Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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Tank Games for the Atari 2600…

Tank games for the Atari 2600 are based on Battlezone, a 1980 arcade game developed by Ed Rotberg for Atari.  Battlezone uses vector graphics and a monochrome display with green and red overlays.  It is driven by a 6502 CPU, a POKEY chip for sound, and came with a 19” CRT.  In Battlezone, the player controls a tank via an innovative periscope, first person view.  The object of the game is to shoot as many enemy tanks, super tanks, UFO’s, and missiles while avoiding getting your own tank shot.  Each of these enemies are worth different point values:

  • Tanks-1,000 points
  • Super Tanks-3,000 points
  • Missiles-2,000 points
  • UFO’s-5,000 points

A radar screen and status board tell you when an enemy is in range and in which direction you need to turn your tank to engage or avoid attack.  The status board also shows your score and the number of tanks (lives) remaining.  When your tank is ‘killed’, a simulation of your periscope screen cracking is displayed.

Battlezone was ported to several computer systems of the day and an Atari 2600 version, using raster graphics, was released in 1983.  An Atari 5200 version that uses a combination of vector and raster graphics was in development, but never released.  A copy of a playable prototype is available and seems to be about 90% complete.  Activision also developed their own tank game for the Atari 2600 called Robot Tank.

Atari 2600 Battlezone…

Released by Atari in 1983, the Atari 2600 port of Battlezone uses raster graphics versus the vector graphics of the arcade.  Instead of a periscope view, the game features a pseudo 3D view of the front of the players tank.  The game includes enemies from the arcade; tanks, super tanks, and UFO’s (saucers), but substitutes the missiles for fighters.  The 2600 version plays like the arcade version and the graphics are nicely done; even the radar and status displays are included.  The one thing missing, which does detract from the game, however, is the battlefield obstacles.  Use of the obstacles by both the player’s and enemy tanks is an important part of the strategy of the game.  Extra lives are rewarded at 50K and 100K points.

BZ

Battlezone for the Atari 2600

Activision Robot Tank…

Designed by Alan Miller, Robot Tank was also released in 1983.  Robot Tank is similar to Battlezone but adds several new twists.  First, no points are awarded; instead, the number of enemy tank kills are tracked.  Extra lives are awarded after an entire enemy squadron of tanks are destroyed.  In Robot Tank, damage to the player’s tank is possible which can cause the screen view to black out, the radar can be lost, cannons to be damaged and fire erratically, and, finally, tank treads can be damaged, making it difficult to maneuver.

Additionally, a full day period is modeled, causing visibility to be limited at dusk and at night.  Alan also modeled fog, rain, & snow which also limits visibility and forces the player to rely on the radar screen.  If radar is lost at night or in the fog, you will be driving blind!

One weakness of Robot Tank is that, if the player turns the his/her tank so that an incoming round is no longer in view, it will miss the player’s tank.  This is, of course not realistic and is, honestly, a flaw in the game.

RT

Robot Tank for the Atari 2600

Overall thoughts…

Both Battlezone and Robot tank are great games for the Atari 2600.  The graphics in both are outstanding and they are both fun to play.  One note of caution for Atari 7800 owners is that Robot Tank is one of a handful of games that does not work on most 7800’s.  I was able to pick up boxed copies of Battlezone and Robot Tank for around ten dollars each.  At that price, why not get both of these great games?

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Wild for Atari 2600 Tank Games!

@Atarigame guy

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Scramble for the Atari 5200…

This is the third time that I have written about Scramble.  All the way back in 2012, I wrote about Bob DeCrescenzo’s 7800 version and, then, just a couple weeks ago, I wrote about John Champeau’s 2600 version.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that a 5200 version had recently been developed.  To save you having to look up my previous blogs, here is my info on the arcade version:

‘Scramble is a video game developed by Konami in 1981 and distributed in the United States by Stern.  It is a side scrolling ‘shoot ‘em up’ with outstanding graphics and game play.  In Scramble, you control an aircraft with the goal of getting as far into the Scramble system as possible.  In addition to controlling the movements of the aircraft, you must also use your guns and bombs to destroy rockets, UFO’s, and fuel tanks.  You must keep an eye on your own fuel and destroy a fuel tank to increase your fuel level.

In Scramble the terrain is constantly changing, and you must fight your way through six stages:

  • Stage 1: Launching rockets
  • Stage 2: UFO’s
  • Stage 3: Meteors
  • Stage 4: Launching rockets from tall buildings
  • Stage 5: Mazes
  • Stage 6: Base

The Scramble arcade units were powered by two Z80 CPU’s and two AY-3-8910 sound generators.  It was ported to the Commodore 64, Vic 20, and Vectrex, but not to any Atari systems.  Scramble was succeeded by ‘Super Cobra’ which was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems.’

Thanks to Paul Lay, it is now possible to play Scramble on the Atari 5200.  At this stage, you can download it to play on a 5200 emulator or on real hardware via an Atarimax cart.

Paul had worked on the graphics for Scramble a while back but didn’t really get started on programming it until the beginning of this year.  For the most part Paul worked on it, quietly, by himself, but, then, Harvey Kong Tin (long time Atari graphics artist) pitched in and helped with the graphics.

