Second Chances

2012-11-24

After Tim Schaffer proved crowd-funding was a viable option for video gaming with his project Double Fine Adventure, the Kickstarter flood gates were open for video game content.

Most of these games have been specifically for PC, so I won't go into detail on those, but there have been some retro console releases that make for some very interesting stories.

Star Castle for the Atari VCS/2600 by D. Scott Williamson

See the kickstarter page.

Stats:
Tagline: The best Atari 2600 programmer said it couldn't be done! Now, over 30 years later, get your very own Atari 2600 Star Castle cartridge!
Funded on May 24, 2012
418 backers (310 physical copies sent to backers)
Raised $23,946 of a $10,000 goal

The original history:

The arcade game Star Castle is a vector-based shooter, released in 1980. The game was designed by Tim Skelly and developed/published by Cinematronics.

The game puts the player in control of a ship which is attempting to destroy the Star Castle. The castle has rotating shields which the player must blast through in order to destroy the ship in the center.

The following year, Howard Scott Warshaw, a new programmer at Atari, was tasked with developing a 2600 version of Star Castle. After some preliminary research, he determined that an accurate port was not possible for the 2600 and any scaled down version would not be fun.

Warshaw redesigned the game and released it as Yar's Revenge. The game went on to become one of the most successful 2600 games, but despite its similarities, it was not Star Castle.

The only console version of Star Castle was released for the Vectrex in 1983.

The second chance:

The Star Castle 2600 story stuck with an ex-Atari programmer, D. Scott Williams, who was inspired to build the game for the hardware after re-reading its history in the 2008 book, "Racing the Beam".

Williamson, who currently works at High Voltage Software, remembers Star Castle as one of the arcade games which inspired him to get into the industry. He began his career at Atari working on 2600 games in 1988.

Williamson dug out his old 2600 documentation and code samples, and put together a development environment for the task. He limited himself to hardware unique to the time period that Yar's Revenge was developed in, by only developing the game on an 8kb cartridge.

Months later, after several failed attempts in which Williamson ran into space and timing limitation, he managed to make progress. In early 2010, the first prototype was completed. Williamson showed off his accomplishment at the Video Game Summit. In 2011, he had made improvements to the AI, collision, level progression, and designed an unique light up cartridge.

With the enthusiasm around the project, Williamson launched his Kickstarter to raise funds to produce the project.


The cartridges were sent out in November 2012.


CHEETAHMEN II : THE LOST LEVELS for NES by GREG PABICH

The Stats:
Tagline: THE MOST NOTORIOUS NES GAME IN HISTORY FINALLY AVAILABLE IN A CLASSIC WORKING CART FOR YOUR NES DECK.
Funded on September 6, 2012
1,122 backers (927 physical copies sent to backers)
Raised $94,270 of a $65,000 goal

See the kickstarter page.

The original history:

One of the most interesting stories in NES history, unlicensed NES publisher Active Enterprises is infamous for its buggy, broken and lackluster games. The only official release from the company, which was founded by Raul Gomila and Vince Perri in 1989, was Action 52. The game sold terribly for the asking price of $200, and Active Enterprise shut down shortly after, despite nearly completing another project, Cheetahmen 2.

Cheetahmen 2 was the sequel to the game The Cheetahmen, which was included on Action 52. The game was produced on the same cartridges Action 52 was released on, but with a golden sticker that said Cheetahmen II. Because Active Enterprises knew that the game was incomplete (it was buggy and only 6 of 10 planned levels were produced), and because they went out of business, the game never shipped.

In 1996, a crate of Cheetahmen II games were found in a warehouse and sold off for up to $1,500 a piece. The game featured several glitches, the worst being that after the fourth stage boss, nothing happened. The player couldn't proceed and the final 2 stages could not be accessed. A glitch was discovered where the game had a random chance of starting on level 5 when it was turned on, so gamers who wanted to see the last 2 stages would have to restart the system over and over until they started on those stages.

Action 52 and Cheetahmen II gained some popularity in recent years after being featured in episodes of the popular web series, The Angry Video Game Nerd.

With the company already shut down, that should have been the end of Cheetahmen and Active Enterprises.

The second chance:

In 2011, Greg Pabich, a video and game distributor from the early 90's, came across an Action 52 prototype that was received during a meeting with Active Enterprises. The prototype contained the original, unreleased version of Cheetahmen, which was a 2 stage game called Action Gamer. He took control of Active Enterprises and its assets, and used the code to produce reproduction cartridges of the prototype called Cheetahmen: The Creation.

Pabich's fundraiser sought to fix the broken Cheetahmen II. He worked with one of the original programmers to fix the game-breaking bug, and put out an affordable version of the game for collectors who couldn't afford the $1,500 version for their collection.

The kickstarter offered the game at $60 and featured a promotion video starring Pabich, James Rolfe the Angry Video Game Nerd, Pat the NES Punk, and the Game Chasers.

The campaign hit an immediate backlash from the community claiming that Pabich was going against the spirit of Kickstarter by selling pre-orders of a game at a price that would turn a profit. The idea of a $60 reproduction cartridge, when a fixed version of the game already exists in rom form online, was met with negativity. However the Kickstarter was very successful early on and managed to receive well over the initial ask.

As an add on, Pabich offered a copy of Cheetahmen: The Creation for $99 to each backer. The cheapest previous option to receive the game was $199.

The Cheetahmen 2 games ship to backers by the end of the year.