Switchblade

Switchblade - Atari ST

Switchblade (1989)
By: Core Design / Gremlin  Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Atari ST  First Day Score: 9,240
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

Switchblade

Whether you love or hate Rick Dangerous, there´s no question that it was a memorable game. Anyone wanting more of the same would have to wait for its sequel which would arrive a year later, but released the same year as Rick’s first adventure was this game. It’s similar in looks and gameplay so it comes as so surprise to find that the same team was responsible for both games, but the setting has changed. This latter effort takes place ten thousand years in the future rather than the recent past, and it appears to be an anime-influenced future ‘cyber world’ called Thraxx where the Undercity is now ruled by the evil Havoc who has shattered the Fireblade and filled the city with his minions.

Switchblade - Atari ST

It’s down to you to flush the Undercity of this filth and simultaneously find the sixteen pieces of the Fireblade, the source of the Bladeknight’s power, and rebuild it to ensure lasting peace. You do this as Hiro, the last of the Bladeknights. He has as much stealth and cunning as you can muster as well as a programmable cyber-arm. Only when the Fireblade has been reassembled will you be able to take on Havoc and help Hiro gain revenge for the death of his people. You’ll start this flick-screen adventure above ground but after only a few screens you’ll enter the underground depths of Undercity, a vast, sprawling labyrinth of rooms, tunnels, and passageways. A labyrinth it is too as only sections you’re in or have previously been in will appear – all other sections are hidden until you enter them.

Switchblade - Atari ST

This of course means there’s lots of secrets and sneakily-concealed areas which often require some exploration or experimentation to find. Hidden or not though, all areas of Undercity are patrolled by the hideous servants of Havoc, contact with whom will deplete Hiro’s energy meter. To begin with he can only use his fists or feet against them but there are six power-up weapons available as he makes his way through the game which are mostly sword or projectile-type weapons. They will all have differing ranges and some projectile weapons also have limited ammo. The effect of some of them (including Hiro’s default attacks) is also slightly different depending on your use of the charge bar. More ammo can be collected of course, and other things to look out for include speed-ups, a temporary shield, flasks and orbs which award you with bonus points, and increases to your power-meter.

Switchblade - Atari ST

It’s also worth looking out for Fireblade fragments, of course, and successful recovery of all sixteen pieces bestows a sizable bonus upon Hiro as well as the option of using the Fireblade as a seventh weapon power-up. It will be a while before that becomes possible though as Switchblade is a pretty big game. It consists of five levels but, although ending with a boss fight, each level continues on from the last so there’s no real break between them. This extends to the look of them. The graphical style is similar to the distinctive look of Rick Dangerous before it – everything is neat and nicely drawn with small, squat little sprites, and I can’t imagine it really pushes the 16-bit CPU of the ST very hard – but unlike Core’s previous game, there’s almost no variety between the levels, and unfortunately that’s as far as both graphics and gameplay are concerned too.

Switchblade - Atari ST

The grey bricks, crates, girders and ladders that you’ll first see upon entering Undercity are still prevalent an hour later as you approach the climax of the game. This was very disappointing to find as even the much shorter Rick Dangerous has some variety between its levels, graphically. One improvement made here is the audio – the sound effects are pretty anonymous but there is at least in-game music courtesy of Ben Daglish, and it’s great! Playing the game will also feel familiar if you’ve played Rick’s game. There’s less trial-and-error frustration involved here, at least with regards to completely hidden traps and the like, but exploring the levels is done in pretty much the same way – jumping around multi-tiered sections and nipping up and down ladders. Hiro also moves in a similar way to Rick but since he has an energy meter rather than one-hit deaths, it’s a little easier too.

Switchblade - Atari ST

Overall though, I’m not sure if Switchblade represents a forward or backwards step. Rick Dangerous got a mixed response due to its immensely unfair but addictive gameplay while Switchblade was apparently unanimously praised, but in my opinion the latter doesn’t possess either of the former’s most notable qualities – it’s fairer but less addictive since the whole game is pretty much the same as the first five minutes. I know it suits the story to have the whole city looking pretty much the same, but it doesn’t do much for the player’s desire to see it all. This, combined with a very annoying ‘hit mechanic’, which sees Hiro shunted backwards every time he takes damage, means I have less compulsion to continue playing this than I do Rick Dangerous. It’s far from a terrible game, and uncovering all the hidden areas provides some motivation to play it, but it could’ve been so much better with a bit of variety.

RKS Score: 6/10

Gauntlet

Gauntlet_Atari

Gauntlet (1985)
By: Atari Genre: Maze / Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-4 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 20,332 (starting with 2000 health)
Also Available For: Master System, MegaDrive, NES, Lynx, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, Atari 8-bits, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘Maze Games’ feature here at Red Parsley arrived at the Gauntlet series for a review but the decision to return to it wasn’t a hard one. This is mainly because it’s one of my favourite games but I’ve actually spent surprisingly little time with the arcade original. The decent conversion for the Spectrum occupied much of my time in the late 80’s before the fantastic Gauntlet 4 arrived on the MegaDrive (basically a conversion of the first game but with tonnes of extras) and occupied much of my time in the 90’s as well! The series certainly has its detractors, though, who argue that it’s repetitive and frustrating. I definitely didn’t agree with them back then but perhaps time has dulled the appeal of Atari’s classic. Henceforth, I shall find out…
Gauntlet_Atari

The basic gameplay of Gauntlet (and Dandy – see below) must surely be known by near enough all gamers by now but for the benefit of those who have somehow missed it, it works like this: between one and four players can play simultaneously but first each needs to choose a character from the four available – Thor the Warrior (who has good fighting strength), Thyra the Valkyrie (who has strong armour), Merlin the Wizard (who has strong magic), and Questor the Elf (who is the quickest). From then on, your party (or maybe just you) are faced with an unending series of overhead-viewed dungeons filled to the brim with malevolent beasties intent on shortening your adventure! Whether they do or not is entirely up to you though, as each coin you insert gives your character health points and you can insert coins, and therefore play, forever if you want.
Gauntlet_Atari

There are six types of enemy altogether – Grunts, Ghosts, Demons, Sorcerers, Lobbers, and Death. All of them except Death are created endlessly by generators placed all around the maze-like stages which have three strength levels with each monster they create being of the same level. The generators can be destroyed in the same way as the monsters they produce – either by shooting or fighting them one at a time or by collecting potions and using magic which clears some or most enemies on screen in one go. The strength of both of these attacks depends on the character chosen although special potions can also be found occasionally which boost an aspect of a character’s abilities – extra shot power or extra armour, for example. Watch out though – a pesky thief appears now and then and it’s these abilities that he’s most keen on stealing. Deaths appears in smaller numbers than the other enemies but they can only be killed by magic – otherwise they’ll drain 200 health points before disappearing. Grrrr!
Gauntlet_Atari

The stages themselves are each around two screens wide by two screens tall, although some loop instead, and they are usually designed in as maze-like a way as possible. Most include several paths, some of which are often dead-ends. There are usually many doors blocking off sections that must be opened by finding keys and some stages feature teleporters which move you to the nearest similar device. Treasure chests for bonus points are abundant but far rarer are special medallions that grant temporary invisibility (the enemies home in on you as far as possible otherwise) which are a welcome, albeit brief, reprieve when they are encountered. Each player character gradually loses health points as the game wears on anyway but contact from enemies does of course reduce them much faster so it’s a good idea to keep an eye open for revitalising food which comes in two forms – cider, which can be shot, and what looks like roast dinners, which cannot.
Gauntlet_Atari

As original and distinctive as it seemed at the time though, the concept of Gauntlet may not have been entirely born in the futuristic labs of Atari’s secret underground bunker. Ed Logg, credited as designer of Gauntlet, may or may not have had one eye on an Atari 8-bit game called Dandy, released two years previously, while putting his game together but the two titles certainly have some similarities. Whoever was responsible though, Gauntlet was the game which rose to prominence and it’s one that’s attracted and maintained a sizeable fan-base over the years. There could be many reasons for its enduring popularity but the simple fact is Atari’s game was available to a much wider audience, and arguably came at a much more convenient time as well.
Gauntlet_Atari

