Mind-blowing Boulder Dash Atari 2600 prototype by Andrew Davie

Sadly, I only remember hearing about the video game Boulder Dash in the days of its original release, way back when, but I never actually played the game. Never had the opportunity to, never saw it at a friend’s house, never saw it at a store. I only recall seeing it in catalogs and advertisements, mostly I think for Apple ][ computers or Commodore 64.

The game revolves around a cellular automata that simulates a cave-in, triggered by the player as they extract treasure from the earth inside a cavern.

Atari Age has a version of it available on the store currently. And you might want to pick it up, if only to get access to this amazing version currently in prototype that I just watched a longplay video for. Check this game out:

Holy @#%$! this is amazing!

The developer, Andrew Davie, wishes to be respectful to the IP rights of the original developers, and has stated that they will likely require proof of purchase of the original Boulder Dash in order to purchase his version when it becomes available.

This version looks absolutely incredible. The game is powered by an ARM processor, a super-chip in the cartridge that is far more powerful than the actual Atari 2600 console hardware. We’ve seen other Atari 2600 homebrew games powered by ARM-augmented cartridge expansions, such Champ Games’s releases from recent years, such as Galagon, Zookeeper, and the upcoming Elevator Agent. The color palette, sprite scaling, smooth sinewave motion, and audio are almost unbelievable. To me, this is what I want to see when game developers produce “throwback” games. The aesthetic is early 80s, but the other hardware constraints are lifted, allowing for things that wouldn’t have been possible back in the day, but look like they could have, if only.

Even though I have no memories of the original to give me nostalgia for this version, I’m instantly hyped to give this one a try. There’s no telling how long it will take to go from prototype to release, but I hope the wait isn’t terribly long. Hopefully there won’t be any Intellectual Property snags to prevent it from getting a general release.

Atari Age 2022 homebrew picks

The Atari Age Store has finally dropped the new titles that were announced for 2022 release. Some of these titles were available in limited quantities at Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October of last year.

I could have spent a lot more money if I had bought everything I wanted, but with the prices of these games running upwards of $50-60 a piece, they’re no longer the easy buys that they were at $25-30, 5-10 years ago. Although the prices are up, the quality is too. Both in terms of the games themselves and their presentation and packaging.

The games I bought this year are some of the best looking homebrews I’ve seen yet: RubyQ (2600), Qyx (2600), and Popeye (7800). All three are arcade clone/ports: RubyQ = Q*Bert, Qyx = Qix, and Popeye = Popeye. All three look amazing, particularly considering the systems they were developed to run on.

I was tempted to add Galaxian (7800), Pac Man Collection 40th Anniversary Edition (7800), Oozy the Goo: Slime Quest (2600), and Blocks (2600). But I just can’t fit them into my budget this year. Gorf Arcade (2600), Rob’n’Banks (5200) (Lock’n’Chase), 2048 (7800), and Keystone Koppers (7800 (Keystone Kapers) also look well done, but not games that I liked well enough in their original incarnations to buy again on physical cartridge, although they’re certainly worth a play if you can download the ROMs and run them on emulator.

The Atari 2600 homebrew scene is better than ever, it seems, and still going strong 45+ years on from the original launch of the Atari 2600 in 1977, with works being produced today that exceed the best quality games that were available on the platform in its commercial heyday.

Montezuma’s Revenge

Originally released in 1983, Montezuma’s Revenge is an early platforming game released on a number of home consoles and personal computers. The game’s title is an allusion to the nickname given to traveler’s diarrhea, which was (is?) common when traveling south of the US-Mexico border. People will advise “don’t drink the water” because if you do, without first boiling it or whatever, you’ll end up with dysentery. So, haha, they named a video game “Diahrea”. Brilliant. And probably offensive to South Americans, too. Or at least the Aztecs.

I knew if from its Atari 5200 release. My cousin’s family had the Atari 5200, and whenever I would visit over there, we would get to play the games they had.

These screen caps are from the Colecovision port, but only a real geek would know the difference… and no, this isn’t my playthrough, I’m not that good at the game.

The Atari 5200 boasted superior graphics to the Atari 2600 we knew and loved at home. But it also had shitty, non-centering analog joysticks that made many games harder to play. With a centering joystick, you can release the stick and it returns to center, and all directional input stops. With the 5200 joystick, you had to physically push the stick back in the center, stopping exactly in the “dead zone” where no input is registered — which took a great deal more precision and skill to master. As a result, in a game situation where you wanted to get to some exact spot and then stop on a time, you’d either overshoot your target, or you’d pull back and reverse course or end up drifting slightly in one of the other directions. Either way, it wasn’t good, and usually resulted in disaster — a lost life, or a game over.

