Video Games' First Space Opera: Exploring Atari's Star Raiders
September 20, 2007 Page 3 of 3
20th Century Fox
Despite the success of Star Raiders, Neubauer did not receive any profits from the game’s sales and he soon joined the exodus of talent leaving Atari. “At the time Atari wasn't offering royalties and the new start-ups were,” he remembered. “Many of the original Atari crew had left and Atari was starting to get that ‘big company’ atmosphere,” Neubauer said.
Working as an independent contractor, Neubauer developed several movie tie-in games for 20th Century Fox’s new game division including Alien and Mega Force in 1982 and M*A*S*H in 1983. “The appeal of 20th Century Fox was the chance to work on their movie licenses like Star Wars,” Neubauer said.
“Case in point, Star Wars. They didn't have the rights to it. Oops!”
“In the end the whole thing didn't work very well,” Neubauer recalled. “There was a rush to crank out video games in a few weeks to cash in on the craze. And then in '83 the whole industry collapsed. Fox closed down in '84, I think. Also, in '84 the Tramiel's bought Atari from Warner and shortly thereafter shut down the video game department.”
Neubauer left the video game industry after the Crash but a few years later Atari commissioned him to develop a game for the 2600 console. “In '86 I got a call from Atari. They were getting back into video games and were interested in a space game I was working on,” he said.
Coming extremely late in the 2600’s extended lifecycle; Neubauer’s new game would be one of the most visually impressive games for the system, perhaps even surpassing Star Raiders. “Solaris was my space game for the 2600. It ran on 16k of ROM and 256 bytes of RAM,” he said. “The perspective was a 3-D view but not a cockpit view (you could see your ship). It's Star Raiders-like, but more of an action game than Star Raiders. Also, you have planets you can land on, and a trench to fly through.”
“My cousin Randy Emberlin helped me with the graphics,” Neubauer said. “Randy's a professional comic book artist who has inked Spiderman, Star Wars, etc. I especially remember him helping me on the planet crater graphics. Originally they were solid ovals, looking like ‘cartoon craters’ as Randy called them. We re-worked the graphics until we got them looking right.”
Neubauer would go on to create several other games for the Atari 2600 including Super Football and Radar Lock. “I also tried doing another space game, this time for the Nintendo NES,” he said. “But the days of one programmer doing a complete game were over, and by the time I got the game done the NES was obsolete and the game was never published.”
“Eventually Atari had a turnover in their game department and I went on to work at another startup and so had no time to work on games. Also, when working full time on games they had a tendency to turn into ‘product’ rather than games,” Neubauer recalled. “Looking back it seems the best games I did were the ones I did for fun rather than money. Probably a lesson there.”
[Some images borrowed from Wikipedia's Star Raiders entry.]
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