Another reason for Gauntlet’s success over that of Dandy could simply be that it was better. It has a huge number of stages for one thing – a hundred unique dungeons which appear in random order from the eighth one onwards, and after the hundredth stage they start repeating as well so it’s a game without end! The cast of characters, both heroes and villains are also very memorable too. The differing attributes of each – shot strength and speed, magic power, fighting ability, armour, etc – meant that everyone had their favourite even if the differences between them became purely cosmetic once a few of the special potions had been collected which each boost one that character’s attributes accordingly. The relentless onslaught of enemy creatures pouring from their respective generators meant that you rarely get a minute’s peace too!
Gauntlet_Atari

The enormous abundance of evil creatures to slay may make Gauntlet a tough slog for the most part but it’s rather impressive from a technical point of view. All sprites, objects and pieces of wall and floor take up one square on an unseen grid of 15 x 15 which makes up the visible play-field so everything is more-or-less the same size. This doesn’t take much processing power with regards to the inanimate parts of each stage of course, but the sprites are all animated, detailed, and there are absolutely masses of them nearly all the time. It’s still pretty impressive now so you can only imagine how mind-blowing it was at the time! Of course, this did present a challenge to the talented programmers charged with converting the fab game to home systems but even then the results were mostly spiffing!
Gauntlet_Atari

Sadly, the audio here is almost silent though. There are a few simple sound effects but no in-game music which is hard to get used to since the fantastic MegaDrive conversion that I’ve played so much has had an equally fantastic soundtrack added. Breaking the near-silence now and then though, is the famous voice of the unseen dungeon overseer who offers occasional advice and support. He may sound a little ropey today but back then he was a revelation and his many comments have proved to be almost as enduring as the game itself! Indeed, despite the inane wafflings of the many naysayers, Gauntlet is still great fun and a highly enjoyable challenge. Yes, it is repetitive, as most games in the early years were, but not many of them offered four players the chance to unite and fight evil monsters to the death! Even for the solo-player, the lure of seeing new mazes or achieving a new high-score is enough to keep you playing. A timeless classic that offers a near-unlimited helping of simple, addictive adventuring. Still hate those bloody Lobbers though. Grrrr!

RKS Score: 9/10

Test Drive

Test Drive

Test Drive (1987)
By: Accolade Genre: Driving Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Atari ST First Day Score: 7,460
Also Available For: Amiga, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Apple II

There are a few games you could credit with the surge in popularity of racing games on home systems during the 90’s but the one that sticks in my mind most is probably The Need For Speed on the 3DO. Not only was this unexpected release fantastic but it was also quite realistic. The many, manysequels that followed it soon went down the manic, arcadey route rather than continuing the approach of the original and this is also true of most of the similar games that starting appearing. Amongst my favourite of these were the Test Drive games on the PlayStation. The series had undergone a ‘reboot’ around this time (purely coincidental, I’m sure) but the first games in the series actually had a lot more in common with the original NFS.
Test Drive

In fact, I had forgotten just howsimilar the two titles are until I played Accolade’s game for the first time in about twenty years for this review! There’s no options before starting the game aside from one important one – the selection of your car. The choices here include many of the supercar favourites of the day – Porsche 911, Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Corvette, and the good old Lotus Esprit Turbo. Each comes with a detailed stats screen to help you make your choice, after which you’re on the road, ready to go. The game is viewed from the driver’s perspective and each car can only be driven with manual gears, and it’s a full gearbox too, not the usual ‘low’ and ‘hi’ gears! There are five stages altogether with each separated by a stop at a ‘gas’ station where you’ll discover your average speed and points earned.
Test Drive

The stages are all segments of the same road which winds along a clifftop, movie-stylee – one side is sheer rock with the other side presumably consisting of a drop of equal sheerness! Normal traffic passes along the road in both directions now and then, although it’s not too busy, and there are also police radars which will summon a police car if you go too fast. There’s no time limit or other vehicles to race so you can approach the presence of the rozzers one of two ways: either go too slowly to bother them, or the way I’m sure most gamers will choose – go as fast as possible to outrun them! The supercar you’re driving isn’t a Daytona stock-car that will bounce around all over the place though – they’re very delicate things, even more so than I would’ve thought. Not only does hitting the rock face or another car cause you to crash (indicated by a smashed windscreen) but even revving the engine too high will result in obscured vision too!
Test Drive

Fans of the original Need For Speed will no doubt find most of this very familiar but it appears that Accolade got there first! Indeed, Test Drive must have surely been the first ever ‘supercar simulator’ and it’s the opportunity to drive these amazing cars that provides the game’s biggest draw. To that end, it’s a pretty good game. Each of the cars handles differently and the roads, which later on feature the odd oil spill or pothole, are good fun to drive along. Graphically, I remember being mightily impressed with this all those years ago but the intervening years have seen it age considerably. The presentation screens are still lovely but the in-game aesthetics less so. The oncoming cars (and occasional big rig) aren’t too bad but the scaling can be quite poor. If you’re travelling at any decent speed they’ll often seem to appear from nowhere prompting panic-lunges to try and get out of the way in time!
Test Drive

Don’t think that the absence of any kind of time-limit means you can crash as often as you want either – five wrecks equals game over here! Talking of which, one area that Need For Speed improved dramatically is the crashes. EA’s game was famous for its spectacular comings together but the spectacle here begins and ends with the broken glass in front of you. Even the track-sides and backgrounds are rather dull too, and the sense of speed isn’t great, although there is a handy rear-view mirror. So, the visuals might have aged somewhat, which is understandable with this kind of game, but I’m confident the audio was never any good, or at least this version. There are a couple of short (and not especially nice) tunes but the in-game sound is restricted to a horrible engine sound and that’s it! So, this is certainly one to play with the sound turned down, but is it one to play at all?

Well, like NFS, I think Test Drive was probably made as more of a technical showcase than as a thrilling and involving racing game. Accordingly, there’s really not much to it – no opponents, no car upgrades, no forked roads, and certainly nothing as radical as a championship or tournament mode. What there is, though, is pretty good. No time-limit or opponents also means you can relax and drive how you want to rather than be forced to tear through the stages like a maniac, although having said that, the between-stage pit-stops do encourage you to up the ante (as well as provide the odd lairy ‘motivational’ comment) and the lure of improving your average speed is quite strong. It is all over pretty quickly though, so that, along with the number of superior examples of the genre on the ST and Amiga, means that this original probably won’t hold your attention for long

RKS Score: 6/10

 

Paradroid

Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Paradroid (1985)
By: Andrew Braybrook / Hewson Consultants Genre: Shooting / Puzzle Players: Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore 64 First Day Score: 1,275
Also Available For: Atari ST, Amiga, Archimedes
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Paradroid

Well, I suppose it’s time I got around to reviewing some Commodore 64 games here at Red Parsley. My unfamiliarity with the system makes choosing one something of a ‘lucky dip’ though, so how do I choose? Most of what I know about this game is a result of the coverage the remake that appeared on the 16-bit computers received in my favourite magazines of the day. This C64 version is the original though, and many fans would insist that it’s still the best, so let’s see what the fuss is all about. The game is apparently set on a fleet of spaceships, each of whose various decks, which are viewed from overhead, are populated by lots of droids which have been turned hostile by some malevolent asteroids. It’s therefore your job to destroy them. Sounds simple enough!
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

