Note :This week we are exploring some ideas that we believe could help Atari -Infogrames pull itself out of their current diffculties, while at the time time treating Atari’s illustrious past with the reverence befitting befits the world’s first video game company. We are calling this effort: 8bitrocket.com’s Project: Save Atari
Atari-Infogrames has been doing a fair job with old Atari licenses that they own. New versions of all the usual suspects (Asteroids, Missile Command, etc) routinely appear on consoles, online, iPhone, etc. While this is fine, it seems to us that there is just so much more in the archives that they could utilize. This week we have already talked about 2600 games that should have been franchises, coin-op games that could be casual games, and later generation console games that should be remade, and now we have made it to one of our favorite subject: The Atari home computers. Today we will discuss Atari Home Computer Games that we believe should be made available for download, remade or both. We understand that Atari does not own the rights to all these games,but we also believe at this late date that it would be trivial to rectify that situation.
Atari 8-bit Computer Games
TheAtari 8-bit computer line was released in late 1979 and lasted into the 1990s. In that time, tons great games and game franchises were created for it, many of which have been buried by the sands of time. Here are some the best ones that we believe should be revived.
Star Raiders: Star Raiders was the the single most influential computer of game that Atari ever produced. The was so visually stimulating and so much fun to play,that Atari sold 1000’s of 8-bit computers on the strength of is one title alone. In a way, this game paved the path for the 8-bit home computer-home gaming era that would be more commonly known by the Commodore-64. Star Raiders was a take on the all-text mainframe game named Star Trek, a strategy game in which you attempted to fight a space battle against alien forces. Star Raiders took that basic concept and added simulated 3D effects, and space battle action that resembled a Star Wars movie more than any prior game. While Atari did make a VCS version of this game (trumped by Activision’s Star Master) and a version for the Atari ST, that is just about as far as it went. Late in the 8-bit era they did make a game based on the movie The Last Star fighter that surfaced as Star Raiders II, and the late 90’s VCS saw a game named Solaris, programmer by the original 8-bit Star Raiders programmer, but neither of these games took the concept to a place where it could be considered a franchise. In the 90’s Wing Commander took the helm and Star Raiders was mostly forgotten. To us, this is one franchise that needs to be revived and brought back into the fold with a new entry for modern consoles.
Excalibur: Excalibur was written by Chris Crawford and released through Atari’s APX program. The game simulated both the medieval struggle for the land of Great Britain, and the internal struggle of King Arthur’s Camelot. This little seen, little played gem was one of the most detailed and intriguing strategy games of the 8-bit computer era. This is definitely one game that needs to be released for download, if not totally remade with the help of Chris Crawford.
Eastern Front: Chris Crawford’s Eastern Front was one of the first “accessible” war games for any computer. Crawford developed an input mechanism that used single joystick to fight very complex WWII battles It was also great fun to play. Crawford’s design inspired many further war games from other developers (such as SSI), but this exact title, treatment, input mechanism, etc. was not seen again in any Atari title. Remaking this game might not work in 2008, but as a downloadable game it would be very interesting.
Caverns Of Mars: This vertical scrolling shooter was a stand-out when it was released by Atari’s APX. It was so popular in fact that Atari released it as an official game soon after. This game was a known for it’s audio-visual effects and slick game play when it was first released. A sequel was created but it was not well distributed. The concept of a shooter where the player plumbed the depths of a planet was very solid one, and this game should have lived on beyond the 8-bit computer line to the 16-bits, Lynx, Jaguar, etc The game is still enjoyable to play today and would make a great remake or download.
M.U.L.E.: Dan Bunten’s planet colonization and free-market economy game M.U.L.E. has been called one of the best games ever made. A remake was created for the NES, but beyond that, there has never been a solid attempt to take this game to another platform. Why? Because it perfectly embodied the strengths of the Atari 800 computer. 4 players could play with the 4 joystick ports on the 800, the sound and music were perfectly suited for the Pokey sound chip, the display-list graphics concept served the visuals perfectly. These things simply did not translate to other platforms. Atari-Infogrames should work with E.A. to get this game made available as a download. They should also work to add online multi-player support.
