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The History of Star Raiders: Taking Command


September 8, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

Like several games in this book, Star Raiders was preceded by a game for the highly innovative PLATO platform. In this case, the game was Spasim, described by its author Jim Bowery as follows:

"Spasim was a 32-player 3D networked game involving 4 planetary systems with up to 8 players per planetary system, flying around a space in which the players appeared to each other as wire-frame space ships and updated their positions about every second.

At its initial release in March of 1974, the game was a simple team-based phasers-and-photon-torpedoes Star Trek-type game, mixed with multi-player first-person-shooter dynamics. You had to direct your movement in polar coordinates, but calculate your positions in Cartesian coordinates.

By this conceit, I was able to position Spasim as an educational game so that it would be supported on the PLATO network, which was for computer-based education."[6]

Atari and top developers like Bruce Artwick (see book Chapter 8, "Flight Simulator (1980): Digital Reality") had PLATO accounts and may well have seen and been inspired by the many groundbreaking games for PLATO.

Still, PLATO was an exponentially more powerful system than the humble home computers of the era. It says something about the skill of Neubauer that he was able to adapt such an ambitious game for Atari's 8-bit computers.

Star Raiders was also preceded by Atari's Starship I (1976) arcade machine and the rather crude home translation, Star Ship (1977), for the Atari 2600 VCS. Though certainly ambitious, the game's wretched implementation -- even by 1977 standards -- caused it to be one of the first Atari pulled from market.[7]


Spasim is one of many pioneering games for the PLATO platform, which both preceded and remained far ahead of the home computer scene into the early 1980s.

Neubauer credits several inspirations for Star Raiders, though the most important seems to be an unauthorized Star Trek mainframe strategy game. According to Neubauer, this all-text game had "ship damage and sector scanners and charts," as well as a ranking system.[8]

Thus, Neubauer's main contribution was adapting these existing concepts for use in a fast action 3D game.


Screenshot from Exidy's 1979 Star Fire arcade game.

Star Raiders was one of many sci-fi games that followed the success of George Lucas's Star Wars. Other examples include Cinematronic's Starhawk (1977) and Exidy's Star Fire (1979), which is also known for being the first arcade game with an initial-based high score table. Arcade gamers wouldn't see an authorized title until 1983, when Atari released its vector-based Star Wars machine.

Like Star Raiders, Star Wars was a first-person game that focused on dogfighting. What's interesting is that by the time that Hollywood finally got around to issuing licensed games based on its bestselling franchises, they had little to do but reimagine products created years earlier by programmers like Neubauer.


Screenshot from Neubauer's Star Raiders sequel for the Atari 2600 VCS, Solaris (1986), which exceeded the original game in many ways. Star Raiders II, which started life as a game based on The Last Starfighter (1984) movie without Neubauer's involvement, was released, sans license, in 1986 for Atari 8-bit computers, with conversions for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum following a year later. Though featuring improved audio-visuals, some critics argued that the game lacked the intensity of the original Star Raiders.

Star Raiders represented a remarkable programming feat for its era, paving the way for later classics like Atari's Star Wars, Firebird's Elite, and Origin's Wing Commander. It's without question one of the best games for the Atari 8-bit series of computers. Though mostly played today only by Atari 8-bit fans, Star Raiders is nevertheless a stellar achievement, well worth the attention of any serious videogame enthusiast.


  Screenshot from the 3DO version of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger (1994), one of the entries in the Wing Commander series that featured full-motion video and starred well known actors like Star Wars's Mark Hamill.


Screenshot from Psygnosis's Colony Wars (1997), the first game in a series of visually impressive Sony PlayStation mission-based space combat simulations that can trace their lineage back to Star Raiders. Though sporadic, space combat simulations continue to be released today on a variety of platforms.


[6] http://www.geocities.com/jim_bowery/spasim.html.

[7] There were several home computer games based on similar concepts, such as Chris Freund's X-Wing Fighter and X-Wing II for the TRS-80, and Space Shooter and Astar's Star Force for the Commodore PET, which made their appearances in the late 1970s. However, these games had simplistic graphics and no sound.

[8] See http://www.atarihq.com/othersec/library/neubauer.html.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information on the making of Star Raiders, Gamasutra's 2007 profle of the game includes comments from creator Neubauer.] 


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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