ChipsEtc.com catalogs vintage computer memorabilia. Their collection includes a paperweight from 1981, containing a 24-pin DIP ROM cartridge chip used in the Atari 2600 version of Asteroids.
“This Lucite paperweight was a gift to Atari engineers attending an Atari corporate event at the Company’s Pebble Beach get-away Lodge.”
Thanks to a reader for the tip!
Asteroids for the Atari 2600 is not the same thing as the arcade version. It’s got simplified gameplay and rasterized graphics. But Darrell Spice, Jr. has just created Space Rocks, a homebrew Atari game which brings arcade elements to the home console.
He explains: “Instead of the predominately up/down movement found in the original home version, Space Rocks features arcade like movement. The options menu lets you control the style of graphics (solid or ‘vector’), Magna-Mines (the ‘killer satellite’ from Asteroids Deluxe), friction (whether or not the ship will gradually slow down after thrust is removed) as well as other features.”
Space Rocks is as good as it sounds, and the player customizability is deep but intuitive. It was released at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October 2013 (pictured above), and available for purchase from AtariAge, as a dedicated cartridge with professional-looking packaging and artwork, for play on a real Atari 2600.
The final version of the game can also be downloaded for use with the Atari emulator Stella, or with a Harmony Cartridge for the 2600 via an SD card. The ROM is freely available in this discussion thread – to find it, take the very first link, for Release Candidate 7.
Spice explains that Space Rocks will not work with other Atari flash cartridges than Harmony, as “the game utilizes the ARM processor in the Harmony as a co-processor, similar to the DPC that’s found in Activision’s Pitfall II for the 2600.”
Darrell Spice, Jr. is actively involved with Atari Age and the homebrew scene. He says about the origin of Space Rocks:
“I was working on Frantic, a remake of Berzerk/Frenzy, when I wondered if the Kernel for Frantic could be used as a basis for a remake of Asteroids. TIA, the Atari’s video chip, is so primitive it only has enough information to draw a single scan line on the TV. The Kernel is the part of the program that updates TIA in real time, scan line by scan line, in order to create the display.
“The Kernel would have less to update, as Space Rocks doesn’t need the playfield (the chunky background graphics), so repositioning of the 2 sprites (yep, the 2600 only has 2 sprites) could be done more frequently than in Frantic. I thought that would result in result in less flicker, but wasn’t sure if it would be acceptable or not so I did up a quick test.
“I planned to return to work on Frantic after that, but like an earworm I couldn’t get the ideas for Space Rocks out of my head so I continued to work on it. I just wrapped up work on Stay Frosty 2, a new AtariAge holiday cart, so am taking a break from Atari projects and will most likely resume work on Frantic early next year.”
For more detailed development info about Space Rocks, visit Spice’s project blog:
And for Frantic:
Visit his website spiceware.org for more information.
James Eldred at Mostly Retro has written up a review of what is, in our eyes, the crowning glory of vintage Atari Asteroids spin-off merch: Asteroids, the record album. (The AtariAsteroids.net copy is pictured above).
It’s a full-length vinyl LP, produced by John Braden at Kid Stuff Records in 1982, during the height of the first home video game console boom. The label also put out LPs for Missile Command and Yars’ Revenge, along with non-Atari hits like Pac-Man.
In addition to a time travel story, the album’s contents include:
1. Atari Theme (John Braden)
2. Asteroids (John Braden/J. Waxman)
1. Time Walk (John Braden/J. Waxman)
2. Atari Theme (Reprise) (John Braden)
Oliver at vectrexmuseum.com has just released a Vectrex Locator web-app for mobile phones, for tracking up-to-the-moment, international, on-the-go Vectrex sales and news.
The Vectrex is close to Atari Asteroids’ heart: it was a vector screen home game system released in 1982, with a spaceship-shooting-things game (Mine Storm) installed on every unit. While they were only in stores for a year or two, they have an avid following to this day, and can often be found on sites like eBay.
The VecApp is a web app, in that it resides on a server and is accessed via the internet. It’s specially designed for mobile devices, and with a data connection, appears to function as any native app would.
VecApp features include:
- Displays Vectrex collectibles on different eBay markets
- Currency converter (updated several times on trade days)
- Internal clock including seconds (using your device´s time configuration)
- Actual Vectrex News (updates when loading the web-app)
- Answers the question “What the hack is a Vectrex?”
