If you remember anything from 1983, it’s likely to be some of the year’s popular culture highlights, maybe Return of the Jedi, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. For anyone connected with the video gaming industry though, it’s likely that year will stick in the mind for a completely different reason, as the year of the infamous Great Video Games Crash. Overcapacity in the console market coupled with a slew of low quality titles caused sales to crash and a number of companies to go out of business, and the console gaming world would only recover later in the decade with the arrival of the Japanese 8-bit consoles from Nintendo and Sega. You might expect Atari to shy away from such a painful period of their history, but instead they are embracing it as part of their 50th anniversary and launching three never-released titles on cartridges for their 8-bit 2600 console.
The three games, Yars’ Return,Aquaventure, and Saboteur, are all unreleased titles from back in the day that never saw publication because of the crash, and are being released as limited edition specials through AtariXP, a new venture that the company says will offer “previously unreleased titles from Atari’s expansive library, rare-and-hard-to-find Atari IP physical media, and improved versions of classic games“. It’s fairly obviously an exercise in satisfying the collector’s market rather than one of video game publishing, but it will be interesting to see what emerges. In particular we hope someone will tear down one of these cartridges; will they find a set of old-school EPROMs inside or an EPROM emulator sporting a microcontroller and other 2020s trickery?
While the Google Stadia may be the latest and greatest in the realm of cloud gaming, there are plenty of other ways to experience this new style of gameplay, especially if you’re willing to go a little retro. This project, for example, takes the Atari 2600 into the cloud for a nearly-complete gaming experience that is fully hosted in a server, including the video rendering.
[Michael Kohn] created this project mostly as a way to get more familiar with Kubernetes, a piece of open-source software which helps automate and deploy container-based applications. The setup runs on two Raspberry Pi 4s which can be accessed by pointing a browser at the correct IP address on his network, or by connecting to them via VNC. From there, the emulator runs a specific game called Space Revenge, chosen for its memory requirements and its lack of encumbrance of copyrights. There are some limitations in that the emulator he’s using doesn’t implement all of the Atari controls, and that the sound isn’t available through the remote desktop setup, but it’s impressive nonetheless
[Michael] also glosses over this part, but the Atari emulator was written by him “as quickly as possible” so he could focus on the Kubernetes setup. This is impressive in its own right, and of course he goes beyond this to show exactly how to set up the cloud-based system on his GitHub page as well. He also thinks there’s potential for a system like this to run an NES setup as well. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, though, it is possible to set up a cloud-based gaming system with a Nintendo Switch as well.
Ten lines of BASIC is a big limitation, even when getting clever by stacking multiple statements into a single line, so [Martin]’s game has a much narrower scope than the original Atari 2600 version. Still, the core elements are present: E.T. must find and gather all the parts of the phone in order to contact his ship, after which he must meet the ship in time to escape. All the while, FBI agents attempt to interfere. The game was written in SAM BASIC, used by the SAM Coupé, a British Z80-based home computer from the late 80s with an emulator available for download.
Now, for lovers of “um, actually” topics, do we have a treat for you! Let’s take this opportunity to review a few things about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. That it was a commercial flop is no doubt, but the game itself is often badly misunderstood. Way back in 2013 we covered an extraordinary effort to patch improvements into the binary for the 2600 game, and in the process there’s a compelling case made that the game was in many ways far ahead of its time, and actually quite significant in terms of game design. You can jump right in on an analysis of the hate the game receives, and while reading that it’s helpful to keep in mind that In 1982, many of its peers were games like Space Invaders, with self-evident gameplay that simply looped endlessly.
Anyone who’s ever attended a hacker conference knows that the talks and workshops are only part of the reason that people travel from all over the country (and indeed, the world) to be there. The social and extracurricular aspects of these events are just as important as the scheduled content, if not more so. After all, you can always watch the recorded version of any presentation you missed when you get back home; but there’s only a relatively short window for drinking Club-Mate, driving a Segway at unreasonable speeds, and hanging out with other people in the community.
