“Platforms and ladders”. That’s what we used to call platformers before the more well-established, compact term we use today really took off.
Actually, there is a bit of a distinction; when one is referring specifically to a “platforms and ladders” game, one tends not to be referring to a side-scrolling title like a Super Mario Bros. game, but instead something that unfolds a single screen at a time, usually tasking the player with reaching a specific point or visiting every part of the level at least once.
Bill Hogue and Big Five Software’s Miner 2049’er is a great example of this format — and a game that remains one of the most enduringly popular titles in the Atari 8-bit’s library to this day.
Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.
Any kid who watched the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter longed to hear those words for real — to put the skills they’d learned in video games to the test with real conflict against invading forces!
Unfortunately, Atari’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of the movie didn’t quite make it to market in time, instead finally seeing the light of day in 1986 as the hastily rebranded Star Raiders II. However, the original, fully playable prototype of the game in its original The Last Starfighter format has been well-preserved over the years… so it’s that we’ll be taking a look at today!
Attempts to realistically simulate things it would be near-impossible for the average person to experience have been around for a long time… even when the technology wasn’t quite up to the job.
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, one of the most prolific creators of simulations — with a particular (though not exclusive) focus on military jet fighter simulators — was MicroProse, erstwhile home of Sid “Civilization” Meier. As time went on, these games got more and more satisfyingly complex and true to life… but the genre had to start somewhere!
F-15 Strike Eagle was first released in 1984 for various 8-bit computers and ported to a variety of other platforms (including the Atari ST) over the course of the next three years. It’s a fairly “arcadey” take on the jet fighter sim, but it remains enjoyable to this day… even if its core tech looks severely dated even compared to MicroProse’s own titles from just a year or two later!
This week on Atari A to Z, it’s another game by Arti Haroutunian and Tronix that… pays homage to a popular arcade game.
Much as last week’s Juice! was clearly inspired by Q*Bert, so too is Kid Grid more than a little bit like Amidar. That’s no bad thing, though; both Amidar and Kid Grid are a good time. If a bit difficult.
Okay, quite a lot difficult. But don’t judge me too harshly; I couldn’t even beat the first level of this when I was a kid!
Let’s shoot some Nazis!
Pandora’s Into the Eagle’s Nest, first released in 1987, is an early example of the “stealth” subgenre of action adventure, with elements of survival horror, such as resource management. Interestingly, its Atari 8-bit port followed a year after its initial release — which included 16-bit platforms such as the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga — when Atari decided it would make an excellent game for their last-ditch effort at pushing the 8-bit range, the hybrid computer-console XE Games System or XEGS.
It’s an interesting game with some cool twists on the usual top-down action-adventure formula… and hordes of Nazis just waiting for you to mow them down. Just make sure you aim properly.
One of my favourite things about early computer games is the sheer creativity a lot of developers showed within the technological limitations of the time.
Today we look at 1984’s Final Legacy, a rather ambitious action-strategy naval combat game in which you command a formidable warship in an attempt to destroy the totally-not-Russian missile bases pointed threateningly at your cities. Rather than a dry, abstract affair, Final Legacy brings us a cool bit of very visual interactive speculative fiction about how warfare might work in the year 2051.
Initially unfolding from an overview map, you’ll use an electric beam to destroy enemy missile silos, lasers to shoot down incoming missiles and torpedos to destroy enemy ships. It’s a ton of fun.
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.
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
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
Welcome to AtariXL, and thanks for stopping by.
Atari computers have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories involve using the Atari 400 and Atari 800XL for both playing games and performing tasks like typing out stories or making banners. And as I think back through my formative years, Atari computers of various descriptions — 400, 800XL, 130XE, 520ST, 520STE (with RAM upgrade) — were always there by my side right up until the IBM compatible PC truly asserted its complete dominance over the home computer market.
I’m keen to preserve both those memories as well as a record of some of the things I enjoyed so much growing up. To that end, I managed to convince my parents to brave the perils of their loft and retrieve whatever they could so I could shamelessly indulge my nostalgia… that and immediately expand my already extensive collection of video games and consoles with some true relics of the early days of personal computing.
Continue reading Introduction