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Game Spotlight RIVER RAID

River Raid is a scrolling top down shooter game designed by Carol Shaw, and was originally published by Activision in the 1980's for the Atari 2600 video game console. Activision later ported the title to the Atari 5200, ColecoVision, and Intellivision game consoles, as well as to the Commodore 64,IBM PCjr, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Atari 8-bit family home computers.

Later, Activision published River Raid II in 1988. This sequel, programmed by David Lubar, has similar gameplay, but with a different landscape and increased difficulty. Viewing from a top-down perspective, the player flies a fighter jet over the River of No Return in a raid behind enemy lines.



The player scores points for shooting enemy tankers (30 pts), helicopters (60 pts), fuel depots (80 pts), jets (100 pts), bridges (500 pts), and (in non-Atari 2600 versions of the game) hot air balloons (60 pts). The jet refuels when it flies over a fuel depot. A bridge marks the end of a game level.

The player's jet crashes if it collides with the riverbank or an enemy craft. In non-Atari 2600 versions of the game, tanks alongside the river also fire at the player's jet. If the player's jet runs out of fuel, it crashes. Assuming fuel can be replenished, and the player evades damage, gameplay is essentially unlimited.

Unlike later scrolling shooters, there is little or no enemy fire in River Raid. Also, the player's jet cannot maneuver up and down the screen, only left and right. It can, however, accelerate and decelerate.

For its time, River Raid provided an inordinate amount of non-random, repeating terrain despite constrictive computer memory limits. The gameprogram does not actually store the sequence of terrain and other objects. Instead, a procedural generation algorithm manifests them by employing a linear feedback shift register with a hard-coded vector. Because this starting value is hard-coded, the algorithm generates the same game world every time the program executes. The enemy crafts' artificial intelligence, however, relies on a random number generation program to make enemy movement less predictable.



River Raid was the first video game to be banned for minors in West Germany by the Federal Department for Writings Harmful to Young Persons. The indexation notes of 19 December 1984 explains that, in River Raid, "minors are intended to delve into the role of an uncompromising fighter and agent of annihilation. It provides children with a paramilitaristic education. With older minors, playing leads to physical cramps, anger, aggressiveness, erratic thinking and headaches."  River Raid remained on the index until 2002, when a publisher successfully lobbied to remove the game from the index in order to republish it in the Activision Anthology for the PlayStation 2. The anthology was rated "Free for all ages" by the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body.


Intellivision Version

The enemy has positioned a series of bridges across the river to ensure a supply line. Your orders are to destroy those bridges, and demolish choppers, tankers, and jets that patrol along the waterway. As you advance, the canyon narrows and the enemy gets smarter. Stay alert, the enemy never sleeps. And any mistake you make could be your very last. River Raid. Can you make it?

Carol Shaw originally designed and programmed River Raid for the Atari 2600. Peter Kaminski programmed this version for Intellivision. Activision later released versions of River Raid for Atari 5200 and ColecoVision.

"The River of No Return holds many special challenges and dangers for would-be River Raiders. You'll not only have to know your assault jet, but you'll need to have a good idea of your basic flight plan before you start.

"By knowing the river, pinpointing areas with the highest concentration of enemy, and the most fuel depots, you'll have a much better chance of surviving. We suggest you use the river banks and islands to your advantage, since you can fly over them, while the helicopters and ships can't.

"Fuel is also a critical factor. When you're far up the river, fuel is scarce. Hence, flying to the next fuel depot should be your top priority. Also, you'll find you can actually blow up a fuel depot right in the middle of refueling. That way, you can gain points and refuel at the same time.

"The really advanced player should practice flying through the trees. Not only is it a lot of fun, but winging it through the forest might get you out of a tight spot sometime."

Players who sent a photo to Activision showing a score of 35,000 or more received an "Activision River Raiders" emblem.


Atari vs Colecovision vs Intellivision

All three versions of this game not only play remarkably different but look very different too. The stark difference in hardware capabilities can be seen most when comparing the 2600 and ColecoVision versions, with the CBS made machine having much higher resolution. Nevertheless, the Coleco version feels like a lazy port in many ways with lack-lustre sprites and sparse looking screens. The Intellivision version is somewhere in between the two resolution-wise but fairs much better with well designed sprites and explosions and clever collision detection whereby you can fly over land only to be destroyed if you hit a tree or other obstacle (something which the other two versions lack). The 2600 version is by far the simplest but that doesn’t make it the worst, yes the scenery is square and symmetrical but in not trying to be too clever it has a certain graphical appeal that the Coleco and Intellivision versions don’t have. All in all though, and most surprisingly, it’s a win for the Intellivision.


This one was between the Intellivision and 2600 version from the go. The ColecoVision plane has the worst sounding jet engine ever (white noise) and it only gets worse when you accelerate. The terrible sound continues with the firing and explosions sounds. The Intellivision’s sounds are actually quite good, I especially like the explosion noises but the lowly 2600 has the best sound overall with a great jet engine noise that pulsates and sounds great when accelerating along with decent explosions and firing noises. Therefore it’s awin for the 2600.


As all three machines use very different controls this was a hard thing to judge but the Atari version of River Raid is by far the hardest. The pseudo-random AI of the enemies in the Coleco and Intellivision versions are far easier to predict and in many instances they are just static and pose no threat. It also has the most thirsty jet, with gathering fuel being one of the most important aspects of the 2600 version’s gameplay. The fuel gauge hardly moves at all in the Intellivision version and the Coleco is somewhere between the two making re-fueling less important and allowing you to concentrate on shooting/avoiding enemies. The clever (for an early 80s console) collision detection on the Intellivision gives it an early advantage. You can fly over land but not through the obstacles on the land, something you cannot do with the other two versions, both having ‘solid’ canyon walls. A much harder section to judge but between the 2600 and Intellivision, the Intellivision just rips it.


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