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Ballblaɀer's collection: 2600, 5200, Vectrex, and...


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Two more handheld games found that still work after all these years:




I always loved the design of the Konami handhelds.  If I had unlimited collection space (and a lot more money!) I'd look into picking up more of these, among others.  In any case, these still work, but the linear polarizing film has degraded a bit, meaning that the LCD graphics appear very light.  The only way to fix this is to replace the film/filter with something taken from a new/preserved game, unfortunately.




And once again, I inexplicably saved some of the packaging for these.  If only I'd done the same for all my Atari stuff back in the day!



Edited by Ballblaɀer
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Okay, rounding out the handheld electronic games from home...




Fact: Tiger's Electronic Bowling is loud enough to wake the dead.  Or at least this particular one is!




Marble Madness was the one game I just could not get working, and that's a big disappointment as I remember having tons of fun with it back in the day.  It may not be *totally* dead, as every now and then it makes a sad little crunch of a buzz when I try to turn it on... probably it's just pining for the fjords, though.  Don't leave batteries inside your games, kids!




This little thing went with me EVERYWHERE, for years.  This is another one that must wait for the LR44s to arrive to be tested.  Really hoping Epoch Man will live on!  Epic, man.




Mattel's Auto Race (1976), the ancestor of them all.  Gotta figure out a better way to clean it -- the textured plastic surface just seems to have absorbed dirt.  I'm also hoping that I'll eventually find the battery compartment door...




I'll need to ask my soldering-capable friend to re-attach one of the battery connector wires, but I think it'll be okay once it's fixed.  Hoping so, anyway.


Finally, the centerpiece of my handheld collection...




It's not in perfect shape, but it's full of great memories.






The last time I tried to turn this thing on was probably 15+ years ago.  4 C batteries later...




Success!  It still runs like the day it was manufactured.  :thumb:

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Let's change gears and look at a few of my favorite carts from my favorite system, the 5200.


Many folks are familiar with the two SuperSystem games Atari released with no title on the cartridge.  Anywhere.  At all.  Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus, both Lucasfilm Games games, were unleashed upon the world during Atari's mid-80s limbo: after the sale of Atari Inc and after the discontinuation of the 5200, but before the major resurgence (sorta) of Atari Corp.  The music in Ballblazer and the 3D/fractal landscapes in RoF were both things that made a big impression on me as a kid -- I could tell that some serious work had gone into these games.  They're also both a ton of fun to play.


The surprise that shows up in the later levels of RoF! also made a big impression on me as a kid -- but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who's never played it... :D




It's hard to tell with the lighting in these photos, but these cartridges have dull gray labels that Atari Corp was using for their 5200 games in 1985-1987 -- both their new games and re-releases.  They were almost certainly cheaper than the previously-used reflective silver style labels.  I think the labels look really sharp without a title, honestly, though I think I'd love them even more if they were the older silver labels.  And -- if Atari had done the proper thing (in my opinion) from the start and put end labels on their 5200 cartridges... they'd be pretty much perfect.


Now, have a look at this beauty!




Yep, that's Vanguard -- re-released in 1986 in the same gray, title-less style.  I've only ever seen a few of these, though they're probably not as uncommon as I hope they are.  By my count, Atari re-released 16 of their games in the mid-80s with gray Atari Corp labels, but this is the only other one known to feature the artwork with no title.  My favorite thing about it (other than the clean artwork design): because the game title isn't present on the cartridge, the asterisk next to the the Centuri licensed trademark ends up referring to nothing.


Rumors of a Space Invaders re-release in the same title-less style persist, but I'll believe it when I see one.


I've never seen a satisfactory answer to the "why no title on these releases?" question.  Someone wondered on AA whether it was related to the Lucasfilm license agreement -- I could see that, sure, but then what about the Vanguard re-release?


Look closer at the cartridge label design: Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus have artwork that's exactly as wide as the text up top, but Vanguard does not.  Strange -- why would that be?  Now, think back for a moment to my post about some Atari Corp re-releases for the 2600.  If you remember, they appeared to be using their own instruction manual covers as the basis for the re-release label artwork.


