Cloak & Dagger - the Arcade Game
Atari 1983 (KLOV entry)
Reviewed by Dave Dries
The time: Late 1982 - early 1983.
The place: Atari conference room.
The topic: Game brainstorming meeting.
About a dozen people are crowded around a long, wooden table discussing ideas for possible game projects. People are shuffling sketches and notes back and forth across the table. Several discussions seem to be going on at once.
A small group is huddled around one end of the table. They seem to be discussing some possible graphics technologies to be used in an upcoming 3D space game. Terms like "XY monitor," "bit slices" and "Lucasfilm" are overheard.
Another group at the opposite end of the table seems to be carrying on a conversation about the possibility of adding speech recognition to games. Names like "Texas Instruments," "Votrax" and "General Instrument" can be overheard.
And someplace towards the center of the table a discussion is evolving about a game concept. A game concept involving a spy theme...
"So you control a spy. You have to chase your opponent through a multi-level complex and retrieve some stolen plans. The complex could be booby-trapped with exploding mines, acid pits and robot guards."
"What if it was a factory?" someone asks.
"Sure. It can be a factory. I'm not sure why the villain would hideout in a factory...but who cares. The game will still work."
"What if there were cut-scenes that occurred after each level. Funny little animations that reward you upon clearing a level. It worked for Pac-Man. And people really seem to like that game" states another.
"Ummm...yeah. I suppose that would work too. Although I'm thinking more along the lines of an action game. We shouldn't get too comedic with it."
"What about caves?" queries another employee. "Can the guy run around in caves?"
"Caves? Umm...you mean like an underground factory complex? I'm not sure why it'd be underground..."
"Well our research indicates caves are popular right now. Kids like caves. And focus groups have indicated to us kids also like laser-beam-shooting eyeballs too."
"Okay, okay. It can be an underground factory with robots, acid pits, mines, and caves...and eyeballs?"
Then another person comes forward and suggests "can it be made to run on old Williams game hardware? Since the big game crash last season a lot of locations don't want to invest in new hardware. They'd like to see a solution to recycle old games."
"Old Williams hardware?"
"Yeah. Like Joust, Stargate and Robotron. Maybe we could just market it as a kit that the arcade operator could swap parts out and slap new stickers on the cabinet!"
"Well that hardware is a little dated now. And it would prevent us from..."
Just then another person swings open the door and enters the conference room shouting "Universal's got a spy movie in development. Do we have any projects we can tie-in with it?"
Just for the record I have no real insight into how Atari's 1983 game, Cloak & Dagger came to be. For all I know there was no brainstorming session or focus group. There probably wasn't even a wooden table.
But after playing Cloak & Dagger one gets the impression that perhaps "too many cooks spoiled the batter." Or in this case the game got overloaded with other interests and strayed too far from the original concept.
You control Agent X. Your mission is to retrieve the stolen plans from the evil "Dr. Boom" in his underground bomb factory. There are 30+ levels of the factory that you must get through before you can collect the plans. But once this is accomplished your mission is only half over. You need to make your way back through all the levels of the factory to find the exit. Each level is comprised of conveyor belts, pathways through caves or mines, robot guards, forklifts, laser-ray shooting eyeballs or acid pits. You enter each level from an elevator on one side of the screen and make your way through the obstacles to the elevator located at the opposite end.
To control your agent you have a Robotron-style dual joystick layout that controls your movement and direction your shots are fired. An igniter button is also included that will trigger a timed explosion if pressed near the bomb at the center of each screen.
While the dual joystick layout rocked for the fast action in Robotron, it doesn't seem to work as well for Cloak & Dagger. There are more confusing elements onscreen in Cloak & Dagger that need to be avoided or walked around than in Robotron. Also stepping on a conveyor belt automatically moves you in the direction of the belt. This also adds to the confusion and keeps the game from ever reaching intuitive, Robotron-like movement.
Cloak & Dagger is a very strange looking game that was designed to retrofit older Williams titles. And there are plenty of clues right down to the font and layout of the high score board that give this fact away. Maybe Atari wasn't used to programming for the Williams hardware. Or perhaps the original hardware wasn't ever intended to stretch to accommodate such an elaborate concept. Whatever the reason, Cloak & Dagger's graphics somewhat resemble the crude text graphics and repeating grid graphic patterns of early computer games. True it was only 1983. But Joust, Robotron and Stargate which all used the same graphics hardware look better. Their designs seem more thought-out and purposeful. And colors in Cloak & Dagger just look strange and arbitrary. Whoever heard of a green trench coat anyway?
The animated scenes between levels are somewhat amusing. There are a number of random animations of Agent X riding the elevator between floors. While they do add the extra element of humor they also look very different from the rest of the game graphics or intro animations. So in the end they just contribute an overall inconsistent look and feel.
Speaking of inconsistency, the game was actually developed under the title Agent X and changed to Cloak & Dagger later to coincide with the movie. And while Agent X wore a green trench coat and hat in both the game graphics and cabinet artwork, a similar-looking agent never appeared in the movie. Nor was there ever a bomb factory or a "Dr. Boom." And it's been awhile since I last viewed the film but I'm fairly certain it didn't feature any death-ray shooting eyeballs.
In a time when Atari was known for matching cutting-edge graphics with custom, purpose-built controls and technologies, Cloak & Dagger offered neither. Maybe Cloak & Dagger was the result of what a committee or focus group thought would work in a game. Maybe it was another victim of the videogame crash of the time. Or maybe it just wasn't a fun and playable game idea to start with. It had ambitious goals but in the end it never achieved the overall level of quality that Atari games were known for.
And now... so you don't have to bother playing all the way through the game:
(To see what the movie version of the secrets looked like, click here.)