Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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BurgerTime…

BurgerTime is a 1982 video game developed by Data East and distributed by Bally-Midway in the US.  The game was originally called Hamburger, but was re-named before being released in the US.  BurgerTime was a major hit for Data East and it was offered as both an upright cabinet and as a cocktail table.  The BurgerTime arcade units were powered by a 6502 CPU, had mono sound, and used a standard 19” CRT.

Gameplay…

BurgerTime is a maze game where the object is to complete hamburgers by walking on them and causing them to ‘drop’ one or more levels.  The main character in the game is chef ‘Peter Pepper’ and he must avoid being ‘killed’ while making hamburgers and maneuvering around the four different mazes.   Peter has to deal with three antagonists:

  • Mr. Hotdog:  the red guy that chases Peter
  • Mr. Pickle:  the green guy that chases Peter
  • Mr. Egg:  the white guy that chases Peter

Peter must avoid these antagonists to keep from losing a life.  He can either out maneuver them, cause them to drop, drop hamburger ingredients on them, or spray them with pepper which ‘freezes’ them for a few seconds.  Peter has a limited number of pepper sprays but, periodically, a bonus food will appear on the maze, allowing Peter to earn an ‘extra’ pepper spray.   BurgerTime was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of BurgerTime was released by the M-Network (Mattel) in 1982.  As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored.  In fact, the graphics are pretty horrible as the hotdog, pickle, and egg are just flickering colored squares and it is hard to judge exactly where they are at and, therefore, it is hard to ‘drop’ them.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is pretty bad and BurgerTime for the 2600 is not really much fun to play.  I paid a $1 for a copy of BurgerTime and that was about 99 cents too much.  Unless you are a die hard 2600 and BurgerTime fan, don’t waste your time or money on this horrible port.  Hopefully, in the not too distant future, someone in the homebrew community will develop an updated and improved 2600 version of BurgerTime.

5200 Version…

An official 5200 version of BurgerTime was never developed, probably due to the video game crash of 1983 and Atari’s cancelling of the 5200 in 1984.  Fortunately, in 2004, Ken Siders developed a BurgerTime clone for the 5200 that he named ‘Beef Drop’.  Ken started this as an April Fool’s joke on the AtariAge forum, initially claiming that he had found a lost prototype.  In fact, Ken was planning to develop Beef Drop for the 5200 and posted an early version of his work as a tease.  Ken’s 5200 version has all of the arcade elements and the graphics, while simplified, are pretty awesome for a 5200 game.   Ken includes all four arcade screens and took full advantage of the 5200’s pokey sound chip to replicate the arcade sounds.  Control with a standard 5200 joystick is good and the game does not suffer from analog control like many other ports for the 5200.  If you are a fan of the 5200, I can highly recommend that you obtain a copy of Beef Drop for your collection!

7800 Version…

An official 7800 version of BurgerTime was also never developed, so for many years 7800 owners had to make do with the horrible 2600 version.  In 2006, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he also called ‘Beef Drop’.  Ken’s 7800 version looks and plays like the arcade and includes a cool intro screen.  Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick.  Two versions of Beef Drop were developed for the 7800.  The initial carts that Ken made available had a Pokey chip for arcade quality sound.  My copy is the standard copy without the Pokey chip, but Ken still did a great job with the sounds for the standard Atari TIA chip.  There is absolutely nothing bad that I can say about Beef Drop for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect!  If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!

Beef Drop for the 7800

Beef Drop for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I didn’t really know too much about BurgerTime.  I had purchased Beef Drop for my 7800 about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and, like b*nQ, it was just taking up space in my collection.  In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have really enjoyed learning about BurgerTime and playing Ken’s awesome versions for the 5200 and 7800.  Although I recommend skipping Mattel’s 2600 version, you can’t go wrong with Beef Drop for either your 5200 or 7800.   If you have multiple systems, Ken’s 7800 version is almost arcade perfect and a must have!

One final note is that Ken also as developed an 8-bit version of Beef Drop for the XEGS and Atari 8-bit computers.  This too is available from AtariAge.

@Atarigameguy

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Q*bert…

Q*bert is a 1982 video game developed by Gottlieb.  Warren Davis and Jeff Lee co-developed Q*bert and gave him a long nose so that he could shoot projectiles.  Fortunately, the shooting aspect of the game was dropped and Q*bert became the lovable character that we all know.  In fact, Q*bert was the third most merchandised game, after Donkey Kong and Pac-man.  Q*bert was a major hit for Gottlieb with more than 25,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units are fairly rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.  The Q*bert arcade units were powered by an Intel 8086 cpu and had mono sound and used a standard 19” CRT.  Q*bert was ported to a number of home consoles of the era including the Atari 2600, & 5200, the Colecovision, the Intellivision, and the NES.

