The smooth machine

All discussions about the Atari 8bit range of machines.

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The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Thu Aug 22, 2013 6:36 am

When got my Atari 800 XL, bought from swedish telecom for half the price in early 1985 i had no games. What i got was a thick Atari manual containing some program exemples to type in. One of them produced a bunch of gold cylinders on the screen. I thought, WOW, what beautiful graphics, huge difference from Vic-20. As a Vic-20 owner i was used to pretty basic graphics. This was something else.

I soon bought my first games on cassette, Boulder Dash, Aztec Challenge (48k) and Activisions Decathlon. The next day i got Miner 2049'er on cartridge. I was now addicted to my new Atari 800 XL with it's ace graphics and sound.

It wasn't until later i understood how different Atari 8bit really was from the other computers and consoles. Both C64 and ZX Spectrum produced sharp graphics unlike "The Smooth Machine" where everything was silk smooth with it's eye pleasing soft colours. In fact, even in monochrome mode Atari 8bit produced a super smooth display that never tired your eyes.

When i got my Atari 520 ST in 1988 it was almost a chock. Everything was noisy , loud and sharp. Sharp glowing colours and loud sound. The silk smooth scrolling wasn't there either. ST was more similar to the other computers then to Atari 800 XL. Then i understood how amazing Atari's 8bit computer from 1979 really was.

I owned an 32 bit Amiga in the early 90's for about 2 years. Not even Amiga could display that magical smooth display even if it was much closer to Atari 800 XL then any other computer i had seen so far. Still today i can load a classic Atari 8bit game and think, WOW, what amazing smooth graphics, even the high res looks stunning smooth.

And that's the beauty with all Atari's 8bit computers, the magic display.

I once tried to explain for a bunch of C64 addics why i liked Atari 8bit so much. They ranted on about multicolored sprites and number of on screen colours while i tried to explain about the quality of the display, not the number of colours. They probably never understood what i meant.

Every computer has it's charm and for me Atari 800 always is about "The Smooth Machine".

Atari ST has another charm. It's about to do most things in code without a single support chip in sight, to break limits and to use Atari ST for just about anything from Midi to gaming.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby AtariZoll » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:10 am

My ST was not 'noisy , loud and sharp' - except sharp :D
Don't know what you mean under 'smooth', but all this sounds like some Hi-Fi ranting :mrgreen:
And I saw some 800XLs in action ...
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Thu Aug 22, 2013 7:15 am

For a good exemple of what i mean about "The Smooth Machine"

Load "Crumble's Crisis" on Atari 800, then the follow up "Time Runner" on Atari ST to see what i mean about smooth. You can't make sharp or "dry" graphics on Atari 800, i't always going to be smooth no matter which colours you use. Graphics on the ST can look like a mess if you doing a bad job, that isn't even possible to do on Atari 800. The colours will always be soft, shiny, crystal like and wet.

Amiga is the only computer that comes close to match the smooth display of Atari 800. That's because they use similar custom chips by the same creator.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby DarkLord » Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:11 pm

There was a msg thread here, or over at AtariAge, where screenshots
of games that were released on both the Atari 8bit and Atari ST were
compared.

Wish I could find that thread - it was very educational. :)

Ah, here is part of it:

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/153845 ... s__st__400
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Thu Aug 22, 2013 12:29 pm

The point of this thread was not to say that anything is better then the other, just different. All computers has it's very own way to display graphics depending of what hardware is used. ST has a certain way of displaying graphics, C64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800, Amiga, even Nintendo NES.

I just told you why i like the display of Atari 800 so much. The best way too see what i talk about is to run a few games using emulators or real hardware. In fact, Atari 800 graphics is so smooth that you never has to use any filters in emulators. Even very pixelated graphics is super smooth thanks to Atari 800's special soft way to display graphics.

The one who posted those screenshots in that thread should take a closer look at how a real Atari 800 display graphics, it's no way near the display of an real Atari 800. Atari 800 has a smooth and soft display. Or, he's using an emulator with colours set to 200%. ;)

To the left C64 - To the right Atari 800
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby AtariZoll » Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:34 am

Sorry, but this is not fair example.
C64 shot is obviously too bright, so made with bad settings. Try some better one, please.
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Fri Aug 23, 2013 8:50 am

It's common for all almost all screenshots. C64 only had 16 colours in total to choose from and was forced to use a much more harsch and bright palette then Atari 800.

