|Matt Reichert is the expert on Atari prototypes, and he maintains atariprotos.com, a website dedicated to documenting these unfinished and unreleased games. His thorough research and detailed game reviews are important to the Atari community, and impressive.
The origins of the original Aquaventure prototype are a bit hazy. It is thought to have been discovered by a collector at a flea market in central Florida in the mid 1990s. Eventually, this collector brought the prototype to a gaming gathering where it was dumped and distributed along with several other Atari 2600 prototypes among collectors.
By the late 1990s Aquaventure had made its way into the hands of many collectors, but it kept a relatively low-profile. It wouldn’t be until its inclusion on the Atari Flashback 2 console in 2005 that the game would reach a wide audience.
Two other copies of Aquaventure surfaced in the early 2000s, both having the exact same code as the prototype found in Florida. In 2003 a slightly earlier prototype was found in the collection of a former Atari programmer. This earlier version has not yet been made public and any differences present in this version are currently unknown.
Aquaventure has never been spotted on internal Atari memos or status reports from the early 80s, so it has been a challenge to determine who was responsible for programming the game. For many years it was assumed that programmer Gary Shannon wrote Aquaventure during his short tenure at Atari. I first credited Gary, along with developer Tod Frye, with the development in my article about Aquaventure on atariprotos.com in 2008.
I was able to interview Gary more recently, and he made it clear that he was not the original programmer:
“I had just come to Atari from Sega (coin op "Gremlin-branded" games) and was very new to the 2600, so I was definitely not the lead programmer and did mostly grunt work behind the scenes. After that I worked for a few weeks on another failed 2600 game, Miss Piggy's Wedding, which never got off the launching pad at all.”
Tod Frye also shared some of his thoughts with famed programmer Howard Scott Warshaw when asked about his involvement with Aquaventure:
“I actually spoke with Tod about it this morning. He looked at the screens and had no recollection of having worked on it.”
When asked about the possibility that he may have only been involved with writing the kernel for the game (the core of the game that controls the display and game functions), Tod mentioned that this was possible. From a conversation he had with Atari historian Marty Goldberg:
“It looks a lot like a kernel tech of mine… I made my kernel tech freely available. Probably the most widely reused kernel tech ever.”
This new information means that while Tod Frye may have programmed the kernel for the Aquaventure, and Gary Shannon did minor updates to an already existing code base, the identity of the original programmer who was responsible for the majority of the code remains unknown.
The search continues, we will have an update soon. In the meantime, if you know anything contact Atari through one of our social channels.