Because of the joysticks, I could never do very well at the game, but my cousin had full-time access to the system, and was able to master the controls, and could beat the game without dying. I could only appreciate his skill and enjoy watching him show us how to get through the various screens full of death traps.

Montezuma’s Revenge was also released on Colecovision, Commodore 64, Sega Master System, Apple ][, Atari 8-bit computers, MS-DOS, and even… the Atari 2600, as I would find out some 30+ years later. Had I known, I might have played it more and appreciated it more, and on a system with a decent joystick, I’m sure I would have mastered it myself.

Montezuma’s Revenge was hard. It was what I like to call “Fuck You Hard”. Games in the 80s were often Fuck You Hard, but Montezuma’s Revenge was one of the fuckiest Fuck You Hard games out there. You’ve probably heard of “Nintendo Hard” and seen games like Ghosts N Goblins, you know what I’m talking about. But this was before Nintendo came on the scene, and the only way to describe the difficulty of this game was FU Hard.

You can die in so many different ways in this game. And many of them look confusingly like other things that you need to do in order to avoid dying. If I tried to count them all, I’m sure I’d miss at least half of them. But, here, I’ll try:

There’s snakes (stationary obstacles you jump over) and spiders (crawling obstacles you jmp over), skulls that roll along the floor (guess what, you jump over them), skulls that bounce around (you’re better off running under these), pits full of fire (jump over), electrified wall barriers (careful timing to slip past while they’re down), disappearing floors (covering pits of fire, again more timing or jumping to survive), and, of course, any time you fall more than a rather short distance, you’d die from that too. There’s ledge jumps spaced so that they look like you can make it, but you really can’t. So jumping is often risky.

But there’s certain places where you can jump, and fall a longer-than-safe distance, as long as you catch a rope in mid-air rather than land on the hard floor. But nothing tells you this, you just have to discover, after dying from falls probably dozens of times, that there’s screens where you have to fall a deadly amount of distance as you jump from a high ledge to a safe rope. But… now, get this… if you walk off a ledge, you carry NO horizontal momentum, and will fall immediately straight down. But you can jump sideways, and carry your horizontal momentum through your fall. So at these ledges, you can’t just run off and catch the rope, you have to run, jump, and then catch the rope. Because F U.

And those disappearing floors, they sometimes flicker, seemingly at random, off and on, and it might be long enough for you to cross the pit, but just as well might only last a tenth of a second, and kill you just because this game is F U Hard. But the disappearing floors and the disappearing electrical barriers are both colored the same way, and yet it was deadly to touch the barriers and safe to walk on the floors. So that was counter-intuitive and seemed unfair. Like, you’re just supposed to know that it’s necessary to step on the glowing blue floors that disappear, but it’s deadly to touch the glowing blue walls. Makes sense, right?

Oh, and there’s conveyor belt floors that will make your jump timing and distance super tricky, meaning you’ll probably die a bunch of times because of that. Because this game is F U Hard.

If you could fall more than 3 feet without dying, this wouldn’t be so bad…

And there were places where you could either drop off a ledge, or climb down a ladder, and the ledge height didn’t really look unsafe, but if you tried jumping, you died — the only safe way down was the ladder, sucker.

In a hurry? Looks safe to jump, but don’t try it… only the ladder is safe.

And it was the fiendish arrangement of these things that made them all the more deadly. Slightly mistiming or miscalculating your moves would almost always be fatal. And whenever you died, the game would put you back at the point at which you entered the current room. If you died from touching a skully, snake, or spider, that one enemy would be removed from the screen, and you could try again. If you died from falling, or an unfortunate encounter with fire or electricity, you didn’t even get that. And some of the rooms were filled with a good dozen or so ways to die if you made even one little mistake.

Just look at this jump… You’d think you could maybe reach that disappearing blue platform hovering above you. But no, that’s too high to reach, and if you try to land there, you’ll fall down into the pit and die. You can only jump to the ledge at the right side, and then you can jump back left onto the disappearing ledge, and then you have to turn around quickly and jump to the next ledge, before the disappearing platform you’re now standing on disappears, but also not jump into the skull that’s rolling back and forth on the next platform… Totally brutal.
And no, you can’t just walk off the ledge above and land here safely… Instead, you must leap to those ropes on the right side, over the deadly fire pit, and then jump back to the left. Because that seems safer, right?

