And to think, Solaris almost never saw the light of day. After creating what many consider to be the greatest space battle game of the 8-bit era, Star Raiders, Douglas Neubauer moved from Atari home computers to the Atari 2600, where "all the action seemed to be." He brought with him a love of space games, and so began working on a sequel to Star Raiders which he called Universe. In 1984 the new game was ready, but Atari decided it needed a different name. With a movie license hot in their hands, and with a different project related to that movie still unfinished, Atari rechristined Universe, turning it into The Last Starfighter. Unfortunately the market crash was well underway, and Neubauer's new game was just one of many that were buried by the crumbling industry before they could be released.
Two years later, Atari brought the Atari 2600 back to market, and dusted off several games that had been programmed at the time of the crash. The Last Starfighter was among those Atari revived to relaunch the 2600, but not before the game received another name change. The Last Starfighter was old news by 1986, but more importantly, Atari was still feeling the effects of a legal dispute between The Last Starfighter owner MCA and former Atari owner Warner Brothers. Remembering a pseudonym Neubauer used while programming on the 2600, Atari decided on Solaris. This name finally stuck, and Solaris was released as part of Atari's first arsenal for the newly redesigned Atari 2600 "Junior."
Upon release Solaris received wide praise for having arguably the best graphics ever seen on the Atari 2600. Game play, not entirely unlike that of Neubauer's Star Raiders but in many ways more streamlined, was also celebrated. Despite these accolades, Solaris ultimately did little to dent the growing popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, the game did show players there just might be some games the Atari 2600 can do better than even the mighty NES. Solaris also convinced Atari they better keep on Neubauer's good side. Ultimately he was given the copyright to Solaris, a very unusual reward for a programmer. In turn, Neubauer contributed several more games to the 2600's latter-day catalog, including an aerial dogfight game which borrowed a lot of code from Solaris, named Radar Lock.
To this day Solaris remains a fan favorite, and is one of the most positively reviewed games for the 2600. It's definitely a good thing Atari got around to releasing the game!