An 8-bit road less traveled: Great Atari 800 Games Part I

Great 8-bit home computer games didn't start and end with the C=64 in the 80's. Classic 8-bit computer games were enjoyed on many other computers, the Atari 800 being arguably the premier computer gaming platform in the USA for about 3 years (1980-1982). This dominance ended when the low cost and slightly more powerful, mass market C=64 hit discount retail shelves. But, there were more than 5000 Atari 8-bit games released during the 80's and beyond. Many of which were outstanding. Of course many people have heard of or remember games such as Zork, Mule, Star Raiders, and Ball Blazer. But do more than a handful know that the Atari 800 was the original machine of many great future Commodore ports? Do they also know that the Atari 800 had many great original games that never made it to any other machines? As a side note, and as an ironic twist, do many Amiga fans know the Atari 8-bit computers were designed by Jay Miner The same Jay Miner who would go on to create the Amiga Computer when Commodore bought Amiga Corporation out from under former Commodore President and new Atari owner, Jack Tramiel? (whew!)

A couple years back, I started to create a database of all the Atari 800 games. I planned to play every Atari 800 game in emulation and give each a 1-10 rating, write a sort description, and compile release date and publisher / developer information. While I never got to play ALL of the games ever released, I did try about 1000 different titles with the Atari 800 Win Emulator I continue to try games with the emulator and add them to the database, but I don't have the same free time I once had. Based on those ratings, what follows are some of the lesser known, but still great Atari 8-bit computer games.

Fort Apocalypse

Synapse is one of the great lost companies of the early 80's. They took some pre-existing basic concepts and created advanced versions that far surpassed the games they were based on. Fort Apocalypse is a 4 ways flying helicopter shoot-em-up. It was released for the C=64 and Atari 800 in 1982 and also as an XE Game System title in 1986. Steve Hales wrote the Atari version as well a as the classics Slime and Dimension X before the demise of Synapse in 1984 (yet another company supposedly put out of business because the Tramiels decided not to pay their vendors and contract developers). This is a game that Steve says was inspired by the movie Blue Thunder and owes at least a part of it's origin to games like Choplifter and Defender. The game is suitably different from those, enough so that it is a classic in itself, as it included 4-way underground chopper movement in an action/adventure setting.

The object of the game is to traverse the underground "fort", destroy enemy installations, ordinance, aircraft while rescuing hostages and keeping an eye on your fuel. Fuel can be replenished by landing on "fuel" platforms. You must patiently wait for your chopper to refuel while enemy attack from all sides. Technically speaking, this is an examples of a great looking, playing Atari 800 game. I remember buying this one from a Big Ben's record store in Van Nuys (while visiting my grandma). Steve and I took turns reading the back of the box and the instructions the entire day and ride home. Still, after all these years, I seem to have forgotten just how difficult the Synapse games were as this one is a real bitch to play.

fort 1 fort2

(Above: Fort Apocalypse being played with the Atari800win emulator. )

Halcyon Days Interview With Steve Hales

Atari Mania Fort Apocalypse Page (Rom download available).


Rally Speedway

Rally Speedway was released by Adventure International in 1983 (and later ported to the C=64). It's a game not unlike Mattel Intellivision Auto racing, but much easier to control. I never had this title when I was a wide-eyed child of the 80's, but I remember seeing ads for it in Antic, Analog, and Electronic games. I was a big fan of the Intellivision game, and always wondered how a similar game would play out on the Atari 8-bit computers. Written by John Anderson, this racer is fast, hectic, and fun. You push the stick forward to start your car, then use the left and right directions to steer. The car accelerates automatically, and the button is used to brake. I wish more developers understood that steering left and right AND pushing UP and down for accelerate and brake is an impossible task (I wish all of the Atari ST / Amiga developers in the 80's had played this game).

Two players can play on the screen at the same time, If one of the player is too slow, his car will magically "catch up" to the leader car so the game stays competitive even if one player is much better than the other. It features two courses, and many game play option such as road conditions and top speed of the race cars . It also has some hilarious animations when your car crashes. I find this game fun. but very hard to play at top speed. I must just be too old for these games now.

(Above: Rally Speedway being played with the Atari800win emulator. )

Youtube.com Rally Speedway Video

Atari Mania Rally Speedway Page (Rom download available)


Montezuma's Revenge

Montezuma's Revenge was released by a couple different companies in the 80's. Parker Brothers released and Atari 800 cartridge version, while the original Utopia Software Disk version was published in 1983 (a year earlier). The Parker Brother's release is a 16K only version (a 5200 game that can only be played via emulation) and it eliminates many of the features of the 48K original. Contrary to Wikipedia, this game was originally released for the Atari 800 (they list every system but). This ancient tomb exploration game was written by Robert Jaeger (at the tender age of 16!) and released in 1983. It was also released for most other game and computer systems of the time.

