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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians - Design and Development Log

Ryan Witmer

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Finally!  This is going to be a fun one, I think.




This idea came from two different places.  First was last year's @ZeroPage Homebrew stream where he was trying to come up with Christmas, or at least winter themed games for a holiday show.  I got to thinking about it, and realized that I couldn't come up with a single Christmas game for the 5200.  Even winter themed games were hard to come by, I could only come up with RealSports Curling and that's kind of a stretch.


So, I resolved myself to fix this problem.  To create the much-needed Christmas game for the 5200.


Enter my second idea.  I had long been toying with the idea of doing a film adaptation.  Now, obviously there are a ton of legal issues involved with this, so I thought it might be fun to adapt a movie in the public domain.  It was then that inspiration struck, as I remembered that the 1964 holiday "classic" Santa Claus Conquers the Martians was in the public domain!


Much like how Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping, my game could be both a Christmas game and a film adaptation!  Two great tastes in one project.


As a huge Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, this is a movie I'm already very familiar with, so I started coming up with some basic ideas before I even rewatched the film for research.  The idea I'm running with right now is for something very much like Jungle Hunt.  A series of mostly independent screens with completely different game play on each screen.  The screens will roughly follow the plot of the movie, with certain liberties taken here and there.


I'll sum up the plot here:


The children of Mars are depressed, or something.  So Kimar, who seems to be the Martian leader, consults a wise old Martian for help.  He learns that the children of Mars are moody because they don't have Christmas.



Kimar hatches a plan to travel to Earth and kidnap Santa Claus so they can force him to bring Christmas to Mars.  During the mission they meet Billy and Betty, a pair of Earth children who somehow get caught up in the whole mess.



Kimar and his gang grab Santa, bringing him and the Earth children back to Mars.  One particular Martian named Voldar keeps opposing Kimar every step of the way, believing that this whole Christmas thing will turn the people of Mars soft, into Martianmallows, if you will.  Voldar is basically the movie's villain.



Santa and the kids are put to work on Mars making toys, alongside Kimar's children Bomar and Girmar.  Kimar builds a toy machine for Santa to help him, since he lacks his usual workshop and elves.



Then there's Dropo, who seems to be some kind of servant to Kimar, as the "funny one."  He develops an obsession with Santa and starts dressing up as him.  Voldar sneaks in to disable the toy machine and finds Dropo in Santa garb, and decides to kidnap him thinking he's the real Santa.


More hijinks ensue, and in the end Voldar is defeated in an epic toy battle, Dropo becomes the Santa Claus of Mars, and Santa and the children return to Earth in time for Christmas.


Lots of great material to work with here!  After a few viewings, I've come up with a rough five-stage plan which is of course subject to massive change:


1: North Pole Escape

Early in the film, Billy and Betty are brought to the north pole by the Martians on their way to grab Santa.  They escape the ship after Dropo released them and try to reach Santa's workshop to warn him.  In the movie they are pursued by Voldar and the mighty robot Torg.



A "polar bear" also gets involved.


For this screen, I'm imagining some kind of maze chase where the kids have to evade Voldar, Torg, and the "polar bear" and reach Santa's workshop.  In the movie, the kids are actually caught by Torg, but I'll take some creative license here.  There's a part in the movie where Voldar follows the kids' footprints, so maybe I could work that in somehow.  Voldar also gets scared off the by "polar bear" so that's another interesting angle.  Torg fears nothing.


2.  Airlock Escape

On the way to Mars, Voldar tries to kill Santa and the kids by shooting them out of the airlock, but they escape due to Santa's magical ability to traverse air ducts or something.  I think there's something workable here.


3. Martian toy shop

This is just screaming out for a Pressure Cooker style order-fulfillment game, where you control the kids trying to correctly manage toys as they come out of the machine.


4. Voldar's cave

After Voldar kidnaps Dropo, he takes him to a cave hideout which is locked by something called a nuclear curtain.  I don't know what that is, but it sounds awesome.  Dropo later escapes the cave, and I think there could be stage here involving these nuclear curtains.


