Star Raiders
Pre-Production Manual

In late July 2021, Daniel C. Avina posted some photos of the pages from the Star Raiders manual, on the AtariAge group on Facebook, with the comment: "This small piece of history was in a recent lot I purchased. Looks like we could always use "more stars"."

At first glance, they appear to be someone's photocopied version of the game's manual, but upon further inspection it's obvious this was a preproduction version, marked up by an editor. In fact, the cover page shows the name of the game as "STAR RAIDER"! Daniel's "more stars" comment was in reference to feedback on one of the screenshots in the manual! (See page 7.)

I asked, and Daniel agreed to let me reproduce them here on this site. (In fact, he took better photos, which are what you see here. As of this writing (July 2021) he's hoping to use a flatbed scanner to get even better scans of each page.)

When he sent me the images, he mentioned that the document was included in a small lot of games that he purchased, and that "[the] seller said he had picked it from an estate sale in the [San Francisco Bay Area]."

For the comparisons I've made below, I used the scanned copy of the production version of the Star Raiders manual, hosted at Atari Mania as well as my own "Rev. 1" hardcopy. (You can also see my hand-transcribed HTML version that I created for this website way back in 1996.)

Over on the AtariAge forums, "hunmanik" mentioned that the Internet Archive has a draft manual from early July 1979. They noted:

Looking to decipher the initialers on page two, I'm pretty confident about two of them:


The cover appears identical to the final production one, except the title of the game appears as "STAR RAIDER™". This title variation is a not-so-rare "mistake" seen on cartridge labels.

Page two of these documents (the first inner page of the manual), which include the Inserting the Cartridge and Table of Contents, appear to be identical to the final version. Notably, it is stamped "NOV 6 1979" (November 6, 1979) with a rubber date stamp at the top, and includes a (rubber-stamped?) section with some review sign-offs, from the following week or so.

Along the top, it has checkboxes: "Copy", "Layout", and "Mechanical" (checked). Along the right, it has checkboxes: "1st", "2nd", "3rd", and "4th"; none are checked.

It has individual lines for:

  • "Micro" -- signed in black by "P.K."(?), "11/8/79" (November 8th, 1979)
  • "Prod. Eng." -- unsigned
  • "Design" -- signed in black by [unreadable], "6/NOV/9" (November 6th, 1979)
  • "Marketing" -- signed in blue by [unreadable], "11/14/79" (November 14th, 1979)
  • "Legal" -- signed in red by "SP" (no date)

Directly below that, in red (so probably by "SP" from legal), a comment was left asking "has Steve Bristow reviewed?" (Retro Gamer magazine posted an article about Steve from their April 2010 issue (#75) after news of his passing in February 2015. Read it here: "Remembering Steve Bristow".)

Finally, the word "COVER" with the initials(?) "TK" in a circle, appear below that.

This page includes mark-up noting that a "TM" (™) symbol should appear next to the name of the game, used in the phrase "...the elite unit of the ATARIAN STARSHIP FLEET — THE STAR RAIDERS" in the first paragraph of section "I. INTRODUCTION". That change, indeed, appears in the production version of the manual.

Next to the "screenshot" at the top right, showing a starfield, is the comment "Delete outside border". The screenshots in the book have a rounded-rectangle shape, mimicking a CRT television set, and this pre-production version has the screenshot contained within a larger black(?) rectangle. And, as above, the requested change was made in the final version.

Finally, in the penultimate paragraph near the bottom right of the page, editor markings were made to denote both the removal of an apostrophe in the grammatically include word "get's" ("The going get's much tougher..."), as well as combining the two parts of the word ("get" and "s"). On the right is a small "x" with a slashed circle through it (possibly as a call-out to these relatively hard-to-spot markings).

Interestingly, while the final manual does lack the rogue apostrophe, it still contains a space, so the text reads "The going get s much tougher..." ("get s", rather than "gets", as intended).

At the top of this page, four large black circles appear, above the ranks (or difficulty levels, when starting a game) "NOVICE", "PILOT", "WARRIOR", and "COMMANDER". In the final version of the manual, the full-color art for each level appears.

