By Scott Stilphen
Arkyology is a 1-player, 1 screen game that based on events in the life of the biblical character Noah. There are 2 parts to each 'day' in the game. The first involves running around the 3-level ark and grabbing levers to open up doors to the animal stalls. Ladders connect each floor, and at the top of each ladder is a tube that you can safely hide in. Once that's completed, you have to run around and feed all the various animals.
Thwarting you during both tasks are various loose animals that are crawling and flying around that you must avoid. A porcupine at the very top drops quills on you whenever you're underneath it, and is most dangerous when you're on the top level or on a ladder. A bird will occasionally fly by on each floor that will hit your head if you don't duck under it (with careful timing, it's possible to run past it without ducking). Turtles race across the floors and must be jumped over. On later days, alligators will be on some floors. These can't be jumped over, so you need to lure them to one side of the screen and use another floor to get around them.
After completing both levels, you're treated to an intermission of Noah sleeping as the moon above him slowly passes by. You then start the next day, repeating the same 2 levels with a slight increase in difficulty (faster enemies, more enemies). Programmer Paul Walters stated the game is complete, although he would have liked to include more; being limited to 8K forced him to leave out some features he planned on implementing.
The game plays very nicely, and is similar to Pitfall!, Frankenstein's Monster, and especially the 2nd screen in Pursuit of the Pink Panther, where you have a single screen that features multiple floors. There's a minor programming cycle glitch that causes the screen to briefly shake when transitioning between screens. As far as gameplay issues, the only serious one is how you move from the ladder to a floor, as it can't be done as smoothly as it can in a game like Pitfall! If you move diagonally up or down the ladder, your character will stop when it reaches the floor, at which point you move left or right - there's no continual movement. Moving diagonally left or right when approaching the ladder has no effect, as you'll simply run past it, but if you stop when you're close to it and then push up or down, you'll 'jump' onto it. It's a frustrating implementation of what should have been a very simple action, and even more so on later days when the various enemies move much faster than your character can. Thankfully, the game was designed so that you're safe from any off-screen animal attacks or falling quills when you're on the left or right edges of the screen.
The key to the game in the later levels is knowing the right time to use the ladder, as well as having patience. There's no timer, and you can actually hide in a tube as long as you want, which can be used as an unintended 'pause'. The tube is also an important feature worth taking advantage of, but just be sure your entire body is within it, for even having 1 pixel of your foot or head sticking out leaves you vulnerable.
The game was done by Enter-Tech Ltd. for Sparrow Distribution, who also released The Music Machine. See the classifieds section to purchase a cart. Programmer Paul Walters announced in 2015 that he likely had the only existing copy of the game, which he released for free online in August 2018. Here's what Paul had to say about the games he helped develop for the Atari VCS/2600, as well as those for the arcade market:
|Back in 1982 -
1984 I worked for Enter-Tech Ltd. We developed video games, coin-op, cartridge,
and gambling as well. We developed a few games for the Atari 2600, for
Sparrow. We had the
contract to develop Arkyology and David and Goliath for the 2600 back in 1983. I
and my co-worker George Hefner were the programmers on the Arkyology project. My
co-worker Rick Harris was the lead on the David and Goliath project, and
Teague, who was a hardware tech who helped out with
some programming from time to time, too. Barb Ultis did the graphics for both games.
It's been many years since I, George Hefner, Rick Harris, and Barb Ultis
designed and created Arkyology.
Barbara was great. She is a generation older than we were and brought a
lot of stability to the table when we were working together. I wrote a
program on the Atari 800 computer that simulated the 2600's graphics and
let her create the backgrounds and sprite/ball images that would be
recreated the same on the 2600. She used that tool to make the graphics
for these games. Those were fun times. I didn't realize at
the time what a special era we were in, and how enduring the legacy would
The games required a cartridge board that handled ROM banking. The final games fit inside 8K bytes. Arkyology was finished and ready for release; I don't think David and Goliath was ever finished. Arkyology was about Noah's ark. The player controlled 'Noah' and the goal was to feed the animals on the Ark. The game showed three floors separated by ladders that contained animal stalls. Each level had two parts. First was to run around and open all of the animal stalls, the second was to 'feed' each of the animals. Of course, there were obstacles. There were birds flying past, alligators running on the floors, and a couple others if I remember right. Each level sped up with more obstacles. I have a game ROM of Arkyology, probably the only one still in existence.