In the game, you guide your hero, Panama Joe, through a series of ever more difficult rooms collecting treasure, solving puzzles, and avoiding traps and enemies. Equipment and keys are found along the way to help Joe in his quest to score as many points as possible.

It's a pretty fun game. I liken it to close to Pitfall II but with many more puzzles, enemies, and treasures. The game has 100 rooms to challenge the user, and I am not good enough to get by more than 5 or 6. This is another game that I have marked to play again some time and I hope to find that time soon. I remember that we had a pirated version of this game (the real one, not the 16K Parker Bros. version). I think I even mapped out most of the rooms back when we had summers worth of free time.

(Above: Montezuma's Revenge being played with the Atari800win emulator. )

Youtube.com Montezuma's Revenge Video

Atariprotos.com Montezuma's Revenge Page

Atari Mania Montezuma's Revenge Page (Rom Download available)


Mr Robot and His Robot Factory

In 1993, Datamost released Mr Robot and His Robot Factory by Ron Rosen and Robert McNally  for the Atari 800 . This is another gem that I remember having in the 80's. It was blatant rip off of Miner 2049er, but with much better visual and sound effects. This one was also ported to the Apple II  (McNally) and Commodore 64. Ron Rosen was a very accomplished Atari 800 programmer, so I assume this was first published for the 800 and ported over. His other 2 games, Pacific Coast Highway (frogger) and Rosen's Brigade were technically outstanding if not derivative of other works (like Mr Robot).

This is a very fun, but difficult, game with 22 levels to frustrate even the best platform gamer. The coolest part of this game was the level designer included. It allowed you to create up to 26 more levels to play. The object is to collect all of the power dots on the floor of each level. You must avoid mean looking fire balls, climb ladders, jump on to moving platforms, navigate escalators, etc. It is very similar to many other games of the time, but is a quality release and probably not well known.

(Above: Mr Robot and His Robot Factory being played with the Atari800win emulator. )

Atari Mania Mr Robot page (Rom Download available)

A new version was released in 2007

That's it for part 1. There are many many more Atari 800 games to go through. In the mean time, fire up the emulator, visit Atari Mania to obtain roms, and instructions (if available), and have an 8-bit blast.

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Hilarious "History Of Flash ActionScript" Video

Legendary Flash developer Scott Delamater produced this video last year for Flash's 10th anniversary.   If you were there from the beginning, you'll understand just how much Flash has grown in the past 10 years.

Check out the video here.


Sploder: A Cool New "Game Construction Set" Site

I just followed a banner ad from our site to this new Web 2.0 style "user created content" site named Sploder .   Sploder is a site that allows users to create their own "games" and share them with people, embed them on other sites, etc.   It's a really cool application that has arrived at just the right time.

The types of games that can be created (right now) are limited mostly to top-down 2D physics based shooters, but the possbilities of a system like this are limitless.   I like that the creators of the application did not try to "bite off more than they could chew" with this first implementation.  They have wisely limited the scope of the games that could be created, and focused on making an game design engine that fairly easy to use.   The types of gamesthat can be created with Sploder is fairly limited, but if this is successful, I would expect to see tons of imitators that will push Sploder itself to add more and more features and games engines to their offering.

You can design and test your games right in the web interface.  Almost all features are completed using drag&drop or click&drag functionality.    Sploder have created a really nice interface for making these types of games, and they have proven that "user created content" in Web 2.0 does not have to be limited to embarrassing photos of your grand parents, or videos of kids getting beat-up by cops.


Commodork vs. Atari Nerds : Common Ground?

A few days ago we received a nice message from Rob O'Hara, the author of the the book Commodork.  Rob had written in response to this blog entry, the first one that I wrote when starting this site last December.   I mentioned then that while I liked his book, and it was similar to a story I wanted to tell, I would have had much more content about programming.  Rob wrote to explain why he cut much of that content from his book.

Rob is an unabashed Commodore fan, while Jeff and I are Atari fans through and through.   After 25 years of feuding, can Atari and Commodore fans now get along?   Here is a section of Rob's message where he describes why he wrote his book Commodork, and why it might not have contained as much information about programming as he would have liked.