Let's now look at some 5200 boxes/manuals.  Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus have unique boxes and manuals that were designed in or before 1984 -- that's another story for a different day.  The cartridge labels' artwork appear to be square crops of the box art -- they're nearly identical, with just a bit trimmed off the top and bottom.  With Vanguard's box/manual design, on the other hand... the square crop can't be as neatly done since the ships extend outside the main artwork border (in that same faux-3D style that shows up on many Atari Corp re-releases for the 2600).  But it looks like they did it anyway, as that's exactly how the art appears on the re-release cartridge!  So was Atari Corp doing the same thing with the 5200 title-less cartridge label artwork?  Essentially lifting the artwork from older boxes and manuals?  I say yes.


My final bit of evidence (for now!) is subtle.  Compare the re-release Vanguard cartridges to the first-release cartridges for Vanguard.  One obvious difference was already mentioned: the spaceships are fully contained within the artwork and aren't straddling the artwork border.  But on top of that, look at some of the detail in the artwork itself, especially that horizontal orange glow below the lower left of the player's ship.  On the originally release carts the horizontal glow appears more sharply defined -- there's a distinct LINE, and some of the background detail even shows through the orange glow.  But on the re-release cart, we see the same indistinct orange blotch that shows up on the Vanguard box and and manual.


So... what's the deal?  My best guess is that Atari Taiwan wasn't given the original cartridge artwork and design files for one reason or another, so they were forced to use box & manual artwork to make their own from scratch.  It's more noticeable with some of the 2600 re-releases, but seeing what looks like the same thing happening with the no-title 5200 carts lends stronger support to this theory, I think.

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Back to the 2600...


Wacky foreign cartridge time?  Wacky foreign cartridge time!  I'm not really a collector of boxed cartridges -- or PAL cartridges, for that matter -- but I now have two in my collection, and I haven't yet decided whether I'll keep/trade/sell them.  Here's the first one:




Wha... what in the name of Nolan Bushnell is that?!




Ahhhhh, say no more.  "There's your answer, fishbulb!"  Taiwan seems to have a fairly convoluted history of producing unique and sometimes unusual Atari 2600 products.  Some excellent work has gone into untangling how many of the various manufacturers are related -- the best-written explanation I've come across was published in the Digital Press Guide (and was re-posted over at AA last year).


Anyway, let's take a closer look.  First, we have the cartridge shell: these are commonly known as "V-Case" games, due to the triangle/V-styled shape at the top of the cart.  It's a multi-game cartridge that features three sliding DIP switches, where the user can position them to choose from eight games.  Simple yet clever, and especially so when compared to Atari's official multi-cart (32-in-1), where the only way to choose games was to cycle through them one by one BY TURNING YOUR CONSOLE ON AND OFF.  Pure insanity, and a fantastic way to wear out your power switch really fast.


So, what's actually on this cart?  Let's take a look at the box...




Oh.  Huh.  Okay.  That's... not a lot of help.  Even close-up it's not really clear what some of those are supposed to be.  But at least we know it's "FOR USE WITH THE VIDEO COMPUTER GAMES."  Let's try the back of the box, instead!




If that arrow is to be believed, it's got some pretty familiar titles, except for "Mafia".  Man, I wanted to play some "Chinese Konfu", or "Cow Boy", or "Airbone Assault"!  :D


Well, guess what?  Big surprise: that arrow is not to be believed.  It's a generic box, and NONE of those six lists matches the cart that's inside.  Let's check the cart's end label -- that'll tell us:




Okay, enough screwing around -- WHAT GAMES ARE ACTUALLY ON THE CART?!

  • "Base Attack" is Z-Tack, by BOMB.  Unexpected.
  • "Missile Attack" is Missile Control, by Video Gems, a Hong Kong publisher that distributed games in Europe.  It's a PAL *original* game, and it's actually quite good, I think!  Difficulty ramps up fast, though.
  • "Sky Diver" is Parachute, by Home Vision.  Another PAL *original* game, sold in Germany as Vom Himmel durch die Hölle, which translates to "From Heavens, Through Hell".  Badass!  The gameplay music is... well, it's worth a listen.  It sounds a bit of a mess, but it's meant to be the main theme from the 1962 movie The Longest Day -- written by Paul Anka!  And... guess who adopted the theme as their own regimental march?  The Canadian Airborne Regiment (1968-1995)!  That is some stellar work, Home Vision programmer guy.
  • "Circus (See Saw)" is Circus Atari... but it uses a joystick instead of paddles!  Yeah, that's not gonna be a good time.  It's not as bad as you might think, but it's not good, either.
  • "Mega Force" is Mega Force, by 20th Century Fox.  An okay game. 
  • "Tank City" is... Thunderground, by Sega.  I would have guessed Combat, or Battlezone, or Robot Tank.  Or the last few seasons of Philadelphia 76ers basketball!  Another somewhat unexpected title.
  • "Volley Ball" is... RealSports Volleyball.  Yawn.
  • "Tennis II" is... Tennis, by Activision.  Meh.

