Star Raiders

Star Raiders

Infobox VG
title = Star Raiders

developer = Atari, Inc
publisher = Atari, Inc
designer = Doug Neubauer
engine =
released = 1979
genre = Space simulation
modes = Single player
ratings =
platforms = Atari 8-bit family
media = ROM cartridge
requirements =
input = Keyboard, joystick

"Star Raiders" is a video game for the Atari 8-bit family of computers, released in 1979 and programmed by Doug Neubauer. It was also later ported to other Atari computer and game platforms. It was distinctive for its graphics, which (under most conditions) represented an out-the-cockpit, first-person view from a fictional combat spaceship traveling through a streaming 3D starfield in pursuit of enemy fighters called "Zylons". While there had already been simple target-shooting games using this perspective, "Star Raiders" had considerably higher quality graphics and more complex game play. As a result, it inspired both imitators throughout the 1980s and later-generation "space combat simulation" games such as the "Wing Commander" and "X-Wing" series. It is one of the games that inspired the seminal title "Elite". It is also one in a series of first person space shooters (including 1977's "Starhawk" and 1979's "Star Fire") that appeared in the late-1970s and were arguably predecessors of the later seen first-person shooter genre. The game's attract mode, a simple streaming star field, was a common sight in computer stores of the early-1980s to show off the Atari computers' graphics capabilities.

"Star Raiders" is packaged in a ROM cartridge, which was the prevalent distribution medium for Atari 8-bit games of the time. The game uses both a joystick for direct control and the computer keyboard for entering commands.

"Star Raiders" was also criticized at the time for the violent gameplay [Nelson, Ted. "The Atari Machine", "Creative Computing Magazine. June, 1980. 34-36."] . In 2007, it included in a list of the 10 most important video games of all times. [ [ "Is That Just Some Game? No, It’s a Cultural Artifact"] , "The New York Times", March 27, 2007 (retrieved 2008-10-10)]

Game play

Galactic Chart and hyperspace

The overall gameplay in "Star Raiders" is adapted from earlier text-based Star Trek computer games in which the player's ship maneuvers about a two-dimensional grid fighting a fleet of enemy spaceships. In "Star Raiders", this part of the game takes the form of a "Galactic Chart" display dividing the game's large-scale world into a grid of sectors, some of which are occupied by enemy ships or friendly "starbases". Flying about in the 3D view with the ship's normal engines is sufficient for travel within a sector; travel between sectors is via "hyperspace", accomplished through an elaborate and noisy "hyperwarp" sequence with graphics loosely reminiscent of the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" films in which the stars seemed to stretch to radial lines. On the higher difficulty levels, hyperwarp has a skill element; the player has to keep a wandering cross hair roughly centered during the sequence in order to arrive precisely at the desired destination.

Combat, damage and resources

To the "Star Trek" formula, the game added real-time 3D space battles. In the main, first-person-perspective display, the player can look out the front or rear of the ship and shoot shimmering fireballs at Zylon ships, which come in three different varieties vaguely reminiscent of ships from "Star Wars", "Star Trek", and "Battlestar Galactica" (whose villains were the similarly-titled Cylons). A small targeting display in the lower right corner gives a general indication of a distant enemy or star base's position relative to the player's ship, and also indicates when weapons were locked on the enemy at which point the player's weapons fire will track the enemy like a guided missile. There is also a "long-range scan" screen showing the surrounding region in a third-person plan view.

Enemy ships come in three models. The standard Zylon ships are simple gray shapes, appearing as either a sort of inverted V-shape or as a Star Wars-like tie fighter shape. The more powerful Zylon mothership appear as a glowing yellow split-orb, the glow caused by Zylon shields. In order to destroy the Zylon mother ships the player first needs to destroy the shields on the enemy ship. Enemy ships, particularly on higher levels, are prone to using their own weaponry as a defensive system.

Enemies will fire back and cause damage if the player's ship is hit. The ship can also be damaged by collision with occasional meteoroids. Instead of the multiple lives that were and are a common video-game convention, the "Star Raiders" ship has only one life, but is completely destroyed only if hit while its energy shields are lowered or out of order; otherwise it will sustain varying types of damage, which caused shields, engines, weapons or information displays to work intermittently, partially or not at all. The player has to manage finite energy reserves as well as damage to the ship; it can be repaired and restocked by rendezvous with a star base. The enemy can also destroy a star base if allowed to surround its Galactic Chart sector for too long, so the star bases had to be defended. All this lends "Star Raiders" a degree of complexity and a sense of player immersion that was rare in action games of the era.


In contrast to many games of the era, the player can actually win the game by destroying all enemy ships in the galaxy. However, there is no running score display; only upon winning, dying or quitting the game will the player receive a "rating", which is a quasi-military rank accompanied by a numerical class with particularly bad play earning a rank of "Garbage Scow Captain" or "Galactic Cook". The rating depends on a formula involving the game play level, energy and time used, star bases destroyed, the number of enemies destroyed, and whether the player succeeded in destroying all enemies, was destroyed, or aborted (quit) the mission.