Gameplay…

Q*bert is an isometric 2D platform game that fools you into thinking that it is 3D.  Q*bert must jump diagonally from cube to cube and change the colors to the target color.  In advanced stages, Q*bert must change the cube colors multiple times to reach the target color.  Q*bert has to deal with several antagonists including:

  • Coily the snake:  The purple snake that hatches and chases Q*bert
  • Ugg and wrong way:  the purple guys that move along the side of the cubes
  • Sam: the green guy that changes the cube colors back
  • -Red balls will appear at the top of the pyramid and bounce down and off the cubes

Q*bert must avoid any of the red or purple advisories to keep from losing a life.  To avoid Coily, Q*bert can jump onto one of the color disks besides the pyramid of cubes and be whisked away to the top.  If Coily is close enough, he will follow and jump off the cubes.  Occasionally, a green ball will appear.  If Q*bert contacts this ball, time will stand still, allowing Q*bert to change cube colors unimpeded.  When all of the cube colors have been changed to the target color, Q*bert advances to the next level.  If Q*bert loses a life, he will say something like…@#?&!

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of Q*bert was released by Parker Brothers 1983.  Later on Atari released Q*bert under their own label, so you may run across this version.  Both versions are exactly the same.  The 2600 incarnation of Q*bert is typically highly rated and definitely plays like that arcade.  As with most 2600 games of the era, the graphics are dramatically simplified with all of the sprites being mono-colored.  There is no intro screen and, sometimes, it is hard to tell what level you are at.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and Q*bert is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Q*bert.  This game just screams for an update…any 2600 homebrew developers listening?

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Q*bert was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it looks much better.  The 5200 is capable of some pretty good graphics, so I wonder if the developers at Parker Brothers just settled for ‘good enough’?  The game has mono-color sprites and no intro screens, but the cubes look pretty good .  It also suffers from the 5200’s analog, non-self-centering joystick.  The game designers tried to compensate by having you hold down the fire button in addition to moving the joystick in the direction that you want to move Q*bert.   Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements and I found my Q*bert periodically committing suicide by jumping off the pyramid.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Q*bert  is easy to come by, inexpensive, and worth having in your 5200 collection.

7800 Version…

Parker Brothers never developed a 7800 version of Q*bert, so for years 7800 owners had to make do with the 2600 version.  In 2007, Ken Sliders came to the rescue with his version which he has called b*nQ.  B*nQ is looks and plays like the arcade version and includes intro screens and to help the player know which level they are on and what the target color is.  Since only one button is required for this game, you can use a standard CX40 joystick.  The 7800 version doesn’t suffer any of the control problems of the 5200 version and is a blast to play!  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about b*nQ for the 7800…Ken has made this game almost arcade perfect!  If you have a 7800, you need to go straight to the AtariAge store and order yourself a copy of this great game!!!

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I hadn’t really played Q*bert very much.  I had purchased b*nQ about a year ago, but had played some of my other classic games more often and b*nQ was just taking up space in my collection.  In the past couple of weeks, as I prepared for this post, I have almost become addicted to this game.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Q*bert in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, Ken’s b*nQ is amazing and blows the others out of the water!

b*nQ for the 7800

b*nQ for the 7800

@Atarigameguy


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Joust…

Joust is a 1982 video game developed by Williams Electronics.  John Newcomer was the primary developer of Joust and his goal was to develop a two player arcade flying game totally different than the multitude of space themed games of the era.   Joust was definitely a unique concept for the time and was a good seller for Williams with more than 26,000 arcade units sold.  It was offered as both an upright cabinet and a cocktail table.  The cocktail table units were unique in that both players sat on the same side.  This allowed Williams to use the same ROM in both types of arcade units.  The cocktail units are pretty rare as only a few hundred were manufactured.

Gameplay…

In Joust, you must ride your ostrich and compete against enemy knights riding buzzards.  You can ‘kill’ an enemy knight in a joust by ramming him by being at a slightly higher flying level.  When you kill an enemy knight, he will turn into an egg that you must then capture before it hatches.  If the egg hatches, the knight will become the next more-challenging nemesis (a Bounder will become a Hunter, a Hunter will become a Shadow Lord and so on). After the egg hatches, a buzzard will fly out to pick up the new enemy knight.

In the first two waves, the platforms at the bottom of the screen allow you to walk over the lava pits, but in later waves, the platforms will be burned away.  Also, in later waves, flames will start to burn in the lava pits.  Sometimes, a pterodactyl will show up, in later waves, and try to fiercely charge at you.  The only way you can ‘kill’ the pterodactyl is to ram him in the mouth to disintegrate him.