Just safely jumping from platform to platform and avoiding the flames, skulls, and poisonous critters isn’t hard enough. You have to do that AND have the right number of the right colored keys to open the locked doors you’ll find, and if you don’t have the right keys, you’ll have to go back and find them — going through all those deadly obstacles over again, and backwards.

To make things worse, there’s a few rooms in the pyramid that are identical to each other, making it likely that you’ll get disoriented and think that you’ve looped around somehow… nope. It’s just to mess with your head, and get you to turn back and go the wrong way.

And just when you think you’re feeling comfortable with these things, the game throws dark rooms at you, where you can’t see the walls, making any gaps in the floor that might be there invisible.

Are there any pits?

This game doesn’t just fuck you. It fucks your mom.

And the only way to get through it is to get good.

The brutal difficulty made it difficult for me to appreciate all of the things this game did that were innovative. But, especially in hindsight, this game did a lot of really cool things that paved the way for the smash-hit Super Mario Bros. the following year.

First, you had a simple inventory system. You could carry up to 5 slots of items ranging from different colored keys to torches and swords.

These were just things you carried until they were consumed, there was no button to press to select them or use them. Keys were single-use items that opened color-corresponding doors found throughout the game. Swords were single-use items that could save you from a deadly encounter with a skull, spider, or snake. Torches were used immediately upon obtaining them, and conferred temporary invincibility to death from deadly creatures. (I guess the idea was that the torch allowed you to see better, and so avoid them?)

You could also find treasures, in the form of huge gems, that you could collect for points, but the treasures didn’t go into your inventory — they just added to your score. Enough points, and you could earn an extra life. And you needed those, because of all the death.

The level design wasn’t just run and jump past obstacles, it required having an understanding of the spatial relationship between the screens, knowing where you could find keys, and figuring out how to get through the pyramid using an optimal path that conserved keys, let you have the right colored keys at the right time, and avoided unnecessary backtracking, and avoided the most difficult of the jumping puzzles. Considering the soft-locking that the colored doors represent, you could make a case that Montezuma’s Revenge had some early pre-Metroidvania aspects to it.

I didn’t play the game enough to be able to notice it back in the day, but the level design of the game lays out a series of single-screen rooms arranged in the shape of a pyramid, which is neat if you do happen to notice it, because it reinforces the idea that you’re a treasure hunter exploring a meso-American pyramid. And also tells you that, if you know how high up in the pyramid you are, you also have some idea how wide the floor of the pyramid you’re on is. Which may help you to figure out how to get through the pyramid better.

About to win.
Want to win? Just jump into the middle of this huge flaming pit of death…

If you can make it all the way through a level, you’re rewarded with a treasure room, a free zone where you can try to grab as many gemstones as possible before you inevitably fall through a bottomless pit that warps you to the start of the next level, where you can do it all over again. It’s a bit like the Coin Heaven secret areas in Super Mario Bros., only a year ahead of when SMB was released.

Back at the beginning… but 80,000 points richer!

The original developer of Montezuma’s Revenge recently completed a kickstarter to release an NES port of the game, and as well released the game on Steam, with both updated and classic graphics, and now available through NormalDistribution.com. I’ve been playing the Steam build, and it’s still hard as fuck, and I wish they gave you some way of cheating, infinite lives or invulnerability mode or something. But it’s worth a look to appreciate the design of the game.

My copy of the NES cartridge is due to be delivered tomorrow. I bet I still can’t beat it.

50 years of PONG (1972-2022)

Pong (1972, Atari) was the first commercially successful arcade video game cabinet. It marks its 50th anniversary this year.

Often considered “the first video game”, it was not. But it was the first popular, commercially successful video game. Atari released Pong after Computer Space, which was a bit more complex to play, and wasn’t as well received. Pong was simple enough that it was easy to pick up and play. This success made it a pioneering milestone in the history of video games. A simple, yet engaging 2D simulation of table tennis, Pong was a sensation at the time of its release, and spawned an industry which quickly established itself as a culturally significant fixture.

Coin-operated arcade machines were already a thing by this time, but prior to the video game revolution they were electro-mechanical games like pinball tables and shooting gallery games.

In 1972 dollars, $0.25 is worth about $1.78 in 2022 dollars. That’s how much people paid to play Pong back when it was new. It’s a bit surprising to consider that a single credit to play a video game once cost this much. I’ve always been willing to put a quarter in a game, but I’ve always felt reluctant to insert more than that for a single credit, no matter what the game was.

