If you were around in the early 80's, you'll undoubtedly remember the robot craze. From Transformer to Gobots to Tranzor Z, giant robots were in and just about everything else was out. Atari 2600/8-bit programming veteran Rob Fulop saw the potential of this robot craze to make a great video game and set out to make the ultimate robot game for the Atari 2600.
Rather than make the obligatory giant robot shooter (as was the current style in Japanese video games), Rob decided to take a different route. Instead, Rob created a unique puzzle featuring a peaceful programmable robot whose only goal in life was to find his cheese. Because we all know that if there's one thing all robots want in this world, it's cheese!
The idea behind the game is fairly simple. The player enters a series of simple commands that are interpreted by a robot maze. These commands rather primitive and only consist of FORWARD, LEFT TURN, RIGHT TURN, and SHOOT. These commands are interpreted by the robot in the order they were entered, so they must be enter in the correct order. If the player entered the correct series of commands, the robot in the maze will be guided to cheese. If the player made a mistake then they must go back and edit the list of commands and try again.
There are two different screens in Actionauts that the player must utilize. The first screen is the programming screen in which the player enters the commands for the robot to interpret. Moving the joystick up and down will move the cursor between the various 'links' in the programming chain, while pressing left and right will allow the player to chose the command that they wish to input into each link. Pressing the fire button will bring up the second screen.
The second screen is where the player watches the robot run through the maze and hopefully to the cheese. On this screen the player can adjust the speed at which the robot interprets the instructions by using the joystick. Adjusting the speed to the correct value is vital because if the robot reads the instructions too fast or too slow, it will end up smashing into walls. Adjusting the speed takes a lot of trial and error, but becomes second nature after a few tries.
As Actionauts is a puzzle game, there isn't any real scoring per se. Instead players must try and get the robot to the cheese in the least number of 'Runs'. A run is counted each time the player makes the robot run through the maze (think turns). Although it is possible to get the robot to the cheese in only one run (that is to say on the first try), it usually takes three or four runs before the player succeeds.
So why was Actionauts canceled? According to Rob:
While Rob may only consider Actionauts only 50% complete, most gamers would put it more at the 70%-75% complete level. Actionauts is fully playable, but lacks some game elements that were to be added to the game later on (such as the 'evil robot'). In October of 2007, Rob announced that he was creating 250 copies of Actionauts and was selling them to the classic gaming community, with the rom and program code to be released shortly thereafter. Although it may have taken 23 years, it appears that the classic gaming community is finally going to get a chance to play with Rob Fulop's parting gift to the Atari 2600.