Zone Ranger was originally written by Activision employee Dan Thompson for the Atari 800 computer in 1984. Dan was a big fan of Asteroids and Sinistar, and both games heavily influenced the game’s design.
Other gameplay elements that were thrown in included a coloured satellite grid, drones that would follow the player’s ship around, and the Boomerangs who were the game’s main nemesis. The idea of the inner sanctum came quite late, as Dan was concerned that a one-screen game might end up being boring.
Technically, Zone Ranger was a challenge as Dan originally had to fit it into an 8k cartridge for the Atari. Thankfully, Activision’s management upped this to 16kb and this allowed Dan to add the inner sanctum and a few other ideas.
Zone Ranger was one of the games that Firebird re-released for the C64 as part of the multi-title budget deal with Activision in 1987.
Throughout most of the game’s development, Zone Ranger was called Warp Wars. However, the Activision marketing department wanted to call it Obliterator, but Dan felt that was too big a word for young kids, so they settled on their second choice instead, despite the fact that Dan was still keen on his original title.