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April 7, 2011 2:11 PM   Subscribe

Atari Brings 100 Retro Titles to iOS in "Atari's Greatest Hits". Designed for the iCade. Toucharcade review. ArsTecnica review. Does it break the iTunes App rules?.
posted by chavenet (73 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Major Havoc, we haven't forgotten you, Rescue Team IPAD is enroute to your extraction.
posted by fairmettle at 2:19 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Now I kind of want an iPhone.
posted by Mister_A at 2:21 PM on April 7, 2011


Apparently you get PONG for free, but the rest are available through in-app micropayments only.

(Incidentally, here are 517 Atari 2600 titles free to play online.)
posted by Rhaomi at 2:22 PM on April 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Now I kind of want an iPhone.

Yeah, me too. Kind of funny that this is what finally piqued my interest. Video game technology can get as advanced as it wants to, but I'm only going to use it to play games from the 1980s (Robotron 2064 4EVER).
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing old Atari ROMs don't contain much in the way of iOS malware.

(Just finished reading up on how to secure a Windows 7 machine. Apparently PDFs and Flash are the biggest vectors these days? Thanks, Adobe.)
posted by ryanrs at 2:27 PM on April 7, 2011


Good post, except for the weak editorializing at the end. Most concerned iOS users who are classic videogame fans probably already know they can jailbreak and run MAME, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:28 PM on April 7, 2011


This is the sort of thing that I will totally buy and download, play for a little while, and then never return to. Which is not a condemnation of the product itself, but for the way that tech-nostalgia continues to extract money from me.
posted by LMGM at 2:28 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I bought the full thing about 10 minutes after it was released and I've been enjoying the heck out of it. It comes with beautiful scans of all the manuals, all the cabinet art, and even full length comic books (by DC!) for some titles (Sword Quest). Totally worth it for Tempest, Major Havoc and Circus Atari alone.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 2:28 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does it break the iTunes App rules?

I was wondering the same thing reading the Touch Arcade review yesterday. I can't imagine that this is anything but a MAME-like emulator downloading ROMs, which would Apple's rule disallowing executable code. Another reason Apple's iOS App Store approval process seems like a crap shoot.

Not to say that this isn't cool, it's always nice to see old friends reappear on new systems, but I don't own an iPad and my iPhone screen doesn't have the size to feel Yar's Revenge in all it's glory.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:30 PM on April 7, 2011


Also, my iPhone loves making it's out of its.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:31 PM on April 7, 2011


I was wondering the same thing reading the Touch Arcade review yesterday. I can't imagine that this is anything but a MAME-like emulator downloading ROMs, which would Apple's rule disallowing executable code. Another reason Apple's iOS App Store approval process seems like a crap shoot.


I got the impression that all the roms were included in the 18 meg installed file, and the 60+ megs that are downloaded is the additional art.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 2:33 PM on April 7, 2011


I could guess that Apple could say they pre-approved the ROMs being emulated (and offered through the App's instore purchase item), so it doesn't violate the App Rules (since the code isn't arbitrary if it is coming from a pre certified list). The App doesn't let you enter in an FTP url and grab the ROMs from your own collection.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:35 PM on April 7, 2011


Has anyone ported an HP48 emulator?
posted by ryanrs at 2:35 PM on April 7, 2011


I got the impression that all the roms were included in the 18 meg installed file, and the 60+ megs that are downloaded is the additional art.

From the linked article:
In a phone call with Code Mystics founder Jeff Vavasour, he confirmed that purchasing games involved download ROM-type code to the application, but referred details regarding the exact mechanism to Atari. Neither Apple nor Atari have responded to requests for comment.
I could guess that Apple could say they pre-approved the ROMs being emulated (and offered through the App's instore purchase item), so it doesn't violate the App Rules (since the code isn't arbitrary if it is coming from a pre certified list)

From the Apple guidelines (from the same article):
2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected
posted by eyeballkid at 2:40 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Capcom has a similar app, but it is rolling out games more slowly. Right now you can get Ghosts & Goblins, Ghouls & Ghosts, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Champsionship, 1942, 1943, Commando and Final Fight. (link)

Atari has clearly created a much more robust app, and it's a way better deal.

