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Alpha 1/Tollian Web

Alpha One Logo

Notes:

  • Prototype of Major Havoc
  • Built in Crystal Castles Cabinet
  • Game PCB is labeled Tollian Web
Alpha 1 was an early prototype of the game Major Havoc. The game was originally called Tollian Web by the designer but this name was never really attached to the game outside of Atari. Apparently the name Alpha 1 was tacked onto the game for play testing but the game's designer has no recolection of that name (Hmmmm, the Atari/CIA connection unfolds! ;-) The name of the game went as follows...

Tollian Web -> Alpha 1 -> Rex Havoc -> Major Havoc

The Creators

The game's creator, Owen Rubin, had worked at Atari for many years, programming games such as Orbit, Space Duel, Sky Diver and Tunnel Hunt. Major Havoc was Owen' final game for Atari before he moved on to Bally/Sente, programming games such as Shrike Avenger, Goalie Ghost, Name that Tune and Grudge Match. Owen actually patented his smooth animation procedure that is used in Major Havoc for the spaceman and also deserves credit for making the volcanoes "active" in Battlezone.
Although Owen R. did most of the design of Major Havoc, many others at Atari helped putting this game together. Apparently the comradery at Atari was pretty close and programmers helped each other out as much as possible by writing small tidbits of code or sharing code between games. Mark Cerny was one of those contributors and helped Owen get the game finished up for production. Mark added the last four levels of the game (13,14,15,16), he made them hard enough that no one could get past them (he thought).

Alpha 1

Im lucky enough to own this beastly now finally. I bought it from John Morrison (Sunnyvale) who in turn bought it at a garage sale from a former Atari employee for $50. Yikes! The picture here is after I finished getting it all cleaned up and running. The game has an Amplifone monitor in it (dated 11/22/83 and labeled "with diode mods"). The cabinet itself is actually a Crytal Castles cabinet. There is no sideart. The area under the marquee is where the speakers are and the center square is actually a peice of glass with very nice handmade graphics overlayed with mylar. Very sharp looking. The game PCB that came with the cabinet was actually very close to a production Major Havoc PCB. It was labeled Tollian Web (many of the early Major Havoc PCB's were still labeled this way, but have the new code burned in the EPROM's) but had many jumper wires scattered around the board. The actual game is very close to the production version but is missing a few final touches such as sound effects and smoother graphics. The harness of the Alpha 1 cabinet is labeled Tollian Web but the pinouts for the PCB are different, therefore a finger board (conversion harness) was handmade and has written on it.. Tollian Web -> Major Havoc.
Now things get interesting.... I recently traded Bill E. for a board labeled Tollian Web. When it arrived I saw that it was totally different than the production Major Havoc and Tollian Web PCB's. The chip layout was more like gravitar... 1 CPU, 2 Pokeys, Large bank of ROM's. All the IC's were hand soldered and the board was littered with jumper wires. A big #9 is written on the board with a sharpie. After repairing it I checked it out with a monitor and saw the the game was actually called Alpha 1 in the attract mode, it also plugged directly into the harness of the Alpha 1 cabinet without the fingerboard. Kinda neat that these two peices were seperated and now were back together again. Anyway, back to the cabinet....
The marquee and control panel are very similar to the square glass peice. They are both handmade out of some sort of graphical arts material, you can actually see the x-acto blade marks. They are both coated in some sort of mylar protection. All the graphics have the "triangle" motif from the attract mode of the game. The roller controller (whirly-gig) is just like the production version except that it has a black roller instead of the normal green/yellow one. Now that I have it polished up, it is a screamer, much easier to play the game with it instead of the Tempest spinner IMHO.

Game Development

The development of Major Havoc was a long one. Tollian Web was supposedly like the third level of Major Havoc, space mazes and space enemies. Early versions contained scenes that are not included in the final release, among them was a "Star Castle" level. It was the major defense of the fourth level that is now the Space Fort instead. The "Star Castle" level had a moving fighter with a two level rotating force field around it. Just like the game of Star Castle, you had to shoot out the rotating force fields and destroy the fighter in the middle. Star Castle Section Well, Atari found out in field tests that the average player took about 2 minutes just to destroy the "Star Castle" which was a long time and a very small percentage of gameplay, so.....it was axed. The Alpha one board does not contain the missing "Star Castle" section but does have some of the graphics of it leftover in the vector ROM's. Other developments that were never implemented were in the hardware of the board. The game originally contained three processors. A main processor(alpha), a data pump/ coprocessor(beta) and a sound/ I/O processor(gamma). Through tricky programming and shortcuts the Beta processor was eliminated, that is why Major Havoc boards are missing a large section on IC's in the one corner. Some of the early prototype "Tollian Web" boards still have sockets and/ or IC's in these locations even though they are not used.
The other hardware item that was dropped was game speech. There are empty areas of the board for all the circuitry, but it must have been dropped very early in development since no speech code was ever written.
"Major Havoc" in its completed stage was going to be called "Rex Havoc", but unfortunately Marvel Comics already had dibs on that one. So everyone had to settle with Major Havoc instead. If you look closely at Rex's glove on the marquee you will see the hidden truth of his name.
Apparently the enemy "Vaxxians" were named from the designers "working association" with DECstations. Owen Rubin commented on this.....
    I actually liked the systems very much. They could just be a pain in the ass, and very slow at times. Actually, the original story about Major Rex Havoc was a VERY long story (which also may be in the original release of the field test ROMS, it was later shortened) which contained 100's of computer jokes ("The Vaxxians patroled this sector of space...."). The name was picked to fit into the computer puns. It also gave us the homeworld of Maynard, Mass, where DEC, the poeple who made the VAX systems had their HQ.
Some mystery graphics from the Vector ROM's... Unknown #1 Max Robot


Go back to the Atari Vector Page

 
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