Rescue on Fractalus was the result of Lucasfilm -- having just recently completed the original Star Wars movie trilogy -- deciding it wanted to get into the video game market. Partnered with Atari, Lucasfilm Computer Division Games Group (later renamed LucasArts Entertainment Company) released two games, Rescue on Fractalus and Ballblazer. Rescue on Fractalus is regarded as one of the most innovative games developed for the 5200, combining space flight simulation, shooting, and a healthy dose of strategy. It is also known for using fractal geometry for the ground terrain.
The gameplay consists of flying down to the planet of Fractalus in your Valkyrie space fighter to rescue stranded pilots. This is complicated by the presence of an evil alien race, the Jaggis. Jaggis are intent on destroying you and have put in gun turrets, kamikaze space ships, as well as fake stranded pilots. The fake pilots will run up to your ship disguised in a human spacesuit, and then attempt to crash through the cockpit to destroy you. If you were unlucky enough to open your ship's doors to a disguised Jaggi, it will attack from within, forcing you to take off into space to suffocate it.
The disguised Jaggi popping up in front of the cockpit could be startling, leading to the claim that Rescue on Fractalus was the first game to truly scare the player.
Once you have rescued at least half of the required quota of downed pilots, your mother ship will appear and allow you to refuel and repair, however the level will not end until enough pilots have been rescued.
The nickname for the alien race Jaggi, was a reference to the jagged pixel edges the non-anti-aliased graphics required on the early Atari hardware. An early working title of the project was "Behind Jagged Lines". Loren Carpenter programmed the fractal mountains in this game after using fractals in the computer generated imagery for "The Genesis Effect" in the movie Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.
Rescue on Fractalus was programmed by David Fox, Loren Carpenter, Charlie Kellner, Peter Langston, Gary Winnick, and David Levine.