Retro Game Guy

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My top Homebrews and Hacks for the Atari 2600…

I thought that this was going to be easier than it turned out to be, but there are so many great homebrews and hacks for the 2600.  I am sure that I have missed some great games, but here is my current list…

Berzerk VE–  An extensive hack of Berzerk to improve some of the graphics and add voice similar to the arcade.  It is a blast to start this game and hear “intruder alert!”.  Mike Mika did a masterful job in taking a great game and making it even better!

Chetiry– An original game just released for the 2600.  Finally, there is a Tetris like game for Atari!  This game takes advantage of a special edition of the Melody board.   Chris Walton, Zach Matley, Nathan Scrum, and Fred Quimby teamed up for a really cool game with outstanding graphics, music, and, believe it or not, high score keeping.  Don’t miss this one!

Defender Arcade– An extensive hack of Stargate to create the version of defender that Atari should have done from the outset.  This game is so good that you will forget that you are playing it on a 2600.   Another must have from Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo.  Grab a friend to manage the special features controlled by the second joystick!

Juno First– An awesome game by Chris Walton.  Juno First pushes the limits of the 2600 and has awesome graphics and outstanding gameplay.  Not an easy game, but a blast to play.  If you like space shooters, this is another must have for your 2600 collection!

Galaxian Arcade–  An extensive hack of Galaxian to improve the graphics and eliminate the crazy yellow borders.  Jess Ragan did a nice job of making a good game into a great game.  I really enjoy playing Galaxian Arcade for the 2600!

Medieval  Mayhem–  If you like Warlords, you are going to love Medieval Mayhem.  This game by Darrell Spice Jr. features a great graphics, great sound, and menu selection for game options.  All you need to do is watch the start of this game and you will know that it is something special!

Pac-man Arcade– Rob Kudla did an extensive hack of Ms. Pac-man to create a much improved version of Pac-man for the 2600.  Rob’s version is what Atari should have been able to release for the 2600 and should not be missed.  If you are a Pac-man fan, you might also want to try the new Pac-man 4K.  I haven’t played 4K yet, but it looks to be even better than Arcade.

Space Invaders Arcade– Rob Kudla is back at it with a hack of Space Invaders to make the already good 2600 version even better.  Rob improved the sound, colors, and graphics to make this version closer to the real deal.  If you like Space Invaders, give Rob’s version a try…you will not be disappointed!

Seawolf– Similar to the arcade game with the same name, Seawolf is a blast to play.  The game play is simple, but it is so much fun.  Manuel Rotschkar did an awesome job with the graphics and game play.  This game belongs in every 2600 collection!

Thrust+ PE– Considered by many to be the best homebrew for the 2600, this is the latest version of Thomas Jentzsch’s masterpiece of programming.  Thrust has been updated to be able to use a variety of controllers.  Thrust features great game play and graphics.  It is not an easy game, but it will keep you coming back for more!

And here is a bonus game that will be released soon…

Space Rocks–  An awesome new game from Darrell Spice Jr.  The best way to describe this game is Asteroids Deluxe for the 2600.  Space Rocks takes full advantage of the ARM CPU and memory on the Melody board to create one of the most advanced games ever for the 2600.  Be sure to keep an eye out at AtariAge for the release of this awesome new game!

Of all of these great games, I really have to call out Chetiry and Space Rocks as they push the 2600 in ways that could not have been imagined until now.  They both take advantage of the capabilities of the Melody board, in different ways, to produce games that would have been impossible just a couple of years ago.

Check out all of these great homebrews and hacks at AtariAge as well as many others!


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My top Atari 2600 games…part two

Here is the second half of my list of favorite Atari 2600 games.  How about you…any games that you really like that are not on this list?  Send me your comments!

Kaboom by Activison- A great game for paddle controllers and one of my favorite game for the 2600. Kaboom has a pretty simple premise…catch the bombs before they hit the ground. In each round, the Mad Bomber gets faster and faster.  Despite being such a simple game, there is some strategy involved and it is a great party game!

Midnight Magic by Atari-If you like pinball games, then Midnight Magic is a must have for your collection.  The graphics are great and it plays like a real pinball machine. Midnight Magic is much improved over Video Pinball and is lots of fun to play.

Missile Command by Atari- Missile Command for the 2600 only has a single missile battery and simplified graphics, but is still a blast to play.  Missile Command is another game that I have played for hours and hours and belongs in every Atari Collection.

Ms. Pac-man by Atari- Pac-man was Atari’s best selling game for the 2600, but a real disappointment  to gamers. Ms. Pac-man was a dramatic improvement over Pac-man; it  featured better graphics and better gameplay.  Skip Pac-man and pick up a copy of Ms Pac-man instead!

