Games That Push the Limits of the Atari 8-Bit Family

#Pushingthelimits #Atari8bit
The 400, 800, 1200, XL, XE, no one ever seemed sure what to call these machines, the Atari 8-bit Family is the clumsy name for them all. Once again I’m going to be trawling through the retro effluent to dredge up a net full of games that pushed these machines to the limits.

Games featured:

Star Raiders
Capture the Flag
Mercenary: Escape From Targ
Alternate Reality: The City
Alternate Reality: The Dungeon
Space Harrier

Demos Featured:
Numen by Taquart
Cyberpunk by Lamers


  1. Sinn0100 on December 15, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Oh my God…I thought we had the very best gaming had to offer the home market with the Nes and Master System in the mid 1980’s. How wrong I was for thinking that. Now, I need a time machine just so I can yell at my past 8 year old self…"broaden your horizons idiot!" While these games aren’t a test for the 16-bit machines in graphical fidelity they look like they more than stand up game play wise. Why weren’t any of these gems brought over to the 16-bit machines?! Surely a Genesis and Snes could do them proud.

  2. Funkydmunky on December 15, 2020 at 10:08 pm

    Loved, loved it! Liked and subbed 🙂 Finally someone who knows Atari rather then pretending. Great job my bro!

  3. FYDStar on December 15, 2020 at 10:09 pm

    how about electraglide?

  4. Karlos Alexandos on December 15, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    Necromancer by Bill Williams always impressed me, weird game but tons of sprites on the screen, Gremlins also where you have lots of gremlins in the room. Compare the C64 and Atari versions, almost identical but the Atari has so many more sprites (software sprites) which the C64 can do but the the C64 version seem to lack. I do think if they had provided a native software sprite stack (like the 7200 with more colours), faster loading data speeds, the Atari 130XE+ would have done very very well.

  5. Si Turl on December 15, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    There was a game I had on my XL…. and you were a ball dodging other balls … (sorry best way I can describe it). I’m sure the title began with an “E”… and the graphics were amazing.

  6. Mat Hall on December 15, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    I think the biggest thing missing from this list is The Eidolon (and the closely related Rescue on Fractalus and Koronis Rift) — it’s much closer to an FPS than Way Out, atmospheric, and actually pretty good fun on top of being technically impressive. Lucasfilm Games probably came closest to pushing the hardware in the early days; the first time I fired one of their games up and got that THX-style intro is a moment that will stay with me forever. (Also Ballblazer was pretty good.)

    Other honourable mentions from back in the day include Kennedy Approach (a visually unremarkable title that’s actually pretty intense, and deserves attention for the speech synthesis used as an essential gameplay element), Dropzone (a Defender-like shooter from some guy called Archer Maclean — no idea what happened to him, bit of a one hit wonder), and Encounter! (pretty slick and smooth 3D shooter by Paul Woakes of Mercenary fame).

    Notable modern releases worthy of mention include Yoomp! (a hypnotic Trailblazer-meets-rhythm-action thing) and Crownland (a respectable Mario-inspired platformer). There was also Project M (an actual Wolfenstein 3D clone) — development was abandoned in 2010 while it was in very early stages (no enemies or anything), but even so it was an astonishing achievement.

  7. Heaven 7 on December 15, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    I definitely think there could be a part 2 to this : ) Crownland, Yoomp, Stunt Racer, Rescue on Fractulas (any game from Lucasfilm) Drop Zone IK and Alley Cat!!!- What sounds, animation and effects!

  8. KanadianSpaceProgram on December 15, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    3:13 This absolutely looks like raycasting. That map being drawn as you move just screams raycasting.

  9. Dylan Gladstone on December 15, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you for putting this video up! I had most of the games on this list and your analysis was pretty spot on.

    As others have mentioned, the most technically impressive games to me were the Lucasfilm Games titles, Rescue on Fractals, Ballblazer, The Eidolon, and Kronis Rift. Ballblazer’s gameplay really stands out. To me it’s a lot more fun to play than its PlayStation sequel.

    When I was a teenager I was trying to save up enough money to buy an Apple IIe until a friend invited me over to see his new computer, an Atari 400. It looked like a toy with its membrane keyboard but after he showed me Star Raiders I put the money I was saving for the IIe towards an Atari system. I taught myself Assembly language on it, and a few years later ended up getting a job as a computer programmer.

    It was such a fantastic system.

  10. davidvfx on December 15, 2020 at 10:17 pm

    and Rescue on Fractalus???

  11. A Dog on December 15, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    They should buy the Atari to John Carmack back in the days, when he was like 10…

  12. MrJotz on December 15, 2020 at 10:20 pm

    I remember playing Star Raiders on the Atari 5200!

