the Fire button just as the bowl is level with your head, the bowl will stop falling and Chuckie will walk over and eat from the bowl (as long as any part of his head is touching it).  This will earn you 100 points.  If your head doesn't touch the bowl, it will continue to fall down and you'll start the next maze.  Each successive reward screen will present you with a bowl that falls faster, which presents another problem, for when it's falling at higher speeds, the bowl is sometimes only onscreen in a few specific spots.  Sometimes one of the spots lines up with Chuckie's head, and sometimes it doesn't (making those bonus screens impossible to complete).

How the bouncing object is implemented is the critical flaw in the game, for once you're a few mazes into the game, the time you're temporarily frozen from the object touching you increases enough that the bouncing object will repeatedly touch you before you have a chance to move.  This makes the object as dangerous as the dogcatcher.  Since the bouncing object always moves in a different pattern on every maze, getting more than a few thousand points is the best you can hope for.

Aside from a nice graphic of the chuck wagon, the graphics are rather simple, and as nice as the little chuck wagon is, it's not animated.  Considering the TV commercials the game is based on always featured the chuck wagon running all around a house, under carpets and going through cabinets and bags of dog food, it's a rather odd design choice to feature a game where everything but the chuck wagon moves.  The console controls are also implemented strangely - pressing RESET resets the game back to the title screen and pressing SELECT starts the game.  But I suppose this is what happens when you allot only 3 days to design and program a game.



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