The Let's Play Archive


by ManxomeBromide

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Original Thread: Retro-hacking for fun and madness: Let's Vivisect Solaris!



Hey, let's play an Atari 2600 game!

We all remember the Atari 2600. It came out in the late 1970s and had games that looked kind of like this:

... and then it went under in the Great Videogame Crash of 1983 and videogames were dead until the NES brought in a new rennaissance three years later.

This is a filthy lie. The Atari 2600 wasn't discontinued until 1992 and received some level of commercial development all the way through its lifespan. It was a last-gen also-ran by the mid-1980s but even so, about half the games I remember most fondly from the console are post-1983.

That includes Solaris, which came out in 1986, the same year that Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda did. It looks rather nicer than the earliest games:

It's also kind of interesting because it's technically beatable, and it's also in that weird anti-sweet spot where it's too simple to get a real remake, and too complicated to work as a casual game.


In 1979, an Atari employee named Doug Neubauer wrote a game for the Atari 400 (a full-scale home computer) called Star Raiders. It was a mix of first-person space combat and galactic patrol not unlike the old minicomputer Star Trek games. (For the modern incarnation of those, Netrek has had you covered for awhile.) Some time later, Atari decided they wanted to do a similar game as a tie-in to the movie The Last Starfighter, but that fell through. The project targeting the home computer market was ultimately released as Star Raiders II, and the project targeting the Atari 2600—which was a one-man job from the original Star Raiders developer Doug Neubauer—became Solaris.

Goals of the LP

There will be two strands within this LP thread, interleaved.

The first strand is about playing the game and has the following goals:The second strand is about vivisecting the game. The Atari was a noticably more primitive system than the ones we normally think of these days as the 8-bit era, but Solaris pulls tricks that would be very hard to mimic in those later systems. So I'll have a second strand where I talk about the technology used by the Atari 2600, and then pick apart how the various graphical displays are actually extracted from the Atari's limited hardware. The emulator I'm using here—Stella—has an astonishingly good online debug mode that I hope to show off a bit alongside the stuff I discover.

Format of the LP

I'm hoping to get at least one game update in per week, and one tech post in each week as well until I run out of topics. If I have a session where the update is pretty much one "normal" playthrough, I will also post a video at the end, but the only thing you'll miss if you stick with the screenshots will be some kickass sound effects and a sense of how everything fits together in realtime. That's actually quite a bit, so you'll want to watch the videos.


Solaris has some glitches. I will show off the ones I know of, but when I'm building a route to win the game, I won't rely on them. Every other systematic run I've found exploits them, but as far as I know I didn't trigger any when I beat it myself awhile back. I hope to prove it can be done glitchless as part of this run.

All right, let's rock

Buckle up, folks. We're going to break a game in half live.

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Gameplay Strand
Tech Strand
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