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30 Years Late, A Supposedly Impossible Atari Feat Puts Arcade Classic Onto a 2600 Cartridge

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Howard Warshaw—the man who created the beloved best-selling Yar's Revenge for the Atari 2600—said that a decent version of arcade hit Star Castle couldn't possibly be stuffed into a game cartridge for the iconic home console. Scott Williamson never believed that.

Three decades after the commercial death of the faux wood-grain game box that started a revolution, he's managed to squeeze Star Castle down into a format that successfully makes it playable for the Atari 2600.


Ok, great. But why?

Williamson—technical director at development studio High Voltage—gets into the details over on the Star Castle Atari 2600 site he's set up. Much of his motivation was the engineering challenge of a feat that's kinda like building a ship in a bottle. Star Castle became a hit because its attractive vector graphics and innovative gameplay that had the player thinking defensively and offensively at the same time. It's a game that many people remember fondly, including Williamson, who started out working at Atari many years ago:

My goal was to make a Star Castle game that could have been made in 1981 which meant I had to stay within 8K.

I started with a lot of ego and confidence that was soon dashed, the first couple of attempts were miserable humbling failures. It quickly became clear that if possible it was going to be a terrific challenge. I hit timing and space limitations one after another until, several months later, I was able to draw rotating shields, after that, the enemy cannon, then the space mines, and the players ship, the players bullets, and the cannons dreaded energy blast, and then AI, collision, sound... and by early 2010 I had done it. I had created a faithful reproduction of the game experience on the Atari 2600 in 8K.


Modern-day gamers like to piss and moan about how porting a game from its original platform creates mutant clones of great experiences. But what can also happen—at least in hobbyist communities that form up around forgotten consoles—is a sort of alt-reality preservation. If you want to help Scott Williamson in his efforts and get a cool light-up Star Castle cartridge for your dusty Atari 2600, head over to his Kickstarter to learn more and contribute.