These appear to be the rules Atari is breaking:
2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected
2.8 Apps that install or launch other executable code will be rejected
Also, isn't every in-app purchase a download of code in some form? I mean, when I buy a new filter for Hipstamatic (don't judge me), isn't that a download of 'code'?
posted by jabberjaw at 2:42 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


When the President Atari does it, that means that it is not illegal.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 2:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected

Is that really the rule? If so, it is incredibly badly written. My Dropbox app has downloaded a ton of code I have stored in it. Doesn't mean it executes it.
posted by Jimbob at 2:45 PM on April 7, 2011


Also, isn't every in-app purchase a download of code in some form? I mean, when I buy a new filter for Hipstamatic (don't judge me), isn't that a download of 'code'?

From, um, hearing from a friend of mine that uses Hipstamatic, it seems that the introduction of each Hipstapak comes with an app update. Which means you are most likely not downloading code, but are being granted access to it within the app. Or so I've gathered.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:47 PM on April 7, 2011


They didn't include E.T. in the list of supported 2600 titles. =(
posted by nomisxid at 2:49 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ported an HP48 emulator?

For iOS, yup. Many of them are free too. Found some that emulate multiple HP calculators too. I think that some are based on existing HP48 ports.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:54 PM on April 7, 2011


The app store rules, at least as interpreted by all developers I've spoken to or read about, indicate that apps may not execute "arbitrary" code. This is how the c64 and capcom apps were approved, since all of the executable code that can possibly be downloaded is pre-defined (and can be looked at in the approval process). If you add in your own interpreter that can be coded manually, or allow the addition of code from wherever, you run afoul of apple's rules IN PRACTICE.

It appears that apple's stated rules may not match the ones it uses to actually run the store, but at least they have been consistent in the rules they are applying?
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 2:55 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mother of God.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:57 PM on April 7, 2011


I can't imagine why they wouldn't just preload all the ROMS, and unlock them with the in app purchase. As far as app sizes go, neither size reported is particularly large for iPhone games or apps in general.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:57 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


They didn't include E.T. in the list of supported 2600 titles. =(

There's a kick-ass, fully immersive augmented reality update available for free that works with all major smartphone platforms. Just stare at your screen while you walk around until you fall into a manhole.
posted by arto at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


My friendz tell me the entire Atari ROM collection is about 16 MB. Most games are 4kb in image size.
posted by BeerFilter at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2011


Just stare at your screen while you walk around until you fall into a manhole.

Given that I could never levitate myself out of the pits reliably on the original, this sounds like a faithful emulation.
posted by nomisxid at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2011


Sorry, KB
posted by BeerFilter at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2011


(Incidentally, here are 517 Atari 2600 titles available online in copyright-infringing form.)
posted by Rhaomi at 3:22 PM on April 7 [2 favorites +] [!]

Fixed that for you.

Jailbreak and upload roms you own of a physical 2600 cart to your MAME-iPad? Legal*.
This crap? Not even close.

* I am not a lawyer. I make games for a living.
posted by andreaazure at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2011


(Incidentally, here are 517 Atari 2600 titles available online in copyright-infringing form.)

Copyright infringement!? Oh no!!!!11
posted by delmoi at 3:36 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't imagine why they wouldn't just preload all the ROMS, and unlock them with the in app purchase. As far as app sizes go, neither size reported is particularly large for iPhone games or apps in general.

How big were cartridge ROM sizes, back in the early 1980s?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:41 PM on April 7, 2011


Three inches?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:43 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is that really the rule? If so, it is incredibly badly written.

Yes indeed. Welcome to the iOS App Store, developer!
posted by hattifattener at 3:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How big were cartridge ROM sizes, back in the early 1980s?

From 2 -16 KB mostly. For instance E.T. was 8KB and Pitfall! is 4. But yeah, you could fit the entire set in about 16MB.
posted by BeerFilter at 3:47 PM on April 7, 2011


Right now you can get Ghosts & Goblins

Good lord. I'm getting angry just thinking about playing that game with a touch screen.
posted by cj_ at 3:48 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jailbreak and upload roms you own of a physical 2600 cart to your MAME-iPad? Legal*.
This crap? Not even close.


