Nightraiders, a poor man’s Zaxxon

Welcome to another Quick Bits article. While working on a more general article on Datamost I thought I’d touch upon some of the games published by the company in the early ’80s. I found a Datamost Christmas ad in the December 1983 issue of Commander Magazine and thought that a few short articles on the advertised games were a great idea for this December (I probably won’t have time to cover all of them before Christmas).

The 1983 Christmas ad from Datamost

When Sega, in 1982, released its isometric vertical arcade shooter game Zaxxon, it would not only become the first successful game to employ axonometric projection, a distinct style of 3D, which lent its name to the game but also the first arcade game to be advertised on television, with a $150.000 expensive commercial produced by Paramount Pictures. The game became a major critical and commercial success and one of the top five highest-grossing arcade games in the United States in 1982. Its success soon led to official ports to home video consoles and computers along with a multitude of clones and variants, including Peter Filiberti‘s Nightraiders.

In an arcade in Las Vegas in 1982, 18-year-old Filiberti had played countless games of Zaxxon with his friends. Filiberti owned the computer service center next door, here he repaired Atari and Commodore home computers but soon his fascination with Zaxxon would distract and inspire him to write his own variant for the Atari 8-bit line of computers. He was self-taught and had found an interest in electronics, primarily through the CB radio craze of the ’70s. During his last years of high school, he had worked as a bench technician in a computer store and now, in the back of his own shop, he would put his skills to the test pushing the Atari and its 6502 microprocessor as far as he could. Punching in magnificent machine language routines allowing for fast-paced and fluent gameplay all while creating the best graphics and sound possible. Throughout 1982, his vertically scrolling shooter started to take shape.
When the game was complete he struck a publishing deal with one of the most experienced in the publishing business.

American entrepreneur Dave Gordon had just parted ways with the Hayden Book Company which had purchased his company Programma International, one of the very first publishers of personal computer software and at the time the biggest distributor of Apple II software in the world. While enthusiastic about the acquisition and the new possibilities, Gordon clashed with the Hayden executives and was fired in the spring of 1981. With the intent of continuing to publish technical books, games, and software for the 8-bit machines of the era he established Datamost, Inc. out of Chatsworth, California. One of the games released by his company was Filiberti’s Nightraiders, published for the Atari 400/800 in 1983.

Peter Filiberti’s Zaxxon-inspired Nightraiders was published by Datamost for the Atari 400/800 in 1983.
The Atari version was the only release of the game

Move your spaceship along the bottom of the screen while adjusting your altitude to make your laser cannon’s attacks count. Destroy enemy tanks, bridges, trains, and other structures. Fly through the preliminary screens in order to reach and destroy the enemy base. Watch your fuel level and top up by shooting at alien fuel canisters

Nightraiders was met with mediocre reviews. The Addison-Wesley Book of Atari Software 1984 found the game dull, with very little to hold any interest, and gave a poor D rating. Electronic Games reviewed the game in the July 1984 issue and compared it to a poor man’s Zaxxon.
Besides converting a number of existing titles Filiberti left the game business to work as a software and hardware engineer. In 1984 he started Applied Computer Technology, Inc. where he acted as Vice President until he sold the company in 1993. Louis Castle and Brett Sperry both worked at Filiberti’s Applied Computer Technology before founding Westwood Studios.

Sources: Atari Age, Wikipedia, Commander Magazine, Computer Gaming World, Creative Computing

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