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Atari Anniversary Edition

Who would like a dozen of Atari's best? Shiuming Lai checks out the goods

 

Recently on the AtariAge forum there was a thread about a newly released game compilation cartridge for the Atari 8-bit computers. It was suggested that the selection of games seemed random and lacked focus, and perhaps compilations could be categorized by publisher. This works fine for prolific publishers with a large catalogue to their credit, and in the case of the item under review here, what more appropriate source of games than Atari itself to be the subject of a compilation?

Atari Anniversary Edition is not new (it was put together to celebrate Atari's 30th anniversary last year, hence the name) but is worth a look for several reasons. It was released under the Infogrames name and doesn't purport to be something new from a reborn Atari, it's simply a collection of vintage Atari arcade games faithfully translated for modern platforms. Here we look at the PC CD-ROM version.

[Image: Atari Anniversary Edition sleeve artwork]

12 reproduction games are on offer, they are:

  1. Asteroids.
  2. Asteroids Deluxe.
  3. Battlezone.
  4. Centipede.
  5. Crystal Castles.
  6. Gravitar.
  7. Millipede.
  8. Missile Command.
  9. Pong.
  10. Super Breakout.
  11. Tempest.
  12. Warlords.

Looking at the back of the case, bonus features to further entice Fuji worshippers are an interview with Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell, quite possibly worth the price of admission alone, plus images of "noteworthy memorabilia" and finally, desktop theme elements. In the system requirements list, it can be seen that it also plays directly from CD, so doesn't need to take up precious hard disk space. Sounds really good already, doesn't it? The icing on the cake must be the Digital Eclipse logo. Recalling my Warlords review (in the Atari Revival pack) last August and then foreword of December, where I mentioned an Atari Arcade Hits 1 CD sent to me by Uncle Harry (Atari Anniversary Edition is Atari Arcade Hits volumes 1 and 2 together), Digital Eclipse has shown an aptitude for delivering technically accomplished renditions of these classics, with something of a passionate level of attention to detail. This is not surprising, as Digital Eclipse's on-line portfolio reveals a heritage of classic mode arcade releases (some under commission from Hasbro) across a variety of platforms from console to computer, some including interviews and bonus material likewise.

These Digital Eclipse versions are not to be confused with the totally revamped "modern style re-make" versions released under the Hasbro and Infogrames labels (some of which were atrocious), even though they were included with those to provide the classic mode, and do have their own slightly updated modes - sounds more confusing than it is, really!

[Screen-shot: Arcade Hits 1]

[Screen-shot: Arcade Hits 2]

The games are presented like a view of the arcade cabinets themselves, with original artwork and meticulously rendered control surfaces with working buttons and lens-flared lighting framing the sceen area. To further enhance the big screen arcade look, the in-game graphics of the raster (bitmap) games have a simulated visible scan-line effect. Some of the originals also had "fake" screen overlays with extra graphics to give the impression of more colour than the display hardware was actually capable of generating, these are simulated, too.

Not having the originals to hand for comparison I can't comment on the absolute accuracy of these games, I've not played half of them in arcade form. Digital Eclipse makes a point of its Digital Arcade Emulation Technology in contributing to 100% pixel-perfect versions, but one could argue that any emulation based on the original ROM images, as with MAME, would be visually perfect. Speculating how the games here are implemented could take up an article in itself, the most important thing is, are they fun to play? They're certainly better than most PD or shareware clones I've played on my ST, which often twist the original idea a little or are programmed in some dialect of BASIC and it shows, technically. I've been half-glued to the games while writing this, always a good sign.

[Screen-shot: Warlords]

[Screen-shot: Millipede title screen]

[Screen-shot: Millipede in-game]

Configuration options
Digital Eclipse has provided the same game configuration options available in the real thing to arcade operators. Of limited interest are the aforementioned game enhancements. Raster-based games can have normal graphics mode with scan-line effect, or enhanced mode which is the same colour palette and graphics but with the scan-line effect removed for a more solid colour, and the sprites and play areas spiced up with some textures here and a spot of shading there. It looks very strange, as the comparison screen-shots below show. There is obviously more available resolution than the graphic designers knew what to do with, it sits awkwardly between 8-bit style blockiness and 16-bit style colouring. In some cases, like on-screen text, the effect looks like dodgy bitmap graphic vectorization.