On the right, in section "II. USING THE JOYSTICK", two diagrams show how the ship's controls are affected by each joystick direction, depending on whether the "FRONT" or "AFT" view mode is selected. In this pre-production version, arrows were sketched in pencil next to each joystick. In the final version, the arrows were added (appearing as large, semi-transparent red arrows; directional arrows appearing to be flat on the same plane as the joysticks sit; and the fire button arrow appearing to float above).

On this page, under section "IV. CONTROL KEYS", a spacing issue caused some confusion for the editor. First, there's a list showing all key controls ("The following keyboard keys control and direct the STAR RAIDERS gameplay:"). First on this list is "0-9 Twin-Ion Engine Control (velocity or speed)". Immediately following the list is a line that's meant as a title for the next sub-section, "0-9 — Twin-Ion Engine Control". In the pre-production version, the blank line that should appear above it appears below it, making it seem to list those keys twice. The editor (in pencil) pointed at both with arrows, and commented "why 2", and asked to remove the latter. In what appears to be a pen marking, an arrow was drawn within the whitespace, denoting that, in fact, the second version should be flush with the paragraph. And, that's just what we got in the final version.

At the top right, the editor has added an "s" to the word "represent" in the sentence "(V represents velocity or metrons per seconds)." This missing "s" was added in the final version, but amusingly appears beyond the right margin of the rest of the text on the page. (The text is justified, so most lines end at exactly the same position on the right of the page; this "s" dangles beyond it!)

Also, not noted by the editor, and still shown in the final version... but shouldn't it be "metrons per second", not "per seconds"!?

Finally, this page shows what appear to be some artifacts of the paste-up process almost certainly used when producing this manual. That is, some very faint outlines around some blocks of text.

This page shows more faint outlines around some parts of the text; again, probably from the paste-up being photocopied.

Most notably, the bottom half of this page is black(ish), and has the word "ART", encircled, in the middle of that area. In the final version of the manual we get the rather bizarre artwork of what appears to be a lunar module (lunar lander) above a cratery planet or moon, with some futuristic-looking ship exploding right above it. The other half of this art is on the facing page, next...

On this page, in the screenshot showing the game's Long-Range Sector Scan view (labeled "LONG RANGE SCAN" on screen) is a comment in pencil asking to "ADD MORE STARS". What's actually shown in the final version are a pair of larger dots representing the location of enemy ships. Between them is an arcing dashed arrow, and each dot is labeled: "B. Target" and "C. Target Destination". Along with this, a number of smaller dots are shown, representing the 'stars' seen in-game. Also, the icon for the ship, in the center of the display, is labeled "A. Your starship."

It's likely that the two dots seen in the pre-production artwork were meant to represent the enemy ships, and no stars at all were in that screenshot.

Finally, at the bottom, a large black rectangle acts as a placeholder for the other half of the artwork shown across this and the previous (facing) page. Two futuristic space ships (looking nothing like the icons in the the game, or the ships on the box and manual cover artwork) are firing lasers(?) (not photon torpedoes, as visualized in-game) and destroying the ship on the facing page. Protecting that lunar lander, I guess?

On this page, the editor makes a note about gameplay. The manual states "Typically, only two Zylons will attack at one time." The word "Typically" is circled, and the question "IT'S GUARANTEED". As the Atari has a limited number of "Player/Missile Graphics" objects (known on some other systems as "sprites"), it likely is guaranteed that only two Zylons will appear on-screen at any given time. However, the game also has a concept of "Front" and "Aft" views, and attacks being taken out on the fore and aft sides of the ship. Therefore, the word "Typically" may be appropriate here. (I have not confirmed by reviewing the Star Raiders source code; forgive me!) In the end, the phrasing was not changed.

Under "T — Tracking Computer", the editor noted that a comma should appear after the word "This" in "This of course, will cause...". The comma was added in the final version.

