Funded! This project was successfully funded on May 24, 2012.

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The best Atari 2600 programmer said it couldn't be done! Now, over 30 years later get your very own Atari 2600 Star Castle cartridge!

5/7/2012 PAL version available, tell your European friends!

PAL & NTSC versions of Star Castle cartridges are now available!  Don't worry if you've already ordered a cartridge, when the campaign is over I'll be sending everyone confirmation emails asking for shipping information, names for the manual, PAL/NTSC preference, etc.

I can not modify the rewards because people have already pledged, please ignore the "NTSC only" text.

The challenge

In 1981 a young Howard Scott Warshaw, left his first programming job at HP for a more interesting job at Atari.  His first assignment was to create an Atari 2600 conversion of the vector coin op game Star Castle.  In this game, you pilot a ship around the screen trying to defeat the Star Castle by shooting the Energy Cannon, but first you must blow holes its rotating shields while avoiding the ever pursuing Space Mines and beware, the Energy Cannon will blast back through openings in the shields!  After evaluating the arcade game and the console hardware he came to the conclusion "that a decent version couldn’t be done" (interview link), and "that this conversion would suck on the VCS system" (interview link).  So he reorganized the core game-play elements into a new game designed specifically for the 2600.  That game became Yars' Revenge, the most successful original Atari game ever for the Atari 2600 (play it free on Atari's site here!).

I love video game history, and I love this story in particular, but when I read about it in MIT Press's excellent historical Atari 2600 book "Racing the Beam" in 2008 something stuck with me.  I thought surely Star Castle could be done, there must be some way, so I set out to try. 

Every engineer, no matter the discipline, is drawn to some particular project.  This project becomes the nagging pull that draws an engineer ever-onward.  For me, that project was Star Castle.  I'm an Atari fanatic; I always have been.  I'm also a Star Castle fan.  I used to pump quarters into that machine at the local bowling alley every day after school.  It's no surprise that I ended up becoming a video game developer.  My first job in the game industry was also at Atari where I worked on the 2600, though six years after Yars' Revenge was made.

The work

I dug deep into my crawl space and excavated the documentation and samples I had from when I worked for Atari and cobbled together a 2600 development environment.

The Atari 2600 only has 128 bytes of RAM (variables start at the bottom,  the stack comes down from the top, and you pray they never meet), and you have to build the display line by line using a handful of hardware registers while the electron beam is scanning the TV screen.  You have to use a lot of "tricks" to get more graphics and colors on the screen and you still need to handle input, sound, and make a playable game, all in a little less than 8192 (8K) bytes of ROM in my case.  To be fair, Yars' Revenge used a 4096 (4K) byte cartridge which is a marvelous feat, but another similar game, Asteroids was released on an 8K cartridge the same year.  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.

I was so proud, I showed the game at the Video Game Summit, a local video game conference where it was received with surprising enthusiasm so I kept working on the project.  By 2011 I had made improvements to the AI, collision, level progression, and designed my own cartridge.  It's all original from the circuit board to the programmable logic chip to the lights inside the cartridge that actually flash with the gameplay - something I NEVER would have expected to find in an Atari cartridge as a kid. 

Now that it had lights, a traditional black case would not do, so I designed and machined my own custom clear Lexan case (on a CNC machine that I designed and built myself  but that's another story)

and made a reproduction Atari game box.

The response after showing the game in 2011 was overwhelming.

The Result

This is one of the coolest things I have ever done.  It's a technical accomplishment and it's really really fun!  Right now there is only this one cartridge that I made by hand.

It took nearly three years of software, electronic, and hardware engineering to get this project this far.  To make cartridges I'll need to have boards made and programmed, molds made, cartridge shells cast, manuals, boxes, labels and CD's made, but I'm ready.  If successful, this Kickstarter will allow me to make Star Castle 2600 available to the many people who have expressed interest in the game.

If you are a collector you can get a cartridge and play it the way it was meant to be played: on an Atari, with a joystick, in front of a TV (preferably an old one).

If you're a casual player you can play it on just about any PC.  Many people prefer playing Atari 2600 the games on the Stella emulator because it's easy, convenient, the emulation is indistinguishable from the real thing, and the picture and sound are perfectly crystal clear.

If you are a developer or just interested in programming, the game comes with all the source code and art on the CD, everything you need to build your own copy of the game (you have to download the free compiler, but the link is on the CD).  You can look it over if you are just curious, or you can modify it and make it your own.  The game comes with Stella which includes a full Atari 2600 graphical debugger that allows you to step through each instruction, line, or frame of the game and graphically shows all of the registers in real-time.

