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New games for the Atari Lynx (atarigamer.com)
150 points by ikromin 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments



Admittedly I have never tried the real hardware, only emulators. I wasn't even aware of the Lynx's existence during my youth until years after its demise. I have seen the unit on a few occasions out in the wild though. On paper, the hardware looks amazing and was way ahead of any portable game system at the time. Not only could it display in color, but it also supported scaling and rotation effects.

The story of its creators, Epyx, is a sad one though. Epyx was traditionally a software company, not hardware, having released hit games like "California Games". They signed a deal with Atari that basically gave Atari the rights to delay releases of Epyx software for any QA issues Atari found.

Atari was being run by Commodore founder Jack Tramiel at this point, and he was known for his shady business practices. Atari abused this part of the contract with Epyx, forcing Epyx to delay their software releases until the company was bled dry. And then Atari took what was left of Epyx for a bargain, including ownership of what would become the Atari Lynx (originally the "Handy"):

Facing financial difficulties, Epyx sought out partners. Nintendo, Sega, and other companies declined, but Atari Corp. and Epyx eventually agreed that Atari Corp. would handle production and marketing, while Epyx would handle software development. Epyx declared bankruptcy by the end of the year, and Atari essentially owned the entire project

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Lynx#History

I am glad that Atari imploded a few years later. Good riddance.

Sega also ended up lifting a lot of the Lynx's design for the Game Gear after the Handy was pitched to them by Epyx.

There is also an amusing story about how Epyx's pitch to Nintendo of Japan went terribly wrong, though I can't find it now.


> Not only could it display in color, but it also supported scaling and rotation effects.

IIRC the Lynx was designed at a time (1986-87) when this was feasible for portable systems but not for consoles, because of its low resolution (160 x 102 - the height seems strange until you realize that it gives you almost exactly 16 * 1024 pixels).

> Sega also ended up lifting a lot of the Lynx's design for the Game Gear after the Handy was pitched to them by Epyx.

The external design, maybe, but the internals of the two machines are very different. The Game Gear uses a Z80 to the Lynx's 6502 and has tile-based graphics where the Lynx uses a bitmapped display. The Game Gear is essentially a portable Sega Master System - a console that predates the design of the Lynx.

> There is also an amusing story about how Epyx's pitch to Nintendo of Japan went terribly wrong, though I can't find it now.

It's here: https://www.retrogamer.net/profiles/hardware/atari-lynx/

“We were the first non-Nintendo people to learn of the existence of the Nintendo Game Boy,” Needle says, recoiling even at the memory. “We were crushed. Joe was infuriated. The Nintendo boss left the room and we just sat there, wondering what to do next.”


Interesting about the resolution, since that was 1/60th the number of pixels as the NES. The Lynx did have a 16 bit graphics chip though.

The Epyx guys claim that Sega lifted their design for the Game Gear some time after their pitch. I think this meant the look and feel of the system-- both the horizontal orientation and idea of using a color display. According to Epyx, Sega still got it wrong and produced a crappy design in comparison. To be fair, the Lynx was a far more capable system.


> According to Epyx, Sega still got it wrong and produced a crappy design in comparison. To be fair, the Lynx was a far more capable system.

Making the Game Gear more-or-less a portable Master System was probably the right decision though. It enabled easy porting of existing Master System games, and development of new games to run on both platforms. Although the SMS was dead in Japan and North America before the Game Gear's release, it was still going strong in Europe and other markets.

It also made possible the Game Gear's SMS mode, in which the machine behaves exactly like a Master System. This allowed backwards compatibility with existing SMS games via an adapter (which seems to have been important to Sega - the Genesis has a similar capability), and enabled an even simpler method of porting SMS games: a few Game Gear games [1] are really SMS games with a built-in adapter.

The Game Gear therefore had a stronger software library than the Lynx, despite being technically inferior. And, ultimately, the overwhelming success of the Game Boy showed that it is the games (and battery life) that really matter.

[1] http://www.smspower.org/Tags/SMS-GG


>Interesting about the resolution, since that was 1/60th the number of pixels as the NES.

surely you mean 1/4


160 x 102 is also the resolution of the Bally Astrocade (1977) and at 2 bits per pixel it takes up almost all of the 4KB of RAM. Luckily, you can adjust the number of visible lines, otherwise you'd have only 16 bytes for your data and stack. Lynx has an 8KB frame buffer (4 bits/pixel) out of 64KB.