Ultima IV: Still the best Ultima of the series, IV deserves to be played and appreciated by modern audiences. This deep, complicated, and difficult yet satisfying RPG was one of the inspirations for Final Fantasy and all the Japanese RPGs that followed. With the complicated magic system, strategic battles, NPCs that could carry on full conversations, and one of the most interesting stories of any RPG I have ever played, this game remains the most memorable playing experience I had on an 8-bit computer. Someone needs to work with E.A. (who owns all the Origin properties) so that this game and all Ultimas made for Atari machines (I-VI) can to be re-released for download. As well, someone needs to convince E.A. to re-make IV for modern machines.
Rescue On Fractalus: This game was Lucasfilm’s first foray into video games. The original name was Behind Jaggi Lines, but it leaked to Atari pirates so quickly that it forced Lucasfilm to start looking at other platforms almost immediately. In the game, you play a pilot who must fly around a planet trying to save your comrades and avoid aliens and alien imposters. I recall that being attacked by an alien imposter was one of the most frightening gaming events I ever experienced. While a remake might be cool, this one needs to be made available for download as soon as possible.
7 Cities Of Gold: Dan Bunten’s second game on this list was no less impressive than M.U.L.E. 7 Cities Of Gold was a “new world” exploration simulation like none before or after it. It was kind of like a cross between Civilization and Pirates, but oonly from a surface perspective. Your job was to take as many ships and soldiers as possible to the the new world, and then map and discover as much as possible. One of the objects was to find gold, but you could also discover rivers, mountains, and other land features as well as small tribes and great civilizations. The most interesting part of the game was the random map terra forming engine. While the game was supplied with a map of the classic “New World” you could also generate a random map and then try to discover it. The only objection I had with this game was the limited options you with the native people of the lands. You could only do simple trades, try to “amaze” them, or rudimentarily fight them. Atari should work with E.A to get this made available as an emulated download. Someone should also try to convince E.A. to remake it, but this time with more in-depth interaction with the native peoples of the the world you are “discovering”.
Pinball Construction Set: Again, another E.A. release for the Atari 8-bit, but also one of the best games of the era. Bill Budge’s masterpiece allowed would-be pinball designers almost unlimited control over the look and feel of their pinball tables. Any number of games could be created and shared as stand-alone games using the built-in compiler that could create executables for whatever platform you were running the game upon. This game would make a great download for any console that could support emulated Atari 8-bit games.
Everything by Synapse: One of the biggest tragedies of the Atari 8-bit computer line must be Synapse Software. Synapse, bar-none, made some of the bestst action games for the system. If the 8-bit line had been a gaming console (ok, just not the 5200), then Synapse would have been the premiere developer for that platform. Synapse did not live-on much past the end of the Atari 8-bit era, and because of that, the world probsbly missed some great games. Nearly every title they made oozed of originality, quality, depth and value. From the “Choplifter on steroids” action of Fort Apocalypse, to the isometric WWI air battles of Blue Max, from the action adventure of Shamus, to the scrolling basting action of Zeppelin, Synapse titles always delivered. Atari did try to license and release some of these games for the XEGS in 1987, but that was just too little too late. It’s a tragedy that these games never saw a wider audience. Atari-Infogrames should license them all and find a way to release them.
The Atari ST 16-Bit Computer Line
Atari produced a few very good versions of their old coin-ops for the Atari ST line, and there were 1000’s of other games made for the ST by many different game developers. Here are some of the best ones that could be re-released as some kind of Atari ST virtual console, downloadable package or as remakes.
