[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Halley Project

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The Halley Project Atari 800 8-bit computer Ad - 1985“Just tell your friends you’re going on a very long trip.”

As a kid, The Halley Project blew my mind.

I remember flying through the solar system, first person, in what seemed like a real-time simulation of space flight. All the distances between and positions of the planets were accurate, and you could visit each one by traversing the vast gulfs between them. It was one of the most awe-inspiring games on the Atari 800.

I haven’t sat down and played The Halley Project in at least a decade, so I’m kinda fuzzy about the point of the game. I believe you’re trying to track down Halley’s Comet. On the way, I think you have to make stops at each of the planets in our real solar system. And, if I’m not mistaken, there’s something special about the comet itself (once you actually find it) that I won’t spoil for you guys.

The real Halley’s Comet made a famous fly-by of our planet back in 1986. I still have vague memories of being awakened in the middle of the night when I was 5 so our family could drive out to a local school field and catch of glimpse of the comet. I remember seeing a fuzzy dot, perhaps through binoculars or a simple telescope. That real life celestial visit inspired a sort of frenzy in the media and popular consciousness here in the US, and I’m guessing this game played off of that.

I know I could look up the real plot / purpose / gameplay of The Halley Project online, complete with screenshots and analysis, but I don’t want to. My warm memories are good enough.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.13 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you see Halley’s Comet in 1986? Tell us about it.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Lucasfilm’s 1985 FPS

Monday, February 25th, 2013

Lucasfilm Games The Eidolon Advertisement 1985Disney now owns this game.

In 1985, LucasFilm Games released one of the earliest first-person shooters, although they didn’t know it at the time. In The Eidolon, players fluidly navigate corridors from a first-person viewpoint, shooting monsters that they encounter along the way.

The Eidolon utilizes a novel and technically impressive vector graphics engine to dynamically generate tunnel interiors from various angles as players maneuver through them. The engine also served as the basis of other LucasFilm titles like Rescue on Fractalus! (1984) and Koronis Rift (1985).

Although this game appeared on the Atari 8-bit computer platform (which I grew up with), I never got a chance to play it until about ten years ago. If I had seen it in the 1980s, it would have immediately become a favorite.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.33 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What’s your favorite pre-1996 first-person shooter?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AtariWriter

Monday, September 10th, 2012

AtariWriter Atari 800 Word Processor Advertisement - 1980“You won’t find a bluer word processor package anywhere…”

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.43 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first word processor software you ever used?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Atari Basketball Catalog

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Atari Catalog p 21 - 1982Click above to see the full page scan

Here’s a scan of Basketball’s appearance in a 1982 Atari product catalog for their 8-bit home computer line. Basketball, programmed by Alan Miller, is notable for possibly introducing the first obviously black video game character. And hey, it’s also the first game I remember playing.

[ From Discover the World of Atari Home Computers, 1982 ]

Discussion topic of the week: What is the significance, if any, of the first black video game character appearing in a basketball game, rather than a game based on another subject matter?

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Before Gauntlet, There Was…Dandy Dungeon

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

A few weeks ago, while playing through my Atari 800 game collection, I discovered a rare gem that I’d never played before. It quickly made my way into a top ten list of most underrated games of all time (well, for the Atari 800 at least). It’s called Dandy Dungeon, a 1983 release through the Atari Program Exchange (APX) written by then-MIT-student John Palevich. At first glance, it appears to be a Gauntlet clone with primitive graphics (the Gauntlet of which I speak is the 1985 Atari Games arcade release), but it turns out that Gauntlet, not Dandy, is the clone (apparently, Mr. Palevich wasn’t too happy about Ed Logg stealing his design and sued Atari Games over it). I had played another game just like Dandy before for the Atari 7800 called Dark Chambers with exactly the same gameplay, but different graphics. Well, it turns out it’s no co-incidence — Dark Chambers was written by John Palevich as well, commissioned by Atari Corporation later on. As an interesting bit of trivia, Atari Corporation and Atari Games were two separate companies by the time of Gauntlet’s release in 1985.

So then, why is Dandy so cool? I’ll give you my first three reasons: it plays like a dream, it supports four simultaneous players, and it includes a built-in dungeon editor! The included dungeon designs aren’t very good, I’ll admit, but the ability to design your own dungeons overcomes this weakness (plus, I found six Atari 800 disk images with dungeons designed by different people — see below). Gameplay is smooth, robust, and the controls are great. Also, like in Gauntlet, slugging it out with three other friends is priceless. Finding good four-player games for the Atari 800 is tough, so I’m very happy about this feature.

What makes Dandy like Gauntlet and, yet…unlike Gauntlet? First of all, similarities include running around a dungeon shooting monsters with up to four friends, collecting food, using potions (bombs) to kill masses of monsters (who just so happen to come from generators at times). Also, you depart each dungeon level at an exit and descend to a lower dungeon level. The most obvious difference between the two, to me, is the fact that your health doesn’t tick down over time in Dandy like it does in Gauntlet (an ingenious feature to swallow up more of your quarters in the arcade — Mr. Logg knew what he was doing). Also, the monsters in Dandy Dungeon have a strange hierarchy that is slightly hard to explain. There are different “levels” of monsters. Each level, or strength, per se, looks different, but they all behave the same (they don’t shoot, just run at you). The higher the level of monster, the more shots it takes to kill it. But with each shot along the way, the graphic for the monster changes down to a lower level of monster, until it dies. For example, there is a “little man” monster who takes only one shot to kill. Then there is a “smiley face” monster that takes two shots. However, when you shoot the smiley face monster, it turns into the little man monster, who in turn only takes one shot to kill. It’s weird, I know…Dark Chambers is just like this too. Luckily, Ed Logg had the sense to change this confusing design feature when designing Gauntlet (which has discrete types of monsters that each have different characteristics). Also, in Dandy, you can save the food you collect for later use, which is nice — in Gauntlet, you eat it immediately, whether you need it or not.

If you’d like to play the game, get a good Atari 800 emulator (I recommend Atari800WinPLus) or an SIO2PC cable to play it on a real Atari, then download the disk image. If you want different dungeon map packs, here they are: Pack 1, Pack 2, Pack 3, Pack 4, Pack 5, Pack 6. Finally, here’s a note on gameplay that’s not immediately evident: to use collected food, press 1 through 4 on the keyboard, where the number you push is the number of the player who wants to use stored food. The same goes for bombs, although you hold down the SHIFT key while pressing the number. You can also shoot bombs, of course, for immediate effect.

Have fun! Please feel free to share your comments on the game below in the comments section.

[Update: 11/17/2014 — I changed the SIO2PC link from sunmark.com (now long since gone) to a link to AtariMax that works. ]