Pitfall/Pitfall II  by Activison-  Ok, I cheated here and included both Pitfall and Pitfall II as one.  Pitfall was Activision’s best selling game for the 2600 and sold over four million copies.  Developed by David Crane, Pitfall was an incredible programming feat. David managed to program an awesome game with non-flickering, multi-color sprites, and 256 screens in only 4K!  Pitfall is a must have!!!

River Raid by Activison- Programmed by Carol Shaw, River Raid was one of the first vertical scrolling games for the 2600. In River Raid, you must fly your jet and attack a variety of targets.  Periodically, you must refuel  and you must also maneuver to avoid the river band. River Raid is one of the all time classics for the 2600.

Space Invaders by Atari- Space Invaders for the 2600 was a smash hit and the first video game to sell over a million copies. It is credited with dramatically increasing sales of 2600 consoles and, while simplified, is every bit as fun as the arcade version. See more about Space Invaders in October 20th post.

Super Breakout by Atari- Super Breakout improved on Breakout, but retained the simple, but fun, game play. I always liked paddle games, probably as they provided some much needed variety. After all these years,  Super Breakout  is still worthy of a home in any 2600 collection.

Warlords by Atari- Warlords is another paddle game in my top 20 and, probably, the best of the bunch.  If you had a second set of paddles, four people could play at the same time. This made Warlords the ultimate party game and I remember playing it whenever a group of friends would come over.

Yars’ Revenge by Atari- Yar’s Revenge was one of Atari’s best selling titles for the 2600.  Yar’s Revenge was programmed by Howard Scott Warshaw and was named for Atari CEO Ray Kassar.  In an era of arcade conversions, Yar’s Revenge is a refreshing, original game that is blast to play. Make sure that you add a copy of this game to your 2600 collection!


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My top Atari 2600 games…part one

I started out planning to talk about my top ten favorite Atari 2600 games, but soon realized that ten was too few. Instead I have selected twenty great games and here are the first ten…

Asteroids by Atari- One Atari’s arcade classics. The 2600 version has solid, colored, asteroids instead of vector graphics, but it plays just like its big brother. See my previous blog for more info on this great game.

Battlezone by Atari- The arcade version had vector graphics, but I really like the graphics in the 2600 version. Battlezone is fun to play, but gets pretty hard pretty quickly. Follow the advice in the game manual and keep your tank moving!

Berzerk by Atari- The original shoot ‘em up game long before Halo or any of the others! Your mission in Berzerk is to shoot as many Robots as you can and avoid Evil Otto. The action is fast and intense and I can remember playing Berzerk over and over again!

Chopper Command by Activision- Activision’s answer to Defender. Chopper Command is a classic side scroller where you must protect your helicopter and truck convoys from attacking helicopters and fighter jets. Chopper command has outstanding graphics and is a blast to play.  You get an unlimited supply of ammunition, so blast away!

Demon Attack by Imagic- The only Imagic game in my top twenty. Demon Attack is a relatively simple game, but a blast to play. The graphics are good and there are some really cool effects when the ‘birds’ split apart in higher rounds. A two player version is included which makes it even more fun.

Defender II (Stargate) by Atari-It was nice to see Atari make a new effort after their first, poorly received version. Originally released as Stargate, the name was changed to Defender II.  This one is much closer to the arcade version and is a blast to play. A second joystick (and maybe a second person) is needed to take advantage of all of the games features.

Frogger by Parker Brothers-A classic 2600 game and the only Parker Brothers game to make my list. The concept with Frogger is pretty simple, but it is  harder than it looks. If you had a 2600 back in the 70’s or 80’s you probably had Frogger!

Galaxian by Atari-I am not sure what’s up with the yellow borders, but, other than that, this is an awesome game. Given the limitations of the 2600, this game is really pretty amazing!  The alien movements are well done and you will definitely enjoy playing Galaxian!

H.E.R.O by Activision-One of Activision’s later releases for the 2600 and often overlooked by Atari fans.   Programmed by John Van Ryzin, some consider it one of the best games ever developed for the 2600. You must guide R. Hero through mineshafts to reach and rescue trapped miners.  It’s not easy as you have to fight off snakes, bats, spiders, moths and blast your way through walls. Good luck!

Ice Hockey by Activision-The best sports game for the 2600 period! I can remember playing Ice Hockey for hours and hours. Alan Miller did a great job of capturing the essence of hockey, given the limitations of the 2600. Ice Hockey is awesome to play against the computer and even more fun when playing with one of your friends!

The second ten great 2600 games will be in my next post!


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PacManPlus…a special thanks!

