Retro Game Guy

It's the 1980's again!


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For the love of the Atari 2600…

2015 has been a crazy busy year for me, so I haven’t had much time to keep up with this blog.  It looks like things are going to slow down a little, so I hope I can post at least every couple of weeks.

When I decided to get back into gaming, I studied which system to buy and decided on the Atari 7800.  It was backwards compatible with the 2600 and 7800 games had near arcade quality graphics.   There was also a small, but active development community ensuring a steady supply of new games to come.

When I attended to Portland Retro Game Expo a couple of years ago, I was expecting to see all kinds of 7800 games, controllers, and systems.  To my surprise, there were hardly any, except for the AtariAge booth.  The dominant game system of the show was the NES, but the Atari 2600 was a close second

I didn’t really think about it at the time, but I have many times since.  Why was the 2600 the most popular Atari 8-bit game system?  The 5200 was short lived, had a small game library (constantly expanding now as 8-bit computer titles are converted), and controllers that broke easily.  The 7800 had a poor controller, but a 2600 controller could be used to play games that only require a single button and it really does have great graphics (for an 8-bit system).   I could see why 5200 wasn’t the top Atari system, but why the 2600?

Sheer numbers…

Over 30 million Atari 2600 game systems were sold from 1977 to 1992 and over 500 games have been developed for the 2600.  Let’s face it, anyone that grew up in the 80’s either had an Atari 2600 or knew someone who did.  So many classic games have been ported to the 2600 such as Berzerk, Missile Command, Space Invaders as well as original games like Kaboom, Pitfall, and Yars Revenge.  Combined with a still active homebrew community that cranks out several new games each year, the 2600 has continued to thrive.

New developments…

New circuit boards for carts and tools for development such as emulators and todays laptops and PC’s have allowed developers to do things that were not possible in the 80’s.  One of the 2600’s most recent releases ‘Space Rocks’ uses the ARM CPU on the ‘Melody Board’ to run code written in C.  The Atari CPU is used to ‘paint the screen’.  This has allowed for near arcade quality (80’s) games to be developed for the 2600.

Simplicity…

The other thing that the 2600 has going for it is simplicity.  2600 controllers only have one button and the unit only has six switches.  Most games are intuitive and can be played without even consulting the manual.  At the same time, there are some fairly complicated games like Solaris that can keep you playing for hours!

With all of this, it is no wonder that the 2600 remains the most popular Atari game system…

@Atarigameguy


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Dig Dug…

Dig Dug is a 1982 arcade game released by Namco and distributed by Atari outside of Japan.  The goal in Dig Dug is to score as many points as possible by digging and ‘killing’ the two types of antagonists…Pookas and Fygars.  There are two ways to ‘kill’ Pookas and Fygars…by dropping rocks on them or by inflating them until they ‘pop’.  The farther down that you dig and ‘kill’ your enemies, the more points you will score.  Additionally, double points are awarded, if Fygars are pop’d horizontally.  Finally, if a player drops two rocks in  a round, bonus items, such as fruits, will appear on the screen and additional points are awarded for ‘eating’ these items.

Dig Dug was designed to run on Namco’s Galaga arcade board (3x Z80 CPU’s) and was extremely popular.  Many people consider Dig Dug one of the best arcade games of the era.  The game, with it’s simple concept and graphics was a natural to port to home systems.  It was ported to the Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, Intellivision, and just about every other 8-bit home console/computer.  The one exception was the Colecovision…a Dig Dug port was developed by Atarisoft, but never officially released.

2600 Version…

The Atari 2600 version of Dig Dug was released in 1983 and, although the graphics were simplified, the game play is intact and solid.  Dig Dug, Pooka, and Fygars have simplified mono-color sprites and the background graphics and rocks are not pretty to look at, but the 2600 version is fun to play and it has a cool start screen!  With the capabilities of the Melody board and the talent of some of today’s homebrew programmers, I wonder how long it will be before someone makes an enhanced Dig Dug for the 2600?

5200 Version…

The 5200 version of Dig Dug was also released in 1983 and features improved graphics and sound over it’s 2600 counterpart.  Dig Dug, Pooka, and Fygar are still rendered in mono-color graphics, but the background and rocks are much closer to the arcade version.  Control with the standard 5200 analog joystick is solid and the game play is very close to the arcade.  Although it should have been possible to have multi-color sprites which would have improved the appearance of the game, Dig Dug for the 5200 is solid and a great addition to every 5200 collection!

7800 Version…

Dig Dug for the 7800 was one of the release titles for the system and is the ‘premier’ version for 8-bit Atari consoles.  The sprites for all of the characters are rendered in multi-color, there is a cool start screen, and the sound (usually a short coming for the 7800) is well done.  The NES version may have slightly sharper graphics, but the 7800 version is that hands down winner for Atari console versions.  All of the arcade elements and scoring are present and it is a blast to play.  If you have a 7800, this game is a must have for your collection!

