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"Zorfon Patrol" The story behinf the making of Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600

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Great story here about the post of Moon Patrol on the 2600 and a mysterious prototype put up for auction decades later







I drove home, still not knowing exactly what it was that I had bought! Holding it in my hand, I could easily feel that it was heavier than a standard cartridge due to the larger PCB and EPROMs inside. Arriving home, I immediately fired up my Atari 2600. The expected attract-mode screen of Moon Patrol popped up. Then, seconds later, the title screen appeared.

The attract and title screens, captured by the author with the Stella emulator.

My jaw dropped. I ran to grab my laptop to fire up Moon Patrol on the Atari 2600 Stella emulator so I could compare the two games side by side. Obviously, there was something noticeably different about the title screen!

The handwritten note on the label about controlling the music led me to believe that it was an almost-final release, and the screen graphics and game sounds brought me to the same conclusion.

So… what was this? Was there a chance that there was some kind of licensing issue with the Moon Patrol name? Had Atari considered giving the home version a unique name that they thought was more interesting? Was it something else entirely? I was too excited to think straight.

Googling for “Zorfon” didn’t bring up anything that seemed even tangentially relevant. I knew then that I was going to have to try to track down the original programmers to get answers. Doing some research, I learned that Noelie Alito did, at one time, have a connection to Potomac, Maryland. A little sleuthing led to figuring out what I believed to be a current address, and I composed a snail-mail letter. I dropped a small photo print of the cartridge into the envelope as well, in case it might help refresh her memory.

When I didn’t receive a response for quite some time, I decided to send an email to Dr. Mark Ackerman, a professor at the University of Michigan, and another programmer from the GCC team who worked on 2600 Moon Patrol (among various other titles). He quickly replied with the opinion that I’d come to own what he called an “Xmas cartridge”. He elaborated:

“I did one of Ms. Pac [Man] that had “Jeremy” in place of the title screen for my nephew (unfortunately, I’m pretty sure his family tossed it at some point) and then the owners/management of GCC allowed others to also burn a few personalized cartridges too.”

This certainly felt more like the “right” answer to me — certainly more reasonable than my theory about a potential licensing issue, anyway. I thanked him for his help and continued to wait to hear from Noelie Alito, especially since he said he had no idea what “Zorfon” meant.

It made my month when Noelie finally emailed me a few weeks later.


Full story at the link.

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