Home Pong systems quickly appeared in the market, introducing the video game console to hundreds of thousands of homes. Pong is older than I am. I was born in 1975, and as such it was a few years before my time, but I still remember it well — in its home incarnations. But I don’t have any experience of what it was like when it was brand new. I never saw a Pong arcade cabinet in the wild, not until many years later, when I got to see and play one at the CCAG Show one year, in 2004 or 2005. I was surprised by how small the cabinet was, compared to the arcade cabinets I was more familiar with from childhood.

My first video game memories date to 1981 or ’82. We got an Atari 2600 for Christmas, I think in 81, and at this time I was barely old enough to see over the control deck of a stand-up arcade cabinet to play. Games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong were in their heyday. Pong was already almost a decade old, but we still knew about it. Even if I didn’t see it in any arcade, there were still home console versions of it.

Arcade games were literally everywhere by this time. It was the Golden Age of arcade games, and a very special time in history for those of us who were young then. You could go to a convenience store or gas station, and there’d be a couple of them out by the door. Sometimes other vending machines were found nearby: gumball machines, or soda machines, and the vending machines never went away. But in the early 80s, video games were in these spaces as well, even in the space after the checkout at the supermarket. Bored kids would drain quarters into them while waiting for their parent to pay for the week’s groceries. In 1982, a quarter was worth about $0.74 in 2022 dollars.

This ubiquity made games mainstream, not just something you could only find to play at arcades and carnival midways, but something you could find almost anywhere. They encouraged, even invited you to loiter. Whether you had a quarter, or just had to watch someone else play, it was exciting to be around these tall cabinets, full of technology and glowing, electronic life.

Galaxian. Moon Patrol. Pac Man. Space Invaders. Scramble. Frogger. Joust. Dig Dug. They were mesmerizing to watch, and if you were younger than 6 you could pretend you were playing during the demo sequence and it felt real, and you got that rush of excitement for free. Put in a quarter and you’d maybe last a minute or two, often less, and you’d lose all your lives before you could even get started, so it kind of hurt. But I wanted to become their master.

And it wasn’t long before I wanted to create games of my own.

And it all started with Pong.

Retrotainment finally releases Full Quiet on NES after five years of development

Back in early October of 2017, I backed a Kickstarter project for a new game for NES called Full Quiet, by Retrotainment Games.

Today (12/1/22), I received the tracking number for my copy of the game. It’s been a long five years of waiting and pandemic-induced delays, and it’s great to see that the project has come to a successful conclusion.

I got to see an early demo of the game and play it a bit at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in 2018, and was impressed even then with the quality of the game. Full Quiet is definitely impressive, easily on par with the greatest releases on the system, and reminds me of some of the Konami/Ultra and Capcom games I loved back in the day, reminding me a bit of games like Metroid, Snake’s Revenge, Rush’N Attack, and Trojan, while being distinctly its own thing.

I’m so excited to finally get to play the game, and am really looking forward to it as my Christmas present to myself this year. Look for an update with a review in the near future.

Jerry Lawson Google Doodle 12-1-2022

❤️

Today’s Google Doodle is in honor of Jerry Lawson, the engineer who designed Channel F, the first gaming console to use removable cartridges. Today would have been his 82nd birthday.

Prior to this innovation, video game consoles were dedicated, meaning that they could only play a single pre-programmed and hard-coded game (usually Pong or some variation thereof.) Lawson’s innovation opened the door to longer console life, providing a cheaper means to extend the usefulness of the console base by making it simple to swap out the software that ran on it, allowing gamers to accrue a library of games that could all be played on one system, rather than having to disconnect and hook up a different system for each game they wished to own.

Sadly Jerry is no longer with us, as he passed away in 2011, but he is immortalized through his engineering accomplishments, which hundreds of millions of gamers have been able to appreciate over a span of nearly 50 years and counting.

Thank you, Jerry.

Atari teases SwordQuest: AirWorld ahead of 50th Anniversary Collection release.

40 years after the final game in the SwordQuest series was canceled, Atari is finally about to release the long-forgotten AirWorld chapter.

A teaser video showing gameplay shows that the game appears to be keeping with the style of the first three chapters, EarthWorld, FireWorld, and WaterWorld. Whether that’s good or not is debatable, but the gameplay does look like it’s a little better than the entries that preceded it, and I do have to give Digital Eclipse a lot of credit for keeping the style of the Atari 2600’s crude system limitations.

The Swordquest games were rather cryptic and not all that enjoyable to play, and not exactly worth the time to play them today, apart from as a historical curiosity, but were part of a massive contest held by Atari in the early 1980s, which helped them to attain a legendary status.

