New Kickstarter for Atari 2600 Star Castle - But should you support it?

Bill Loguidice's picture

I posted about this as a comment in another thread, but since this is such a big deal I thought I would whip up a quick front page blog post to give it its due. There's a new Kickstarter for an Atari 2600 version of Star Castle, a 1980 vector-based arcade game from Cinematronics that received an excellent port to the Vectrex home console in 1982. While the Atari 2600 can only produce raster, not vector graphics like the Vectrex, a recent port of the game was created by D. Scott Williamson, an original Atari programmer, albeit one who started working there six years after the 1982-release of Howard Scott Warshaw's Star Castle-inspired Yars' Revenge. Williamson was similarly inspired to create his Star Castle homebrew by Warshaw's creation, so he purposely limited himself to 8K of ROM for authenticity's sake, even though the cartridge hardware that he made could handle up to 64K.

Long story short, Williamson ended up wanting tens of thousands of dollars for his programming effort--a reasonable request if this were the platform's early 80's heydey. Unfortunately for Williamson, most homebrewers these days do it for the proverbial love of the game, so no one was willing to pay anywhere near that. In fact, in a convoluted AtariAge thread, his actions and subsequent reactions, not to mention that of the community's, eventually led to another homebrew programmer being himself inspired to create a version, which he released for free, here, and by all accounts is superb.

Undeterred, Williamson decided to take his case to Kickstarter, which you can see here. It's a genuine soap opera (one that I'm not even sure I have sorted correctly), albeit one within a niche of a niche within our industry. It will be interesting to see how this Kickstarter works out for Williamson. I'm certainly intrigued by the cartridge with flashing lights timed to the gameplay and admire his engineering effort, but $100 for a complete, boxed copy is a bit tough to swallow. Maybe with a bit of time I'll reconsider...

What are your thoughts on this mess? Obviously Williamson can charge what he wants for his work - and it's up to the market to decide what they'll pay (and they didn't pay the first time around; maybe this Kickstarter will be different) - but is he out of touch with the realities of the homebrew market? After all, even the best homebrews can struggle to sell 250 boxed copies at well below his $100 boxed copy asking price...

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Rob Daviau
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As far as I am concerned..

Williamson totally is out of touch with the Homebrew market. I followed the thread and all the comments form the beginning and I just don't like his approach at all. I agree he totally has the right to decide what he time, effort and work is worth but that does not mean anyone else will agree or support it. Yes a lot of people were rude or spiteful but a lot generally did try to reason with him and make suggestions and come to an understanding but he simply seems to of had his mind made up from the start and not really willing to budge. Personally I wont support this and I suspect many will not becuase to do so would send him and others the wrong message. Like anything in business the consumer should be dictating the market and making the rules, I do not want to see him succeed in this case because that will encourage future Home-brewer's to take the same route.

Honestly, I truly think he made a big mistake with his choices and decisions, many home-brew coder's do it for the fun, challenge and love of it and to give back to the community, I do not sense that from Williamson in the slightest. I feel more he has attempted to exploit the retro gaming community instead. The good that comes from this is that it inspired / encouraged another talented fellow to come up with his own version who seems to be more reasonable about how it will be distributed. I really believe Williamson is seeing that he has made an error in judgment but he is in so deep now he wont back down nor admit that perhaps he should of been more reasonable and as you touched on released it in a more traditional manner. I think now with the other fellow releasing a version that is much more obtainable he has run to the Kickstarter project as a last desperate attempt to reach his greedy goal. If he succeeds then the Homebrew fans will only have themselves to blame when more and more Homebrew programmers choose to go that route.

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Bill Loguidice
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Good points, Rob. It is

Good points, Rob. It is indeed something of a conundrum. I too on one level support Williamson, and on another level don't like the approach that he took, particularly initially. He most certainly did not have an understanding of the present day homebrew scene, particularly the reality of the economics. On the flip-side, there are some genuine ass-hats who are borderline sociopaths in our ("the") community, which makes me at least a little sympathetic to his efforts. I'll be continue to follow this closely before I come to a personal decision on this whole thing...

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clok1966
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I also read that thread when

I also read that thread when somebody pointed it out here originaly. Its a hard one for sure. I found myslef Liking Willamson in a "hate" way.. How do you put it? I hate how he did it, but never felt he was wrong. With that said, I would never support him with money.. a smile and "I know where he is comming from, but not sure I like it" is about the most support i could give.

its almost moot I would think (and here is where Im probebly way off). Sombody has already done it as you stated. The people who buy this stuff (very nitch market i would think) will know this. Does it start to get to "must have, for haveings sake" or to playt he game? I cant see much support for this unless Kickstarter is in that magic area (and I think it still is) where people will just check it out without knowing the whole picture and maybe there will be enouhg 2600 people (this part i cant see) that would pay without knowing the state of 2600 development.

Bill Loguidice
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Kickstarter and copyright
clok1966 wrote:

its almost moot I would think (and here is where Im probebly way off). Sombody has already done it as you stated. The people who buy this stuff (very nitch market i would think) will know this. Does it start to get to "must have, for haveings sake" or to playt he game? I cant see much support for this unless Kickstarter is in that magic area (and I think it still is) where people will just check it out without knowing the whole picture and maybe there will be enouhg 2600 people (this part i cant see) that would pay without knowing the state of 2600 development.

