Encounter!

The Atari 8-Bit played host to some great games, many of which drew fairly unashamed inspiration from popular arcade games at the time.

In some cases, these “derivatives” provided an interesting twist on their inspiration’s formula — or in some cases improved upon it. Such is the case with Encounter! by the late Paul Woakes, an enormously talented (and mostly solo) British programmer who developed some of the most technically impressive games of the 8- and 16-bit era.

Encounter! wears its Battlezone inspirations on its sleeve, but it mixes things up with much faster-paced gameplay and a challenging “hyperspace” sequence between stages. Watch me fail at the latter aspect in particular below.

Dandy

Dandy is another early Atari release that would go on to be extremely influential… even though relatively few people seem to know its name today.

Released through the Atari Program Exchange (or APX), an initiative by Atari that allowed amateur and professional programmers alike the opportunity to get their projects distributed commercially, Dandy by John Howard Palevich turned out to be rather important.

Originally intended as a multiplayer networked adaptation of Dungeons & Dragons before being simplified and refined into the four-player action dungeon crawler it ultimately became, Dandy would be a defining influence on Atari’s later arcade hit Gauntlet… and it’s not hard to see why.

Caverns of Mars

Caverns of Mars was a very influential game in the development of the vertically scrolling shoot ’em up genre.

First released in 1981 through Atari’s APX (Atari Program Exchange) scheme, where professional and amateur developers alike could submit their work for consideration to be published by Atari, Caverns of Mars became so popular that it was added to the company’s “official” lineup of first-party releases.

The game was essentially a vertically scrolling take on Scramble, with the twist that you had to retrace your steps back up the cavern once you reached the bottom — easier said than done. It spawned a sequel that didn’t get officially released until Antic Software picked it up several years later, renaming it to Mars Mission II, and an APX-released spinoff called Phobos that isn’t nearly as well-known.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was an interesting game that included elements of the beat ’em up, platform game and action adventure genres, creating an altogether unique experience at the time that is still fondly regarded today.

I have very fond memories of this game, despite not being all that good at it when I was a kid. Rather than it being fast, chaotic action, it actually rewards somewhat strategic play; taking your time getting through the screens is usually your best bet, and defeating the enemies is also a case of waiting for a good opening to attack them rather than flailing wildly.

The game was developed as an Atari 8-Bit title originally before being ported to a number of other platforms, including Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and MSX. The Atari version is obviously the best, of course, not that I’m biased at all in this regard.

Aztec Challenge

Aztec Challenge is one of the first ever examples of what we now know as the “auto-runner” genre.

First released in 1982 by Cosmi and subsequently rereleased in 1983 with considerably improved graphics, the game sees the player taking on the role of an Aztec warrior (who may or may not be wearing pants) as they attempt to jump over a series of increasingly awkward obstacles.

The game has a reputation for being incredibly unforgiving in terms of its collision detection, but it’s a fondly remembered game for its impressive graphics (in its 1983 incarnation, at least) and addictive challenge.

A Revamp and an Update

Hello, dear Atari fans! It’s been a while, and for that I apologise!

Fact is, I found myself with a bit less time to work on this site alongside all the other things I was doing than I thought I might have, so I’ve had to rethink things somewhat. However, I’m still keen to develop a useful (or at least hopefully interesting/nostalgic) resource for those interested in the Atari 8-Bit and ST computers and the software available for them!

With that in mind, I kicked off a YouTube series called Atari A to Z, which at the time of writing features short playthroughs of Atari 8-Bit games, some of which I grew up with and some of which are new to me. It has had a good response so far, so I thought I would expand it to this site as a means of promoting it in another way, and of collecting all the videos and related content together.

The thinking behind Atari A to Z is to initially explore the Atari 8-Bit’s library of games, a letter at a time… then go around and do it all again! I’d like to expand this over time to Atari ST games and perhaps some pieces of software too.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey; Atari computers are super-important to me, so I’m keen to share these things I love with those interested in such things!

Dark Side

3D engines are everywhere these days — you can probably name at least two off the top of your head — but in the late 1980s, they were a new and exciting phenomenon.

One of the first companies to figure out a means of making a reusable 3D engine that could be applied to multiple games without too much difficulty was Incentive Software from Reading in the UK, who developed a system they dubbed “Freescape”.

The first game released that made use of Freescape was named Driller, and unfortunately at the time of writing I’m yet to play it. This was subsequently followed up in 1988 by Dark Side, which I did play, however, and have some rather fond memories of.

Continue reading Dark Side

Donkey Kong

Today, Nintendo is primarily known for its excellent first-party games that it produces for its unique consoles and handhelds. But there was a time when Nintendo games were a lot more platform-agnostic than they are now.

That time was the early ’80s — specifically, the years before the release of the Famicom in 1983, and its Western incarnation, the Nintendo Entertainment System, in 1985. During this time, Nintendo was making arcade games. And there was a great hunger for ports of these arcade games to home-based systems of the time.

Nintendo’s 1981 classic Donkey Kong was a game that got ported to pretty much every platform imaginable at the time. And the 1983 version for Atari home computers was one of the best.

Continue reading Donkey Kong

Preppie!

During the early days of gaming, there were many titles out there attempting to ape the success of popular arcade hits by either providing new twists on an existing formula, or simply reskinning an existing game.

Sometimes, these clones were pretty shameless, with little reason to play them over and above the original and best. Sometimes, the clones ended up being better than the home ports of their source material.

And sometimes, like in the case of Russ Wetmore’s Preppie!, released for the Atari 8-Bit computers in 1982, they did enough to distinguish themselves from their inspiration to become great games in their own right.

Continue reading Preppie!

Buggy Boy

Buggy Boy was one of the first games I played on the Atari ST — and it’s one that still holds up very well today.

The game was originally released in arcades in 1985 by Tatsumi, and is known is some territories as Speed Buggy. Home ports were released over the course of the following few years by prolific developer-publisher Elite, with the 16-bit home computer versions hitting ST and Amiga in 1988.

It’s a single-player checkpoints-and-timer racing game with an emphasis on relatively low-speed, technical driving, which immediately makes it stand out against the many high-speed racers based on the Pole Position mould from the era.

Continue reading Buggy Boy

Atari games, software, hardware… and memories