Retro Game 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.

Scramble5200STG5

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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Super Cobra…

Super Cobra is a video game developed by Konami in 1981 and distributed in the United States by Stern.  A further development of Scramble, it is also a side scrolling ‘shoot ‘em up’ with outstanding graphics and game play.  In Super Cobra, you control a helicopter with the goal of getting 10,000 miles, grab the booty, and carry it away.  In addition to controlling the movements of your helicopter, you must also use your guns and bombs to destroy rockets, tanks, and fuel tanks.  You must keep an eye on your own fuel and destroy a fuel tank to increase your fuel level.

In Super Cobra the terrain is constantly changing and you must fight your way through eleven stages:

  • Stage 1:  Mountainous terrain against fast and slow firing rockets
  • Stage 2:  Arcing missiles over a mountain terrain
  • Stage 3:  Smart bombs flying in groups of four over mountainous terrain. Rockets appear, but do not fire
  • Stage 4:  Single smart bombs over mountainous terrain. Again, Rockets appear, but do not fire
  • Stage 5:  Flying through a cavern-like terrain against falling mines
  • Stage 6:  Rapidly firing, roving tanks over mountainous terrain. Rockets appear, but do not fire
  • Stage 7:  Maneuver through a field of meteors which explode when hit with bombs or 3 times with laser, plus a single, green, shadow meteor directly in front of chopper which explodes when hit five times with laser. Rockets appear but do not fire
  • Stage 8:  Mountainous terrain with rapidly firing UFOs. Tanks and rockets appear, but do not fire
  • Stage 9:  Arcing missiles over tall buildings
  • Stage 10:  Firing rockets in a building maze
  • Stage 11:  Base-maneuver your helicopter over tall buildings, missiles, and tanks to reach the Booty and safely carry it away.

The Super Cobra arcade units were powered by two Z80 CPU’s and two AY-3-8910 sound generators.  It was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit systems, Intellivision, and Colecovison.  Most recently, and updated version has been ported to the Atari 2600.

2600 Version…

Parker Brothers…

In 1983, Parker Brothers released their port of Super Cobra for the Atari 2600.  At the time, it was considered a decent port and received a certificate of merit at the 1983 Arkie Awards.  With the recent release of Super Cobra Arcade for the 2600, this 1983 port is now one to skip.

Champ Games…

Thanks John Champeau, it is now possible to play an almost arcade perfect port of Super Cobra on the Atari 2600.  John took advantage of the work that he had done on Scramble and adapted his code to produce an outstanding port of Super Cobra.  Super Cobra was released by AtariAge at the 2017 Portland Retro Gaming Expo with a color manual, poster, and an amazing box.  Several other AtariAge forum members contributed to the game, including Nathan Strum (graphics), Michael Haas (music, sound effects, label, box, and manual design), Darrell Spice (level generation and code) and Thomas Jentzsch (level generation and code).

Super Cobra for the 2600 is amazingly close to the arcade version and, when playing it, you have to keep reminding yourself that it is an Atari 2600 game.  Like a few other recent homebrew games, John takes advantage of the Melody board to make the 2600 do things once thought not possible!  The graphics and sounds are outstanding, and all eleven arcade levels are included.

2600SCA

Super Cobra Arcade for the Atari 2600/7800

A really cool feature that John built into the 2600 version of Scramble is the ability to use a Sega Genesis controller.  If plugged in before your 2600 is powered up, Scramble will auto-detect the Genesis controller and allow two button game play (for separate control of firing bombs and missiles).  John also takes advantage of the 2600’s color/B&W switch to implement a pause feature in the game as well as the difficulty switch to allow for single shot or ‘burst mode’ when shooting missiles.

Like Scramble, Super Cobra is a fun game, but takes a lot of practice.   John has built in four difficulty levels into his 2600 version which will keep you coming back for more.  Also, John has included the ‘continue’ feature of the arcade, so you can play on, even when the game should be over.  Super Cobra Arcade for the Atari 2600 is a must have game for your collection!

5200 Version…

The 5200 version was also released by Parker Brothers in 1983, is faithful to the arcade version and includes all eleven levels.

