Late To The RPG Game: Phantasy Star

Over the past few years I have been making an attempt to find and play many of the Japanese RPG games that I otherwise missed when they were originally released. For many years I had an aversion to Japanese RPGs because I felt they were too heavy on story and did not provide enough classic RPG game play. However, since that view was based on playing only a handful of games, I decided it was time to give this very popular genre a fair shake. What I found was interesting. Some of the games were too my liking (Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy III, Paper Mario 1000 Year Door, Tales Of Phantasia), and some were not (i.e. all other Final Fantasy games). One of the things that noticed was that the very early Japanese RPG games were the ones I liked the most.

Today I started playing another very early Japanese RPG: Phantasy Star. This game was originally released for the Sega SMS. Since I did not know much about the game, I found these interesting (and possibly completely incorrect) details from Wikipedia:

  • Phantasy Star was released on Dec. 20th 1987 for the SMS, 2 days after the first Final Fantasy was released for the NES
  • Wikipedia states "Phantasy Star was one of the pioneers of the traditional console RPG format, featuring fully traversable overworld maps, complete with interactive towns, and sprawling dungeons. Unique amongst all games of the time was the faux 3-D graphics of Phantasy Star's Dungeons, a widely praised technological feat.
  • The game has been routinely named on "best of" lists by publications with limited memories.

These facts might excite younger game game fans, but to an old guy like me they sort of piss me off. This is because:

  • True RPG fans should know that the technology "Advances" stated above were actually pioneered in Ultima II, released more than 5 years prior in August of 1982.
  • At the same time this game was released, an actual full real-time, pseudo 3D dungeon crawl was released for the Atari ST named Dungeon Master .



After playing Phantasy Star for about 1 hour, my first reaction was "huh?" The game starts with the thinnest of stories (little more than "you're brother is in peril"), and drops the player in a tiny town with a tiny dungeon, stores with very things for sale, and little else. After about 10 minutes of searching, I realized that my only option was to try to "level grind.". I was correct. I have never played an RPG where "grind" was the only real option from the instant you start the game! Fortunately, I enjoy level grinding in games like this, and I have developed vast patience for doing it. After about an hour I had reached the level where I could more move around a bit more freely and discover more of the world.

At this point. compared to the original Final Fantasy, Fantasy Star does not hold-up at all. From what I have seen though, the game seems to hold some interesting surprises down the line:


I plan to give this one a fair shake and report back periodically on my progress.

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A Military Version Of Atari's Missile Command: Rich Adam , "Chuck" react….

A few months ago (April 30th 2008 to be exact) we wrote a story about a possible "military" version of Missile Command. The most controversial part of the story was this:

While information on the Army Battlezone project is freely available today, in the early 80's it existed as only the reflection of rumor passed around by magazine editors and kids on the playground.   Without any formal information, even more scurrilous rumors (or are they?) evolved pertaining to other Atari games (i.e. Missile Command, released at the same time as Battlezone) and C.I.A. conspiracies. I recently dug up this quote from an issue of Joystik.
'The rumor goes something like this: The Pentagon (or the CIA or the FBI) collaborated with Atari in the development of a realistic video war game. What they were after isn't clear, and the reasoning differs from rumor to rumor. Either the Pentagon wanted to subliminally train future personnel in the art of video. Or the Pentagon wanted to locate and recruit immediately those talented gamesters with the most impressive war-game skills. Whether they found what they were after or whether the story is even true is certainly top-secret information. The game was real enough, however, and was appropriately titled Missile Command.'

-Matthew White, Joystik magazine,Sept. 1982


Well, not too long ago, we found out the the truth about this story, and it came right from one of the original Atari programmers of Missile Command, Rich Adam:

"Atari did not work on a military application of Missile Command.  I was one of the 2 programmers on the coin-op original.  I believe that I would have known about one and I never heard a syllable spoken about it.  A lot was discussed about the ethics Army Battlezone though.

So there you go..."

So the illustrious Mr. Adam cleared up the story for us, which was very cool (if not a bit disappointing). However, last night on the NBC TV Show Chuck the issue was raised again. In last night's episode of the the show, Chuck must help the 1983 Missile Command champion (one of his Nerd Herd co-workers) who is wanted by a global terrorist for his mad incoming ballistic warhead defense skill. It turns out that (in the show), the guy who created Missile Command created an ICBM carrying satellite for the Japanese military that could only be activated by codes hidden on the final level of the game.

Interesting? A Military implications for Missile Command? Where did the producers of Chuck get that idea? I mean, It's not like the idea had been floated any place in the past 25 years, EXCEPT last April on our site. Did they somehow get inspired by that post to use it as an episode for the show? If so, we are here at 8bitrocket.com are flattered by their use of our patently wrong (thanks to the input from Rich Adam), and ill-advised story of the subject.

Of course the people who made Chuck were pretty loose with their facts (basically painting Atari as still existing Japanese company with a chief engineer named Morimoto who was the designer of Missile Command...sorry producer guys, Morimoto was an Iron Chef, the guy who designed Missile Command was named Dave Theurer was helped by Rich Adam), so who could blame them if their story was inspired by a poorly researched story from a rinky-dink game blog like 8bitrocket.com?

At any rate the show Chuck rocks, and the Atari Missile Command episode (obviously inspired somewhat by movie King Of Kong too), even with its historical inaccuracies, was still awesome. In fact in some ways it was awesome BECAUSE of it's historical inaccuracies, mostly because it inspired a hyper-nerd like me to write about it.

Note Added By Jeff - A Long time Chuck Fan:
I have watched every minute of every episode of Chuck, so I already know that the writers are extremely talented and always brilliant.
The part Steve left out was the absolutely amazing game playing sequence where Chuck conquers Miss-ile (sic) Command to get to a mythical kill screen while synchronizing his moves to Tom Sawyer By Rush. All the while the 40 something nerd crowd that came to see a King Of Kong style classic video game match cheer with fists raised, rocking out to the tunes and the Chuck's mastery of the game. At the same time, Sarah, who is Chuck's CIA protector, sometime Girl Friend, and always righteous babe of kick ass awesomeness, disarms a band of black clad hooligans in concert with Chuck's game play in quick cut away's and split screens. This is absolutely the best friggin show on TV and no one is watching. Please check it out, as if you visit this site at all, you are sure to enjoy every minute.

