Warlords is a 1980 arcade game developed by Atari. Atari released the game in both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table version. The upright version featured a 23” black and white monitor that was reflected in a mirror onto a castle wall background to give a 3D effect. Color overlays were used to give each castle a different color. The cocktail table version featured a 14” color monitor.
The concept of Warlords is to ‘attack’ the other players by deflecting the fireballs to break through their castle walls and kill their king. At the same time, you must protect your own castle. You can either deflect an incoming fireball or catch it and aim it at another player. As you hold the fireball, however, sparks will attack and slowly destroy your own castle. When another player’s king is destroyed, an additional fireball is launched. The upright cabinet version allowed for 1 or 2 players against the computer, but the table version allowed for as many as 4 players to play simultaneously.
Warlords was only a moderate success for Atari with a little over a thousand of each arcade type sold.
In 1981 Atari released a port of Warlords for the 2600. The 2600 version was programmed by Carla Meninsky. Carla was one of only two women programmers at Atari and had previously programmed the award winning Dodge ‘em. Compromises were made with the graphics, but the game play survived the conversion to the 2600 intact. On the 2600, Warlords was played with paddles and as many as 4 players could play simultaneously. Warlords was one of the top selling games for the 2600 and became the ‘ultimate party game’ back in the early eighties. I can remember playing Warlords with my friends over and over !
In 2006 Darrell Spice set about to develop a better version of Warlords for the 2600. With a little help from some friends, he developed Medieval Mayhem with improved graphics, AI, and sound. Taking advantage of a 32K cart and bank switching, Darrell was able to develop a 2600 game that was much closer to the arcade version than Carla’s 1981 port. Darrell’s version includes an on screen menu with a number of options including fireball speed, catch, and multiple fireballs. The graphics are dramatically improved and include the dragon that starts the game by launching the fireball. You can read more about the development of Medieval Mayhem here.
Atari never developed a version of Warlords for the 5200, but, in 2004, Bryan Edewaard developed a version which he called ‘Castle Crisis’. Since the Arcade units, used the same 6502 CPU and Pokey chip for sound as the 5200, Bryan was able to make Castle Crisis look and sound almost arcade perfect. In fact, it was so close to the arcade that Atari was not originally happy with Castle Crisis being released. Castle Crisis supports up to 4 simultaneous players, but, of course, you need to have a 4 port 5200 to take advantage of this. You use the standard 5200 joysticks to play Castle Crisis and I found the control to be satisfactory, but not as easy as with paddle controllers on my 7800. Some 5200 enthusiasts have developed their own paddle controllers to play this great game.
Sadly, no 7800 version of Warlords has been developed. Fortunately both the 2600 versions of Warlords and Medieval Mayhem play perfectly on the 7800.
It is always hard to decide which version is the best and this time it is particularly difficult as all of these versions are awesome. Although Castle Crisis is almost arcade perfect, I am going to give a slight edge to Medieval Mayhem as it is just more fun to play this game with paddle controllers.
As a side note, Bryan has also developed an Atari 8-bit version of Castle Crisis and you play that one with paddles!
So…if you have a 2600, 5200, 7800, or Atari 8-bit system, make sure that you get yourself a copy of either Medieval Mayhem or Castle Crisis! Both of these great games are available from AtariAge.