When Atari fans speak of favorite Atari 2600 games, they rarely mention games released by Atari itself. Activision games like Pitfall and Imagic games like Demon Attack are revered but Atari game carts are usually talked about with mild scorn (“pretty lame arcade adaptation”). However Star Raiders, released by Atari in 1979, is one of the exceptions.

Star Raiders was a 3D space combat game, quite similar to the more modern Wing Commander or even the obscure Commodore 64 classic Elite. Your mission in Star Raiders was to destroy invading alien ships and prevent them from destroying your starbase. Your ship had limited power and you needed your starbase for repair and refueling.

Star Raiders was a complex game and needed both the joystick and the key pad controller plus the use of a lot of those mysterious silver levers sunk into the base unit’s tasteful faux woodgrain finish. The joystick controlled space flight/combat. The keypad controlled your ship’s views. And the mysterious silver levers were used to turn your ship’s computer and shields on and off. Turning off system at the right time was critical as it saved energy. The invaders moved rather rapidly to demolish your starbase and you couldn’t always zip back to get a fill up.

Star Raiders was designed and programmed by Doug Neubauer and Carla Meninsky. Neubauer also programmed the Star Raiders’ look-alike Solaris for Atari. He eventually went to 20th Century Fox and created games based on their movies and TV shows (Alien and M*A*S*H). Meninsky later produced a rather lame 2600 port of Tempest.

Atari eventually released Star Raiders 2 for the Atari ST. By coincidence the movie The Last Starfighter was playing in theaters and Atari considered renaming the game after the movie, but didn’t.

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