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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #7: A Modest Proposal: The VGS-8200

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #7: A Modest Proposal: The VGS-8200

Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current difficulties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

We have been writing articles all week about the properties that Atari-Infogrames (most likely) owns from their old Atari Inc/Atari. Corp. holdings, or could license from 3rd parties, that we believe they could develop into products in the 21st Century. We talked about Atari 2600 games that should have been franchises, coin-op games that could be casual games, later console games that could be remade in the 21st century , and identified a multitude of 8 and 16 bit games for Atari computers that we feel would make amazing remakes or downloadable games. All of this has been fun and interesting, but what does it lead to? Why do we think Atari-Infogrames should do any of this? Do we have any kind of final recommendation that would sum all of this up and give some sort of path to the future? Why of course we do and here it is:

We believe Atari-Infogrames should create a new gaming console. (pause for Spit-Take)

Well, actually, two consoles. (pause for chair falling over)

Now before you click-away in disgust believing we might be totally insane, please hear-us-out. Then you will at least know we are insane. Here is a quick diagram of what we think would be really cool and serve to fulfill all of our Atari dreams:

The basic idea is that you have two new consoles based on solid yet commodity priced CPU processor designed (most likely one designed for wireless with built-in USB support. One "console" would be a wireless handheld (the VGS-8200p) and the other would be a set-top box (the VGS-8200). Each console would have a Linux kernel with a custom GUI built-on top of it. Internally, each console would have support for emulation of the following consoles: Atari 2600/5200/7800/8-bit/ST/Lynx/Jaguar plus MAME for old coin-ops and Flash 10 for web based games. You might also want to add Vectrex, Intellivison, Apple II, TI-994A,Colecovision, C-64, Amiga, Spectrum, Fairchild, Astrocade, Odyssey, TG-16, SMS and/or Genesis support if the licenses could be worked out. Anyway, the idea would be to make as many of the original games for these platforms (either owned by Atari or licensed from 3rd parties) available for download. Custom "new" generation games based on existing franchises (all the remakes we suggested previously) could be built specifically for the native processor that the hardware was based-upon..

Some games could be purchased at retail through SD Cards, but most games would be purchased wirelessly over the internet from a central store. Licensing would be userid based, which means that as long as one particular user is attached to a console, they could play a game. One userid could be attached to multiple consoles, but each console could only have 1 userid. That way, a game could be transferred from the wireless console to the set-top box by a user, and it could still be played. As well, a user could always transfer their game collection to another console. They could also transfer their license to another userid, and give-up their right to play the game. In effect, the games are ALWAYS theirs unless they want to sell it to someone else. Games would vary in cost from $1 (Atari 2600) to $5 (Jaguar) and even $10 (modern games). However, pricing would be kept down because there would be no manufacturing, shipping, or middle-man expenses. tacked-on to the price. All games would be stored on internal memory or saved to SD cards. A special "friend license" would granted to a game on an SD card so it could be played on another user's console. All that would be required would be the owner to authenticate the game on the second person's console. The second user would be able to play game as long the owner had not logged into their own console to play it.

The set-top box console would come with a universal 6-button, gyroscopic controller. Other USB controllers that replicate old console controllers, arcade machines, mice, keyboards, waggle-motes, etc. could also be added through the multitude of on-board USB ports. The online component would include the download store, user profile (with options to add family members beyond the main userid), email, blogs, chat, message boards, high score tables, earnable badges, and an online currency that could be used in a retro-game inspired MMOW. An option for homebrew classic console programmers to sell their wares online could also be added.

After talking at length with someone in the industry that has significant experience in this area, we were surprised to find out that most everything we described above is available right now and could be built into both handheld and set-top-box units for far far less than the cost of any current gaming console (set-top box or hand-held). As well, the online components are mostly commodities too and the cost to build them would be relatively cheap compared to high profile MMOGs especially if you developed the interface and world as Flash applications and used something like Electroserver 4 from Electrotank as your multiplayer/multi-user platform.


OK, did you get all that. Yes, we are nuts. We want Atari-Infogrames to get into the hardware business again and do it the way we always felt Atari should. Sure, this idea is far-fetched, and impossible, but is it really that hard to imagine? In the end, we here at 8bitrocket.com are Atari fans through and through and we just want to see Atari rise again. Even though Atari-Infogrames is not the "original Atari", so what? They are what we have now and they themselves have a long history in the game industry going back to the early 80's. We have shown this week that they are sitting on some intellectual property that we think has massive potential and we have described a reasonable way for them to maximize that potential. There's really nothing more we can add.

Thanks for taking the ride this week on our Project:Save Atari. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed dreaming it.

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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #5: Remake And Download Quality Atari 8 And 16-bit Computer Games

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #5: Remake And Download Quality Atari 8 And 16-bit Computer Games

Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current diffculties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

Atari-Infogrames has been doing a fair job with old Atari licenses that they own. New versions of all the usual suspects (Asteroids, Missile Command, etc) routinely appear on consoles, online, iPhone, etc. While this is fine, it seems to us that there is just so much more in the archives that they could utilize. This week we have already talked about 2600 games that should have been franchises, coin-op games that could be casual games, and later generation console games that should be remade, and now we have made it to one of our favorite subject: The Atari home computers. Today we will discuss Atari Home Computer Games that we believe should be made available for download, remade or both. We understand that Atari does not own the rights to all these games,but we also believe at this late date that it would be trivial to rectify that situation.


Atari 8-bit Computer Games

TheAtari 8-bit computer line was released in late 1979 and lasted into the 1990s. In that time, tons great games and game franchises were created for it, many of which have been buried by the sands of time. Here are some the best ones that we believe should be revived.