  13. Seth PLG on December 15, 2020 at 10:22 pm

    M.U.L.E. was probably the most ground breaking game on the 8-bit line with a multitude of features that still stand out today. The complex strategic game allowed up to four human players, simultaneously required competition *and* cooperation, included surprisingly savvy computer opponents and a number of “real time” conditions that could dramatically alter gameplay. Still one of the best computer games I’ve played even decades later.

  14. tomtom vicky on December 15, 2020 at 10:24 pm

    Star Raiders= Killer-App. People bought 800s just by seeing the demo in game stores

  15. Arcade Heroes on December 15, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Great video! I’ve wanted to play Atariblast, but need to get one of those fancy RAM upgrades. I’ll have to be one of "those guys" though: Star Raiders was significant and one of my favorites, but just a note that it was essentially a computer version of Atari’s Starship I (1977, arcade, kind of obscure). Granted, it was far more complex than Starship I, but SR was influenced by that.
    And since I’m being that guy, I’d recommend checking out: Dropzone, Attack of the Mutant Camels, Cavernia, Into The Eagles Nest, Trust, Stealth (this one was particularly impressive in ’84, pulling off some effects like Space Harrier), Crime Buster, Encounter, Rescue on Fractalus and The Eidolon (surprised the last two weren’t mentioned, but that’s another video I guess!)

  16. dunebasher1971 on December 15, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Great to see the 8-bit Ataris getting some love. It’s easy to forget now just how powerful they were when they were released in 1979; they were still clearly superior to newer competing 8-bit machines even 7-8 years later.
    I’d quite seriously argue that the C64 was the only true 8-bit competitor to the Atari 8-bit range, and even the C64, despite the benefit of slightly more powerful graphics and sound hardware, often came off second best to the Ataris for the smoothness and speed of games that were available on both platforms.

  17. Steven Allan on December 15, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Well this takes me back, forgot about the XE series.

  18. John Rickard on December 15, 2020 at 10:27 pm

    I personally love how Atari built the graphics hardware on this model. They started with a GPU very similar to the one on the 2600…but then gave it a co-processor(ANTIC) to handle the line-by-line video frame alterations. The result was a video subsystem that was very difficult to beat until the 16-bit generations.

  19. activeaction on December 15, 2020 at 10:29 pm

    Every Electronic Arts game pushed the limit of the 8-bit Atari. They were superior to even the ones shown in this video.

  20. EdgyNumber1 on December 15, 2020 at 10:29 pm

    *Any programmers who can answer this?* How the hell did they get these games to run so smoothly, with a supposedly large colour palette, where the likes of the later Speccy, Commodore and Amstrad machines ultimately failed???

    Did they use the same ‘racing the beam’ technique as was used on the Atari 2600? Is that even possible on the other aforementioned 8bit machines?

  21. clive mccabe on December 15, 2020 at 10:30 pm
  22. Sinn0100 on December 15, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    I don’t…I don’t have the words right now to describe.. words fail me. I started gaming in 1985 with a launch Nes and 1986 with the release of the Master System. I was a very casual player and far to young to truly get into gaming. It wasn’t until 1989 with the release of the Genesis when I truly became a gamer. Throughout the early 1990’s I was a Sega Genesis/Sega CD and Snes kid.

    Now, back to the old 8-bit machines for a second. I always thought the Nes and more so the Master System was cutting edge for their time?! These games would have blown my fragile little mind. They’re absolutely stunning and make me wonder why for example the Genesis had to use software scaling when these 8-bit computers did it without any issues? I’m seeing hardware scaling on an 8-bit computer from 1979?! What?! They were making the types of games we play today!

  23. Si Turl on December 15, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Zybex was brilliant.

  24. Michael Demers on December 15, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    I was reminded of Star Trek a little by SEGA for 2600.

  25. zabagar on December 15, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    Alternate Reality was an all time favorite of mine! It was so frickin’ difficult too. So easy to die no matter how well off your character was! I actually played it for 20 mins over the weekend. I have a working 800XL plus can play on my RetroPie emulator.

  26. matt smedley on December 15, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you for the insight into a machine that I didn’t own back in the day.

  27. CallOfDrewthulhu on December 15, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    I spent so much time playing Mercenary and basically never made any progress. But I definitely felt like it was something special in my collection of Atari games for sure; it felt like an amazing achievement just figuring out the thrust commands well enough to fly to the orbital station that I assumed was "out of bounds," considering it was nothing more than a dot in the sky at first. Oh, memories.