If you fly too close to either of the lava pits, a lava troll can reach out and grab your mount by the legs and pull you both into the lava. If this happens, you must have your mount repeatedly flap really hard to escape.  Also, in later waves, the platforms will collapse and disintegrate. Occasionally, there will be an egg wave where you must collect all the enemy eggs before they hatch.

2600 Version…

Released in 1983, the 2600 version of Joust has dramatically simplified graphics, mono-color sprites, and no fire pits.  Additionally, the eggs will bounce around, rather than remaining stationary.   As far as the game play goes, the 2600 version is one of the better arcade ports of the era.  Control with the standard CX40 joystick is good and it is fun to play.  With today’s technology such as the Melody board, I am wondering if someone will take advantage of 32K of memory and the ARM cpu to develop an updated 2600 version of Joust.  Even if this doesn’t happen, Joust for the 2600 is a solid port and worth having in your collection.

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Joust was also released in 1983 and, compared to the graphics of the 2600, it really looks awesome!  With the exception of the simplified, mostly mono-color sprites, it is, graphically, almost a perfect arcade port.  The 5200 version looks and sounds great and belongs in every 5200 collection.  I will say that the game play does suffer from the 5200’s analog joystick.  Even using a refurbished 2nd generation gold Best Electronics joystick, it was hard to control the movements of my ostrich.  If the 5200 is your only system, I am sure that you will adapt as the control isn’t impossible, just more challenging than in the 2600 version.  All in all, Joust is easy to come by and inexpensive and belongs in every 5200 collection.  BTW, there is an almost identical version available for the Atari 8-bit computer line.

7800 Version…

The 7800 version of Joust was developed for the 1984 release of the console.  As one of the early releases, millions of copies were manufactured and it is still possible to find sealed copies for less than $10.  If you have a 7800, this game positively  belongs in your collection.  It is even closer to the arcade version than the 5200 version and the control is much better with a digital joystick.  In fact, since only one button is required for this game, I prefer to use a standard CX40 joystick.  There is absolutely nothing bad to say about Joust for the 7800…Joust, in fact, demonstrates that the 7800 was definitely a most capable home arcade system!

Joust for the 7800

Joust for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Before doing the research for this post, I really didn’t know that much about Joust.  Obviously, I was aware of the game, but can’t remember playing it in the arcade and I didn’t have a copy of the 2600 version back in the 80’s.  All I can say is that I really missed out on a classic game that definitely differentiated itself from all of the space shooters of the early 80’s.  No matter which Atari system you have, you should definitely have a copy of Joust in your collection.  If you have multiple systems, the 7800 version is the hands down winner!

@Atarigameguy


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Millipede…

Millipede is an arcade game developed by Atari and released in 1982.  Millipede is the sequel to Centipede and the original title for the game was ‘Centipede Plus’.  The game play is similar to Centipede with a number of new features:

  • The Earwig acts the same as the scorpion in Centipede and makes the mushrooms poisonous which will cause the  millipede to drop to the bottom of the screen.
  • The Bee is the same as the flea in Centipede, dropping mushrooms in a line.
  • The Spider behaves the same as in Centipede. More than one spider can appear at the same time on higher levels.
  • The Inchworm slows all enemies, for a short period of time, when hit.
  • The Beetle moves around, then climbs up, turning any mushrooms it touches into invincible flowers. When it is hit, everything on the screen moves down one row.
  • The Dragonfly drops mushrooms while zigzagging down the screen.
  • The Mosquito bounces off the sides of the screen as it descends. When it is hit, everything on the screen moves up one row.
  • The DDT bomb can be blown up, destroying all enemies and mushrooms within the blast radius. Whenever the mushrooms scroll down, a new DDT bomb is added at the top of the screen. Up to four DDT bombs can be in play at one time.

One of the neat things about Millipede is that it allows you to start at different point values.  Thus, an experienced player can skip some of the easier levels.  The Millipede arcade units ran off of standard Atari hardware of the time with a trackball, a fire button, a single 6502 CPU, and two Pokey chips.  Millipede was a moderate hit for Atari, but did not sell as well as Centipede.  Millipede was ported to a number of systems including the Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit computers, and the NES.  A version was developed for the 5200, but was never officially released.

2600 Version…

Millipede for the 2600 was released in 1984 and is one of the more challenging carts to find as this was during the video game crash and not as many carts were produced.  Fortunately, Millipede was included as one of the games on the Atari Flashback 2 and can also be played on a 2600 multi-cart.  Like the 2600 version of Centipede, the graphics and sound are lacking, but the game play is solid, the flicker is minimal, and it includes all of the arcade elements.  the 2600 version of Millipede uses a 16kb cart which is one of the largest ever used by Atari.  You can read more about the 2600 version of Millipede here.

