River Raid Atari 2600

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One of the most popular games for the Atari 2600 was River Raid. This may not be saying much when you consider that infamous E.T. game sold over 1 million copies. The terrible Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man sold even more. River Raid, however, actually deserved the attention it received.

Would you believe me if I said that I started this article eight years ago, but have been waiting to find the game cartridge so I could take screenshots? The best games in my collection were stored separately from the others, and this game was ironically lost for a long time.

The River Raid Atari game was published by Activision, who made some of the best games on the Atari 2600. As I have mentioned before, I had a massive collection of Atari 2600 games while growing up. Most of the Atari 2600 games were terrible. But a handful were played nearly every day. When I would play River Raid, the Atari transformed from a box that I otherwise perceived as only being good for playing Pong and Asteroids. And I hated Asteroids.

The theme of River Raid is that you are steering an airplane down a river equipped with guns, and you shoot everything in its path. The sides of the river (and sometimes in the center) are walls, or something. Touch the walls and you crash. Your plane also needs constant fuel, measured by a meter at the bottom of the television screen. To get more fuel, you ride the plane over pink pill-looking things that say “fuel” on them. But be careful: if you shoot in the direction of the fuel, it will be destroyed.

So who came up with this game? Someone named Carol Shaw, a programmer originally for Atari and later Activision. Most of her previous games were sucky and were things like Checkers. She also did the graphics for things like Super Breakout and Othello. So it was rather a surprise when she ripped off the concept of the arcade space game Scramble and gave it a unique charm.

What was most interesting about Carol Shaw’s involvement in River Raid was the way she crammed the game into such a small amount of ROM. For instance, the landscape is mirrored. This also allowed for islands in the middle of the river. She also used a pseudo-randomization function or algorithm to generate the objects on the screen. Because the so-called “random” function would always have the same initial result, all the levels were consistent every time the game was played. Shaw also decided to have the game scroll vertically to allow for more pixel resolution thus smoother scrolling.

In case you were wondering, no this game has no relation to the Combahee river raid of 1863. Regardless, it is hard not to hold the love of this classic game in your heart. Apparently others felt the same way, as it sold over a million units by 1983. Do you feel the same way and have the same memories? Leave a comment.