In the days when players first collected Atari 2600 games, there were some disappointments that came with certain games that were bought, like Pac-Man not being anywhere near as close to the arcade original. And there were games that, even though they were good to the point of standing the test of time, could have been made better. Game hacks in this day and age provide players with the opportunity of fulfilling their wishes to reshape the games they loved and hated into either something close to what they were expecting it to be or into something entirely different. Through various programs provided as freeware on the Internet, players could even go so far as to recode the entire game itself (provided they know enough about programming an Atari 2600 game, though there is documentation on the Internet regarding such), or they could just alter the graphics of games that would allow for their graphics to be altered. The results of such tinkerings, which you can find on the AtariAge website in the Hacks portion of the Atari 2600 section, can be amusing or amazing, depending on the game hack in question. Here are some good examples of what game players have done to certain Atari 2600 games:
1. Pac-Man Arcade by Rob Kudla -- Atari's Ms. Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 was such an excellent translation in that it preserved as much of the graphical, audial, control, and gameplay fun of the arcade original as it could be fit into 8 kilobytes of memory and the system's other technical limitations. It ended up outshining Atari's earlier effort with the game's predecessor Pac-Man, which wound up being a big seller and yet one of the reasons for Atari's eventual fall from grace in the early to mid-1980s. This hack of Ms. Pac-Man alters the game into a reasonably close facsimile of what the Atari 2600 Pac-Man could have been like if the same programmers of 2600 Ms. Pac-Man were commissioned to do this translation. And it comes very close indeed! The single maze, though simplified, resembles the original arcade Pac-Man's; the stationary fruit prizes that appear twice per screen, though lacking one of them, also match; the sound effects and the opening intro music are close enough approximations, with the power pellet and ghost chomping sounds unchanged. All in all, this ranks as one of the best Pac-Man related game hacks available. It was originally sold as A Better Pac-Man by Hozer Video Games, then later by AtariAge as Pac-Man Arcade. Another hack called Mr. Pac-Man by El Destructo also does some more alterations to the maze to give it a closer approximation to that of the original arcade Pac-Man game.
2. Hack 'Em by Nukey Shay -- This particular game hack is based on a game that was, in itself, a game hack -- EbiVision's Pesco, which originally started off as a much better Pac-Man closely resembling the Atari 5200 and 8-bit personal computer system version, then was reshaped into a similar game with aquatic characters since they couldn't sell the game as it was originally and legally. The reshaping of the game back into something similar to EbiVision's original vision goes much farther in its emulating the arcade Pac-Man game, even including the intermission scenes and some variant versions of the arcade game like Pac-Man Plus! and Hangly Man, both previously unavailable in any format besides M.A.M.E. emulation. As great a game that Pac-Man Arcade became, this hack totally surpasses it. Right now, Nukey Shay is re-converting it into Ms. Hack, which aims to be an improved version of Ms. Pac-Man for the 2600.
3. Pac-Man 8K by Nukey Shay -- Whereas the previous two hacks were the reshapings of other games into a legitimately close approximation of the arcade Pac-Man game for the 2600, this hack does some minor changes to the 2600 version itself -- though much more so than other similar hacks. First of all, the color scheme is totally changed -- the maze is now blue against a black background with white dots in it. Second, the ghosts are all now different colors instead of the same one color, and their eye patterns now match those of their coin-op counterparts when they move about the maze. Third, Pac-Man himself is back to having no eyes and his mouth now chomping in the same direction that he is moving in, whereas previously his mouth would remain in the same horizontal direction it was in when switched to moving vertically. Fourth, there are now multiple fruit prizes that appear below the ghost pen, each awarding various points. Fifth, there's now the familiar siren that plays in the background as Pac-Man eats dots, which switches to a different sound when he eats a power pellet. And sixth, Nukey Shay included the intermission scenes. While this hack doesn't beat either of the previous two as far as being the closest thing to arcade Pac-Man on the 2600, at the very least Pac-Man 8K turns a real lemon of an arcade conversion into tasty lemonade.
4. Space Invaders Deluxe by Nukey Shay -- Though previously hacked into a close enough approximation of the arcade Space Invaders game by Rob Kudla, the game hacker who did Pac-Man Arcade, Nukey Shay takes the previous work further by doubling its memory to 8 kilobytes and altered things such as the color, the sounds, the UFO types and point values. He also included an option for activating the double-shot mode that originally was only available for Game 1 of the original 2600 Space Invaders through a system power-up trick, and threw in the arcade sequel's intermission of one of the invaders zigzagging back into space calling for reinforcements. Fortunately, one of the problems of Rob Kudla's Space Invaders Arcade involving one of the game variations -- that of invisible invaders not being invisible -- was fixed in this version.
5. Intellivision Lives? by neotokeo2001 -- As much as the original Megamania game for the Atari 2600 poked fun at Sega's arcade game Astro Blaster of 1981 by featuring alien types that resembled hamburgers, tires, Oreo cookies, steam irons, bowties, and rolling dice, this game hack of Megamania pokes fun at the Atari 2600 library of games by refashioning the game aliens into Pac-Man ghosts, Pitfall alligators, Berzerk robots, Demons To Diamonds aliens, and Laser Blast saucers among other things, which you must shoot at with a laser cannon straight out of Intellivision's Astrosmash and Space Armada. (The title of the game alone also makes fun of Blue Sky Rangers' Intellivision Lives game emulation anthologies, though the game itself doesn't target Intellivision system games.) For added challenge, some of the horizontal alien attack stages have more vertical movements than they did previously.
6. Combat Rock and Mr. Roboto by Paul Slocum -- These two particular hacks, of both Combat and Berzerk, respectively, are simply sound hacks that put a constant looping music track into each of the games, with Combat playing "Rock The Casbah" by The Clash and Berzerk playing "Mr. Roboto" by Styx. Of course, the tradeoff of having these songs being hacked into the games is that neither game has any of its normal sound effects. Nonetheless, it was an inspired effort to even try putting such music into these games. Hopefully there may be more games where certain appropriate songs would be hacked as soundtracks into the games. (Nena's "99 Red Balloons" into Circus Atari, anyone?)
7. Berzerk Voice Enhanced by Mike Mika -- This hack of Berzerk is simply one that attempts to put in what the original game had lacked in its original release -- namely, the voice synthesis sound bites of the robots. Though rather limited in how it is utilized, and also sharing the same defect of having the screen blank out temporarily as did Atari's attempt of providing voice synthesis with its 2600 game Quadrun, it does make this game worthy of being part of one's Atari 2600 games collection.
8. Battlezone TC and others by Thomas Jentzsch -- His hacks are more in the way of making game controls mimic that of the arcade originals. In the case of Battlezone TC (and Robot Tank TC, inspired by the previous game), the controls now use two joysticks, each for operating either of the treads by pushing the stick forwards or backwards. Missile Command TB hacks the game for use with the Atari 2600 trackball controller in trackball mode. Atlantis FH alters the basic control of the defense cannons for use with controllers that use only buttons, similar to the controls of Atari's arcade game Anti-Aircraft. And Sprintmaster DC hacks the game for use with the Atari 2600 driving controllers that originally came with Indy 500. Some of Thomas' other hacks, like Amidar DS and River Raid Plus, simply ramp up the difficulty level of the game.
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