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Let's talk Crystal Castles on the Atari 2600.

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Today I was reacquainted with the Atari 2600 version of Crystal Castles using an online emulator.

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I fist played the arcade version of Crystal Castles around 2013 on the XBOX collection Atari Anthology. I thought it was a bit odd. Here was a game I had never heard of surrounded by true classics: Centipede, Asteroids, Pong, Super Breakout, Tempest, and more. I played this "weird 3D Pac-Man clone" with a D-Pad at the time, and I'm not sure if I knew I could jump until later! I thought it was just okay. Little did I know that the reason I didn't like it was because of the D-Pad! I'm not a fan of analog sticks with old games, so I almost never use them. Not that the analog stick is any better for Crystal Castles. Until I found the cabinet in person, I didn't even know it was a trak ball game. After playing the cab, I grew to love the game. A ton. If I could get any arcade cabinet, Crystal Castles would be it. I played it on an Arcade  1up machine in a game store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I don't know if the machine was broken, but the minuscule trak ball was puny, imprecise, and honestly horrible. I want to say it was the Asteroids cab. Nevertheless, if it was cheaper I would totally pick it up. I think @MaliciousCarp might have one, but maybe I'm thinking of someone else.

I love the arcade game so much,  I went and got the high score. This was on the cab I found while staying at a hotel. We went back, and YEAH! High score still standing! Sadly I didn't snap a pic of the score itself, but I did take a picture of my initials on the first level. Anyone else know the warp in level one that nets you 140,000 points?

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The 2600 port I played shortly after I first played the arcade game, also on Atari Anthology. For me, it has always been a "you get an A for effort" kind of game. It's very impressive for the system, yes, but I never liked the controls or hit detection on the video waf-- I mean, gems. This morning, however, I was reading through my first ever topic on this site asking your top ten 2600 titles. I saw that some people really liked this port. I thought I'd give it a second chance like I did with ET and Dragster. I don't have the physical cartridge for it (shocker), but I did have my old Windows Vista machine out, so I looked up an online JavaScript emulator and started playing with the keyboard. I don't normally like using the keyboard for games, but it really does work well for this title. I didn't like the D-pad controls, but I imagine it would work well with the 2600 joystick, which is what I normally use. I got a pretty decent score I feel. The level design is much, much simpler here, but it doesn't hurt the game at all. There are loads of 3D levels crammed into the cart, and that's very impressive. They're all symmetrical, too, but that is very typical of the 2600's backgrounds, as seen in Adventure, Combat, Pac-Man, and many others.

Like ET and Dragster, I had a blast playing 2600 Crystal Castles again. It's on my new wish list. Sadly my local game store is selling for $10, nearly twice the amount on price charting.com without shipping. Would I get my money's worth? Yes, but that's still a bit much in my opinion. Overall, I would say it's an A-tier Atari 2600 title when played with the right controller. I would definitely buy it if it were just a little cheaper. I think $5 would be a good price. To me, not many 2600 games are worth over that. Tunnel Runner, Pitfall II, Montezuma's Revenge, maybe Mountain King. Price charting.com puts Crystal Castles at about $5 at the time of writing this. 

Special thanks to @1Littlebeast for getting me thinking about Crystal Castles, and for recommending the 2600 version I thank @TrekMD and@Atari 5200 Guy

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Glad you enjoyed it on a retry.  I play it with a trak-ball controller, even if it is in joystick mode.  Unfortunately, this is not a game that fan be simply hacked to get a true trak-ball mode.  Apparently the entire game would need to rewritten to accomplish that.

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I need to give 2600 Crystal Castles a try.  I'm not sure I've ever really played it much. 

The arcade game is awesome, and I have distinct memories of playing it and loving it.  It reminds me a lot of another classic track-ball game that didn't get a classic-console port:  Marble Madness.  I know the Genesis has a really good port, but I can't think of anything earlier than that. 

