ATASCII Tile Sheets
So, I have been knocking around the idea of making some games that mimic the old Atari computer aesthetic in both graphics and sounds. These games will just be for fun and they will probably be just game starters - single level game to demonstrate or duplicate a game type. It might be a retro game or even a new style game, but being a complete and total Atari 800 nerd, I thought it would be fun to make the games look like they were built to run on the old Atari 8-bit computers.
I have not yet started the scrolling shooter that was going to be my first game (will it be in Flash, HTML5, Corona, or something else), but to get my creative ideas flowing, I decided to try and find some Atascii tables on the internet (I did, at http://joyfulcoder.net/atascii/) and turn them into 3 png tile sheets: an 8x8, a 16x16, and a 32 x 32 set of the full 256 characters (including inverse video). I thought it would be fun to make games using these. I figured that I would share them with anyone who wanted to use them.
To make it interesting, the first person who uses these tiles (go ahead and be creative and color them any way you like) to make a decent version of Star Castle (in any language you prefer, as long as I can play it on my PC (browser or not) will get a complimentary signed copy of the new version of our book. I only have a single copy to give away though. This is NOT a contest or any type. I just want to encourage creativity in any way I can.
By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)
Way back when Atari was trying to capture home computer market share from the Apples and Commodores of the world, they created the first ever Evangelist Position in consumer software development. Chris Crawford was tasked with informing the world about the magical capabilities of the Atari 400/800 computers and how they could be used to create incredible (at the time) applications that were far ahead of the contemporary competing home systems.
Under the name Atari Computer Enthusiast Support, Crawford created videos, manuals, demos, his own incredible games, and also circled the nation, bringing the magic of the Atari systems to user groups and software developers. This project resulted in unprecedented growth in the library of Atari computer software (especially games) and a 2-3 year span (1981-1983) where there was no better system on the market for games. The entertainment value of 8-bits was ignored by Atari from 1984-1986, but they resurrected the platform and tried to push out the XE Game system with new titles and rep-packaged older games. That was too little, too late.
Luckily for us, we had an Atari 800 (then later an 800XL) right at the end of 1983, before the C=64 virtually shredded the market and became the gaming system pre-cursor to the NES. In fact. There was still an abundance of software available for the Atari computers between after 1984 with many new and incredible games to come (Ultima IV anyone?).
In fact, to personal computer game players, there really was no video game crash, because as Atari stumbled, Commodore took the reigns with the inexpensive C=64 and the games market for personal computers continued on despite the crash of the much larger video game market. With companies making cash hand over fist in the Commodore market, they still put out a limited number of titles for the Atari 8-bits. When the XE (repackaged Atari 800XL computers) were introduced to the European market at cheap prices, an influx of game software again came to the Atari machines. I can only think that these videos and other information provided early helped the new developers harness the power of the systems.
Video #1 Overview of all graphics features
Video #2 Player Missile Graphics, Color Registers, Re-definable Character Sets
Video #3 Display List Interrupts, Vertical Blank Interrupts, Hardware Scrolling
Anyone who programmed on an Amiga will quickly see that many of the features of that awesome machine came straight it's old brother, the Atari 8-bit computer systems. This is because they were designed by the same teams.
By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)
Atari 400/800 8bit computer games released by Atari in 1981. Atari was still not on board with the 400/800 as entertainment machines (mostly because of cost), so only 4 titles were released, 3 arcade conversions and an Atari Program Exchange edu-tainment title.
Games in this video (links to Atarimania.com)
8-bit inspired filler music produced by 8bitrocket Studios
By Jeff Fulton (8bitjeff)
Retro Atari 8-Bit Computer Gaming - Commando for the XE Game System
Commando for the Atari XE Game system was supposed to be released in 1989 by Atari for the limited re-birth of the Atari 8-bit computer systems. Sculptured Software developed this game, Crossbow, Dark Chambers (funny as this was already released as Dandy years before), as well as many other games for the Atari computers to help breathe life back into the platform. The XE Game system was not a complete failure, as it did sell quite a few units, but in was a relatively small number when compared to the NES or even the Atari 7800 systems sold during the same period. It had one thing going for it though: It was compatible with 99% of the games released over the previous 10 years (on cartridge) for the Atari 8-bit computer systems and was fully compatible with the Atari 65XE computer and peripherals. The great thing about the XEGS was that it allowed Atari to bring some new cool games to the 8-bits in these later years. I was well into the Atari ST by this time, so I never had a chance to play these games on an actual system.
