Tag Archives: galaxian

Atari 2600 Restoration Part 2

The Classic Atari 2600 Woody Lives!

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Atari 2600, one of my first ever console experiences, and I have several in my collection. This is the second update on my latest 2600 restoration, and in the first blog update I focused on the cosmetic aspects – clearing away 30 years of dust and grime to reveal the fantastic console underneath.

Atari 2600 with Joystick
My newly cleaned but untested Atari 2600
So I have a shiny old console, the big question is, after 35 years does it still work?  As I bought 2 Atari 2600 units untested, without a power adapter, my next job is to find a way of getting it up and running.

Without an original supply, and no Atari branded units available for sale anywhere, I was forced to look for a modern equivalent.  A quick browse of the internet and the specification for the power supply is confirmed as a 9V 500ma DC unit, which was readily available from the local Maplin store.  Unfortunately the interchangeable pins were not the right shape for the Atari, and I had to return for an alternative set.  Second time lucky the pin fitted, and on turning on the machine, perhaps for the first time in years, was presented with nothing to indicate it was on, not even a hum.  I’d have to insert a cartridge and connect it to a TV to find out if it even powers up.

Using a Samsung TV which still has an old analogue TV tuner, I connected the Atari unit using the RF cable which is integrated into the console.  Tuning the TV was a little bit tricky, as I had to wade through the menu options to find the analogue auto-store feature which had never been used.   The TV cycled through the frequencies counting the signals found – a resolute zero until the magical channel 36 was reached when the channel count turned to a 1.  With the Space Invaders (what else?) cartridge in place, I waited for the screen to display the iconic images that would confirm my Atari was still alive.

First image of working Atari 2600

Whilst the image was a bit fuzzy, the years of crisp PC graphics and more recently HD monitors spoiling me, it was definitely working.  Selecting the reset switch, the one player game started, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of alien invaders.  The joystick seems to be working, with the game playing just like a remember it, the pace spot on and as addictive as when I first played it back in 1980.  In fact I had been playing it for about an hour before I realised the time, and that I had a bag of around 20 cartridges to try out.

For the next couple of hours I relived memories of classic old games as I switched the cartridges in and out, with titles such as Asteroids, Galaxians and Stargate reminding me why I had loved the Atari 2600 so much in the first place – brilliant arcade conversions that should never have been possible on such basic hardware.  I was also reminded why the video game crash of the early 80’s was inevitable –truly abysmal games typified by the notoriously bad Pac Man, all flickery sprites and crappy gameplay.

My Atari joystick has however not stood the test of time, and whilst not obvious on games like Space Invaders, it can only register left, right and down.  On taking apart the handset (just 4 screws and a normal cross-head screwdriver) I had hoped to find some dirt on the contacts, but it was bad news, with the dome contact on the “up” circuit broken.

A quick look on the internet tells me that components to fix these old joysticks are not readily available, and so I put in a bid for another joystick which should be mine for less than a tenner.

My OCD is kicking in again, and I now want to collect all of the best Atari 2600 games, as well as replacing some with damaged labels and ink stained cases.  Perhaps I can clean them up and replace the stickers, it seems a shame to allow the games to go unrestored to their former glory.  Except maybe Pac Man, which if the stories are to be believed, should be in a Mexican landfill somewhere.

It may be that there are plenty of Atari 2600 games are still readily available on eBay, but it’s not like they are making any more, and every cartridge deserves to be preserved.

Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco

The holy grail of handheld games?

My retro games collection includes many of the consoles and home computers that I played (or wanted to play) with as a kid, but my favourite games are the handheld and tabletop units from the early 80’s. There’s something about the look of them, the brightly coloured plastics and graphics, as well as the weight – these were all substantial units that were built to last. The gameplay may have been rudimentary and repetitive, given the limitations of the VFD and LCD screens, but the games themselves were unique. Each one was crafted from the ground up for a specific purpose, a combination of console and software in one unit.

Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco
Galaxian Tabletop Game by Coleco
In the UK the most popular games were those from Grandstand and CGL, as well as units from TOMY. More rare were the exotic units from Bambino and Coleco, and as such much more difficult to get hold of. Of these rare units, its the games from Coleco have always eluded me. Of particular interest are the arcade conversions of the popular classics, including Donkey Kong, Frogger, Pac Man and Galaxian. These fantastic tabletop units replicated the shape and style of the aracde games on which they were based, as fully licensed conversions, which set them apart from all of the unlicensed clones that were produced in the early 80’s (see my review of Grandstand Munchman).

The colours and graphics of the original games were lovingly transferred to the handhelds, and passable versions of the games translated onto the colourful VFD displays, making them a target for both handheld game collectors and lovers of the original arcade units.

The Donkey Kong and Pacman games come up fairly regularly at auction, but much less so the Galaxian and Frogger units, so I was excited to find one on ebay recently – a mint Galaxian unit with a very low starting price and little interest shown by bidders. A couple of days later I was the proud owner of a Galaxian handheld for a very reasonable £36 – not much more than the cost of the original unit in 198?, and a lot less than the £100+ usually asked of these games.

Justin Whitlock's Galaxian Cabinet
Justin Whitlock’s Galaxian Cabinet (source: flickr)

After loading up with 4 heavy “C” size batteries I fired up the game, and was pleased to see both screen and speaker in working order, as were the controls, which felt like new – not bad for a machine 3 decades old.

The game itself is a reasonable representation of the arcade original, including swooping aliens breaking away from the main formation at the top of the screen to dive bomb your ship, firing missiles as they go.  There is even a 2 player option, with separate controls on the front of the cabinet, so Galaxian can be played with a friend.  The 2 player game involved player 1 shooting up the screen towards player 2 shooting down, with aliens in the middle who could be destroyed for extra points.

The real joy of Coleco’s mini Galaxian cabinet though is the unit itself, the colours and graphics, the attention to detail, it really is a minor work of video game art.  It fact it reminds me of the fantastic work being done by Justin Whitlock, who makes miniature versions of classic arcade cabinets.

Now to find the other games, just 3 more to go…

Arcadians retro game review for the BBC Micro

In my retro games reviews I’ve covered a few BBC arcade conversions including Killer Gorrilla, so won’t repeat what I’ve aleady said about some of the liberties taken in the early days by developers like Acornsoft.

Arcadians for the BBC Micro
Arcadians for the BBC Micro
But if they hadn’t stretched the boundaries of IP infringement we would not have arcade perfect conversions such as Arcadians (a thinly veiled Galaxians clone). All seems to be in order, from the swooping aliens to the large player ship at the bottom of the screen. In fact the player ship was huge, making bullet dodging quite a challenge.

Arcadians was quite a repetitive game, sitting somewhere in between Space Invaders and Galaga in the arcades, with not much variation in gameplay if any between waves. Galaga took the Arcadians model with swooping aliens and added in bonus screens and dual ships, perfecting for many the formula and providing some much needed variety.

Anyway, back to Arcadians, in addition to the perfectly replicated gameplay, it also featured an arcade-style high score table and a novel “attract” screen with a demo of it being played, just like a real cabinet, making it feel really authentic.

Arcadians was also released later on the Acorn Electron, the BBC Micro’s younger brother, and it was just as good despite it being a less powerful computer. Anyone with a BBC or an Electron back in the 80’s should remember this game, another great example of what the BBC was capable of in the right hands and the closest thing to the arcades for a home gamer.