Being Thanksgiving, this seems like the appropriate day to say a special thanks to someone who has done so much for the Atari community…Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo.   Since 2001, Bob has developed more than a dozen games for 2600 and 7800 systems.  Starting with an extensive hack of Stargate to create Defender Arcade for the 2600, to helping rescue some almost finished prototypes, to ground up development of new 7800 games like Scramble and Moon Cresta, Bob has literally been a one man game factory!

Although I have never met Bob in person, over the past few months, we have become friends.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, game developers need to recycle carts to produce new ones.  I decided that one thing I could do was to help find carts for developers like Bob.  I sent Bob a couple of boxes of old carts and, one day, I received a package from Bob with two of his new games.  Here I was trying to do something nice for him and ended up on the receiving end of Bob’s niceness!

If you are an Atari fan, then you already know what a great guy Bob is.  He has spent so many hours developing games and giving to the Atari community.  He has always posted his game files so that anyone could download and play them.  He has made numerous carts for forum members and, also, allowed AtariAge to sell them at a very reasonable price.  In an earlier time, Bob would have been a highly compensated, ‘Rock Star’, game programmer.  In the past decade, he has had to settle for the satisfaction of knowing that his games have brought so many hours of enjoyment to a small group of Atari retro-gamers.

Recently, for personal reasons, Bob has had to stop the development of any new games.  At this point in time, Bob does not think that he will be able to return to Atari game development.  In true ‘Bob’ fashion, he has ‘retired’ from game development with little fanfare.   He recently posted the source code for all of his games so that others can use it for further game development.  Although Bob is ‘retiring’ from game development, his games will continue to be played and enjoyed for many years to come.

Bob is one of those special people who gives freely and asks for little in return.   We are going to miss him and his immense talents!

PacMacPlus-best wishes and a special Thank You for all that you have done for the Atari retro-game community!!!

Games by PacManPlus


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Atari Flashback 4….a review

AtGames released their Atari Flashback 4 earlier this month and I have been lucky enough to get my hands on one of these units.  The Flashback 4 looks a lot like the previous Flashback 3, but now includes 75 2600 games.  Some of the best games included on this incarnation of the Flashback are Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede, Circus Atari, Jungle Hunt, Missile Command, Super Breakout, Warlords, Yars Revenge and an all new version of Space Invaders.

The Flashback 4 runs on an ARM processor, so all of the 2600 games run in emulation.  The emulation is significantly improved over the previous version and is close enough to satisfy all but the hard core 2600 fans.  The thing that sets the Flashback 4 apart from the previous versions, however, is the new wireless controllers.  These controllers connect to the base unit via IR, so they have to have a line of sight and I have seen several negative comments about IR controllers.  In my testing, I have found these controllers to work extremely well, with no lag.  The controllers have a good feel to them and being able to reset and/or select new games from across the room is awesome!   The other cool thing is that traditional Atari joystick ports are included on the front of the unit.  This allows you to use your wired Atari joysticks and paddles with the Flashback 4 (or new ones being produced by AtGames) .  Being able to use paddles is really nice as several paddle games are included.  The paddle input is converted from analog to digital and I have found that the response is a little ‘different’ that I am used to on my 7800.  After a few minutes of play, you adjust to the difference in the response and the games play just fine.

The inclusion of a new version of Space Invaders is puzzling and intriguing at the same time.  The new version is graphically very similar to arcade version, but seems a little too easy to play to me.  I have no issue with the new version, but it would have been even better had AtGames  included the original 2600 version as well.  Given that they were able to include this new version of Space Invaders, is it possible that we could see new versions of other classic games on future Flashbacks?  If AtGames produces a Flashback 5, it would be great to see them drop some of the lessor titles and license some Activision classics like Pitfall, Hero, or Ice Hockey.  Also, since they are using emulation, they could also include some of the ‘single button’ 7800 games or make a deal with AtariAge to include some of the great 2600 and 7800 Homebrew games.

I really like my Flashback 4 and feel that it is quite an improvement over the Flashback 3.  My only negative feedback is that it is hard to determine which position the difficulty switches are in and that it would be nice to include manuals for the games.  With that being said, the manuals are pretty easy to find at sites like AtariAge.

The Flashback 4 will be selling for as low as $25 on Black Friday and, if you are an Atari fan, you should not pass up the opportunity to pick up one of these.  The AV video out looks great on my HD TV and the games are pretty flicker free.  Getting so many great games and the new wireless controllers make the Flashback 4 a must have!

Oh, and one final thing…the Flashback 4 box is cat approved!!!

Flahback 4 box…
cat approved!


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Asteroids…

Asteroids is a classic arcade game released by Atari in 1979.  To this date, it remains Atari’s top selling arcade game with over 70,000 arcade cabinets sold.  In fact, some operators had to install larger coin boxes to ‘catch’ all of the quarters that gamers were putting in these cabinets.