Star Raiders:star raiders Star Raiders was the the single most influential computer of game that Atari ever produced. The was so visually stimulating and so much fun to play,that Atari sold 1000's of 8-bit computers on the strength of is one title alone. In a way, this game paved the path for the 8-bit home computer-home gaming era that would be more commonly known by the Commodore-64. Star Raiders was a take on the all-text mainframe game named Star Trek, a strategy game in which you attempted to fight a space battle against alien forces. Star Raiders took that basic concept and added simulated 3D effects, and space battle action that resembled a Star Wars movie more than any prior game. While Atari did make a VCS version of this game (trumped by Activision's Star Master) and a version for the Atari ST, that is just about as far as it went. Late in the 8-bit era they did make a game based on the movie The Last Star fighter that surfaced as Star Raiders II, and the late 90's VCS saw a game named Solaris, programmer by the original 8-bit Star Raiders programmer, but neither of these games took the concept to a place where it could be considered a franchise. In the 90's Wing Commander took the helm and Star Raiders was mostly forgotten. To us, this is one franchise that needs to be revived and brought back into the fold with a new entry for modern consoles.



Excalibur: Excalibur was written by Chris Crawford and released through Atari's APX program. The game simulated both the medieval struggle for the land of Great Britain, and the internal struggle of King Arthur's Camelot. This little seen, little played gem was one of the most detailed and intriguing strategy games of the 8-bit computer era. This is definitely one game that needs to be released for download, if not totally remade with the help of Chris Crawford.




Eastern Front: Chris Crawford's Eastern Front was one of the first "accessible" war games for any computer. Crawford developed an input mechanism that used single joystick to fight very complex WWII battles It was also great fun to play. Crawford's design inspired many further war games from other developers (such as SSI), but this exact title, treatment, input mechanism, etc. was not seen again in any Atari title. Remaking this game might not work in 2008, but as a downloadable game it would be very interesting.




Caverns Of Mars: This vertical scrolling shooter was a stand-out when it was released by Atari's APX. It was so popular in fact that Atari released it as an official game soon after. This game was a known for it's audio-visual effects and slick game play when it was first released. A sequel was created but it was not well distributed. The concept of a shooter where the player plumbed the depths of a planet was very solid one, and this game should have lived on beyond the 8-bit computer line to the 16-bits, Lynx, Jaguar, etc The game is still enjoyable to play today and would make a great remake or download.




M.U.L.E.: Dan Bunten's planet colonization and free-market economy game M.U.L.E. has been called one of the best games ever made. A remake was created for the NES, but beyond that, there has never been a solid attempt to take this game to another platform. Why? Because it perfectly embodied the strengths of the Atari 800 computer. 4 players could play with the 4 joystick ports on the 800, the sound and music were perfectly suited for the Pokey sound chip, the display-list graphics concept served the visuals perfectly. These things simply did not translate to other platforms. Atari-Infogrames should work with E.A. to get this game made available as a download. They should also work to add online multi-player support.




Ultima IV: Still the best Ultima of the series, IV deserves to be played and appreciated by modern audiences. This deep, complicated, and difficult yet satisfying RPG was one of the inspirations for Final Fantasy and all the Japanese RPGs that followed. With the complicated magic system, strategic battles, NPCs that could carry on full conversations, and one of the most interesting stories of any RPG I have ever played, this game remains the most memorable playing experience I had on an 8-bit computer. Someone needs to work with E.A. (who owns all the Origin properties) so that this game and all Ultimas made for Atari machines (I-VI) can to be re-released for download. As well, someone needs to convince E.A. to re-make IV for modern machines.





Rescue On Fractalus: This game was Lucasfilm's first foray into video games. The original name was Behind Jaggi Lines, but it leaked to Atari pirates so quickly that it forced Lucasfilm to start looking at other platforms almost immediately. In the game, you play a pilot who must fly around a planet trying to save your comrades and avoid aliens and alien imposters. I recall that being attacked by an alien imposter was one of the most frightening gaming events I ever experienced. While a remake might be cool, this one needs to be made available for download as soon as possible.


7 Cities Of Gold: Dan Bunten's second game on this list was no less impressive than M.U.L.E. 7 Cities Of Gold was a "new world" exploration simulation like none before or after it. It was kind of like a cross between Civilization and Pirates, but oonly from a surface perspective. Your job was to take as many ships and soldiers as possible to the the new world, and then map and discover as much as possible. One of the objects was to find gold, but you could also discover rivers, mountains, and other land features as well as small tribes and great civilizations. The most interesting part of the game was the random map terra forming engine. While the game was supplied with a map of the classic "New World" you could also generate a random map and then try to discover it. The only objection I had with this game was the limited options you with the native people of the lands. You could only do simple trades, try to "amaze" them, or rudimentarily fight them. Atari should work with E.A to get this made available as an emulated download. Someone should also try to convince E.A. to remake it, but this time with more in-depth interaction with the native peoples of the the world you are "discovering".



Pinball Construction Set: Again, another E.A. release for the Atari 8-bit, but also one of the best games of the era. Bill Budge's masterpiece allowed would-be pinball designers almost unlimited control over the look and feel of their pinball tables. Any number of games could be created and shared as stand-alone games using the built-in compiler that could create executables for whatever platform you were running the game upon. This game would make a great download for any console that could support emulated Atari 8-bit games.pbcs




Everything by Synapse: One of the biggest tragedies of the Atari 8-bit computer line must be Synapse Software. Synapse, bar-none, made some of the bestst action games for the system. If the 8-bit line had been a gaming console (ok, just not the 5200), then Synapse would have been the premiere developer for that platform. Synapse did not live-on much past the end of the Atari 8-bit era, and because of that, the world probsbly missed some great games. Nearly every title they made oozed of originality, quality, depth and value. From the "Choplifter on steroids" action of Fort Apocalypse, to the isometric WWI air battles of Blue Max, from the action adventure of Shamus, to the scrolling basting action of Zeppelin, Synapse titles always delivered. Atari did try to license and release some of these games for the XEGS in 1987, but that was just too little too late. It's a tragedy that these games never saw a wider audience. Atari-Infogrames should license them all and find a way to release them.




The Atari ST 16-Bit Computer Line

Atari produced a few very good versions of their old coin-ops for the Atari ST line, and there were 1000's of other games made for the ST by many different game developers. Here are some of the best ones that could be re-released as some kind of Atari ST virtual console, downloadable package or as remakes.