Pretty neat, all things considered!  Admittedly, I bought this and the other game (coming soon!) at a great price with a plan to re-sell, but... I'm not sure how I can part with this.  It's got an interesting back story, a few fun games that can't generally be found anywhere local, and it's in decent condition, too.


Of course, it *is* PAL format, which means my TV cuts off a number of the top and bottom scanlines.  But the picture doesn't roll, so at least the games remain mostly playable.  I just spent 30 minutes playing Parachute and Missile Control, and I'm heading back for more now!  :thumb:

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Over this past weekend I was at my childhood home, and I knew there were some hidden treasures waiting to be found.  It took some poking around the dusty basement, but I found pretty much everything I was looking for.  Here are two of the things I was most hoping to find:



I've got some LR44 batteries coming in the mail, but until they arrive these Nintendo Game & Watch beauties will have to remain untested.  I see no reason why they won't still work -- fingers crossed, anyway.


What I *didn't* know was that I saved the boxes and documentation, too!  I am typically *not* a box collector, but for whatever reason I hung onto these.






Jeez, Nintendo -- want to be a little more descriptively specific about the potential danger to babies?


More handheld goodness to come in the next few days!

I am completely lusting for those!!!

"I'd buy that for a dollar!" -Smash T.V.

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Posting this just for Ballblazer.


I have three Outlaw carts (actually 4 -- I also have a Sears "Gunslinger").  But look...all three have different labels.  AtariAge lists the picture label and the red label, but no mention of the yellow.  I'm going to guess red is the oldest just based on the font.




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My guess is that red would be oldest since they continued to use the registered trademark ® symbol from the yellow/gold version on the picture labels.  I believe the red outlaw end label also has a symbol.


There's one more weird official Outlaw cart that I know about -- this one from New Zealand, distributed by Atari Monaco.  Would love to pick one of those up eventually.


Now, about this Gunslinger you have... is that a picture label or a text label?  If picture, I'm 110% in trading/buying.  Let me know!

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AtariAge is an invaluable site, but it's far from comprehensive.  Just as one example: the text label for Brain Games was released in at least four different colors, and AtariAge makes no distinction between any of them.  It's a pretty minor difference in the grand scheme of things, of course, but I find it interesting all the same.  FWIW, Atarimania lists the outlaw red text as 1978 and the yellow/gold text as 1979.


For the most complete guides to what's out there, check out Atarimania.com and videogamevariations.com (still under construction, but 2600 Atari/Activision/Imagic and a number of other publishers are essentially complete now).

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My final bit of evidence (for now!) is subtle.


Well, that was then.  Now, it's... now, again.  Anyway, here's my next piece of evidence to support my theory.  Have a look at this Dig Dug re-release out of my collection, copyright 1986, Atari Corp:




Before we get back to my theory about Atari Corp not having the original cartridge label designs at their disposal...  holy smokes, look at that text up top!  VIDEO in one font (the original Atari Inc font), GAME CARTRIDGE and the rest in another?  It couldn't be more Atari Corp!   :rofl:   And on top of that, the sideways "5200" in the upper right logo?  It looks completely wrong, and nothing like any other Atari 5200 release I've seen -- it's almost as if it was cut and pasted in randomly.  Even that ATARI text itself is very slightly different -- if nothing else, it's a bit smaller.  Take a look at an older Atari Inc cart that I scanned to see the difference:




On Joust, the 5200 logo looks like the 5200 logo should, and like it always does.  But on the '86 Dig Dug cartridge?  Not so much.  I scanned both carts at the same resolution, and I cropped identical areas to compare:




The Dig Dug '86 label features the same outside-the-borders artwork that appears on the old box and manual design, just like the oddball Vanguard cartridge, and just like some Atari 2600 re-release titles I mentioned on page 1 of this thread.  With Dig Dug, the rectangular "artwork area" (i.e. the art minus the title and surrounding blue field) left space for the title to fit on the label, whereas Vanguard's "artwork area" is square -- again, probably the reason they couldn't squeeze the title on there.