This may be the only chance you have to get Star Castle 2600, after this Kickstarter campaign there are no plans to produce or make available any additional cartridges, CD's, or materials.

So, you may be wondering why anyone would bother to make a version of a 30 year old vector arcade game on an arcane 33 year old platform? I was inspired by one of the greatest and most influential game programmers of all time to make something that he said was impossible.  I don't consider this a game development project, rather an alternative history art piece*, a demonstration that it could indeed be done.

* I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for all of Howard Scott Warshaw's work.  I in no way mean to discredit or demean his magnificent ground breaking accomplishments in Yars' Revenge or any of his other titles.  Also, if you really want a great insider view into the early days at Atari, you need to check out his excellent candid documentary DVD Once Upon Atari.

Now, finally, here's the good part...

Rewards!

Game cartridges

  • Each clear cast acrylic cartridge will be hand made and serial numbered.  Game cartridges will work with the Atari 2600 Video Computer Systems (PAL or NTSC).  I can't provide Atari 2600 systems on Kickstarter but they are plentiful and affordable on eBay if you don't still have your childhood game or are too young to have had one.
  • Harmony FLASH cartridges come preloaded with Star Castle but additional games can be loaded onto SD cards (not included) and launched from a menu on the 2600 connected to a TV the way they were intended to be played.  One SD card can hold every Atari game ever made.  These cartridges are black and do not contain flashing lights.

The Star Castle CD contains everything you need to play the game on your computer and much much more:

  • Star Castle 2600 ROM files for emulator/conventional cartridges and custom cartridges with internal lights
  • Star Castle 2600 manual (pdf)
  • Stella Atari 2600 emulator versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Star Castle 2600 source code
  • Star Castle 2600 source artwork
  • The story of the games history, my inspiration, and the making of the game.
  • Pictures: The game at video game conventions, the making of the game, electronics, and cartridge casing.
  • Video: exposition of the game, interviews, making of the cartridge.
  • Links!  I've gathered a ton of information that I want to share but I can't include everything on the CD so I'll do the next best thing and share all of my sources for information with links about the game, video game history of that era, 2600 programming reference, techniques, and free tools like compilers and debuggers.  Plus links to other versions of Star Castle (some FREE),  press and YouTube videos, photos and much much more.

Systems supported by Stella Atari 2600 emulator :

  • 32-bit or 64-bit Windows XP / Vista / 7
  • 32-bit Windows 98 / 2000
  • Mac with Mac OS X
  • 32-bit or 64-bit Linux

If playing on a computer, I'd also suggest getting one or more Stelladaptor's.  I can't provide these through Kickstarter but these USB interfaces allow you to play games using your real Atari joysticks and paddles!

Stella emulator Copyright © 1996-2012 Bradford W. Mott, Stephen Anthony and The Stella Team, and comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.  Stella emulator is released under GPLv2 and a portion of all CD proceeds will be donated to the Stella project to promote continued development.

The music in the video is A Break In The Weather from the album It's Got A Ring To It by Chupathingy. © 2012 Chupathingy, all rights reserved.  This and other great music by Chupathingy can be found at chupathingy.bandcamp.com

A high resolution version of the video can be found on YouTube here.

FAQ

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  • Pledge $10 or more
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    43 backers

    Download link for emulator compatible Star Castle game ROM file, manual, and Stella Atari 2600 emulator (Windows, Mac, Linux) to play it on.

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  • Pledge $20 or more
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    60 backers

    Star Castle 2600 CD containing: Star Castle 2600 game ROM compatible with emulator and conventional cartridges, Stella Atari 2600 emulator (Windows, Mac, Linux) to play it on, cartridge compatible game ROM, game manual(pdf), full source code, game artwork, photos and videos including the making of the game, cartridge, case, exhibition and more, my story, inspiration, and account of making the game, and links, lots of links. I've gathered a ton of information that I want to share but I can't include everything on the CD so I'll do the next best thing and share all of my links to sources about the game, fascinating interviews, video game history, 2600 programming, technical information, techniques, and links to free tools like compilers and debuggers. Plus links to other versions of Star Castle (some FREE), press and YouTube videos, photos and much much more. Plus YOUR NAME in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval)

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  • Pledge $30 or more
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    5 backers

