21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

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scotland
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21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby scotland » April 20th, 2018, 5:49 pm

21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS is a brand new book out by John Harris (a blogger on Gamasutra, I believe)

The book is an easy to read tour of the VCS / 2600. It must be hard to write a book when your audience could be 15 or 55. I was excited to see a book about the 2600, because I feel (rightly or wrongly) that the NES has become the defacto "Retro Video Game", and that most gamers can no longer enjoy pre-NES graphics.

The book is more than a set of reviews, although it has that. Each game is a rung on the ladder of the evolution of the VCS or gaming. The choice of games is interesting - its where that version is 'best'. So, you'll not find Atari Pac-Man here, since people who want to play Pac-Man will seek out other versions, but you do find Atari Space Invaders, and he makes an argument why the VCS version may be the 'best' version over the arcade version.

Each review talks about the achievement of the game, such as the many variations of Combat (and that the NES mostly gave up on the idea of variations that make many Atari games so much fun), or how Adventure pushed gaming outside of an arcade idea to replicate Colossal Cave Adventure, or the technical graphical challenge of programming Space Invaders on the VCS.

I'm only 3 games into the 21 (Combat, Adventure and Space Invaders) but already I'm torn between reading more and going off and playing some Atari.

For Space Invaders - I have a question to everyone. The author writes that before Space Invaders, 'most' games were of definite length. You played for an amount of time, and if you did well enough, you got some more time, up to a point. This way, no one could play that long on a quarter. He then writes that Space Invaders upturned that using number of lives, and if you were very very good, you could play a long time.

My question is that I think this (number of lives instead of time) gives Space Invaders too much credit (no pun intended). Maybe 'most' games had timers, but didn't Arcade Pong play until a set score? If Pong did it, then credit should go to that game. Also, this is the system used in pinball after all. Yes, pinball was EM, but to take that 'number of balls' idea to Space Invaders is not a huge leap, or am I understating it? Space Invaders is such an amazing and historic game that it doesn't need an accolade that rightfully belongs elsewhere - but does it?

Not to plug anyone's book, but if this kind of stuff interests you, you can pick this up on the most recent Storybundle bundle.
https://storybundle.com/games Its not even the 'bonus' content, so you can pick up for real cheap if you want to. It runs until the end of April, I think.

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby VideoGameCritic » April 23rd, 2018, 8:47 pm

I never considered that Space Invaders could have been the first game to use the concept of "lives".
If it wasn't the first, it was the first to popularize the notion.

Funny how lives transitioned to lives/continues, and then limited continues, and now unlimited continues.

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby scotland » April 24th, 2018, 1:31 pm

VideoGameCritic wrote:I never considered that Space Invaders could have been the first game to use the concept of "lives".
If it wasn't the first, it was the first to popularize the notion.

Funny how lives transitioned to lives/continues, and then limited continues, and now unlimited continues.


And now with Fortnite, its no continues, and limited time as the storm closes in.

I like how the author extols the many variations that characterize many 2600 games. He remarks these are holdover from the First/Dedicated Console era. That is true that many Pong consoles have difficulty switches for speed and paddle size that the 2600 carried forward not just with a few using the difficulty switches, but went to town on game variations. Space Invaders has a legion of variations.

Atari, far more than other software makers at the time, really playtested and added in all the "What if we did this" ideas in just a few kilobytes of code.

The modern homebrew crowd seems more focused on making the hardware shine and making a fun game - all worthy things and I support them - but do any homebrew 2600 games have 20, 50, or more variations?

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby SpiceWare » April 24th, 2018, 4:55 pm

scotland wrote:do any homebrew 2600 games have 20, 50, or more variations?


Look for homebrews that feature a menu. While I was writing Space Rocks somebody tried to get me to remove the menu, in order to make space for a feature they wanted me to add, and replace it with a Game Selection Matrix in the manual seen for Space Invaders:
blogentry-3056-0-28751000-1404959852.jpg
blogentry-3056-0-28751000-1404959852.jpg (97.83 KiB) Viewed 1502 times


I gave them some reasons why I wasn't going to do that (such as manuals get lost) and they came back with "If I were a programmer, I would focus on getting my game as best as it can be and then what is left over I would use for selecting the variations."

I came back with this:
Well I am a programmer, and one of the ways to make programs the best they can be is to make them easy to use.
  • Players - 5 options
  • Style - 2 options
  • Color - 17 options
  • Level - 4 options
  • Down - 4 options
  • Friction - 2 options
  • Bonus - 4 options
5*2*17*4*4*2*4 = 21,760* game variations. Menu system = easy to select your preferred game. Game Select Matrix = extremely difficult to select your preferred game.