I’ve always assumed that this is a rather complicated and puzzley game but the first few minutes I played it were spent moving my amusing-looking droid around shooting all the others I encountered. I suspect it gets more involved than this, however, and that indeed proves to be the case, but not by as much as I thought. As mentioned, the object of the game is to take out all the other droids on each deck of the ship. The humorous droid I spoke of is the very weak one you start off with and a device known as the ‘Influence Device’ allows you to exert control over it. You can move it around the spaceship in the eight basic joystick directions and it can fire an energy weapon in its direction of travel. The decks of the ship vary in size and all but the smallest are divided into numerous rooms. Droids occupy these rooms but you won’t know how many there are until you enter.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Each game is started at a random point on the first of the never-ending ships. Each of them has lifts to facilitate your movement up and down through the decks and there’s also terminals here and there which you can log onto which give information on the remaining droids. Each one you encounter is represented by a number which indicates its power (your default droid is numbered 001). The higher the number the faster it can move and the harder it is to destroy. Some droids can also shoot back, with the power of their shot also increasing with their number. There are no power-ups to collect so to contend with the ever powerful droids you’ll have to employ an alternate technique. Any droid can ‘link’ with another and this enables you to take them over via a mini-game which involves basic circuit diagrams and logic gates.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Here, you control one side of the screen and the droid you’re trying to take over controls the other side as you battle for control of the droid’s circuitry. Success means you ‘become’ that droid but they only last for a limited time so you’ll need to continually transfer to new droids. It’s also wise not to try and take over a droid that is much stronger than the one you already control as you will likely lose, and losing means your current droid is destroyed and you’ll revert back to the weedy default droid. If this droid is defeated in an attempted transfer, it’s game over. And it’s a game over screen I’ve seen quite a few times now! I was a bit worried about playing this game as I thought it was going to be rather complicated meaning I’d have to spend hours learning how to play it, searching the internet for guides, etc.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

Fortunately, it’s not as complex as I feared, but it is pretty tough. This is no console game so there’s no multiple lives and continues to ease you in. If you lose the default droid, that’s it! Mini-games have never really been my forte either, and it is here that I predictably have most trouble with Paradroid. It’s a good concept though and, whilst probably not invented here, it does suit the game very well. Also suiting the game are the graphics. My experience with C64 games is limited but I do know that they often look quite blocky and use a distinctive colour palette and that is the case here too. It’s not a bad thing though and the style used is a good one. The mostly-monochrome colour schemes change from deck to deck and they can get a little garish (green and red? groo!) and it would be helpful if some colours were altered when being used against some of the lighter background colours, but overall this is a decent looking game.
Paradroid-commodore-64-gameplay-screenshot

The sound is pretty minimal which was surprising to me – all this tooting C64 fans do about their beloved SID chip and there’s nary a tune to be found here! There is a few ditties though, and some atmospheric sound effects too. I suppose full-on musical tracks might not really suit a slow-paced game like this either, so perhaps it was a conscious decision to not include any. In any case, it doesn’t adversely affect the gameplay. I think it’s safe to say I’ve not played anything quite like Paradroid before and playing it for the first time over 25 years after its original release makes me think about how many other unique games I missed out on. It’s certainly a captivating game and pootling around these ‘robo freighters’ is an oddly therapeutic experience. I’ll probably have to play it for years before I get really good at it but with a game as original and well-designed as this one, it’s no real hardship.

RKS Score: 8/10

Renegade

Renegade (1986)
By: Technos / Taito Genre: Fighting Players: Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 29,800
Also Available For: Master System, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Poor old RKS has a tough life as a gamer. Despite being relatively normal in most ways, I only have few friends who share my interest in this particular subject and only one who also likes retro games, and he lives far enough away that I don’t see him often. When we do meet up, one type of game we nearly always play is scrolling fighting games, but it only occurred to me recently that we always play the same few: Double Dragon, Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, etc. Upon realization of this, I decided to give a few other examples a try to vary our rare gaming sessions a little. One of the first games I thought of was Renegade – one of the first such examples of the genre and supposedly also one of the best which, alarmingly, is yet another title I’ve never gotten around to trying. Playing it for the first time for this feature, however, revealed that it’s not strictly speaking a scrolling fighting game at all. Hmmm.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

As most of you probably already know, each of Renegade’s meager four stages are quite small. They do scroll, but are only about four screens wide – a space which is populated by different ‘hoodlums’ on successive stages as well as a boss character who becomes active once only three of his henchmen remain. Your job as the unnamed (in the arcade version, at least) vigilante is merely to beat the crap out of them. You can move in eight directions and there are three buttons – one attacks in the direction you’re facing, another attacks behind, and the last performs a jump. A double-tap of either direction allows you to run and you can attack while doing this or jumping. Even the most basic enemies require numerous hits to defeat but you can knock them to the ground fairly easily at which point you can straddle them (oo-er!) and continue smacking them up. It’s also possible to grab an enemy and perform a throw but they can grab you as well. All of these moves can also be performed on the boss characters, but since they’re stronger the attacks are often less effective.

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

The four stages take place on a subway platform, a harbor  an alley, and the gang’s hideout, and each is home to unique enemies. The amount of energy their attacks cost you is dependent on what they attack you with. Some have only their fists but others are armed or even riding motorbikes. Thugs wielding knives or guns can even kill you outright with one hit, and this makes an already rock-hard game harder then ten adamantium-coated diamonds! You only get one life, you see, and unusually for an arcade game you don’t even have the option of adding coins to continue. I’m not an especially gifted gamer, admittedly, but I was having so much trouble I even had to resort to fiddling around with the DIP switch settings. However, despite changing the difficulty to easy upping the lives to the maximum of two (!), I was still making little headway. The extra life wasn’t much use as it makes you start the stage again anyway, so I decided to try a more strategic approach of running around and picking off thugs only when an opportunity presented itself. And then I ran out of time instead!

Renegade-arcade gamplay screenshot

Even some sneaky tactics such as knocking enemies off the end of the railway platform on the first stage usually backfired as I was knocked off instead. Boo hoo. It’s quite a nice-looking game though. Stage graphics are good and the sprites, whilst not too numerous, are varied, distinctive, and animated fairly well too. The sound isn’t bad either, with average music but pretty good effects and even the odd snippet of speech (“Get lost, punk!”), and it’s an exciting, action-packed, and enjoyable game to play, but that difficulty means that any enjoyment is usually short-lived. Even having not previously played it, I knew that Renegade was a landmark title that brought with it several innovations, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so unforgiving! Arcade games are usually tough but would a continue feature have been too much to ask? Renegade is actually a Western ‘localisation’ – the original Japanese game is part of the ‘Kunio-kun’ series, so I’ll have to give that a try to see if it’s as tough. For now though, I’m either a wussy who needs a lot of practice, or by jove, Renagade is a toughie – too tough for me!

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6e7cg7DSQ[/youtube]

RKS Score: 6/10

Alien Syndrome

Alien Syndrome (1987)
By: Sega Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 96,400
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Sharp X68000, NES, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Like many game companies in the mid-to-late 80’s, it seems almost certain that Sega were also bitten by the ‘Alien’ bug, so to speak. That is to say, they drew inspiration from the Alien movies for one (or some) of their games. The fact that this release came the year after the super-successful sequel to the classic 1979 film would tend to back up that theory as it’s a game that may seem familiar to some fans. Rather than a gound-based colony, however, it takes place in a series of seven spacecraft. These were presumably craft operated by humans but they have become overrun by hideous alien creatures of various descriptions and their human crew taken prisoner. It therefore falls to Ricky and Mary, two suspiciously Space Marine-like soldiers, to liberate each ship in succession and eradicate the alien scum that now dwells within.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot
The interior of each craft is viewed from an angled overhead perspective and usually consists of a maze-like series of corridors, rooms, or open areas linked by walkways. The human captives, or ‘comrades’, are dotted around the scrolling stages and a set number of them must be rescued (by touching them) within a pretty strict time-limit before the exit is unlocked. This inevitably leads to a much larger and more dangerous alien boss who you must shoot the crap out of before moving onto the next ship. Each stage has unique enemies, usually two different kinds, and from the second stage onwards an infinite number of them are produced by Gauntlet-like generators. Destroying these will finally stem the flow of alien filth and allow you to cleanse the stage. If you want to, that is, as the only actual requirement is to rescue those pesky comrades.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Blasting the idiotic aliens does take up valuable time of course, but it also makes the game a lot more fun! Each new alien encountered looks and acts differently to the last. Some can spontaneously reproduce, others chase you, but most of them are able to shoot at you. A single touch from any alien or one of their projectiles is enough to take a life from Ricky or Mary but surprisingly the aliens are just as fragile – from the first stage to the last, a single shot is all that’s required to take them out. Except for the bosses, obviously. Typically, you start the game with a pea-shooter gun which just about does the job, but its range and rate of fire is somewhat limited. There are four other weapons available, however – laser, flamethrower, napalm, and a rapid-fire cannon – which, impressively, not only have unlimited ammo but also last forever as long as you don’t lose a life.

Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshotIt’s also possible to collect up to two small guns that follow you around and shoot backwards every time you shoot your normal weapon which can be shot in eight directions but only forward. These, and all the other weapons, can be collected from panels on the walls where you can also find bonus points and maps that show the basic layout of the stage as well as the location of the remaining comrades. Points are awarded at the end of each stage for any remaining time and for any comrades rescued beyond the quota but, if you’re like me, you probably won’t see too many of them! I usually tend to play games in a very meticulous way, trying to do everything and see everything, so I found the time limits to be quite tight. Aside from that though, Alien Syndrome isn’t an overly tough game and is actually, dare I say it, even pretty fair.
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

Part of the reason for this it that the aliens are defeated by a single shot from whichever gun you’re carrying at the time (even the one you start with) but it also helps that their movement doesn’t seem to conform to any repeating patterns. Their appearances are apparently random and their movement is seemingly dependent on your own, so your progress is pretty much just down to your own ability. Accompanying you on your refreshingly-unfrustrating mission are some tunes and sound effects which aren’t too bad, although not especially memorable, but about the only thing I don’t really like about Alien Syndrome is its graphics. It’s running on Sega’s System 16 board which I`m not hugely fond of at the best of times and this means that most of the colours used are rather pale and drab and there`s some quite unpleasant patterns used for the stage floors. That aside though, there’s little to complain about, and some of the aliens look great!
Alien Syndrome-sega-arcade-gameplay-screenshot

This is particularly true of the big and imaginative bosses and there’s quite a few different normal sprites too. The two playable characters don’t look much different and are even less different to play as but they’re not there to provide a bit of variety – they’re there to facilitate a two-player game, and they do that well. A few differences between wouldn’t have hurt anyway though, I suppose! Oh well, it’s still an enjoyable game, for one or two players, and proves to be a very addictive one as well. The stages themselves get bigger and more complicated but are never overly large or complex – this is a game that’s about fast and frantic shooting and nothing more, and with the ever-increasing hordes of aliens in the later stages, you’ll need to be precise as well as fast! It’s a shame it doesn’t look a bit nicer but if you can handle the offensive patterns, this is a game that’s aged well.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1jkQ-NM1UE[/youtube]

RKS Score: 7/10

James Bond: The Stealth Affair

Long before GoldenEye established the gold standard for James Bond action games, 007 had a PC gaming presence, with games dating back as far as 1983 (the Commodore 64 game James Bond 007).  Most were based on the various Bond movies, and were either interactive fiction, such as James Bond: A View to a Kill(1984) and James Bond 007: Goldfinger (1986), or arcade action side/vertical scrollers, such as The Living Daylights (1987) or 007: License to Kill (1989).  Some were forgettable, some enjoyable, but the first graphic adventure James Bond adventure is today’s featured game: James Bond: The Stealth Affair.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The story revolved around a missing F-19 stealth fighter, stolen from an American base and tracked (how did they do that?) to somewhere in Latin America.  Who did it? Could it be the Russians pulling a Red October or could it be some Latin American tinpot dictator or crime lord?  The danger of having a Latin American drug lord having stealth technology was sufficient to bring in the best troubleshooter in the business: James Bond.  The action began as fast as our man James stepped off his flight into the Santa Paragua airport, holding only a briefcase and his airline ticket, with the need to somehow get past a maddeningly efficient airport security guard.  “I don’t care who you are. In this country you are all outsiders.“  The game moved on from there, with a variety of puzzles to solve, as well as a few arcade action sequences to complete.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Splash title page for James Bond: The Stealth Affair

The Stealth Affair was a graphic adventure using a point&click interface, which means an inevitable pixel hunt.  The command menu was brought up by right-clicking the mouse, and consisted of EXAMINE, TAKE, INVENTORY, USE, OPERATE, and SPEAK.  Descriptions were provided when you used the EXAMINE command on objects, and you could either TAKE some items to later USE them in other situations, or OPERATE devices immediately.  You could not EXAMINE your INVENTORY, however.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

James Bond The Stealth Affair copy protection screen

Interestingly, The Stealth Affair was a James Bond adventure game title only in North America.  The game was originally released in Europe as Operation Stealth, and it wasn’t James Bond that was attempting to recover the missing stealth technology, it was agent John Glames.  The developer of The Stealth Affair was Delphine Software, based out of France.  Their previous hit was Future Wars, but would go on to produce some amazing games, including Out of This World (released as Another World in Europe), Flashback, and Fade to Black, among others.  Interplay Productions was the game publisher who distributed Delphine’s games, and whose logo was emblazoned upon the box covers of the North American versions.  It was Interplay who acquired the James Bond license and who initiated the change to the Operation: Stealth game from a generic spy adventure game to playing 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The powers-that-be decided that the James Bond franchise was a bankable commodity, so they altered all instances of John Glames into James Bond.  In addition, some of the action sequences were removed, presumably to make for easier gameplay, and some of the bad French to English game text was reworded. Oddly both Bond and Glames were working for the CIA, which to a Bond enthusiast, is a serious faux pas.  But I digress.

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Box art for Operation Stealth

The game simply begged for Sean Connery voiceovers, but, alas, the IBM PC version lacked digitized voices.  Darn technology and/or budget limitations!  However, the Amiga version had synthesized voices (with 1 MB or higher RAM), but a serious bug in the code can lead to a full system crash if using the player got tired of listening to the dialogue and attempted to click through with the mouse button.  As one of the attention-challenged brethren of gamers, that’s a serious flaw that exploits a common weakness!

James Bond - The Stealth Affair - PC - Gameplay Screenshot

Why is James Bond working for the C.I.A.?

The Stealth Affair was released on three formats in North America: IBM PC (MS-DOS), Amiga, and Atari ST.  Reviews were generally favorable, with .info giving the game 4.5 out of 5 stars in their March 1991 issue, stating that, “No Bond fan should miss this one.”  However, some reviewers were more ambivalent towards the game, such as the review in the May 1991 issue of Compute!, wherein the game is described as, “Controlled by either keyboard or mouse, the Bond of The STEALTH Affair moves and acts in a manner like that of his namesake in latter-day 007 movies-that is, choppy and silly, trading the quiet sophistication of Ian Fleming’s hero for a goofy nonchalance.”  Still, accepting the technology limitations of its day, James Bond: The Stealth Affair was a fun game.  Perhaps not worthy of the top 100 games of all time, but still in the running for the next one hundred, and well-worth a look by any retrogamer yearning for a spy-based adventure game!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pU7sQE2GE5M[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

Pirates

Once upon a time it was a lot more avante-guard to be a pirate, long before the unwashed masses embraced the Disney Jack Sparrow movie juggernaut, and even before some wag convinced enough people to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day.  In the heady days of the dawn of the PC graphic adventure, pirates were nothing more than literary devices or the stuff of all things dastardly; pirates portrayed in PC games were more Blackbeard or Captain Hook than Errol Flynn. And then along came Sid Meier.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meier is a gaming legend today, a name that is as much a brand and promise of great gameplay, but in 1987, this was not the case.  To be sure, Sid Meier’s name already carried some weight in the simulation community, as a designer of games such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service.  His games were always enjoyable and well-coded, but more importantly, sold well.  The marketing gurus at MicroProse suspected that people were buying Sid Meier games because they were designed by Sid Meier, so it seemed reasonable to help make their buying decisions for them by announcing his involvement directly in the product title.  From this reasoning the very first game to feature “Sid Meier’s…” in the game title was born: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Sid Meier – Gamer godThe game was for single players, made long before the mad, lemming-like multiplayer rush of today that all gaming companies seem to have embraced.  (Wait, was that an editorial?)  It was an open-ended game, letting the player make the choices on where to travel and what to do, with the only caveat being that eventually the player’s character would grow too old to continue on the pirate’s path, and would retire.  Depending on what actions the player took (that is, what rewards and successes they achieved during the game), the game would then give a litany of how their character lived the rest of their days, from a lowly beggar in the streets to the prestigious role as adviser to the King.  The game world itself was created using a series of questions-and-answers, beginning with what pirate era the player wanted to play within (1560: The Silver Empire; 1600: Merchants and Smugglers; 1620: The New Colonists; 1640: War for Profit; 1660: The Buccaneer Heroes; and 1680: Pirates’ Sunset).  This was followed by which nationality they wished to be (Dutch Adventurer, English Buccaneer, French Buccaneer, or Spanish Renegade), which Difficulty Level they wished to play in (Apprentice, Journeyman, Adventurer, or Swashbuckler).  Finally, a Special Ability was chosen: Skill at Fencing, Skill at Gunnery, Skill at Medicine, Skill at Navigation, or Wit and Charm, each with its own advantages (for instance, Wit and Charm was used to keep on a Governor’s good side; whereas Skill at Medicine kept injuries to a minimum and prolonged the character’s life).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Swordplay in Sid Meier’s Pirates!The game world was then generated from these questions.  Of course, the final variable was the copy protection, which requested when either the Silver Train or the Spanish Treasure Fleet arrived in a particular city.  Failure to provide the correct answer stacked the odds so far against the player that even the game manual stated, “Heed the advice and start over, otherwise you’ll find your situation most bleak.”  Takethat, software pirates!  Actually, in some ways the manual was as interesting as the game, as there was a wealth of historical information on pirates and the historical context within which they plied their trade.  Well worth reading!

