The 8bit Game: Digesting Zeppelin By Synapse Software

Zeppelin was released for the Atari 400/800/XL computers in 1983 by Synapse Software. Synapse was a premier developer/publisher at the time for Atari Computers. Zeppelin was programmed by William Mataga, who was also responsible for such Atari 8-bit classics as Shamus, Shamus Case II, and Mindwheel. Synapse also released a version of Zeppelin for the C64 in 1984.

Game Play Video Of Zeppelin Via Atari 800 Win Emulation

Zeppelin was a game that Steve and I purchased at the Big Ben’s in Van Nuys during a visit to my grand mother’s old folks home in 1984. At the time, any game by Synapse was a must have for the Atari computers (if you were a fan of slightly derivative, but ultimately unique arcade games with adventure elements). We had purchased Fort Apocalypse at Gemco a few weeks earlier and while it was a little like the classic Choplifter, its’ arcade action and use of the Atari computer’s strengths made it a classic in its own right. Zeppelin, on the other hand, was a completely unique experience.

The point of the game is to pilot your Zepplin to safety thorough a gaseous filled cave-world, battling the “Time Lords” who are hell bent on dominating the entire planetary system. With joystick in-hand, you must blast your way through the 4-way scrolling world, exploring 250 rooms. Ultimately, you must find the dynamite and use it to destroy the Timelords caverns.

You are equipped with 4 Zeppelins to start the game, and will receive more at each 10,000 point mark and when you collect the “Life Markers” (Basically, a rectangle with the word”Life” in it). Your can fire in all 4 basic directions, and while you control the movement of the Zeppelin, the game will gently push you along in the correct direction to keep the game moving at a steady pace.

In the game you will find quite a few objects to aid you in your quest. These range from switches that can be shot to open doors, to keys that open key holes, and hamburgers that need to be fed to hamburger creatures (as a bribe I guess) that guard passageways. The most important items to find are the dynamite and the plunger used to destroy the cavern.

In the way of you completing your quest are a host of obstacles that must be avoided or destroyed: Balloons, enemy zeppelins, laser gates, falling rocks, towers/buildings, barriers, and the dreaded earthquake which will violently shake the game screen and stir up falling debris that mustc be navigated or destroyed.

Multiplayer: One of the very cool aspects of many early Atari 800 games was the liberal use of “same console” multi-player.  The Atari 800 had 4 joystick ports, and all 4 could be used in this game at the game time to allow multiple gunners as well as a pilot of the zeppelin.


Zepplelin makes very good use of the Atari computer hardware graphic and music wise, but leaves a little to be desired in the area of game sounds. The 4-way scrolling, shooting and multi-player action make it very fun to play and would very much be a game that I think could be updated and put out on the market today as a Flash web game or for one of the various hand-helds.

Playing Zeppelin now, I see why we liked the game so much. For the time it was quite unique with a completely destructible environment and 4-way scrolling and firing. The game is very very difficult though, and as designed I am sure we never finished  it completely (though there are cheat versions of the game rom out there to help get to the end).

Zeppelin comes from the pre-NES era where “bolt-on” weapons systems had not yet been added to many games. Arcade shooters like Zepplin were not just about how much ordinance could be blasted from the player ship, but were actually off-shoots of adventure games encased in Arcade game molds. This is one reason why I fondly remember and pay homage to the pre-NES classic games. They didn’t have the luxury of throwing a store at you on each level-end to let you buy new weapons (they could have done it, but it was not a common practice yet), so they computer arcade games also had some adventure elements in them to take the game from a simple blaster to another level entirely.

You can try Zeppelin yourself by checking out Lemon64 or AtariMania. Both sites have game roms and an abundance of information to help you get started.

You can hear the great C64 SID music for the game here.

Also, there are some good hints on the game at the C64Wiki.

As an interesting side note, William Mataga has been programming games since 1984 (the most recent title listed is Grand Theft Auto Advance in 2004). He went through sexual reassignment surgery (like the late great Dani Bunten of Mule fame) and now goes by the name Cathryn Mataga.

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