The word "This" was at the end of the line. Unlike the dangling "s" noted on page 5, the comma here was fit within the margins of this left column of text. However, it appears that rather than re-justify the entire line to spread the spaces out evenly, the word "This" was simply moved left slightly. (Notice that in the final version, the "T" is mostly below the "b" of the word "been" on the line above, whereas it is half-and-half below the "be" of "been" in the pre-production version.)

This page states "WARNING: After nine minutes in which no control keys are pressed or no photons are fired, the game will automatically abort and go into the attract mode. Only a starfield will be displayed." The editor comments, in pencil, "Question: does this apply during PAUSE?" A strike-out mark was drawn in pen(?) over this question, and the text remained as-is in the final version of the manual. (By the way, yes, this does apply even while the game is paused!)

Under "Attack Computer Display", a mark appears between the words in the phrase "bottom right". I cannot tell from Daniel's scan, but it appears a rogue comma was there in this revision. Also in this section, in the next paragraph, the editor notes that an apostrophe is needed for the possessive word "ship's" in the phrase "your ships photon torpedoes". This was not corrected in the final version. ("Rev. 1", at least.) (Ironically, in 1996 when I transcribed the full manual to HTML, I did correct it, probably without even noticing the manual's mistake.)

Finally, at the bottom right, under "Sub-Space Radio", a comment was added: "IF DAMAGED, HYPERWARP CURSOR WILL STILL INDICATE # OF TARGETS [unreadable in Daniel's current photos] SECTOR." An arrow from this points to the hand-written text "SEE INSERT (A)". You can see that insert below. The text from that insert was added to the final version of the manual.

At the top left, under the first paragraph of section "V. ENERGY USAGE", the editor asks to add a comma after the word "are" in "There are however, different levels...". It has been added, though it appears a rogue space was left in ("There are ,").

On the right, under the section "VI. STARBASE DOCKING", the sentence starting with "When anything is damaged or destroyed on your starship..." shows a replacement for "damaged or destroyed": "needs to be repaired". The final version reads as such: "When anything needs to be repaired on your starship..."

Regarding the horizontal and vertical coordinate indicators, this revision used "+/-"; the editor asked that they use the "±" symbol. This change was made; however, spacing was not adjusted on the line, so extra whitespace is apparent to the left of the plus-or-minus symbol.

On this page, like on page 4, four large black circles appear where the ranking symbols ("NOVICE", "PILOT", etc.) appear. The final version, of course, includes the artwork.

In that section, "VII. RATING", a formula is shown: "These five factors are worked into the following formula to establish a rating:". The formula is three lines long. At the end of the first line, the editor asks (in blue pen): "what is relationship of second line to first line? +, -, ⨉?", with a blue circle to the right of the line.

In red pen, the minus ("-") was circled, and a minus was drawn within the blue circle placeholder drawn by the reviewer.

This page contains no edits. At the top left is a black rectangle placeholder for artwork. In the final version, art of a busy control center on an atmosphere-less planet under attack(?) is shown. Again, this seemingly has nothing to do with the game Star Raiders (though space stations do get attacked by the Zylons). This artwork is the same one used the previous year (1978) as the box art for the Atari VCS (2600) game Space War ( see it here at Moby Games).

Referenced on page 8, this is "Insert A", a smaller sheet of paper, apparently typewritten, with the label "A" hand-written an circled at the top left. It reads: "If the Sub-Space Radio is damaged, moving the cursor around the Galactic Chart will still indicate the number of enemy targets in each sector via the TARGETS indicator at the bottom of the screen." In red pen, the word "via" has been crossed out and replaced with "on".

The Galactic Chart not updating when the Sub-Space Radio is damaged is a handicap in the game that must be overcome by getting repairs at a Starbase. In my opinion, the fact that the "targets" indicator still shows the number of enemy targets is likely a bug, rather than a feature. However, it's described as much here in the manual. (It was no doubt much easier to update the manual, versus building and testing a new version of the game!)

Many thanks once again to Daniel for sharing this with the community, and especially for allowing me to reproduce it here!

Bill Kendrick
July 2021