Greetings guys! I just ran across your website while Googling for the title of my book, "Commodork". Thank you for your kind words about my book; I really appreciate it. For years I had a nagging desire to "tell my story," but it wasn't until after I released the book and began reading reviews and getting e-mails from readers that I realized that I had really told "our" story ("our" being all of us who were there). Before I released the book I was naive enough to think that my story was unique; it was only after receiving the umpteenth e-mail from readers from other continents thanking me for telling "their" story realized just how many of "us" there were out there.
When I began writing Commodork I threw all my ideas down on a piece of paper and just began writing. When I read these stories back I noticed a common theme (piracy) and so that became the thread that I hung the entire narrative on, more or less. As a result there were a few "mini threads" that I ended up dropping from the book, strings of stories that weren't long enough for a chapter of their own and didn't really flow together with the rest of the stories. (On a side note, before I released Commodork I felt like the book was too long which is why I dropped some of these "threads". In retrospect, almost every single person who's reviewed it has commented on how short the book is. Hindsight, and all that.) Anyway, one of the threads that I cut out of the book was my stories about programming. I, like you guys, was amazed the first time I actually made a computer "do" something with a few lines of BASIC.

... (Rob continued to described his many programming exploits)

Anyhoo, I've rambled on long enough. Thanks again for the kind words, I'm glad you guys enjoyed the book. I look forward to scouring every inch of your website; I've really enjoyed what I've read so far this morning.
Rob "Flack" O'Hara
PS: Atari sucks.

Whaaa?  It was going so good, and then he had to add that last line!  Still though, I think we can get along.   Atari or Commodore?  At this point, who cares?  The only thing that really matters is that Rob and Jeff and I many 1000's of others like us, all learned that we could "create" things with these early computers.  Our common ground is that we learned to love computers at a time when writing your own software, tools, and games for it was almost foregone conclusion.    

So yeah, we can get along, and we can bury the "Atari vs. Commodore" hatchet. 

...but that doesn't mean I can't send him a picture of toilet seat  labeled "Commode-Door 64", just for old times sake, does it?


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Commercial Gaming Sites Start Adding Wii Browser Game Support

Most internet savvy Wii owners know that the instant start-up, Wiicade.com has been around as long as the Wii has been around, offering simple to semi-complex games designed to work well with the Wii opera browser. However, Wiicade.com is not the only site that has games targeted for the Wii Opera Browser. We at 8bitrocket.com have been doing it since the the day the browser was released in December, and many of the biggest gaming sites on the internet are now starting to add support for the Wii Browser to their already robust web gaming offerings.

This week, Cartoonnetwork.com announced that they would be specifically targeting Wii Opera browser users with a selection of new games coming soon. However, there are several sites well-known sites that have already been providing Wii opera Browser support for many months now. CandyStand.com, one of the first and most diverse gaming sites on the internet has surreptitiously added Wii Browser support. You can't find anything about it on the homepage, but if you try this url: http://www.candystand.com/wii/index.doyou will find a nice little selection of games that work well on the Wii Browser. Up and coming web games site Hotwheels.com has done something similar as well.

This can only mean good things for indie web game developers that are targeting their games for the Wii Browser. The more mainstream the support gets, the better the chance that your games will be seen and played, and the better chance you might someday see some kind of compensation for your work. No promises though.


Opera Guide To The Wii Web Browser: Highlights

The Opera Web Site has posted an in-depth article on formatting web sites to work with the Wii.  

A few months back I was a bit disappointed in the Wii web broweser and wondered aloud how many people actually connect their Wii to the internet.   Well, I read a few days ago that the number is 40%.  Hmm, not too bad.   Maybe there is a future for the Wii and Flash.

Anyway, this new article might make me go back and re-think my negative position on the whole thing.  Below are few highlights from the article:

  • The Wii Opera Web Browser uses a "virtual resolution" of 800 pixels in width
  • You can have one "pop-up" window open at any one time.
  • wmode="transparent" is not supported (not really a surprise)
  • The Wii processors has less than 1/2 of processing power of most desktop PCs (729 MHZ) and about 1/10 (88mb) the memory.  This means that games needs to be highly optimized to work well.
  • There are only two fonts available for HTML pages: Wii NTLG PGothic, and  Wii NTLG Gothic, which are virtually identical. 
  • Still only Flash 7 is supported

There is a lot more information on the Opera site that you should dead and digest fully.  The situation is not dire, but it certainly not ideal either.  If you want to target Wii users, especially with games, you are going to have to make a lot of design sacrafices. 



The Punk Rock Group's Retro Madness

In a bloglines.com search for Atari 800 (yes, I have THAT much free time tonight), I came across this very interesting band called The Punk Rock Group. Check out their music section for some Devo inspired retro-low-fi music hilarity in songs like Atari 800, Video Games and Toby Keith.

Also, check out the video section for the Descendents inspired instant classic called Tight End Wide Receiver. Also The Her name is Germany video / song could have an 80's hit in those KROQ / Early MTV Alphaville times.

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