Atari 800 In A Hotel Room

Jeff and I are still in S.F. doing a 2-week tour of duty with our new employer before we head home to work as remote employees.  While it might appear that we have been having a blast on this trip, in reality it as been very hard work, and every night we get back the hotel we basically sack-out until morning.  Tonight though, for the first time in 9 days, Jeff came over to my room, and we fired-up an Atari 800 emulator and played some of our old favorites.

In a way, it was a long-over-due, cathartic experience.  Here we are, visiting the birth place of so many of our favorite games, now employed to one of the world’s biggest game companies, and we’ve been so busy, we had not even had a chance to think about how long and far this journey has been.  We both were inspired to makes games by the 8-bit era, and especially the Atari 800, and we both cut our programming teeth on the system back in the early 80’s.  Tonight we relived a bit of those old days.

Below are some images of the games we played, while were playing them:

Aztec:  This was a game we played on the Apple II, predating the Atari by about 2 years.  It used the dithered 320×200 (hi-res) mode to create some stunning animation on a 6502 machine.  The graphics rivaled stuff the Mac was doing years later.

Shamus:  This was a great action adventure game that appeared first on the Atari 800, mostly because some of the color cycling and display list tricks were very hard to pull off on other systems.  If there was any justice, this game by William (Cathryn) Mataga and released by Synapse would been seen as a ground-breaking landmark title in video game history.

Preppie: A game by Adventure International (Scott Adams’ company).  This game was a real showcase for the Atari 800’s sound and graphics.  If you wanted to make an Apple IIe or IBM PC owner cry in 1983, you only had to boot-up this game and then tell them your Atari 800 XL cost 1/10 the price of their computers.

7 Cities Of Gold:  The first great explore and conquer style game by Dan(i) Bunten Berry.  We opted to play this instead of MULE tonight because we didn’t have any good joysticks with us, and MULE on a keyboard is a terrible thing.  7 Cities still marvels me with its’ “world builder” option that will a complete new game for you every time.  Amazing.

Fort Apocalypse: Another game from Synapse.  Really, Synapse is one of the lost great game companies.  Nearly every game they made was a gem.   This one by Steve Hales and Joe Vierra took a few ideas from Choplifter and Lunar Lander, but added an intense action element that made it one of the best arcade games of the era.  The fact that you have probably never heard of it only means that you need to look (and play) harder.

Blue Max:  Another Synapse title, this one was developed by Bob Polin.  Activision attempted to make an 8-bit Atari computer version of  “River Raid”, but that one was no better (and in some ways worse) that the Atari 2600 version.  To me, this game was really the “River Raid” of the 8-bit computer era.

Donkey Kong: Little known fact:  the Atari 800 version of Donkey Kong was one of the only a very few versions of the game that included all four levels.   This was one of our favorites from day one.

Zeppelin:  Another great William (Cathryn) Mataga game released by Synapse.  This one used another unique feature of the Atari 8-bit computers, the redefined character set.  This game features  HUGE scrolling levels, with many multiple objects all moving at the same time.  The scope and action of this game still blows me away as much today as it did almost 30 years ago.

Food Fight:  One of the best action games of the golden age arcade, and one of the most unsung arcade game ever made.  The Atari 800 could recreate the game almost down to every single  pixel.

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