One of the 'tricks' I had to implement on this game is the 'tubes' at the top of the ladders. I'm using the same 'Player' object for both the left set of 2 and the right set of 2, just redeploying that object twice on the same scan line. We ended up having to edit out some of what we wanted to put into the game because we were running out of space. The cut scenes between days were shortened down to just Noah snoring.. we had bigger plans for it. At one point I was having a problem with getting the game to be able to display 'Noah' climbing the ladders without throwing off the timing the video loop. Driving home from work late one evening, I had a "eureka!" moment and came up with a an indirect pointer to an encoded table method that halved the machine cycles for handling the climbing animations and made them possible. Those were the moments that really made the work fun.
We spent a lot of work on the gameplay. We were all avid
gamers and played every game out there. We would always try
deconstructing the 'how' for both coin-op and console. It was fun
talking through how the software must be organized to do what it did, how
it used the available resources, and especially on coin-op how the
hardware must be designed whether multi-layer, sprites, character or
pixel, and how the audio was generated i.e. one of the popular audio chips
like the '8912, or custom built.
So we played and talked through most Activision games because they were
very good at getting the most out of the 2600's limited hardware. Pitfall!
and Keystone Kapers were high on our list of 'best' design to make the
most of the resources.
Enter-Tech had an arrangement with Century Electronics out of the UK that made coin-op boards/games that were interchangeable. Rick Harris was lead on working with them and supporting their coin-op games here in the USA. I never worked on that part much. I thought Dazzler was the best; the others were pretty much knock-offs of other popular games. The IP for these coin-op games was not owned by Enter-Tech. Enter-Tech also made their own coin-op arcade line of products under the name Moppet Video, plus we had our own line of 'gray market' games (video poker) had a Nevada-approved video poker machine.
The games that we developed for the Moppet line were in this order: Tugboat, Desert Race, Noah's Ark, Berenstain Bears in Big Paws Cave. I personally wrote Tugboat from scratch on the board we used for the El Grande video poker game. That board was limited in graphics and the result was not so good, so we brought in a hardware developer (Cash Olsen was his name) to design the plug-in board that went on top of the poker board to add additional graphics capabilities. We spent a number of very late nights on the board-bring-up and debug of the first prototype, I remember getting home at 1 or 2 in the morning. There was one more that was about 75 to 80 percent done when I left the company in April 1984. The company made a deal to buy circuit boards + the software for the Leprechaun and Pirates Treasure games - these two were in production starting in mid/late 1983. In 1981, the games that they would have been making were the CVS (Century Electronics) boards that were brought to the USA and built/marketed by Tuni at the time.
The video game operation, where I worked, was based in Tempe, AZ and consisted of development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. At one point late in '82 Tuni started running out of money. They missed a payroll and shut down the company for a week or so while the local management regrouped. The local management got funding and bought out Tuni, and named the company Enter-Tech, Ltd. Enter-Tech Ltd. was owned by E.T. Industries. The employees were issued stock in E.T. Industries based on how long they had worked for the company. E.T. Marketing was on-site in Tempe, AZ and was dedicated to the marketing of the products. I'm not sure exactly why the marketing branch was a different company, but we shared offices. E.T. Industries made odd things roughly based on entertainment, such as the large water-slides found at amusement parks. I'm not sure if they still exist, but I don't think they do. If they did, I'd like to find out if my stock has gone up any on the past 30+ years ;)
Enter-Tech was originally called Tuni Electro Services. Tuni was the last name of the company founder/owner. My memory of Tuni was it was headquartered in Oregon - these sites (LINK 1 and LINK 2) would seem to confirm that but it wouldn't rule out an office in Vancouver. Also in that business listing was "Phillip M Capen". I knew him as Mike Capen. He was the boss in Tempe. When Tuni dropped out and the company became Enter Tech, Ltd, Mike was the president. He was an intense guy; I liked him but tried staying out of his way. I was only 20 when I started there and 22 when I left, and found Mike a little intimidating. Tom Opfer was the immediate engineering manager. He was the one who hired me into the company. The picture on this site is really interesting - it looks to me exactly like the production facility we had in Tempe, AZ right down to the roof's wooden main support beam structure; it was layered and varnished to a shine. I recognize two of the the guys in that picture, they worked in the Tempe building. I wish I could remember their names, but they weren't in Vancouver. The larger guy at the far end of the row was Mark, the closest guy was a car nut and had a souped-up 1960's Chevy II he drove to work; we talked about cars a bit. Here's a link to the Tempe facility address (scroll down the page for the Tuni address, or search '1981').
