Picture label cover art
|Designer(s)||Howard Scott Warshaw|
The player controls an insect-like creature called a Yar who must nibble or shoot through a barrier in order to fire his Zorlon Cannon into the breach. The objective is to destroy the evil Qotile, which exists on the other side of the barrier. The Qotile can attack the Yar, even if the barrier is undamaged, by turning into the Swirl and shooting across the screen. In early levels the player is warned before the Swirl is fired, and he can retreat to a safe distance to dodge the attack. The Yar can hide from a pursuing destroyer missile within a "neutral zone" in the middle of the screen, but the Yar cannot shoot while in the zone. The Swirl can kill the Yar anywhere, even inside the Neutral Zone.
To destroy the Qotile or the Swirl, the player has to either touch the Qotile or eat a piece of the shield to activate the Zorlon Cannon, aim the cannon by leading the with the Qotile or Swirl, then fire the cannon and fly the Yar out of the path of the cannon's shot. If the weapon finds its mark, the level ends. If the cannon blast hits a piece of the shield or misses, it is expended. The cannon itself is dangerous to the player, for once it is activated, the fire button launches it instead of firing the Yar's usual shots, and as the cannon tracks the Yar's vertical position, players effectively use the Yar itself as a target and therefore must immediately maneuver to avoid being hit by their own shot. The cannon shot can also rebound off the shield in later levels.
The game has an Easter egg. After killing the Swirl in mid-flight, a black vertical line will appear on the screen across the spot where the Swirl was shot (the line is referred to in the manual as the "Ghost of Yars" and warns the player to stay off its "mean streak"). If the Yar is in the lower 3rd of the screen and the black spot on its back across the vertical line at the moment the explosion vanishes, the game will end and go into the Game Select screen with programmer's initials, HSW, shown both forwards and backwards as HSWWSH in place of the player's score. This forwards-backwards lettering is a clue to players to look at the names in the game manual the same way.
The game began as a licensed port of the Cinematronics arcade game Star Castle. Warshaw's original design for the Atari 2600 conversion was nearly identical to Star Castle: a powerful cannon is protected by three layers of counter-rotating shields. The player must shoot holes in these shields in order to destroy the cannon inside. But once these holes are made, the cannon can also shoot out at the player. If the outermost layer is completely destroyed, new layers of shields are grown. Harassing the player are three free-roaming mines that hunt the player's ship.
However, as Warshaw realized the 2600's limitations would not allow for an accurate port of the game, he re-adapted the concept into a new game, preserving the "top logical and geometric components of Star Castle and reorganized them in a way that would better suit the machine". The re-imaged game's working title was Time Freeze, because Warshaw wanted game action game where time would “freeze” to feature the first full-screen explosion in a videogame.
The final game story involves mutated houseflies defending their world against an alien attacker. Warshaw, who "liked secret messages and hidden ideas" decided to put such things in the game inverting the name of Ray Kassar, CEO of Atari at the time to become the titular Yar race and their planet Razak. This secret was hinted at by the forwards-backwards letters in the Easter egg. Warshaw wanted to call the game Yars' Revenge and so lied to one marketing employee that the CEO approved the name. He then swore that employee to secrecy, assuming "This guy is going to run back and tell everyone." The name was not changed.
Playtesting by Atari found that the game was popular with women, in contrast to most space shooter games, which were not.
As with several other video games for the 2600 system, a miniature comic book was included in the game package of Yars' Revenge to illustrate the story behind the game. The comic book explains the "revenge" of the game's title in terms of the Yars avenging the destruction of one of their worlds, Razak IV.
Atari also released an album, under the Kid Stuff Records label, which contains a theme song and a radio drama-style reading of an expansion of the story in the comic book. A different 7" recording explained the tragedy that revealed that a Yar could use himself to target the Zorlon Cannon rather than eating from the barrier. Both recordings were produced by John Braden.
Remakes and rereleases
A reimagining (titled Yar's Revenge, rather than Yars' Revenge) was released as a downloadable title on April 12, 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade and on April 28, 2011 for Microsoft Windows. [needs update] It was developed by Killspace Entertainment and published by Atari. In this version, the eponymous Yar has been reimagined as a humanoid female in mechanized power armor.
Another remake, a prequel to the original, Yars' Revenge: First War was released as a part of the Atari GO initiative on April 8, 2011 on Facebook. It was developed by Teravision Games and published by Atari. This version is an arcade social game reminiscent of the original Atari 2600 game. This version has been acclaimed by remaining faithful to the original and still offering new innovative content.
While the original is now widely considered a classic, Yars' Revenge sometimes got mediocre reviews at the time of its release. The October 1982 issue of Electronic Games stated, "The game has only one objective that must be repeated indefinitely. Today's player's have grown used to progressive play, new challenges, and changing graphics. In this regard Yar is far too static."
The reimagined Yar's Revenge for Xbox 360 was positively reviewed by Popmatters, who considered it visually appealing and good value. The PC port of the Xbox 360 version was panned by IGN, scoring a rating of only 5.5 out of 10. It was considered to have little connection to the original game and to be too short even when the low price was taken into consideration.
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This single-screen game of his is not some daffy adventure beloved of crusty collectors and nostalgists. Yars'Revenge, a side-ways Space Invaders-meets-Breakout with touches of Asteroids, was the most successful non-license game on the Atari 2600, a console that sold around 30 million units.
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