5200 Version…

A port of Millipede was developed for the 5200, but never released.  The 5200 port looks and plays very close to the arcade version.  The graphics and sound are outstanding and all of the enemies are well represented and it even has a cool title screen.  Millipede is a blast to play with the normal 5200 controller and even more fun with the 5200 Trakball.  At one time AtariAge sold some Millipede carts for the 5200, so you might be able to find one.  Otherwise you will need a multi-cart in order to play Millipede for the 5200.  I read a review of the 5200 version of Millipede that stated that the 5200 version was too easy.  I do find Millipede a little easier to play than Centipede, but the 5200 version plays extremely close to the arcade.  You can read more about the 5200 version of Millipede here.

Millipede at Funspot

Millipede at Funspot


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Warlords…

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.

2600 Version…

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.

5200 Version…

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.

7800 Version…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Warlords has been developed.  Fortunately both the 2600 versions of Warlords and Medieval Mayhem play perfectly on the 7800.

Recommendations…

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.


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Berzerk…

Berzerk is a 1980 video game developed by Stern Electronics of Chicago.  Supposedly Alan McNeil, the designer of Berzerk, had a dream about a black and white video game involving fighting robots.  During the development of Berzerk, Defender was released and the decision was made to release Berzerk in color instead of B&W.  A few early units were, supposedly, released in B&W with color overlays.   The color units were produced in two distinct batches with the second batch having more variety in the colors of the robots and the number of bullets that they fire.  The Berzerk arcade systems are based around a Z80 CPU and it is one of the first video games to feature speech synthesis.  This may not seem like a big deal in 2013, but it was really amazing in 1980.  The first time anyone played Berzerk, they had to be amazed to hear the game talk to them!

The concept of Berzerk is pretty simple…the player is a humanoid in a maze with a bunch of killer robots.  To survive, you must shoot the robots before they shoot you.  You also have to avoid running into the robots, the electrified walls, and Evil Otto.  Evil Otto adds a significant amount of complexity to the game as you must avoid him as you can not kill him.  Alan supposedly named Evil Otto after the security chief at a previous employer.  The robots in Berzerk are not the ‘sharpest tools in the shed’ as they have a tendency to kill themselves by running into the walls or each other.  Although the concept of the game is simple,  players would find themselves putting quarter after quarter into the game.   Berzerk was the first popular ‘shoot em up’ video game and all of today’s popular shooter games can trace their roots back to 1980.  Berzerk was ported to the Vectrex and the Atari 2600 and 5200 consoles.

Berzerk at Funspot

Berzerk at Funspot

2600 Version…

The 2600 version of Berzerk was released in 1982 and was a smash hit.  Berzerk’s simple graphics were faithfully replicated on the 2600 and the game play was almost identical to the arcade.  Atari included 12 variations including ones with and without Evil Otto, non-shooting Robots, and even one where Evil Otto can be shot and will disappear for a few seconds.  I fondly remember playing Berzerk over and  over on my Sears Video Arcade (Atari 2600) in the early 80’s.  It is a fantastic game and there was something cool about the green label and box.  There was one big thing missing, however, from Atari’s 2600 version…voice synthesis.  Back in 1982, most of us figured that this just could not be done on a 2600.

In 2002, Mike Mika proved this wrong when he developed an improved version of Berzerk featuring voice synthesis.  In ‘Berzerk Voice Enhanced‘, Mike also improved the graphics to make them more closely resemble the arcade.  At various points in Mike’s version you will hear ‘intruder alert!’, ‘chicken, fight like a robot’, and ‘humanoid must not escape’.   Berzerk is a great game for the 2600, but Berzerk VE is an outstanding game that belongs in every 2600 collection!

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Berzerk was released in 1983 and became an instant classic.  Like its 2600 cousin, the 5200 version faithfully replicates the arcade graphics and game play.  The 5200 version takes it to the next level and features full voice synthesis.  Mike’s Berzerk VE for the 2600 is pretty awesome, but the 5200 version is one step better.  The voice synthesis is tied to the game play so that when Evil Otto is about to appear, you will hear ‘intruder alert!’.  The 5200 port is one of the best arcade conversions in the 5200 library and belongs in every 5200 collection.  The only thing missing is a coin slot and ‘coins detected in pocket’.

7800 Version…

Sadly, no 7800 version of Berzerk was developed.  Fortunately, the 7800 plays almost all 2600 games and you can play Berzerk or Berzerk VE on your 7800.  One day, maybe, some enterprising homebrewer will port Berzerk to the 7800 with full voice synthesis.  Until then, you can enjoy the regular 2600 version or the VE version.

