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Feature: The History of Star Raiders: Taking Command

In a new Gamasutra feature, Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton delve into the history and influence of Star Raiders, an ambitious 1979 Atari game that has
Although the video game technology of two decades past was rudimentary compared to that of modern games, talented developers have always been managed to craft works that seem to transcend their limitations, games that are ahead of their time. One such game is Doug Neubauer's Star Raiders for Atari, a game that never quite got the credit it deserved, argues a new Gamasutra feature by Matt Barton and Bill Loguidice. The game's innovations include numerous features that would not become standard in games for years to come -- and some that never did. As the article explains: "It was 1979, and we already had a game that offered high-speed first-person perspective through a fully navigable 3D-like environment in just 8K of RAM (memory) and 8K of ROM (storage)[4]. "While most gamers were busy blasting aliens in the almost schematic Space Invaders (book Chapter 16, "Space Invaders (1978): The Japanese Descend"), Star Raiders put them in the cockpit. It established many of the conventions of the "space sim" genre that would rise to prominence most famously with Firebird's Elite (bonus chapter, The History of Elite) and Origin's Wing Commander (1990). "Unlike the vast majority of space-based shoot 'em ups of the era, Star Raiders offered a first-person view straight from the pilot's seat. The mission seemed simple enough -- protect the Atarian Federation's star bases while destroying Zylons. Lest pacifist players opt for diplomacy, the manual instructed players (in all caps) to "DESTROY ALL ZYLON STARSHIPS ON SIGHT, SHOW NO MERCY." "Though it's not clear why the Zylons are so eager to destroy the Atarians, it might well be the result of a trademark infringement suit gone horribly wrong. Besides the obvious references to the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica and the "photon torpedoes" from Star Trek (complete with impressive "sparkling" energy effect), the "Zylon fighter" ships look suspiciously like the Imperial Tie Fighters from Star Wars. It's a cornucopia of unauthorized 1970s sci-fi riffs! Besides the mandate to destroy all Zylons, the player also had to worry about running out of fuel, colliding with meteors, or losing vital ship components after a battle, all in real-time. Thankfully, players could "hyperjump" in a visually impressive manner to friendly starbases to repair and refuel. Critics raved about the dynamic visuals and superb audio." The full feature has plenty more details about not only Star Raiders itself, but the contemporaries and descendants that tell the fuller story of the game's context and importance.

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