It's dangerous, it's devious, it's Xevious. Never before has a tag line so perfectly summed up a video game. Xevious was one of the first (if not the first) in a new genre of arcade games: the scrolling shooter. While we make take such games for granted today, back in 1982 such a concept was unheard of. Most games of the time had only one non-scrolling screen, which seriously limited their creativity. One screen shooter like Galaga and Galaxian were ok, but players hungered for something different. Xevious satisfied that hunger.
It's a nightmare, but it's true. Scientific research has determined that we are the actual aliens on Earth and the evil Xevions are the original inhabitants. Now the Xevions want Earth back, minus the humans! Earth's last hope is an experimental fighter plane known as the Solvalou. The mission is dangerous, success isn't guaranteed, and odds are this is a one-way trip. But at this point it's do or die!
When Ray Kassar was fired as CEO of Atari in 1983, James Morgan was hired to take his place. Jim put all projects on hold for 30 days while he reviewed what had been going on during Ray's "reign of terror". Since the 7800 was deemed high priority, most 2600 and 5200 projects were put on hold or outsourced to GCC. It was originally assumed that Xevious was one of the 2600 titles that were killed off during this time, but recently a nearly complete version of the game was found proving that it survived at least until early 1984.
While the gameplay in the 2600 version is amazingly accurate, some corners still had to be cut. One of the 2600's biggest problem was that it only had one fire button, making many arcade conversions difficult. Tod got around this problem by having the fire button serve double duty as your fire and bomb button. Pressing the fire will shoot a shot and drop a bomb that slowly arcs to where the targeting sight is. The enemy AI also got a bit of a lobotomy so they all generally act the same instead of having distinct attack patterns. Amazingly Tod was able to implement a scrolling background as was seen in the arcade version. While this background wasn't as detailed as it's arcade cousin, it was still a major accomplishment for the 2600. Not only was Tod able to get the scrolling background implemented, but he was able to have multiple enemies appear on the screen at once with little or no flicker. In fact the only thing that flickers in the entire game is your ship which is actually made up of two missile graphics to keep more sprites free (hence the funny shape and flickering). This odd design also makes your ship almost twice as large as it was in the arcade (making it harder to dodge enemy shots).
Although Xevious appears to be just about complete, there are a few bugs still present in the code. The 2600 version of Xevious has an option for controlling the scrolling speed with the difficulty switches (a feature not found in any other version). However when the game is put in fast mode (A=Slow, B=Fast) the scrolling gets rather choppy and non-uniform making it hard to play after a while. There’s also a glitch in one of the animation frames of the boss (Andor Genesis) due to the game accidentally reading sound code rather than graphics code. Scoring seems to be a bit generous in this version making it easy to rack up extra lives, but it is unknown if this would have been changed before release. The code is also unoptimized which wastes a lot of space that could have been used for other improvements, however since code optimization is one of the last things that is done to a game before completion this is not unexpected.
Unfortunately as good as Xevious was, it didn’t stand a
chance against the deadliest of enemies ‘collapsing
market’. The 2600 version along with the 5200
version were canceled with the 7800 version being the only one
to see the light of day. This is a shame because it’s
obvious that Tod was a highly skilled programmer who could push
the 2600 to its limits and Xevious is an amazing looking
game. The remaining bugs could have probably been squashed
with just a few more weeks of work with code optimization taking
a little longer. Had it been finished Xevious probably
would have been a mainstay in the 2600 library and a big hit,
but it appears that Atari wasn’t willing to wait.
A prototype box can be seen in this
picture (third row, second box)