  28. Daishi5571 on December 15, 2020 at 10:38 pm

    I believe that we (as a collective of consumers and manufacturers) could have stuck with 8-bit systems for a few more years had we instead of chasing the bit counters (16>32 ect..) gone with faster processor speeds. I’m not saying that moving up to 16+ bits was worthless, but I think it complicated the systems making them have many compromises that could have been avoided had the tech been allowed to mature for longer.

  29. Orange Archipelago on December 15, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    Inappropriate inflection MUuCh.

  30. David Davies on December 15, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    Of course, there were a few missing. The fractal games by Lucasfilm, for example. Rescue on Fractalus was one game I played a lot of back in the day and it was something that must have pushed the Atari pretty hard. So much so that I remember Jeff Minter commenting that they must have "cheated like hell" to get it working on the C64. But that also shows just how good the Atari line was against its newer rivals. The C64 ran significantly slower than the Atari, had less advanced graphics capabilities, but managed to fool enough people to become a huge hit. A lot of it seemed to be down to the wowing over the SID chip, which was great for music but not so hot for sound effects (I prefer POKEY’s game sounds). If Commodore had matched the SID up with a sound generator, that would have been an amazing machine for sound.

  31. Aradia With Geese on December 15, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    So can the 400 play all of these games?!? If so that’s crazy for the time the thing came out

  32. Aaron Lowe on December 15, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    1:35 Ah, so that’s there the Amiga Datastorm got some of it’s samples from. It was paying homage to Star Raiders on the Atari.

  33. Ron Corless on December 15, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    Star Raiders will always be my number one personal favorite video game of all time becuase it involved you flying a starfighter into the farthest reaches of deep space across the entire galaxy taking out Zylon enemy starfighters looking exactly like the TIE fighters from Star Wars. I used to played it on my ATARI 600XL computer back in the good ol’ 80s. GOD I MISS STAR RAIDERS!!!!!!!!!

  34. TheSudsy on December 15, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    Dropzone ?

  35. Frank III on December 15, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    What’s the background music at 8:20?

  36. Starfire Technology on December 15, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    Still own my 1200XL and Star Raiders, should hook it upa

  37. lynx48k on December 15, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    16:05 And while Atari Blast uses a huge 1MB cartridge, it also uses this chap’s music:

  38. Monster Finger Games on December 15, 2020 at 10:48 pm

    I never get bored of these videos, seeing what the older computers/consoles can do is so fascinating! Can’t wait for more

  39. Marc Rodrigues on December 15, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for mentioning "Alternate Reality (The Dungeon)" really was technically quite astonishing.

  40. greenaum on December 15, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    Mate, Alternate Reality is not ray-casted! You only get 90 degree turns. That’s just simple scaling, it’s easy enough to do, and you don’t need any trigonometry at all.

  41. andres espejo on December 15, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    draconus! ninja comando!

  42. james staggs on December 15, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    Had a 2600 when I was a kid and I think the biggest disappointing aspect of the games is that they just went on forever. The only reason to keep playing was to get a higher score, so a game having an actual ending like this one was kinda groundbreaking back then.

  43. Daniel Monteiro on December 15, 2020 at 10:55 pm

    3:55 check out that fisheye distortion – it’s a raycaster

  44. fake12396 on December 15, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    i wouldn’t call star raiders that revolutionary. the game looked amazing for the time, did some new things and was technically impressive in general, but the gameplay is basically the age old at the time star trek format made into a real-time 3d space combat game. there were dozens of games called ‘star trek’ or similar out by 1979, and they all had an open world, narrative and an ending. not to discredit the game, it’s just that similar things were already being done at the time.

  45. Paul Bollocks on December 15, 2020 at 10:57 pm

    Encounter also worth a look as is Zybex 🙂

  46. None of Your Business on December 15, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    And when the Atari ST came out, they put out a new version of Star Raiders to attempt to have the same "killer app" effect. I was impressed by the graphics at the time, but only after playing it did I realize it wasn’t as fun as I hoped it would be.

  47. Mark Hall on December 15, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    I had most of those games, nice selection there. I think probably one game that really pushed the hardware and was just fantastic all around that you really should look at, is Rescue of Fractalus. It was quite divisive back in the day, the reviews were a bit meh, but most people who played it loved it. Another is International Karate with sampled sound effects; just quite astonishing for the day – on and music by Rob Hubbard, which was always a win.

  48. Johnny88 J on December 15, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    You know you can switch on engines and move forward in Star Raiders?

  49. Phil on December 15, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    That takes me back. My first computer was an Atari 400, then got an 800XL then an ST. My favourite game was River Raid, played that for *ages*.

  50. Retropixelshow on December 15, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    Yoomp would have been a nice addition.

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