Humanity has a knack for getting bored. We’ll get bored in the car, on a plane, or in our math classes. No one would really blame us for being bored in a math class though. Math can be tedious and dull. That’s what probably led to some people picking up the Texas Instruments 84 calculator and saying “I could work with this”.
And thus began a unique corner of the gaming world, one running on a device originally used for graphing functions or helping solve equations. The TI-84 Calculator harkens back to the original Game Boy, in both graphical and mechanical limitations.
The TI-84 Calculator harkens back to the original Game Boy, in both graphical and mechanical limitations.
The TI-84 has limited screen-space and not the smallest of pixels, forcing developers for the system to be particularly crafty with how they designed a game. Some tend to use either single screens at a time or single screens the player either couldn’t leave. This way the player knew what they had to deal with without the risk of being introduced to something new with the inclusion of poor screen transition blur or sometimes lag.
Much like the GameBoy, the TI-84 Calculator still had different aesthetic styles despite it’s lack of pixel detail. Games had to have a balance between detail and size. In order for a sprite to be detailed they would have to be big, and thus take up more room on the screen. Despite all of this, games still look appealing, unique with each game.
Controls are a weird story when it comes to the TI-84 Calculator, as it is a calculator. For starters, there are a lot of buttons to works with, but not all of them are in a good position, or at least not a comfortable one. This is due to the placement of the D-Pad. The D-Pad it has is on the right, which is different to normal systems. Not only that, but it is also placed high up on the device. With most of the buttons being much lower than the D-Pad, it would be awkward holding it if developers decided to make use of those buttons.
In order for a sprite to be detailed they would have to be big, and thus take up more room on the screen.
It’s a good thing they don’t. The buttons used the most are the 2ND and ALPHA buttons, with some games making use of MODE and other ones just left of the D-Pad. Most games are forced to be simple, and because of that utilize simple controls. Some games use these buttons for things like jumping, shooting, or selecting, while other games only use these buttons to open the game and then the D-Pad does the rest.
Now what really makes a gaming system great is the games available to play on it. While there are ports of games like Tetris and home-brews of franchises like Mario and even Portal, there are also a whole slew of original titles, some of which I love dearly. Platformer games like Swords 2, arcade games like Uncle Worm, puzzle games like Pegs and the classroom-famous Block Dude, and so on. The TI-84 has been around for a while, so it has a fair amount of fun games on it now.
With all of this being said I just want to say that, after playing it a whole bunch, the TI-84 Calculator is an underrated gaming system. Unorthodox? Yes. A pain to get games on? Yes. Allowed in math classes? Yes.
By Dan Khan