5. Kids vs. Voldar

Of course, the final showdown has to be here.  This stage would involve the kids fighting Voldar in the toy shop to complete the cycle.  After that, the game would loop with more difficulty, as good games do.


So that's my rough plan.  I should also mention that I'm planning to do this on a 512KB cartridge.  This will allow me to make all kinds of cool intermission scenes, possibly with stills from the movie.  I'm very much looking forward to it.


I don't expect to be able to start any coding until at least after PRGE.  Still working out design stuff.  Each phase of the game can be worked on in isolation though, so it should be an interesting project.




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3 hours ago, atari2600land said:

You're making me wish I had a 5200.

When you do eventually get one you won't regret it, believe me as a 39-year owner of a 5200 I should know first hand, but, a few things...


1) get a 2-port unit, so you will have full compatibility with the 2600 adapter,


2) make sure to also pick up a pair of refurbished 5200 controllers from Best Electronics, they have all gold contacts on them


3) get yourself both the CX55 VCS cartridge adapter (it works only with 2-port units)


4) get yourself a CX53 Trak-Ball controller and some optocouplers for her as well as Best Electronics gold button repair kits for the keypads, I used some to restore my Trak-Ball last year and I do not regret doing so.


5) find yourself a good tech (there are plenty here on AA) to replace the BIOS with a 4-port BIOS in order to assure full compatibility with all games 


6) get an Atarimax Ultimate SD multicart and hook up with yours truly the BIGHMW Himself, so you can get over 400 titles to play on her


And, finally, 7) pick yourself up the now-famous and vital RF-to-HDMI analog TV receiver that'll allow you to play your newfound friend on even a 4K (or any other HDTV) UHD TV, as it just simply needs an HDMI cable and also dont forget to get that important RCA-to-PAL plug adapter you're gonna need for its onboard (European, PAL/IEC) antenna input, the video I made on it will be posted in a later post for you to see.


The money you spent will all be worth it. :)

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I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past week about the first stage, and I'm starting to get some pretty solid ideas in my head.  It will be probably be a little bit of Night Stalker, a little bit of Dig Dug, and a little bit of Pac Man all thrown together.


One idea I'm toying with is making you select between playing Billy or Betty and giving them slightly different attributes.  You would only make this choice on the first game loop, and after that the character you play would alternate every loop.


I might start coding something up soon, even before I get the info I need on the 512KB cartridge.  I could just start on this first stage as a normal 32KB game and refit it to the larger cartridge when the time comes.

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I was doing a little experimenting and got this shot from the movie of Voldar and his glorious mustache.




This is in the 5200's 9 color 80 pixel wide mode, which I've never used before but really want to.  I love the idea of putting shots from the movie into the game.  It's really hard to get the colors right, as you can see here, but with practice I'll get better at it.

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I was planning to start actual work on this after PRGE, but I have so many cool ideas in my head right now, I couldn't help myself and "broke ground" on the coding for stage 1.


Right now I'm coding it like a normal 32K game.  Once I get the info on the 512K cart and figure out how to even build for it I'll find a way to rework whatever I have done to fit that cart's layout.


Not sure if I'll have any real screenshots to show before PRGE, but it's possible.

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Another 9 color mode experiment.



This is one of the images from my PC game converted over.  I figured out some better ways to do color selection, and it seems obvious that with careful choice of image and cropping you can get some pretty good stuff.  I really want to load up the 512K with movie shots.

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I love this idea. It would go nicely next to my Santas Helper (2600) homemade/brew game. Pretty awesome little kit of stuff, and it came with everything in the photo-including the very movie you're using as the theme for your game!

Plus anything 5200 count me in!


Edited by jetset
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On 10/7/2022 at 9:19 PM, phuzaxeman said:

Ryan, this sounds weird but cool. I hope you find a way to utilize the 5200 sticks. 


Oh ya, making a level that benefits from the analog joystick would further cement this as a game too good for normal digital joystick systems.


As soon as I wrote that I envisioned a Christmas game that is sort of like Missile Command but you are trying to shoot Santa Claus' sleigh out of the night sky, hahaahaha.  You know, for the kids.  Extra points for blowing Rudolph out of his harness!

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