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Alternate Reality: The City - The Atari Times

Alternate Reality: The City

Could this be the best Atari 8-Bit game ever?
by Ken Sarmiento

May 6, 2002
I remember the day that my mother agreed in purchasing our first family computer at Sears. Being a huge fan of Atari and their slew of cool systems, my brother and I cajoled my mother into buying an Atari 800XL computer system. I had already owned the Atari 5200 SuperSystem. Later, I was blown away with all the Atari games and its capabilities.

With all the games to play on the Atari 8-bit, there seems to be one game that stands out among all games available for the old trusty 8-bit computer. If there was one game that had it all, a game that rocked in graphics, music, game play, fun factor, and owned cutting edge ideas during it's time, Alternate Reality The City had all those qualities and more. The City, the first of several proposed volumes of a first person perspective fantasy role-playing game was an amazing role-playing adventure in which your goal was to escape the City of Demise using your individual strengths of your dynamic character.

The introductory scenario given while booting the program sets the scene in which an everyday city, one in which cars busily move and your normal city sounds encompass the city ambience, suddenly falls prey to a space ship. This alien aircraft shoots beams that supposedly pick up people. The AR soundtrack is catchy and provides the beginning mood for the adventure. While the soundtrack plays, there are words displayed on the screen for you to sing with the playful and memorable melody. It truly amazes me even today of the efforts and details that were put into the game from game genius creator Phillip Price and his staff.

The game begins at an entrance to a portal in which you choose your vitals and character's personality traits by entering the portal force shield. This opening screen displays the Atari's capabilities colorful 3D graphics. The numbers move like a slot machine and when you enter the portal, the numbers freeze and then represent your character's stats located at the top of your screen. I've found that having high intelligence, strength, and money are key necessities to surviving in the City.

The player must now try to complete all the volumes of Alternate Reality, and choose the ultimate moral choice: Return to Earth, or seek revenge upon the captors who have brought the player into Alternate Reality's City. One of the ingenious ideas that made this game apart from other games included the ability to have your character to evolve. For example, if you choose to kill someone in the game, your character becomes part of the "dark" side. Furthermore, the choices made could inherently affect the destiny of your character. Moreover, having high charisma points in the beginning allows you to barter for weapons at a cheaper price. Another example is having higher intelligence, which will allow you to trick other people (i.e., fighting, stealing, and etc.), but be careful because the "golden rule" may apply to your character. There's even the ability give to the poor to help develop "better" morality. I found the decision to choose between good and evil was superbly entertaining and quite fun if you choose to experiment. Basically, a good character shall not attack good people in encounters (noted by the fleeting music), but shall attack the evil (appropriated by the evil sounding music). An evil character may attack anyone. Supposedly your character's personality plays even an important role when you transfer your character to the Alternate Reality-The Dungeon game (part 2).

Walking around town and meeting people can either be deadly or helpful. Finding the local smithy allows you to purchase weapons that you can use to protect yourself from enemies. You'll probably have to start with a dagger and use it to attack your adversaries. If you choose to kill in the game, the victim's belongings now become yours (clothing, weapons, and etc.) The more days you stay alive, the more experience you accumulate. Saving money and then storing it in a bank is a very wise choice in the game because interest helps your earnings. Other options include sleeping at the local inn to increase health to drinking at the local tavern. Be careful on the drinking because you could end up inebriated. Developing your characters physical traits and mental traits are important to staying alive in the city. Obviously owning the biggest sword helps in winning battles but little if you're diseased. If you're sick, you have to find a potion or a friendly wizard may choose to cure you (if you happen to run into him).


For it's time, the 3 D graphics were astounding. This was one of those games you'd show to your friends on the opening screens. The colorful sprites of the city abduction showed the Atari 8-bit's power in those times. Although the main screen was a bit tiny, it however showed graphics using an 80's 3-D engine, roaming around throughout the city. Not being able to see someone from afar was one of the few gripes I had on the graphics of the game. The first person point of view was pretty cutting edge during the mid 80's and this game falls right in that elite. I think if Phillip Price had designed the screen a bit bigger, like the Eidolon, this game would definitely earn a perfect 10.Nevertheless, the graphics of the inns, taverns, smithies, banks, and all the cool places to visit inside were really vivid.


If you watch the intro without hitting the exit key, you get a dose of the wonderful Atari music. Back in those days, I remember envying the Commodore sound chip. The Commodore had music that exceeded the standard of computing (go play Yier of the Kung Fu). AR finally matched if not exceeded what Commodore designers had done. For example, each encounter and place is played with a hint of music or distinct sound to capture the overall vibe. The beginning scene also has Karaoke, where you can sing and learn the melody of the Alternate Reality theme. Being a musician myself ( http://www.phuz.com ), catchy melodies always get my attention. This is definitely the game with original music to express the overall mood of the game. Definitely the top if not the best music in an Atari 8-bit game. Totally hip tunes!