- Hidden Easter Egg
To install it, open www.vectrexmuseum.com/mobile/ with your mobile device, then tap “Add to Bookmarks” for easy, one-tap access.
For more information, visit vextrexmuseum’s VecApp site: http://vectrexmuseum.com/mobile/vecapp.php
Two months ago, the WSJ causally mentioned that Discovery Bay Games was developing a controller for the Atari’s Greatest Hits app on iPad. There was no other mention of this anywhere. Yesterday, Discovery Bay Games issued an official press release, saying that, yes, they are in fact developing the device in official partnership with Atari.
Seattle – August 3, 2011 – Discovery Bay Games is pleased to announce it has partnered with Atari, a global creator, producer and publisher of interactive entertainment, to develop, manufacture and distribute a gaming accessory to work with Atari’s Greatest Hits App for iPad.
“With over three million downloads to date, the ‘Atari’s Greatest Hits’ App is already popular among gamers worldwide. We’re eager to build on this success,” said Craig Olson, CEO, Discovery Bay Games. “We believe our partnership with Atari will enable consumers worldwide to build upon an already amazing retro-gaming experience.”
“There’s significant opportunity to add more value and take ‘Atari’s Greatest Hits’ App to an entirely new level with an analog controller, and we’ve turned to Discovery Bay Games to do exactly that,” said Lee Jacobson, SVP of Licensing, Atari Inc. “The controller will deliver a true mobile arcade experience, complimenting classic titles including Centipede® or Asteroids®.”
There’s been a flurry of geekblog talk about the iCade cabinet for the iPad, which will turn your Apple device into a bluetooth-controlled mini arcade. But almost 30 years ago, a group of folks near Boston built the Mini-Cade to house a Vectrex.
Only seven exist. The Vectrex Museum has the full story here.
Much of arcade Asteroids’s allure is the glowing, minimalist vector screen. Instead of a standard TV monitor, which scans from top to bottom over and over again, the vector display draws straight lines from one point to the next where needed, like an oscilloscope. It can only be a simple polygon outline of one color, but it also means that the image is sharp and bright (Asteroids’s photon torpedoes leave a brilliant trace along the slowly-decaying phosphor of the screen), and simple to program (the video and sound data in the arcade version of Asteroids is just 2 KB of ROM code, and the game program is another 6 KB). It’s why we have the Asteroids locator on this site: to this day, no home version or variation of Asteroids really does the same thing.
Enter the Vectrex. In 1982, Western Technologies/Smith Engineering developed a home video game device with an actual vector display — the only one of its kind, ever. The Vectrex was released by General Consumer Electric (GCE), then bought by Milton Bradley, at the end of 1982. Its big selling point was that unlike the Atari 2600, it was a stand-alone system that didn’t tie up the television. Timing was bad, though with a glut of home video game systems hitting the market at the same time, leading to the North American Video Game Crash of 1983. One year after it hit the shelves, production for the Vectrex was discontinued, and in another year, the commercial life of the Vectrex was over.
The Vectrex came with one game built in: Mine Storm, which is like Asteroids, but with mines. The official story is this:
Tread lightly! The transport lanes of intergalactic space have been seeded with mines from an alien vessel. Use your mine destroying blaster to blow up the mines before they annihilate you! You may survive the floating mines, but beware of the fireball, magnetic, and treacherous fireball- magnetic mines… 13 fields, each one more difficult, await you!
A few years ago, Indie 3D filmmaker and DIY stereoscopic expert Eric Kurland invited me to his Secret Underground Lair in Echo Park, LA, which is filled with all sorts of 3D goodies, including a pristene Vectrex. Yes, not only does the Vectrex have a true vector screen — several of the games are in 3D! Its giant (optional) headset operates much like a lot of home 3D glasses today, alternately blocking the left and right eyes very rapidly, in sync with the display showing the left then right image. Among these games is a 3D version of Mine Storm.
It was pretty cool.
The game action wasn’t actually in 3D, but some of the mines looked closer to you than other ones.
Being such a unique and awesome device, the Vectrex has a following to this day. The Vectrex Museum website is a great resource for all things Vectrex, and is a site after our own heart. Be sure to check out their intro video, which includes an introduction from the excellent video How to Beat Home Video Games (1982), as well as clips of modern users like chiptune musician little-scale.
AtariAsteroids.net will be posting more about Vectrex down the road, in our continuing coverage of Things That Are Awesome Like Asteroids. Stay tuned.