That's another interesting thing about the Lynx - it has so much RAM compared to other 8-bit game systems (the Game Boy, Master System, Game Gear and PC Engine all have 8KB, the NES has just 2KB).

Those other systems all work by memory-mapping the ROM cartridge so that it can be seen by the CPU directly, whereas the Lynx requires ROM data to be read into RAM first. In that way, its programming model is more like a system with a disc drive (either magnetic or optical) than one which takes ROM cartridges.


A friend of mine had a Lynx, it was really massive. Bigger than a Game Gear that was already much bigger than the GameBoy.

Apparently the Lynx is even bigger than a Nintendo Switch, despite having a screen not much bigger than the Gameboy.

Well, my friend was proud that you could play it reverse, dpad on the right if you were left handed. Not sure if left handed players really want to play reverse anyway.


Yes, the original Lynx is massive, I have a held one myself.

I have also held the Lynx 2, which is a much smaller system that's around the size of the Game Gear. Though even the Game Gear seems massive by today's standards.


The Game Gear was massive at release, by my own standards (expectations calibrated by Game and Watch and the original Game Boy).


Atari like Commodore didn't market their new systems that much. It was mostly magazines and word of mouth. At least in the USA it was that way. Still they both controlled the home computer market in the 8 bit areas.


Atari's dominance is a major factor of the video game crisis in the 80s. The home console industry almost collapsed because all the consoles were licensing without quality control. Games would be broken or just badly designed for full price.

It's archaic now, but when the NES came that golden "Official Nintendo Seal of Quality" saved the industry. Amazingly, the Nintendo CEO who was granting this seal did not play video games. He would have an employee play the game in front of him and he would decide whether it was a good game or not.


It's also worth noting that this crash was largely North American, as the European gaming market was dominated by home computers.

If you have any experience with home computer games of that era, you'll know that the quality control wasn't actually better, it's just that games came on cassette tapes and floppies, and so were vastly cheaper mistakes when you bought one (plus you could fix the bugs yourself on the ones written in BASIC, fun!!).


PC games took a long while to compete with consoles. Blizzard and Valve built that market in the 2000s.


Well.. in some countries, games/programs were even broadcasted on public FM radio stations.


Like the United States, where you could download on both AM and FM stations.


the Game Gear was awesome! obsessed over the writeup for that in Consumer Reports for Kids until i could save up for one.


The game gear was awesome. When the lynx came out it was pretty neat, sorta. I had one friend with one. But it paled in comparison to even the game boy, which had tons of games.


Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore and savior of Atari was a very tough guy to negotiate with, but from this, it sounds like the Epyx management did not have a clue of what they were doing...


That is very likely. They were brilliant engineers, not good businessmen.


Retro gamer/collector here that’s been in and out of the Jaguar scene since the ‘93 launch, and I can say this with the utmost respect:

Atari systems don’t die, they just go into the public domain where they tend to live forever on an inexhaustible well of community involvement. The Jaguar and Lynx both have a _lot_ of activity every year, and this one more than usual.


True, the Jaguar is disproportionately popular in the homebrew community compared to how many units it sold.


Why is that? I tried watching the Angry Nerd review of Jaguar and it was all negative. Is it because it had some good under-utilized hardware?


Yeah, partly that. Here is a quote from John Carmack on the Jaguar hardware design:

Skilled programmer Steven Scavone, key member of 3D Stooges which released Gorf, still develops for Jaguar. Comparing it to systems he’s worked on, Scavone elaborated on tech-specs, also explaining in laymen’s terms. “It should be coded in as much assembler as possible. This machine flies when fuelled by assembler. The RISCs in proper concert with the 68k will do some absolutely amazing graphics. The Jaguar could [utterly] crush any 2D system. It’s a lot easier to program 2D for than the PSX or N64. You can thank the Tramiels for it being ‘underpowered’. The chips were not complete and had bugs. The designers, who weren’t experts in silicon design, missed fundamentals. Just one more register and [it could have run without stalling all the time]! If they [had fixed this], the Jag would have blown away the PSX. Later 3D titles like Battlesphere proved that systems at the time were no match for it.

https://steemit.com/gaming/@alexbeyman/john-carmack-s-though...

