The object of Kooky Diver is to swim from your boat to the ocean floor, retrieve treasures from a giant clam, and swim back to return it to your boat. All the while, you must avoid a school of fish, a shark, and the closing clamshell. You only have three divers to complete your mission. While not moving, you are constantly descending at a slow rate toward the ocean floor. You can use your joystick to move in any direction to move and avoid the shark and fish. If you are hit by a shark or run over by the school of fish, you die immediately and proceed head-first toward death and Davy Jones’ Locker. When you reach the clam, you must wait until it opens up before you can retrieve the treasure. The treasures change each time you collect one. The first treasure is a pearl, the second one is a trophy cup, and so on. The opening and closing of the clam is random, so you must tread water waiting for it to open, all while your oxygen is running out. Once the clam is open, the diver must swim to the treasure, press the fire button to retrieve the treasure, then quickly make it back to the boat before the oxygen level reaches zero. The oxygen runs out much faster when you are weighted down by the treasure. Once you return the treasure, your mission starts over and you must retrieve the next treasure until all three of your divers have died. You can place the treasures on the coral reefs to each side as a way to not run out of oxygen. Some of the larger items require this “rest stop” in order to bring the item to the surface. If your oxygen is less than 50 percent when you reach the surface, it will be restored to 100 percent.
Kooky Diver was primarily written by Eric Anschuetz. The game is really unique and not patterned after any commercial arcade or home game. The top row with the waves and the boat implement a rough scroll technique. The diver, fish, shark, and pearl are obvious uses of the four Player/Missile graphics allocated on the Atari 8-bit computer. The coral reefs, the waves, the boat, and the clam shell are implemented using redefined characters.
A technique that is used in this game and many other A/W/A games is the background sound effects, since games are much more boring without them. Since the games were written in BASIC, there really wasn’t time to play a real melody during the display list interrupts. So the A/W/A team used a technique where an assonant tone is produced through the Pokey sound chip and it sounds as if it is a wavering tone. It’s kind of annoying after a while, but it is much better than silence and could be accomplished with one line of code! There was a lot of experimentation with the various parameters of the BASIC SOUND command to get a semi-pleasant-sounding background tone that sounded right.
This game is really polished and doesn’t have any glitches or bugs present as in some of the other games due to the fact that this game doesn’t really push the envelope of what can be done with Atari BASIC. The game initializes really quickly and it doesn’t take long to start a new game at the end of a game.
A really good professional feature of this game is that at the end of the game, everything doesn’t just freeze on the screen or go back to the start menu. After the game is over, the fish and shark keep swimming, and the bottom display toggles between the score of the last game and the high score / restart prompt. This implementation of an “attract mode” was something almost non-existent in type- in home games.
This game was programmed in one long day after Eric dreamed of the game the night before. From concept to game in 24 hours was pretty amazing for a 20-year-old! Eric used his first display list interrupt in this game – an advanced technique that allowed some code to be written in the brief time that the TV finished scanning one line and then waited to scan the next line (all at 60 hertz). The DLI was used to change the color of the score line at the bottom to green, thus using an additional color not normally available in the Atari’s four-color display palate.