[We come to the final entry in the series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus
material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book
Vintage Games: An Insider
Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential
Games of All Time. Here, the authors examine Star Raiders, an
innovative Atari game that may not get the credit it deserves. Previously in this
'bonus material' series: Defender, Elite, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Pinball Construction
Set, Pong, Rogue, Spacewar! and Robotron 2084.]
once famously wrote that "mankind... inevitably sets itself only such
tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that
the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution
are already present or at least in the course of formation."
Although many of us may disagree with the bulk of Marx's ideology (or are
baffled by such long-winded quotes), here we find a kernel of truth -- especially
when applied to game development.
how loudly and brazenly a particular idea or innovation is trumpeted as "original,"
we can almost always find a clear progenitor, or at least an obvious influence.
Did Ralph Baer come up with the idea of a console video game system all on his
What is likely, however, was that he was the first man who found
himself in possession of the material conditions to make the dream a reality.
That he had the idea is almost trivial; anyone could have thought of it. What
made Baer unique, however, was that he possessed the knowledge and resources to
build his famous Brown Box.
Atari's Star Raiders is the kind of game that
needs to be seen in motion to be fully appreciated. From the star fields to the
explosions, the animations go a long way to enhancing the game's sparse visuals.
As far as
game development is concerned, we already know the ultimate goal, the Holy
Grail: the holodeck from Star
Trek: The Next Generation. I
doubt there is anyone reading this who has not fantasized about such a wondrous
device; surely we would never leave a program that gave us something "better
Excerpt from the manual (top) for the original Atari 8-bit version of Star Raiders. The 1982 conversion for
the Atari 2600 VCS (bottom) required the inclusion of keypad controllers to
accommodate all of the game's features. Neubauer was not directly involved in
the creation of either the Atari 2600 VCS release or the 1986 conversion for
the Atari ST computer, ST Star Raiders,
with some saying the games suffered because of it.
have an inkling of how this task might be accomplished, or at least some pretty
compelling approaches -- nanotechnology, virtual reality, direct stimulation of
the brain; the list goes on. The only thing wanting is the "material
conditions" -- that is, the technology, to make this dream possible.
don't have what it takes to build a holodeck, but we all know what it is and
what it must do. The only question is when
we'll have the technology to build one. One day, in the far future, we'll have
the necessary technology to make a holodeck. But, if the history of video games
teaches us anything, it's that we've probably already had it for years.
Box back from Mattel's Space Spartans (1982), an
Intellivoice-enabled cartridge for the Intellivision. Space Spartans was one of many Star
Raiders knock-offs over the years, and the second one created for the
Intellivision after Space Battle
(1980). Mattel published a third game in this style, Space Attack (1982), for the Atari 2600 VCS through its M Network
 See Marx's
"A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" for free at
 The Wikipedia
article describes it as such: "The holodeck is depicted as an enclosed
room in which objects and people are simulated by a combination of replicated
matter, tractor beams, and shaped force fields onto which holographic images
are projected. Sounds and smells are simulated by speakers and fragranced fluid
atomizers, respectively. The feel of a large environment is simulated by
suspending the participants on force fields which move with their feet, keeping
them from reaching the walls of the room (a virtual treadmill)."
Grant Naylor's Better than Life novel
or watch the Red Dwarf episode by the
same name (Grant Naylor is the collective name used by writers Rob Grant and