Apparently it goes on sale November 11th, as part of the Atari 50: The Anniversary Celebration collection, on “all major platforms”. I take it to mean that there will not be a cartridge version of the game playable on the original Atari VCS hardware.

*Yawn* wake me up when Scooby-Doo is ready to admit that Freddy is gay.

Velma as lesbian is safe, tame, expected, obvious.

I think originally she was written to be the nerdy, bookish, smart one on the team, and was written to give representation to nerds so they could feel empowerment.

Sexuality for children’s cartoon characters wasn’t a thing. It was taboo. If you drew the Scooby Doo gang naked in the late 60s, they’d look like Barbie and Ken dolls — no genitalia.

Of course it’s fine for humans to be sexual beings, since that’s what we are, and it’s no different with cartoon characters, and if you grow up and you’re still interested in Scooby Doo, and now you want to think about them sexually, go for it.

Everyone in the Scooby Doo gang is a sexual mystery, but exactly what you suspect — just read the clues.

If you grew up crushing on one of the characters, I’m not going to shame you for it. If there was anyone in the group who appealed to me, it was Velma. You could tell under that thick turtleneck she was hiding an amazing body, and she had a restrained energy about her that was just waiting for its awakening.

If the writing team that’s handling the Scooby Doo property wanted to be bold, making Freddy gay (or bi, what’s wrong with bi?) would definitely be the way to go. Freddy was presented as being the masculine, strong, leader type. Making him a gay or bi character without changing that would be amazing. None of the usual gay stereotyping, but still a hint of it in his ascot.

People *want* Velma to be gay, because they want to watch her doing girl-on-girl porn, the way straight men love their fantasy lesbian porn. But people aren’t ready for Freddy to come out, and that’s exactly why he should.

Kickstarter shuts down indie game project Meifumado over copyright dispute

Meifumado was a goodlooking indie game with detailed 16-bit style pixel art and smooth animation that OldBit pitched on Kickstarter earlier this year. It reminded me of a hit indie game from a few years back, Shank, but with a samurai theme and setting.

Meifumado was a good looking indie game with detailed 16-bit style pixel art and smooth animation that OldBit pitched on Kickstarter earlier this year.

Today Kickstarter took down their project page temporarily pending resolution of a copyright dispute from one of the project’s contributors, who claims they have not been paid for the music they contributed, which was used in the trailer video.

Meifumado [Submitted by private individual]

Date: 2022-08-23T10:56:53.000+01:00

Sender

[Private]

Sent via online form

Recipient

Kickstarter, PBC

58 Kent Street

Brooklyn, NY 11222

USA

Re: Meifumado

Description of copyrighted material: The music in the trailer is created by me , but I havent received any payment and cant reached the creator and devs of the game. I dont know the developers personally and only had briefly contact during the creation of the trailer music.

Several backers are asking for an update, but receive no information, like me. This comes off as a scam.

Under the section “Team” I and my music are mentioned and linked too.

Bc of this situation I am asking to be removed from the text and campaign page and further more ask the kickstarter team to look into the situation.

I am very saddend and disappointed by all of this, esp. for everyone who supported this project. Everyone has been very patient, but I worry a bit that the frustration at some point might be redirected at me, as its seems I am the only “real” and reachable person.

Here is a personal link I gave Marco (german ks support) as proof. This is the trailer track and the soundcloud profile linked to. https://soundcloud.com/more-sound/marco-kickstarter/s-0qrEefYer5I

Thank you for your help and I hope this matter can be resolved. Best regards, Moritz

Description of infringing material: Trailer music as linked here : https://soundcloud.com/more-sound/marco-kickstarter/s-0qrEefYer5I

The use of me as a team member under “Team” and the link to my soundcplud page.

[Submitted by private individual]

Kickstarter

Backers have not heard from OldBit since the project achieved its funding goal — no updates from the project team in months. Meifumado’s twitter account has been silent since April 1 of this year. The project had a page on Steam, which also appears to have been set up and abandoned not long after.

It’s looking more and more like this project was a scam, or fell apart due to poor project management or bad business practices. Kickstarter is not returning funds to backers at this time, and likely will not do so per Kickstarter’s terms of service.

Some indie dev teams are made up of non-professionals, complete amateurs, and skilled kids who can collaborate despite lack of formal business structure, and based on the account given above by Moritz, and its lack of proofreading, it seems like that must have been the case with the Meifumado project.

It remains to be seen how this will resolve.

Update: Meifumado’s kickstarter page is back up, apparently the copyright issue must have been resolved. But there still has been no update from the team since the project hit its goal. There is virtually no chance that the project is still being worked on at this point.