02 March 2010

Rescue On Fractalus

Released in 1984, the Atari 5200 game Rescue On Fractalus was one of LucasFilm's early attempts to break into the computer game market. Working closely alongside Atari to produce Ballblazer and Rescue On Fractalus, LucasFilm subsequently went on to produce more games under first this name and, later, the LucasArts label.

Rescue On Fractalus, as the name imples, made extensive and innovative use of fractal geometry to produce the mountainous ranges of the planet. Nowadays, it is by no means the only game to have done this - Captain Blood featured similarly generated alien canyons - but at the time, particularly considering the hardware limitations of the Atari 5200, its graphics were quite stunning.

Stunning... if a little jagged. Early prototypes were known as Behind Jaggi Lines, a reference to the jagged streaks of cockpit that the player was forced to peer through. The jaggy lines became personal enemies of the programmers, and thus the alien forces in the game became known as Jaggimonsters. Alas, despite the development of now-common anti-aliasing technologies, the 5200's colour palette wasn't large enough to allow for fancy graphical techniques. Low framerates and jaggy lines all round, then...

Though best remembered for its fractal graphics, which provided the right level of geek-appeal, the gameplay in Rescue On Fractalus was similarly engaging. Originally conceived purely as a straight-forward rescue mission, George Lucas enquired about the location of the fire button. Rescue On Fractalus rapidly evolved to include gun emplacements, jaggi monsters, suicidal flying saucers and alien impostors, who will leap up and bang on the front window in a most alarming fashion. All of which leads many to believe that Rescue On Fractalus, solely by design rather than luck, was one of the best Atari 5200 games to be produced.

Programmed by David Fox, Loren Carpenter, Charlie Kellner, Peter Langston, Gary Winnick and David Levine, Rescue On Fractalus was released for the Atari 5200 in 1984. Previously it had been named Star Mission, Rescue Mission and the doomed, pun-laden Behind Jaggi Lines.

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