May 24, 2022

Another Brave Yar Flies Off To Fight The Qotile

Yars' Revenge
Atari 2600 (1982)
The iconic space battle, created by Howard Scott Warshaw, between a vulnerable Yar and the evil Qotile has turned 40 years old this month.  Yars' Revenge has been re-released in numerous forms over the past four decades and is still enjoyed to this day, both by retro gamers who grew up with the Atari 2600 and later generations of gamers who are discovering the classics for themselves.
The Morning Call (Allentown, PA) - May 14, 1982

It's difficult to pin down the exact release date of a game from the 70's or 80's because, in most cases, it didn't have one.  There was some promotion of future releases, but the first time I ever remember it being a specific date was when Midway announced that the home port of Mortal Kombat would be released simultaneously on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear on September 13th, 1993 (also known as "Mortal Monday").  In contrast, the upcoming games for consoles of the 8-Bit Era were usually announced in a "coming soon" list.  If they really wanted to give us more information, we'd get a preview of the game with some screenshots and a vague release date such as "coming in may".

Exact sales figures are another thing that are difficult to pinpoint for games of that era, but there's no question that Yars' Revenge was a massive success.  It's considered to be the highest selling original game for the Atari 2600.  In the years that followed, it was ported to Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, and it was included on just about every compilation of Atari games, including Atari Greatest Hits: Volume 2 (Nintendo DS), Atari Anthology (Xbox, Playstation 2), Atari Vault (Steam), Atari Flashback Classics (Nintendo Switch, Playstation Vita), and on all of the Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles.

Although there are exceptions like Adventure and Pitfall, most of the top selling games for the Atari 2600 were home ports of games that gamers enjoyed playing at the arcade.  Many others had licensed characters from existing properties that potential game buyers were familiar with, like Star Wars and Spider Man.

Imagine trying to tell a story with your game that connects to its audience without the internet, and without the kind of technology that will allow you to tell that story in the game itself.  How do you inspire gamers to connect with the characters and the world you created when those characters are just a couple of pixels, and without the ability to include words other than maybe "score" or "player 1"?  One way is to include a small comic book with the game, and it's one of the things that I believe truly helped Yars' Revenge to have the impact that it had.

The Yars' Revenge comic was written by Hope Shafer and drawn by Frank Cirocco, Ray Garst and Hiro Kimura.  It helped to explain the battle you were having on the screen with your joystick, and it spawned a number of additional ways in which the story was told.

Not long after the game was released, Kids Stuff Records released a record that told the story of Yars' Revenge, and even included some disco-sounding space tunes that fit the mood of the game.  Five years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Howard Scott Warshaw at the Timeline Arcade in Hanover, PA.  He signed my album cover with "Yars' Truly".  You can listen to the album above, which has been digitized and uploaded by boyjohn who has a channel where he archives children's albums on YouTube.