Codex Gamicus

Joust is an arcade game released in 1982. It was ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari ST computer system, and the NES. It was followed in the arcades with Joust 2: Survival Of The Fittest.


Each player controls a different knight and each of them rides a different mount. The first player is a yellow knight who rides on a flying ostrich. The second player is a light blue knight who rides on a giant stork. There are three different enemy knights who all ride on giant buzzards and each of them are colored differently. The enemy knights are red Bounders, silver Hunters and dark blue Shadow Lords. The other enemies include the "unbeatable" pterodactyl and The Lava Troll, a giant hand that reaches out and grabs from one of the two lava pools at the bottom of the screen. In each wave throughout the game, you must defeat every enemy knight in a joust. Everytime you defeat an enemy knight in a joust by ramming him atop his head, he will turn into an egg. You must then capture the egg before it hatches, otherwise, the egg will hatch and the knight will become the next more-difficult character. In other words, a Bounder will become a Hunter, a Hunter will become a Shadow Lord, a Shadow Lord will become a Bounder and so on. After the egg hatches, a new mount will fly out to pick up the newly hatched enemy knight. You can also collect an enemy knight after he has hatched before he mounts his buzzard. Sometimes the eggs will fall into the lava pits at the bottom of the screen in later waves. During the first two waves, there are platforms at the bottom of the screen that will allow you to walk over the lava pits, but in later waves, the platforms will be burned away. Also, in later waves, flames will start to burn in the lava pits. Sometimes, a pterodactyl will show up in some of those waves, usually if you take too long. The pterodactyl will sometimes try to fiercely charge right at you. The only way you can kill the pterodactyl is by ramming him in the mouth to desintagrate him. If you have your feathered mount fly too close to either of the lava pits, The Lava Troll will reach out and grab your mount by the legs and pull you both into his fiery home. If this happens, you must have your mount repeatedly flap really hard to escape from the grip of The Lava Troll. The Lava Troll will also grab the enemy knights on their buzzards and occasionally pull them in with him. Even in the later waves, platforms will collapse and disintegrate. Occasionally, there is an Egg Wave where you must grab all the enemy eggs before they hatch. As you advance to later waves, the difficulty constantly increases.