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Decisions, decisions in Sid Meier’s Pirates!

As for actual gameplay, the live of a pirate was sometimes short, but always challenge-filled and exciting, which the player soon discovered for themselves.  Since a pirate fought with a sword, fencing was part of the game.  Since pirates sailed the seas to prey upon treasure-laden ships, navigation and naval combat was part of the game.  Since pirates often sold their loot to merchants (money laundering was alive and well in the pirate era), trade was part of the game.  Since pirates sometimes sacked small townships, that, too was part of the game.  Since pirate ships didn’t magically manifest crewmembers to sail the seven seas, recruitment was part of the game, and since a silver tongue helped a pirate live a longer life, diplomatic contact with town governors was also part of the game.  All in all, this was an impressive pirate simulation.

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! Gold for the Sega Genesis

If the Career Mode was too large of a time investment, Sid Meier’s Pirates! offered six historically accurate scenarios to test your swashbuckling mettle.  Each scenario was in a different time period, and each offered unique challenges to overcome.  These scenarios were: John Hawkins and the Battle of San Juan Ulua  – 1569 (wherein you have a slow, but powerful galleon to command, with many ports unwilling to trade and a fleet not powerful enough to force them to comply); Francis Drake and the Silver Train Ambush – 1573 (can you match the verve and skill Drake showed battling the Spanish Fleet at the height of their power with only two small ships?); Piet Heyn and the Treasure Fleet – 1628 (your fleet is powerful, but the season is late and finding the treasure ships is becoming a difficult task and will take expert planning to locate and dispatch); L’Ollonais and the Sack of Marcaibo – 1666 (an abundance of manpower but a shortage of powerful vessels make ship-to-ship battles difficult, but port sacking attractive, with the additional challenge of the fragile nature of your men’s morale);Henry Morgan the King’s Pirate – 1671 (the dangers of having a powerful pirate fleet in both naval power and manpower in that you must keep everyone fed, content and treasure laden to succeed); and Baron de Pontis and the Last Expedition – 1697 (the munchkin scenario, in which you have a large strike force and a more than reasonable certainty to win any battle, making the only challenge how much treasure can you loot?).

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Pirates! for the Nintendo Entertainment System

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was first released in 1987 on the Apple II, Commodore 64 and IBM PC (PC Booter) platforms.  It was quickly ported over to the Macintosh (1988), Amstrad (1988), Commodore Amiga (1990), and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (1991).  It would be remade in 1993 with improved graphics and sound, then published under the title Pirates! Gold, for IBM PC (both DOS and Windows), Macintosh, and – because Nintendon’t – the Sega Genesis. The remakes didn’t end there, as it was again remade in 2004 for Windows XP, returning to its original title ofSid Meier’s Pirates!, and then again in 2008 for mobile devices, imaginatively calledSid Meier’s Pirates! Mobile.  Perhaps in the next decade it will be remade once again.  (I recommend they try Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold as the title for next time.)

Sid Meiers - Pirates - PC - Gameplay screenshot

Box art for Pirates! Gold

Sid Meier’s Pirates! was not only popular amongst gamers, it also performed well in the eyes of the gaming press.  It was awarded “Action Game of the Year” by Computer Gaming World, and also the Origin Award for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987”.  The game also ranked at #18 in the Computer Gaming World’s 150 Best Games of All Time.  Clearly, this game has remained in the gaming public’s eye for a reason, making Sid Meier’s Pirates! a worthy addition to anyone’s game collection.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2RigX8BVlc[/youtube]

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

SimCity: The City Simulator

Sim City - PC - Box

If there ever was a game that you weren’t really sure if you were playing a game or using an educational tool…but you didn’t care because it was so much fun, SimCity: The City Simulator was it.  Published by Maxis Software in 1989, SimCity was written by a young Will Wright (he of the incredibly addictive The Sims fame), and would go down as one of the most influential and popular games in gaming history.

In SimCity, players had to construct an entire metropolis starting from nothing but a bulldozer and random terrain.  Along the way to full city status sims begin to populate your city and make demands.  They may need more housing or shopping centers; perhaps crime is rampant and a police station is needed; maybe frequent brown outs are creating a demand for a new power station; perhaps your sims are bored and want a stadium…and so on.  Meanwhile, the city needed just the right level of taxes to encourage growth, yet still pay for all those fire and police stations.  Random emergencies could wreak havoc on your city, with tornadoes devastated entire zones, earthquakes leveling buildings, airplanes crashing and resulting fires requiring immediate response.  If you guided your city with a steady hand, your tax coffers filled up and your sims considered you Simsville’s best Mayor ever.  If you failed to keep on top of the ever-changing developments within your city you could find yourself in the ranks of the unemployed.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Although the core of the game was designed for open-ended gameplay, the game also included scenarios which revolved around achieving a specific goal within a certain time period.  These were based on both past situations as well as possible futures that urban planners had already had to solve or were in the process of planning for.  The past scenarios included dealing with crime-ridden and an economically-depressed Detroit in 1972; a post-earthquake San Francisco in 1906, and rebuilding Hamburg at the end of World War II (this one was only in the IBM PC, Amgia, and Atari ST version).  Future scenarios included Boston suffering a nuclear plant meltdown and Rio de Janeiro flooding from global warming.  There was even a fantastic scenario based upon the classic Godzilla movies, wherein the player had to rebuild Tokyo after an attack from the King of the Monsters.  Further scenarios were released in the SimCity Graphic Set 1: Ancient Cities and SimCity Graphic Set 2: Future Cities.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The path to SimCity’s initial release wasn’t an easy one.  Originally titled “Micropolis,” Will Wright, its creator, developed it for the Commodore 64, a platform he had previous success in with the now-classic, Raid on Bungling Bay.  By 1985 the game was ready to go, but he couldn’t find a dance partner willing to publish it, as the powers-that-be struggled with its open path gameplay and lack of winners versus losers.  He believed in the potential of what he had coded, so he partnered with Jeff Braun (a successful publisher of font packs for the Commodore Amiga) and founded Maxis Software in 1987, and sought the rights to publish his game with his own company.  After two more years of code changes and legal wrangling (which included cementing Broderbund Software as Maxis Software’s distribution agent), SimCity was brought before the gaming public.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Interestingly, although Will Wright had originally coded Micropolis for the C64, the first platforms SimCity was released on were the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, followed by IBM PC (MS-DOS) and then the Commodore 64.  EventuallySimCity: The City Simulator would be ported to the Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, and even the Super Nintendo.   The game was, of course, a smash hit, and garnered several gaming awards, including: Best Computer Strategy Game (Video Games & Computer Entertainment), Game of the Year (Computer Gaming World), Best Consumer Program (Software Publisher’s Association), and many, many more.  Its legacy is also well-recognized, earning a top ten position on the still-respected Computer Gaming World’s 150 Game of All Timelist.