Frenzy…

In 1982, Stern followed up Berzerk with Frenzy.  Frenzy was similar, but a little more difficult than Berzerk.  At least in Frenzy, however, it is possible to kill Evil Otto.  Frenzy was ported to the Colecovision, but not to any Atari home consoles.  A while ago, one homebrew developer was thinking about porting Frenzy to the 7800.  Let’s hope that one day this comes to fruition.

Wild for Berzerk!

Wild for Berzerk!


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Tempest…

Tempest is a 1981 arcade game developed by Atari.  Dave Theurer, a senior programmer at Atari, was trying to develop a 3D game similar to Space Invaders, but ran into a whole host of problems.  Supposedly, Dave had a dream about monsters coming out of a hole in the ground, which gave him the idea for what became Tempest.  The technology used in the Tempest arcade systems included Atari’s (then new) QuadraScan color vector generator, a 6502 CPU, and two Pokey chips for sound and I/O.

The QuadraScan technology allowed Dave to generate 3D ‘tubes’ that form the ‘playing field’ for Tempest.  The goal of the game is to use your ‘Zapper’ to shoot as many enemies and last as long as possible.  The enemies, which appear at different levels, include:

  • Flippers-the most common, appear at level one
  • Flipper tankers-which split into two flippers when hit, appear at level three
  • Spikers-they built green spike that can kill you when you warp to a new level, appear at level four
  • Fuseballs-who zip up and down the channels, appear at level eleven
  • Fuseball tankers- which split into two fuseballs when hit, appear at level thirty-three
  • Pulsars-who electrify the channels, appear at level seventeen
  • Pulsar tankers- which split into two pulsars when hit, appear at level forty-one

There are a total of 99 levels in Tempest, with the first sixteen having unique geometric shapes.  They then repeat, with varied color schemes and increasing difficulty, as the game advances.  In additional to an unlimited supply of ammunition for your ‘Zapper’, you also get a ‘Super Zapper’ which can be used twice in each level.  The first time that the Super Zapper is used, it will destroy all enemies on the playing field.  The second time, it only destroys one, random, enemy.  When all enemies are destroyed, you will ‘warp’ through to the next level.  Tempest is also one of the first arcade games to let your pick your starting level.

Tempest was a monster hit for the Atari coin-op division and it was ported to many platforms of the day including the BBC Micro, the ZX Spectrum, and the Atari ST.  Ports were also planned and partially developed for the Atari 2600 and 5200 game consoles, but, until recently, were never released.

Tempest at Funspot

Tempest at Funspot

2600 Version…

Carla Meninsky developed the 2600 version which was planned to be released in 1983, but was never finished.  The 2600 version plays with a similar concept to the arcade version, but the graphics are crude and the playing field is two dimensional.  In her 2600 port, Carla did manage to include four enemies:  Flippers, Flipper Tankers, Pulsars, and Fuseballs.  Tempest was included as one of the games on the Flashback 4 (November 2012), so now it has been ‘officially’ released.  I wanted to like the 2600 version of Tempest, but, honestly, it is pretty horrible.  Graphics and 2D playing field aside, the control and collision detection are terrible.  In fairness to Carla (who also programmed Warlords…an awesome 2600 game), she never had the chance to finish Tempest for 2600 and I am not sure why AtGames included it on the FB4.  You can read more about the 2600 version of Tempest here.

Another Tempest like game, 3D Genesis, was developed for the 2600 by Videosoft.  Although practically complete, it too was not released until recently.  Videosoft managed to create a better, if not perfect, 3D effect on the 2600.  If you have a 2600 and like Tempest, you should take a look at 3D Genesis here.

5200 Version…

Keithen Hayenga, who programmed RealSports Baseball for the 5200, volunteered to develop the 5200 version of Tempest.  Keithen worked closely with Dave Theurer and was able to use some of the same code as Dave had used on the arcade version.  This was possible, since the 5200 also has a 6502 CPU and a Pokey chip for sound and I/O.  This would make the sound and play of the 5200 version nearly the same as the arcade.  Since the arcade units used vector graphics, there was only so much of the code that Keithen could use as the 5200 needed bit mapped graphics.  Like the 2600 version, the 5200 version of Tempest was planned for release in 1983 and is featured as ‘coming soon’ in most of Atari’s advertising and catalogs in 1983.  A 5200 (and 2600) Tempest box was shown in the 1984 movie ‘Cloak and Dagger’.  Like most software projects, the development of Tempest ran behind schedule and came to a stop when Warner sold Atari in 1984 and let go most of the game programmers.

