In the early 1980s, Atarisoft, a subdivision of Atari, began releasing games for competing systems. Although Atarisoft only existed for two years, they released several high quality versions of arcade games for home computers and consoles. Atarisoft’s ports of Moon Patrol, Pole Position, Battlezone, Donkey Kong, and many other arcade classics were all highly praised by magazines and gamers alike.
Equally interesting are the titles that weren’t released by Atarisoft. They released Donkey Kong, but where was Donkey Kong, Jr.? Why did the company release Galaxian but not its more popular sequel, Galaga?
One of the biggest questions I had growing up was in regards to Joust. Atarisoft released versions of Joust, the 1982 Williams arcade game, for every one of Atari’s consoles and computers, as well as the NES, the IBM PC, and the Apple II. Conspicuously, it was never released for the Commodore 64, my computer of choice throughout the majority of the 1980s! Back then, Commodore computers were known for their superior graphic and sound capabilities, and it never made sense to me or my friends why the game was not released for our most beloved 8-bit system.
This week, almost 40 years later, we finally have the answer.
Games That Weren’t is a website that documents, tracks, and discusses Commodore games that were announced but never released. For some of the games listed on their website, little evidence exists more than a magazine advertisement. For others, actual screenshots or partial code has been discovered. It is the website’s goal to track down and preserve these games that weren’t.
For many years, the only proof a version of Joust had been planned for the Commodore 64 was a photograph that was taken at a computer show in the early 1980s. Efforts to track down who had worked on the conversion had come up empty. It felt like the game (and worse, the story behind the game) would be lost forever.
And then, recently, preservationist Ken Van Mersbergen contacted Games That Weren’t to inform them that had he not only discovered the game’s source code, but that he had been able to successfully compile the code and create a working version of the game! The game’s original code had been discovered on an 8″ CP/M floppy disk that belonged for a former employee of On-Time Software. The files had been stored on a disk that also contained the source code for Popeye, and had been overlooked for decades.
Despite all the nefarious conspiracy theories my Commodore-loving friends and I had come up with, it seems like the C64 version of Joust was simply a victim of bad timing. The game was set to be released in 1984 by Atarisoft; however, according to Wikipedia, “shortly after Warner Communications sold Atari Inc’s consumer division to Jack Tramiel in 1984. Many additional titles were in production at the time. Most of these went unreleased although a few were eventually released by other companies. Some titles originally planned for cartridge release such as the C64 Mario Bros. were released on disk instead for cost reasons. Other titles such as the IBM port of Stargate were completed, but never published.” It appears that Atarisoft’s version of Joust for the Commodore 64 was one of those casualties that fell through the cracks.
Ken Van Mersbergen had planned to reveal the announcement (along with the game) at this year’s Video Computer Festival Midwest, but the event was cancelled due to Covid-19. Instead, a copy of the game was graciously provided to Games That Weren’t, who have made it available for download on their site.
As excited as I am to share this story, I am even more excited to spend the evening playing Joust on my Commodore 64. Move over, Buzzard Bait!