 

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

The legacy of SimCity is more than just accolades, as its incredible success motivated Maxis Software to publish many variations on the theme: SimAntSimIsle,SimCopterSimLifeSimFarmSimEarthStreets of SimCitySimTown, and SimSafari.  Maxis even picked up the publishing rights for two similar Japanese games, A-Trainand Yoot Tower (which was renamed SimTower to take advantage of the sim-craze).  SimCity also spawned several sequels and remakes, including SimCity Classic(updated for Windows), SimCity Enhanced CD-ROM (which added FMV to the SimCity experience), SimCity 2000SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, and SimCity Societies.  And, of course, there is a direct link between Will Wright’s SimCity: The City Simulator and his epic seller, The Sims (and all its subsequent sequels and expansion packs).  Clearly,SimCity had a huge impact on the gaming universe.

Sim City - Amgia - Gameplay Screenshot -

Sadly, Maxis Software did not last as an independent company.  Although Maxis had been partnered with Broderbund since its inception, by 1995 they hired their own sales team and launched their IPO, taking Maxis public for the first time.  Unfortunately, the buzz from SimCity 2000‘s success had long worn off, and the pressure to fulfill the stock analysts’ projections took its toll on the company.  Wright and the other designers were pressured to abide by a strict deadline in 1996, with Maxis’ management team demanding all four games in development by released.  The designers complied, but the games they published that year did not catch the gamerverse on fire (I’m looking at YOU, SimCopter), and the share price of the new company which had such an incredible history slide precipitously.   In 1997, Electronic Arts made $120 million stock offer that they couldn’t refuse, making Will Wright and Jeff Braun very wealthy young men.  For his part, Braun became the biggest shareholder of Electronic Arts, and gave him the ability to invest in a variety of technology companies.  As for Will Wright, the money afforded him the time to do what he most loved – and did best – in developing new games.  Thanks, Electronic Arts!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzHVcvZw_7Q[/youtube]

If you’ve never played SimCity: The City Simulator, you’ve missed out on an integral piece of gaming history.  For a retro gamer, it’s still as fun as it always was, which is a sign of just how well it was crafted by Will Wright.  Between great gameplay and a long-lasting legacy, SimCity deserves to be on anyone’s best games of all time list.  Pick up a copy and see for yourself!

Magisterrex has been gaming since the days of Pong and still owns a working Atari 2600. He tends to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games.  If you’re into classic old school gaming check out his blog here

The Interview: John Wilson – Zenobi Software

Zenobi Software, the Rochdale Balrog, the Cat and the Cockroach were responsible for over two hundred excellent -nay, classic- ZX Spectrum text-adventures. Oh, yes, and quite a few Atari ST ones too. What’s more, John Wilson -a.k.a. the Balrog- the man behind it all is here to enlighten you and me on how things happened and what the future holds. Read on, hop over to the lovely official Zenobi website, grab a DVD with its rich retro offerings, ask for a freebie and come back here to discuss retro 8-bit interactive fiction. After all Zenobi will feature heavily on this blog for quite some time.

Zenobi Software Visual Medley

Tell us a bit about yourself, oh Balrog. Some info on the cat might be nice too.

Fast approaching my 62nd birthday, I was born in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1947 and moved to South Wales (Cwmbran) at the age of 12. Lived there for a few years and then moved to North Wales (Flint) before enlisting in the Royal Air Force in 1964. Served in various places… as far apart as Valley (Anglesey) and Seletar (Singapore) before settling down in Rochdale in 1970 where I still live to this day. As for the ‘cat’ that is simply one of my many ‘alter-egos’… now, that is a ‘first’ for you and your readers, as I have never admitted to that before. ‘Cat’ is a good one, unlike ‘Cockroach’ who is an evil, mischievous little sod.

Why -and more importantly, how- did you start Zenobi? Were you all alone in this, erm, adventure of sorts?

Had been unemployed for a number of years and during a ‘careers interview’ I blurted out ‘To run a software house’ in answer to one of their questions. Being me, I decided to stick with that choice and Zenobi Software was formed in 1984/85. Like everything in my life, since I met her, my Ann was with me in this enterprise. Without her help I would never have made the success of Zenobi Software that it was … if it ever was a ‘success’.

And the focus on text-adventures on the ZX Spectrum? How did you decide on that?

Because they were what I was ‘into’ at the time. I had been given a ZX81 by a mate and then ‘upgraded’ to a ZX Spectrum … the only things that seemed reasonable to play on these machines were ‘text adventures’ (the arcade games did not appeal) so those became my passion.
ZX Spectrum

Weren’t you afraid of actually competing against bigger software houses?

I am never afraid of a challenge and to be quite honest I never envisaged myself as being in ‘competition’ with anybody. The whole idea of the project was simply to get MY games out to the general public. Things just got out of hand a touch and grew far bigger than I ever imagined.

You’ve created a fair amount of admittedly brilliant, tough, inspired and generally hilarious adventures. Which ones are you favorites? Was there a certain way your games were designed? I mean, really, where did all this inspiration come from?

Of them all, the original ‘Behind Closed Doors’ has to be my favourite, if only for the fact that it was written, tested and finalised in less than 24 hours. However ALL of them are my ‘children’ and just as in real-life I never choose favourites.

How did you come up with those intricate puzzles?

Pinched all the ideas from ‘real-life’ incidents. All it takes is a little imagination and you can convert anything into an ‘adventure-situation’. Alas, I am very lucky to have the kind of mind that can come up with ‘ideas’ without too much thinking… I used to dream them up as I typed them sometimes.

What about them weird names, settings, loading screens and stories?

They are all part of the twisted mind that I have been blessed with… that and the ability to ‘bend’ things to suit. Give me a ‘topic’ and I can generally sit down and just type out a story (complete with characters, plot, descriptions etc) and do all this as I go along. Much in the same way that I am typing out this interview. No preparation, just ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ as my old Dad would say.

Now, as Zenobi published quite a few games from a variety of authors/designers, could you give us some insight as to how this bit actually worked?

Simple… I was unable to produce enough games (personally) to meet the demand, so decided to use the services of other authors to meet the quota. I spread the word I was on the lookout for new games and they just came flooding in.

In retrospect, which would you say were the finest moments in/of Zenobi?

Getting the first game-review published (‘The Boggit’ in PCW), being awarded ‘Mega-game’ status in Your Sinclair and being voted ‘Best Software House’ (the FIRST time).
Atari St

Why stop after the Atari ST games?

It was no longer a viable proposition to produce NEW games for either the ZX Spectrum or the Atari ST . ‘Sales’ were no longer high enough to warrant the financial outlay and I felt that it was stupid to keep squandering my OWN cash on a losing cause.

Any other platforms you developed for?

Not really, though we did produce ’emulations’ of ALL the original ZX Spectrum titles to suit the Commodore Amiga, Mac, PC, Sam Coupe and QL. Not to mention every form there was of the ZX Spectrum… i.e. Plus D, +3, Tape etc.

Oh, and do you still play games? Any thoughts on their current state?

Nope… my real passion has always been music and these days my spare time is spent listening to that. My CD collection numbers in the ‘tens’ of thousands… you can believe that or not!!

Considering there is a strong Spectrum retro scene, a very lively interactive fiction scene and an obvious revival of the adventure genre, well, what does the future hold? More games? A book per-chance?

None of the above. I still write the odd short-tale, but they are either just for my own amusement (and end up in the desk-drawer) or else they get put on the web-site where they bore everybody to death. Though I have promised myself that one day I will bring the ‘Korat’ tale to its eventual conclusion… if only for my own peace of mind

Finally, you do still feel the Zenobi love, don’t you? Mind you, feel free to add anything else you think would be vaguely appropriate and/or titillating.

The ‘Zenobi Love’ .. just what the f*ck is that? Zenobi Software was a part of my life, is still a part of my life and always will be a part of my life – it has nothing to do with ‘love’ it was (and still is) the ‘driving-force’ behind my existence.It was a dark rainy night and Balrog was slumped over a plate of mince & tatties when there was a gentle ‘tap’ on the kitchen door. “Bloody visitors .. and at this time of night as well!” growled Balrog as he flicked the errant pea(s) back on to his plate and shuffled off in the direction of the knock. “John Wilson ?” enquired the chubby-faced gent stood in the pouring rain. “Come in Tam ..” grinned the Balrog and ushered the gent, and his companion, into the warmth of the kitchen. “How do you know me?” asked the gent. “Saw your picture in PCW when you were awarded the prize for completing ‘The Ket Trilogy’ smiled Balrog, flicking on the switch for the kettle and reaching under the worktop for some cups. “Tea or coffee and how many sugars ??”