Compare yourself

Not only that. C64 used an odd colour palette instead of choosing a regular more neutral colour palette like ZX Spectrum (and most other computers) for exemple. Dark brown and light green for exemple was way to dominant to fit in. You can tell within 1 Sec it's a C64 game thanks to the odd choice of palette.
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby AtariZoll » Fri Aug 23, 2013 7:09 pm

That's correct about limited C64 colors. But what it has with smoothness of XL800 ? And ST has more colors ..
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Fri Aug 23, 2013 8:32 pm

It's the type of soft display that i like so much about Atari 800. A game can be in monochrom, still smooth and easy on the eyes. In fact, monochrome on Atari 800 looks very good. C64 has a more dry and crispy display, ZX Spectrum and Atari ST too. On ST you have a much vider choice of colours to choose from that helps a lot when trying to make a game look smooth. You don't have that luxury on either C64 or Spectrum. But if you use your ST palette wrong, it looks horrible, do right and you get that smooth look. Atari 800 has a natural soft way of displaying graphics that neither of the above computers has. ZX Spectrum games looks horrible without the smoothing filters and scanlines (regular tv mode).

Besides that, Atari has warm and vibrant colours that's still easy on the eyes. C64 has a more cold (non standard) palette that is less vibrant.

Compare yourself

Hero - C64
Hero - Atari 800
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Sat Aug 24, 2013 5:15 am

@AtariZoll

I posted this thread about a week ago.
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=25312

When emulating Atari 800 you don't need a single overlay or filter to get a smooth soft display.

Then i posted about pixelated C64 graphics Jan 1 2013
viewtopic.php?f=98&t=24395

Pixelated graphics isn't even a problem on Atari 800 thanks to it's smooth display. I hope that this might explain why i experienced ST as "loud, noisy and a bit harsh". It was nothing bad said about Atari ST, just my own natural reaction after using an Atari 800 XL and 130 XE for years.

After a while i got use to the display of Atari ST and it wasn't until i started to use the 8bit Atari again in the 90's that i realized why i got that reaction in 1988 when i bought my first 520 ST.

You don't have to defend anything, all computers looks different and i just wanted to explain why i like Atari 800 so much after all these years. :)

Stealth - To the top, C64 version, then the Atari 800 version
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Dal » Sat Aug 24, 2013 7:59 am

I agree, the Atari 8bit display is a lot warmer looking overall.
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:23 am

C64 was better at handling sprites and contained a real synth chip. Atari 800 was famous for it's amazing colours and ability to use rasters. Atari 800 was even able to mix graphic modes.

Not a bad computer for being released late 1979. In fact, Atari planned to release Atari 400/800 already in 1978 but got delayed due to production problems.

I have always like the warm and soft display of Atari 800.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby AtariZoll » Sat Aug 24, 2013 8:40 am

Well, I think that all this is subjective. You like XL video because it is somehow smoothed in video HW. I prefer sharp pic instead.
And btw. such smoothing is not possible by ST, because it would kill medium resolution.
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Sat Aug 24, 2013 9:45 am

I can understand that. :)

My personal opinion is that most old computers run in way to low resolution, using too few on screen colours to be without the smoothing of some kind. ZX Spectrum looks horrible without smoothing, on the other hand those computers was never built to using anything then a descent tv from the 80's that produced both scanlines and artifacts by smearing the colours together a bit.

PICTURE 1 - ZX Spectrum using a regular standard hardware palette

PICTURE 2 - C64's quite odd (non standard) palette

PICTURE 3 - The palette of Atari 800 XL
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Stefan jL » Sun Aug 25, 2013 12:33 pm

Retrogamer_ST wrote:I just told you why i like the display of Atari 800 so much. The best way too see what i talk about is to run a few games using emulators or real hardware. In fact, Atari 800 graphics is so smooth that you never has to use any filters in emulators. Even very pixelated graphics is super smooth thanks to Atari 800's special soft way to display graphics.

The one who posted those screenshots in that thread should take a closer look at how a real Atari 800 display graphics, it's no way near the display of an real Atari 800. Atari 800 has a smooth and soft display. Or, he's using an emulator with colours set to 200%. ;)
To the left C64 - To the right Atari 800


I this thread about how bad the video output of the A800 was or the use of colours?

I never use filters when i play on emulators (unless i am forced).. not even for Atari 2600 :) I just don't have problem with "pixel graphics". Todays filters look too sterile to me, but maybe in the future when CRT simulation filters is good then i might use that.

Here is a better comparison of the flip flop screenshots, the C-64 only has pastel colours... not saturation at all so the colours look very smooth.
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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:50 pm

C64 is well known for it's pixelated graphics. That's perhaps the most weak point of C64, it's low resolution. In fact, i even posted a thread about that. ZX Spectrum used a higher resolution for the most. On Atari 800 pixels was never a problem thanks to the soft display.

