Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

River Raid (Activision)

with 2 comments

Shortly before the video game crash of 1983, a little company by the name of Activision, formed to give programmers credit for their properties and hard work, released a game called River Raid on the Atari VCS/2600.  Released in 1982, this game was a basic scrolling vertical shmup where you control a little plane and blast enemies that appear.  Your plane remains at the bottom of the screen, but you can increase the scrolling (plane) speed and move left and right.  I know that seems like a basic version of most shmups we’ve seen this month, but when you consider it was an early 80s home video game – on Atari’s limited space, no less – River Raid is an achievement.

If you get interested in the geeky Atari 2600 programming scene (Racing the Beam is recommended reading), you’ll learn this title is most known for having huge non-random levels of scrolling background.  This was difficult to achieve on the limited space of the 2600 and programmer Carol Shaw (known best for the 500, 2600, and 5200 ports of this game and Super Breakout) utilized a dynamic algorithm for the backgrounds.  She was also able to program the enemies via a complex random number generator to determine opponent’s actions, thus increasing the difficulty.  As addicting as it was, Germany would never get its hands on the title because the German Federal Department for Writings Harmful to Young Persons (aka Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Schriften) determined the aggressive nature of the plane made it unsuitable for a video game.  Germany was always a catalyst for video game bans and it appears that was always the case, even back then.


River Raid was ported heavily to microcomputers because the crash ended most plans for home console versions.  It can be found on IBM-PC, MSX, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore 64.  Just before the crash it was also ported to the Intellivision, ColecoVision and the Atari 5200 (where it was “improved” but looked and played nearly identically to the original).  It has also been included in a few of the Activision Anthology ports on PS1 and last generation systems – side note, River Raid was officially removed from the German banned list when Activision appealed the decision with the release of the anthology on PS2.  In addition the game is one of the few titles worth owning in the Xbox Live Game Room application – it’s a whopping 240 points ($3) and is the original 5200 version.  There was a sequel, River Raid II, programmed by David Lubar and released in 1988 for the 2600 as well, which increased the difficulty and updated the backgrounds. River Raid II can also be found on Game Room and in the Activision Anthology series.

For another lazy Sunday we’re going to be wrapping up the classic shmups with none other than Xevious.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 24, 2012 at 12:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. This one brings back memories for sure. Used to play it on my MSX in the 80’s.


    March 30, 2012 at 4:01 am

  2. Fantastic game! A new application for iPhone,iPad and Android. “River Raid” that one game which all generations will enjoy! Gamers who grew up playing on Atari remember their old times playing it! In this new version graphics have been changed into more modern ones. And since it is platform friendly, it is open for all platform users and gamers can even connect to players around the world, using multiplayer mode. Visit and enjoy! (

    janel raelyn

    January 9, 2013 at 5:12 am

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