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Lord of the Rings Prototype

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The Lord of the Rings: Journey to Rivendell has been the subject of speculation for many years by Atari collectors. Now one of the most sought-after Atari 2600 prototypes is finally available. What's the story, you ask?

Way back in 1983 Parker Brothers featured this game in one of their catalogs. Video game and Tolkien fans alike were excited by this announcement, but the wait would be in vain. Lord of the Rings was never released, and Parker Brothers reportedly informed people that called and asked for the game that it was sold out in an attempt to cover up for the fact that it was never published.

What's the Game About?

According to the 1983 press release, the game features Frodo traveling from his home in the Shire to the door at Mora. While doing so, the player must try to avoid the evil Black Riders as they journey through Middle Earth. Here is the text from the catalog entry:

"The Lord of the Rings, Journey to Rivendell is a new adventure game based on the fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Relive the adventures of Frodo as he travels from his home in the shire to Rivendell. You'll face constant choices as you journey through Middle Earth, trying to avoid the Black Riders. Use the unique map to pinpoint your location as you move through more than 2000 exciting screens. 1 player."

Story of a Prototype

A prototype box was actually created for this game and was sold on Ebay in 2001. Most likely this box was used for display purposes at one of the CES shows in the 1980's, and it is probably blank on the back. Supposedly there were also mockups sent to Toys 'R' Us stores for promotional purposes. The actual prototype PCB was discovered recently by AtariAge, and subsequently archived and presented to the public.

According to the Giant List of Classic Game Programmers, the game was programmed by Mark Lesser who also programmed Frogger II for the 2600. In the late 1990's, Mark worked for Electronic Arts on their best-selling NHL and NCAA sports games.

How to Play the Game on your Computer

First, you need to download the ROM, this is the digital form of the cartridge. Next, you need to download an emulator - this is a piece of software that makes your computer behave like a real 2600 and will allow you to play the ROM. We recommend either z26 or Stella. Because this is a new release, you will have to do a little extra work in order to get the ROM to work in either emulator, although the emulators will probably be updated shortly to support them natively.

In z26, you will need to pass the -g3 parameter (8K Parker Brothers mode). In order to play Lord of the Rings with Stella, you'll first need to download the latest Stella Profile from Voch's Stella Profile Page. Then you'll want to append the contents of this file to the end of the file you downloaded. This will allow Stella to properly recognize this prototype.

Have fun!

Parker Bros. Catalog featuring Lord of the Rings
Prototype Box
Prototype Box

Prototype Cartridge