To my knowledge, none of the other 1986 re-releases have differences like this, and that's where my theory comes up short.  One would expect to see something similar happen with Moon Patrol and Ms. Pac-Man, but they seem to have gotten those right.  In a way, though, that makes these strange cartridges even stranger.  Why was Atari Corp able to get most of their labels looking like the original Atari Inc labels, but not these few?


On that note... if anyone ever spots Mario Bros. or Space Invaders for the 5200 with a 1986 copyright on the game label, please let me know!  Those are the two remaining titles where, although Atari Corp boxes exist for them, every time I've seen the boxes they've had the regular old Atari Inc. cartridges inside.

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My first complete Atari 2600 set: text label cartridges!






The Atari text label library is no doubt the easiest of the various Atari label types to complete.  I'd like to upgrade a few of them at some point, most notably Basic Math (which has a faded end label), but all in all I'm super happy with the condition of these.  A few notes:

- Othello is the only text label cartridge with an all-caps title.  I believe this was one of the last text label carts produced, right before they started to introduce picture labels.

- Combat is the only text label cartridge that I know of that has a variant with 1) text in multiple colors on the main label, and 2) "Made in Taiwan" printed on it.

- My copies of Home Run and Hunt and Score have gold-colored borders on their main labels.  For whatever reason, the ink on the color-border labels seems to bleed/fade more than the white-border labels.  These are two I'd like to upgrade to the other, sharper style.

- There's lots of red and yellow/gold here, and unfortunately, that's just the way it is.  I'd like to eventually replace Brain Games with the blue text version, but that's really the only non-red/yellow/gold text label I don't have.

- Some of the red labels (Miniature Golf, Slot Racers, and Star Ship) exhibit the fade pattern I mentioned in my post about the numbered text labels, where you can see that the printer laid down a rectangular layer of red ink instead of just inking the text itself.



Another complete set: Epyx games.




Like the Activision carts, these are tough to find without serious glue staining.  California Games is from my original childhood collection, while the other two are recent additions.



And one last complete set for now: Mythicon games:




Fire Fly and Sorcerer are near mint, with mint manuals.  Hoping to find a Star Fox to match.  BTW, the "Star Fox" text is not faded -- for whatever reason, this title was printed pink-ish while the other two are red.  Similarly, the end label for Fire Fly is the only one that has "by Mythicon" printed in white -- the other two are gray.

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The latest trade from one Mr. No-Swear Gamer arrived over last weekend and helped me to complete another 2600 set: 44 Activision NTSC games.




This set was a god deal more difficult to compile than the Atari text label carts, but fortunately none of the titles are MEGA-rare.  A handful of them can command $20+ each, but I'm glad to be able to say that I traded for a couple of them (Double Dragon, Beamrider) and got excellent deals on a few others (including River Raid II, Rampage, and H.E.R.O.)




Honestly, the tough task is finding some of these titles in "collector" condition.  A number of them seem near impossible to find without ugly, mottled Actiplaque staining.  Robot Tank is probably the worst offender -- I'm not sure I've *ever* seen a completely clean one!  I'm generally happy with this set's condition, although it's fairly obvious for which of these I'd still like to find upgrades. 


This is a set I put together almost completely from scratch -- the only carts I had in my collection from back-in-the-day were Ice Hockey, Space Shuttle, and Pitfall.


A few notes about my Activision library:


- Boxing has the original foam dust protector still inside.  Activision quit including them with their cartridges relatively quickly -- they're not "rare" per se, but you'd have to think that 99.9% of the time they were just discarded.

- Carts I was pleasantly surprised to find "in the wild" (at yard sales, flea markets, through Craigslist, or bought from game shops): Cosmic Commuter, Kung Fu Master, Private Eye, River Raid II.

- Pressure Cooker is the International version, and has retained the "N" sticker (i.e. NTSC, as opposed to PAL and SECAM).  The font used for the game title on the main and end labels is also thicker/bolder than the "normal" version.

