Atari screenshot

From the first time I made a JavaScript game (Castle Adventure 2005) I always wanted to capture the colour range that captured my imagination as a boy playing Atari 800XL games. I adored the graphic style in some of these games and loved the way that the developers played with the colours.
Some techniques stick in my mind since they were both very pleasing on the eye and also quite inspirational.
In Ballblazer (above) I loved the way that the designers added the simple glow of the horizon. You might think it doesn’t add much but there’s something about it that just gives you the sense that the game grid goes on for a long way in to the void.

Atari screenshot

Similarly with Stealth (above) you see your goal in the distance – the tall tower – set against what looks like a glowing sunset. At a time when 3D wasn’t working on home computers developers understood that with a bit of imagination (both on the part of the designer and the gamer) you could create a tremendous sense of depth and distance.

Atari screenshot

Encounter (above) was a personal favourite. Such a simple concept – shoot the saucer, avoid the bullets – executed beautifully and with the smoothness that few other games were achieving at the time. The colour palette really added to the sense of fun and adventure. You started on a green planet then moved to desert, snow etc. Wonderful stuff.

Elektraglide (above) was, and is, possibly the hardest game I ever played. Its unforgivingly nightmarish obstacles that infuriated you beyond belief (especially as the stunning music was reaching its climax) were only acceptable because the visuals in the game were so stunning. I remember saving my pocket money for about a month to buy this one and also remember the first time I booted it up. Just fantastic. I particularly loved the snowy levels which again played with the inspirational colour scheme of whites, blues and the pale glow of orange / yellow.

Atari screenshot

Last but by no means least Attack of the Mutant Camels (above) took it all a step further by animating the floor. I always loved the thick gradient style of the sky and indeed borrowed it for the title screen to my own Castle Adventure.

Castle Adventure

Even today when I start out visualising a new game I always take a look at the colour scheme of those early Atari 8bit games. They allow me to become a little nostalgic (itself a great source of inspiration) but also realistic in terms of which colours work well together in an arcade gaming sense.
I am (as I think you can probably tell) loving delving back in time to play these superb games.


One response

  1. You’re right. Today people seem to be a little lost with all possible colors to choose from. What’s more – Atari palette was ordered in a very smart manner, which allowed to make powerful gradients fast and easy. It’s a shame that time Atari coders didn’t know what to do with the graphic chip, didn’t know what it was capable of. I mean using all colors in high resolutions, which was easier and looked far better than C64 FLI. Atari had more GPU like graphics chip. So it made those hacked graphics modes really usable.

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