W

 Will Nicholes

Atari 2600 Games

Duck Attack!

I’ve recently finished development on my first homebrew Atari 2600 game, called Duck Attack! Read more about it here.

Duck Attack!

 

Adventure... with a hot-air balloon

One of my favorite games for the Atari 2600 was (and is) Adventure.

There’s a particularly fun feature in the game where if you’re eaten by a dragon, and then the bat picks up the dragon with you in it, you’re taken on an “overhead” tour of the kingdom, like riding in a hot-air balloon. Back in the early ’80s, I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.

The only problem was, while you could sometimes pick up the bat and move it around, it was difficult to really control where to go, especially at the edge of the screen. I thought the perfect addition to the game would be an object you could pick up that would let you float above the walls and explore the kingdom.

So my first attempt at hacking a 2600 game, back in 2003 or so, was to add a hot-air balloon to Adventure. Once you find the balloon, grab it and you can float around the kingdom, above the mazes, walls, and castles, taking in the scenery.

Adventure balloon

While I was at it, I tweaked a couple of the room layouts. One thing that always kind of bugged me about the original version was an “exit” inside the white castle that didn’t lead anywhere. Well, now it leads somewhere! I added a few more rooms to the kingdom, too, and added a couple of wrinkles to some existing rooms.

Adventure hack - new room

So here is my “Adventure with a hot-air-balloon” hack.

You’ll need an Atari 2600 emulator like Stella to play it; just install the emulator of your choice on your PC, plop the ROM in, and you’re good to go. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Facebook Hero

Facebook Hero is a parody of sorts. It’s a bit like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, but instead of notes scrolling up the screen, your online friends’ statuses scroll by. Using the joystick, you get to select one of the following options:
- “Like” the status
- Comment “LOL”
- Comment “*hugs*”
- Comment “I am so sorry!”

It’s a timed game: you start off with 20 friends, and the goal is to see how many friends you have at the end of two minutes.

If you comment inappropriately (for example, responding “LOL” to “My grandfather is in the hospital” instead of “I am so sorry!”), you will be defriended and your friend count will drop by one. If a certain number of statuses pass by without you commenting (or “liking”), that person will think you don’t like them and will defriend you.

On the other hand, if you’re able to keep up and respond appropriately, friends of your friends will friend you, increasing your friend count, i.e. your score. But the more friends you have, the faster the statuses will come, and the quicker you’ll have to be with the joystick to keep up.

It’s a work in progress. You can follow the development in the AtariAge forums, on the Facebook Hero thread.

In the meantime, here’s a teaser of the title screen.

Facebook Hero

 

Pac-Man ports

I’ve been playing around with porting two of the Pac-Man games that have not been ported to the Atari 2600: Super Pac-Man and Pac-Man Championship Edition.

Of the two, Championship Edition is, surprisingly, the easier to port to the 2600, despite being released in 2007. The problem with Super Pac-Man is the large number of sprites required to represent the fruits (apples, bananas, etc.) The Atari is not well-suited to supporting games with large numbers of sprites sharing the same horizontal row.

Here’s how my Super Pac-Man port should look:

Super Pac-Man

And indeed, it does look like that, in the Stella emulator running on a PC. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look quite as nice on an actual Atari, due to flicker.

Due to limitations of the hardware, each of the game sprites (Pac-Man, ghosts, fruit, keys, etc.) can only appear on every other video frame in order to display all of the sprites. While this approach (flicker) is common to Atari 2600 games (Asteroids, for example, uses this technique, displaying each asteroid on half the frames), it seems to be pretty distracting on a real Atari.

For that reason Super Pac-Man development is on hold. Additional information and screen shots are available on AtariAge in the Super Pac-Man thread.

For Championship Edition, though, I think flicker can be avoided entirely. However, the game itself will be a massive undertaking owing to the AI constraints of the ghosts to keep more than two of them from sharing the same horizontal space (a constraint required to avoid flicker.)

For that reason, Championship Edition is on hold as well, while I finish games that are more straightforward to develop. Nonetheless, if and when I resume work on it, I’ll post updates on AtariAge on the Pac-Man Championship Edition thread.

 

Bedraggled / Dragon Attack

I’m also working on a pair of games that re-imagine Adventure.

Dragon Attack features moats, fire-breathing dragons, and a variety of other enhancements. New objects such as shield and a torch will help protect you from the dragons and navigate more easily.

Dragon Attack

Dragon Attack

In Bedraggled, you’re now on the dragons’ side! Your goal is to help a lost dragon find its home. It won’t be easy since these dragons are easily frightened... you’ll have to lure them back with shiny objects placed strategically throughout the kingdom.

Both Dragon Attack and Bedgraggled will include new rooms for you to explore and multiple difficulty settings and game options.

 

Indenture

Another Adventure-related project I’m working on is an Atari port of Craig Pell’s DOS port of Adventure called Indenture. This was both a port and an expansion; the greater processing power and resources available on a ’90s-era PC allowed the game to be expanded from its original 30-room kingdom to over 300 rooms. Indenture also included additional game objects and the ability to save and load the game at any point.

In recent years the Atari 2600 platform has gained the ability to reproduce these advanced features through expanded ROM, RAM and peripherals such as the AtariVox. Now, Adventure/Indenture can come full-circle and return to the 2600 with all of the enhanced features available on the PC, including all 300+ rooms and the ability to save and load game states.

Indenture

Indenture

Indenture

I’ve coded all but 2 of the 300+ rooms so far; work on the game objects is soon to follow.

 

Too Many Snakes

Too Many Snakes is a vertically-scrolling game that requires you to navigate a field full of snakes. It’s a little like Frogger, and a little like Centipede, but with lots of “twists” uniquely its own.

 

Other projects

I’ve got a few more ideas for Atari 2600 projects brewing, but I’d better finish the ones I’ve started before I start any more.

 

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