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March 2014 Retro Gaming Article


March 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Did CBS Electronics deliver the 1st FPS in 1983, on the Atari 2600, w/ Tunnel Runner via RAM Plus?

Is it time to retire Doom as the 1st FPS game and place Tunnel Runner atop that pedestal...? :)

As game consoles leapfrogged each other with better technology in the 80's, consumers were never entirely sure which was best or how long it would delight. At the time there was no measure for how many games might be released for any given console. In hindsight, we know that game libraries differed greatly - some had many titles, while others had relatively few.

Adding to the confusion were consoles like the Colecovision that had graphically superior games to it's competition, but had a relatively small game library in the end, ~230 games in total.

Ram Plus ad from CBS Electronics Nintendo's NES was the first console that really made me believe in console longevity. When the SNES was released, I jumped on it! I was impressed with Starfox and the unique gaming experience it deposited into my living room.

The FX Chip was a slick way to give Firefox (among others) extra capability, from within the game cart. It added to the cost of games containing the chip, but it was preferable to raising the console's price.

Nintendo wasn't the first to do it. The SNES could accomodate the extra 16 pins on the cartridge's PCB, but CBS Electronics' RAM Plus was a 3X memory boost for the Atari 2600. Like the FX Chip, it was a cart enhancement specific for the game and addressable by the console.

The RAM Plus chip provided an extra 256 bytes of memory which I've seen notated as: 12K ROM - or three 4K banks - with 256 bytes of extra RAM.

Doom for the Atari Jaguar - 1994 Putting this in perspective is easier to do visually. I bought Doom for the Jaguar when it was released in 1994 since I'd seen it earlier on PC. Many call Doom the birth of the FPS genre. Technology in the mid 90s gave way to a game in which the viewable perspective was from the character itself. Early game consoles made us believe that a game's primary character was a dot or blocky mass with limited animation. Roaming the mazes of Adventure or Venture on the Atari 2600 were the norm, right? Not always...

Tunnel Runner, released by CBS Electronics in 1983, looks like someone made an 8-bit version of Doom. However, Tunnel Runner pre-dates Doom by nearly a decade! The visual splendor of Doom will always eclipse the prowess of Tunnel Runner due to it's enormous mainstream popularity. Few will admit that FPS was born in 1983. These may be the same folks who've forgotten that man walked on the Moon in 1969, due to Mtv's launch in 1981.

Tunnel Runner screen shot - CBS Electronics We're not looking to rewrite gaming history, but it is interesting to play Tunnel Runner and see how developers were able to create a first-person perspective game that ran surprisingly well on the 2600. Not only was it well done, it's one of those games that is fun to play and offers a challenge. You can play in standard mode where the maze remains the same each play or in "Torture Tunnel" mode where mazes are randomly generated. Doors could drop yo into a random location or even put you back one level! It employs a map screen showing your location and the enemy Zots.

We suggest giving Tunnel Runner a try and see if you don't think FPS games originated in the early 80s. The only exclusionary factor may be that you don't actually shoot at enemies in Tunnel Runner :)

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