Saturday, June 4, 2022

Adventure for the Atari 2600 - The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987


I recently did a video on Adventure, the legendary Atari 2600 game. You can check it out on YouTube by clicking HERE. If you prefer a deeper dive on the subject, check out the essay below from my book, The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987. And if you are really into reading about retro gaming, you can check out the sequel to the book, which is NOW ON KICKSTARTER.

Whichever way you go, enjoy!


Atari 2600

Genre: Adventure

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Atari

1 player


Although extremely dated in appearance, Adventure for the Atari 2600 is such an influential and continually endearing game that I simply had to include it in this book. Not only is it a fun game in its own right, it paved the way for countless adventure quests to following, including such favorites as The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Tomb Raider.

Created by Warren Robinett, Adventure has players trying to retrieve an enchanted chalice, which was stolen by an Evil Magician and hidden somewhere in a labyrinthine Kingdom. Said chalice must be returned it to the Golden Castle where it belongs. Making this task difficult are three dragons created by the Evil Magician: Yorgle, the mean yellow dragon; Grundle, the mean and ferocious green dragon; and Rhindle, the fastest, most ferocious dragon.

There are three castles in the Kingdom for players to explore: Black, Gold, and White, each of which contains a gate over its entrance that must be opened with a color-coded key. Castles are separated by labyrinths, pathways, and rooms, and there are items scattered about these areas that will help the player in his or her quest. In addition to keys, players can find a bridge for passing through barriers, a magnet for moving objects and removing stuck and out-of-reach objects, and a sword for slaying the dragons.

Each dragon guards specific items. In addition, there’s a pesky black bat that tries to switch out items with the player, such as—god forbid—an enemy dragon in exchange for the fabled chalice.

Adventure offers three skill levels, the hardest and most tantalizing of which finds the objects and dragons placed randomly within the Kingdom. Further, when the left difficulty switch is set in the “B” position, the dragons hesitate before they attack the player, making the dragons a little easier to dodge.

Robinette got the idea for Adventure from a computer game, as he revealed in an interview published on “I played the original text adventure, written by Don Woods and Willy Crowther, at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1978,” he said. “This was while I was working on Slot Racers. Then it was time to do another game, and I thought that doing Adventure as a video game would be really cool.”

Creating such a game with graphics created some “tricky problems,” as Robinette explained: “Text adventures used verbal commands like ‘Go North’ or ‘Take Wand’ or ‘Wave Wand.’ My idea was to use the joystick for the North/South/East/West commands, the button for picking up and dropping objects, and touching graphical objects together on the screen for all the other miscellaneous actions…instead of describing each room in text, I would show it on the screen, one room at a time…driving off the edge of the screen was the analog of ‘Go North’ or east or whatever. This allowed the game to have a much larger playing space than a single screen, which was a big change in the feel of a video game.”

The “character” players control in Adventure has the appearance of a simple square, and the dragons look like ducks you might find in a shooting gallery. The castles are comprised of squares and rectangles, and the mazes consist of the type of crude outlines found in such early Atari titles as Slot Racers (also by Robinett) and Maze Craze. The sparse sound effects are a meager collection of bleeps and bloops.

In a recent interview with Chris DeLeon (, Robinett talked about working on Adventure and the special challenges of programming for the 8-bit console. “The Atari 2600 has so many limitations that it's hard to do anything” he said. “If I had more resources I might have represented it [the graphics in Adventure] differently, but it worked.”

When Robinett was developing Adventure, Atari didn’t pay royalties to programmers, nor did they publish creator credits, as he related in High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2002).

“When I first went to Atari, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said. “I was being paid to design games. But then, after about a year and a half, it started to dawn on me that Atari was making hundreds of millions of dollars and keeping us all anonymous. They didn’t even give you a pizza if you designed a good game. There was no incentive at all. Nothing. That’s when I had the idea of hiding my name in the game.”

As any retro gamer worth his thumbs knows, Robinett created a secret room in Adventure “that could only be accessible by selecting a single gray dot on a gray wall,” a major violation of company policy. “I could have been fired if anyone had discovered it, so I kept it secret for a year,” he said. “The game code would have been very easy for Atari to change if they had known about the secret room. But after 300,000 Adventure cartridges had been made and shipped around the world, it was too late.”