Just look at GTIA Blast, it runs in terrible low resolution. Much lower then C64 ever used. ;)

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby kiwilove007 » Sun Sep 01, 2013 3:09 am

It is up to the programmer to use the hardware correctly and to ensure the smoothness of the graphics possible.
ie. Use the hardware smooth scrolling and to smoothly move the graphics (sprites).

Where there is not the hardware (Atari ST) then it is done by the software (programming) - which takes up processing time - and so coarse scrolling is then used - so as to cope. I am not a programmer.
There are good examples around - as well as bad.

Colours are everything, and the cleaner the colour - the better.
With Atari 400/800 etc comparison with the C-64 - the C-64 has a limited colour palette - and it uses 'dirty' colours.

When comparisons are made - you have to be sure it is presented fairly. eg. With the Let's Compare series on Youtube,
the Donkey Kong one is good in most cases - but with the Atari 800 Donkey Kong presentation - it does not look authentic, in that
the emulation present of it, looks terrible, whereas probably in all the other versions - it's probably accurate.
It looks like the player/sprite emulation is not working properly - making the Atari 800 version look poor.

It does suprise me that the GTIA modes were not used in games - proper. That the GTIA modes were designed back in 1979 - and were
only seen in graphics demos - for the most part. But now some 33 years later - the power of the Atari 400/800 can be fully appreciated.
The programmer of GTIABlast is more modest - saying he is not doing anything new at all - but he is displaying very skillful execution and understanding of the Atari hardware.

I am looking for any C-64 demos - that can rival the Atari Robot and Spaceship demo - or any of the Xanth Park demos (Fujiboink, Swan demo etc). I do see there is an Amiga boink demo - which I only saw/found recently - although it is old.
There is a slideshow of various aircraft - that I saw back in the 80s' and am trying to find that again...
Same too for a stereo music demo - that showed a MIDI keyboard - and I think it had a title of Star Wars - but it wasn't the signature John Williams tune? I think it had a pseudo stereo effect?

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby kiwilove007 » Sun Sep 01, 2013 11:30 pm

You are not only comparing the hardware, when comparing the same games on both systems, but more importantly the competency of the programmer(s) involved.
eg. Blue Max was poorly converted to the C-64.
One could also say Xevious was too...
Xevious was only hugely successful for the NES - I haven't played it - but it was so financially successful, Nintendo used the revenue to build a new building with it, known as the Xevious building. Also note - Super Xevious for the NES - does feature new graphics for it.
I must get around to playing these - just to see what they are like?
While Xevious was done accurately for the Atari ST - it never got a good reception - don't know if the hidden targets are in the ST version, as per
the coin-op... Reviewers said it was a tired game format. I don't think so, but the ST version gave you a small screen. It's so long ago, that it's all a hazy memory now - and I haven't visited the ST again, due to emulation.

Some programmers never got to fully explore or utilise the hardware properly. Super Zaxxon for the Atari 800 was a disappointment. It was as bad as Zaxxon but in a different way. To do any assembly language programming for any computer system - is of course a lot of effort - and I'm not one for programming - although I tried for a year on a course for Data Processing back in the day. But like any profession or interest, etc etc - there are those who just get by, and then there are those who excel at it.

The Atari 800 was not competent in all areas of graphics - in it's high res mode - there was the artifacting issue. That it was only in NTSC that the artifacting worked - you have only to look at Drol, and other games that used it, to see it.
And it wasn't really fair to compare the Atari 800 and other computers against arcade machines - because of their price difference. That there were some pretty decent (and in rare cases exceeded) home coin-op conversions shows the brilliance of the programmer(s) and also the chip designers of the computer hardware.
These days - you should not ask someone to do a decent outrun for the Atari 800 - for that is asking for the impossible - really. While some adequate version can be done - maybe it'll even better Pole Position - it'll be better to use a platform/system with adequate hardware to cope with such a game. eg. the SNES console. The SNES continues from where the Atari 800 etc left off.... You have only to look at the awesome space shooters for this console to note how arcade like it is - eg. Super SWIV, Super Aleste, Axelay, Super R-Type, RType3 and so on. That it had the exceptional Super Ghouls N Ghosts, Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda, Super Metroid and so on...

The home computers allowed the hobbyist/enthusiast to enter, and develop their own computer videogames - if they were competent at graphics design (and sound sfx/music) - they could do it all themselves - if they were able to. To split the workload would be better? Many hands make light work? Also of course, original game designs came from the amateurs - some of whom did turn into professional/commercial game developers - while others remain hobbyists/enthusiasts in that field.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Tue Sep 03, 2013 3:27 pm

I agree, many bad games is simply a about a bad conversion.