Joust was developed by Williams Electronics, with John Newcomer as the lead designer. Programmer Bill Pfutzenrueter and artists Jan Hendricks and Python Anghelo assisted him. Tim Murphy and John Kotlarik handled the audio design. The game features amplified monaural sound and pixel graphics on a 19 inch color CRT monitor. Like other Williams arcade games, Joust was programmed in assembly language. A pack of three AA batteries saves the game's settings and high scores when the machine is unplugged from an electrical outlet. The cabinet artwork, by Anghelo, is stenciled on a wooden frame. Anghelo also designed artwork for promotional materials. One such flyer featured archaic English, which was also incorporated into the game's on-screen instructions. Following Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar's departure from Williams, the company searched for new creative staff. Believing video games to be the future of entertainment, Newcomer left his job as a toy designer to work at Williams who hired him to create game ideas to support development staff. After a few days, he generated a list of ideas that included game ideas for The War of the Worlds and Joust, Newcomer's top two choices. Technical specifications dictated the selection; Newcomer's vision of The War of the Worlds was infeasible, but Joust could be accomplished with Williams' available hardware. A development team was formed, which decided to create the game using Defender's hardware. Newcomer conceived Joust as a "flying game" with co-operative two-player gameplay. Rather than emulate the popular space theme of previous successful flying games like Asteroids and Defender, he wanted to offer an alternative to spaceships. To that end, Newcomer made a list of things that could fly: machines, like planes and inventions by Leonardo da Vinci; animals, like squirrels and birds; and fictional characters, like superheroes and vampires. After evaluating the positive and negative of each idea, he chose birds, believing that they would have a wide appeal. Newcomer also felt that birds were a good fit as he was familiar with fantasy and science fiction media that features birds. To further increase his understanding, Newcomer went to the library to study mythology. He felt that the primary protagonist should ride a majestic bird. The first choice was an eagle, but the lack of graceful land mobility dissuaded the designer. Instead, Newcomer chose an ostrich because he thought a flying ostrich was more believable than a running eagle. To differentiate between the first and second player characters, the developers picked a stork, believing the proportions were similar to an ostrich while the color difference would avoid confusion among players. Newcomer chose vultures as the main enemies, believing that they would be recognizably evil. Anghelo created concept of the characters as guidance for further design. The decision to use birds prompted Newcomer to deviate from the then standard eight-direction joystick. He implemented a "flapping" mechanism to allow players to control the character's ascent and descent. With the vertical direction controlled via the arcade cabinet's button, a two-way joystick was added to dictate horizontal direction. Though other Williams employees were concerned over the design, Newcomer believed that a direct control scheme for flight would strengthen the connection between the player and the character.Because flying became an integral gameplay element, he chose to have characters collide as a means of combat. Newcomer felt that the characters' heights on the screen was the best way to determine a victor. The combat is devised to allow for higher levels of strategy than traditional shooting games. The developers created the game using 96K of memory, which limited the file size of individual graphics and sound effects they could use. For example, memory limits prohibited Newcomer from creating more characters. The graphics were created at the pixel level and hand-animated. To animate the birds, Hendricks used Eadweard Muybridge's book Animals In Motion as a reference. Given the limited memory, he had to balance the number of frames to minimize file size, while maintaining realistic animation. He originally picked grey for the buzzards, but Hendricks chose green to optimize the color palette—the developers had only 16 colors to create the visuals. Once the colors were decided for the character sprites, Newcomer finalized the look of the platforms. The hardware had limited audio capabilities, and sounds typically required larger amounts of memory than graphics. Working with these restrictions, Newcomer instructed Murphy and Kotlarik to focus on select sounds he deemed important to reinforcing gameplay. He reasoned that the audio would serve as conspicuous hints that players could use adjust their strategy. Though Newcomer prioritized the wing flap, other sounds effects like those related to the pterodactyl, collisions, and hatching eggs were considered important as well. In designing the levels, Newcomer added platforms to the environment after the combat was devised. A static game world was chosen over a scrolling world to showcase visual textures applied to the platforms. The hardware could not easily display the textures while scrolling, and the team felt that displaying the whole environment would aid players. The last game world element was a lava pit and a hand reaching out of it to destroy characters too close to the bottom. Newcomer placed the platforms to optimize Pfutzenrueter's enemy artificial intelligence (AI), which factors attack patterns based partly on platform placements. The knight enemies were designed to exhibit progressively more aggressive behavior. Bounders fly around the environment randomly, occasionally reacting to the protagonist. Hunters seek the player's character in an effort to collide. Shadow Lords fly quickly and closer to the top of the screen. Pfutzenrueter designed them to fly higher when close to the protagonist to increase the Shadow Lord's chances of victory against the player. The pterodactyl was designed to attack idle players and be difficult to defeat. The only vulnerability was attacking the creature in its open mouth during a specific animation frame. Newcomer and Pfutzenrueter designed the pterodactyl to quickly fly upward at the last moment when approaching a player waiting at the edge of platform. This was done to prevent an easy defeat of the enemy. While playtesting the game, the team discovered an animation bug they described as a "belly flop". The flaw allows players to force the ostrich or stork sprite through an otherwise impassable small gap between two adjacent platforms of very close elevation. Because it provided an interesting method to perform a sneak attack on an opponent below the gap, the developers decided to keep the defect rather than fix it. Newcomer also attributed excessive playtesting that limited the time available to find a solution. A second bug, which allows the pterodactyl to be easily defeated, was discovered after the game was first distributed. Newcomer designed the game and its AI with each sprite's dimension in mind. A day before the game was finished, however, the pterodactyl's sprite was altered to improve the appearance. The new sprite allowed the pterodactyl to be easily defeated by waiting at a ledge. Upon learning of the flaw, Williams shipped a new ROM for the arcade cabinets to assuage distributors' complaints.

