Yars' Revenge on a Real Atari 2600


One of the coolest original games (if not the coolest) to come out for the Atari 2600 (aka Atari VCS) was Yars' Revenge. Programmed by Howard Scott Warshaw, it started out as a port of the arcade game Star Castle and evolved in to the greatness that we remember as Yars' Revenge.

The game play is pretty simple: Control the flying insect-shaped Yar and shoot or nibble your way through the shield that protects the evil Qotile. I prefer to nibble rather than shoot because the point value is higher and it's more fun. Avoid contact with the enemy Destroyer Missile that tracks and follows the Yar (or as I like to call it: the dreaded "Dash of Doom"). The Dash of Doom can't harm the Yar while inside the awesomely cool looking Neutral Zone that resembles a field of colorful static energy positioned slightly off center to the left. At random intervals, the Qotile turns in to a swirling Saw Blade of Death (or officially, just a Swirl) and shoots out toward the Yar's position. The Neutral Zone offers no protection from this deadly object, so it must be avoided. After clearing a path in the shield, use the Zorlon Cannon to destroy the Qotile and enjoy the spectacular giant megga-explosion animation that follows. The visuals in the game aren't so awe-inspiring by today's standards, but back in 1981 that was some seriously cool home-gaming graphic awesomeness.

There are two alternating play-screens that become increasingly difficult as the game progresses. In the first screen, the Qotile shield is more angular shaped and behaves much like a barrier of bricks - officially called "cells". The second screen features a rectangular shaped shield. When cells are shot-out or nibbled away, the fluidic properties of it become visible. Players are presented with different challenge as the cells move back and forth, and top to bottom.

The Atari 2600 was never known for stellar sound capabilities. Even so, the sounds in Yars' Revenge are moody and cool. The game is filled with background noise that resembles the sound of an electrical arc crawling up an enormous Jacob's Ladder. Yar's shooting and nibbling sounds are simple, but fitting. Entering the Neutral Zone results in a subtle electronic hum. When the Qotile Saw Blade of Death is about to shoot out, a warning noise sounds momentarily, followed by a blast as it quickly rips through space, hurdling toward the Yar.

Google shows over 80,000 results for Yars' Revenge (at the time this was published). I'm sure most of those sites have have imagery and/or video of the game being played. The imagery most likely consists of emulated screen caps or video. Here you're looking at Yars' Revenge imagery in all its digital and analog glory, generated on real Atari hardware. I love those little red, green, and blue glowing phosphor elements and the look of scan lines that draw the picture on the screen. Atari 2600 emulation is convenient and sometimes I play games via an emulator, but there's nothing like enjoying them in their true form. Playing the game on the original hardware hooked up to a tube-TV offers a richer and more authentic and experience. It comes to life with an energy, look, and feel that is not present in an Atari 2600 emulator.

To the right, you see an emulated Yar. It's got the same pixel configuration and 2-frame animation, but it's just a facsimile and lacks the properties of a real Yar. "Real Yar" meaning the Yar brought to life via a real Atari 2600 hooked up to a real tube-TV and rendered in scan lines against the RGB phosphor screen analog technology of yester-year. If you've only every played this game in emulation, you're really missing out on the true experience.

Below is an up close and personal look at the amazing, colossal Yar. Sixteen giant scan lines tall - its synthetic veins glowing care of a magnetically controlled electron gun's powerful light beam. Isn't it beautiful?


This simple, yet addicting game, had most of us (the original generation of gamers) glued for long periods of time. With each cleared wave, the game becomes more difficult with an increasingly faster-moving Dash of Doom and a smarter, faster, deadlier Saw Blade Swirl of Death. And with each cleared wave, the desire to clear another one, and then another after that slowly grows in to an old-school, classic gaming obsession.

Long before home gaming systems were powerful enough to offer in-game cut-scenes with an elaborate storyline, we enjoyed the art of the video game comic. Yars' Revenge had a pretty cool comic and back-story. Ever wonder why it was called Yars' Revenge? You can check out the comic and discover why at AtariAge.com. They also have scans of the game program instruction as well. I kind of miss the days of when everything that was cool and geeky had the word "program" or "electronic" or "computerized" attached to it.

I couldn't help but play a few quick games while capturing imagery for this article. If you've got an Atari 2600 and Yars' Revenge cart CX2655, why not fire that baby up and enjoy some quality time with an awesome game on the original hardware. A joystick, one fire button, one Yar, one Qotile, one homing missile, one Zorlon Canon... and after a while - one bad case of Atari-thumb. The soreness is worth fun though. Just keep telling yourself that on the way to your next session of physical therapy at the hand-doctor. :-)

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RGB output missing badly on real 2600... that would look much much better through this arcade standard

@Thomas - RGB output would be very nice indeed. Back when the 2600 (or VCS) was considered cutting edge home gaming technology, TV's only had two screws where the antenna attached. LOL We've come a long way in the past 30 years, huh?

The Atari Flashback 2 (Google it) comes with a better output - 2 RCA plugs (1 video, 1 audio). It's not quite RGB quality, but most modern TV's have an input for them and the image is much clearer than with a R/F modulator. The great thing about the FB2 is that the built-in Atari games are the original code running on new hardware that behaves exactly like the original 2600's chipset. Yars' Revenge comes on the FB2 and it looks and plays exactly like it does on the original 2600. Just another option. :-)

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This page contains a single entry by Todd published on October 11, 2008 7:07 PM.

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