While this game was developed in the late days of Atari XE games, it should be able to be played on an Atari computer with 64K of memory. I chose to play it in the Altirra Emulator with the Legacy Engineering USB Classic Atari Joy Stick, so I didn't have to worry about what actual hardware it was supposed to work on back then. This version seems to be a fully playable and complete, but unreleased version.
Me playing Commando on the Altirra Emulator
To say that I am pleasantly surprised by the quality, fun, and overall presentation of this title would be a major understatement. Commando is a pretty simply run up the screen and blast everything in sight style game, but it is a game type that was sorrily lacking in the Atari 8-bit catalog. While the C=64 had versions of pretty much of every arcade title known to man developed for it, after 1986, if you wanted a new game for for Atari 8-bit computer, you had to rely on a small number European imports or the few companies that were still supporting the Atari computers in the USA. The pipeline of great games almost dried up over night.
This version is not quite as colorful as the 7800 or NES versions, and the music, while very made made was not a sensation like the C=64 version. Those versions can all be compared in this video: Commando 8-bit Compare on You Tube.
The visuals, sounds, music, animation, use of color, and similarity to the arcade machine (given the limitation of the then 10 year old hardware) are outstanding. As you run up the screen, blasting all of the enemy combatants with your machine gun, you can pull back on the stick when firing to launch a grenade. Your job is to stay alive for as long as possible, picking up more grenades, and killing the occasional boss.
Compared to the entire catalog of Atari 8-bit software, especially arcade conversions, this title rises above most others. I give it a 90%.
Most of these games were hold over releases from the 8-bit computer launch in 1979. Some might have been finished in 1979 but were not available until 1980. Includes the unreleased demo of "Saucer".
Check out the links to the AtariMania.com pages for these games.
-Steve A. Fulton (8bitsteve)
When Atari released the 400 and 800 computers in 1979, they were afraid they would not be taken seriously, so they did not emphasized the game playing ability of their machines. These first five games (Basketball, 3D Tic Tac Toe Video Easel, Computer Chess, and Super Breakout) only hinted at what was to come later.
By Jeff D. Fulton - 8bitjeff
What a pleasant surprise. Arkanoid for the Atari 8-bit computers is a very well made game.
Note: My brother Steve and I owned pretty much every Atari game system and computer until the company closed in the mid 1990's. Using emulation, I am going back though the archives of Atari computer game software and re-playing and or playing for the first time many of the games released for these computers. Most people will be familiar with the Apple, TRS-80, Timex, Amiga, C=64, Amstrad, and Spectrum versions of some of these games, but very few people (relatively speaking) have had the pleasure of playing games on the Atari computer systems. I am not going to do much comparison between the games on various platforms, but in some cases I will mention the ones I have seen or played to compare them to the Atari versions. I am exploring the Atari systems as a way to generate game ideas and promote nostalgia for systems that may not have been given a fair shake back in their day. I'm not here to say that any one system was better, but from a historical stand-point, the computer systems of Atari have not always been given the love and press they deserve. They certainly sold by the millions throughout the 80's, but coverage of them is rare today, even in Retro magazines and web sites. We can't rectify that all at once, but we can add the love of Atari computer gaming to our little slice of the infobaun.