Another problem was that the Jaguar included a Motorola 68000, the same processor in the Sega Genesis. Why was that an issue? A lot of developers would simply implement their games against that CPU because it was well documented without utilizing the Tom/Jerry CPUs. That led to a lot of the Jag's library looking no better, and even worse than its 16-bit competition. That made the Jag look like a joke to gamers since it was being touted as a 64-bit machine. Not many consoles got as much abuse from the gaming community in the States as the Jag back in the day.

Though with the failures of the 32X, Virtual Boy, and 3DO (and later the Saturn), everyone was getting 3D wrong until Sony showed up to the party. And all of those consoles failed partly because of poor hardware design. So maybe Atari can be cut some slack here.


I dont have much love for Atari and the Jaguar from false advertising about it being a 64 bit machine to its flawed hardware. Yes the Saturn did have a flaw in the implementation in how the dual processor were tacked together at last minute but there were many factors that affected the way things turned out for the Saturn. Some are:

1) The surprise launch when Sega started to panicked about the PSX which caught everyone off guard and not in a good way

2) Not very many titles at lunch.

3) Retailers angry about the surprise lunch and system allocation and some vowed never to carry Saturn period(which they really never carried).

4) A terrible first generation development kit which was huge clunky, ineffective and expensive(something like 50K). This lead to a lot of devs having to write their own tools. The PSX dev kits were apparently amazing in comparison. It didn't help that the system used quads and not polygons. Of course Sega had massive experience in the Arcade with 3D title using quads but that was on powerful expensive hardware.

5) Gamers were burnt by the SegaCD and 32X addon which Sega dropped support for in no time.

6)$400 price tag

Despite this Saturn was not a true failure. In Japan it sold very well. The Dreamcast however can be categorized as a true failure despite Sega getting just about everything right with the system. It was just too late. They didnt have the cash to keep the system going and fight the Sony hype machine.


I dont have much love for Atari and the Jaguar from false advertising about it being a 64 bit machine to its flawed hardware.

Atari was just riding the wave of the bit wars, there was plenty of false advertising on all sides. Because bits were unfortunately the only spec that consumers were aware of.

4) A terrible first generation development kit which was huge clunky, ineffective and expensive(something like 50K). This lead to a lot of devs having to write their own tools. The PSX dev kits were apparently amazing in comparison. It didn't help that the system used quads and not polygons. Of course Sega had massive experience in the Arcade with 3D title using quads but that was on powerful expensive hardware

The early Saturn dev manuals show a lot of their examples using straight up assembly code for the VDPs. PSX dev kits were well documented with examples in C. Eventually the Saturn documentation was improved and included more examples in C, but it was far, far too late by then. Only devs at Sega knew how to get the most out of the system.

The reason why the Saturn was based on quads is because it was 2D hardware repurposed for 3D rendering. VDP1 is responsible for performing affine transformations on sprites to distort them to support the geometry of a mesh. VDP1 being designed for 2D games is especially evident since it does not support transparencies with sprites in the background; any sprites behind a transparent one will not render. It is not noticeable in 2D games, but it would be noticeable in 3D games; you would end up with entire surfaces not rendering.

The VDP2 chip was added later during the system's design to address the architecture's poor 3D support. It was capable of drawing infinite planes, and also fully supported transparencies.

5) Gamers were burnt by the SegaCD and 32X addon which Sega dropped support for in no time.

Yep. Only in hindsight was the Saturn surprise launch was a terrible idea. While it was happening, it did not seem to go terribly. It was really the 32X and SegaCD that soured consumer sentiment towards Sega and sealed their doom.

Despite this Saturn was not a true failure. In Japan it sold very well.

Saturn games and hardware are easy to find in Akhihabara. The system was a huge commercial failure for Sega overall though.

Dreamcast did everything right, and it had the best hardware design of any system when taking into consideration the time it was released. Sega was in a no-win scenario, but at least they went out with a bang with one of the best consoles ever made.


Pretty much; very few homebrew groups out there have been able to do much with the hardware except to complete previously unreleased games.

However, there’re a lot of Atari ST ports coming from AtariAge, and a good half-dozen homebrew titles of variant quality being sold on physical cartridges (and CDs for that vanishingly small demographic) each year. YMMV.