- You can't really see it in the photo, but my version of Stampede is one of the earlier release carts that mentions the "Atari Video Game System" instead of "Atari Video Computer System™" that got used later -- not entirely sure what brought about that change.


I made up my mind early on not to collect the blue label re-release Activision carts, but I'm hanging onto one for posterity (Enduro, my favorite Activision title).  Keeping it company is the one known NTSC white-label Activision cartridge, Space Shuttle:



One minor label variation I have is seen on the international version of Pitfall II.  It features the copyright notice in both English and French along with a different catalog number, but most notably it doesn't have "LOST CAVERNS" printed on the end label like its standard counterpart:





Last but not least, the aforementioned, legit rare French-Canadian labels for Boxing, Ice Hockey, Skiing, and Tennis:




These pretty much *never* turn up for sale.  A copy of "Le Tennis" is currently on eBay, though, and if the seller were asking a reasonable price I'd consider upgrading the one I've got considering that I think these are some of the coolest 2600 labels out there!


Activision carts remaining to collect:

- Ghostbusters II -- PAL format only

- Fighter Pilot -- PAL format only, but it's the same game as Absolute's "Tomcat: The F-14 Fighter Simulator" (and therefore a low priority)

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Just added a pretty scarce game to my 2600 collection:




One of two released games by Wizard Video Games (i.e. the same Wizard Video that produced The Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie, among others), this is probably one of the five rarest NTSC 2600 titles in my current collection.  It's not so rare that it's never seen for sale, but one often seems to need to pay a premium to pick it up since its unique place in gaming history makes it desirable to many game collectors.


There are a number of different repros and otherwise unofficial variations of TCM floating around for sale, but this one is the real deal.  How to tell?  There's a few things to look for.  All original TCM cartridges use the same white-colored PCBs that Apollo used for their games:




If you see one that's green, blue, brown, mauve, vermillion, or any number of other colors, it's not an original.  Another thing to look out for is the unique cartridge shell.  A lot of reproductions and fakes use standard Atari cartridge shells, but Wizard used a snap-together casing (no screws) with deep sawtooth grips on the sides and wrapping around to the back:




There's also a smooth rounded-off rectangle on the back of the cartridge that you don't otherwise find on 2600 games.  I didn't take a photo of the reverse side, but you can check one out over in this AA thread.  The print quality on the labels is mediocre, and there are clearly some areas where the ink didn't print all the way to one edge, etc.


Now, about the game itself.  Wizard Video Games actually marketed their two releases (the other being Halloween) as the first violent games for adults.  There was a third Wizard title slated for release (Flesh Gordon) but it was never sold, and a prototype has not yet turned up for it.  In any case, their marketing and interviews in the media seem to make it clear that they were trying to carve out a new demographic for gaming: adults.  Adults that liked to be "stimulated" with violence and such things.  More than one of their advertisements refers to people being tired of "childish pastimes" like "eating dots and chasing ghosts".


Apparently these games are largely rare today because retailers would not display the games along with the rest of their products, or advertise them much if at all.  If you wanted a Wizard game, you needed to go into a store and ask for it by name, because they'd be kept under the counter or otherwise away from precious, innocent eyes.  Not many ended up being sold, and Wizard closed up their gaming venture after only the first two released titles.



One thing that I continue to see mentioned in so many articles and blurbs about this game is that there was parental backlash (i.e. actual protests) to these games in particular.  Can anyone confirm with first-hand knowledge or an actual source?  The only thing close I've been able to find so far is this Sept. 9, 1983 article from the Deseret News, and it's really just one guy who doesn't enjoy the idea of violent video games.  I've seen a few more primary source articles and things that definitely refer to people protesting the other adult games (Custer's Revenge, Bachelor Party, etc.) but I'd love to know more about how Wizard's two games were received by the general public.

Edited by Ballblaɀer
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As I've mentioned before, I don't collect a whole lot of PAL games, but this one was on my hit list for sure.  Why?  Atari Corp strikes again...