Reception and Legacy[]

Given the different control scheme, Williams was concerned that the game would be unsuccessful. Though arcades were hesitant to purchase the game for the same reason, Joust sold well. Williams eventually shipped 26,000 units. A cocktail table version was later released, engineered by Leo Ludzia. It differs from other cocktail games in that it features side-by-side seating rather than opposing sides. This setup allowed Williams to use the same ROM chip as in the upright cabinets. The cabinets have since become collector's items. Though the upright cabinets are common, the cocktail version is a rare, sought after game. Between 250-500 units were manufactured. Author Steve Kent considered Joust one of the more memorable games of its time. Author David Ellis agreed, and stated that the game retains it enjoyment in contemporary times. Kevin Bowen GameSpy's Classic Gaming said that despite a concept he described as "incredibly stupid", Joust is an appealing game with good controls and the competitive gameplay. Bowen further commented that the multiplayer aspect differentiated the game from others at the time. He described it as "one of the first really fun multiplayer games" and a precursor to the video game deathmatch. Retro Gamer writer Mike Bevan praised the game's physics, calling them "beautifully realised", and described Joust as one of Williams' "most remarkable and well-loved titles". Author John Sellers praised the competitive two-player gameplay, and attributed the game's appeal to the flapping mechanism. The game has garnered praise from industry professionals as well. Jeff Peters of GearWorks Games lauded the gameplay, describing it as unique and intuitive. Fusion Learning Systems' Jeff Johannigman praised the flapping mechanism and Kim Pallister of Microsoft enjoyed the multi-player aspect.

Sequels and remakes[]

A pinball version was released in 1983, designed by Barry Oursler and Constantino Mitchell. The game includes artwork and themes from the arcade version. In addition to single player gameplay, it features competitive two-player gameplay with the players on opposing sides of the machine. Less than 500 machines were produced. An arcade sequel, Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest, was released in 1985. Several titles by other developers feature gameplay that either copies or builds upon Joust's design. The 1983 Jetpac and Mario Bros. feature elements inspired by it, as well as the 1984 Balloon Fight. In addition to a Nintendo Entertainment System version, the game was ported to several Atari platforms: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and Atari Lynx consoles, and the Atari bit and Atari ST home computers. Macintosh and personal computer version were also released. Previously unreleased Atarisoft prototypes of Joust for the ColecoVision surfaced in 2001 at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. In 2000, a web-based version of Defender, along with nine other classic arcade games, was published on Four years later, Midway Games also launched a website featuring the Shockwave versions. The game has been included in several multi-platform compilations: the 1996 Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits, the 2000 Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits, and the 2003 Midway Arcade Treasures. Other compilation titles are the 1995 Arcade Classic 4 for the Game Boy and the 2005 Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play for the PlayStation Portable. In 1986, the company released Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest, an arcade sequel. As part of its "Extreme Chain Series", Tiger Electronics marketed a handheld adaption of Joust in 1998. The movie rights to Joust were optioned by Midway Games to CP Productions in 2007. In the 1980s and 1990s, Atari ported Joust to its 2600 (1983), 5200 (1983), 8-bit (1983), ST (1986), 7800 (1987), and Lynx (1992) home systems. There were also versions for the Apple II and IBM PC. Other ports included ones for the Macintosh (1994) and Nintendo's NES (1988), Game Boy (1995), and Game Boy Color (1999). Between 1995 and 1997, Joust also appeared within the Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits collection for the PlayStation, SNES, and Sega's Genesis and Saturn consoles and within the Williams Arcade Classics anthology for personal computers (both MS-DOS and Windows) and the handheld. Publishers have also released ports of Joust for a nominal price to online services that support current-generation video game consoles, such as the Xbox Live Arcade (November 22, 2005) and the PlayStation Network (May 24, 2007).




Shadow Lord


Lava Troll


A prototype version of this game was developed by Atari for the ColecoVision, but was never completed or released.

External links[]

  • Joust at the Killer List of Videogames
  • Joust at MobyGames