 

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6 hours ago, socrates63 said:

I remember playing Crystal Castles on an Atari computer -- can't remember whether it was on the 800 or ST -- very fun game. Looks like I should revisit it.

I was watching a video of the XE version today while in posting jail. The controls look painful. I see how it's a good port of the arcade game with accurate levels and all, but I feel the simpler levels of the VCS edition better suit the joystick controls. Unless the XE version has true trak ball support that I don't know about. Impressive port nevertheless. 

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On 9/15/2020 at 5:01 PM, HDN said:

I played it on an Arcade  1up machine in a game store in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I don't know if the machine was broken, but the minuscule trak ball was puny, imprecise, and honestly horrible. I want to say it was the Asteroids cab. Nevertheless, if it was cheaper I would totally pick it up. I think @MaliciousCarp might have one, but maybe I'm thinking of someone else.

I do indeed have one! It is easier to talk about in video format, so here you go 🙂 (since it references this forum directly it is a link-shared video, not public)

One thing that I should mention is that you can get these fairly cheap if you keep an eye out for them.  I bought my cabinets refurbished. They were pre-assembled and had new control decks on them.  I got them for around $120 each (including the risers)

 

 

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Thank  you @MaliciousCarp for your input. Now that you mention it, that machine could have been broken. Like you said, they're pretty cheaply made. $120 is a pretty good deal, though. Especially for the Asteroids 12-in-1 machine. That one has the dial and trak-ball, two things not easily recreated on modern systems.

I did notice that you kept stopping while playing the game. I heard the trak-ball making sounds. Were you controlling it directly or letting go and letting it spin? I feel with a smaller ball like that it would be harder to let it spin. I play Crystal Castles pretty recklessly in the arcades and spin the ball really fast to make Bentley zoom around the stage collecting gems! Was your constant stopping your playstyle, or was it a limitation of the smaller trak-ball?

You do seem to be having a much easier time playing than I did. That trak-ball was still probably broken.

Edited by HDN

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it is true that the trackball doesn't have the same weight and momentum as the original arcade cabinet, but it was a bit exaggerated due to leaning around my camera (I had that centered and I was trying not to block it).

The trackball controls about like any other home one that I have used (I have the sega sports pads and the Atari trackball) - if that helps.

The other thing that I should mention is that the stock spinner on that machine is not great.  It clicks as you turn it instead of gliding smoothly.  There are conversion kits to add an actual spinner, but I haven't upgraded mine yet. 

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On 9/17/2020 at 8:23 AM, MaliciousCarp said:

it is true that the trackball doesn't have the same weight and momentum as the original arcade cabinet, but it was a bit exaggerated due to leaning around my camera (I had that centered and I was trying not to block it).

So it's partially you and partially the ball, right? Makes sense.

On 9/17/2020 at 8:23 AM, MaliciousCarp said:

The trackball controls about like any other home one that I have used (I have the sega sports pads and the Atari trackball) - if that helps

Never used a home trak ball controller, so it doesn't help, but thanks anyways.

On 9/17/2020 at 8:23 AM, MaliciousCarp said:

The other thing that I should mention is that the stock spinner on that machine is not great.  It clicks as you turn it instead of gliding smoothly.  There are conversion kits to add an actual spinner, but I haven't upgraded mine yet. 

That's horrible! What a ripoff! At least you're playing Tempest and not something like Breakout with it.

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Found a copy today at my local game store that happened to be only $5 instead of $10. I may have hidden it behind the Colecovision games for when I am ready for it.

I have also noticed that all common Atari 2600 sports games are only $2. I can afford one of those. Maybe Bowling or Golf and Crystal Castles with my discount.

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If you really want an arcade machine, get an original Atari CC.  Don't mess with those 1Ups.  You should be able to find an original in good working condition for less than $1k.  I don't know where you're located, but ask local amusement operators in your area, or look on KLOV, or check online auction sites like this one:

https://bid.captainsauctionwarehouse.com/m/lot-details/index/catalog/54/lot/13316?url=%2Fm%2Fview-auctions%2Fcatalog%2Fid%2F54

If you have to have it shipped, figure on adding another $200-$400.