For years, Robinett’s name in Adventure was thought to be the first “Easter egg”—a term coined by Arnie Katz, Joyce Worley, and Bill Kunkel of Electronic Games magazine—in a video game. However, in 2004 a programmer and collector named Sean Riddle found an Easter egg—programmer Bradley Reid-Selth's surname—in Videocart-20: Video Whizball (featured in “The Next 100” appendix at the back of this book) for the Fairchild Channel F system. Video Whizball was released to stores in 1978.

According to Before the Crash: Early Video Game History (2012, Wayne State University Press), however, the exact historical timeline of Easter eggs in video games is muddled. Contributor Zach Whalen writes, “…some confusion may yet exist over which programmer deserves credit, since Reid-Selth claims to have gotten the idea because of reports that programmers at Atari were already doing it, and Robinett had completed at least some of the code for Adventure as early as 1978."

Regardless of who invented the video game Easter egg, everyone agrees that Robinett popularized the idea, and most everyone agrees that Adventure is a great title, despite its primitive audio/visuals.

“Rich gameplay more than makes up for the game’s rudimentary graphics and sounds,” said Chris Cavanaugh of The All Game Guide (formerly at Jeff Rovin, in The Complete Guide to Conquering Video Games (1982, Collier Books), called the game “absorbing” and said that “if you like surprises [and] enjoy seat-of-the-pants play mixed with ingenuity and bravado, Adventure is your cup of hemlock.”

In a review published in issue #7 (June, 1984) of the British publication, TV Gamer, the writer said, “Adventure is one of the most enthralling games you can buy for the Atari 2600 and any adventure enthusiast should not be without it.”

In the “Digital Press Presents: Our 99 Favorite Classics” feature published in issue #33 (Sept./Oct., 1997) of the Digital Press fanzine, the contributors had predictably high praise for Adventure, calling it “a longtime favorite…arguably the most replayable adventure game because of its random skill setting on game 3…the perfect example of the video gaming spirit.”

In Classic Gamer Magazine #3 (Spring, 2000), Kyle Snyder said Adventure is “both charmingly simple and dauntingly difficult. It speaks to the inner child in all of us. Those of us who saw it brand new when we were six were blown away at all the things you could do. Whether you were busy searching catacombs, collecting objects, or slaying dragons, there was so much to interact with.” (Snyder was apparently a child prodigy—Adventure would have confused me silly as a six-year-old.)

In Ken Uston’s Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (1982), the noted gamer and gambler made a prescient prediction about Adventure: “I have a feeling that this cartridge…is going to be the wave of the future.”

With countless fantasy adventure video games following in its wake, Adventure, which sold more than a million copies, did nothing less than change the industry forever. Not only did it create the fantasy adventure genre for consoles, it predicted an industry in which “entire games would be built around hidden surprises” (2001, The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World).

A timeless classic, Adventure has been reissued for modern systems on such compilation discs as Atari Anthology! (2004, PS2, Xbox) and Atari Classics: Evolved (2007, PSP). It’s also built into Atari Flashback consoles 1-3. In 2010, Microsoft made Adventure available as a downloadable title for the Xbox 360 Game Room service.

Atari announced a sequel to Adventure in 1982, but it devolved into the ill-fated Swordquest series. In 2005, Curt Vendel creature a true sequel, Adventure II, for the Atari Flashback 2 console. In 2007, AtariAge also released a game called Adventure II, this one a homebrew sequel for the Atari 5200. Epic Adventure, an AtariAge homebrew for the Atari 2600, followed in 2011.

FUN FACT: Adventure is parodied in "Cannot Be Erased, So Sorry," a 2009 episode of Robot Chicken (a stop-motion animated show produced by Seth Green).

WHY IT MADE THE LIST: “Possibly the greatest game ever written for the Atari 2600 platform” (Time Magazine, Nov. 15, 2012), Adventure not only created a new console gaming genre, it is still widely played today.

***If you enjoyed this write-up on Adventure, consider purchasing a copy of The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987. THANKS!

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