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WHAT'S THE REAL STORY BEHIND CLOAK AND DAGGER?
Many die-hard collectors and 5200 fans are aware that a Cloak and
Dagger (and, for that matter, Tempest) cartridge was shown in the
move of the same name as sort of a tantalizing preview of the game.
What nobody knew, however, was whether Cloak and Dagger existed as
a prototype, or if the game code even existed in any form.
Alex Rosenberg gave us the definitive answer in 1994 when he posted
to rec.games.video.classic. Here are some snippets from his
From: email@example.com (Alex Rosenberg)
Re: 5200 Cloak and Dagger cartridge
Date: Mon Sep 12 1994
I can give the definitive answer here. I used to work with the author
of the 5200 version of Cloak and Dagger. I've previously asked him
about it, and he had sent me the
--- CUT HERE ---
Yes, I can answer your question about the Atari 5200 version of Cloak
When Warner Communications sold the consumer side of Atari to Jack
Tramiel (who founded Commodore) in mid-1984, I was working on the
Atari 400/800/1200 version of Cloak & Dagger. Since the Atari 5200
was basically just an Atari 400 with a different controller, when I
completed the home computer version, I was supposed to modify the
game to use the "360-degree" 5200 controller (as opposed to the
9-position home computer joystick).
By the way here's a little known fact about Cloak & Dagger: someone
at Atari actually explored doing an Atari 2600 version of Cloak &
Dagger, but very quickly decided that it couldn't be done, even with
If you've ever seen the Cloak & Dagger movie, you'll know that the
cartridge shown in the movie was a 5200 cartridge. Actually, the 5200
cartridge didn't even exist: it was a 5200 cartridge of another game
with a "Cloak & Dagger" label slapped on it. Also, in the game store
scenes, there were Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger boxes shown. Those were
also just mockups made for the movie.
But wait a second! Wasn't the Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger game actually
PLAYED in the movie (and didn't it look damn good)? Hollywood movie
magic! They took the output of the coin-operated game, converted the
signal, and piped it to a TV set. So if you thought it looked a lot
like the coin-op game, you were right. Another interesting fact:
Henry Thomas wasn't really playing the game; instead, Atari sent down
the game's software developer, Rusty Dawe, to play the coin-op game
for the movie! So they showed Henry Thomas furiously working the 5200
controller, cut to the television showing Rusty's progress in the
game (sometimes even with Henry's reflection in the screen), and back
again. Rusty -- er, make that Russell B. Dawe -- got his own
full-screen credit at the end of the movie for the game design.
Although the rest of the game shown in the movie was taken from the
real coin-op game, the spectacular 3D "secret plans" finale of the
game was pure Holywood animation: the real game ends somewhat
anti-climactically with one of several static, crudely-drawn
blueprints. I don't recall whether Rusty ran short of ROM space or
time, but the secret plans weren't up to the quality of the rest of
the game, much less the movie game's ending.
Oh, and another piece of trivia: the original name of the Cloak &
Dagger coin-operated game was actually...Agent X (hence the name of
the protagonist in the game and the off-hand comment by Dabney
Coleman in the movie that he "used to be known as Agent X"). The game
had been under development at Atari as "Agent X" for quite a while,
and was nearly completed. The movie studio (can't remember which one
off-hand, but I have the Laserdisc) had the movie under development
as Cloak & Dagger. The game cartridge that was in the original
screenplay was...Donkey Kong (at the time, the most popular home
videogame)! Someone at either the movie studio or Atari found out
about the other, "the secret agent recovers secret plans from bad
guys" plots sounded like they were made for each other, the deal was
signed, and the Agent X game was renamed Cloak & Dagger.
Anyway, back to the layoff. My half of Atari (the half that just
released the Jaguar videogame system; it's still known as "Atari,
Inc.") got sold, and they laid off almost all the game developers who
didn't have experience writing operating systems, myself included.
When the layoffs happened, I was close to halfway done with the game.
The basic structure of all the levels was done (conveyor belts,
boxes, bubbling acid pits, box manufacturers, minefields) and you
could move Agent X around, pick up boxes, and die from touching red
boxes, being crushed by the box manufacturing thingies (what the hell
were they called?), stepping in an acid pit, or touching a landmine
(although the death animation wasn't in yet, so you just turned pitch
But none of the enemies were done, you couldn't shoot yet (although,
without enemies, you would only be able to shoot the boxes anyway),
and the bomb in the center didn't explode (the animation of the bomb
exploding in the coin-op game is fast, but it's actually pretty
crude). No elevator scenes yet, either, although since the cartridge
was supposed to be the first Atari home computer cartridge to reach a
whopping 32K (all previous cartridges had been 16K or less!), there
was enough room for many -- if not all -- of the elevator animations.
(If you look closely, you'll notice that very little of Agent X
actually moves in the elevator scenes: an arm, a facial expression,
smoke, an arm and a yo-yo, etc.)
In 1983, at one of Atari's periodic auctions of prototype and no
longer needed coin-operated machines (including games like DigDug and
Berzerk whose translations to Atari home computers and/or videogame
systems had already been completed), I bought one of the original 25
(I believe) Agent X machines. These prototypes, which had been sent
to arcades for test-marketing, had stereo sound (Atari went with mono
sound for the final hardware) and the pre-Cloak & Dagger faceplates.
The ROMs were upgraded to reflect the name change, however, so, on
the inside, my machine is a real Cloak & Dagger!
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the history and stories. I'd always wanted
to finish the home computer version of Cloak & Dagger, but over the
years, my free time has almost completed vanished. The Atari 5200
version of Cloak & Dagger, as well as versions of many other classic
Atari games -- Crystal Castles (which was nearly finished when the
layoff happened), Major Havoc (one of my favorite coin-op games, but
the home computer conversion was barely started at the time of the
layoffs), and Jr. Pac-Man (completed, but not released), to name just
a few -- were all casualties of the sale of Atari's consumer business
to Tramiel and the resulting layoffs. Everyone who was left
immediately switched from developing games (new as well as
conversions of coin-operated games) to working on the operating
system for the Atari 520ST and 1040ST.
Sorry to dash your hopes about the Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger...
-- Dave Comstock
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