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A basement hacker transformed Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600 (arstechnica.com)
87 points by rbanffy 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments

There are a number of excerpts being pasted all over the web as a promotion to the book, like this one:


The editing on these stories is a little slack and technically incomplete. But it's an interesting piece of videogame history and probably worth a lookover.

It also goes without saying that the essential book on Atari 2600 programming is Racing the Beam:


And, as someone else has mentioned in this thread, Steven Kent's book is really well done:


I had no idea that Coleco was originally The Connecticut Leather Company. Reminds me of Nokia pivoting from rubber boots to mobile phones.

Nabisco was founded as the National Biscuit Company.

Oh! And Sega, a Japanese company with (I always assumed) a Japanese name, was founded by three white guys in Honolulu as Service Games, to sell imported slot machines to American military bases (the armed services). "Sega" isn't even a Japanese word, as far as I can tell.

For those who don’t see it, it’s just a standard abbreviation of Service Games. Nothing Japanese about it.

I learned this and other interesting history from the audiobook version of "The Ultimate History of Video Games" (even though it's slightly dated now, the history is still the same). I'd recommend it if you're at all curious about the stories of the formative years of video games.

I wonder if Radio Shack had a similar evolution.

One of the auction sites lists all TRS-80 stuff under Tandy Leather Factory.

Tandy Leather Factory is still in operation as a leather goods chain of stores, but completely separate from RadioShack. But they're both spun out from the Tandy Corporation, started in 1963 from the original Tandy leather, which was founded in 1919.

To this day, Tandy in the UK uses a logo that appears to be using the old Radio Shack logotype font: https://www.tandyonline.com/

Hell, if you look at the footer, the copyright even uses the old "stacked" TC logo (like you used to see on TRSDOS boot)

Didn't know about the coleco one, and I thought Nokia was a paper mill???

Nintendo started out making playing cards, 3M was the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing corporation (geddit), Avon started as a door to door book selling operation, I think Wrigleys started off selling toiletries, the chewing gum was a free gift.

Edit: Nokia started as a paper mill but was later bought out by a rubber boot manufacturer


Pretty sure Nintendo still make hanafuda, as well. Literally the oldest company in the video game industry.

When I was a kid I had his "Game Maker" game and it still seems like an ambitious application:


...it had it's own programming environment, sprite and background maker, and music composition tool.

I never used that one but I worked with stuff like SEUCK and to think back at it now it was pretty awesome you really could do all of this stuff with some graphical editors and get something that was a bit simple in terms of gameplay but would look and sound pretty decent. Lost countless hours inside that program....

Oh man, I used to drool over that ad in the computing magazines! Sadly, my parents had bought an IBM PCjr with no hope of ever running such an ambitious piece of software.

I had it also. I never really made a game with it but just to try making something was great.

So it looks like he did eventually figure out a way to slant the ramps. I wonder how.

> Some vintage techie posing with an Apple II computer.

Yeah, just some techie. LOL

At least they named the Apple, just in case you didn't know what it was.

Not really a techie; more like a marketing/business strategy guy.

Kinda got the impression that was fairly tongue-in-cheek, lol

"One-time Atari employee" would also fit.

For more background the full King of Kong documentary is on YouTube. https://youtu.be/ONWu0pXxRRs

One of the best documentaries ever

Did Donkey Kong actually come out on the 2600? I would have imagined Nintendo would have shut it down, like they did id software's Mario Bros PC port.

Nintendo licensed DK to various markets. Coleco got the 2600 rights (anyone could make a 2600 cartridge, there was no copy protection system on the console). Atari bought the rights to make a DK cartridge for the 400/800 computers (I wrote that one, it was fun).

I think that Atari also did the PC version later on, which was largely a mechanical translation of a cartridge implementation (might have been the 400/800 version, don't really remember -- I only know that I never got any royalties or bonuses, and that many other people did).

Nintendo licensed the console version to Coleco. They produced a version for their own console, the Colecovision (where I believe it was a pack-in title), as well as a version for thr Atari 2600.

There were a few somewhat popular unlicensed clones out there back in the day, as well as a lot of crappy ones on the home computers. Mainly, the game "Donkey King" on TRS-80 CoCo (released by Tom Mix Software), later re-released as "The King" with unchanged gameplay. Not sure if the name was changed due to Nintendo or not. The CoCo was filled with unlicensed game clones.

The NES wasn't released at that point, or even the Famicom. Nintendo relied on Coleco and Atari for distribution of DK in the US.

Nintendo later gave Atari the opportunity to distribute the NES in the US, and Atari turned them down!

Nintendo had Donkey Kong for the Atari 8-bit computers. I have the official cartridge. It's actually a pretty good version.

Atari 2600 Donkey Kong is still one of my go-to's on a Friday night. It's crude, but close enough. And the game play is challenging but not too hard.

As recently as two Fridays ago.

And in fact, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and even Mario Bros. were released for the Atari 7800, which came out after the NES and was meant to be a competitor to it, due to Atari still having the license.

Also pretty sure that if there isn't actually code heritage, the 7800 versions of those games were ported using the NES version as a reference. Is it possible Nintendo either programmed the 7800 version themselves, or actually provided the NES source code for Atari to modify for 7800 hardware? The similarities are too big to ignore (and too specific to the NES version versus the arcade version, which other computer and console ports tended to be more similar to).

The 7800 version was far, far superior. It had all the levels, much better graphics and gameplay.

That said, the 2600 version (and Coleco version, which was basically the same thing) was incredibly popular.

It was officially licensed, along with several other Nintendo games. They did stomp out a 2600 homebrew called Princess Rescue though.

Is the book this excerpt is from, Arcade Perfect, any good? The Amazon reviews are mixed.

It's a fun read. The interviews are decent, the technical background writing contains a bunch of errors.

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