So I don’t mind admitting that I was extremely skeptical when it was announced that the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference was going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially since the decision came just a few months before the event was set to kick off in New York. Trying to recreate the experience of a large scale hacker con as an online-only event is hard enough, but doing it on such short notice seemed like a recipe for disaster. Particularly for an event like HOPE that had always crammed the historic Hotel Pennsylvania to the rafters (and sometimes, above) with content and activities.
Which is not to say they didn’t have some interesting ideas. Since so many people were stuck at home anyway, they decided there wasn’t much point limiting HOPE to a single weekend. For 2020, the event would instead run for nine continuous days. Prerecorded talks and interactive workshops would start at 9 AM Eastern and run right up until the wee hours of the morning, often concluding with a live musical performance.
As founder Emmanuel Goldstein described it, the idea was to turn this year’s HOPE into a 24 hour hacker television channel that could beam a diverse array of ideas and opinions into homes all over the planet. Rather than pretending that the classic hacker convention experience could be fully replicated online, they would fully embrace the possibilities offered by the Internet and create something completely different. But could they pull it off?
In the classic gaming world, even before the NES arrived on the scene, there was no name more ubiquitous than Atari. Their famous 2600 console sold almost as many units as the Nintendo 64, but was released nearly 20 years prior. In many ways, despite making mistakes that led to the video game crash of the early 80s, Atari was the first to make a path in the video game industry. If you want to explore what the era of 8-bit computing was like in the Atari age, a new resource is compiling all kinds of Atari-based projects.
This site has everything, from assembling Atari 8-bit computers based on the 6502 chip, to programming them in BASIC and assembly, to running official and homebrew games on the hardware itself. This was put together by [Jason H. Moore] who grew up around Atari systems and later, their home computers. He even puts his biomedical experience to use here by designing a game for the 2600 called Gene Medic which can be found at the site as well.
If you grew up in the 70s and 80s and are looking for a bit of Atari nostalgia this site is the place to go. It’s even worth a visit from younger folks as well since the 8-bit world is a lot easier to get immersed in and learn the fundamentals of computer science. Of course, if you want to take it the other direction, it’s possible to modify the old Atari to add a few modern conveniences.
If you’re desperate for a sense of nostalgia for video games of yore but don’t want to shell out the big bucks for an NES classic, you can always grab a single arcade-style game that’ll plug straight into your TV. Of course it’s no longer 1980, and playing Space Invaders or Asteroids can get old after a while. When that happens, just replace the internals for an upgraded retro Atari 2600 with all the games from that system instead of just one.
As expected for something that has to fit in such a tiny package, this upgrade is based on a Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s not quite as simple as throwing RetroPi on it and calling it a day, though. For one, [Blue Okiris] is still using the original two-button controller/joystick that came with the Ms. Pac-Man game this build is based on, and that added its own set of challenges. For another, RetroPi didn’t have everything he needed so he switched to another OS called Recalbox. It also includes Kodi so it could be used as a media center as well.
The build looks like a hack in the truest sense of the word. The circuit board sticks out the bottom a little bit, but this is more of a feature than a bug because that’s where some extra buttons and the power switch are. Overall, it’s a great Retro Atari system that has all the true classics that should keep [Blue Okiris] entertained until Atari releases an official system one day. If you’d like to go a little deeper in the Atari world, though, you could always restore one instead.
If there’s one console that holds a special place in the hearts of console gamers of a certain age, it’s the Atari 2600. A 6502 based system with a cartridge slot and a couple of joysticks, it plugged into your home TV and if you had one for Christmas in the late ’70s you were suddenly the coolest kid in the neighbourhood.
The last new 2600s were sold in the early 1990s, but all was not lost for 2600 fans. In the last decade the format was revived as the Atari Flashback, an all-in-one console containing a selection of games and no cartridge slot. The Flashback had a flaw though, it stayed true to the original in that it needed a TV set. Rather a pity in a world of hand-held consoles.
There isn’t a lot of room in a 2600 cartridge, so as her worklog shows, she had to cut up the PCB and be very careful with her wiring to ensure it all fits. She’s using the Flashback 2 as her source console, and she tells us it has 42 games to choose from.
If the worklog pictures weren’t enough she’s posted a video of the device in action, and it shows a very neat and playable hand-held console. We would have done anything to get our hands on one of those had it been available in 1980!