Cloak & Dagger for ATARI 5200 – The real history behind this cartridge

You’re reading an article located at Kinox – The Emu Scene Dump, one of the most reliable sources for news about the scene (pay us a visit, you won’t regret!). This is a small article that explains the real story behind Cloak & Dagger for Atari 5200. All rights reserved to Alex Rosenberg, its author.

Many die-hard collectors and 5200 fans are aware that a Cloak and Dagger (and, for that matter, Tempest) cartridge as shown in the movie of the same name is sort of a tantalizing preview of the game. What nobody knew, however, was whether Cloak and Dagger existed as a prototype, or if the game code even existed in any form. Alex Rosenberg gave us the definitive answer after an “interview” with Dave Comstock, from ATARI

“Yes, I can answer your question about the Atari 5200 version of Cloak & Dagger.

When Warner Communications sold the consumer side of Atari to Jack Tramiel (who founded Commodore) in mid-1984, I was working on the Atari 400/800/1200 version of Cloak & Dagger. Since the Atari 5200 was basically just an Atari 400 with a different controller, when I completed the home computer version, I was supposed to modify the game to use the “360-degree” 5200 controllers (as opposed to the 9-position home computer joystick).

By the way here’s a little known fact about Cloak & Dagger: someone at Atari actually explored doing an Atari 2600 version of Cloak & Dagger, but very quickly decided that it couldn’t be done, even with major simplifications…

If you’ve ever seen the Cloak & Dagger movie, you’ll know that the cartridge shown in the movie was a 5200 cartridge. Actually, the 5200 cartridges didn’t even exist: it was a 5200 cartridge of another game with a “Cloak & Dagger” label slapped on it. Also, in the game store scenes, there were Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger boxes shown. Those were also just mockups made for the movie.

But wait a second! Wasn’t the Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger game actually PLAYED in the movie (and didn’t it look damn good)? Hollywood movie magic! They took the output of the coin-operated game, converted the signal, and piped it to a TV set. So if you thought it looked a lot like the coin-op game, you were right. Another interesting fact: Henry Thomas wasn’t really playing the game; instead, Atari sent down the game’s software developer, Rusty Dawe, to play the coin-op game for the movie! So they showed Henry Thomas furiously working the 5200 controllers, cut to the television showing Rusty’s progress in the game (sometimes even with Henry’s reflection on the screen), and back again. Rusty — er, make that Russell B. Dawe — got his own full- screen credit at the end of the movie for the game design.

Although the rest of the game shown in the movie was taken from the real coin-op game, the spectacular 3D “secret plans” finale of the game was pure Holywood animation: the real game ends somewhat anti-climactically with one of several static, crudely-drawn blueprints. I don’t recall whether Rusty ran short of ROM space or time, but the secret plans weren’t up to the quality of the rest of the game, much less the movie game’s ending.

Oh, and another piece of trivia: the original name of the Cloak & Dagger coin-operated game was actually…Agent X (hence the name of the protagonist in the game and the off-hand comment by Dabney Coleman in the movie that he “used to be known as Agent X”). The game had been under development at Atari as “Agent X” for quite a while, and was nearly completed. The movie studio (can’t remember which one off-hand, but I have the Laserdisc) had the movie under development as Cloak & Dagger. The game cartridge that was in the original screenplay was…Donkey Kong (at the time, the most popular home videogame)! Someone at either the movie studio or Atari found out about the other, “the secret agent recovers secret plans from bad guys” plots sounded like they were made for each other, the deal was signed, and the Agent X game was renamed Cloak & Dagger.

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