    Video game history makes a great gift! Two Star Castle 2600 CD's containing: Star Castle 2600 game ROM compatible with emulator and conventional cartridges, Stella Atari 2600 emulator (Windows, Mac, Linux) to play it on, cartridge compatible game ROM, game manual(pdf), full source code, game artwork, photos and videos including the making of the game, cartridge, case, exhibition and more, my story, inspiration, and account of making the game, and links, lots of links. I've gathered a ton of information that I want to share but I can't include everything on the CD so I'll do the next best thing and share all of my links to sources about the game, fascinating interviews, video game history, 2600 programming, technical information, techniques, and links to free tools like compilers and debuggers. Plus links to other versions of Star Castle (some FREE), press and YouTube videos, photos and much much more. Plus YOUR NAME in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval)

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  • Pledge $50 or more
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    159 backers

    Clear cast acrylic Star Castle cartridge featuring lights that flash with the game action! Serial numbered. Compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only). Plus YOUR NAME in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval). Plus you get the Star Castle 2600 CD containing ROMs, emulator, source code, artwork, videos, pictures links, and much much more. Printed box and manual not included.

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  • Pledge $100 or more
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    13 backers

    Star Castle ROM on a Harmony FLASH cartridge that works in your Atari 2600 game system. The black cartridge may not have flashing lights but it is reprogrammable. You can hook it to your computer and change the game in it, or using an SD card (not provided) you can put ALL your Atari games onto one cartridge! Power up your Atari 2600, select the game you want to play from a menu, and play it on a TV with a real game controller the way it was meant to be played. Plus you get the Star Castle 2600 CD containing ROMs, emulator, source code, artwork, videos, pictures links, and much much more.

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  • Pledge $100 or more
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    115 backers

    Autographed clear Star Castle cartridge with lights that flash with the game action sealed in a reproduction box with a the printed manual. Compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only). Plus YOUR NAME in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval). Plus you get the Atari 2600 Star Castle CD that contains the ROM, emulator for Windows, Mac, and Linux, source code, artwork, and much much more.

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  • Pledge $150 or more
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    6 backers

    Customized clear Star Castle cartridge with YOUR 48x38 PIXEL GRAPHICS ON THE TITLE SCREEN and lights that flash with the game action! This unique one of a kind cartridge comes sealed in a reproduction box with a printed manual. Compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only). Plus YOUR NAME will appear in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval). Plus you get the Star Castle 2600 CD containing ROMs, emulator, source code, artwork, videos, pictures links, and much much more.

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  • Pledge $250 or more
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    1 backer

    Exciting phone conversation with D. Scott Williamson. You can talk up to an hour about his work at Atari, vintage games, contemporary games, working in the game industry, hair styles, whatever you want. You also get an autographed clear Star Castle cartridge with lights that flash with the game action sealed in a reproduction box with the printed manual. Compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only). Plus YOUR NAME in the "Contributors" section of the game manual (text subject to approval). Plus you get the Atari 2600 Star Castle CD that contains the ROM, emulator for Windows, Mac, and Linux, source code, artwork, and much much more.

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  • Pledge $1,000 or more
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    0 backers

    Executive Producer credit in the manual and a great big thank you for your support of this project. You also get a phone conversation with Scott, an autographed clear Star Castle cartridge with lights that flash with the game action sealed in a reproduction box with the printed manual. Compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only), and the Atari 2600 Star Castle CD that contains the ROM, emulator for Windows, Mac, and Linux, source code, artwork, and much much more.

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  • Pledge $10,000 or more
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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    MY ONE AND ONLY serial number 1 hand made first prototype Star Castle 2600 cartridge. The one that proved it could be done, the one seen in public only once before. The game features a CNC machined clear Lexan shell with internal lights that flash with the game action. Game comes autographed by me, serial numbered, and sealed in a box with the manual. Game is compatible with Atari 2600 Video Computer System (NTSC only). YOUR NAME and PHOTO appear in the game manual as the ONLY person in the "Benefactor" section (text and image subject to approval). You also get MY Atari 2600 and everything you need to play the game, including MY Atari joystick, power supply, RF modulator, MY 20" color TV (with remote), MY FLASH cartridge used to develop the game and USB cable. Plus you also get the Star Castle 2600 CD including game ROM, emulators for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and much much more! Not to sound too cheesy or cliche, but this is a limited time offer, previously the cartridge alone bore a price of $32,768 and that price for this one of a kind hand made collectors digital art piece will return if it's unclaimed at the end of this campaign. (If you want your name in the history books, pledge over $31,600 for this cartridge because that would make you the owner of THE MOST VALUABLE Atari 2600 GAME EVER!!!)

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- (30 days)