Thursday, April 9, 2009

Make mine StarMaster

I was over at Blogging Ideas the other day and (as the name of the site implies) I picked up an idea for a post that wasn't as terrible as mine typically are.

The particular idea over there that I figured I'd steal is this -- write about your favorite video game. Being a child of the 1970s and 1980s, it only makes sense to pick one of those games I played constantly on my old Atari 2600 -- StarMaster by Activision.

Yes, I've played a lot of video games in my life and still have a slew of functioning systems around here -- my old Atari 2600, an Atari 7800, a Nintendo Entertainment System, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a couple of Sega Genesis systems (one has the Sega CD attachment), a Playstation 1, a Sega Dreamcast, a Nintendo Game Cube, a Nintendo 64, a Nintedo Wii, an Atari Lynx, a Sega Game Gear and my trusty old Nintendo Gameboy SP.

I used to have a Colecovision until it blew up on me a few years ago (a popping sound followed by a bunch of smoke is a bad sign, seemingly). Damn.

Anyway, none of those newer systems have provided the hours of mindless fun that the Atari 2600 did. And StarMaster was one of those games that I played over and over again. Why? While it is laughably crude by today's standards, it was a bit more complex than other Atari games at the time.

The game is based on Atari's Star Raiders, a game that made a huge splash in the 8-bit computer world. Oddly, Atari's version of Star Raiders for the 2600 was clunky, flickered and required a strange keyboard controller that, used in conjunction with the Atari joystick, helped players navigate through the game.

Activision -- as it often did -- took one of Atari's concepts and improved on it. Rather than a cumbersome keypad to keep up with, the StarMaster player simply toggled the "Color/B&W" switch on the 2600 to switch between a map screen (for navigating) and a cockpit view (for blasting aliens, dodging asteroids and docking with supply-replenishing bases).

The goal in StarMaster is to locate groups of alien ships on the map screen, warp over to them and blast them to bits from the cockpit view (it was a crudely rendered, three-dimensional environment). The aliens, meanwhile, are out to destroy bases by surrounding them and do their best to destroy the only ship defending those basis (that would be the one piloted by you, you lucky soul).

Ah, but one shot from an alien won't destroy your ship as you've got shields. Once those shields are down, however, it's time to warp to a base and have it fixed because an unshielded ship will certainly explode when it's hit by a shot from a dastardly alien. In addition to the shields, other essential components to your ship can take damage -- the laser cannons, radar and view screen can all get knocked out during battles.

Also, you've got to keep up with your energy level in StarMaster as it depletes quickly, particularly when you fire your cannons or take hits from aliens and asteroids. Yes, it seems the aliens can fly around all day without expending any energy, but you're not that lucky. Docking with a base will replenish that energy level, in addition to repairing any damage to the ship.

See? It was complex for a game back then and I spent hours absorbed in it. That game was firmly in the genre of those made popular by science fiction movies like Star Wars in which an outnumbered good guy flies around the galaxy blasting baddies. Being a Star Wars nut (I saw it in the theater at least seven times), how could I resist?

StarMaster is one of those games I'll play for years. If you want to read a bit more about it, head on over to this review I wrote years ago.

And whenever you want to read reviews of classic or modern video games, you'd be a fool not to visit The Video Game Critic where you'll find bite-sized reviews from a guy who knows his stuff. You can't beat that with a stick. Oh, and if you want to pick up some brand new Atari games (yes, there are programmers out there still writing for the entire line of Atari video game consoles), head right on over to the Atari Age Store (and, yes, I do own a few of the titles listed there and, no, this is not a paid post).


Danny Thornton said...

My mindless game would have to have been BreakOut. I still play different versions of it today.

Steve said...

Never played that one. I believe my all time favorite game has to be Grand Theft Auto 3. I'm not a big gamer but I loved that one.

The BoBo said...

Ahhh..yes. That and Stargate were my favorite games.

The Natural State Hawg said...

Danny -- That concept has been around for a very long time. Head over to and take a look at some of the radical things happening with that old favorite (if you haven't been over there already).

Steve -- That franchise has a huge following. Never was too hot on it. I must be too old ;)

The BoBo -- And I've got Stargate for the Atari (some copies of it were called Defender II, while others are called Stargate -- odd).