Atari Coin Op conversions: Atari Corp produced some very good coin-op conversions for the 16-bit computer line including Tempest, Star Raiders, Millipede, Battle zone, Missile Command, and Asteroids Deluxe. Some of these games were even more advanced then their coin-op inspirations. Any 16-bit emulation package should include these, plus any licensed games they made for the ST (i.e Joust)




Oids (FTL): Oids was one of the best action games on the Atari ST. Part Asteroids, part Gravitar, part Lunar Lander with elements of Choplifter this game made many an Atari owner proud of their own machine after playing it for the first time. The game included a level builder that was even more fun than the game itself. This would be a perfect candidate for something like XBox Live Arcade.




Roadwar 2000/Europa (SSI): Roadwar 2000 was a deep and detailed car war-fare strategy RPG set in a post apocalyptic USA. In the game you would grow your own army of vehicles and soldiers as you traveled the USA fighting car gangs and trying to solve the main quest of the game. Battles were strategic affairs involving cars and trucks, with the ability to shoot, ram, board, etc. This was unique and highly enjoyable game from SSI, one of the premiere game companies of the day. If a basic game like Advanced Wars can make multiple all-time top-100 games lists, Roadwar 2000 should at least get a chance to be played again. I'd personally love to see this one remade.




Phantasie I,II,III (SSI): The Phantasie series from SSI was a massively fun RPG series that pioneered the ranked, turn based battles that first few Final Fantasy games made popular. Its hard to describe why these games were so enjoyable, because no one element (besides possiibly, the battles) was a stand-out. They were simply nicely crafted games that played completely different from other RPG series, but were still great. Most of the game was based on "grind", but the battles were so much fun, it did not matter. These games would probably not be good as remakes, but as downloads they would be great fun to play.



Lost Dutchman Mine (Magnetic Images) : This gold mining adventure game might have been the best Atari ST game no one (outside of some ST owners) ever played. The premise was a prospecting adventure to find the fabled "Lost Dutchman Mine". You could hunt, fish, camp, gun fight, pan for gold, enter mines to dig for treasure, etc. The game had a vast landscape and leisurely pace that was very memorable. This would make an awesome casual-game remake in the 21st Century.




Time Bandit/Major Motion/Leatherneck/Gold Runner: Microdeal made some of the best, unique action games for the ST and these are the best of the bunch. All Microdeal games should be released as downloads.




Anco Player Manager : The best 16-bit soccer game ever made. Dino Dini's soccer management/playing sim was so enthralling that, to this day, I can't think of better soccer game. This one would probably be best served with a comprehensive, from the ground-up, remake.




Dragonflight: RPG : An amazing and unique RPG for the Atari ST. It's damned crime that any and all Japanese RPGs are remade and recycled yearly, yet brilliant US and European games (that IMHO are far superior) are left rotting in the bit bucket. These games need to at least be available for play so that they can get a fair shake. This game from Thalion is no exception.


Dungeon Master (FTL): The best 16-bit game ever made. The best RPG I have ever played. The most enthralling real time game ever made (up until that point). There were many sequels, copycats, and watered-down full-3D attempts at this, but the original game with the original maps, monsters, puzzles, etc. has never been matched. This should be released as a download, and then given the proper treatment as an in depth, full-3D, modern remake.




Bonus: One of the developers that made games for the Atari ST was Infogrames itself! As a bonus here are 10 good looking games that Atari- Infogrames published back in the day that they might already own that could be good for downloadable content..

North And South - Action war fare set in the US Civil War


Drakkhen -A 3D Fantasy RPG.

Hostages: Modern day shooting, save the hostages game.

Purple Saturn Day - A very popular game yet odd looking game (I've never played myself)

Metal Masters: Build cool robots, then fight!

Operation Neptune (Another one I never played, but it looks cool):

Bubble Ghost: Unique platformer in which you played a ghost blowing a bubble through increasingly difficult rooms.

Mystical: A scrolling, top-down shooter with a magic theme.

Captain Blood: Bizarre A sci-fi adventure that always had me intrigued.

TNT: A Commando-like shooter.



(Note: some screen shots borrowed from Atari Legend, AtariMagazines.com, atarimania.comand Little Green Desktop)


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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #4: Atari 7800/Lynx/Jaguar Games That Should Be Remade In The 21st Century

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #4: Atari 7800/Lynx/Jaguar Games That Should Be Remade In The 21st Century

Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current difficulties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

While many people have heard of the Jaguar's Tempest 2000 and Alien Vs. Predator, there are very few other games from Atari's post-1984 console output that have been hailed in the hallowed halls of video game history. This is shame because, not only were there some very good games, but there are a good number of titles that could have made solid franchise brands for Atari-Infogrames. Few people know that Atari Corp. attempted to make games that would appeal to the masses who loved the NES and Sega Genesis in the early 90's. The problem was, most of these games were very hard to find at retail. Nintendo's monopolistic practices over shelf space along with the Tramiels clan's complete ineptitude for marketing made Atari's quest to get back into the game with these titles futile at best. No matter, Atari-Infogrames can still right those wrongs. Below is a list of some of the best games that Atari Corp. ever produced that we believe could be successfully remade in the 21st century.


7800 - Scrapyard Dog : This was the Atari 7800's answer to Super Mario Brothers. Released in 1990, there is a good chance that no one you know, or anyone they know has ever seen it much less played it. That's too bad, because it was a very unique title for the time. Even though the game was very hard and a bit difficult to play with the 7800 controllers, it was still encouraging to see an actual Nintendo Quality title pulled-off on the 7800. It was not that the 7800 did not have the power to make games like this, it's just that the system was designed to solve a different problem than the NES. While the NES had great sprite engine and could created tiled, moving backgrounds with ease, the 7800's main strength was moving many small sprites around a single screen at the same time. With Scrapyard Dog, Atari Corp. was able to create a game that rivaled the NES in complexity, if not in nuanced game play. Further iterations on more powerful hardware should have taken the basic concept all the way to 3D worlds in the style of Crash Bandicoot and beyond.


