1983 Archer Maclean

Platform: Atari 400/800

If you haven’t already, before reading this page – we recommend checking out our page on Defender first. This is the title that would evolve from that development, in which was Archer’s second attempt at trying to get work with Atari.

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Archer had previously created an attempt at a Defender conversion, which had impressed all who had seen it at the P.C.W 1982 exhibition. It had clearly spooked Atari too, who asked Archer to cease development, as they already had a cartridge version in the works in the US (that eventually saw release).

After completing his final year of his degree around May 1983, Archer had then discovered the new sequel to Defender, called Stargate. It prompted Archer to dust down the code he had produced for Defender and considerably improve it and tidy up into a more Stargate form. He also added an impressive logo with a colour fade effect to add extra polish.

Sent to Steve Gerber of Atari U.K, according to Archer’s CV – the half-finished prototype seriously impressed him, and was enough to have it sent out to California on the 21st September 1983, to be put in possible contention as the official Stargate cartridge release for the Atari platform.

In the meantime, in October 1983 – Archer showed the Stargate prototype at the P.C.W. 1983 show on the Atari stand. This would cause Atari US’ Chris Horseman to ask for Archer’s CV to be sent to him, with a view for possible employment over in the US.

Unfortunately for Archer, neither Stargate or himself would get picked up by Atari, and Chris Horseman would shortly cease working for Atari. It may have been related to the gaming crash of that time. It was also likely because once again, Atari had someone already working on a conversion. The same developer who did the official Defender game, but their conversion was never released either.

Archer would go on to do a bit of freelance programming, before then resurrecting the idea of a Defender/Stargate game – but with his own design/twist. In 1984, Dropzone was born out of the ashes of both abandoned conversions, and building on what had been learnt from both.

The Stargate prototype would sit on Archer’s disks for decades, until Games That Weren’t was tasked with saving his works from the deteriorating media. We have extracted out some of the early BASIC logo tests that Archer did, and the single prototype that Archer had shown to Atari which you can find in the download below that Chris Wilkins has kindly allowed us to upload.

The prototype doesn’t allow you to do a huge amount at this stage, but it demonstrates all the key concepts and shows that Archer was more than capable of doing a stunning conversion, had he been given the chance.

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It is unsurprisingly very similar to the last build of Defender that he did, with a number of graphical improvements and tweaks.  In particular, the title logo is quite impressive and is clearly what eventually inspired and led to the iconic Dropzone logo.

Overall, it is a hugely significant and historical finding, which shows part of the seed that was planted and which would grow into Dropzone a year later. Little did we know until now that Archer could have almost done the official Defender and Stargate conversions for Atari, which is amazing to learn. Had this happened, Dropzone may never have existed!

With huge thanks to Chris Wilkins (Fusion Retro Books) for the loan of Archer’s disks to preserve and permission to add executables to the site, Alan Hammerton for hardware help, Mat Allen for the flippy PC drive loan, Ashley Hogg for assistance in looking at one of the prototypes and Bertrand / Atari Frog for guidance and help with tools and formats.

In memory of Archer Maclean – 28 January 1962 – 17 December 2022.



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