5200SC

Super Cobra for the Atari 5200

I have seen reviews that state difficulties with using the 5200’s analog joysticks.  It probably would have been a wise idea to either make the caverns wider or do so via a menu selection or difficulty setting, but  I have played it with a 5200 joystick and a CX40 (via a masterplay clone adapter) and find it challenging, but not impossible.  Obviously, the better your joystick, the easier it will be to score higher at Super Cobra.  Like John’s 2600 version, Parker Brothers included the continue feature which adds significantly to the enjoyment of the game.

Unfortunately, Parker Brothers did not take advantage of the keypad on the 5200 controller and add any game options.  The only option is for the # key to select a one or two player game.  Additionally, only the lower fire button is used, which fires both missiles and bombs.  Despite these shortcomings, Super Cobra is a definite ‘must have’ for your 5200 collection.

7800 Version…

A simple graphics hack of Bob DeCrescenzo’s Scramble has been made available by Good Deal Games and, until John’s 2600 version was released, this was as close as you could get to Super Cobra on the 7800.  John’s 2600 plays great on the 7800 and includes all Super Cobra levels and features, so it’s buyer’s choice as to which way to choose if you have a 7800.

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Wild for Super Cobra Arcade!


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Scramble for the Atari 2600…

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 John Champeau, it is now possible to play Scramble on the Atari 2600.  John started his work on his port of Scramble in 2015 and it was released by AtariAge in mid-2017 with a color manual, poster, and an amazing box.  A number of other AtariAge forum members contributed to the game, including Nathan Strum (graphics), Bob DeCrescenzo (music and sound effects), Michael Haas (sound effects), and Dave Dries (label, box, and manual design).  Additionally, Darrell Spice helped with the DPC+/ARM code and Thomas Jentzsch helped with testing.                         

Scramble2600

Scramble for Atari 2600

Scramble for the 2600 is amazingly close to the arcade version and, when playing it, you have to keep reminding yourself that it is an Atari 2600 game.  Like a few other recent homebrew games, John takes advantage of the Melody board to make the 2600 do things once thought not possible!  The graphics and sound are outstanding and all six arcade levels are included.

A really cool feature that John built into the 2600 version of Scramble is the ability to use a Sega Genesis controller.  If plugged in before your 2600 is powered up, Scramble will auto-detect the Genesis controller and allow two button game play (for separate control of firing bombs and missiles).  John also takes advantage of the 2600’s color/B&W switch to implement a pause feature in the game as well as the difficulty switch to allow for single shot or ‘burst mode’ when shooting missiles.

Scramble is a fun game, but it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.   John has built in four difficulty levels which will keep challenging you as you get better at the game.  Scramble is an awesome side scroller for the 2600 which not only pushes the system to its limits, but, also shows that, some forty years after it was first released, the Atari 2600 is still a great home gaming system.  John has really ‘knocked it out of the park’ with Scramble…an absolute must have for your 2600!!!

Scamble 2600

Wild for Scramble!

P.S.  Scramble also plays well on the Atari 7800!


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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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Happy Holidays!

I want to wish everyone in Retrogame Land a very Happy Holiday Season!  The second half of 2014 was incredibly busy for me and there was just not enough time to keep up with this blog.  I have some down time between the holidays and hope to get a few posts done.

There has actually been a lot going on in Retrogame Land in the past few weeks.  Over at AtariAge, several new 2600 and 7800 games were released.  For the Atari 2600, Omnicrom, Pinata, and Flappy were released in November and just a couple of weeks ago Threes,  the 2014 Holiday cart ‘The Byte before Christmas’, and Stay Frosty 2 were released.  I have gotten my hands on Stay Frosty 2 and will have more to say about it in an upcoming blog.  For the Atari 7800, Astro Blaster and K. C. Munchkin have been released. These are currently sold out, but should be available again in January.

Several new 2600 games are also in development including Draconion by Darrel Spice and an amazing new version of Pac-Man by DINTAR816.  For the 7800, Bob DeCrescenzo is developing a scrolling zombie themed game called Rezolve and Schmutzpuppe is developing a version of Flappy Bird.

