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Air Raid (Men-A-Vision)


DoctorSpuds

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We are going to start with the defacto ‘rare’ game in the 2600 library, Air Raid. Very little is known about this cartridge, and it seems that every step taken towards finally knowing who created this oddity leads further down a rabbit hole of craziness, and red herrings. I have browsed through several Air Raid centric threads and it has been suggested that the creators were drug smuggling members of the Cuban cartel, or even participated in slavery. But it seems that the only promising lead has turned up cold since the only guy who seemed to be going any earnest research into the game has not divulged any further information, which would lead one to assume that there was nothing at the end of that particular tunnel. It is generally assumed that all 25 known copies are pre-production promotional copies that would have been sent out to stores to drum up interest in the game, this would also explain the bright blue coloration of the cartridges since they likely used any plastic they could come up with. It seems however that nobody wanted this game since no orders were placed and the company likely folded shortly afterwards. I remember reading somewhere (so you know it’s true) that employees were trying to give these away for free, so you know it’s gotta be a good game. Then again Men-A-Vision did pick a horrible time to try to break into the games market, as I recall 1982 was a bit of a company killer. Sadly the story of this game overshadows the game itself since there is really very little to talk about when it comes to playing the actual game itself.

 

I’ve heard it said that Air Raid is a highly modified version of Space Jockey, but I honestly don’t think so. There is very little to look at with this game, and for some reason Stella is acting a fool when it comes to this game in particular, since it flickers between B&W and color except the background is a vibrant magenta when it’s in color, so I was forced to use Z26 to play this game properly. There are several different enemies you will be fighting against in this game, first are the upside-down rocket propelled houses, then there are the stick figure airplanes, the generic flying saucers, and the propeller propelled jumbo jets. Most of the sprites are fairly colorful, but all are chucky beyond compare, and then there is you, an attack jet of some sort, that has its wings constantly fall of and reconnect themselves, it truly is a baffling animation. At the bottom of the screen you have a life counter and some large brown buildings smoothly scrolling left to right, believe it or not these four buildings are supposed to be the city of Manhattan, these buildings are essential to the gameplay so I’ll talk more about them there, but so far this is looking pretty grim.

 

Thankfully the sounds are absolutely blissful. Air Raid has some of the chunkiest firing and explosion noises I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, there aren’t many sounds, but the few this game has are fantastic.

 

This is a shoot ‘em up, simple as it gets, but Air Raid somehow get’s it very wrong. The goal of the game is extremely simple; shoot all the enemies before they fall to earth, if several enemies get past you the buildings will slowly crumble more and more before exploding in a blaze of glory. There are a maximum of three enemies on screen at once, some will fall faster than others, the houses and the saucers tend to fall slower than the planes. Enemies will also fire on you to make your life more difficult, occasionally an enemy will have a vertical white line flash through it, and I have no idea what that means, but it frightens me. The one thing though that kills this game for me is the hit detection, it’s completely random, and for the propeller planes I’m pretty sure you have to hit the direct center pixel for it to register. You will see plenty of shots pass right through the enemies, though it seems that your hit chance is increased if you keep your ship directly beneath the falling enemies when your shot makes contact, at least, that’s what it looked like to me.

 

Air Raid is a simple game that is broken by a simple issue, the inability to actually hit your targets, couple that with repetitive gameplay that doesn’t really escalate in difficulty and you have a prime recipe for disaster. Thankfully the game does have some replay value with the game variations, but since I can’t find a single manual scan I have no clue what they change. Normally such a game would be seen as worthless by the collecting community at large, but rarity has a tendency to inflate the perceived value of a game, and it truly has here since a CIB copy of Air Raid sold for over $30,000 at auction, and loose copies have sold for at least a tenth of that which would still place them in the thousands of dollars. If I had the funds to buy this game, I would not, since I would also need a safe to keep it in, and what’s the point of a game that can never be played? Just buy a reproduction copy off of Etsy or something… Also are all the copies in PAL? I’ve seen that it runs at 290 scanlines, while a standard North American game runs around 260, and a PAL game runs at 300+, I’m askin’ for a friend here.

 

Useful threads

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/204931-the-secret-of-men-a-vision-revealed/page-1?hl=%20men

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/204249-10-17-2012-found-air-raid-with-original-box/page-1

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This is actually a PAL game, so the magenta background colours are valid. And the switching to B&W is because that's what a PAL TV would do when the scanline count goes from even to odd and back again (ie, inconsistent line counts). This effect can be turned off (PAL colour-loss effect).

 

In the future, if you have a problem with a certain game, feel free to send me a message about it. Particularly when you will be reviewing something using Stella. It should absolutely never be necessary to revert to an emulator that has been obsolete for years.

 

Going forward, this is a problem we face with Stella. The more accurate we make the emulation, the more 'crude' some games really show themselves to be. In Stella 6.0, the sound is now cycle-exact and much more authentic. But it makes some games sound worse than you remember, but actually true to how they really were.