Oh man, Atari Corp, what are you doooooinnnnnnng?  One run of Midnight Magic cartridges had their label sheets cut backwards, meaning that the end label doesn't show the title of the game and the main label shows it twice.  Here it is next to the correct release:




I'm not sure how many of these got to retail.  They come up for sale every now and then, but they don't seem to be in big demand -- Midnight Magic is not a rare game, and the label variation (if you want to call it that) is essentially just a printer's (dumb) error.  For someone who loves the quirks and mistakes of Atari Corp, though, it's a perfect collection piece.




Still has the PAL sticker on the back.  :thumb:

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Well, I'm a little late with it now, but here it is anyway.  Yesterday, June 12, was the 35th anniversary of the premiere of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.  With that in mind, here's a new label variation recently added to my collection:




If you collect for the 2600 long enough, you know right away when something looks unusual, and... yep, this looks unusual!  This end label uses the Sears Tele-Games picture label font in place of the red font that's normally used on the end labels of Atari's silver label cartridges.  What happened here?  Is this yet another Atari Corp screw-up?  It sure seems like that kind of thing, upon first glance...


Raiders of the Lost Ark was reportedly the first Atari-branded cartridge to be sold at Sears.  Until that time, all Atari products at Sears were sold with proprietary Sears branding on them; e.g. there was the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade instead of the Atari VCS, game cartridges with alternate titles (and sometimes artwork) like Gunslinger (Outlaw), Race (Indy 500), Pong Sports (Video Olympics), etc.  The release of ROTLA at Sears would have been in Fall of 1982, probably sometime in or around October.  ROTLA was also one of the first Atari games to sport the new "silver" 2600 labels and come packaged in the more contemporary-looking silver-colored boxes, and the games shipped for sale at Sears were no exception.


Now, getting back to this cartridge for a second...


My understanding is that the date stamps on the end labels of cartridges indicate when the cartridge was assembled, not when the label was printed.  The date stamped on this odd end label is 1 7 4 -- the 17th week of 1984 (so, the last full week of April).  This was, of course, before Atari Inc. closed up shop and Atari Corp took over production.  You're off the hook this time, Atari Corp!  However, April 1984 is also a FAR later date than all other dates stamped on Sears picture label cartridges -- the latest date reported I've seen is the 44th week of 1982 (Star Raiders).


So -- what happened here?


My best guess is that, given that ROTLA was one of the first (if not the first) silver label games to be released, Atari printed a run of ROTLA end labels for Sears *before* Sears learned that Atari was changing the look of their game packaging and labels.  Atari's move to using silver foil for their new game labels may very well be what prompted Sears to finally abandon their self-branding policy: i.e., wanting to keep up with Atari's new, more modern-looking aesthetic, Sears rejected these older-style end labels.  However, for reasons unknown, some sheets of the unused Sears labels somehow managed to make their way into an assembly line in April 1984.


One plausible reason for how *that* happened: Atari's manufacturing plant in Fajardo, Puerto Rico -- which assembled VCS cartridges starting in March of 1981 -- ceased operations on April 27th, 1984.  Yep -- the 17th week of 1984!  Considering that the announcement of Atari Caribe's shut-down came on April 6, that would have given the Fajardo plant three weeks to assemble stock from materials they had remaining on-site.  It'd be pretty easy for, say, an assembly line worker who was more concerned with finding a new job to load in some old ROTLA end label sheets by mistake.  Or who knows, perhaps Atari HQ instructed them to use anything and everything they had on hand.


It's interesting -- the Atari Engineering Information System in-house master parts list from early 1984 shows the ROTLA Sears end labels alongside the usual Sears suspects, but right there with them is SQ Earthworld, SQ Fireworld, and Frog Pond (unreleased).




Those four titles all have "REV LVL" (revision level) codes of 00, possibly meaning that they weren't ever "officially" used.  That said, given the existence of carts with these ROTLA end labels, one might wonder if there aren't also a precious few Swordquest cartridges with Sears-font end labels floating around out there somewhere...


EDIT: There exists a Sears version of the manual!  Check it out over on the excellent "SwordQuest Revisited" page on Digital Press.


Well, *I* wonder about things like that, anyway.  Given that a scan of the Sears picture label version of Superman wasn't posted online until 2005 (because nobody in the online collecting community had one!), and an ununsed sheet of Tank-Plus picture labels turned up sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, I think it's pretty clear that new finds along these lines remain possible even now!

Edited by Ballblaɀer
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