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14 hours ago, Scott Stilphen said:

If you really want an arcade machine, get an original Atari CC.  Don't mess with those 1Ups.  You should be able to find an original in good working condition for less than $1k.  I don't know where you're located, but ask local amusement operators in your area, or look on KLOV, or check online auction sites like this one:

https://bid.captainsauctionwarehouse.com/m/lot-details/index/catalog/54/lot/13316?url=%2Fm%2Fview-auctions%2Fcatalog%2Fid%2F54

If you have to have it shipped, figure on adding another $200-$400.

HAH! I don't even have the money to buy the 2600 game at full price! Much less the arcade cabinet!

But you are right. If I ever decide I want to play the arcade version with a trakball, I will totally get the arcade cabinet!

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I did like playing the 2600 port quite a bit back in the day. Then again as it was never released for the 7800 that would have been he only port I would have had access to. I do have the XE conversion in cartridge form for my 5200 but the controls simply kill it. I don't know about the 2600 version, but I was advised sometime ago that the XE version of the game would have to be redone to allow for the 5200 trak-ball to work with it. Sucks because I like the game and the XE conversion on the 5200 looks and sounds pretty darn close but the controls...ugh...the controls. And it doesn't matter if you use digital or the CX52 controllers. It just doesn't control well.

 

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Atari announced it would be for all their consoles and computers in 1984, but as we know, only the VCS version was released.  A prototype version for the computers existed in 1984 (and was leaked out soon after Atari changed hands) and was later revamped and released in 1988, but neither version supported the trak-ball.  The game was unofficially converted to the 5200 and someone made a version of it that supports the trak-ball:

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/247585-crystal-castles-no-trackball-support/
 

Considering all the effort that was put into making and marketing the trak-ball controllers, it's shameful how little they were supported.  At the $45 retail price they were first advertised for, it was pretty much a sham, especially when Atari was telling people the controller "takes a good game (Phoenix, Missile Command, Galaxian, Space Invaders) and makes it awesome".  In the case of the VCS controller, it was never fully supported, as no games were ever made that took full advantage of it; all the controller ended up doing was translating the analog movement into the standard up/down/left/right movements.  Years later someone hacked a few VCS games to take advantage of analog movement:

http://home.ptd.net/~scottith15/trak-ball_series.zip

crystal_castles_1.jpg

crystal_castles_2.jpg

Pages from atari_age_v2n1.jpg

Pages from atari_age_v2n1-2.jpg

Edited by Scott Stilphen

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16 hours ago, Scott Stilphen said:

Atari announced it would be for all their consoles and computers in 1984, but as we know, only the VCS version was released.  A prototype version for the computers existed in 1984 (and was leaked out soon after Atari changed hands) and was later revamped and released in 1988, but neither version supported the trak-ball.  The game was unofficially converted to the 5200 and someone made a version of it that supports the trak-ball:

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/247585-crystal-castles-no-trackball-support/
 

Considering all the effort that was put into making and marketing the trak-ball controllers, it's shameful how little they were supported.  Considering how much they cost at the time, it was pretty much a sham, especially when Atari was telling people the controller "takes a good game (Phoenix, Missile Command, Galaxian, Space Invaders) and makes it awesome".  In the case of the VCS controller, it was never fully supported, as no games were ever made that took full advantage of it; all the controller ended up doing was translating the analog movement into the standard up/down/left/right movements.  Years later someone hacked a few VCS games to take advantage of analog movement:

http://home.ptd.net/~scottith15/trak-ball_series.zip

crystal_castles_1.jpg

crystal_castles_2.jpg

Pages from atari_age_v2n1.jpg

Pages from atari_age_v2n1-2.jpg

*Deep inhale*

My beloved 5200 TrakBall controller!!!  I miss that thing.  😞 I'd love to have another one.  That thing was rock solid.

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