31 March 2010

Star Raiders - Atari 800 Computer

My Dad's best friend was named "Bad" Francis.
Even when I was a kid, I knew what this meant. I knew he wasn't a bad man. I knew it meant he liked a good time.
So does my old man, but nobody ever called him "Bad" Manuel. Like many close friends these guys were a lot alike, but a bit of an Odd Couple as well. My Dad tends to play it safe, even when he was young. As a child I could tell that Mr. Francis was the kind of guy who took chances – risks – that my dad probably didn't take. If the Rolling Stones needed a ride across town to a gig, I'm betting my dad would have driven and Mr. Francis would have been in the back seat, partying with The Stones.
You know?
I idolized Mr. Francis when I was a kid. He was the captain of the tugboat on which my dad was the chief engineer. He lived down the street in a nice house with a pool and two pretty daughters who were around my age. His wife was beautiful and they were always nice to me. He was also a gadget guy. He had the first VCR – I remember him taping the news coverage of the Reagan shooting – and he had the first computers. He would give me his Byte magazines when he was done with them.
It was at his computer desk – tucked into a corner of a room filled with nautical stuff – where I first played Star Raiders.
This game owned me in the summer of my tenth year. I've put off writing about it because I hold the game in such high regard that I'm afraid I won't do it justice.
Played in a first person perspective, Star Raiders was admired for its graphics and relatively deep gameplay. You played a space pilot in hot pursuit of enemy Zylons. They looked a lot like Tie Fighters, and that's just fine. On the Atari 800 computer version of the game you used the keypad to enter coordinates from the map screen. Then you'd warp to the combat area and start blasting.
But when I finally convinced my folks to buy me the Atari 2600 version, I was delighted to see that it came with a special key pad peripheral for the intergalactic map stages. With the lights off and a little imagination, I was that pilot entering coordinates and flying around outer space shooting Zylons.
That's what this blog is all about. Star Raiders, even with its primitive technology, put you in the game.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

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