By Jeff Fulton
Today we are going to take a look at one of a small handful of Atari 8-bit computer game cartridges that I have stowed in my attic. This time the game is Demon Attack, one of the most popular Atari 2600 games, but this version is for the Atari computers. Without a translator disk, this will not work on an XL or XE computer.
Originally released in 1982, this is the original Atari 8-bit Computer version of Demon Attack - Full Boxed Edition. Rob Fulop was the original designer / programmer for the Atari 2600 version, while Dave Johnson is credited with coding effort on this version.
There were many fewer of these produced for the Atari computers than for the 2600, but it is essentially the exact same game. It is an excellent title for both systems. It was also released for these systems (according to Wikipedia): Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Intellivision, Odyssey², PC Booter, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, TRS-80.
Below this comprehensive set of photos of the un-boxing, you will find you-tube videos to compare some of the various versions.
Video of just the Atari 8-bit computer edition (by Highretrogamelord89):
A comparison of the 2600 and Intellivision versions (by IntellivisionDude)
Super Demon Attack for the Ti-994a (niceandgames)
Next time I'll be tackling cassette from my collection by the band the Jam.
We here at 8bitrocket.com are huge fans of the UK based Retro-Gamer Magazine. It is the one bright spot on the physical magazine landscape that is otherwise a dried-up and dust bowl of screaming previews and AAA me-too shouting. We need more magazine like it, and now a new Kickstarter promises a new publication that should please retro game fans world-wide.
"RETRO will be a magazine you will want to own and keep forever as part of your gaming collections. RETRO will be offered in BOTH digital and print editions and published bi-monthly starting January 2014. Backers will receive the Premier Issue this December! Each issue will be a minimum of 52-pages, utilize a maximum of 4-pages of ads and will feature high quality gloss print and thick stock cover. And ALL PRINT subscriptions will include the digital enhanced versions free! "
RETRO is the brainchild of Mike Kennedy from GameGavel.com. You can back it here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/socalmike/retro-the-multi-format-throw-back-video-game-magaz?ref=search
I received a review version the the new Syzygy Company's Classic Atari 2600 stick a couple months ago. It was right as my mom was going in and out of the hospital, so I didn't get a chance to review it them, but now I have a little extra time, so I can do a nice little write up. First of all, these are awesome, so go buy one if you play any emulated Atari, C=64, ST, or Amiga games on your PC or Mac.
This version of the Classic USB Stick is slightly different than the original from a few years back. it's sturdier (I broke the first version and re-glued it back together like 25 times but it always continued to work), and it actually comes in two pieces. The stick screws into the base. I'm not sure why, but it does makes it easier to send in the mail. I think it makes for easy replacing too.
So, now, on to the games. There are some very good classic Atari 8-bit computer joystick crunchers that need a good 8-position stick rather than a set of emulated keys, an analog stick or a D-Pad. Here how each fared while testing on the Altirra Emulator.
Control in Pacman is judged by how well the on-screen avatar will "corner" at quick speeds. I don't think this version has ever had the best cornering capability, but the USB Stick does a pretty good job of emulating the arcade action. It's not quite as precise as the arcade cabinet, but it does work much better than an analog stick or the cursor keys. To better test the stick, I next tried MS. Pacman, which was a much better conversion for all systems.
Now this is more like it. The cornering and control is much more precise than in the original and is a joy to play. I'm not certain why the original doesn't work as well, but it was one of the first games available by Atari for the computers, so maybe the joystick routines were improved by the time Ms. Pacman was released.
Again, just as with Ms. Pacman, this title really shines with an 8-ways stick. It is one of the best home versions on Donkey Kong (one of only a small handful to have all 4 original screens), but it is also a technical marvel given the small size (16k cart rom). Running, jumping, turning around at speed, and everything else needed to have "Jumpman" save his girl is easily accomplished with the spot on controls.
Berzerk, especially the Emulated versions, requires very precise control. The kind of control that only a classic era joystick can provide. This because you need almost pixel perfect screen placement to shoot and dodge around the corners as the enemy robots are seriously viscous and will stop at nothing to "KILL THE HUMANOID". The Atari 8-bit version of the game is excellent, containing all of the speech, graphics, speed and arcade awesomeness of the original arcade version. The USB Stick holds up just as well as the conversion, offering precise screen positioning as well as firing.
The new Syzygy Company's Classic Atari 2600 stick is more than worth the currently discounted price of $15.99. It is well constructed, and above all else, mimics old-skool controls so well, you will think you are playing on the original hardware.
We are finally back with something interesting. Here is a link to a video Gamasutra just posted of a talk by Chris Crawford from GDC 2011 entitled "The Good Old Days Of Games"
We will have more updates here soon.
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.
Here is an excerpt:
Atari Inc: Business Is Fun is an exciting, messy, sprawling tour-de-force that fills in a lot missing gaps for Atari fans worldwide. The book reads like 800 page manifesto attempting to right-wrongs and clear-up misconceptions about Atari. At its’ core, this 800 page behemoth aims to prove one main fact to Atari aficionados: That Nolan Bushnell, “King Pong”, was not solely responsible for the success of Atari. If that is, indeed, its’‘ primary goal, the book succeeds famously.
The text weaves asynchronously, with various levels of detail, throughout the history of Atari, treading ground that has rarely been covered before. The authors unearthed documents, memos, company newsletters, and legal settlements that have never been previously published. They also interviewed dozens of people: everyone from Atari engineers to executives and their secretaries, so they could form a full picture of the first successful video game company. What emerges is a tale that attempts to correct inaccuracies and bust the myths of Atari’s past.
Read the full review here.
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)