C64 was a good computer but the biggest let down was it's unbalanced palette of quite odd colours me think. Else it's a good computer containing an awesome sound chip. The inventor of SID (c64 sound chip) later started Ensoniq to make professional synthesizers based on the C64 chip. No wonder that C64 sounded great.

Well, it would be fun to see a conversion of Outrun on good old A8, just for fun and the feeling of adding such classic to the Atari 800 collection.

But if i want to play the real thing, i'll boot up MAME for a while running the real arcade version. ;)

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Dio » Tue Sep 03, 2013 5:44 pm

All the old hardware had the problem of (generally) a constant chroma amplitude.

It gives all the systems very distinct tradeoffs. The Spectrum chose to have saturated colours and is known for its garishness; the C64 went for unsaturated ones and is known for it's pastel beige-ness, everything being a bit green or blue or brown.

The TIA (2600) and CTIA / GTIA have far more options because of a much wider range of colours, but still suffers from some drawbacks due to the fixed chroma amplitude. All the relatively saturated colours are dark, very very dark on a TV - they look pretty fine on a modern monitor, but TV sets had quite nonlinear responses to low intensity values. (A good example is that according to the ULA designer Richard Altwasser the Spectrum's dark blue was indistinguishable from black on most TV sets when he used the standard RGB->YUV conversion for his prototype, so he increased the relative Y contribution of blue to compensate).

The appalling choice of the chroma angles on the PAL TIA didn't help either (different mappings to NTSC, four different shades of blue and only a very purplish red, and three spare values not used at all was a very odd choice). I presume they fixed that for the home computers.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby kiwilove007 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:19 am

Yes - with Mame available - you can't beat the arcade (original) version of the game.

With Mame you can check out some arcade games that never made it into your local area.

If someone is developing on the Atari 800 - it's better to make up your own remix version of whatever game genre you fancy - like Encounter went for it's Battlezone variant - coming up with something radically new instead.
Andrew Bradfield couldn't play Encounter because of that troublesome warp area/zone you had to go through. I think it interfered with his sense of vision.

I was looking at a Youtube video about the X68000 PC system - and I could not see the quality difference it was trying to show off - but I could not see it in the video. I guess I need to download the 1080p HD video to see it. Normally I choose 480 for a quick download.

One over rated system in it's time was the Colecocovision console - it did well on it's Donkey Kong game - but Zaxxon for it, looked terrible.
Saw it in a Bootes store in London. The C-64 synapse version is the best conversion for 8-bit computers.

I never got to see an Atari 7800 system running personally - but I can understand why this system never took off. I remember an American magazine covering it back in the day - that said it had all these colours for the Joust sprites - but from what I can see of it - from the poor quality video/screenshots etc - that it wasn't that much better than the 5200? And it seemed so slanted towards sprite hardware, and neglecting decent fore/background graphics. I really can't believe how poor this system is.

It is no surprise that the NES came out on top - why so many developers supported it - and many quality games developed for it.
It had decent sprite hardware - which of course is very much needed.
I did happen to be able to play a NES - with it's quirky looking disk drive (the floppy looked more of a kid's item, than a proper computer floppy disk) and played about 3-4 games on it. It was the Japanese Famicom system - that I was able to borrow and have fun with.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:19 am

I have been off line for a while waiting for a new faster internet connection.

For me the real beauty of retrogaming has been this site
http://www.longplays.org/news.php

The quality is way better better then on YouTube and it's both fun and relaxing to watch a whole game been played through from the beginning to the end. The best thing is that you see everything that you normally don't see while playing the game.

I good way to preserve the old games.

NES was a great game console for it's time but the real beauty about NES is the awesome atmosphere in the both fun and well made games. I still think today that NES games is awesome because of the wonderful typical NES atmosphere. Great use of colours, great music and great gameplay. NES showed us more than once that the japanese game developers were the best in the world at that time.

Then came Sega Megadrive (genesis) and SNES, the last consoles to focus on 2D gaming. Then it was all about polygons.

For me NES, Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive and SNES was the highlight of gaming.

I always wanted a NES but never bought one, and when i bought my Atari 520 ST i thought, - Why buy an eight bit console when i own a 16 bit computer? After watching countless of downloaded longplays of NES games i regret that i never bought Nintendos awesome 8bit console.

This week i downloaded lots of updates of arcade longplays, Megadrive longplays and Master System longplays. Well, Ridge Racer 64 was among the updates too. This is pure nostalgia for me.