For years, there was speculation, but no copy or prototype of Tempest for the 5200 surfaced until 1999.  That copy was a version that was approximately fifty percent complete and attempts were made to finish the game, but with only limited success.  Ken Van Mersbergen made the effort to track down Keithen in 2002 and they located a more advanced copy of the Tempest source code.  Ken and Dennis Debro worked on the game, but never quite had the time to finish it.  George Reese is credited with somehow sparking Keithen to contact Ken about finishing Tempest.  With the efforts of Ken, Dennis, and Keithen, after nearly thirty years, a finished version of Tempest for the Atari 5200 SuperSystem was made available for sale by AtariAge at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in September 2012.  Of course the story doesn’t end there.  Shortly after the expo, bugs were discovered in the Trak-ball control of the game, so back went the programmers to fix the bugs.  Finally, in the past week, Tempest has been released with a beautiful reproduction box, a twelve page manual (in full color), and a cool cart label.  The manual (which has had a life of its own), includes three pages on the history of the game.

Tempest for the 5200 does not disappoint.  Other than not being able to render vector graphics, the SuperSystem demonstrates its ability to be a ‘personal arcade system’ and Tempest rocks on the 5200.  Since the sounds and game tables are the same as the arcade version, it is hard to imagine how it could get any better.  Control with the 5200’s analog joystick is solid and, although I prefer the joystick, it also plays well with the Trak-ball.  I did find that in later rounds, you have really work to avoid the spikes when using the joystick.  This is definitely easier to do with the Trak-ball.  All of the arcade levels and features are present, including the ability to pick your starting level.  There is really not much else that can be said other than it is nearly arcade perfect!

A huge thank you needs to go out to Keithen, Ken, and Dennis for their programming work to finally bring this arcade classic home.  Thanks also to Michael Kosaka for his graphics work and to George Reese and David Exton for their work on the box, manual, and label for this game.  Finally, a big thanks to Al Yarusso for all that he does at AtariAge and for his work to program, solder, and assemble all of the Tempest carts.  At best, a few hundred (or maybe a thousand) copies of Tempest will be sold, so there is no big money being made here.  In an era of overpaid celebrities and sports stars, it is really nice to see people do something to make other people’s lives more enjoyable.

If you have a 5200, get over to AtariAge and order yourself a copy of this classic game.  It may have taken thirty years to be completed, but you should not wait another minute to get your copy!

Wild for Tempest!

Wild for Tempest!


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Centipede…

Centipede is a 1980 video game developed by Atari.  It is notable in that it was one of the few video games that was co-developed by a woman (Dona Bailey) and, also had a large female following.  Centipede was a monster hit for Atari and it could be found in nearly every arcade in the early 80’s.  Centipede is based on the standard Atari hardware of the era with a single 6502 CPU, a single Pokey chip,  and a 16 color CRT.

The concept of the game is pretty straight forward.  The centipede starts at the top of the screen and moves down a level every time it encounters a mushroom.  You must use your wand (blaster) to shoot the centipede before it gets to you.   If you hit the centipede in a center section, it will split in two.  You must also defend yourself from spiders that enter from the sides and fleas that fall from the top.  Scorpions periodically run across the screen and ‘poison’ any mushrooms that they contact.  If the centipede contacts a poison mushroom, it will ‘fall’ to the bottom of the screen.

Centipede at Funspot

Centipede at Funspot

Centipede was ported to a number of home consoles and computers including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 800 and the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 consoles.  In fact, it is one of the few games to be ported to all 4 of Atari’s 8-bit game systems.

In 1982, Atari released Centipede for the VCS/2600 and, when you power up your 2600 with a Centipede cartridge installed, you will be amazed with the start screen…you will think that you are about to see an amazing graphical port for the 2600.  Unfortunately, the start screen is as far as the amazing graphics go.  The game graphics are disappointing as the mushrooms have become simple square blocks.   As far as the game play goes, however, the 2600 version has it all…mushrooms, spiders, fleas, and scorpions.  It plays as close to the arcade version as any 2600 port.  In fact, Centipede is one of the top games for the 2600!

When the 5200 SuperSystem was introduced in 1982, Centipede was one of the early releases.  Given that a Centipede arcade unit has the same basic CPU and sound chips as a 5200, it should be no surprise that the 5200 version is a classic port.  Like the 2600 version, all of the arcade elements are present, but this time the graphics and sound are spot on.  Control with a standard 5200 joystick is solid, but the 5200 version supports the use of the Trak-ball unit.  Centipede is one of the top games available for the 5200.

