Tag Archives: atari 2600

Asteroids on the Atari 2600

Atari released Asteroids in the arcades in 1979 and it became their biggest selling game of all time, up there with Space Invaders as one of the most recognised video games in history.

Asteroids arcade screenshot
Original Asteroids Screenshot

It was only natural that Atari’s #1 property was ported to their new home system, the 2600. Featuring solid raster graphics rather than crisp vectors, the game somehow retained the spirit of the original if not the look. This feeling was enhanced by the sound, which retained the menacing 2 notes which, Jaws-like, sped up as the pace of the game increased.

The arcade game felt like you were stranded in a cold and empty space, but the Atari 2600 version, with its bright colours was altogether more jolly.

Asteroids Atari 2600

To add a bit of longevity (if this were needed, when all you had to have was a strong forearm and a love of button mashing) there were 66 variations of the game, including various combinations of warps and shields and enemy ships.

Difficult to find the words to describe such a seminal game on a ground breaking platform, so how about some facts I found on the internet so they must be true:

* Asteroids was the first 2600 game to use “bank switching” (whatever that means) to double it’s Rom space from 4k to 8k

* In 1999 a homebrew version was brought out with wire-frame “vector” graphics, basically the asteroids were the same but hollow

* Universal Studios have just announced (July 2009) that they are planning to release a film based on the Asteroids game

* Asteroids was released on every Atari home system and computer except the 5200, which only made it to prototype stage

Still playable today, a great gaming memory from my early teens, and the first game I bought when I got hold of an old 2600 on ebay last year.

Combat game for the Atari 2600

For many of us Atari’s Combat was the first introduction to a cartridge-based console game, and for that reason has a special place in many people’s retro memories.

Atari 2600 Combat Screenshot
Atari 2600 Combat Screenshot
As one of the launch titles for the Atari 2600 (VCS), Combat was included with every console sold (a bit like Wii Sports now), and as such had a massive exposure amongst the Atari fan-base.

As a classic 2 player game it introduce the concept of the party game – lots of different mini-games that could be played out between 2 human opponents.

Atari Combat Box Art
Atari Combat Box Art
Atari fans are aware of the limitations of the 2600 kit, which was built around the concept of “pong”. The system is happiest when there are 2 independently controlled players or “bats”, 2 “missiles” and a “ball” which can interact between them, as well as scenery the missiles or ball can bounce off. Combat took this concept and used tanks (or planes) for bats and the missiles, with scenary you can hide behind, and hey presto a classic is born.

This is a great example of cat and mouse style game, with a simple risk reward mechanism. You could move your tank around the maze to get a clear line of sight on your opponent, or wait for your opponent to move and try and get the first shot in. Such a simple concept, but the same basic premise as the multi player FPS games of today.

Add to this the standard Atari 2600 twist of including more than one variation of the game (27 in fact) in the cartridge, and the longevity is extended hugely. Admittedly the games are not that different, but in addition to the Tank battle there was also an Aerial dogfight, and a number of variations on the use of guided missiles and invisible tanks or planes. The dogfight was actually quite strategic in that the planes flew at a constant speed and you could only manage direction and firing, requiring you to pilot them skillfully in order to get behind the other player to shoot them down. Cue long sweeping chases, waiting for the other player to twitch or make a mistake.

I have very fond memories of this game, which I only got to play at a friends house when I was a kid, and have recently introduced my son to after he played something similar on the Wii (The Wii Play title has a similar mini-game called Tank Battle).

A great excuse to dust off theĀ Atari 2600 Woody again.