In the early 1980s, Atari’s 8-bit computers were an extremely popular gaming platform. Every important game of that time (as well as most of the unimportant ones) had its Atari 400/800 version. However, that changed dramatically sometime around the middle of the decade. Suddenly the 8-bit Atari lost its appeal for the nascent gaming industry.
There were several reasons: the success of the Commodore 64, shift of Atari’s focus to the 16-bit ST line, and the popularity of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the United Kingdom, Europe’s biggest gaming market at the time. Because of this all, even though the 8-bit market still had some 5-8 successful years to live, some of the biggest 8-bit hits never made it to the 8-bit Atari.
It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one.
But times they are a changin’! About twenty years later (i.e., recently), many classics are getting ported, faithfully and enthusiastically, by the community. Now even Atari users can enjoy games that the industry didn’t bother converting back then because the 8-bit Atari was considered a dead horse. Today we’ll have a look at five of them.
Lunar Jetman is a shooter originally released by the legendary Ultimate Play the Game for the Spectrum and BBC Micro. It’s a sequel to Jetpac, Ultimate’s previous game in which Jetman has to rebuild his rocket. This time, his mission is to find and destroy evil ETs’ bases on the Moon, and apart from his trusty jet pack, he has a moon buggy – called Hyperglide Moon Rover in the game’s manual – on which he can transport equipment for bridging craters and additional weapons.
Fandal, who ported the game, chose the BBC Micro version as the source for the port. It’s because BBC Micro and Atari have the same processor and the Micro version uses a graphics mode that is very similar to an Atari one. The Atari version of the game was then included in the disk magazine Flop in 2014.
Pentagram is another game originally published by Ultimate Play the Game for the Speccy, in 1986. It’s a part of the legendary Sabreman action adventure game series. The game is based on Ultimate’s revolutionary Filmation isometric engine. Sabreman’s goal is to recover the fabled Pentagram, a potent magical artifact. He’s trying to do that in a maze full of enemies and objects with which he can interact.
The Atari 8-bit version was coded by Mariuszw in 2016. To port the game, Mariuszw created a special recompiler that takes the original code for the Z80 processor and translates it to its equivalent for the 6502, which is the heart of the Atari machine. The 320×200 resolution used in the the game is only monochromatic, but more colors can be added through a clever use of hardware sprites, called PMG (Player-Missile Graphics) on the Atari. José Pereira took care of this part of the graphics, and Miker did the music.
E-Type is a car racing game in the vein of Out Run, originally released in 1989 for the British computers BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, and Acorn Archimedes, written by Gordon J. Key. You try to go as far as possible in your Jaguar E-Type, avoiding such obstacles as mail boxes, roadworks, or oil on the road. When you hit something, you and your gorgeous blonde passenger (because all your passengers in all car racing games seem to be blonde bombshells) are knocked off your seats. If you give a ride to the policemen on the road (or run over them, depending on how you interpret the necessity to hit them with the car), you receive a time bonus.
The Atari port was realized by Fandal, with Irgendwer doing the graphics. As an extra, the Atari version received an additional first-person mode in which you are put into the car’s cockpit instead of just watching the vehicle on the screen.
E-Type stands out for two reasons. It’s one of the few road games on the Atari 8-bit in which the landscape isn’t strictly flat, so you drive also up- and downhill. And because of the game coming out only for the Micro and the Acorns, it’s one of a few good games that never made it to either of the Atari 8-bit’s biggest competitors – the Speccy and the C=64.
Bobby and his brothers are bearing balls living in the future land of Technofear, where everything is made of steel. They have been warned many times to stay clear of the Metaplanes outside their home, but one day their rogue cousin came and led Bobby’s brothers right there. There the evil Bearings stunned poor Bobby’s four brothers, and now it’s up to him to find them and roll them back home.
According to the authors, Robert and Trevor Figgins, they hadn’t heard of similar games like Marble Madness or Spindizzy until well into the development when their publisher pointed out the similarities, and cited Ultimate’s Knight Lore (perhaps for its isometric graphics and puzzles) as their inspiration.
The game was released in 1986 for the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and C=64 – and in 2016 for the Atari 8-bit, ported by Mariuszw with additional graphics by José Pereira and music by Poison, supporting stereo.
Adventure is a bit older and different from the other games in this list. It was originally published in 1978 for the Atari 2600 console (VCS). The player controls his avatar, a simple square. Next to not getting lost in the maze, the player must find a magic cup and bring it to the golden castle, avoiding the deadly dragons (who, as the author Warren Robinett noted later, look more like ducks). The game, inspired by Colossal Cave Adventure (that ran on mainframe computers), is also recognized as one of the first game containing an Easter egg, a secret room containing the text “CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT.”
The game was ported to the Atari 8-bit by Avery Lee, the author of the widely spread video processing software VirtualDub … and the Atari emulator Altirra.
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