Some possible ratings were (from highest to lowest):
* Star Commander (Class 1)
* Commander
* Captain
* Warrior
* Lieutenant
* Major
* Ace
* Pilot
* Ensign
* Novice
* Rookie (Class 5)

Technical details

"Star Raiders" uses many techniques that would become common features of Atari 8-bit game programming in the 1980s. The star field is drawn in a graphics mode that (at full screen coverage) provides 160x96 bitmapped pixels with a palette of four colors. The use of a palette means that color changes associated with the presence or absence of energy shields, emergency alarms, and the screen flash representing destruction of the ship can be accomplished by simply changing the palette values. Enemy ships, shots, and so forth use Atari's variant of hardware sprites, known as "player-missile graphics". The Atari 8-bit family allows different graphics modes and color palettes to be used in different horizontal bands on the screen, by using a simple display list and a type of horizontal blank interrupt. While other games make more extensive use of these techniques, "Star Raiders" uses them in a relatively simple fashion to combine text displays and graphics; the cockpit display uses a custom character set to display futuristic-looking characters and symbols reminiscent of MICR.

"Star Raiders"' sounds of engines, shots, explosions, alarms, etc. are synthesized directly using the Atari POKEY sound chip's capabilities, and author Doug Neubauer had been involved in the design of POKEY..

The entire game, code and data, fits into 8K (8192 bytes) of ROM, and requires only 8K of RAM for its working data and display visuals; thus it can run on any Atari 8-bit computer.

The debris particles emitted when an enemy ship is destroyed are actually calculated as 3D points. Since the 6502 does not have a native multiply or divide command, the game slows down when several of these particles are active.

One noteworthy flaw in "Star Raiders" is that it is possible for the player to avoid incoming objects, while stationary, simply by rotating the ship. This happens because the game engine rotates the positions of objects, but does not rotate their trajectories.Fact|date=August 2008

Adaptations, sequels, and tie-ins

Versions of "Star Raiders" were created for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and the Atari ST series of computers. Of these, the best-known is probably the Atari 2600 version (1982), which shipped with a special touch pad controller to take the place of the computer keyboard; it suffers somewhat from the sic|2600's relatively limited graphics and sound capabilities. The Atari 5200 version is nearly identical to the computer version, but takes advantage of the sic|5200's analog controller and makes some minor graphical changes.

Atari also produced a somewhat less successful sequel titled "Star Raiders II". "Star Raiders II" was at one point "The Last Starfighter", a licensed tie-in for the movie "The Last Starfighter", written for the 8-bit Atari line. When that licensing deal fell through, the completed game was modified into "Star Raiders II". It was then ported to the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum.

An updated version of "Star Raiders", to be known as "Star Raiders 2000", was planned for release on the Atari Jaguar in 1995. For unknown reasons, it was subsequently retitled "Space War 2000". "Space War 2000" was canceled when Atari play tested an early edition of "BattleSphere", an independently developed game of the same genre. A prototype edition of "Space War 2000" was thrown together and offered for sale some years later. Fact|date=August 2008

Neubauer's later game "Solaris" has some elements in common with "Star Raiders". Surprisingly "Solaris", on the less-powerful Atari 2600, was in some respects more visually advanced than the original Atari 800 version of "Star Raiders". Atari returned to 3D first-person space combat in a far more graphically elaborate form — though with more simplistic game play — with its licensed "Star Wars" arcade game.

Several of Atari's competitors produced "Star Raiders"-like games in the early 1980s, such as Activision's "Starmaster" (1982).

The [|Doctor Who Audio Dramas] , a fan-made production based on the BBC program "Doctor Who", incorporates several elements from the "Star Raiders" game and comic series into a number of their episodes. Though most of the stories featuring the Zylons and Star Cruisers are not available to the public, three stories currently are: "Mindmask", "Terror on Terra", and "Target Zylon". The latter two stories also include a heavy Star Trek influence, "Star Raiders" apparently being set in the world of the United Federation of Planets.


Early production copies of the Atari 2600 version of the game were accompanied by an Atari Force mini-comic (published by DC Comics). This particular issue was #3 in the series, preceded by mini-comics accompanying the Defender and Berserk games. Two final mini-comics followed with the games "Phoenix" and "Galaxian".

In 1983 DC Comics published a graphic novel inspired by the game; it was the first title of the "DC Graphic Novel" series. It was written by Elliot S! Maggin and illustrated by José Luis García Lopez.


External links

* [ Maury Markowitz's Star Raiders page] with screenshots, technical details, extensive gameplay description, and pictures of "Star Raiders" successors
* [ The "Star Raiders" Tribute Page] with screenshots, audio samples, animations and the game manual
*moby game|id=/star-raiders|name="Star Raiders"
* [ Interview with creator Doug Neubauer] includes snippet of "Star Raiders" source code
* [ Another interview with Doug Neubauer]
* [ Atari 2600 Star Raiders]
* [ Star Raiders Manual - Atari 2600] Atari Age reprint
* [ Star Raiders Tutorial] Reprint of September 1982 article from Byte Magazine
* [] Atari 5200 Star Raiders Tactics
* [ "Star Raiders Academy"] from July 1983 Antic Magazine

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