The Atari 8-bit line of computers was first released in 1979 (the 400 and 800), and were so far ahead of other systems that they quickly became a major player in the relatively tiny world of USA hobby computer gaming. With the release of Star Raiders and countless other incredible 8-bit computer games, the system would see it's peak in popularity (in the USA) in 1982-1983. That popularity would fade as Warner Communications would blunder out the Atari 1200XL, and miss the boat entirely on the Christmas 1983 season with such a limited supply of Atari 800XL computers that people had no choice but to discover the magic of C=64 gaming (at prices well under those Atari/Warner was charging). Atari never made it back and the C=64 took over the 8-bit computer game industry almost over night. The Atari 8-bit computer line was roughly equivalent to the C=64 and used the same 6502 family of processors. The C=64, had much better music capabilities and more available sprites, but the Atari 400/800 (and later 800xl and 65/130XE and XE game systems) were built for pure speed, more colors, with hardware scrolling and a remarkable display list capability that allowed each horizontal line of the screen to be a different graphics mode (or screen). In the hands of the best developers this allowed for some awesome games. It also had 8 sprites (4 players and 4 missiles) as well as custom chips for i/o, sound/music and graphics. The same system designers would later put their skill into creating the awesome Amiga computer line using many of the same ideas. In that case, the Atari 8-bit line of computers can be seen as basically the older brother of the Amiga.
Me playing Atari 8-bit Arkanoid in the Altirra Emulator for Windows.
Up until today, I never knew this game existed for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. While it certainly is not the best 8-bit version of the game (see this video for a nice comparison of them all and decide for yourself), I really am not concerned with playground hardware wars. I'm concerned with showing what type of power could be squeezed out Atari systems in the hands of great developers. For whatever reason, this version is missing all the music of the Arcade original, but the visuals, animations, use of color and some of the sound fx are really quite extraordinary given what I was expecting when I first found this "disk" in my Atari 800 ROM archives. Pokey or even sampled versions of the arcade music might have been cut because it is rumored that this game was made to squeeze into 48K to target the entire audience of Atari 800 - 65XE owners and not leave out those with only the 48K machines. Choices like these made developing for the Atari 8-bit line difficult for coders as even though the machine was relatively powerful when compared to it's rivals, the choice to target those who had not upgraded to more ram or the newer models did not help in game to game comparisons. In any case, even though this version lacks music, it makes up for it in pure fun.
The first version of this game I played was on the Atari ST, and it was very fun. I never thought that a competent Atari 8-bit version could be created, but I have been proved wrong. Here are screen shots of levels 1-3.
When playing the game via emulation, using the mouse is a must to simulate paddle action. This is easy with the Altirra emulator. The game plays fast and furious and at least the first three levels are exactly like the Atari ST versions I remember. The one gripe I have about the game is that the Laser Cannon power up will not let you fire into the left most column of bricks. This makes finishing a level difficult if you (like me) rely on that cannon to supplant your lack of "breakout" skillz.
As stated before, this game looks great, especially in comparison to some other, earlier Atari 8-bit releases. In fact, I am a little astonished at the quality given it needed to be squeezed into only 48K. Level 2 is a little hard on the eyes at first, but levels 1 and 3 look very nice. The beginning animations from other versions are missing. This detracts little from the core game play, but would have been prime playground fodder back in the day.
The game play sounds are well done, but as stated before, the lack of music from the original is a little strange. The Pokey Chip was more than capable of creating awesome chip tunes (See Mule for one of the best examples).
Tid-Bits and Extras
Steve Fulton's interview with Chris Crawford, the first SOFTWARE EVANGELIST, has a lot of information on the Atari 8-bit computers.
The Atari 8-bit Arkanoid was programmed by Mike Hutchinson for Imagine. Even though he demonstrates some very high skillz with this game, unfortunately he is not credited with any other Atari 8-bit game development.
Imagine created 3 games for the Atari 8-bit (maybe we'll get to those some time soon): Leggit! (1983), Green Beret (1986), and of course Arkanoid (1987).
The AtariMania.com page has a nice set of box art for this game.
This game is playable online via the xlatari.com Java emulator. There are no instructions on how to map keys in the emulator, and the site looks a little sketchy...
StrategyWiki.org has a nice summation of all the various home versions of Arkanoid.
I was only able to play through 3 levels of this game, but using the same criteria I use when judging Atari ST games: Using all of the games I have played or seen on the system, how does this compare to the fun, and use of capabilities of the Atari 8-bit hardware: I give it a very solid 85%. If The beginning animation screens and Pokey music could have been added, then this would have been closer to 90%.