Author Richard J. Wassmuth speaks...
"I actually worked for Syncro in Westlake Village, California when I wrote River Rat. To be honest, the game was not an idea I came up with but was actually assigned to me to complete. I was 17-18 years old at the time and still in high school. My understanding was that Syncro had a contract with ZiMAG to develop certain concepts, River Rat being one of them.
Syncro developed a number of games for ZiMAG. In my mind, it may have been among the first attempts at collaborative game design, meaning certain ideas were provided or mandated to the programmers, although the programs were, in the end, 100% designed and written by one individual. Jay Ford, if memory serves, was one of the Syncro founders.
Collision Course was also a ZiMAG concept / game that was developed by Syncro programmer Dean Hester. Dean and I were actually office-mates at the time and we wrote the two titles side-by-side.
One of the reasons I was hired was that I knew assembly / machine code very well - something the Syncro founders were only just begining to learn and dabble in. It was felt that the River Rat and Collision Course concepts would only work in machine language.
I did write a number of other programs but nothing that was marketed or released... One in particular was a game I called Othello for the TI-99. I actually included a "primitive" AI so that a person could play against the computer. On the Atari 800, I had started to work on a bobsled game - for Syncro - that I was trying to design as a first-person environment but then the company went out of business. I did not end up completing the game.
After that, I was recruited by other companies to come work for them, including SEGA. I even had an agent for a while! But all of the companies that were interested were too far from home for me (at the time, I was still in high school!) so I ended up not staying "in the business" as it were.
One thing in particular I was proud of was a program I designed (on the 800) that could simulate a rotating galaxy or even a "black hole". It could be populated with many hundreds of "stars", represented as single pixels, and show rotational movement. It required a lot of math - not one of the 800's strong points - but given the limited abilities of the processor, the program was very robust and quick. I had actually developed the program as an exercise for the bobsled program, trying to see if there was a way to use the black hole effect in reverse as engine for the first person view.
I'm currently looking to get a hold of an 800 (through eBay) and any related software of interest... Surprinsingly, the galaxy / black hole simulator I spoke about still sticks in my head to this day. I remember fairly well how I designed and wrote it and I am tempted to "give it one more try".
Unfortunately, I don't believe I have any of these codes anymore... Perhaps in some hidden corner of a storage box... Gives me a reason to look though!"