7800 - Alien Brigade : Alien Brigade was light-gun shooter in the vein of Operation Wolf. The game contained all that was necessary for an entry in this genre: 6 levels, multiple weapon types, and zombie-like alien hordes. There is no reason why this could not have been Atari's House Of The Dead or Virtua Cop with every console generation seeing the release of and more sophisticated rail-shooter entry based on this franchise.



7800 - Midnight Mutants: This was the only real "action adventure" game for the 7800, and as it stands, the only game even close to The Legend Of Zelda that Atari Corp. ever produced. In the game you play the grandson of Grandpa Munster (yes, you read that right!), fighting the zombie hordes of Dr. Evil on a non-linear quest. This one has been hailed as the best game ever made for the 7800. There, Atari-Infogrames, now dig this one up and milk it for all it is worth.



7800 Coin-Op conversions: The original Atari (Atari Inc): spent much of their efforts after 1980 creating home versions of coin-op games. The Atari 2600, 5200 and 8-bit computers all had their share of both Atari and licensed coin-op games. however, the 7800, which was designed in-part to support conversions of the most sophisticated coin-ops of the day (i.e Robototron), was the king of these coin-op conversions. Atari's own games such as 3D Asteroids, Centipede, and Food Fight are some of the best home versions of these games ever made. The licensed coin-ops were not too far behind with great versions of Dig Dug, Joust, Robotron, and Ms. Pac-Man just to name a few.


Lynx - Blue Lightning : This modern jet combat game with scaling 3D graphics was one of the Epyx designed launch titles for the Lynx. The game displayed the Lynx's ability to created fast moving, scaled graphics with neat explosions. At the time it was released, many Lynx fans considered this a classic title. However, since it was from Atari, games like Sega's inferior, but similar Afterburner as remembered instead. It was also one of the best games ever made for the system. Atari made a more advanced version for the Jaguar that never lived-up to the potential of this game.


Lynx - Chips Challenge : This puzzle game with 140 levels was one of the hidden classics for the Lynx. In the game you play a computer nerd who must avoid all the nasty stuff on each level and find your way to the exit. Every subsequent level was harder than the one before it, and each level provided learning opportunities that would help further down the line. Released at a time when action games were the norm, this cerebral puzzler did not have enough window-dressing to attract the eye of the common game player. However, in the eye of the modern casual gamer, this game is a real gem.


Lynx: Zarlor Mercenary : This was bar-none, one of the best shooters ever made. My hand ached for days after playing it for the first time, yet I continued playing it for days anyway. Unlike arcade shooters that relied on your supply of "continues" to finish, this one was balanced so that success was actually possible within the context of the game itself. As shooters go, this one certainly had the chops to be in the pantheon of the greats, but being on an Atari console was its undoing. It's high-time this was rectified.



Lynx: Gates Of Zendocon: This scroller was one of the most innovative shooters of its time. There were 51 levels, but you did not play them successively. Jump gates (some hidden) would transport you to the different levels with different challenges. As a modern shooter this game had all the necessary parts (i.e. bosses, and extra weapons) with an interesting play mechanic to boot. Some of the levels had cerebral puzzles that required things like shooting through solid objects to make a path for yourself (something I've always found very enjoyable). The key to the game was finding the right gate that would lead to final battle with Zendocon. This was a unique action game that screamed for a more powerful sequel that never came.


Lynx - Warbirds: Warbirds was a WWI flight game for the Lynx that still stands as one of the better hand-held flight sims ever made. The scaling graphics created a sense of depth and altitude that was unlike and portable flight sim that came before it. While the limitations of the Lynx did not allow this game to satisfy fully (for instance it needed more robust and satisfying explosions and better sounds), it was still a brilliant game and there is no good reason why this game did not became a franchise in its own right for multiple future platforms/



Lynx - Kung Food: Ok, I have to admit that I have a weakness for games about food. Where the Atari Food Fight coin-op was actually a brilliant game, Kung Food was more of a run-of-the-mill scrolling beat-em-up. But who cares?!?!? It was about food!! Fighting Food! What more do you need? Sure the game play was neither innovative nor necessarily very well-done, but so what? We are talking about franchises to build upon here and what is better for that than a game about fighting your way through a refrigerator filled with evil food? Seriously, this concept had potential and it should have been built-upon.


Jaguar - Ultra Vortek : This was the Jaguar's answer to Mortal Combat. Itself it is not the most innovative game, but again, like some of the other games above, it was also not too shabby. It was much better than all other games of this type for the Jaguar, and the visuals rivaled anything on the SNES and the Genesis, and could hold it's own against some Playstation and Saturn games. Sure it was derivative, but it also showed potential for better things to come. This was a Beyond Games release, but could still have been bought or licensed and reused by Atari. For a company desperate for key franchises this could have been a good choice.


Jaguar - Battlemorph : The sequel to the absolutely terrible Cybermorph pack-in game for the the Jaguar. This game is what Cybermorph should have been. With the Jaguar, Atari was trying to made a niche with these "morphing" games using basic 3D shaded graphics and this game showed what they were trying to accomplish. For the Jaguar platform, Battlemorph was embodiment of it's potential as a very early 3D gaming platform. If this had been released in 1993 it would have been a great game. However, it came in 1995, far too late for it to make any kind of splash in the gaming world. Still, the "morph" series was an Atari owned franchise and it should have been further tested on subsequent platforms.


Jaguar - Iron Soldier : This was probably the best game for the Jaguar and at the time, one of the best "Mech" games ever made. It was universally hailed as a good game from any venue that had the guts to print a positive review of a "Jaguar" game. One of the things that made this game great were the amazingly satisfying explosions, but the mech game play was not too shabby either. If you could choose just one game from this list to resuscitate, this one might be the winner.



Note About Some Of The Above Games: OK, look, some of these games, if played via emulation or otherwise in 2008 might make you think to yourself "what the hell was that guy talking about?, these games suck!" However, before you pass judgment on them, you must think about this in terms of what Atari could have built-upon for branded franchises, and not what these 15-20 year old games playing on 15-25 year-old hardware look like today. What interests us here in the potential of these games. Most represented a bright future that was cut very short.