I hope that they will include Atari 800 on the site as well. ;)

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby kiwilove007 » Wed Sep 18, 2013 9:03 pm

I have watched several of those "Let's compare...." videos on Youtube - as it always interesting to see the same game on the different systems to see how they coped, etc etc. But it's disappointing to see where the emulation is running much faster than the original, spoiling it's representation - and with Donkey Kong for the Atari 800 the sprite emulation being faulty, such that it appears sub-standard. The NES versions tend to be very well done - bringing to note the irony of it's hardware being better than Atari's... You should not forget that with the NES they did add extra chips? to the cart when required for the last generation of games.
With a lot of the computer conversions - where it is poorly converted (or impossible to do a decent job) - it would have been better to have used that money to play the coin-op instead - instead of having a dud game in your collection. But in the UK - there was the era of the budget games - in which computer games were very cheaply sold, this probably helped force down full priced games as such...
One cannot but help notice that the price of new games tend to have stayed the same somewhat... from the mid 80s' onwards they have hit the mass market - and it is this mass market target that has allowed the dropping of prices for technical improvements. That you stayed away from these new innovations until they become cheap enough - and also more useful - eg. modems. In the early days of modems - they were so slow, and you could not use them for much, eg. BBS services. Atari did try to launch a special cart linkup or service for educational purposes. (BTW Atari did have something unique with a tape system for education learning, eg. Foreign languages). That the time was ripe when 56K modems became standard, and mass market - ie. cheap enough - by that time the Internet was becoming well established and worthwhile using - lots of free information stuff..

One very hard early Atari 400/800 game is Shamus - and very very few would have played it till it's completion. I could only complete the first level - and I drew a map of it. I gave Andrew Bradfield a copy of it - and this gave him the idea to map the other levels too - which he did and completed the game. Maybe now, players can understand how hard Laser Hawk is to play - because it is as hard as Shamus?
A good replay of a game, would be Star Raiders at Commander Level difficulty - ie. with using no shields.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby kiwilove007 » Thu Sep 19, 2013 5:22 am

I think the Atari ST was a big failure in that it did not improve upon the Atari 400/800 range - ie. You had to put up with jerky scrolling and jerky moving sprites - the Amiga was more the successor - mainly probably Jay Miner was behind it's design. Obviously the ST was better at 3D graphics, than say the traditional arcade videogames. In the next generation it is the Sega Saturn that offers coin-op quality arcade games - if you were a fan of that genre. Whereas the Playstation seemed the more competent console for 3D graphics. Ridge Racer and Tekken were the obvious sellers for the console.
The N64 seemed underpowered in the 3D area - while Mario 64 was of course brilliant in game design, you'd notice the simple landscape present - the same with Zelda - which is better run under emulation - so that you can view it in higher resolution graphics. The car racing games for the N64 have that kind of perspective which made it look like they were like toy cars on a toy landscape. And I'm not aware of any racing car game, etc that could rival the Playstation or Saturn games.

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Re: The smooth machine

Postby Retrogamer_ST » Thu Sep 19, 2013 5:31 am

I'll quote you

I have watched several of those "Let's compare...." videos on Youtube - as it always interesting to see the same game on the different systems to see how they coped, etc etc.


Ahhh, that's one of the highlight about retrogaming. I just love to compare different systems head to head ;)

The extra chips in the NES carts was mostly for memory issues and several different types of bank switching memory were used.

NES was an awesome console for it's time but what inpressed me even more was the quality of the games. Before NES Nintendo released plenty of simple LCD games (Game & Watch) that was incredible playable and fun for being such simple, like Donky Kong for exemple. I remember myself playing Donkey Kong for months every day without getting tired of it. A brilliant idea for a platform game and very playable even as a LCD game. Nintendo was awesome at game design and soon all the big companies as Konami, Capcom, Taito, Tecmo, Irem etc released top game after top game for NES.

Then Sega wanted to give Nintendo a match releasing Master System but were too late. Sega Master System didn't stand a chance against NES and it wasn't until Megadrive was released that Sega could battle Nintendo for real.

Atari's great time was when Atari 2600 dominated the market, Atari was never the same after the 2600 era. Few people bought a computer compared to those who bought a game console instead.

In fact, NES sold more then both Atari 800, C64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, Amiga and Atari ST put together.

Shamus is still a fun game that i play sometimes. For me the more "modern" shooters for Atari 800 is okey but the real treasure in gameplay is the old ones such Millipede, Missile Command, Galaxian and Asteroids. Those games is about pure playability and Millipede for Atari 800 is by far my favourite version of this brilliant game, even better then the oginal arcade version me think. So simple, yet so fun to play. ;)


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