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Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games


May 30, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 23 Next
 

Pre-Crash Games

Sprint (series)
1974-1989
Designed by Dennis Koble, Robert Weatherby, Kelly Turner, maybe others

When we talk about classic arcade games, it is amazing that we tend to forget about an entire era of arcade history. Video gaming did not jump instantly from Pong in 1972 to Space Invaders in 1978. There were many games in the intervening years, although only Breakout is really remembered today -- mostly due to its Atari VCS ports.

Many other early Atari 2600 games were arcade adaptations, renamed for the system: Combat (formerly Kee Games' Tank), Air/Sea Battle/Target Fun (Anti-Aircraft in arcades), and the many Pong-likes which made it into Video Olympics. The Sprint games, the basis of Indy 500 on the VCS, are especially notable.

I call the series Sprint, but the original game was named Gran Trak 10. Atari released no fewer than ten versions of what amounts to the same game over their history: Gran Trak 10, Gran Trak 20, Le Mans, Sprint 2, Sprint 4, Sprint 8 and Sprint 1 were all pre-classic arcade games.

Some were released under the name Kee Games, a shell company Atari created to get around distributor restrictions. Amazingly, Atari Games would return to the series in the late '80s with Super Sprint and Championship Sprint (both 1986), and Badlands (1989).

While the updates add 16-bit graphics, vehicle upgrades and, in the case of Badlands, weapons, they still amount to the same game: a race game with single-screen tracks and tiny vehicles, steered with a steering wheel controller and a gas pedal. Take a moment to let the awesomeness of that fact sink in.

Sprint 1

More awesome yet, even the original games, released a mere two years after Pong, are quite playable today. Since then, driving games have picked up a third dimension, cockpit and behind-the-car perspectives, sprawling tracks, drift mechanics, realistic damage, tremendously varied vehicles, weapons, navigation tasks, simulated worlds to drive through, and a slew of other features. But at their core, they all seek to duplicate what Gran Trak 10 did in 1974.


Sprint 8

And one of Sprint's features has yet to be equaled: Sprint 8 was a driving game played by up to eight players, around a gigantic monitor table in the middle, two to a side, all with their own steering wheels and gas pedals. No, wait; it was equaled once: by Kee Games' Tank 8.

And it wasn't just Atari that followed this successful formula: Midway's Super Off-Road is nothing more than a slower Sprint with bigger tires, turbo boosts, upgrades and multi-level tracks.

While it doesn't seem like it would be that kind of game, Championship Sprint has an end. I've never seen it myself, for it's one of those games that's fun to play for just a few minutes at a time, but that doesn't really lend itself to long sessions. While Badlands was released in 1989, the game was always a creature of its pre-Space Invaders design ideals.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 23 Next

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