(Note: some screen shots borrowed from atariage.com)

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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #3: 10 Lesser-Known Atari Coin-ops That Would Make Kick-Ass Casual Games

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari  #3: 10 Lesser-Known Atari Coin-ops That Would Make Kick-Ass Casual Games

Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current difficulties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

Not every game from the past can be used produce a set of AAA console/PC games in the 21st Century. Back in the 70's and 80's, Atari Inc. created dozens of coin-op games that were designed to hook players in, steal their money, and by the end, have them beg to play one more time. Nolan Bushnell described these games as "Easy To Learn, Tough To Master" and they were the genesis of the today's casual game market. Why then, could Atari-Infogrames not look back to those games to inspire them to make smaller titles that could be sold as Virtual Console, Sony Online, Xbox Live Arcade, or PC downloadable games? There is no reason why they can't, and here are 10 lesser-known games that could make the transition fairly easily.

Dominoes (1977): Atari's Dominoes coin-op was a version of "snake" where each player guided a set of "dominoes" that grew longer and longer as they stayed alive. The object was to not run into your "dominoes" or the dominoes of the other player. I used to play a single player version of this (collect things on the screen and don't die) on my cell phone every day and it was extremely addictive. This concept could easily be moved into the 21st century by going back to the original themes of "dominoes" as single player snake-style game and add gates, jumps, obstacles, etc. in arenas of ever-increasing complexity.


Canyon Bomber (1977): At first glance, Canyon Bomber looks like an action game. You have planes with bombs, and you are destroying stuff. However, at closer glance you can see that this is not the case. When you drop a bomb into the "canyon" it destroys some rocks, but other fall into place where the ones destroyed once rested. If you added a "color" to the bombs, and had that color bomb only destroys rocks of the same color, you would get a game that resembled a ballon-pop style game, but with added action elements. You could even take this one further, and add a story , and a second on-screen opponent, thus getting a a game much like Puzzle Quest.

Avalanche (1978): This game has been described as the "reverse" of Breakout. It's a "catch the stuff" style game popularized by Activision's game Kaboom! The rocks at the top of the screen fall, and you must catch every one, or die trying. With added bonuses, multipliers and power-ups this could be great concept for an intriguing little game.



Super Breakout(1978) : Super Breakout took the "ball hits bricks" concept of it's 1976 discrete logic brother and added several new versions including "cavity" breakout (with multiple balls"( and "progressive" (where the walls just kept on-coming). Atari should have never given-up the concept-crown of this game to the Arkanoids of the world. "The most compelling version in this game, "Progressive" should be blow-out with the same type of power-ups and extras that grace every other game that ripped-this-one-off over the past 30 years. With Super Breakout, Atari-Infogrames needs to take-back what is rightfully theirs.



Sky Diver (1978): It seems simple. A guy jumps from a plane and you guide him to the surface while managing free-fall, pick-up flags, etc. A game with progressively "lower" jumps (and maybe even bonus "base-jumps"), a scrolling play field, with items to collect and enemies to avoid while in free-fall and parachute mode would be very compelling. Add a military component, and the urgency to land a set number of troops within a certain time-frame to attack an enemy base, and you might have a winner.



Smokey Joe (1978) : In Smokey Joe (the single-player cousin to Fire Truck) you guide a fire engine to a an emergency through very dangerous streets. That was it. You never actually made it to the Emergency. An update would have several different types of fire engines racing to an actual fire. The more that arrive in a timely manner, the better chance you have of being successful. The better job you do, the more money you have to upgrade your trucks and buy new ones.




Warlords (1980): Warlords was multi-player version of Breakout. Each player occupied a corner of the screen and attempted to protect their king from the encroaching fireballs of the other 3 Warlords. As an online multi-player game with a ladder, and the ability for players to continuously upgrade their castle with improvements that remained part of their "keep" between games, this one could be very addictive. Players could opt to play others that were higher or at the same level on the ladder only. That way, newer players would not get beaten-up, and stronger players would find good competition.

Quantum (1982): One of the first arcade games created for Atari by GCC was this amazing "drawing" game. Other than its obvious inspiration from Qix, Quantum was far ahead of its time. The action is simple: draw around a set of particles while avoiding the pulsars. The more particles you can encircle at once, the more points you get. It's that simple, that basic, and that brilliant. If there is one game on this list that Atari-Infogrames should develop into a casual title immediately, it is this one. They are simply losing money by otherwise sitting on it.




Cloak And Dagger (1983): This puzzle game was developed as a tie-in with the movie of the same name. Each level is puzzle that needs to be solved by getting from one side of the floor to the other. The player can shoot and optionally light the bomb at the center of each room. Dr. Boom's minions get harder and more numerous as the game progresses. This coin-op was not very popular when it was first released, but time has been kind to the depth and the concept of this game. With a few enhancements (i.e. different weapons) this could be a very effective action puzzler.




Food Fight (1983): Finally we come to my all-time favorite "lost" Atari coin-op. Like Quantum, this one was designed by the geniuses at GCC (who would go on to design the Atari 7800 console, and the exact replica of this game for that platform). Your job in this game is to each the melting ice cream cone on each screen. Sounds easy? Well, there are several evil chefs trying to stop you buy throwing food in your direction. You can use the same food to stop the advancing chefs. Bonus rounds with unlimited ammo (watermelons) and an instant replay function really put this one over-the-top. There is simply no reason why Atari-Infogrames is sitting on this game (licensing from GCC maybe?). This one needs to be re-released as soon as possible.


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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #2: Top-10 Atari 2600 Games That Could Have Been Franchises

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #2: Top-10 Atari 2600 Games That Could Have Been Franchises

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari #2: Top-10 Atari 2600 Games That Could Have Been Franchises

Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current difficulties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

We start Save Atari Week with a list of the top-10 Atari 2600 games we believe, should have been, (and maybe could still be) used to create franchises that incorporate both nostalgia and modern game play. Out of all the games created for the Atari 2600, only one, Pitfall! has been mined as a franchise for modern platforms, and it has not been treated very well. However, there were many games for the Atari 2600 that should have lived on as franchise brands far beyond the death of the platform. Yes, some of these games were made by 3rd parties, but if Atari-Infogrames wanted to make these games a reality, we are sure they could do it.