In 1987, Atari released Centipede for the 7800 ProSystem.  Even though the 7800 lacks the sound capability of the 4 channel Pokey chip, Centipede is well executed with a nice start screen, great graphics, and more than adequate sound.   The only thing negative to say about the 7800 graphics is the box that is drawn around the screen.   The 7800 version makes up for any shortcomings with neat two player modes.  Two players can alternate turns, play against each other (at the same time), or play together as a team.

It is hard to say which version of Centipede is the best port.  The two player modes in the 7800 version make it a blast to play with a friend, but I give a slight edge to the 5200 version for its accuracy to the arcade version.  No matter which Atari home console you have, a copy of Centipede belongs in your game collection!

Wild for Centipede!

Wild for Centipede!


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Pac-Man the series…

In my next few posts, I am going to write about Pac-Man, the spin offs, and ports to the Atari 2600 and 7800 systems.

Pac-Man…

Pac-Man is probably the most well known video game in history.  It was developed by Namco in 1979 and distributed in the United States by Midway.  In Japan (and in parts of Europe) the game was known as Puck Man.  Pac-Man was developed over a period of about eighteen months by Namco employee Toru Iwatani.  When Pac-Man was first released in Japan, it was not a hit as Space Invaders continued to dominate the arcade scene.  When Pac-Man was released in the US, everything changed.  It seemed that the American public welcomed the change from Space Invaders and the seemingly endless number of arcade space shooters.  Midway sold more than 350,000 Pac-Man arcade units and it became an even bigger hit than Atari’s Asteroids.

The game of Pac-Man is based around a pretty simple concept.  The player must control Pac-Man and have him eat all of the dots in the maze, while avoiding the ghosts.  There are four power pills (at the corners of the maze) which give Pac-Man invincibility and the ability to eat the ghosts.  Each ghost eaten is more valuable.  The ghosts (Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde), which all have different personalities, get re-incarnated when their eyes return to the box at the center of the screen.  As the game progresses, the time period of invincibility becomes shorter.  Additionally, fruits appear periodically and, when eaten, give the player bonus points.

Most gamers don’t know that it is impossible to finish a Pac-Man game.  There are 256 levels, but there is a bug in the arcade ROM that prevents completion.  Normally there are seven fruits displayed across the bottom of the screen, but an error in programming causes 256 fruits to be displayed on the 256th level, destroying the right hand side of the maze.

Due to its popularity, Pac-Man was ported to almost every home console of the era including the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems.  It was also ported to the Intellivision, NES, and Commodore 64.

Ms. Pac-Man…

Believe it or not, Ms. Pac-Man started out as Crazy Otto.  General Computer Corporation (GCC) had developed an enhancement kit for Missile Command arcade units.  This didn’t make Atari very happy and they sued GCC.  The suit was settled when GCC agreed not sell any more enhancement kits without the agreement of the original manufacturer.  GCC also agreed to collaborate with Atari on some future projects.   GCC had developed an enhancement kit for Pac-man called Crazy Otto.  Per the agreement with Atari, they were compelled to show it to Midway.  Midway ended up liking it so much that they bought it from GCC and re-worked it into what is now known as Ms. Pac-Man.

Ms. Pac-Man became a monster hit for Midway when it was released in 1982.  In fact, Ms. Pac-Man became one of the most popular arcade games of all time.  It was the first to feature a female character and Midway sold more than 100,000 Ms. Pac-Man arcade units.  Unfortunately, Midway did not obtain authorization from Namco for the development and release of Ms. Pac-Man.  Fortunately, Ms. Pac-Man was so popular that Namco did reach agreements with Midway and GCC and Ms. Pac-Mac  became an officially licensed Namco game.

Like Pac-man, Ms. Pac-Man was ported to a number of home consoles including the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, and 8-bit systems.   It was also ported to the NES, Commodore 64, and Apple II.

 Super Pac-Man…

This is the third game in the series and, unlike Ms. Pac-Man, was actually developed by Namco.  Super Pac-Man becomes ‘super’ by eating one of the two ‘super’ pellets.  When ‘super’, he is larger, faster and can eat through doors.  When ‘super’, he is also invincible to the ghosts.  When normal, he must eat the keys which open the doors to allow him to eat the fruits.

The Super Pac-Man concept was quite a deviation from Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man and was only a moderate success.  It was also developed to run on a Motorola 6809 CPU versus the Z80’s used the the previous Pac-Man arcade units.

Due to its limited success it was only ported to the Atari 5200, but was never released by Atari.

Pac-Man Plus…

Pac-Man Plus was released by Midway in 1982 and, like Ms. Pac-Man, it was not authorized by Namco.  Pac-Man Plus is similar to Pac-Man with the biggest differences being the green (versus blue) maze and the fruits being replaced by ‘other’ objects such as beverages.  Additionally, eating a power pill sometimes causes unexpected results such as making the maze invisible or only turning three of the four ghosts blue.

