The “Zorfon” Mystery: Answers from a Golden-Age Video Game Developer

Programmer Noelie Alito reveals the story behind her one-of-a-kind Atari prototype cartridge

A photograph of the Zorfon Patrol PCB taken from the prototype cartridge.
A photograph of the Zorfon Patrol PCB taken from the prototype cartridge.
Zorfon Patrol prototype PCB. Author photo.

THE ATARI 2600 SCENE TODAY

A photo of a rare Atari Inc. Flag Capture picture label game cartridge.
A photo of a rare Atari Inc. Flag Capture picture label game cartridge.
The Atari Inc. picture label version of Flag Capture. Approximately five copies are currently known to exist. Author photo.

GENERAL COMPUTER CORPORATION

Atari 2600 game boxes displayed on a wall at a CES Expo.
Atari 2600 game boxes displayed on a wall at a CES Expo.
A selection of games exhibited by Atari at CES ’83. Most were developed by GCC. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.

ATARI PROTOTYPES

Image for post
Image for post
An in-house prototype cartridge from GCC with a blue “Loaner Cartridge” label. Courtesy atariprotos.com
Image for post
Image for post
A more common Atari Prototype Lab cartridge with black “Loaner Cartridge” label. Courtesy atariprotos.com

THE AUCTION

I spotted an interesting-looking blue-labeled GCC prototype cartridge in an eBay game lot auction in October of 2018. One wouldn’t have known that a prototype was included in the lot from the title of the auction listing, or even from the first seven of the twelve posted photos. Only two of the twelve showed the prototype’s label in any detail. I consider myself pretty fastidious when it comes to scouring eBay for unusual Atari stuff, but I could have easily missed it myself if not for some good fortune.

Image for post
Image for post
One of two auction photos where the unusual prototype’s label was visible.

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

Image for post
Image for post
The prototype cartridge, with hand-written labels. Author photo.
Image for post
Image for post
The attract and title screens, captured by the author with the Stella emulator.

THE INTERVIEW

Over the course of multiple emails back-and-forth, Noelie answered pretty much all of my questions. She said that she wasn’t looking for any publicity or fame, but that if I wanted to “plumb [her] questionable memory” about her time at GCC, she would oblige.

Image for post
Image for post
The Athenaeum Building, former home of GCC, in Cambridge, MA. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
Super Missile Attack conversion of Missile Command, Ms. Pac-Man, Quantum, and Food Fight arcade cabinets at GCC. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
The GCC team having a “fire pole” meeting. Noelie Alito is third from the left of those seated on the floor. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
The October 1983 retail release of Moon Patrol for the Atari 2600. Author photo.
Image for post
Image for post
Playing some Pole Position II in the GCC office. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
Moon Patrol (right) displayed among other games being exhibited by Atari at CES ’83. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
A hardware assembly station at GCC. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.
Image for post
Image for post
Arcade cabinets in the GCC “research lab”. Moon Patrol is at right. Photo from former GCC employee Steve Szymanski’s archive.

VIDEO GAME HISTORY PRESERVATION AND YOU

Preservation of the stories surrounding the creation of video games is often just as important as the preservation of the games themselves. In this case, the discovery of an unusual video game artifact led to its programmer sharing her perspective on her time working in the early video game industry. One doesn’t need to stumble across a unique prototype to add to the annals of video game history, though — this is something in which anyone with a genuine interest and passion can take part. You can support any number of preservation institutions and museums, most of which rely on donations and contributions to operate. Or, choose some game history that you think needs to be further examined, and do what you can to help fill gaps in the existing record.

Written by

Armchair video game historian and preservation enthusiast.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store