Combat! At its core, the Combat! cartridge was all about multi-player action. Atari Inc. should have launched a Combat! game with each successive console that upped the ante in graphics, number of players and game play sophistication. If they had done that, they probably could have created a lasting franchise that would have changed with the times through many iterations of genres and platforms. Simple action would have given way to strategy, and In 2008, Combat! would be an major RTS franchise. As well it could have been spun-off with titles that fit in the niche carved out by Battlefield 1942, which would be closer to its roots.


Demon Attack : This single screen shooter from Imagic could have easily leapt to new platforms by extending the game. First with multiple levels and weapons, and then to the action of a scrolling shooter.In 2008, Demon Attack should be talked about in the same hallowed voices as R-Type, 1941 etc.



Street Racer/Night Driver: The action of driving "up" the screen in Street Racer could have easily been extended to Spy Hunter-like combat, then to the pseudo 3D of Out Run, the real 3D of Midtown Madness, and finally to the emergent world of a Grand Theft Auto. Similarly, the pseudo 3D driving of Night Driver should have been developed into the leading game in the Midnight Club genre of dark, neon underground racers.



Keystone Kapers : Activision's Keystone Kapers the player ran through a scrolling department store, evading obstacles in pursuit of a criminal. The game was extremely well-done for the time, yet too simple to keep players attention for very long. However, the platform action of the game could have been extended far beyond it's roots as a simple chase game. The character of the policeman and the robber should have been developed further for other platforms, while keeping the simple idea of the chase to the end. In 2008, this should be Activision's Sonic or Mario series, with new entries for each successive platform incorporating new technology and game play patterns, while retaining the classic battle between good and evil.


Space War : The original Space War was two played space combat game that relied heavily on physics. As more powerful platforms arose, Space War should have moved with them, first to better graphics and more players, then to a "galaxy domination" style theme like Star Control. In 2008, Space War could be the dominant strategic, space warfare series on the market, but it would always have the option to let the player drop into "Space War" mode, where you could battle with a space ship for some good, 2D action.



Yar's Revenge : In Yar's Revenge, the Zorlon cannon must be destroyed by the player Yar by shooting through the moving shield that protects it. This was fine way to start the series, but this sci-fi shooter should have had a history that went far beyond this simple concept. While the action of shooting through moving walls could have been retained through the series, Yar needed to land and take a humanoid form for further adventures. While each game could have ended with the destruction of the Zorlon cannon, the "getting there" would have moved to a more Metroid-esque game where, in the final scene it would have been revealed that Yar was not in fact Atari president Ray Kassar with his named spelled backwards, but was instead, a very pissed off version of VCS programmer Carla Meninsky (responsible for both Dodge'Em and Warlords).


River Raid : This was by-far, my favorite game on the 2600. Activision did attempt to make a version for the 8-bit computers, but it did not add very much to the game play experience. This game needed go 16-bit with slightly up and back perspective that would have given the visuals more depth, and it needed a good story to explain why we were raiding the 256 screen "River Of No Return", Subsequent games should have gone 3D, but kept the game action oriented and not too sim-like. There is simply no reason why I can buy an action flight sim named Heat Seeker in 2008, but I can't get one named River Raid. No Reason At All.


Outlaw : Outlaw was basically a game in which multiple people shot at each other with guns and hid behind obstacles (some of which were destructible), with a simple scoring system that tallied how many times you killed the other guys. Sound familiar? Yes, it was the first console death match shooter. Keeping the old west theme (still criminally under-used), the franchise could have easily moved to scrolling play fields, split screens, then to 2.5D and onto 3D, and finally multi-player. Doom what?



HERO: Activision's H.E.R.O is the one game on this list that really would needs no changes at all. The brilliant mix of flying, shooting, setting bombs and rescuing people made it one of the best console games of the 90's. It is a little known title because it was released in 1984, and no one really cared at the time. Sure, you could add fancy 3D graphics and stuff like that, but none of it would improve an already perfect game.


Adventure : Finally, the top of the list. As a game inspired by an all text-based mainframe diversion, Adventure was an adequate game for the 2600. However, as as an impressionist piece of art, it was a masterpiece. Who could have predicted the minimalistic existentialism of your avatar being a "dot" or even the transcendentalism of the "bridge"? It could take you anywhere if you could find the right way to place it, but did you really want to go where it would take you? Further iterations of Adventure on more powerful platforms could have taken this minimalistic-existential-transcendent-impressionism to new heights. Explorations of topics like true love, real hate, foreboding, longing, revenge, valor, and what it really means to be human could have been explored by means of an abstract world that contained a single glowing chalice, and three dragons that look kinda like ducks. In the 21st century, there would be no arguments about "games as art" because the proof would already be in the living rooms of the millions who owned any game in the Atari Adventure series. Alternatively, Atari could have simply continued the series as a bunch of increasingly sophisticated kick-ass Role Playing Games beating Final Fantasy to the punch by several years.
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8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari Week Starts!!!

8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari Week Starts!!!

Anyone who follows the game industry closely knows a few facts about the name Atari:

  1. Atari, as an actual company was shot in the stomach in 1984 by Warner Exec Steve Ross and then died a slow and painful death over the next 20 or so years. Atari was split into two companies at the time, Atari Games, the coin-division, and Atari Corp., the consumer division.
  2. Atari Games, the coin-op division of Atari joined-up with Midway Games and still made coin-ops until 2003. Now Midway concentrates mostly on console games.
  3. Atari Corp, the consumer products part of Atari limped through several new platforms (ST, Lynx, Jaguar) and finally flat-lined in 1996.
  4. Hasbro bought the Atari properties in 1998 and launched a series of luke-warm "re-imaginings" of old Atari games. After some initial success , they sold off the business to Infogrames in 2001.
  5. In 2002 Infogrames spun-off a subsidiary named Atari to fend off the backlash against all things "French" in the USA after the September 11th attacks and France's attitude toward the USA military response. The gaming community have been scratching their collective head over the idea ever since.
  6. For the past 6 years, aside from a few notable retro collections and the Flashback 1 and 2 consoles, Atari has done little with it's past and instead has focused on premium budget games, few of which have been huge hits. In that time they have consistently lost money and are now on the verge of total collapse.
  7. Last week Infogrames announced they would be incorporating the Atari subsidiary back into Infogrames as a whole.
  8. Many of Atari's classic properties and brands remain, to this day, unused by Atari-Infogrames

