Retrospective(?): Lead 16k for the Atari 2600
By TideGear (Adam Milecki)
Ok, so this isn't technically much of a retrospective, but bear with me since the Atari 2600 is involved. There's a whole subculture of programmers who love programming for obsolete hardware. I'm sure anyone reading this blog can understand that there are several good reasons for such a hobby. Some do it for the challenge. Some do it out of love for their old hardware. One of the most interesting things that comes of this is the amazing ways that programmers can push hardware to it's limits. The beauty of these efforts doesn't always shine through to the surface but sometimes it does, as you will see in Lead 16k for the Atari 2600...
Lead (as in "Will you lead?") 16k is a frenetic new homebrew shmup created by Simone Serra (aka Seemo) for the Atari 2600, of all systems, that features music and sound that relates to the on-screen action (as opposed to a preset musical score). The game started life as a 1k (so tiny for what it does!) game doing amazing things with the 2600's video and sound hardware. After several iterations, it was bumped up to a full-featured 16k version that even includes the 1k and 4k versions in the options.
Lead looks and sounds beautiful, especially when you take in to account the 2600's hardware limitations. The speed and vibrancy of the onscreen visuals just can't be captured in screenshots, unfortunately. This isn't just some impressive demoscene demo, however, Lead 16k's gameplay is addictive, nicely varied and challenging. There's more variety here than your average 2600 shmup as each stage switches to a slightly different style of play (such as "catch", "dodge", "scramble", etc.). It's very easy to fall into that "one more run" mindset here and we all know that's a good thing.
Lead 16k tries it's best and succeeds at being a fun game regardless of graphics and sound capabilities and yet it still manages impressive audio and visuals. All in all, it feels a bit like an energetic modern shmup crammed into an older system... and yet it works. Simone Serra is quickly proving himself to be quite a virtuoso in 2600 development and I hope he never stops.