It would help if game companies came up with a more direct and consistent way to sell old roms (which is all this is, basically, MAME has been able to run on PDAs and smartphones for 10 years). As it is, every major console since the SNES has had at least one "Atari's Greatest Hits" collection, which have all been re-packagings of the same core Atari games. And the real Atari company has been dead since the Jaguar (the current holder of the Atari IP is Infogrames aka GT Interactive). If all you are doing is selling a package of old roms, just sell me the package of roms so I don't have to keep buying them over and over again. Things like Xbox Live Arcade are making progress in the direction of making retrogames available in a more seamless way, but it's still a hell of a lot easier to buy and listen to random music from the 80s than it is to buy and play random games from the 80s.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:51 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


It comes with beautiful scans of all the manuals, all the cabinet art, and even full length comic books (by DC!) for some titles (Sword Quest).

*throws everything on to do list out the window*
*scrambles to app store*
posted by cavalier at 4:07 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Putting all the ROMs into the signed app bundle would get around the DL guideline as worded, leaving the in-app purchase to simply download keys to decrypt ROM code.

But then the app wouldn't be extensible with more games down the road. The way the app is titled ("Greatest Hits"), I would think this app is prepackaged with the code it needs.

Until Atari and/or Apple comment on how this app functions (if they choose to) it seems premature to say conclusively, one way or the other, whether this app breaks any guidelines.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:08 PM on April 7, 2011


Wake me up when they port custers revenge.
posted by empath at 4:08 PM on April 7, 2011


Okay the background music is annoying.
posted by cavalier at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2011


Yes, it does break the App Store rules, for another reason: Free apps are supposed to have content by default. PONG does not qualify. PONG is anti-content. It cancels out any other fun you may have had in the last few hours.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:17 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, they could actually get it down probably below half a meg for a hundred Atari ROM images. They could probably benefit from a tarball/"solid archive" as well.
posted by BeerFilter at 4:18 PM on April 7, 2011


2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected

As pointed out, this is nutty. A specific example: if your application contains a webview that accesses a website and displays HTML or runs Javascript, then you've theoretically broken this rule. I'd interpret it as a guideline: you can't download code that runs directly on iOS, but running it through some sort of interpreter (the browser, or in the Atari case, the emulator) then you're ok.
posted by flipper at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2011


Good post, except for the weak editorializing at the end.

Now you see to me, the editorializing is the only thing worthwhile about this post. Without it it's just yet another thing a big software company wants to sell me. Basically Pepsi Blue. And hey look, it's not all the games at once but released in overpriced "packs." Microsoft did this too, but they called it "Game Room," and it sucked, despite containing many of the same games here and some classic Konami arcade games besides.

Weirdly, the one free inclusion, Pong, is perhaps the most technically interesting of the games. Pong was made using discrete logic components, so there's no processor to emulate!
posted by JHarris at 4:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're at all tech-minded and like Atari games, head over to this thread and watch the video post-mortem for Pitfall.

You'll respect that game SO much more.

Programming back then was like writing koan-based haiku. Pretty amazing how much they squeeked out of that tiny amount of memory and bass-ackward console system.
posted by hippybear at 4:42 PM on April 7, 2011


I'm excited about this release, but it's priced a little dear at $15 for the full ROMs. Here's a list of the individual packs. A couple of notable ones: Adventure Pack: Adventure, Haunted House, Return to Haunted House, Save Mary. Sword Quest Pack: Swordquest Earthworld, Swordquest Fireworld, Swordquest Waterworld Sprintmaster. (Insert sad trombone).

The question of Apple's appstore guidelines is absolutely on target; it's a shame more emulators aren't approved. You better believe I'm going to hold on to my copy of iDOS forever more.
posted by Nelson at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


A specific example: if your application contains a webview that accesses a website and displays HTML or runs Javascript

The JavaScript interpreter in WebKit is an explicit exception to the rule (or was last time I checked). You're not allowed to have any other interpreters, or even your own JavaScript interpreter:
2.17 Apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript
posted by hattifattener at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2011


Chu Chu Rockets is free today! Why are you guys talking about Atari games?
posted by chunking express at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everyone clamoring for clarification of the App Store Rules— you're fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the approval process. The rules are more like guidelines. And rules or no rules, if Apple doesn't like your app, you're out.