So it was that ‘Tartan Tam’ encountered the Balrog for the first time … a true story!!”


Exolon

Exolon (1987)
By: Hewson  Genre: Run ‘n’ Gun  Players: 1  Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: ZX Spectrum First Day Score: 15,850
Also Available For: Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Enterprise 128

Exolon gameplay screenshot

Having recently revisited one game by the great Raffaele Cecco, and the one I knew best, I thought it might be time for a long overdue look at another, this time on the system where he made his name. I was always enticed by the attractive-looking screen shots of Exolon in the Speccy magazines I enthusiastically read in the mid-to-late 80’s too, which makes the fact that I never played it all the more odd. There’s no story here as such with the game merely plonking you on some alien-infested planet and advising you to proceed from left to right wiping them out! This involves guiding your battle-hardened space marine through 124 screens filled with everything the aliens can throw at you.

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The marine is outfitted with the snazzy Exolon suit, a powerful exoskeleton equipped with a hand blaster and backpack grenade launcher, and it is these that will facilitate your progress. The screens, or ‘zones’, are occupied by a mixture of targets. Some feature aliens themselves who swarm from right to left across the screen indefinitely. These can be taken out easily with your hand blaster but there are also ground-based guns and missile-launchers which can only be taken out by grenades, and it’s the same for the non-hostile but still inconvenient obstacles which appear to consist of hardware such as satellite dishes as well as strange alien structures. You’ll also encounter land-mines which can’t be destroyed at all. Your brave space-marine is a little delicate though as contact with one of these, or indeed any enemy/bullet/missile, results in instant death!

Exolon gameplay screenshot

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this game is the quality of its graphics which really are superb. The colourful screens full of well-defined sprites and objects are enjoyable to battle through and still impress today. The sound is pretty minimal though with just a few basic effects to listen out for. Control over spacey is pretty good – he can jump and duck to avoid enemies and, although his blaster and grenades supplies are finite, he can pick up more along the way which also includes a power-up for the blaster. You’ll get a bonus at the end of the level (25 screens equal one ‘level’) if you forego the upgrade but I’d get it if I were you – this is a pretty tough game (much like all of Mr. Cecco’s games, in fact)! It’s not too unfair though with few screens proving notably harder than others and you should make gradual progress, and you’ll want to too as Exolon is a well-designed and thoroughly enjoyable run ‘n’ gunner and among the best on the Speccy.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGpQxt3vn3o[/youtube]

RKS Score: 8/10

Kid Gloves

Kid Gloves - Amiga

Kid Gloves (1990)
By: Logotron Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga First Day Score: 48,550
Also Available For: Atari ST

The poor old Amiga games industry was ravaged by pirated copies of games flooding the market and friends copying games for each other, it was this more than anything else that brought Commodore down in the mid-90’s. I’ve always tried to avoid that sort of business but when I belatedly got my Amiga, a friend gave me a box of discs with copied games on. Some didn’t work, others were pretty sucky, but of them all Kid Gloves is probably the one I played the most, guiltily of course, but seeing as it was later given away free by Amiga Power magazine I don’t feel so bad now! However, since I no longer have my Amiga and have developed a deep fear of using WinUAE, it’s been a long time since I played this game. It’s not looked upon too favourably by the Amiga community these days, I wonder if I’m about to destroy my happy memories of playing it too…

Kid Gloves - Amiga

It’s a pretty simple game which sees you, as Kid, attempting to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend or some such nonsense. In order to do this he must make his way through the danger-filled, flick-screen world between him and his goal. Each of the screens are populated by various creatures and obstacles, such as pigs, goblin things, whirly blades, etc, which move in short, simple patterns, and some which remain still, such as fire. Contact with any of these objects means instant death for our hapless hero. Fortunately he can fight back, against the creatures at least, by firing coins at them, and there are other weapons available in the shop that appears periodically including Flames, Deathstar, and Megalaser. Many of the screens also contain other items like food (for points), keys (to pass barriers), money (to spend in shops), smart bombs (to clear screens of enemies), and ankh’s (for extra lives) and he can also use magic to turn the barriers into food too.

Kid Gloves - Amiga

If there’s one thing about Kid Gloves which is still as true today as the first day I played it, it’s that it’s a pretty tough game! Some screens have objects such as blocks that fall down when you touch them to help you reach certain areas. Not only does this kind of thing kill you if you go so much as a pixel too close, but they can also have the opposite effect and prevent you from accessing an area. Most of the enemies in the game either walk backwards and forwards on platforms or bounce on the spot but there are also some that appear some time after you entered a screen. These ones can move freely around the screen and pursue you like Baron Von Blubba! Luckily, unlike the Bubble Bobble meany, these can be shot, but they always appear in the same place regardless of where you are on the screen which means they might appear right on top of you if you’re not careful! There are also some fireball things that move much more quickly around the screen if you hang around for too long, and these cannot be shot. However, leaving the screen then returning to it will reset everything to its original place, except the enemies which do not reappear.

Kid Gloves - Amiga

That’s pretty much the only problem with this game. I knew even back then that it was a simple game, looking more akin to a Public Domain game than a full-price release. The backgrounds and sprites look okay but are poorly animated and hardly push the Amiga to its limits. There is some nice sampled sound effects and speech though, and a pretty decent title-screen tune, but there’s no in-game music. None of this is really reason to dislike the game, it just has a few minor gameplay flaws that are so frustrating. The collision-detection is pretty shocking for one thing which obviously doesn’t help matters, and the controls can be really fiddly too – you try going up or down a ladder in a hurry! I never could get very far in Kid Gloves and that hasn’t changed since I started replaying it. Every time I think “right, I’ll get really far into it this time” it just ends up annoying me too much and I play something else. I don’t think it’s aged too badly, but it’s flaws are more apparent to me now. Ultimately it has a certain charm but this is a very average game that could’ve so much better with a few tweaks.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjjHNqxLJ5M[/youtube]

RKS Score: 5/10

Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 1

Bubble Bobble (1986)
By: Taito Genre: Platform Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 180,180
Also Available For: Master System, Game Gear, Saturn, PlayStation, X68000, NES, GameBoy Color, GameBoy Advance, Nintendo DS, FM Towns Marty, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple II, MSX, PC

What more can be said about this all-time great? Whilst perhaps not as well known as Mario or Sonic, the cute dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble are just as iconic to many gamers, myself included, and have now appeared in a lot of games on nearly every system ever created, in one guise or another. My first encounter with the bubble-blowing twins was in ‘Kwiki Meals’, the cafe near my college. It was here that I ventured every lunchtime to play Bubble Bobble (and eat a burger), and I was often late back to class! It was the game that first brought the great Taito to my attention and they’ve been one of my favourite companies since. Sadly, both Kwiki Meals and the arcade masterpiece it once housed are now long gone but I’ve had a regular fix of Bubble Bobble ever since.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 2

Most of you will know the drill by now – Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons by the evil Super Drunk who has also kidnapped their girlfriends! In order to get them back and be restored to Human form, they must battle their way through a hundred rounds of multi-platformed, monster-infested caves until they can face, and hopefully defeat, Super Drunk. Bub and Bob, who start each round in the bottom left and bottom right corners of the screen respectively, must clear each single-screen round of baddies in order to proceed to the next. To do this you must trap them in bubbles which both Bub and Bob can blow at will. The bubbles fly forward quickly, before floating up the screen being carried by the air currents in the caverns. Freshly-blown bubbles are surrounded by a shiny orange aura until they are a certain distance away and it is only during this brief period that enemies can be trapped in them.

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 3

Once an enemy is trapped in a bubble, it must be popped quickly to kill it, either by touching it with the spines on Bub and Bob’s head and back, by jumping on it, or by pushing it into a wall. If you fail to pop it quickly enough, it will pop by itself, and the re-released enemy will be angry and much faster. It’s also possible to bounce off bubbles instead of popping them when you jump on one or fall on one from above. This is an essential skill to learn as sometimes it’s the only way to escape from part of a level or reach some high platforms. Bubbles also stick together if they touch each other, whether they contain enemies or not, so if you time it right you can cause a mega-pon chain reaction meaning mega-points! There are eight different types of standard enemy altogether and each has his own movement patern. Learning these are obviously the key to success here, but don’t take too long – if you stay on one stage too long, the undefeatable Baron Von Blubba will appear and stalk you until there’s nowhere left to hide!

