It's always an honor to asked to participate in other creator's projects. The latest is my foreword to Brian Matherne's Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion Volume 3. Here is that foreword:
Before I get to Brian Matherne’s ongoing project to catalog, describe, and review homebrew games for the Atari 2600, let’s go back to 1984, which was a rough time for me, at least in the pop culture realm.
Rumors were swirling that my favorite comic book series, The Flash, was going to be cancelled, and sure enough, the last issue was published in the fall of 1985. Worse, Barry Allen, who of course was the Scarlet Speedster, died around the same time in the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book mega series. I was devastated—my favorite superhero of all time gone—not quite in a Flash—but nevertheless in a shocking turn of events.
Even worse, my beloved ColecoVision console, which I had gotten for Christmas in 1982, was being discontinued. The Great Video Game Crash occurred in 1983, and in 1984, the “next gen” ColecoVision was clearly being phased out, eventually to die completely in 1985. Again, I was devastated. Was the death of the Flash and the ColecoVision a tragedy compared to real-life problems and concerns? No, but I was super bummed, nevertheless. It didn’t help that the Atari 2600 and Intellivision died a few years later.
Then, something strange happened. Something I couldn’t have imagined in a million years. During the mid to late 1990s, hardcore fans and techno-wizards began producing games for outdated consoles, most notably the Atari 2600. Ed Federmeyer’s unlicensed Tetris port, which he called Edtris, breathed life into the once-thought-dead Atari VCS (as it was known originally) in 1995, lighting the way for independent programmers to create a variety of “homebrews” for the system.
In the years that followed, the homebrew scene blossomed, and now there are numerous homebrew games being released each year for pretty much all the consoles us old guys grew up playing. Wow, what a concept—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!
As someone who writes reference books about video games, it has occurred to me more than once that it would be cool to do a series on homebrew games. However, I simply don’t have time—I’m too busy writing about original releases produced back in the day.
This is where we get back to Brian Matherne, a devoted retro gamer and writer who is spending his time and resources making a written record of Atari 2600 homebrew games, much to the delight of those of us who think it is super cool that people are actually creating—I’ll say it again—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!
The first volume of Matherne’s Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion series covered such games as Medieval Mayhem, a Warlords clone that is my favorite homebrew of all time, Halo 2600, which amazed me when I saw it introduced at the 2010 Classic Gaming Expo, and Lady Bug, my favorite dot-munch maze game (which looks and plays astonishingly well on the Atari system). He has since followed with several more volumes, including the gem you hold in your hands, which covers such tantalizing titles as E.T. Book Cart, Jump VCS, Star Castle, and River Raid 3, the last of which is especially intriguing to me since I absolutely love the original River Raid.
For each game, Matherne provides valuable information in a fun, easy-to-read format, such as release date, publisher, storyline, programmer info, and gameplay details and critiques. There’re also screenshots, box scans, instructions, and other goodies.
Each book in the Atari 2600 Homebrew Companion series is a critical resource for those of us who grew up playing Atari’s first programmable console, and for those younger gamers who are just now discovering the wonders of the system that was once synonymous with video games. The books are good for collectors, pop culture historians, and researchers as well.
Carry on your good work, Brian, because, as you well know, there are—wait for it—NEW GAMES FOR CLASSIC CONSOLES!
National columnist Brett Weiss has been a respected journalist for more than two decades. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Old SchoolGamer, Game Informer, Gameroom Magazine, Classic Gamer Magazine, the Pingame Journal, Video Game Collector, Video Game Trader, AntiqueWeek, Fangoria, and Filmfax, among many others.
Weiss, who hosts the YouTube show, Tales from a Retro Gamer, is also the author of 10 books, including the Classic Home Video Games series (the world’s first books to feature write-ups for EVERY game for such consoles as the NES, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Genesis, and ColecoVision), The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, and The SNES Omnibus volumes 1 and 2.