Of all the prototypes that have passed through my hands over
the years, Spitfire is definitely one of the strangest.
Part Zaxxon and part Star Raiders, Spitfire appears to
have been Atari's first attempt into the realm of 3D shooters.
While the current known prototype may not be very complete
(approx. 50%), it shows that the 5200 was indeed capable of 3D
According to the dictionary, a Spitfire is a
plane from World War II. From the name of the game one
would expect at WWII simulation game, but instead Spitfire is
actually a Zaxxon style game with some elements of Star Raiders
thrown in. From the first screen it's obvious that the
programmer was keen on 3D as all the text is in the same 3D
style. After selecting a skill level (0-2) with the * key,
you are presented with the game map.
The game map appears as a grid of 20x13 octagons
(that's 260 octagons!). While this may look a bit
overwhelming, only the first three rows of octagons are ever used.
While the units may be spaced out over the map, this doesn't
make any difference since your target is selected with the * key
(perhaps you may have had to fly to your target in later
versions?). After selecting a target its statistics will be
displayed in the status bar at the bottom of the screen. In
addition to the size of the target (Very Small, Small, Large, or
Very Large), the status bar displays the possible elements on that
There are four possible elements on each target:
Reactors, Turrets, Spray Guns, and Ship Makers. Reactors
appear as little hills on the structure and don't pose any danger
to your ship. Turrets and Spray Guns aren't visible on the
structure (hey this IS a work in progress), but the bullets they
shoot at your ship are. As the name implies Ship Makers
produce little red ships that fly around and take shots at your
ship. Although they may look dangerous they're really not
worth taking the time to shoot down. Once you've selected your
target on the map you'll switch to the main attack screen.
At this point you'll notice the beautify rendered
3D structures flying past your screen. But before we go
destroy the enemy target, let's take a moment to check out the
status bar at the bottom of the screen. The four letters in
the upper left corner represent the number of enemy elements on
the structure: T = Turrets, S = Spray Guns, E = Enemy (ship)
Makers, and R = Reactors. The four gauges to the right
represent your Shields, Energy, Thrust, and Communications.
The meters above the text represent the current level of
each system (except for Communications which doesn't appear to be
functional in this prototype). To the right of these gauges
is the helm display which shows the current angle of your ship on
each axis. Below these gauges are your score, lives, and
current bonus points.
Now onto the action. Since this is a 3D game your
ship moves on all three axis (as shown by the helm display).
This may take a bit to get use to, but the 5200's analog
stick works very well for this type of game. As you approach
each structure you'll see the graphics scale smoothly in response
(kinda). You can adjust your speed by pressing the '1', '2'.
or '3' key (1 is the slowest, while 3 is the fastest), but the
faster your ship goes the lower your shields and energy are
(there's only so much energy to go around). At this point
you can also turn on the auto pilot ('6' key) to steer your ship,
but since it doesn't seem to work properly in this prototype it's
probably best to turn it off with the '7' key (manual).
Once you've mastered the controls it's time to
blast the snot out of the enemy. To destroy the target you
must completely obliterate the structure by shooting every
section. As you shoot each section you'll notice it taking
damage (pixel by pixel) until it blows up. However the
structure isn't the only thing that can take damage, crashing into
the structure or getting hit by enemy fire will result in your
shields lowering. Once your shields go down your ship will
start taking damage to its systems. If a system goes down
the text will be highlighted and you will loose some control over
your ship. Thankfully your systems will repair themselves after a
short time. Once you've managed to destroy the structure
(check the enemy counters to make sure you didn't miss anything)
you'll be taken back to the main map (with a few glitches).
Destroy all the targets on the map to complete the level.
Since Spitfire is a work in progress prototype, it
still has some bugs and even a debug mode still in the program.
The debug mode can be accessed by pressing the '4' key and will
show all the pieces of the current enemy structure.
Unfortunately one side effect of the debug mode is that the
game text becomes garbled and unreadable. You can turn the
debug mode off with the '5' key, but the text will remain garbled.
The text will also become garbled briefly after destroying a
target, but returns to normal after returning to the map screen.
Your ship will also appear on the map screen after
destroying a target, but doesn't seem to hurt anything (obviously
a glitch that needed to be fixed).
Although it may only be in the middle stages of
development, Spitfire shows alot of promise. It was
generally thought the 5200 was incapable of doing 3D, yet this
prototype proved everyone wrong. Its unknown why Spitfire
was never completed, but it's likely that it was a victim of the
collapsing game market. It's a shame Spitfire was never
released as it shows the amazing things the 5200 can do if
||Very early WIP
to 5200 Software