You might think you'll be able to say "Nuh-uh Mr. Jobs, according to paragraph 12.7(d) you have to allow our app!" But let me tell you, as someone who has worked there, that is not going to fly. Precise rules won't help you and arguing about rules won't help you, because at the end of the day, Apple doesn't give a shit about rigorously adhering to the rules. After all, they're really more like guidelines.
posted by ryanrs at 5:33 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


TEMPEEEEEEEEST! [those are short E's]
posted by kimota at 5:36 PM on April 7, 2011


Until Atari and/or Apple comment on how this app functions (if they choose to) it seems premature to say conclusively, one way or the other, whether this app breaks any guidelines.

Let's pretend that it does download executable code into an emulator.

Then can we say that Apple is a bunch of hypocrites?

Sure, hypocrites with great design, I'll concede that.
posted by GuyZero at 5:37 PM on April 7, 2011


I bought that little atari controller that you plug into your tv. It gives you, if I remember correctly, 10 atari games. I was so excited and immediately tried it out when I got home. The wonder quickly turned into disappointment. Sometimes nostalgia is a bitch.

Now, if this was intellivision...
posted by justgary at 5:39 PM on April 7, 2011


As pointed out, this is nutty. A specific example: if your application contains a webview that accesses a website and displays HTML or runs Javascript, then you've theoretically broken this rule. I'd interpret it as a guideline: you can't download code that runs directly on iOS

No, the rule is nothing except the webview.
posted by delmoi at 5:43 PM on April 7, 2011


So now we're complaining that Apple is being too pragmatic about App Store submissions? Get serious. It boils down to whether Apple, and you, trust Atari to not try and slip in some malware into the ROM downloads.

As to the software: yeah, it's really pretty great.

I've been playing these games for years (almost decades, actually) through emulation, but I have no problem paying a for nicely packaged product. They include all sorts of goodies, like original artwork, manuals, and marketing, and they've put a lot of thought into the touch screen controls as well. 99 cents for Major Havok? 99 cents for Asteroids and Asteroids Deluxe? Sold!

It's actually kind of lame on the little iPhone screen, but on the iPad it's killer.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2011


Then can we say that Apple is a bunch of hypocrites?

I think they are best described as arrogant and opaque. That's a pretty fair assessment of Apple's relationship with iOS developers, especially compared to other platform vendors. And as a user, I think I'm ok with that. I can see how it would be annoying, though.
posted by ryanrs at 5:54 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Programming back then was like writing koan-based haiku.

I wasn't old enough to try my hand at programming the Atari 2600 back in the day, but I did manage to attend a talk given a few years ago by one of the programmers responsible for the original Combat cartridge.

The 2600 was insanely difficult to program--the chip responsible for drawing the actual graphics on the TV screen didn't have any RAM, so programs would have to construct each individual scan line of the TV image on the fly, keeping one step ahead of the TV interface chip. All game logic had to be done in the incredibly short intervals when the graphics weren't being drawn.

I managed to dig up a short guide to how a 2600 worked as well as a tutorial for anyone who's interested and/or masochistic enough to give it a try. (You'll probably want to write for Stella or one of the other emulators, unless you've got a lot of old electronics lying around.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It boils down to whether Apple, and you, trust Atari to not try and slip in some malware into the ROM downloads.

In fact, one could readily argue that it boils down to whether Apple thinks you're trying to usurp a business model.
posted by JHarris at 6:15 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Missile Command Pack

1. Missile Command
2. Missile Command 2600
3. Fun with Numbers
4. Flag Capture – BLUETOOTH MULTIPLAYER

Wut?
posted by Splunge at 6:22 PM on April 7, 2011


In fact, one could readily argue that it boils down to whether Apple thinks you're trying to usurp a business model.

Let's hear it then.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 6:24 PM on April 7, 2011


Let's pretend that it does download executable code into an emulator.

You could pretend a lot of things, and conclude a lot from pretend things. That goes for all manner of subjects, not just technology.

If we are dealing in facts, however, it seems fair to say there is not much out there on which to base early conclusions and condemnations.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:36 PM on April 7, 2011


Let's hear it then.

1. A limitation on downloaded code or scripting languages in order to prevent malware? Doesn't that sound like an amazingly stupid reason? Like, "Someone might say the word 'fuck,' let's not let anyone say anything unless we've stamped approved on it first!"

