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Whenever you write about video games these days, it’s typical to make sure to mention both the publisher (that’s the company responsible for marketing and getting the game into players’ hands) and the developer (the company that actually makes the game). Well, Atari is getting set to re-release an old-school game from the Atari 2600 console under its new Atari XP cartridge program...but it’s run into a weird sort of snag: The company has no idea who actually developed it.
The retro gaming giant is turning to the public for help in tracking down the original programmer for Aquaventure, a 2600 prototype game that eventually found a cult following after a 2600 cartridge copy surfaced, thanks to a random flea market find, in the 1990s. But you can’t credit a game’s maker if you literally don’t know who it is, and Atari is asking enthusiasts to share what they know by passing along any info they might have through the company’s social channels.
What is Aquaventure? Like its name suggests, it’s a game where all the action unfolds under the sea. Armed with a spear gun, players set out to hunt for a cavern-bound treasure beneath the surface, encountering enemy seahorses and other fishy foes that stand between their avatar and the final prize. It’s a level-based game (finding the treasure forwards you on to additional harder levels where the treasure dive gets progressively tougher), and you’ve only got a limited supply of air to keep you going as you navigate the murky depths.
Aquaventure was made for the Atari 2600, but for mysterious reasons was never formally released during the original console’s 1980s-dominating lifespan. A cartridge for the game “is thought to have been discovered by a collector at a flea market in central Florida in the mid 1990s,” writes deep-dive game researcher Matt Reichert at the Atari XP blog, noting that the game went on to make its official console debut in 2005 on the Atari Flashback 2 — which is probably when most fans first learned of it.
Thanks to the competitive vagaries of video gaming’s early console days, game creators often weren’t identified in a game’s credits, and that’s what happened with Aquaventure, Reichert explains in a separate post. “Until the mid 1980s, most games were only credited to the company that published them. In a fast growing market, studios wanted to make it more difficult for competitors to poach talented programmers by keeping their identities hidden. This practice is why we don’t know exactly who conceived and programmed Aquaventure, along with many other titles from the early 80s.”
That leaves Atari hoping for a big assist from someone out there who can fill in the missing gaps. Along with other unreleased and prototype titles like Saboteur and Yars’ Return, Aquaventure is among the old-school gaming gems the company is reviving as part of the Atari XP program — a new push to put retro titles back on game cartridges where tons of die-hard 2600 fans think they belong.
“The search continues” for Aquaventure’s original programmer, writes Reichert, with the pledge that "we will have an update soon. In the meantime, if you know anything contact Atari through one of our social channels.”