Game History

Yars' Revenge - A Fresh Look

Yars' Revenge - A Fresh Look

Howard Scott Warshaw’s seminal Yars’ Revenge tested the limits of the 2600, with surreal graphics and fast-paced gameplay. His goal was to barrage the player with gameplay, sound and visual effects to give them the ultimate challenge. Warshaw wanted the game to be an experience of the senses with noises alerting players to game changes and wild color patterns rolling through the player’s protective shield.

Atari was so bullish on the title that it featured in many TV ads, and ultimately went on to become the best-selling first-party title on the console. Trying to explain Warshaw’s story in a :30 ad wasn’t easy, which led to some almost cringy ad copy:

“You’re a fly named Yar on a quest in space. You attack the shield of the Qotile base. But watch out, Yar. He knows where you are. Yars’ Revenge. With ion zones and evil drones, there’s nothing else like Yars’ Revenge. The way out space game that’s new from Atari.” 

One of the Yars TV spots famously included a young Seth Green.

Atari also released a Yars Revenge album on the Kids Stuff Records label. It contained four tracks, including a theme song, a detailed spoken-word backstory, and a song entitled “Fly Yar Warriors.” The theme song contains a hook that is very similar to one used in Trio’s 1981 song Da Da Da.

Yar’s was the first game with an extensive backstory, and the cartridge was even bundled with a comic book. The user manual that accompanies the 50th Anniversary Collector’s cartridge includes the original comic book.  The Yarians evolved from common Earth house flies who accidentally joined a voyage into space.  They populated multiple planets before the Qotile invaded and enslaved countless Yarians, forcing the Yarian army to launch a desperate attack to save their homeworld.

You are a Yarian fly defending your homeworld from the evil Qotile empire.  You dart out from a protective shield to shoot and nibble at the Qotiles’ defenses, avoiding their missile attacks. If you successfully shoot and nibble through the Qotile defenses, you can fire the powerful Zorlon cannons into the breach.

If you can destroy the Qotile base, you’re sent to a more difficult level.  In some of these levels, the Zorlon cannon can bounce off the Qotile shields and the enemy missiles move faster than before.  Yars’ Revenge is a difficult game but, when mastered, creates a sort of hypnotic “flow state” that sets the game apart.


The Yar’s Revenge segment from this two-minute ad from 1982 could easily stand in for a tutorial.

Warshaw revisited the Yarniverse in Yar’s Return and Saboteur. This is your chance to own a brand new, collectors edition version of this Atari classic.

Interestingly, Warshaw’s masterpiece wasn’t entirely planned.  He was tasked with porting a version of Star Castle to the 2600 but found that the Assembly coding language to be too restrictive. But there were gameplay concepts that caught his attention, so he decided to create a new game that stretched the development environment to its very limit.

You can preorder a brand new, collector’s edition version of this Atari classic between November 8 and December 11.