There’s a “new” Atari arcade game, and I can’t put it down


Enlarge / A look at an alternate reality where vector displays never died out.

Atari’s new 50th anniversary compilation is packed with historical filler, but one new game in the package won’t let me go. I’m talking about Vctr Sctra retro style arcade shooter that takes the addictive gameplay of classics like Asteroids and Storm with modern gameplay concepts.

As a package, Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection sets a new high for retro video game compilations. The collection’s “timeline” feature deftly weaves archival materials such as design documents and manuals, explanatory context and contemporary quotes from the game’s release, and new video interviews with game creators into an engaging, interactive journey through gaming history.

But while the presentation shines, the games are inside Atari 50 often not. Sure, there are some truly replayable classics on offer here, especially in the games from Atari’s glorious arcade era. That said, most of it Atari 50‘s roster of over 100 titles feels like padding that just doesn’t hold up from a modern game design perspective. Dozens of “classic” Atari games – from 3D Tic Tac Toe on the Atari 2600 to Missile Commando 3D on the Jaguar – boils down to mere historical curiosities that most modern players would find it hard to tolerate for more than a few minutes.

Then there is Vctr Sctrone of the few “redesigned” games on it Atari 50 trying to recreate the feel of a classic Atari title with modern hardware and design elements. It’s a game I’ve been constantly drawn to over the past few days for the kind of easy-to-pick up, hard-to-put-down high score chase that I haven’t experienced quite the same since Geometry Wars.

Emulating a dead display technology

A quick look at Vctr Sctr game.

As the perhaps too cute name implies, Vctr Sctr (pronounced “vector sector”) is a love letter to arcade gaming’s all-too-brief love affair with vector graphics. Unlike raster displays, which construct an image from sprites arranged on lines of horizontal pixels, vector displays bend an electron beam into discrete lines or curves that form simple geometric shapes on the glowing phosphor.

Unlike most arcade games of the 1970s and 1980s, which were characterized by blocky, pixelated graphics, vector games such as Asteroids or Big havoc characterized by crisp, sharp lines smoothly animated in easily scalable and functionally infinite resolutions. But those benefits came at a price: The simple lines created “hollow” wireframe characters and objects, and early vector displays could display only one color (four-color vector games would come later).

The glowing, precise lines of vector screens were also nearly impossible to recreate on standard-definition CRT TVs of the 1970s and 1980s. If you wanted the vector experience at home, you had to invest in expensive flops like the Vectrex, which had built-in vector monitors.

A glimpse of how Storm looks on a real vector monitor.

Capturing the unique glow of Atari’s classic vector games was a priority for the developers of Atari 50. “We did our best to recreate the look [of a classic vector monitor]”Digital Eclipse engineer and Vctr Sctr designer Jeremy Williams told Ars. “We really cared a lot about that… It’s all drawn in an ‘additive mode,’ so it really looks as much like a vector rendering as possible.”

That quest for vector authenticity involves small details, such as mimicking the “phosphorus effect” that leads to blurry afterimages that remain on screen for a split second after a vector line disappears. Williams said he also took the trouble to calculate the subtle ghostly “bloom” that flickers around individual vector monitor lines (and pulses compellingly with the bass-heavy soundtrack, in Vctr Sctrcase).

Even issues that were considered imperfections on vector displays of the day were important to capture for this new performance, Williams said. “Depending on whether your vector rendering is really dialed in, you might get a little bit of movement for all the lines,” he said. “So each line moves a little bit, each line flickers independently.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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