Paul’s Scramble 5200 is extremely well done, plays like the arcade, and includes all six arcade levels.   Paul takes advantage of the 5200’s keyboard controller to allow several options as follows:

  • Difficulty (normal or easy)
  • Tunnels (wide or narrow)
  • Ship size (normal or small)
  • Rockets (normal or fast)
  • Auto Fire (off, fast, or slow)
  • Trigger 1 (missiles or both)
  • Lives (3, 4, or 5)
  • Scroll (normal or fast)

One area where Paul’s Scramble shines is with the sound.  Unlike TIA sound on 2600 and 7800, Scramble for the 5200 takes advantage of the 5200’s pokey chip.   The Defender inspired ship explosions do differ from the arcade version, but are a blast (pun intended)!  Also, the stage and score are at the bottom of the screen versus the top in the arcade version.

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Scramble 5200 Stage 2

Scramble 5200 is addictive and takes a lot of practice.   I have played for hours and have only made it to level 6 once.  The game options, that Paul has programmed in, make it easy to get started and work your way up in difficulty.

Scramble 5200 would have been a massive hit back in the day and would have helped the 5200 live up to its billing as the ‘Super System’.  Scramble for the 2600 and 7800 systems are awesome, must have games for those systems, but Scramble 5200 is as close to the arcade as you are going to get, unless you go and buy yourself an authentic arcade unit.

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Scramble 5200 Stage 5

Let’s hope Paul authorizes a cart/manual/box release for Scramble 5200.  Not only do I highly recommend this game, I want to be the first in line to order a copy!!!

@Atarigameguy


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Refurbishing Old Carts…

When I got back into gaming a few years ago, I started with the Atari 7800 and collected mostly 7800 carts.  Lately, I have had the desire to re-build my Atari 2600 collection.  Back in the early eighties, I had a number of Activision games and always enjoyed their colorful boxes and cartridges.  Unfortunately, the labels on Activision carts typically develop ‘anti-plaque’ and most haven’t held up well.  In fact, even if you can find a ‘new in the box’ Activision game, the cart label will typically not look very good.

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Not so wild for an old Activision label!

With multiple multi-carts available for the 2600, collecting carts is more about having something cool to look at, more so than any kind of necessity.  Given the condition of most Activision cart labels, this really wasn’t all that appealing…until recently.  Last week, I obtained some replacement Activision labels from Phil Boland (pboland on AtariAge) and replaced the labels on several of my carts.

This is a great project, even for someone new to the hobby.  I started by using a hair dryer to slightly warm up the glue and loosen the cart label, being careful not to get the cart too warm.  With a little heat, most labels will come off easily, but I did have one come off in small pieces.  I then used a wet wipe and a paper towel with a little rubbing alcohol to remove the remaining glue residue from the cart shell.

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An open Activision cart

While the label was off, I carefully opened the cart and cleaned the circuit board and the inside of the cart shell.  To clean the inside of the cart, I used a Q-tip and a little more rubbing alcohol.  Then I reassembled the cart, being careful not to tighten the screws too much.  Remembering that the 35+ year old plastic could be brittle, I didn’t want damage the cart shell.  Now all that was left to do, was apply the new label.  I took my time to make sure that the label was aligned correctly and started from one end and bent it around the corner of the shell.

Phil’s labels stick really well and look great.  Now my Activision carts look awesome and as colorful as they were back in the eighties.  They should be good for another twenty years!!!

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Wild for new cart labels!

@Atarigameguy

P.S.  Please note that Phil’s labels are perfect, just poor lighting in the last photo


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Boston Strong…

This blog is about retro video games and not politics, but, having lived in New England for most of the last thirty years, I need to say a few things…

For the injured and the families of those killed by this horrific act, words will never be enough, but I hope you take solace in the outpouring of support that has been shown.  Many of you will have a long and difficult struggle to put your lives back together, but I hope you take strength knowing that Boston, New England, America, and the World are behind you.

What those who would commit acts like this don’t realize is that events like the Marathon bombing don’t weaken us, they make us stronger.  Boston is a strong and resilient city and, the world found out in the past week, it is also a caring and compassionate city.  Mess with us, however, and you will feel the wrath of a united and committed citizenry.

The events of the past two weeks make you proud of Boston, New England, and America.  When the bombs went off, people ran to help, they did not run away.  The heroic actions of first responders, private citizens, and medical professionals saved countless lives.  The dedication and bravery of police and law enforcement officials, in tracking down those who did this, was nothing short of amazing.  Last week, when the Boston area was on ‘lock down’, I was traveling and I heard someone say ‘how can they do that? ‘.  What that person didn’t realize is that Bostonian’s and New Englander’s would have and did do whatever was needed to help catch those responsible for these acts.

For any ‘wanna-be’ terrorists out there, I hope you took notes.  You can’t weaken us…you can only make us stronger.  America may seem weak to you, but we are strong and resilient and you don’t want to mess with us, especially if you try to put our backs against a wall.  As a New Englander and an American, I couldn’t be prouder of how everyone has responded to this horrific and cowardly act.  If you want to help out the victims of the Marathon bombing, be sure to visit onefundboston.org and make a contribution.

Boston Strong, New England Strong, American Strong!

@Atarigameguy