Just a Thought - The Last Flight Of the Star Raider? (Part I)
by- June 24th, 2005
"Alpha Base, this is Sierra Tango 6, What's your status?"
I waited for Carly to reply for what seemed like an eternity; even in deep space, where time can be as fluid and infinite as the imagination, or as solid and finite as an asteroid, when you are waiting for a woman you may as well settle in for a long wait.
While I waited I scanned my HUD and checked the idiot lights from the other stations on my watch; all were green; no one was under attack.
The Zylon drones followed no rhyme or reason in the patterns of their attacks on our stations, their insect brains were little more than organic computers about the size of a plum; they were efficient and deadly, but nearly devoid of emotion. Our scientists surmised that the bulk of any emotional consideration was left to the queens, who ruled the Zylon like a queen bee does her hive. No one has actually seen a Zylon queen, or a Zylon hive for that matter -- they keep their home world well hidden -- but from what little we know of them, there is definitely a thinking, feeling intelligence that drives the Zylon to attack us again and again.
Though we've tried, we can't negotiate for peace; they won't talk to us, and when they do we can't understand a thing they're saying. Their speech is like listening to one of those old electro-mechanical dentist drills clear out a tooth cavity while a chorus of bull frogs croaked to the tune of 'Chop Sticks'. Even our Babel computers have a tough time deciphering the Zylon's noise that passes for speech.
Anyway, the problem is that the Zylon attack our stations, and the Star Raider patrols keeps them in check.
If it were up to me, each station would have enough firepower to fend off a whole hive of Zylon drones, but the tightfisted bureaucrats back on Sol 3 are slow to outfit the stations with the weapons they need. What was suppose to be an interim solution, The Star Raider Corps, turned out to be THE solution.
So, here I sit, in deep space, waiting for a reply from Carly. Are we having fun yet?
I start to get up and fetch myself a cup of kaff when Carly's voice, staticky and barely understandable, filled my earpiece. "Alpha Base to Sierra Tango 6: we are under attack! I repeat: We are under attack! Zeke, do you read me? We are under attack! They came outta nowhere! Zeke, are you there?"
The hairs on the back of my neck and forearms stand on end. "Carly! Yes, I read you. I'm on the way. Just hang on!"
I check the long range scan; Alpha Base is 2 sectors away. Good!
I plot the coarse and activate the hyper-drive; I just hope I come out of hyper-drive close enough to Alpha Base to do some good.
When Atari released its Atari 800 Computer System, I was absolutely mesmerized. I had a TRS-80 Model 1, and black and white were the only colors available to me. I suppose I could have picked up a Tandy Color Computer, but it didn't have the je ne sais qua the Atari had.
I mean, here was a computer that was truly designed for the masses. There was never a need to muck around in the guts of the stylish hard-plastic case; if you needed to add memory you popped in a cartridge, the same was true with game cartridges. Tape drives, and eventually, 5.25" floppy drives were easily connected with no fuss. True Plug-n-Play before the term became popular. The machine was sturdily built, and was designed to withstand kids, klutzes, messy accidents, and just about anything that might occur in the average American home.
But forget all of that: What made me WANT an Atari 800 was a game called Star Raiders. Up until that time, space games were klunky, with sad graphics and no real-time action. Star Raiders changed all of that. You zoomed from sector to sector, dodging meteors and blasting Zylon scum out of existence; in real time, from a first-person view as if you actuall were sitting in a ship.
Oh, the thrill of it all! Long range scans, short range scans, Heads-up displays, controls that actually worked, a joystick that actually steered the ship, a fire button that actually shot weapons! All in color and 8-bit graphics!!!
What a game!
I can not tell you hour many hours I spent playing that game (though I'm sure my wife can.) And, like Halo did for the Xbox, Star Raiders sold Atari computers. Well, I'm positive the game sold at least one computer.
You may be wondering what has me waxing nostalgic about a dead computing platform and an even more-dead game. Well, I just read that the last remaining vestige of the once near-great Atari has fallen on hard times.
The software side of Atari was still a viable entity after the hardware side folded. Through a series of acquisitions, mergers, and other business dealings, Atari wound up has part of Infogrames Entertainment, and has produced some interesting games for just about every console and computer system of the market (Except for the Mac).
Now it seems that the company can't find a CEO to give them some direction, and can't produce a game that gets gamers excited, like Halo.
What a shame.
I still think fondly of the time spent at my Atari joystick and keyboard, and wished the surviving software arm of Atari would do something with Star Raiders, maybe create an ultra cool space game based on it, but add some missions where you rescue people a la Rescue On Fractalus (Remember that one? First game ever to freak me out and make me jump), or go behind enemy lines to get something object of importance.
With the renewed interest in old school games, I'd bet Atari could pull themselves out of the current doldrums they find themselves in. If Apple can move to Intel, maybe Atari can move to Apple and write games that showcase the Mactels when they arrive on the scene. The two companies could help each other out.
If Atari doesn't do something soon, another chapter in computing history will come to an end. And that would be too bad.
I came out of Warp and switched on my short range scan. Alpha Station was taking a beating, but it was doing an admirable job in fending off the Zylons. I pushed my thrusters to maximum and arrived in time to see the Zylons form up for another attack.
I lined up the lead ship in my sights and let loose a few salvos, kind of tap on the shoulder to draw their attention away from the station and onto me. The lead ship cracked open like a fiery phoenix hatching from its egg shell, which made the other Zylons take notice of me.
That would have been great if it wasn't for the another squadron of Zylons popping out of warp space behind me.
"Zeke, you there? Our scanners are gone, but I thought I saw you take out the lead ship."
"Yeah, Carly, I'm here, but I'm gonna hafta talk to you later. I kinda got my hands full at the moment."
I sent out a distress call to any other Raiders in the vicinity. Maybe they'll get here in time to save me, and if not me, maybe the station.
I firmed up my shields and switched on my targeting computer. If I make it out of this one alive I'm going to go see Carly to see how much she appreciate me saving her pretty neck. Yep, that's something to look forward if I make it out in one piece. If...
In Part II, I'll look at the Atari emulator that got me thinking about Star Raider.
is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.
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