I don't recall the name of the company we were developing VCS games for; Sparrow rings a bell. I wasn't on the business side of things so I can't give a definitive account on that. Sparrow's focus, being a religious organization, was on 'teaching' the kids who would play the game the basics of these biblical stories. So I would guess the insert would include the story, putting it in the context of Sparrow's belief system. On the difficulty, while the game was designed to be sold through the ministry, it was targeted at teens and above in difficulty levels.
There was one individual (whose name I cannot recall) who was the 'customer'. He was driving the project as the customer and he was to take delivery of both Arkyology and David and Goliath. He spoke of his 'ministry' and who the targeted demographic was to be for this game, which was mid teenage years (part of why the game play is on the challenging side). I do recall that there were problems with payment from our customer. The customer ended up not having the funds to move forward with the mask as it was quite expensive at $40k to do the smallest run of masked ROM's that supported the F8 banking internally. They didn't want to produce a cartridge with EPROM or OTP, and external circuitry to support the banking. They knew up front the game would need 8K, but they either didn't do much planning or just ran out of money. I remember their head guy complaining about how much we charged to develop the games, and how hard it was to afford it. I recall the head guy (wish I could remember his name) had mortgaged his house to pay for the development of these games. This was is part of why Arkyology was not released and why David and Goliath wasn't finished back then, and also why the copyright stayed with Enter-Tech, and eventually to me when I purchased it at their bankruptcy auction. It wasn't until after Enter-Tech was gone, that the original customer started up trying to make the ROM again, and contacted me.
As an F8 game, there were specific functionalities that we counted on, such as guaranteed startup in bank 0, guaranteed timing on bank switching. One other thing that gave it faster timing was inside the ROM, the -CE was always on and -OE was what was toggled on a memory fetch cycle (this is an old trick on the 6502 and later 65816 to get 20ns or so faster response from the ROM). They were playing it with a hand-built F8 board. Propagation delays were non-standard, startup was not guaranteed in bank 0, and their board was a little heat sensitive meaning when it was cold the game would get a bit flaky. The problems they saw in their hand-built board disappeared with a short blast from a heat gun - which indicated they had a marginally too tight timing in their circuit. I can tell you there were literally thousands of hours of play testing on our end. While the game was developed using an Kontron/Futredata In-Curcuit-Emulator, we also built our own F8-type board that was very close in timing to the masked ROM's specs that we were targeting. One of the advantages of the Kontron was it had metering capabilities that were very nice to use in building a 2600 game. One was you could set it up to count - in real time while running - timing from a starting trigger point to and end point in the software. This allowed us to pretty easily get exact timing on the video loop.
The Arkyology binary I released was the final version we developed in 1983 at Enter-Tech. There have been no modifications or changes to it since then. On the developer names, I would like mine first since I was the lead on this game and preserved it all these years, as well as being the current copyright holder (or closest thing to it). I purchased the rights to all the games made by Enter-Tech at their bankruptcy auction in 1985 (I'd have to look it up but it was either late 1985, or early 1986). I know there was one other gent who used to work there that asserts he bought the rights to the Poker games we developed while at Enter-Tech for $1 just before the shutdown. This may be so, but it really doesn't matter after all these years.
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