Happy Valentines Day!!!
Is your day Imagical yet! Sorry for the pun but I wanted to take some time to talk about video game maker Imagic, and my love for their games. Now if your not familiar with Imagic don’t worry, unless your an Atari 2600 player that is, in which case shame on you for not knowing.
Imagic was formed by former Atari programmers and executives in 1981, who left Atari after the company began to become more restrictive on its programmers due to the fact that it was taken over by Time-Warner Entertainment. It was at this same time that Activision was also formed for the same reason. I could get into detail on the great split with Atari but you can find a plethora of articles and even a few books written on the subject, if your interested. Overall the split was over programmers looking for an outlet that would let them stay creative and experiment with new techniques in game making, and allow them to receive personal credit for these ideas, something the big corporate owners of Atari wouldn’t let them do.
Imagic operated between 1981 and 1986 primarily making games for the Atari 2600, but they did port some of these titles to C64, Colecovision, Atari 400/800, and a few other systems that where contemporaries of the 2600. Imagic also created some games for the Intellivision that where never ported to the 2600.
Imagic created 20 (known) titles for the Atari 2600 in all. However of that 20, two, Sky Patrol, and Cubicolor, never made it out of the prototype stage, and one, Wing War was only created in PAL format. Of course there was also Atlantis II which was released in extremely limited quantities to special winners of an Atlantis contest. All this means that we NTSC Atari 2600 players have 16 titles to choose from, and Imagic exceeded expectations on all of them.
BTW, Cubicolor was released as a homebrew recently, however I am not counting it as a original Imagic “playable” title.
15 of 16 of Imagics Atari 2600 games, the only one missing from this photo is Subterranea which I recently bought off eBay but did not receive yet when this photo was taken.
The best part about Imagic games is that the company lived up to its goals of being creative, and designing games outside the box. Most of their games are vibrant, have original concepts, and helped push the Atari 2600 to its limits. In an era when Atari used simple solid colors in most of their game designs, Imagic made games with multicolored sprites, and even backgrounds. An excellent example of this is Demon Attack, which used a concept similar to games such as Space Invaders, and Phoenix in which the player shoots at waves of alien invaders from the sky, via a moving bunker below. Demon Attack brings the concept to life in vibrant colors, and with a lot more action as aliens dart about the sky sometimes in random order and with some pretty powerful weapons like laser beams, and egg bombs.
My beaten up but much beloved copy of Demon Attack.
Another out of the box game of Imagics in both creativity and vibrancy is Atlantis, which has a similar concept as Atari’s Missile Command but takes the concept a lot further as one protects a vibrant and beautiful city (created amazingly via Atari 2600 graphics) from spacecraft zooming across the sky. Not to mention the concept is pushed further as Atlantis‘s end eludes to it’s sequel Cosmic Ark. Both games have color pallets, gameplay and concept far more advanced then those of Atari’s games. The game was complex and loved enough to have Imagic create an Atlantis competition. Competitors who achieved a certain score where given copies of the now legendary Atlantis II, with which competitors had to play to achieve the highest score in a certain period of time. Copies of Atlantis II are nearly impossible to find, and rate a rarity 10 on Atariage.
Another great Imagic game is No Escape which features a character who must kill enemy’s overhead in a Greek temple by throwing stones at the ceiling to drop bricks on to them. It sounds odd but the game is extremely challenging, and addicting, on par if not better then modern puzzle based casual games. The game is like Breakout meets Space Invaders, but it is a lot more original and takes more time to master.
Then there’s Moonsweeper, a space shooter that takes on new life when you go from shooting it out with aliens, to a second screen of cruising alien moons to rescue stranded space miners. The concept was unique, as it’s gameplay and coloring. This also brings up another interesting part about some Imagic games, and second screens featuring simulated 3D play. You see Moonsweeper‘s space shooter to simulated 3D moon rescue screen, gives the player to different types of gameplay and objectives within the game that was uncommon in Atari 2600 play. Another Imagic title to take advantage of this type of gameplay is Cosmic Ark, the previously mentioned sequel to Atlantis.
Cosmic Ark goes from a flying saucer mode of shooting down meteors bound for the planet you are looking to rescue creatures from, to a shuttle mode on the planets surface rescuing the creatures. The gameplay and look of the game are Imagic at its best, in the creativity that went into the game and it’s play. Probably the most unique part of Cosmic Ark is that it is sequel to Atlantis, or to put it another way this is the first time there has been a plot line in a video game that allowed it to go deep enough to cover two games, when the flying saucer from Atlantis, reappears with its Atlantian crew in Cosmic Ark.
If you are familiar with Imagic then you no doubt have your own favorite games, which I would enjoy hearing about. But for now I’m going to end my Valentines Day love letter on Imagic, with its out of the box take on the Atari 2600 experience. If you have an old system with Imagic games on it make sure and pick one up these great games.
Oh, and by the way lets not forget about Imagics “Numb Thumb Club” a similar program to that of Activisions patch club that awarded players for achieving certain score in various video games.