There was no game I could find that matched the variation and complexity of Alternate Reality the City (although Ultima was pretty close). Developing character dynamics through social interaction was cutting edge for its time. There were so many things you could do in this game: buy a drink for the people in the bar, sleep on the cheap floor in the cold corner, drink wine instead of ale, feed the poor, trick a thief and steal his money, wear metal armor, learn spells, open a bank account, find secret passage ways, and so much more. Compared to most games in the 80's, the realism of survival in an unfamiliar city and the complexity of the game earns a perfect 10 in my book in game play. Moreover, having a meaningful story behind the game plays a significant role in being involved with the game. Keep in mind that The City is a role-playing game. Unfortunately, there are some people that don't like role-playing games.


I can only speak for myself and some old buddies back in the 80's.I played this game for 2 years. It's really amazing, I never thought such a game would have such addictive qualities. The letters on the label of my disk have rubbed off. Yes, I've put some massive hours in this game. My game doesn't load anymore - help!

The Flip Side

My biggest problem with the game is that it has 2 disks with both sides being used, not to mention you character disk. If you have only one disk drive, it's going to be a pain in the bottom to keep switching disks. With all the fun stuff in the game, there's so much to load. I highly recommend using two disk drives. When your character dies, AR doesn't allow you to return to your saved spot.In other words, unless you've made a backup to your character disk, your character is forever gone once you perish.


If I were forced to choose a "best game" on the 8-bit, I personally would nominate AR as one of the best games of all time on the Atari. With splendid graphics, stunning music, and innovative game play, and add the fact that it's a game that will have you wanting more, AR has it all for a role playing game. I'm only hoping Phillip Price could finish his Alternate Reality sequel.

Beautiful graphics that's never been seen on the 8-bits!
Kill or be killed!
There isn't an RPG in existence that doesn't include a bar!
Imagine this scene animated!
Alternate Reality: The City
System: 8-Bit
Publisher: Phillip Price
Genre: RPG
Graphics Score: 90%
Sound & Music Score: 100%
Gameplay Score: 100%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 95%

Reader Comments for Alternate Reality: The City

It's THE Game of 8 bit era by Firkraag on 2007-04-17 20:26:40
The surprising bit is, that so few people actually heard about it, let alone played it! It's graphics were jaw dropping at the time, the catchy music, karaoke style at the Taverns. And I am STILL waiting for a cRPG on a modern computer where certain monsters would appear in certain weather conditions. For example "the mud" appeared a lot more often when it rained than when it didn't. There were other cases, but I don't remember them. Also at night more often dangerous monsters appeared too.
AR by Bricks41 on 2007-12-07 15:54:53
I remember when I was young (8-9) we had the C64. My parents ended up buying this game 2 or 3 times because part of the game wouldn't work. It seemed like the C64 version was riddled with bugs of all sorts, at least upon the initial release. I don't know if other people experienced problems, maybe just us. The main problem was we couldn't get into the Smith so if we ever wanted to get a weapon, we had to find it. I saw a site, not sure how old it was, the original programmer was going to be updating the game and I just have to say THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!
The best 8-bit game ever! by Thoreandan on 2008-03-08 06:35:35
Alternate Reality to this day is a cult legend of a game - I still find myself humming Gary Gilbertsons excellent theme tune or the numerous other musical scores to be found elsewhere in the game such as the various establishments. The graphics were truly a revelation at the time, beautiful colours, amazing sunrises and sunsets, a weather system. I also recall reading that AR was the first game to feature mip-mapping graphics long before other programmers had caught on to the idea. I'll never forget my first encounters with a Nightstalker, Little Green Dragon, or the rare but truly evil level draining Spectre - anyone else have that happen to them? How about the excitement of finding a Magical Flamesword after months and months and even years of playing where your damage output would increase by about 5x. Or howabout finding Red Sweet potions - would they be a TREASURE FINDING potion or would it be DEADLY POISON! Only one way to find out!! A classic game that I'll always remember with fondness.
Getting into guilds by Dave Lowry on 2008-11-04 05:52:14
I too, have been a long time dreamer that someone may revisit this idea. The City was a great teaser to the whole story, and it's a shame that we never got to see the arena, the castle, the dungeons, the wilderness and others.

I remember the first time I got into the Blue Wizards Guild and learnt the improve physical speed spell or something. I'd tried for ages to get accepted, probably because the requirements were so high. Nevertheless, it was a little tedious visiting the guild each day to learn your spell. Heaven forbid you have to do it to the Star Wizards guild in that horrendous maze!

Come back AR, we love you!
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