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120 - The Last Starfighter

Best Games - The Last Starfighter

I used to play a ton of games on an Atari 800 computer. I’m fairly certain that only a few of the games were legally purchased. I’m certain of that, because the most of the games had labels hand written on generic floppy disks in marker. Legit manufacturers tend to use printed labels and usually limit the games to one per disk.

In order to play a lot of the games you needed to defeat the cartridge door sensor by jamming a piece of wadded up paper in a hole in the top of the computer and flip a switch embedded in a special cartridge called the pill. The custom menu created for each disk would list the games written on it and instruct you when to flip switch. While you might have moral reservations about the state of software piracy in the late 80s and early 90s, you have to respect the ingenuity of it all. Some clever folks cracked copy protection with the help of a device that would not look out of place in a cold war era cockpit.

This is important, because, as I have learned, going through this arcane process of switch flipping and disk pirating might have been the only way to play this particular game.

The Pill

Obviously I have some nostalgia for this machine and its games. I thought that perhaps my love of the game The Last Starfighter was just a part of that. Some relic of a game that wasn’t really all that great tied to the joy only a child can derive from a decent, but thin space cowboy action flick, add some rose tinted glasses and let simmer for decades.

A few years ago I became aware of a project to recreate the game from The Last Starfighter. Not a game based on the movie. The game. The arcade game that Alex Rogan plays. That CG miracle that could not possibly have existed in 1984. It looked like a game that could possibly exist in the distant future. Well turns out the means now.


I’ve tried this game out during many stages of it’s development. The accomplishment by RogueSynapse is not to be taken lightly. They created a real game that looks and feels just like the one you see in the movie. More than that, the game actually works as a game. There is a goal, stages, a sense of progression. To take a few seconds of film footage and reimagine that as a functional game, is amazing.

Is it better than the version I played on the atari 800? No, no it’s not. I went back and played them both. The Last Starfighter is for the atari computers was and still is a fun action / light strategy game. The almost movie perfect recreation, is a tad dull. The newer version has almost everything over on it’s older cousin. Graphics, sound, nostalgia factor. Everything except being a fun game. For that you have to go back to the old Atari computers.

I learned during my research for this post that the game I played on the Atari 800 computer all those years ago was actually well into development under the name Orbiter before the movie license was attached to it. It was later released as The Last Starfighter, and then again as Star Raiders 2. The final name probably suits the game best, since it shares a lot with the Atari classic Star Raiders. The same action/strategy mix played from a first person, space shooting, perspective. I played it again as Star Raiders 2, and do you know what? Still fun. Still fun.

I knew it as The Last Starfighter and it’s one of the best games.

As an addendum, I found this while perusing the web this morning. This is a retail product that needs to happen.

Lego Creations Gunstar


This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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