Because Pac-Man Plus was released just before the ‘Video game collapse of 1983′, it was never officially ported to any home consoles.  It was reasonably popular in the arcades and, actually, outsold Super Pac-Man.

Midway also developed a Ms. Pac-Man Plus arcade system which was identical to Ms. Pac-Man, only with different mazes.

Jr. Pac-Man…

Jr. Pac-Man was another version developed by Bally Midway without permission from Namco.  Jr. was closer to the original Pac-Man format than Super Pac-Man.  The biggest change is that the maze is now twice as large and, as Jr. moves, the maze will pan across the screen horizontally.  There are also six power pills instead of four and, due to the scrolling mazes, there are no tunnels.  Jr. Pac-Man also has the added challenge of things happening off-screen.  Additionally, the toy candies (versus fruits) transform the dots and make them more valuable to eat, but they can also destroy the power pills.

Released in 1983, Jr. Pac-Man was only a moderate success.  It was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, and 8-bit systems, but only the 2600 version was released.  Since Jr. Pac-Man was developed Bally Midway, the arcade systems run on Z80 CPU’s like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Aracde Systems

Pac-Man Aracde Systems

Next…

In my next post, I will write about the Atari 2600 ports of the Pac-Man series…


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Galaxian and Galaga…

Galaxian…

Galaxian is an arcade game developed by Namco in 1979 and released in the United States by Midway.   Galaxian was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Taito’s Space Invaders and was also a fixed, space shooter game.  It differed from Space Invaders in that it was a RGB color game and the aliens would break away from formation and ‘dive bomb’ your ship.  The RGB color screen with multi-color sprites and scrolling star background was considered ‘ground breaking’ for 1979.  The Galaxian arcade units were powered by a Z80 CPU and the game was ported to nearly every home console of the era, including the Atari 2600 and 5200, and the Colecovision.

Galaxian at Funspot

Galaxian at Funspot

Galaga…

Namco followed up Galaxian with 1981’s Galaga.  Galaga was similar to Galaxian, but added some new features such as additional alien flying patterns and ‘challenging stages’, which occur periodically during the game.  They also added the ‘tractor beam’ where your ship can be captured.  This adds a cool twist to the game as, if you have additional lives, you can kill the alien to get your ship back and it will attach to your current ship to give you double the fire power.  With more complicated alien movements, Galaga arcade units used three Z80 CPU’s and two sound generators.  Galaga was a smash hit for Namco and ported to a number of home consoles including the NES and the Atari 7800.

In 1983, Atari released Galaxian for the 2600.  The 2600 version was a pretty good port, given the hardware limitations of the VCS.  The one thing that bugs me about the 2600 port, is the crazy yellow borders; I am not sure what Atari was thinking with these.  Fortunately, more than one gamer has ‘hacked’ Galaxian to improve the appearance of the game.  Jess Ragan’s Galaxian Arcade improves both movement and graphics to be much closer to the arcade version.  Nukey and KevinMos3 have teamed up to produce an even more arcade perfect version of Galaxian for the 2600.  You can check out both of these versions at AtariAge.

5200 owners were not left out as Atari developed a pretty good port of Galaxian as one of the release games for the 5200.  The 5200 version doesn’t have any of the cool start screens of the arcade, but the graphics and game play are well done.   Given that the 5200 has a Pokey chip for 4 channel sound, the sounds could have been programmed to be closer to the arcade, but it is still a fun game to play.  If you have a good joystick, you will not have any control issues with Galaxian, but this version also supports the 5200 Trak-ball.  I have played Galaxian with both the standard 5200 joystick and a Trak-ball and it is fun to play either way.

Galxian was not ported to the 7800, but Galaga was one of the first dozen release titles for the 7800. Like many of the early release games for the 7800, it was programmed by General Computer Corporation.  Galaga for the 7800 was positively received by many, but panned by others as not being arcade perfect.  Comparing the 7800 version to the arcade version reveals differences, but none that detract from the game play.  In fact, Galaga is one of my favorite games for the 7800 and is a pretty awesome port when you take into account that compromises had to be made as the arcade units had three CPU’s versus one for the 7800.  Galaga utilizes a single fire button, so you can play it with your CX40 or Flashback joysticks.

If you have a 2600, then you should pick a copy of Galaxian or Galaxian Arcade.   If you have a 7800, you should pick up both Galaxian and Galaga.  Also, no 5200 owner should be without a copy of Galaxian in their collection.  Since millions of copies of Galaxian and Galaga were produced, they are easy to find and are still readily available for purchase at relatively low prices!

Wild for Galaxian!

Wild for Galaxian!