Codex Gamicus

Dropzone is a shoot 'em up video game developed by Arena Graphics in 1984. It is a bi-directional, horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up in the style of Defender. It was designed and written by Archer MacLean, his first commercial video game. In fact, "Arena Graphics" is just a shell name for MacLean himself. It was released for the Atari 400/800, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo. Dropzone borrows many elements from the Defender, including the same font style, alien depictions and title screen depictions.


On the surface of Jupiter's moon, Io, a scientific research base is under attack by aliens. The player dons a jetpack armed with a laser, a cloaking device and three smart bombs, to rescue the scientists and return them to the base.


The gameplay is much in the style of Defender, as well as Stargate, Scramble and even Robotron: 2084. Players control the hero trying to rescue the scientists on a horizontally side-scrolling game field. Players must elude or engage various aliens—some slow, others faster—and return the scientists to the base's eponymous dropzone. The aliens capture scientists walking along the ground. The player must shot the enemy aliens and catch the falling scientists. Sometimes the aliens will carry lethal androids instead, which must be avoided.

The ranks awarded to players at the end of a game are (in order):

  1. Not Listed - practice recommended
  2. Dextral Dodger
  3. Trekie
  4. Moon Cadet
  5. Planetsman
  6. Ace
  7. Planet Marshal
  8. Planet Lord
  9. Star Warrior
  10. Solar Prodigy
  11. Megastar - mission completed


MacLean purchased one of the first Atari 800's to be imported into the UK and started writing the game. It was then converted to the Commodore 64 (C64) by MacLean himself.

Of the C64 version of the game, MacLean said:

The [Commodore] 64 Dropzone is about 46k [kilobytes] long and consists of 15,000 lines of sparsely commented code with around 350 subroutines and around 3000 labels. Those who can reach Megastar status on the 64 should have had enough practice to attempt an Atari supervised Dropzone mission. The Atari, being the Porsche of home computers, is capable of running Dropzone 2.5 times faster than the 64 and can handle any amount of blobs on screen, even when you release a Strata Bomb. It is visually, sonically etc., identical and about 12K shorter. However, the 64 is still a respectable BMW316.

The name Dropzone was not settled on until shortly before the game went gold.

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