2. I'm pretty sure it wasn't because of the possibility of malware that Apple declined the Google Voice app back when the iPhone was new.

3. Mac OS/X isn't exactly a breeding ground for malware and it shares significant architectural similarities with iOS. Why would Apple even assume the iPhone would be a target for malware and viruses in the first place?

If one assumes the only two possibilities are malware prevention and business model preservation, then the first seems, to me at least, like an obvious smokescreen to preserve the second. If there is another possibility that is floating around, I am not aware of it.
posted by JHarris at 6:47 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having, y'know, actually looked at the game, it has a directory with a .bin file for each game packaged in the app from the start, and sets a plist entry with a code to unlock the specific games you bought - Pong is "png" with an alphanumer unlock, asteroids is "ast", etc. So, no downloading of ROMs. I'm assuming the 68MB download that TouchArcade references is extras? (Art, etc.)
posted by sysinfo at 6:53 PM on April 7, 2011


I think the scripting exclusion was also put in specifically as a "fuck you!" to Adobe, for their perpetual inability / indifference regarding the performance and stability of Flash on the Mac platform. It is hard to convey how much frustration Flash has caused for Apple and its users. Flash was responsible for more crashes than all other Mac software combined. Literally a majority of the crashes on the Mac platform. And this went on for many years. How do you deal with that kind of incompetence in something as critical as the browser? At some point, you just have to pull out the banhammer.
posted by ryanrs at 7:03 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, the download is both promo artwork/pack-ins and the graphics for each game's UI/controls. I guess that was their compromise for not being allowed downloadable code and preventing on-device piracy, since you can't exactly play a game without the resources needed to render the controls.
posted by sysinfo at 7:19 PM on April 7, 2011


This is all very nice, but it pales in comparison to my discovery just this morning that they ported Arkanoid to the iphone and ipad. I spent many quarters playing that game when I was 13. I made it to the final level once (against the nemesis named the now hilarious DOH), but didn't really know what I was doing and crashed out. I can't wait to get there again. The touch screen is about as good a controller as you can get short of that perfectly weighted knob thingy.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:34 PM on April 7, 2011


1. A limitation on downloaded code or scripting languages in order to prevent malware? Doesn't that sound like an amazingly stupid reason? Like, "Someone might say the word 'fuck,' let's not let anyone say anything unless we've stamped approved on it first!"

You say that as a joke, but anything that can access arbitrary websites is being stamped with the 17+ rating, because of the theoretical possibility of using it to look at porn.
posted by kafziel at 7:39 PM on April 7, 2011


Ah, Telengard. There's a pleasant trip down memory lane, though tonight I only played long enough to hear the "gong, gong" of a dead character once.
posted by jepler at 7:40 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


[I swear that's not a total non-sequitur, but the mention of Telengard as an enduring classic game must have been at one click removed from this post..]
posted by jepler at 7:52 PM on April 7, 2011


Yeah, I've tried one of the Atari retro packs before. It's good for about 4 minutes of Pitfall, 3 minutes of Adventure, and that'll be a wrap.
posted by jeremy b at 9:01 PM on April 7, 2011


This entire discussion reminds me of all the ways Apple's philosophy of computing has come to fill me with sputtering, incoherent rage every time I actually notice the underlying hard edges.

All that said, if I owned an iOS device, I'd probably install this in a heartbeat, except that I have a Tempest machine within easy driving distance.
posted by brennen at 9:04 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It comes with beautiful scans of all the manuals, all the cabinet art,

To be honest, I'm not that impressed with the scans. If you zoom in enough to read the text, all you get are compression artifacts.

I do admire how they bundle the arcade versions with the execrable 2600 ones though.
posted by smackfu at 9:12 PM on April 7, 2011


How do you deal with that kind of incompetence in something as critical as the browser? At some point, you just have to pull out the banhammer.

I'm glad someone stood up to Adobe and said enough is enough.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:03 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


You say that as a joke, but anything that can access arbitrary websites is being stamped with the 17+ rating, because of the theoretical possibility of using it to look at porn.

This possibility you speak of is hardly theoretical. Er, so I have heard, that is.
posted by chavenet at 6:45 AM on April 8, 2011


Yeah, in hindsight, most of the scans are pretty crap quality. Nice to look at from afar though.
posted by cavalier at 5:07 PM on April 8, 2011


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