The Game: You and your opponent face off in an enclosed arena, controlling “leader blocks” which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with your opponent’s block, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other player, or the computer-controlled block within your solid wake (or their own). (Atari, 1977)
Memories: Any Tron fan worth his weight in bits will know what part of that 1982 game (and movie) was inspired by Atari‘s Surround and other games of its ilk which had been in the arcade for some time. But if anything, the Light Cycle scenes and game stages that came down the pike later simplified the game to its core, for Surround actually has more twists – literally.
It’s an interesting footnote in the sociology of video games to note that, of the 12 variations on Surround programmed into the cartridge, only two allow for single-player action. Surround was an Atari 2600 launch title, and in keeping with the tradition of Pong, video games were still expected to be largely a social, two-or-more-player form of entertainment.
The twists mentioned earlier include game variations where the arena walls disappear, allowing players to “wrap around” the edge of the screen, as well as variants with diagonal movement and games in which your “wall” is slowly taken up behind you. The cartridge also contains two versions of Video Graffiti, essentially a non-competitive version of the game which turns the screen into an Etch-a-Sketch for two. Whether or not you’ll find any of the variations enjoyable is highly subjective – while the Tron take on Surround isn’t exactly original, it has speed and visual appeal on its side. Surround, by comparison, is rudimentary and slow. And even minor improvements in speed and audiovisual quality would have helped – witness the Intellivision Snafu cartridge. Still, the variations on the game rules are interesting to explore.
Surround was also one of the early 2600 titles programmed by Alan Miller, who would later bolt from Atari after the company was sold to Warner Bros.; Miller was one of the four programmers who founded Activision.