That’s a title and a half, isn’t it? Even thirty-five years after its original launch, “Attack of the Mutant Camels” is still a delightful piece of titling prowess that just rolls off the tongue.
Attack of the Mutant Camels is one of the most well-known games put out in the 8-bit era by the hairiest man in games, Jeff Minter. Based quite obviously on the Atari 2600 adaptation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a real showcase game for what the humble Atari 8-bit could achieve in the hands of a master.
Combining Minter’s love of underappreciated animals, sci-fi, prog rock and psychedelia, Attack of the Mutant Camels may be simplistic in structure and mechanics, but it remains a beloved part of many Atari 8-bit collections with very good reason.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve done it! Well, we’ve done it once, anyway.
Yes, indeed, with this week’s Atari A to Z video, we finally make it all the way to Z, with Cathryn (formerly William, as seen on the title screen) Mataga’s Zeppelin, an interesting multi-directional adventure shoot ’em up in which the challenge is not just from shooting bad guys and avoiding environmental hazards, but also from navigation and item manipulation.
This is a great example of the sort of quality software publisher Synapse became well-known for, although that quality tended to come at a price — Zeppelin was a whopping $34.95 when it came out in 1983, or nearly $90 in today’s money, taking inflation into account! And if Mataga’s name is familiar, you may have come across another Synapse-published title called Shamus that I’m sure will feature on this series at some point in the near future! But that’s a story for another day…
Although the Atari 8-bit range of computers mostly lost what little “mainstream” relevance they had with the onset of the 16-bit era — which, in turn, was killed off by the widespread adoption of standardised MS-DOS and Windows PCs — there are a few dedicated developers out there still plugging away at this old hardware.
The results these modern maestros can get out of ancient computers can be, at times, absolutely astonishing. Some form part of what is known as the “demoscene”, producing audible and graphical showcases that push the hardware to its absolute limits. Others take that extra step and add true interactivity, making actual games with impressive visuals and sounds to show what they’re really capable of.
Yoomp from 2007 is an example of the latter. It makes use of some clever graphical techniques, fully optimised for both PAL and NTSC displays, and some delightfully catchy, toe-tapping music courtesy of the Atari’s trusty POKEY chip. If you’d like to find out more about this game — and download it for free to try for yourself — check out the official website here.
“Are you devious enough to play Xevious”? Well yes, yes, I am, particularly if it’s an apparently unreleased prototype of indeterminate origin for my favourite 8-bit home computer system.
Namco’s Xevious is a defining influence in the shoot ’em up genre, so of course there were plenty of home ports for a variety of systems. One that never quite made it to market, however, was the Atari 5200 version, which was subsequently ported by some helpful soul to play on standard Atari 8-bit computers. (This was not a huge leap, really, because the 5200 was basically an Atari 8-bit with a horrible controller and no keyboard.)
While questionable as to whether or not it’s “finished”, it’s certainly a competent enough port that I had a good time with, so take a look!
Mention early first-person perspective 3D games to someone and they’re most likely to picture a “gridder” — the projection of a 2D map into a fake 3D perspective, through which you move by “step”, one cell at a time.
The reason for this is that it was the easiest way to create a 3D effect without actually having to do any real “3D” — hell, one of the earliest and most famous examples of this was on the humble ZX81 in the form of 3D Monster Maze. And indeed this style of presentation (if not necessarily the exact execution) remains popular today for many first-person perspective dungeon crawlers from both Eastern and Western developers, allowing for intricate, interesting level design without the need for complex 3D modelling.
Some talented coders in the early 8-bit era figured out ways to get more natural movement through these “projected 2D” maps, allowing you to rotate through angles other than 90 degrees and move relatively freely. One such example on the Atari 8-bit was 1982’s technically impressive Way Out (sometimes stylised as Wayout). The creator of this game, one Paul Allen Edelstein, remains part of the games industry to this day, albeit now with a specialism in video and audio compression technology rather than 3D graphics.
This one was a new one on me until quite recently. I present to you Vanguard, an unusual shoot ’em up originally released by SNK in the arcades.
Vanguard is unusual because it’s not just being one thing, unlike a lot of shoot ’em ups at the time. Instead, it shifts between horizontal, vertical and diagonal scrolling at various points in the levels, and even has some rudimentary boss fights. It’s also quite unusual to find a game of this era with a proper “continue” system, particularly in its home incarnations.
While its visuals may not look like much these days, it’s a great shoot ’em up that is still worth revisiting today — and there’s an Atari 2600 version too, for those who prefer to console it up.
Some days it just feels like everything is out to get you, when all you want to do is go for a nice peaceful ride in your beautiful hot air balloon.
Of course, in Ringblack Software’s Up Up and Away, everything literally is out to get you, whether it’s punks on the ground throwing rocks at you, birds who have apparently been eating nothing but razor blades for the last week or even Mother Nature herself.
This “avoid ’em up” goes well beyond “NES Hard” into a whole new territory of difficulty. If you even clear the “training” level you’re doing well… but I suspect you’ll be plummeting towards the ground long before that happens.
“Multi-discipline athletics” is a subgenre of sports gaming that seems to have mostly fallen by the wayside in recent years.
In the ’80s, however, it was all the rage — and games such as Konami’s Track & Field proved to be the bane of many a joystick throughout the decade.
This Atari 8-bit port of the arcade classic is a surprisingly solid adaptation, wonky scrolling and inadvertent hairpieces aside. If you’ve had a hankering for a wagglin’, well, you can do far worse than this!
Merry Christmas! And what better way to celebrate the festive season than with some fairground-style shooting action?
DataSoft’s Shooting Arcade from 1982 is not an especially complex game, but it has an enjoyably addictive quality to it, brought about through increasingly challenging mechanics and an emphasis on accuracy rather than fast action.
If you need a bit of time away from the family this Christmas, you could do far worse than blast away at a few pink elephants…
Electronic Arts are pretty widely disliked by much of the gaming community these days, so it’s easy to forget their somewhat humble and interesting roots.
As their name suggests, they favoured releasing titles that were highly interesting and creative — artistic, you might say — rather than just the same old thing we’d seen elsewhere. In many ways, they heralded in one of the earliest eras of the video game “auteur”.
One great example from the early ’80s was Mike Edwards’ Realm of Impossibility, an enhanced and expanded version of Edwards’ earlier game Zombies. This is a non-violent action adventure that tasks you with exploring a variety of isometric dungeons that get increasingly… peculiar in their geometry as the game progresses. Escher would be proud.