AtGames has released the Atari Flashback 5, the Colecovision Flashback, and the Intellivison Flashback.  The Atari Flashback 5 now comes with 92 built in games while the Colecovison and Intellivision Flashbacks each have 60 built in games.  They are available from many retailers including Dollar General, Toys R Us, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Sams Club/Walmart.  I have been able to get my hands on both the Colecovison and Intellivision Flashbacks and will have reviews of these units posted in the next few days.

Again, Happy Holidays and I will have some more posts in the next few days!

@Atarigameguy


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Keeping old controllers alive…

Last year, I picked up an Atari 2600, two joysticks, a set of paddles, and ten games at a local thrift store.  The console worked perfectly, but the joysticks were iffy and the paddles all jittery.  I had never re-built an Atari controller before, but I am pretty handy with a soldering iron, so I thought I would try rebuilding these joysticks and paddles myself.

Re-building the joysticks…

The two joysticks were in good physical condition, so I used one of those damp, anti-bacterial cleaning cloths to get all of the dirt and dust off of the outside.  To open up an Atari joystick, just unloosen four screws on the bottom of the joystick and the top will separate from the bottom.  Be careful as fire button and spring will come loose and one of my springs went missing.  There are a few dealers that still have original Atari CX40 joystick circuit boards for sale, but I opted for a re-build kit from Best Electronics.  Best includes a new joystick handle and a new circuit board, with gold contacts, that is an exact fit for the original Atari circuit board.  I had already turned my soldering iron on before I realized that no soldering would be needed as the Atari wiring harness is connected via slide clips.  I carefully removed the wires from the original board and installed them on the new Best gold board.  The Best gold board includes markings that indicate which wire should be connected to each contact.  I then carefully re-assembled the joystick and tested it.  This actually took me a couple of iterations as I didn’t have the spring lined up correctly and fire button wasn’t working.  Also, since I lost a fire button spring, I had imagineer one from a ball point pen spring.  Thus, I highly recommend ordering a couple of those from Best when you order the rebuild kits.  Once I had the springs properly aligned, the joysticks worked perfectly and are now better than new!

CX40parts

Original CX40 Parts

Gold CX40 PCB

Gold CX40 PCB

Re-building the paddles…

The Atari CX-30 paddles are infamous for becoming ‘jittery’, after many hours of use.  Some people have had success using contact cleaner to solve this problem, but most of the time the potentiometers are just worn out.  As far as I know, it is almost impossible to find original replacement potentiometers for Atari paddles.  Thankfully, Best Electronics has been able to locate a source of replacement ‘super pots’ for Atari paddles that are actually better quality and a perfect fit.  To replace the pots in a set of CX30 paddles is pretty straight forward.  I removed the two screws from the back of the case to separate the case halves.  I then loosened the nut that holds the pot in place and carefully removed it.  I used my soldering iron to unsolder the two wires from the existing pot and, then soldered them to the new super pot.  Using the new nut that comes with the super pot, I re-installed it into the case and re-assembled the case.  I repeated this process for the other paddle in the CX30 set.  Once they were both back together, I tested them and they worked flawlessly, but one of the paddles had a rattle.  I took it back apart and realized that the plastic housing had cracked around one of the screw holes.  Not wanting to wait to order a replacement case, I used a little silicone adhesive and shored up the post with a wire tie.  Problem solved, rattle gone!  The re-built paddles are smooth and jitter free!

CX30pots

Old & New CX40 Pots

Fixing a CX24 joystick…

One of my CX24 joysticks for my Atari 7800 wasn’t working very well, so I had also ordered a replacement circuit board from Best.  It was a simple effort to swap this board, in my failing controller, and restore it to full health.

Overall thoughts…

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to give new life to old Atari controllers.  There is more than one on-line Atari dealer that have repair parts for Atari joysticks and paddles, but Best Electronics seems to have the most complete selection.  Their ‘gold’ joystick circuit boards and ‘super pots’ are easy to install and will give your controllers new life.  Don’t continue to settle for a failing controller and don’t think that your only option is to buy new ones…get some replacement parts and re-build them yourself!

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@Atarigameguy