River Raid was published in 1982 by one of the powerhouse development
companies of the eighties, Activision. Formed in 1979 by a group of
disgruntled ex-Atari programmers, the company went on to develop some
of the best games for the Atari system and other consoles of the day.
One of the coolest bits of history regarding River Raid is that it
was developed by one of the first female game designers - Carol Shaw.
Having designed Video Checkers and 3D Tic Tac Toe previously for Atari,
Carol moved to Activision and has gone down in history as one of the
pioneers in the mostly male dominated world of game programming.
Before 1982 rolled around, almost every shooting game was confined in one screen.
River Raid changed all that, it was the first vertically scrolling shooter ever.
With crisp and colorful graphics and great gameplay, Shaw has created a winner.
It does get tougher as you progress, especially since fuel becomes less plentiful
and the fact that you have to do some fancy acrobatics to avoid hitting the ground.
Carol mentions that her original intent was to make a space game
when moving to Activision, but when management told her there were too many
space games on the shelves, she decided to spend her efforts making a river game.
"Originally, the jet was going to be a boat, but the top part of the boat
looked kind of funny so it became a jet. The 2600 itself was the biggest
difficulty. It was originally designed for Tank and Pong and games like
that. It had 128 bytes of RAM and 4K of ROM. I generated the landscape by
a pseudo-random number generator. (Perhaps this is why the
background never seems to be the same or repeat itself.) It's all in assembly
language and we spent all of our time just squeezing the code down to fit
the system," stated Shaw.
River Raid consists of some rather simple yet elegant game play. You fly a
plane down the "Forbidden River" shooting down enemies as you go. Sections
of the river are divided by bridges which need to be shot down as you
progress. Enemies consist of Destroyers, Helicopters, Jet Planes, and Tanks,
each with its own point value. One of the most interesting aspects of River
Raid, and what set it apart from other shooters of the day, is the fuel gauge.
As you fly over the river your fuel gauge, located at the bottom of the screen,
is constantly draining. To maintain your flight, you must fly over Fuel
Barges located at various places on the river. As these barges can also
be shot to give you points, the challenge becomes when do you fuel and when
do you score? This unique game play aspect, for the time, is one of the
features that give the game added depth and challenge.
With the levels in River Raid being randomly generated, it is unlike other
Atari games of the generation. As most Atari gamers know, you need to get
used to seeing the same background or level design over and over again as
you play these games. River Raid is unique in that you never seem to see
the same set up twice in one sitting. This adds a lot to replay value as
the gamer of today might have trouble with monotony.
The whole point to these games, however, is not to "beat" the game or reach
some final level where a huge boss awaits. No, as the members of Twin Galaxies
can attest to, River Raid is all about the accumulation of points. What will
your high score be and can you roll the machine past the 999,999 mark? River Raid
kicks up the challenge the longer you go with fewer and fewer Fuel Barges to
keep you going and faster and faster enemies. Making it to a high score is
definitely a challenge in this fine Activision classic.