*Edit: actually 17,680 variations because Level Kids forces Down to be shields.
5*2*17*3*4*2*4 + 5*2*17*1*1*2*4


later on, after adding new options, I recalculated the variation count:
Hmm, wonder how many variations there are now with the new menu options :ponder:
  • Players - 5 options
  • Style - 2 options
  • Color - 17 options
  • Level - 4 options
  • Down - 4 options
  • Friction - 2 options
  • Bonus - 4 options
  • Magna-Mines - 2 options
  • Control - 4 options
5*2*17*3*4*2*4*2*4 + 5*2*17*1*1*2*4*2*4

141, 440

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scotland
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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby scotland » April 25th, 2018, 6:15 am

You are awesome, SpiceWare. Thanks.

Multiply independent variables can rapidly explode the number of variations all right.

Wonder where the menu /query system began? Probably early on, but without an interface. Type in code or access the code through the editor, change a parameter in the code for things like strength of gravity in Spacewar. Maybe early text adventure, whose whole game engine was asking questions, had an interface for setting variables, like Hunt the Wumpus.

For consoles, the Odyssey 2 did ask about level, and it had a full keyboard it could use instead of just advancing a level counter or setting switches - but variations were few and far between on the Odyssey 2. (the O2 keyboard is an oddity, since a keyboard is so strongly associated with differentiating computers and consoles, but everything was new then). The O2 gained little from the keyboard over switches or scrolling a level counter.

You mentioned the link of menu and manual, and you are right - but manuals were needed back then, not just for menus but maybe more for games with puzzles or non-intuitive gameplay like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I love the old manuals, but I have also had to go to AtariAge for scans when I didn't have one for a game. They are two edged things, to be sure.

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby SpiceWare » April 25th, 2018, 10:44 am

You're welcome!

I don't know when they began. On the 2600 menus are expensive to implement, there are not any built in resources (BIOS, character set, etc.) to take advantage of, so they weren't feasible until much later on. In Medieval Mayhem the menu (routines and graphic images) use 6K alone out of the 32K ROM. Hmm, wonder how many variations it has...
  • Players: 8 (4, 3, 2, 1 TL, 1BR, 1TR, 1BL, doubles) *
  • Speed: 4
  • Max Fireballs: 3
  • Catch TL: 3
  • Catch BR: 3
  • Catch TR: 3
  • Catch BL: 3
  • Flash: 4
  • To Win: 5

8*4*3*3*3*3*3*4*5 = 155,520 variations.

* in 1 player games you get to select which corner to defend.

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scotland
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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby scotland » April 25th, 2018, 3:04 pm

Mentioning Medieval Mayhem brings up another question

This same book includes Warlords as one of the 21 games it goes into, and mentions along the way that its one game that pretty much has to be played on vintage equipment because emulators can't handle the 4 paddle controllers.

Does anyone (you too Spiceware) know if this is true? Are Warlords and Medieval Mayhem (for 4 players), really only playable on vintage equipment.

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby SpiceWare » April 25th, 2018, 6:31 pm

half true.

True because trying to play a game with an emulated a paddle is an exercise in frustration. I've tried with a mouse, trackball, and analog joystick. Using a keyboard or digital joystick isn't even worth considering.

False because you can use a real paddle with emulators. I own a Stelladaptor and it works just fine. The Stelladaptor is no longer available, but my understanding is the new 2600-daptor works just as well.

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Re: 21 Unexpected Games to Love for the Atari VCS (Book)

Postby scotland » April 27th, 2018, 1:38 pm

For completeness, the other games in the book are

Asteroids . Warlords
Yars Revenge . Raider of the Lost Ark
ET . Atari Video Cube
Haunted House . Kaboom!
Stampede . Astroblast
Mountain King . Riddle of the Sphinx
Private Eye . Pitfall II
Dragonstomper . Sword of Saros
Jr Pac Man . Solaris

Each game usually represents a jump or a genre, so in the Solaris section it goes into first person space sims, Star Raiders and even that keyboard controller. Jr Pac Man includes discussion on all sorts of Pac Man stuff, etc

Yes, ET and Video Cube are here, as is Raiders of the Lost Ark. He also far prefers Pitfall II over Pitfall.

It was an easy read, with links. It has a list of other 'runner up' games as well.


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