I believe that's EXACTLY why you take something like this to a Kickstarter. It has all the right buzz-words for those who don't know the whole story behind this, let alone that someone released a free port of their own! It will be interesting to see if this gets picked up at some of the more mainstream places and then what happens from there. That's the key to making this go, "boom!" All of the niche melodrama is limited to that tiny percentage of people who are on AtariAge and/or bother to look into this more...

The big "x" factor with this is rights. It's one thing to sell on the down-low, it's another to sell what is eseentially someone else's IP on Kickstarter. There are rules against that sort of thing. While there's no more Cinematronics, obviously, and unlikely to be a rights holder for the IP to come forward, the point remains...

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Bill Loguidice
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So, right or wrong, I weighed

So, right or wrong, I weighed the pros and cons and relative value and decided to back it at the second $100 level. We'll see what happens... Honestly, as crazy as it sounds, the novelty of the flashing lights on the cartridge in time to the gameplay pushed it over the top for me. It will also retain its value (and likely then some) in the future, so there's always that as a consolation... This is of course assuming it gets funded.

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David Barbour
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Slighty offtopic but somewhat

Slighty offtopic but somewhat relevant. If a kickstarter fund doesn't reach its goal are the funds returned to the donators?

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Bill Loguidice
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Kickstarter details
David Barbour wrote:

Slighty offtopic but somewhat relevant. If a kickstarter fund doesn't reach its goal are the funds returned to the donators?

Yes, people who donate only get charged if a particular Kickstarter meets its funding goal and then only on the end date specified. In the case of this Star Castle one, that's a minimum of $10,000 pledged by Thursday, May 24, 2012 @ 8:01AM EDT. In my case, if it meets or exceeds that goal, that's when I'll personally be charged the $100.

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D. Scott Williamson (not verified)
Star Castle Atari 2600

[I should know better than to reply to threads like this...]

I was inspired by Howard Scott Warshaw's quotes in Racing the Beam, A Yar Is Born, and in interviews to try to create Star Castle for the 2600 as it could technically have been released in 1981. Yars Revenge was done in a 4K cartridge and was and is awesome, but Asteroids came out first in an 8K cartridge so that's what I decided to use.

I showed the game at the Video Game Summit in 2010 and Crimestopper made the first Atari Age post on the forums. Once I got involved the feedback was great but once they found out that I had no intention of selling or sharing the game I found myself taking a more and more defensive position. Every game I've ever done has been pirated and I wanted to have control over this one very personal piece of work. Right or wrong, I should have stopped responding long before the thread was eventually locked.

In 2011 I had created the new custom cartridge with the flashing lights and had showed it again at the Video Game Summit where I announced the $32k price. I didn't really expect to find a buyer at that price, not at the conference, not on Atari Age, not really anywhere, and frankly don't expect to find one on Kickstarter at $10k. I'd like to keep that cartridge, it's special to me. I wouldn't have put any price on it if the discussion in the forums hadn't gone so bad. In hindsight it was probably a mistake that I can't undo, but what I can do is make the game and source available.

In 2012 a new thread was started and shortly after cd-w (Chris) started his project which is fantastic. We both did it for the challenge but beyond that we did different versions of the same game for different reasons and with different constraints. Working alone, I made a version to prove it could have been done in an 8K cartridge in1981, Chris and a handful of other people worked together to make a fantastic modern version in 28K version using additional RAM in the cartridge. We both used the hardware in different ways and made different compromises. The resulting products play differently and offer interesting perspectives both from a technical and artistic points of view. Personally, I think the products compliment and contrast each other more than compete.

I started preparing for my Kickstarter around the same time Chris started his project, it's just a coincidence. I think he plans to sell his on Atari Age, and if the Kickstarter is successful, I'll sell mine. Now the game and source code are available at a reasonable price which is what everyone wanted in the first place and hopefully we can all go home happy.

It has been quite a soap opera, and I hope that it doesn't detract too much from what I had originally intended to accomplish.

By the way thanks for your support Bill,

Sincerely,

D. Scott Williamson
[shameless plug]
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/698159145/atari-2600-star-castle

Bill Loguidice
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I think I made the right decision

Thanks for clarifying, D. While many of us have been following the theatrics from afar, it's much appreciated to hear your direct perspective. Certainly, we don't try to pass any judgments without facts here on Armchair Arcade (even though it's all personal opinion anyway what someone ultimately thinks, obviously) and tried to leave this "issue" open for the usual reasoned debate here. As I implied in my posts, as is often the case with "passionate" classic gamers in particular, things can quickly get out of hand and be particularly hard to sort the reality from the irrational or misunderstood.

I think in the end, it's no harm, no foul, everybody wins. The community got their full blown, free port using the wonders of modern technology, and, if all goes well with the Kickstarter, a collectible, authentic early 1980s-era-style version complete with its own melodramatic backstory...

Best of luck.

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Bill Loguidice
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YouTube version of the Kickstarter video
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