Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Game: Yars' Revenge (Atari 2600)

According to Wikipedia, Yars' Revenge was Atari's best-selling original title for the 2600. The funny part of that is, it didn't start out as an original, but as a licensed adaptation of the arcade game Star Castle. However, it quickly became something entirely its own, and Atari took full credit (and profit) from it. (Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, Star Castle never did get an adaptation for any system.)

Atari CEO Ray Kassar found himself immortalized in a backward kind of way in the names of the Yar and his home Razak solar system.

I'm easily impressed by ingenuity, so I love this story. Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw was looking for an impressive, yet code-efficient, effect for the Neutral Zone. He found it by making the medium the message, as it were: the Neutral Zone is, in fact, a graphical representation of the game's own code.

Several Atari 2600 games took advantage of corporate synergy with fellow Warner Communications subsidiary DC Comics, and had mini comics packed in the box. (In fact, gameplay of the later Swordquest series would actually depend on the player having read the comic.) The one included with Yars' Revenge explained the game's backstory. It was titled The Qotile Ultimatum, and you can read it here. (Actually, now that I look it it again, I notice it doesn't have a DC logo, so this particular comic may have been an Atari in-house project.)

Also, mind-blowingly enough, there was a Yars' Revenge song and audio drama released by Kid Stuff Records.

Here's a vintage television ad for Yars' Revenge.

And now for the actual playing. You shoot the shield cells surrounding the Qotile (the thing at the right). By nibbling a cell or touching the Qotile, you activate the Zorlon Cannon (the thing that appears at the left). Hit the Qotile with the Zorlon Cannon, and you win the level. Meanwhile, you're being chased by the Destroyer Missile, and periodically the Qotile will become a Swirl, and shoot out at (I think) a random direction. You're safe from the Destroyer Missile in the Neutral Zone (center), but not from the Swirl.

By the way, because I love sharing these technical details, I apply some noise reduction to these Atari 2600 and 800 games with SoundHack to save you from a constant buzzing noise. You're welcome.

Yars' Revenge and a new sequel, Yars' Return, are available on the Atari Flashback 2 plug-and-play home game system.

Next week: back to Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire on the N64 as we explore one of the galaxy's scenic sites, Ord Mantell Junkyard.

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