While we here at 8bitrocket.com were initially excited to see that Infogrames was unearthing the Atari name at the beginning of this decade, (I have an Atari watch from E3 2002 to prove it) we have been a bit "under whelmed" by Atari-Infogrames efforts to utilize the Atari properties that they own. From what we have been able to gather, Atari -Infogrames owns the rights to almost all Atari Inc. properties developed prior to the 1984 split. That means they have been sitting on:

  • Scores coin-operated game properties that have never been emulated or released else where.
  • Dozens of Atari 8-bit computer games some of which were instrumental in the creation of the computer game industry.
  • Rarely seen 16-bit computer versions of some of their best coin-ops and licenses, plus some classic 3rd party 16-bit games.
  • Unique Atari 5200 game properties and advanced versions of Atari 2600 VCS games.
  • Some of the best versions of classic Atari coin-ops released for the 7800 plus unique titles developed specifically for the platform.
  • Many Unique and interesting Lynx and Jaguar games that should have continued on as cross-platform game franchises.

This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atarinfogrames pull itself out of their current diffculties, while at the time time treating Atari's illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world's first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com's Project: Save Atari

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Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: October 17, 2008

Flash Game Development Inter-web mash up: October 17, 2008

The latest in Blog entries and articles that might interest Flash game developers.

This time we cover the latest Flashkit Game Contest; The FHM game contest; New games by Squize, Richard Davey, Steve Fulton, Terry Paton, and Brent Silby; A new As3 rendering technique;Tutorials from Emanuele Feronato;dev diary entries and much more.

Game Specific Flash and Actionscript Blogs
- Squize created a sweet little game for the 48Hr Flashkit competition. He has also posted all of the Flex code and .fla files for the game and his preloader for you all to enjoy (along with a little diary of the dev process). All of the competition entries are listed here. All all of the games show great skill, especially given the limited time-frame (and an international world-cup qualifying weekend games, College Football, and Baseball Playoffs to draw attention away from coding),
- Squize also has posted an interesting entry on the FHM game contest. I have a game I am working on that might fit into this.
- A little bird tells me that Squize will have a great Trick or Treat present for all Flex developers within the next few weeks.

Photon Storm
- Rich has released a new game, called Tractor Beams, and has a dev diary entry to go along with it. It is a very interesting take on a Yahtzee roll and combo game build around the Shaun the Sheep brand. Somehow Rich and I both love Yahtzee. I wonder if he has ever tried the Atari ST version that Steve and I made way back in 1990? That was called ZAMBOOLAZ Poker Dice. We made it with STOS and the STOS digital sampler before it crapped out on us with some sort of electrical short. If you had seen our shared bedroom back then, with Coke cans slopping over everything, it's a miracle that all of our electronics didn't fuzz out. Anyway, our game is pretty UGLY, but then I have never claimed to be a graphics wiz. Rich's game looks much much better =)

Game Poetry
- Panayoti has an excellent article called Fastest Frame Rates with Optimized Rendering. It goes into 3 methods of rendering and introduces a very very interesting concept (and new to me) about using the Built-in Bitmap Renders on a single display object. Read the post for details, but I am going to have to try this in my next game. It sounds very promising.

Emanuele Feronato
Like always, Emanuele is on FIRE! This guy doesn't quit. He is always offering up a wealth of new tutorials for all.
- Create a WordPress MochiAds Leaderboards Widget
- New tile based platform engine - AS3 version updated to step 10 PLUS scrolling
- Create a Flash game like Gold Miner - step 2

- Mochi have added a cool feature for Publishers that will allow them to add a Mochi Leaderboard to their sites directly.

Here at 8bitrocket Towers,
Steve released his latest game, Daphnie's Balloon Castle. It was created as a birthday present for his daughter. He put it up on Mochiads and it is getting some pretty good distribution.
We also released a new Pod Cast on driving games (including a new song by me),
and I a couple dev diary entries on my new game.

Non-game specific Flash Blogs
The Flash Blog

- Lee has a Flash CS4 Motion Editor Tutorial.
- FlashPitt 08 Recap

Fatal Exception Blog

- Performance tests using the WITH statement in AS3

Fresh Kill: New Retro Inspired games by some of my favorite designers:
- Terry Paton - 3D Death Race
- Def-Logic Productions (Brent Silby) - Antartic Gold
- The Edis Brothers - I would like to find more games by these guys, but I can't find a site for them. They have created some wildly great retro inspired games like Sky Patrol, but I only find portal pages for them and an Ezone sponsorship. If anyone knows where to find more of their great games like Sky Patrol, please let me know.

As always, check out Flashgameblogs.com for your daily dose.



USB Enabled Classic Atari 2600 "Red Button" Joystick Announced Today!

A new era for classic 8-bit retro gaming has arrived today! Curt Vendel over at Legacy engineering just clued-us-in today on his latest project that brings the classic era of the Atari 2600 to modern audiences.  Curt was instrumental in the development of the Atari Flashback 1 & 2 consoles for "Atarinfogrames" (and also the still sadly in development-hell Flashback 3).

This new project, the "USB Classic Game Controller" is in reality, a fully USB enabled Atari 2600 joystick.  Not only is it compatible with PC/Mac/Linux, Curt's team has included a wealth of options so it can be expanded by hackers and hobbyists alike:

"One of the very important aspects is the fact that on the PCB are 10 additional fire button contacts to allow hardware hackers to add more buttons or pull the pcb out and use it on home made arcade controls as the interface board, even at $14.99 for just one interface, that's cheaper then almost any arcade interface boards currently sold, so it will be a great way for MAME builders to make less expensive control panels."

-Curt Vendel

As soon as we get our review unit, we will post about our experiences with what promises to be watershed device for playing classic 2600/Atari 8-bit/Commodore/etc. games on modern hardware.  The device will not ship until December, but you can reserve your unit right now at Legacy Engineering's web site: http://www.legacyengineer.com/store.html

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