Interesting, I've been meaning to play Another World on a retro system...


Hardware was good on paper, but broken by design. Even SDK shipped by Atari had buggy compiler not accounting for defects.


Atari 7800, too. Even though only about 100K were produced.


It it possible to play the Lynx games on original hardware?


There’s a Lynx SD flash cart out there by RetroHQ that would allow for it; he’s a one man wrecking crew though with a bunch of other flash carts on the market so inventory’s hard to get. But yeah, it’s an option.


Old Computers Never Die - Their Users Do!


I had an Atari Lynx and about 30 games. I had a carrying case and wall adapter as well because it ate batteries like crazy. I gave it to a friend who had a computer museum.

There is an emulator for Lynx games here: https://atariage.com/Lynx/emulation/index.html

It reminded me of a hand held Amiga or Atari ST even if it had a different chipset.


The Lynx is one of my favourite machines ever. Satisfying and chunky, great sound and music, and some really impressive games like Warbirds which was a flight sim with with a polygonal world and pseudo-3D sprites.

Kudos to those involved with this effort (and the wider scene), but I've still got a unit that runs after all these years, and I'll be very sad when the actual hardware dies and only emulators remain.


> Satisfying and chunky,

Which model did you have? I had the short fat one.

> Warbirds which was a flight sim with with a polygonal world and pseudo-3D sprites.

Both my brother, I and two of our friends had the Lynx. It was pretty magical setting up that token ring network cable and playing games like Todd's Slimeworld 4 way.


Warbirds and Slimeworld :) The memories just came flooding back. Loved that machine!


Retrofitting an LCD screen into one makes it a lot better visually and easier on the battery life. Easy to tear down and repair, to boot.


What tech was the original using for its screen ?


It uses an LCD, a lowres super twist shit one and it uses a CCFL backlight which eats battery. So replacing it with a different active matrix LCD with LED backlight can improve battery life and quality (double res)


Iirc, mine bled through the display horribly too. Very fun games and hardware though.


You can see the games here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buQEBn4wORw


Oh man that's awesome! Didn't even know that this video was out there! Could you get in touch please (via Twitter - @theatarigamer)


This youtube channel is awesome. He regularly shows off new games for old systems.


Thanks for sharing. I wish true portable consoles would come back but I guess the rest of the world didn't want them to.


With the exception of the Nintendo Switch, portable consoles died due to the cost of all-custom hardware and the rise of smartphones and tablets. Bluetooth controllers can even be paired to phones and used in some games.

Besides, other than Nintendo, who would even make such a thing? (And it should be noted, Ninentdo has two entries here - they're still producing the 2DS XL version of the Nintendo DS.)

Sega's got out of the hardware business, thanks to Sony's shenanigans. Microsoft has a portable gaming system with the (x86) Microsoft Surface. Not a "true" console, as it runs windows and not a heavily locked down GameOS, but some would consider that a plus.

Sony stopped production on the PSP Vita only earlier this year, so it's only freshly dead and shows Sony hung onto the idea of a true portable console for as long as possible.

An interesting entrant into the area, though, is Nvidia, with their Shield. Discontinued, it was still an interesting product. Thing is, it leaned on Android for its operating system, but that's not to say smartphones killed "true portable consoles", but that Android broadened the base upon which portable consoles could be made. There are a handful of handheld game devices that could not have existed before.


Nintendo Switch?


Portable consoles haven't gone anywhere - Nintendo is releasing a new one in just 10 days!

Other manufacturers may have stopped building them, but that's because (with the exception of Sony's PSP) Nintendo's handhelds are the only ones that have ever really been successful.


There's a ton of them coming out of China:

https://obscurehandhelds.com


Anyone know how people are making homebrew Lynx carts? (The actual physical plastic and electronics part)


Here's how some people are doing it:

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/120824-lynx-eprom-cart/



Didn’t even realize about the Pi Hat. Thanks for this!


The cart was a plastic card with a PCB inlay and a sticker over top.

Seems like you could 3rd print the card part pretty easily. The hard part would be the PCB.


PCBs can be ordered very cheaply online

https://dirtypcbs.com/store/pcbs You could order 100 for $50


Tse wonderful)




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