[Screen-shot: Comparison of normal and enhanced graphics]

[Screen-shot: Game configuration panel]

Vector-based games, like Asteroids and Battlezone, have something called "trippy mode" graphics - draw your own conclusion as to what the programmers were smoking when they added this! What it does is colour-cycle the vectors and superimpose a further six copies of the entire screen each slightly out of phase. Trippy it certainly is but also makes the games totally unplayable! I'd be interested to see the effect of this on players after some booze... In the global configuration tab there is also a "vector flare" option, to simulate the slight flickering effect of a vector display. Unfortunately there is visible aliasing of lines (of course, PC displays being raster-based), I wonder how much work it would have been to real-time anti-alias these. Tempest on MAME can adjust beam width as well, something that would have been welcome here, as the lines are only a pixel wide. A nice touch in Tempest here is the inclusion of Tempest Tubes, a modified set of levels made by a certain Duncan Brown in 1982 for hardened Tempest players craving more.

[Screen-shot: Asteroids Deluxe in trippy mode]

[Screen-shot: Battlezone]

[Screen-shot: Gravitar title screen]

[Screen-shot: Gravitar in action]

[Screen-shot: Archives menu]

[Screen-shot: Tempest archive material]

[Screen-shot: Pong archive material]

Bonus material
In the Archives menu (originally part of Atari Arcade Hits 1, so is included here) is a set of nine video clips spanning over 30 minutes of interview time with Nolan Bushnell, and it's good! Inevitably some of the things he discusses are common knowledge in Ataridom, some I had previously read but to see him talking in a video makes it even more interesting. More obscure anecdotes (to those not old enough to remember, myself included) include how early on, people cheated the Pong arcade machines to give free plays - the "Atari Shuffle" being a hilarious example, really priceless!

The six games of Arcade Hits 1 each have their own collection of artwork and promotional material gathered together, it's well-presented (if a little low resolution - the whole archive section switches down to 640 x 480) and peppered with astute commentary, not hastily thrown together as it could so easily have been. A few game tips can be found here, too.

Last of all in the archive section are some horribly over-compressed videos of modernized versions of some Atari arcade classics, admittedly some look fun, especially Pong (with Penguins?).

Fonts and desktop themes
[Screen-shot: Atari arcade machine fonts]
When I looked at the packaging saying it included fonts, I was hoping for a set of decent original Atari logo fonts. What you get is actually the fonts used in Atari raster and vector games themselves. Still a worthy addition though, I can already see a use for these in the coming week as of the time of writing. I'll also be able to use them on my Mega STE and Falcon with NVDI 5, as they're in TrueType format. The desktop themes are predictable and nothing to write home about, the wallpaper is decidedly uninsipiring, even. As extras they don't add much, they're more like fillers.

In the final analysis, Atari Anniversary is great package overall, definitely worth picking up if you see it discounted which wouldn't be surprising now. It loses one star for not only using the comical Hasbro Atari logo in its menus but being inconsistent and mixing the Hasbro square Fuji with the Infogrames "Atari" type prominently on the cover. It spoils an otherwise very authentic looking product. Now, off to play some more Crystal Castles...

shiuming@myatari.net

Verdict

Name:

Atari Anniversary Edition

Publisher:

Infogrames (Atari)

Price:

No longer sold as a new title.

Requires:

  • Windows 95B/98/98SE/ME/2000
  • Pentium 166 MHz
  • 4 MB video RAM
  • 8x speed CD-ROM

Pros:

  • Simple and fun to play, ideal for parties.
  • Modest system requirements.
  • Value-added historic material.
  • Sampled chunky switch clicking sound on controls.

Cons:

  • More or less useless enhanced modes.

Rating:

4/5


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MyAtari magazine - Review #3, July 2003

 
Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine