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Why are some Atari 2600 games better than Atari 400/800 versions?

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Posted (edited)

Is there a technical reason why some Atari 2600 games just run and look better than their 400/800 counterparts?

 

I am looking at Asteroids/Defender/Missle Command and maybe a few others.

 

Was it because there are things the 2600 could do that the 400/800 could not? Was it just mediocre programming and just poorly made versions?

I thought I read somewhere that the 2600 could do some things actually better?

 

Asteroids and Missle Command are interesting examples. While the graphical fidelity looks superior on the Atari computer versions, they both play so much smoother on the 2600.

 

Sorry if this topic is old, thanks!

Edited by donjn
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It probably just comes down to the programmers.  I think programming for the 2600 requires a higher level of skill than programming for the 8-bit line does, and that's why some games turn out better there.

 

I would be surprised if there's anything the 2600 can do that the 8-bit line couldn't

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11 hours ago, donjn said:

Asteroids and Missle Command are interesting examples. While the graphical fidelity looks superior on the Atari computer versions, they both play so much smoother on the 2600.

Great thread!

 

Sometimes abstract ports are more fun and more interesting to play, I prefer the more abstract version of Defender on the 2600 but I prefer A8 Defender to Defender II.

 

I like Video Chess better because of the unique mood ring while thinking effect the 2600 architecture necessitated.

 

With A8 Basketball and 2600 Basketball, I can't decide.

 

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I love 2600 asteroids but find the 8bit port poor at best. Way too slow and choppy to be enjoyable

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When you see what homebrew developers have done with the 8-bit vs what was done back in the day it just shows that a lot of the old games were poor attempts.   We now have a much better Pac-man,  Donkey Kong & Pop-eye with improved graphics,  and "Asteroids Emulator" that actually runs the arcade code complete with simulated vector graphics.

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Posted (edited)

I was shocked when I saw the 5200 port of Asteroids. What a missed opportunity that was. I think the devs just overreached and tried to do too much with the hardware. It's quite a taxing game for older hardware. I loved the old 2600 port and probably played it more than any other game I had at the time.

 

At least the 7800 version is good.

Edited by davyK
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15 hours ago, Mr SQL said:

Great thread!

 

Sometimes abstract ports are more fun and more interesting to play, I prefer the more abstract version of Defender on the 2600 but I prefer A8 Defender to Defender II.

 

I like Video Chess better because of the unique mood ring while thinking effect the 2600 architecture necessitated.

 

With A8 Basketball and 2600 Basketball, I can't decide.

 

Yes but please tell me you've tried the Commodore 64 version of Defender. With the C64 smooth scrolling technology it is amazing.

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The VCS encourages (requires) a kind of programming style, one that keeps the bits close to the hardware. So to speak. This style also enforces a lot of timing requirements. Things have to happen on a schedule - as the transistors and logic gates flip'n'flop. Complete opposite of a PC with APIs and OS.

 

The VCS is simpler hardware and doesn't step all over itself. It doesn't waste time transferring things on a complex bus, or to and from main memory like in a bitmapped system. No significant custom chips to introduce waitstates. Most of VCS is CPU -> TIA -> CRT/display.

 

 

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9 hours ago, zzip said:

When you see what homebrew developers have done with the 8-bit vs what was done back in the day it just shows that a lot of the old games were poor attempts.   We now have a much better Pac-man,  Donkey Kong & Pop-eye with improved graphics,  and "Asteroids Emulator" that actually runs the arcade code complete with simulated vector graphics.

I HAVE seen that terrific port of 8-bit Asteroids, the vector-like graphics are something to behold, BTW, you should also take a look at the 7800 port of Asteroids Deluxe (same great vector-like graphics) and maybe even Space Duel for the 7800 as well.

1 hour ago, davyK said:

I was shocked when I saw the 5200 port of Asteroids. What a missed opportunity that was. I think the devs just overreached and tried to do too much with the hardware. It's quite a taxing game for older hardware. I loved the old 2600 port and probably played it more than any other game I had at the time.

 

At least the 7800 version is good.

As a newer 7800 owner (October 2020) I could hardly disagree with that, the animation of the space debris in the 7800 port is something to behold, a terrific raster version of Asteroids, probably the best of the bunch, indeed puts the 8-bit/5200 version to shame (I am also a longtime 5200 owner and also own both a 65XE and a XEGS).

 

But on to the 2600, indeed with the advancements in both knowledge of the unit and also better programmers than what we had 40 years ago, may I say more about the major difference between the 1981 Todd Frye port of Pac-Man and Dennis Debro's 2007 version, despite them both being only 4K, Dennis Debro was so much more prepared and armed with more knowledge of how much 4K of memory can actually do. And you can also look at Champ Games' Galagon (programmed by @johnnywc) with the ARM technology they can now incorporate into a program, and you can see why there has been such a major surge both in classic gaming and also in prices wanted for 2600 units on eBay.

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While we are at it, can someone link some of these better versions? I found the Asteroids Emulator one for the Atari computers. Where is the new Popeyes, etc? Thanks!

 

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Thread and latest demo ROM to 7800 Popeye right here (Concerto or Dragonfly multicart and SD card needed (sold separately):

 

 

.....and while we're at it HERE IS that brilliant 8-bit variation of Asteroids Emulator for the XL/XE/XEGS

 

 

Asteroids Arcade.xex

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20 hours ago, donjn said:

Yes but please tell me you've tried the Commodore 64 version of Defender. With the C64 smooth scrolling technology it is amazing.

Yes I love Defender! :) Agree the C64 version has the smoothest scrolling it's a great port.

 

I just played a few rounds on my C64, 800XL and 2600 to compare them - the Atari 8bit version played the best with Defenderesque explosions and stuff filling the screen all the time and really responsive controls. Defender II/Stargate was better than the C64 version for having more action on screen and better gameplay but not as good as A8 Defender. The 2600 version of Defender is different, possibly a better port than Defender II/Stargate for being abstract and having laser blasts instead of beams.

 

imo they are all awesome ports, another great one to try is Guardian for the TRS-80 and Dragon Color Computer programmed with the semigraphics modes.

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7 hours ago, BIGHMW said:

Thread and latest demo ROM to 7800 Popeye right here (Concerto or Dragonfly multicart and SD card needed (sold separately):

Thanks for the shout out. It was fun, even though it was very stressful at times too. I am so glad people enjoy it.

7 hours ago, BIGHMW said:

.....and while we're at it HERE IS that brilliant 8-bit variation of Asteroids Emulator for the XL/XE/XEGS

Asteroids Arcade.xex 20.78 kB · 1 download

I love this version. It runs the actual arcade code. It is only emulating the video hardware and converting the discreet sound into Pokey sounds. Asteroids had on-board discreet sound. Asteroids Deluxe used the Pokey chip.

 

My thoughts; The reason some 2600 games may have "been better" than the 2600 versions:

  1. A lot of 8-bit games didn't realized the full potential of the hardware, because the main focus of the systems were not playing games. Atari wanted to separate the A8s from the games.
  2. The systems had better graphic and sound capabilities out of the box, so programmers were still using the "out of the box" concepts. Note how the 8-bit games improved around the release of the 5200. Programmers were now focused on better games and utilizing the hardware to its max. That is why the few remakes, like Centipede, were way better than the Atari 8-bit computer version. Games like Mario Bros and Pengo were much better than previous conversion for the hardware. (And this was years before huge carts like the one used in Mario Bros XE)
  3. The 8-bit computer games WERE actually more arcade-like, with better execution of gameplay; however, more people grew up with the 2600 version, so people prefer what is nostalgic to them personally. If memory serves me correctly, I recall a (member or somebody from a documentary) from Brazil, who stated that people there PREFER the 2600 Pac-Man over the arcade. The VCS is what they grew up with, so they prefer THAT version.
  4. Games like Super Breakout mimicked the limited arcade version. Early 2600 games were known for having many variations on one cartridge. I think that business rule lead to more creativity in the 2600 titles at times, because programmers were expected to add variations.

A note about Asteroids: I read that the game was so poorly done, Atari didn't want to release that for the 5200. It was a direct port from the computer release. It could have been done better, such as the version attached here. The title was pretty old by that time. I don't think the return on investment would have been there to reprogram it. (The line of thinking probably changed, since it was so easy to port it to the 7800, with "advanced" graphics.) It would have been cool to see more updated 4-player 5200 games. The 5200 had a lot of wasted potential, but its short lifespan raised the bar on A8 software quality.

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On 3/4/2021 at 1:07 PM, donjn said:

Is there a technical reason why some Atari 2600 games just run and look better than their 400/800 counterparts?

 

I am looking at Asteroids/Defender/Missle Command and maybe a few others.

 

Was it because there are things the 2600 could do that the 400/800 could not? Was it just mediocre programming and just poorly made versions?

I thought I read somewhere that the 2600 could do some things actually better?

 

Asteroids and Missle Command are interesting examples. While the graphical fidelity looks superior on the Atari computer versions, they both play so much smoother on the 2600.

 

Sorry if this topic is old, thanks!

 

I'm not sure any of the 2600 versions are "better".  Simpler, yes, and therefore easier for the machine to handle.  5200 Missile Command with the trak-ball actually feels close to the arcade version.  Only 1 base in the middle so that's a knock against.  But the 2600 with a joystick is just... another game.  Missile Command-like, but not Missile Command.  If I remember correctly (been a while) the missiles only come down in 2 or 3 different angles, there's less variety.  Asteroids, same thing.  The 8-bit versions are trying to emulate the way the asteroids moved in the arcade game.  Not well, but an attempt.  The 2600 version just has (again, hazy) 2 sets of asteroids at the start on the left and right and their movements are less varied.  I can't remember Defender that well.

 

I will agree that the programming on the 8-bits could have been better, and in some cases we've seen that "better" from homebrews for the 5200.  Compare the 2 versions of Tempest if you want to see what the 2600 cannot do.  But it is easier to fail when you're trying to get 90-100% of an arcade game on the 8-bit platform and you land on 80% than just punting and shooting for 60% on the 2600 and hitting or exceeding the mark.

 

I'm sure there are some decent ZX-81 ports of games that on that platform seem fine... until you step back and compare them to the originals and then the oddball graphics and gameplay might stand out.  I much prefer the 5200 versions of ports to the 2600 versions except where extra play options are concerned, I think Atari knew what they were handing people and decided that as a concession to the limits of the actual games they would add interesting options to make up for the simplicity of the ports.  I like the moving shields in Space Invaders, for one.

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I've always agreed, and I think it's mostly the programming. A lot of games just "feel" better on the 2600, even if they don't look better.

2600 games always were a lot more colorful too, not sure if the dull colors on 8-bit were an aesthetic choice or a technical limitation.

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On 3/6/2021 at 10:39 PM, Asaki said:

I've always agreed, and I think it's mostly the programming. A lot of games just "feel" better on the 2600, even if they don't look better.

2600 games always were a lot more colorful too, not sure if the dull colors on 8-bit were an aesthetic choice or a technical limitation.

The dull colors are a head-scratcher for me too.   The 8-bit has a palette of 128 colors, same as the 2600, so it shouldn't be a technical limitation.  

Maybe it was asthetic,  or maybe the developers at Atari had their hue/saturation knobs adjusted weird on their displays?  :) 

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On 3/5/2021 at 8:22 PM, donjn said:

While we are at it, can someone link some of these better versions? I found the Asteroids Emulator one for the Atari computers. Where is the new Popeyes, etc? Thanks!

 

Donkey Kong/Popeye/Mario Bros I believe are the same game with updated graphics/colors.

The updated Donkey Kong version can be found below.   I believe darryl1970 did Popeye, Mario Bros and maybe DK Jr as well

 

 

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2 minutes ago, zzip said:

Donkey Kong/Popeye/Mario Bros I believe are the same game with updated graphics/colors.

The updated Donkey Kong version can be found below.   I believe darryl1970 did Popeye, Mario Bros and maybe DK Jr as well

 

 

Thanks. Yes.

@playsoft made it possible to alter the graphics. He also made it possible for me to be able to adjust collisions detection and color. He opened up DK to allow more colors in the playfield, allow multicolor prizes (Pauline's hat, purse, and umbrella), and other enhancements. He made code optimizations in the 5200 Mario Bros, added animated water in DK Jr and Popeye, rotating bottles in Popeye Encore, and many other enhancements. @tep392 helped adjust the DK Jr boundaries, so it's not as easy to accidentally fall off of platforms.

 

Below are the "Final" and "Encore" versions. The final versions were the original hacks. There was a lot of community input on the first hacks (final), so I didn't do all of the things I really wanted to. For example, playsoft helped me use a higher resolution punch, but it sacrificed color. People in the forum didn't care for it, so I went back to a low-res, which allowed color.  Later, people seemed to like that idea, so I used the Encore to do it the way I preferred. At that time, I tweaked colors, trimmed fat sprites (like Donkey Kong Jr.'s sprite), and playsoft added a few extras, like the spinning Popeye bottles.

 

Here are both posts.

 

"Final"

 

"Encore"

 

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The official Pengo port on the 800 and the 2600 are close with the 800 version being better, but the abstract Frisco port on the 2600 is a much better game - 

 

Was an A8 version of Frisco ever produced?

 

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