Because of hardware limitations back in the day, developers found many creative ways to try and cram their games with as much content as possible while working under them. In 1982, Moonbase Io came out for the Atari 8-bit 400/800 computers armed with “24K” of RAM running off of disk and cassette.
Created by John Konopa at Beyond Software, the gameplay took place across three different arcade sequences, almost like what Midway’s Gorf (out in 1981) put players through in the arcade at the same time. As an astronaut waking up from what seems to be cryosleep, you’re on your way to Jupiter’s moons to defend them against an alien attack.
The first phase required you to get through an alien minefield between you and the moon that you were headed for. The second phase had you defend sensors that aliens would be attacking. And the last sent invisible alien ships at you – the action would evidently stop for a moment indicating that one of them was coming down and all that you could do was shoot blindly until you hit it.
Mr. Mikey Walters over at his site, WEBmikey, talks about one of the neat things that the cassette for the game did. He writes that loading programs could take as long as “15 minutes” depending on what they were. But with Moonbase Io, the developers found a way to make the waiting a little more bearable. He goes on to say:
Since the Atari cassette drive used only one stereo channel for the program signal, Moonbase IO filled the second channel with introductory music and narration to set the mood of the game!
And this carried on through the rest of the game with the cassette playing a recorded message at specific spots making it was a clever, early example of how developers made use of load pauses to entertain players such as when you could play Galaga during the load sequences in Namco’s Ridge Racer on the PSX or when gameplay advice comes up in stills in other titles such as the more recent Darksiders II.
Walters pulled the audio from the cassette and has posted the samples up on his homepage. He’s also posted the sample up on Youtube, which I’ve also linked below, preserving it for whoever wants to listen to this piece of video game history.