Dig Dug for the 7800

Dig Dug for the 7800

Overall thoughts…

Back in the eighties, I played Dig Dug a few times, but had never really learned much about the game.  In doing the research for this post, I have learned how the scoring works, the strategy for playing Dig Dug, and why so many people have such fond memories of this great game.  100’s of Thousands (if not millions) of Dig Dug cartridges were made for all three Atari 8-bit consoles, so they are easy to find and inexpensive.  No matter which Atari console you have, Dig Dug belongs in your collection!

@Atarigameguy


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Emulation?

I really enjoy owning my classic game consoles and collecting games.  I enjoy the simplicity of putting a cartridge in a console and only having to master the control of a joystick with one or two buttons.  Why, then, consider emulating these classic systems?

First of all, emulation has made the Atari Flashback series possible.  The first Flashback was based on a ‘NES on a chip’ and all 20 games ran in emulation.  In the latest Flashback 4, the emulation has improved to the point where it is so good that the games play almost as they do on an original 2600.  Emulation has helped make it cost effective to provide 75 games (with wireless controllers) for as little as $30-40.

I was one of the lucky people to be able to get an HP TouchPad when HP sold them at fire sale prices.  I am among a smaller group of people that still use their webOS devices on a daily basis.  Believe it or not, there is a 2600 emulator for webOS!   Emulators also exist to allow you to play classics like Asteroids or Space Invaders on your Android or IOS smart phones and tablets.  This is great if you are travelling and want to bring some of your favorite games along.

The main reason that I wanted to set up an emulator on one of my PC’s was to help test new homebrews for the 7800.  The 7800 was one of the later systems to have an emulator developed for and there are a couple of different choices.  I chose ProSystem to install on a Windows 7 laptop.  Not wanting to have to use the keyboard to play games, I also picked up a USB joystick made by Curt Vendel of Syzygy.  Curt has designed these joysticks to look and feel just like an original Atari CX40.  I was surprised at how good the emulation is on ProSystem and how much fun it is to play Atari games on a PC, when you have a joystick.  With guys like Bob, Ken, Mark, and Perry still developing and enhancing games for the 7800, I am now looking forward to being able to test and provide feedback on their latest creations.

Whatever your system of choice is, there is probably an emulator that has been developed for it.  If you are an Atari fan, consider setting up Stella or ProSystem on your PC and getting one of Curt’s awesome USB joysticks.  You too can help improve homebrews by testing and providing feedback!

@Atarigameguy

Asteroids Deluxe on ProSystem

Asteroids Deluxe on ProSystem


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Video Games Then & Now…

Last week I was in the Chicago area for business and managed just enough time for  quick stop at a great Video Retro Game shop…Video Games Then & Now.  Just a short drive from O’Hare, Video Games Then & Now is at 4351 North Harlem Drive in Norridge, IL.  The shop is staff by friendly folks and has an amazing collection of systems, controllers, parts, and games for everything from the Atari 2600 to the X-Box.  In fact I saw games for the Atari 2600, 5200, & 7800 systems as well as Intellivison, Colecovision, Sega Genesis, Vectrex, and many more.

The prices are really fair (I picked up a number of 5200 and 7800 carts for as little as $1 each) and they will buy your old games or take them in trade.   I also picked up a brand new (still boxed) controller for my 7800 as well as a boxed 7800 game.

The store hours are:

  • Monday-Saturday 11am-9pm
  • Sunday 12pm-6pm

If you happen to be in the Chicago area, then you owe it to yourself to stop in and check out this great shop!

@Atarigameguy


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Retro Game Happenings…

Recent happenings in the retro game community…

PacManPlus…

Back on Thanksgiving, I posted about Bob ‘PacManPlus’ DeCrescenzo retiring from game development.  After about three months away from retro game development, Bob has returned to the Atari scene.  Recently, he has completed a new game which he has named Armor Attack II.  This game is based on the 1980 Cinematronics arcade game Armor Attack.  Bob has developed this game for the Atari 7800 console and it will be released by AtariAge in the near future.  You can read more about this great game here.  Welcome back Bob!!!

Tempest…

One of the most anticipated and exciting recent game release is Tempest for the Atari 5200.  I wrote an extensive post about Tempest back on March 2nd.  Read my post here, but, if you have an Atari 5200, you need to get this game!

Space Rocks…

Back in November of 2012, I posted about Asteroids and a new Atari 2600 version of Asteroids Deluxe by Darrell Spice.  Darrell called his version Space Rocks and AtariAge had a label contest for this new game.  Darrell finished the game, AtariAge has had the manuals printed, and is in the process of producing the initial run of carts.  You can read more about this great game here.  Look for Space Rocks in the AtariAge store soon!

Atari Inc. : Business is Fun…

Late last year Curt Vendel and Marty Goldberg completed their book about Atari that was almost eight years in the making.  Nearly 800 pages long and filled with rare photos, memos, and court documents, the book tells the story of Atari.  The book is available from Amazon and some outstanding reviews about the book are posted here.

Twitter…

I decided to open a Twitter account to help me follow developments in the retro game world.  You can follow me…

@Atarigameguy