Released in March 1978.
1978 was a big year in video games. It was the year that Midway managed to secure a license from Taito and get "Space Invaders
" brought to the United States. It was already causing a major commotion in Japan and the same happened in the United States. This, unfortunately, meant many other videogames suffered because Space Invaders was literally sucking up everyone's quarters. Atari, though, was starting to become a powerhouse in the video game world. The release of the Atari 2600 home console opened the doors to many possibilities. Atari even translated some of the 2600 games into arcade games. In later years, Atari would take the most successful arcade games and convert them to 2600 games. Atari had also been known for being on the cutting edge where technology was concerned. Sky Raider was no exception. It was the first vertically scrolling game to come out. In addition to a vertically scrolling terrain, the player could also control the 'speed' of their bomber in relation to the landscape.
From the designer : In '78 it seemed Atari was flying high on many successes and Lyle had this idea for a very unusual method of display. Since at the time we could make just about anything and they'd sell at least 100's of them, I believe the company thought we could experiment with some things. I must admit, even though the game itself ended up being rather trivial, the process of developing this unique hardware was very interesting to me
Lyle, Steve Bristow and I got a patent issued to us for this game display (patent #4,169,272 issued 9/25/79)
It was _very_ difficult for an artist to design and sketch a playfield for this game. Lyle, being an excellent artist in his own right, did most, if not all, of that himself and even he had a terrible time with it. I remember these huge sheets of vellum graph paper with each row filled by pencils of varying shades of grey. The hardware allowed for 16 3 bit pixels per horizontal line but each pixel could be from 1 to 32 horizontal clocks wide. He managed to make a 2048 line playfield into a scroll map so line 2047 meshed perfectly with line 0 resulting in a seamless scroll. Then we (well, ok, it was I) had to transcribe those 2048 lines of streaks of grey, manually counting all the horizontal clocks, off the vellum and get them put into a 2Kx8 PROM. Yikes. It should be readily apparent why we only used this display on one game
An interesting piece of trivia about Sky Raider is that the monitor is modified to intentionally screw up the linearity. The effect ends up showing objects in the background as looking more compressed and slightly slower moving.
A Sky Raider unit appears in the ZZ Top music video 'Legs'.