Atari released Star Raiders for the 2600 in 1980. Somehow, someway … I never played it, yet based on Wikipedia’s accounting, it inspired many of the games I love including Wing Commander, and Star Wars: X-Wing.
In the novel Ready Player One, it gets a single mention alongside such 2600 classics as Yar’s Revenge and The Empire Strike’s Back as well as the notorious E.T.
Beside the Atari was a shoebox containing nine game cartridges: Combat, Space Invaders, Pitfall, Kaboom!, Star Raiders, The Empire Strikes Back, Starmaster, Yars’ Revenge, and E.T. — Ready Player One p. 10
Star Raiders – originally released for the Atari 400 and Atari 800 computers before coming to the 2600 – features a then-unique first-person, fighter-pilot perspective. Players need to save the galaxy by clearing sector upon sector of alien Krylon enemies. The 8-bit pixel enemies bear a familial resemblance to the TIE fighters of Star Wars and the starbases of Battlestar Galactica. The goal is for players to destroy each of these enemies in a sector, then move on to the next one. If they clear the galaxy map without running out of energy, they win.
The original 2600 version of the game came with a specialized “Video Touch Pad Controller” which was used to move from sector to sector. This will be come a very important fact when one tries to play it on emulators in the 2020s.
Despite never having played Star Raiders in its heyday, I can appreciate why it inspired so many games. The first-person perspective dogfighting is impressive, even though I’m just as bad at it as I was in Wing Commander, X-Wing, and hell, even the somewhat recent Star Wars: Squadrons.
That said, the biggest challenge I fixed – aside from my terrible piloting skills, is the fact that the modern-day emulators don’t provide an alternative to the “Video Touch Pad Controller”, which means you’re trapped in the starting sector when playing the game. It’s difficult to defeat the Krylon armada when you can’t actually fly to another sector.
And then I got the Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection (Amazon) for the Switch (there are also versions for the Xbox and PlayStation 4/5). It includes a copy of the 5200 version of the game … and that game has a fully functional interface! You can easily raise and lower shields, turn the targeting and guidance computers on and off, and navigate from one sector to the next.
Having actually played the game, I can say it’s a lot of fun. Energy management is a crucial part of the game – moving between systems costs energy, as does firing your weapons and operating your systems. It’s entirely possible to run out of energy while fighting the good fight so it’s crucial to keep an eye on your power reserves and refuel at starbases. It’s a fun game that holds up remarkably well.
The Ready Player One Replay is an ongoing exploration of the games that inspired the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Love it or hate it, there’s value in revisiting our geeky roots.
- My High Score: Novice, Class 3 (29 kills)
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