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This is actually a PAL game, so the magenta background colours are valid. And the switching to B&W is because that's what a PAL TV would do when the scanline count goes from even to odd and back again (ie, inconsistent line counts). This effect can be turned off (PAL colour-loss effect).

 

In the future, if you have a problem with a certain game, feel free to send me a message about it. Particularly when you will be reviewing something using Stella. It should absolutely never be necessary to revert to an emulator that has been obsolete for years.

 

Going forward, this is a problem we face with Stella. The more accurate we make the emulation, the more 'crude' some games really show themselves to be. In Stella 6.0, the sound is now cycle-exact and much more authentic. But it makes some games sound worse than you remember, but actually true to how they really were.

 

I manually switched Air Raid from the Autodetected PAL to NTSC and have encountered a different problem. The bottom green bit has been totally cut off, I know this is due to it running in NTSC node and not being able display all 290-ish of the lines, but it is really quite obnoxious since now I can't see how many lives I have. For Air Raid only, I will use Z26 since it gets it right first time every time, otherwise it's Stella all the way.

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That's the thing though, Z26 isn't getting it right, what you're seeing in Stella is what you'd likely* see on a real Atari.

If you want to force the game to be NTSC then you should also set the height, which would be equivalent of adjusting the Vertical Size on your TV to make the extra tall picture fit on the screen:

  • Press <TAB> key to bring up the in-game menu
  • Click on the Game Properties... button
  • Click on the Display tab (make note of the * message about reloading the ROM)
  • Change Format to NTSC
  • Change Height from Auto to 230 (or larger)
  • Click OK
  • Click Exit Menu
  • Press <CONTROL><R> keys to reload the game

 

* it's also likely the picture would be scrolling so much on your TV that it'd make the game unplayable.

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That's the thing though, Z26 isn't getting it right, what you're seeing in Stella is what you'd likely* see on a real Atari.

 

If you want to force the game to be NTSC then you should also set the height, which would be equivalent of adjusting the Vertical Size on your TV to make the extra tall picture fit on the screen:

* it's also likely the picture would be scrolling so much on your TV that it'd make the game unplayable.

 

So you're telling me that one of the most expensive games on the 2600, a game that we all drool over, would not display properly on either a PAL or NTSC television? Unless of course you have a TV that can adjust the vertical hold, but even so, you'd likely cut off the score trying to get the bottom of the screen to fit. I'm sorry but Air Raid is garbage, why do we even like this game?

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Yep - the further from 262 scanlines for NTSC, or 312 from PAL, a game is the more likely a TV will display a rolling picture.

The game's 290 scanlines on the game select screen, and 291 while playing with occasional bumps to 292. That's 28-30 scanlines out of spec for NTSC and 20-22 scanlines out of spec for PAL, 11% and 6.7% respectively. It's less out of spec for PAL so more likely to be displayed w/out rolling than on NTSC.

The color value used for the sky (blue for NTSC, purple for PAL), and the odd number of scanlines (resulting in loss of color for PAL), suggests it's meant for NTSC. Likely the TV they designed it against was very tolerant of out-of-spec signals.

People like the rarity, not the game itself.

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If the ROM is out there, isn't it quite easy to put it on e.g. a Harmony cartridge and run on a PAL 2600 and PAL TV set? For comparison, while I tend to lose colours if I run a NTSC console/computer on a PAL TV, I rarely get a rolling picture even with the older TV sets. I don't know why this would be the case, if the vertical blank is magical so the TV simply "waits" the missing raster lines. In principle I can obtain access to a Harmony Encore and a composite modded 2600jr to test this unless anyone else already have. I also have another 2600 in parts which I'm not sure if I'll ever get it to work again but that is another topic.

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People like the rarity, not the game itself.

 

I suppose all collectors are guilty of this, we all want to have a game to show off, I know I have several (Chuck Wagon, Bumper Bash, Custer's Revenge, ETC...). I would never, however, spend 100+ dollars on a game, that's my limit, that's why I still find it so confounding that people will shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a game that hasn't even been properly coded.

 

It's actually rather nice to have a price cap when it comes to collecting, just so it doesn't get out of hand.

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A few times I have been considering compiling a list of those truly rare games that turn out to be quite playable as well. They're not that many, even looking across all formats.

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I rarely get a rolling picture even with the older TV sets.

From what I've seen most PAL TVs can handle down to 262 w/out any problem, hence all the PAL60 homebrews.

 

I haven't run across any NTSC TVs that can handle 312, though my C=1084S monitor does. Back in the day I used to boot my Amiga 2000HD in PAL mode for the extra resolution. Still do the same with my Amiga CD32 as most of the games I have for it are PAL.

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I would never, however, spend 100+ dollars on a game, that's my limit, that's why I still find it so confounding that people will shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a game that hasn't even been properly coded.

 

It's actually rather nice to have a price cap when it comes to collecting, just so it doesn't get out of hand.

 

Agreed! The $100 cap is a good one to have. I think I've only broken it once (fellow 5200 collectors will know EXACTLY for which game!)

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