Company: Atari
Model #:
Greg Munster (GCC)
Year: 1984
Port of the 1982 Broderbund game


Back in the early days of computing it was hard to find someone who hadn't at least heard of Choplifter.  This fun and deceptively simple game had quickly become one of the staples of the Apple II library upon its release in 1982.  Through its easy to learn yet hard to master style of play, Choplifter had won over the hearts of both gamers and non-gamers alike.  Choplifter was so popular in fact that it was voted Computer Game of the Year in 1982 (a huge honor).  Therefore its not surprising that every major video game company wanted a version for their own system, and Atari was no exception.

You are the pilot of one of the most advanced rescue helicopters in existence.  Your mission is to rescue 64 UN diplomats who are being held hostage by the enemy (you know, THE enemy).  Armed only with a machine gun and several bombs, you must make your way through enemy territory and free the frightened hostages from their prisons.  Of course the enemy isn't just going to let you waltz right in and rescue the hostages unhindered, they've got other plans for you.

As soon as your helicopter crosses the boarder you'll be under constant attack from one of three enemy types.

Tanks Unlike the other enemies, tanks can't actually harm your helicopter (unless you're on the ground).  However they can blow the snot out of the hostages!  Make sure you take out all tanks with your bombs before attempting to land and rescue hostages.
Jets Jets are the most obnoxious enemy in the entire games.  Jet's quickly fly in off the screen and launch a pair of missile at your helicopter.  If you're going too fast there's no way to avoid the missiles, so make sure you slow down when you see them flying in the distance.  Jets can also hit your helicopter when it's on the ground, but they're not very good shots when you're standing still.
Mines Looking somewhat like a UFO, these floating mines appear upon your third trip into enemy territory.  Mines are slow, but since they're heat seeking they'll never give up the chase once they've spotted you.  Make sure you take them out before trying to rescue hostages.  Also take note that mines can hit you on your side of the boarder!

Since you only have limited space on your chopper (16 seats to be exact), you'll have to make numerous trips back and forth to rescue all the hostages.  However when the hostages see your chopper flying away they'll instinctively run towards it, thus scattering the people around the playfield (you didn't think they were going to form nice single-file lines did you?)  During this time tanks will be patrolling the area near the prison trying to shoot as many hostages as they can.  Be quick about rescuing all the hostages once you've freed them or you'll quickly find yourself with a lot more free room in your chopper than you should have.   Once you've rescued all the hostages (or however many survived) the game will end.

Or at least that's how Choplifter is played on other systems.  Unfortunately the only known prototype for the Atari 2600 version is fairly incomplete.  While all the graphics appear to be in place (and looking rather nice), there's only a minimum of gameplay actually implemented.  The player starts out in between the HQ and the barrier instead of on the helipad (mainly because there is no helipad yet).  You can move around using the joystick and pressing the button will cause the helicopter to turn to the left.  Pressing the button again will cause the helicopter to turn back to the center and pushing it again will cause it to turn to the right.  You can also hold down the button to make the helicopter continually turn back and forth which is kind of amusing.  There is also a constant 'engine noise' going on in the background.

At the top of the screen in the HUD there are are three sets of numbers that change as you move around.  Normally these would be your hostage status (number remaining, number rescued, number dead), but in this prototype those numbers seem to correspond to the horizontal location of the helicopter.  The left number appears to be which area of the screen you're on if it was divided into quarters (F1 being the far left side and F4 being the far right).  The middle number appears to be which area of the screen you're on if it was divided into eighths.  This counter starts at 00 on the far left then goes up in hex increments of 32 (00, 20, 40, 60, 80, all the way to E0).  Once you reach the center of the screen it resets to 00 and counts up until you reach the far right side which is once again E0.  The right counter ranges from 10 to 77 (in hex) and also appears to keep track of the players current horizontal position but with much finer increments.  Flipping the color switch to B&W will cause a different set of debugging information to be displayed.  The far right number seems to be locked to whatever number was displayed when the switch was flipped.  The first two numbers display something different but it's currently not known what they represent.  They seem to bounce between a few sets of values even when nothing is in motion so they may be tied to game variables other than position and movement. All this debugging data was most likely used to figure out when the screen was supposed to scroll and load more data.

Flying off to the left and past the barrier will reveal that the buildings, hostages, and tanks are all implemented.  The buildings don't appear to have a destroyed state yet so they always remain intact.  The hostages will around around and wave at you, while the tanks will patrol the area.  Unfortunately you cannot land to pick up the hostages nor can you fire/drop bombs on the tanks.  All you can do is fly over them and watch them wave.  Thankfully the tanks don't appear to be able to shoot either, so the hostages won't be killed.  You can keep flying off to the left and see that all four building are there.  It's unknown if the jets or mines are in the code as you cannot pick up and return any hostages to trigger their appearance.  The left difficulty switch doesn't appear to do anything, but the right switch controls where the helicopter can move and how the screen scrolls.  In the B position the helicopter can move anywhere on the screen and has to move to the far left or right of the screen to make it scroll.  In the A position the helicopter always stays centered (sort of, it's actually a little to the right of center) when the screen scrolls.  It appears that the programmer was trying to decide which method worked best with the 2600.

Being such an early version, there are a number of bugs in the game.  If the player very slowly nudges the helicopter off the edge of the screen it will immediately appear on the right side instead of scrolling the screen.  Also, if the player keeps flying past the fourth building they will eventually warp around to the right side of the screen.  Once this happens the player is trapped and will continue to warp to the other side of the screen when moving instead of the game scrolling like it should.  There is also no way to die in this early version as the player cannot land or crash and the enemy tanks don't fire.

The graphics are very nicely done.  The helicopter is large and well drawn as are the tanks.  The buildings are hostages look like they do in other versions of the game and the programmer even implemented the little waving motion which is a nice touch on such an underpowered system.  The helicopter blades aren't animated yet, so it appears that it is just gliding around the screen, but the motion is smooth especially when turning around.  The 2600 version of Choplifter was shaping up to be a very nice looking port.

So what happened?  Why wasn't Choplifter released?  No one really knows.  Choplifter was mentioned in several internal Atari documents and appears to have started to go through the process of getting box artwork made.  In fact the box for Choplifter even appeared in a Canadian ad (in French), but it's hidden in a stack of boxes so you can only see its side.  It would appear that Choplifter was another one of those titles that were coming along nicely and simply disappeared for reasons unknown.  It's unknown if any further work was done on Choplifter or if it was even finished.

Prototype Box


Version Cart Text Description
?/??/84 Choplifter Broderbund
50% Complete

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