Atari Coin Op conversions: Atari Corp produced some very good coin-op conversions for the 16-bit computer line including Tempest, Star Raiders, Millipede, Battle zone, Missile Command, and Asteroids Deluxe. Some of these games were even more advanced then their coin-op inspirations. Any 16-bit emulation package should include these, plus any licensed games they made for the ST (i.e Joust)
Oids (FTL): Oids was one of the best action games on the Atari ST. Part Asteroids, part Gravitar, part Lunar Lander with elements of Choplifter this game made many an Atari owner proud of their own machine after playing it for the first time. The game included a level builder that was even more fun than the game itself. This would be a perfect candidate for something like XBox Live Arcade.
Roadwar 2000/Europa (SSI): Roadwar 2000 was a deep and detailed car war-fare strategy RPG set in a post apocalyptic USA. In the game you would grow your own army of vehicles and soldiers as you traveled the USA fighting car gangs and trying to solve the main quest of the game. Battles were strategic affairs involving cars and trucks, with the ability to shoot, ram, board, etc. This was unique and highly enjoyable game from SSI, one of the premiere game companies of the day. If a basic game like Advanced Wars can make multiple all-time top-100 games lists, Roadwar 2000 should at least get a chance to be played again. I’d personally love to see this one remade.
Phantasie I,II,III (SSI): The Phantasie series from SSI was a massively fun RPG series that pioneered the ranked, turn based battles that first few Final Fantasy games made popular. Its hard to describe why these games were so enjoyable, because no one element (besides possiibly, the battles) was a stand-out. They were simply nicely crafted games that played completely different from other RPG series, but were still great. Most of the game was based on “grind”, but the battles were so much fun, it did not matter. These games would probably not be good as remakes, but as downloads they would be great fun to play.
Lost Dutchman Mine (Magnetic Images) : This gold mining adventure game might have been the best Atari ST game no one (outside of some ST owners) ever played. The premise was a prospecting adventure to find the fabled “Lost Dutchman Mine”. You could hunt, fish, camp, gun fight, pan for gold, enter mines to dig for treasure, etc. The game had a vast landscape and leisurely pace that was very memorable. This would make an awesome casual-game remake in the 21st Century.
Time Bandit/Major Motion/Leatherneck/Gold Runner: Microdeal made some of the best, unique action games for the ST and these are the best of the bunch. All Microdeal games should be released as downloads.
Anco Player Manager : The best 16-bit soccer game ever made. Dino Dini’s soccer management/playing sim was so enthralling that, to this day, I can’t think of better soccer game. This one would probably be best served with a comprehensive, from the ground-up, remake.
Dragonflight: RPG : An amazing and unique RPG for the Atari ST. It’s damned crime that any and all Japanese RPGs are remade and recycled yearly, yet brilliant US and European games (that IMHO are far superior) are left rotting in the bit bucket. These games need to at least be available for play so that they can get a fair shake. This game from Thalion is no exception.
Dungeon Master (FTL): The best 16-bit game ever made. The best RPG I have ever played. The most enthralling real time game ever made (up until that point). There were many sequels, copycats, and watered-down full-3D attempts at this, but the original game with the original maps, monsters, puzzles, etc. has never been matched. This should be released as a download, and then given the proper treatment as an in depth, full-3D, modern remake.
Bonus: One of the developers that made games for the Atari ST was Infogrames itself! As a bonus here are 10 good looking games that Atari- Infogrames published back in the day that they might already own that could be good for downloadable content..
North And South – Action war fare set in the US Civil War
.Drakkhen -A 3D Fantasy RPG.
Hostages: Modern day shooting, save the hostages game.
Purple Saturn Day – A very popular game yet odd looking game (I’ve never played myself)
Metal Masters: Build cool robots, then fight!
Operation Neptune (Another one I never played, but it looks cool):
Bubble Ghost: Unique platformer in which you played a ghost blowing a bubble through increasingly difficult rooms.
Mystical: A scrolling, top-down shooter with a magic theme.
Captain Blood: Bizarre A sci-fi adventure that always had me intrigued.
TNT: A Commando-like shooter.