Asteroids is a mono color vector graphics game.  Your ship is in an asteroid belt and you must destroy the asteroids before they destroy you.  If that isn’t enough, your ship is also being attacked by UFO’s.  You can control your ship to spin left or right, thrust forward, or enter hyperspace and reappear in another location.   In 1981, Atari released Asteroids Deluxe which added a killer satellite and replaced the hyperspace feature with shields.  The killer satellite breaks apart when hit and the parts ‘home in’ on your ship.

If you want to play Asteroids on your 2600 or 7800 you are in luck!  In 1981, Atari released Asteroids for the 2600.  The vector graphics were replaced by multi-colored asteroids, but it played great.  There were 66 variations, including options for speed, bonus lives, hyperspace, shields,  flip, and 2 players.  Of special note, Asteroids for the 2600 was the first bank switch cart release by Atari.   A 7800 version was prepared for the system launch in 1984 and is often referred to as 3D Asteroids.  The Asteroids are multi-colored and appear to have a 3D effect.  Again, the game plays great and offers options for difficulty and 2 players.  In Europe, Asteroids was built into the ROM on the system board and would boot if no cart was inserted into the system.

5200 owners were not so lucky.  Asteroids was developed for the 5200 and planned as the launch game for the system.  In fact, it was planned to be a 4 player version, taking advantage of the 4 joystick ports on the original 5200’s.  Sadly Asteroids for the 5200 was not released by Atari and there is a simple explanation as to why…the 5200’s non self centering analog joystick.  Control is almost impossible and you will find your space ship either spinning out of control or rocketing across the universe until it  crashes into an asteroid.  Supposedly, Atari was looking at developing a special controller for Asteroids, but it, like the game, never made it into production.  In addition to the control problems, the game does not take advantage of the capabilities of the 5200.  Graphically, it is not any better than the 2600 version.  If you have a 5200 multi-cart or emulator, you can give the 5200 version of Asteroids a try.  Also, a few carts of Asteroids for the 5200 have been made and you might be able to get your hands on one of these.  Otherwise, don’t sweat it and just play one of the great 2600 or 7800 versions.

For 7800 fans, there is also the possibility to play Asteroids Deluxe.  In 2007, Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo heavily modified the original 7800 Asteroids code to produce Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800.  Bob’s version simulates the mono-color vector graphics of the arcade version and takes advantage of the second 7800 controller fire button to activate the shields, but also works well with a standard, single button Atari joystick.  Bob’s version also features the ‘killer satellites’ that break apart and ‘home in’ on your ship…just like the arcade!  An added bonus is also included…hold down the pause button while powering up your 7800 (with the Asteroids Deluxe cart inserted) and the system will boot to a simulated vector edition of standard Asteroids!  Bob’s Asteroids Deluxe is about as close to the arcade experience as you are going to get on a home system!!!  Click to learn more about Asteroids Deluxe for the 7800.

7800 Asteroids Deluxe

7800 Asteroids Deluxe

Until recently, 2600 fans had to be happy with the original 1981 version.  There was one hack that made the asteroids look more like the vector graphics of the arcade, but no additional features were added.  Enter Darrell Spice and his new game ‘Space Rocks’.  Space Rocks will take advantage of the capabilities of the Melody board developed as part of the Harmony Cart project.  The game will be a 32K game and take advantage of the ARM processor on the Melody board.  Space Rocks is best described as Asteroids Deluxe for the 2600.  It features great sound effects, courtesy of PacManPlus, and options for  ‘vector’ or solid asteroids, shields, hyperspace, difficulties, and Magna Mines (Killer Satellites).  The options are selectable on a main menu page which is a big improvement over having to remember which version is which.  Space Rocks is ‘coming soon’ to the AtariAge store, but I have had the opportunity to play the latest release candidate and this game rocks!  Of particular note is how your ship ‘warps in’ and the thrust can be seen when you maneuver.   It is hard to believe that it is a 2600 game and, if you are a 2600 fan, you need to be one of the first to order this game when it becomes available!!!  Click to learn more about Space Rocks.

Wild for Asteroids!


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Game Over?

Last weekend, I was on a business trip to Europe and had Saturday free in Amsterdam.  I had heard about a retro game shop near Central Station and decided to go check it out.  I jumped on a tram at a stop near my hotel and took it downtown.  Sure enough, on a small street near Central Station, there is a retro game shop called ‘Game Over?’.

This shop has all kinds of cool stuff, including tons of games and consoles.  They had systems from Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and Sony as well as a great selection of used games.  I could go on and on, but I found this great video on YouTube that is better than any description that I could write.

If you happen to be in Amsterdam and want to check out a cool retro game shop, be sure to stop by Game Over?

Game Over?