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posted by martyb on Thursday June 06, @08:16PM   Printer-friendly
from the a-true-swinger? dept.

When you think about games written for the Atari Video Computer System (or 2600) today, what do you picture? Likely a home version of an arcade game, or some kind of shooter, a maze game, something that takes place entirely on a single screen. This is not the entirety of the 2600 library, though – major releases such as Pitfall!, Adventure, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, or Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle were built around worlds that extended beyond the screen's borders, where you didn't necessarily know what was coming next or how you'd need to approach that challenge. And among the most ambitious of these titles announced was Tarzan, to be published by Coleco for the 2600 and the ColecoVision console in 1984.

Tarzan was initially announced for as a 1983 ColecoVision release at the 1983 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas, with a 2600 port announced later that year during the summer CES for a November release. These dates slipped, with the ColecoVision Tarzan finally shipping in August, and the 2600 game announced as a second quarter release before being quietly canceled. The released ColecoVision version was fairly well-reviewed, with the newsletter Computer Entertainer praising the graphics and the varied action, noting strategy is required to clear the game. But the 2600 version faded into obscurity, considered just another project canceled due to the 1983 North American market collapse and its yearslong aftermath. In 2011 a manual for the game turned up, but the game itself remained lost. Lost, that is, until collector Rob "AtariSpot" managed to purchase a working copy of the game off of a former Coleco employee in 2022 and successfully worked with longtime Atari homebrew programmer Thomas Jentzsch to get it dumped. All 2600 games bigger than 4 kilobytes in size utilize an approach called "bankswitching" to get around hardware limitations by inserting code that gets the console to look at a separate 4-kilobyte chunk of data. This allowed for larger and more complex game programs, and Tarzan, a 12-kilobyte cartridge, is no exception. The game uses a unique bankswitching scheme, but Jentzsch was able to modify it into a standard "F6" bankswitch to make it operable on emulators and flash carts. Both versions are included with this article.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Thursday June 06, @09:43PM (2 children)

    by looorg (578) on Thursday June 06, @09:43PM (#1359587)

    Since it's somewhat related I would say that this was a lot more informative and interesting read compared to the guy that spend 1982 coding Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600. While not really being filled with details about the game it told a better story. Or just as sparse on the technical stuff this at least paints a better story and picture of the development.

    Tarzan sort of looks like some kind of copy or clone of Pitfall II and Montezuma's Revenge, which were released at around the same time as this Tarzan game was supposed to have been, 1983-84ish. Except it didn't. But from the screenshots it does look kind of neat and from the story it does appear to have some interesting features such as using time as health and score instead of just lives. Funny that came from the Tarzan family estate not wanting the character to die. Since that would be lore breaking or something.

    Also a good context putting it into the north American game crash of the period and what it meant for games development. Interestingly tho not a thing in the rest of the world as far as I can recall. I sure didn't hear about it until years later. All was fine here with our microcomputers.

    From the looks of it the Tarzan game does look a lot better then ET, which I guess takes the brunt of the blame for the crash. So Tarzan was just a victim of poor ET wanting to go home.

    Since they bring it up at the end I'm not entirely sure if the current game development convulsions are for the same reasons as before. While it is somewhat similar -- to many bad games released and the market can't handle it they are perhaps so for different reasons. Today the development have just gotten so expensive and the games requires so many developers a bad release, or two, kills the studio. Back then it was to many fast cheap titles that was just crap games all around. Now we keep getting horrifically bad franchises releasing the same game over and over again with minor tweaks and a new story but are till expected to pay $80 (or whatever) for them. Perhaps it might also have something do with story and message, old games didn't really have them very much or it was very simplistic. While today every game needs some message or agenda to push. The devs can't just pander to their player base and just have fun anymore. Need to send a serious message -- be it black samurai warriors in Assassins creed or all the pronoun characters in every single game or whatever is the current game thing at the moment that pisses of the players. Or that every single game requires an online component and have a gazillion in game purchases or extras that you need to fork over more money for cause the game just wasn't expensive enough as it was. So perhaps it's somewhat similar, just also a bit different. If the devs just kept their tired political views to themselves and out of their games perhaps they would sell better. It shouldn't be a surprise that young men, which is still the majority audience, doesn't want to play the pronoun challenged girlboss games. The people that do are not a large enough market.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday June 07, @01:12AM (1 child)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday June 07, @01:12AM (#1359627)

      BnB we are staying in has a video game console with 412 titles. Ms Pac Man, Galaga, Galaxian, Frogger, Centipede, Millipede, Tempest, Tron, Tetris, Joust 2 (but not Joust, Defender, original Space Invaders, Spy Hunter... Lots of missing better known titles.) and of course hundreds of weird mostly ripoff games you have never heard of.

      I wonder how many physical consoles were made of all those fringe titles, especially the ones that barely varied from the better known games?

      🌻🌻 []
      • (Score: 2) by looorg on Friday June 07, @10:04AM

        by looorg (578) on Friday June 07, @10:04AM (#1359679)

        Sounds like one of them multiarcade machines, usually good for about 50-60 games. Usually the arcade versions and not any of the home- console/computer versions. You can get a full arcade cabinet with the right emulator and everything for about $2500. I have seen them about, saw one in a mall arcade about two weeks ago. I was tempted to play a game of 1942 on it but I was somewhat short on time. []

        400+ titles tho and you are bound to have a lot of weird once or clones or just games nobody ever heard of or ever wanted to play. Then it seems more like one of them little consoles you buy on aliexpress etc that have all the games you would ever want but still will never play. They tend to run some emulator that does both home console (NES, SNES etc) and Arcade versions.

  • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Thursday June 06, @09:45PM (3 children)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Thursday June 06, @09:45PM (#1359588) Journal

    We had an Atari 2600, but we preferred real computers to those consoles. It was also a matter of price. A library of Atari 2600 games cost a lot of money that my parents weren't willing to spend on video games. We had about a dozen titles in all. I had to turn to pirated Apple II and Commodore 64 games to get more variety and quantity. Consoles were beyond my piracy capabilities. There was also the Atari 800 computer, and I considered it, but we never got one. The TRS-80 was another computer we passed over. Once we had the Apple and Commodore, we rarely played with the 2600, and so my parents gave it away to help out an acquaintance whose house had burned down.

    As for quality, the 2600 certainly had more colors and sounds than the Apple II, and more robust joysticks, but that was the end of its advantages. It was pretty low res, and you could tell that it was hobbled by a lot of technical limitations, Sprites often being all one color was just something you got used to without ever learning why. The Commodore 64 was the best of them all for color and sound, but was crippled by its abominably slow disk drive.

    By 1985, the Apple II was in decline. I looked around at what everyone was using, and it was something like 90% PC. The Apple II still had arguably better graphics than the PC's terrible CGA graphics, but once EGA graphics were introduced in late 1984 and saturated the PC market by circa 1986, the Apple II was done, in every way beaten by the PC. Likewise, the Commodore 64. By then, the Atari 2600 was twice over-matched. I'm a little surprised to read that Atari 2600 games were still being released as late as 1984. But the video game market always seemed to be a bit laggy that way. Sort of like those toy cars with the flywheel that powers movement at a steadier pace and for longer than a mere unpowered wheeled toy. Apple IIs were made until 1993, and I know a fair number of games for it were still being released in 1989. After that, the number of released dropped off a cliff. Why anyone would want an Apple IIe in 1993, I don't know. Nostalgia?

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Thursday June 06, @09:59PM

      by looorg (578) on Thursday June 06, @09:59PM (#1359589)

      By then, the Atari 2600 was twice over-matched. I'm a little surprised to read that Atari 2600 games were still being released as late as 1984.

      After that, the number of released dropped off a cliff. Why anyone would want an Apple IIe in 1993, I don't know. Nostalgia?

      Hard to say. They had already sold a lot of Atari 2600. So developing a game and selling it was probably quite cheap. Low to very low development costs. So they had market share or installation base or whatever you want to call it. Probably the same with the Apple II. Still as noted I can't say that I saw much of the Atari 2600 when I was young, it wasn't very popular over here.

      But the C64 was released in early 1982 but still sold for over a decade, discontinued in the mid 90's as I recall it. Which is then equally strange cause the Amiga was released in 1985, even tho it didn't really take off until 1987 with the A500. So it had a five year user-base lead in that regard and it might have been an important thing. Also price as not a lot of people bought an A1000. So the C64 still had wiggle room.

      But when I had my C64 and saw the A1000 playing Defender of the Crown that C64 looked like an etch-a-sketch or utterly stone age by comparison. But why did it keep selling? Price, Marketshare and Piracy. Buy the hardware, get the games for free.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday June 07, @01:20AM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday June 07, @01:20AM (#1359631)

      >A library of Atari 2600 games cost a lot of money

      We never had a 2600, though we did have an early Pong and several Atari 800/400 computers (when the 400s were going closeout for $25 they were hard to resist...)

      Around about 1983 a local radio station was giving away copies of a new 2600 game (I forget the title) and apparently interest in it was very low because I succeeded in winning 4 copies by calling in answering sci Fi trivia and giving addresses of friends and family around town.

      We successfully returned the cartridges to local department stores for something like $45 cash refund by telling them the truth: "received as a gift, don't have a console to play it on."

      Not many years later radio station contest swag started being imprinted with "Promotional Copy" significantly reducing its retail returnability.

      🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by drussell on Friday June 07, @04:33PM

      by drussell (2678) on Friday June 07, @04:33PM (#1359719) Journal

      Why anyone would want an Apple IIe in 1993, I don't know. Nostalgia?


      The educational market had been investing heavily in Apple ][ hardware since the late 1970s, particularly for the elementary and junior-high/middle-school level, thus continued to purchase additional hardware long after others had moved on from the platform.

      I remember our elementary school getting one IIGS when they came out, and I was pretty much the only person that ever actually used it and experimented with it, the rest of the time it was only used in a large class where all the //e machines were in use, it was just the "weird" machine that lived most of its time in //e mode. Same with the few remaining ][+ machines, they were only actually used in a very large class where every machine was in use but had limitations as to what software they could run. (Lack of 128k? I remember they did eventually all have 80 column cards, but I think they only had 64k, so nothing like AppleWorks would run.) They didn't waste any more money on the IIGS and just bought more of the fancy new Platinum //e machines instead. Oooh... Numeric KEYPAD! :) They also bought a Tandy 1000 SX.

      My grade 5 teacher brought me some photocopied 6502 assembly books from his personal stash at home (well, presumably he brought his books and had someone in the office photocopy them at the school for me) and got me started in WozMon on one of the old II+ machines instead of following the rest of the students' curriculum since I already knew more than everyone else about everything to do with computers. It was mind-bendingly eye-opening to smack the processor around in assembly at that age. I suddenly realized how insanely limiting trying to program things in BASIC was.

      I still have those photocopies (hundreds and hundreds of pages) around somewhere. Thank you, Mr. Foster!!