Bubble Bobble - Arcade Gameplay Screenshot 4

One of this game’s many memorable points is that it jointly holds the record with its own sequel as one of the most fruit laden game ever (this is a good thing)! Items are spilled on a platform somewhere in the level every time an enemy is vanquished and other items appear seemingly out of nowhere now and then. There is an enormous amount of them to be found, some of which are very useful, particularly the umbrella which skips several levels, and there are power-ups and various kinds of screen-clearing smart bombs too. Some other items are even available in different colours, varying their effect. Also appearing liberally are lots of different fruits, gems and foods which can be seized for bonus points. Additional bubbles sometimes get ‘blown’ onto the screen by the air currents running through the caverns, and included amongst these are ‘special’ bubbles which, when popped, unleash special powers. These include fire bubbles, which spill fire which scorches enemy’s, lightning bubbles which sends a enemy-killing lightning bolt across the screen, and water bubbles, which send a torrent of water cascading down the platforms killing all enemies in its path. The last kind of bubbles to be found contain letters. Collecting them will gradually spell out E-X-T-E-N-D down the side of the screen. Complete the word to clear the round and get an extra life!

There are many more little intricacies and nuances to this game and to be honest, I could go on all day about them, but discovering them for yourself is one of the things that makes Bubble Bobble as great as it is. Despite initially seeming random, almost everything you do has some sort of affect on the game, from how quickly you finish a round right down to a particular digit of your score when you reach a certain point. Many games have been called classics over the years. Whether they truly are or not depends on your definition of the term I suppose, but few are as genuinely timeless as Bubble Bobble.

The cute, colourful graphics which are full of character, that music by Zuntata which could just be the catchiest tune of all-time, the flawlessly structured gameplay, the fiendish stage design, the fantastic fun of jumping around the platforms trying to time an attack to perfection, playing the game with a friend, it goes on and on. It’s regularly sited as one of the greatest games of all-time, and it’s hard to argue. Bubble Bobble isn’t just a single screen platform game, for many it’s the single screen platform game! It’s certainly true that it’s among the most enduring platform games of all-time and that kind of lasting adulation can only be for one reason…

RKS Score: 10/10

Chase HQ review

Chase HQ Title screen

Chase HQ (1988)
By: Taito Genre: Racing Players: 1 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 4,723,860 (one credit)
Also Available For: PC Engine, X68000, Master System, Game Gear, NES, Game Boy, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Before the days of polygons, it was pretty rare to find a decent driving game. Even in the arcades they were pretty rare. If you asked any gamers around my age to name their favourite, most would probably say OutRun, and with good reason – it was a revolutionary game that made a huge impact. There was a few other good examples from around that time as well though, and one was Chase HQ. This effort from the awesome Taito was clearly influenced by OutRun – what else wasn’t in the years after its release? – but it’s not just a shameless rip-off, no sir. Whilst the basic gameplay has shades of Sega’s classic, Taito also injected it with themes taken from some of the American buddy cop movies and TV shows which were so popular at the time. It sure sounds like a perfect combination but how does it stand up today?

Chase HQ screenshot

Taking on the role of police detective, Tony Gibson, it’s your job to pursue one dangerous criminal on each of the game’s five stages. They have all commandeered some sort of powerful sports car and are fleeing out of the unnamed city (which is probably LA), They have got a head-start too so you, along with your partner, Raymond Broady, need to move quickly to make up the lost ground. After a briefing from the lovely Nancy back at ‘Chase Headquarters’ you’ll get sixty seconds to catch up with each felon in your black Porsche 928 Turbo. Once you’ve reached him, you’ll get another sixty to smash his car up until they stop (they’re all men – women don’t commit crimes, remember)! Your ride is equipped with three helpful turbo boosts per stage/credit which can either be used to catch up with the ‘con’ quicker, or to smash into him more aggressively once you already have.

Chase HQ screenshot

You’re probably thinking that it sounds like a lot of fun, but you may also have thought that it sounds rather short. Well, you’d be right on both counts, but the latter point is pretty much the only bad thing about the game. Rather than attempting to craft a longer lasting, more subtle kind of driving game, Taito have instead gone for an intense ten minute blast of a game. It’s not particularly difficult either but some replay value is added by the accumulative bonus you receive for passing each of the many civilian cars the roads are filled with without hitting them. Technically the game is a noticeable step up from OutRun too. The sprites are probably a little better and more varied and the game plays a bit faster, but the biggest improvement is in the stages themselves.

Chase HQ screenshot

Rather than sticking to one backdrop each, the backgrounds and scenery here change numerous times per stage and are pretty varied too. The courses are also much less flat than OutRun’s and each features a fork mid-way through with one route being longer than the other. The audio is also pretty half-decent. The music, whilst perfectable fine, could never hope to best Hiroshi Miyauchi’s immortal tunes, and the effects are okay too, but Chase HQ’s most noticeable addition is the speech. Your partner is pretty vocal throughout the game, willing you to drive faster and getting excited once battle commences, and good old Nancy has a fair bit to say for herself, both during the briefings and over the police radio during the game too.

Chase HQ screenshot

Such is the glorification of crime and violence these days, I’m confident that if this game was released today you would play the role of the criminal, most likely with the object not only to escape from the pursuing police officers but to kill them too, and bonus points scored for killing civilians too, or some such nonsense. As it is though, this is very much a ‘good guys sim’ and remains one of the most memorable cop games released. The combination of OutRun and cop film was a superb idea for a game and makes this play very differently to the former. It also creates a fantastic atmosphere and makes it a different enough game to stand proudly next to OutRun instead of in its shadow. It won’t take you long to see all Chase HQ has to offer but it’s such a fast, exciting rush of a game, you’ll be back time and time again. A genuine classic.

RKS Score: 9/10

Motivational Monday: Knock Offs

knock offs demotivational poster
knock offs demotivational poster

Motivational Monday: Knock Offs

Sometimes you just want the prestige of having something popular, at the top of its game. You want everyone to know you have it and have no shame in showing it off. Unfortunately, for many of us obtaining the best is not always possible. Thank goodness for knock-offs.

The knock off is as old as time and it is the art of copying something good, but not good enough that it has the quality of the original. Knock offs can be found in everything from shoes to clothes to electronics and video games are not immune to the knock off. This week we take a look at some of the knock offs that has made their way into video game history.

Now before we begin just a warning. The term knock off can upset people especially those who created something they were proud off. In many cases the court or the court of popular opinion deemed that something was not a knock off. However, I call em as I see em so enjoy.

K.C. Munchkin

I have seen a number of Pac-Man clones in my day, but this one has an interesting story. The Munchkin video game was created for the Magnavox Odyssey. As you can see it looks a lot like Pac-Man, but it was different enough. The problem came because Atari was exclusively licensed to create the home version of Pac-Man, but Munchkin came out first. In 1981 Munchkin was released and Atari sued. At first the courts refused to stop the sale of the game and then the following year on appeal ruled in favor of Atari. Strangely enough the release of Pac-Man by Atari turned out to be a major failure.

The Great Giana Sisters

So why would you try to copy Mario Bros? Why not? The fact was that Nintendo had a hit on their hands and in all likelihood the game was not going to be ported to the personal computer. The Great Giana Sisters was developed by Time Warp Productions and was to become available for systems including the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64.

The game looked and played a lot like Super Mario Bros. at least in the first levels. Also, it didn’t help that on some covers was the sentence; “The brothers are history.” Yeah, it probably was not a good idea to taunt Nintendo who retailed with a Bowser size lawsuit and got the sisters locked down.

Funny thing, the Great Giana sisters is going to be available on the Nintendo DS.

Munch Man

I really don’t want to call this game a knock off because I owned both it and the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A that it was released for, but it was loosely based on Pac-Man. The cool thing was the differences including the fact that you were trying to connect links to form a chain not eat dots. Also the ghosts in the game, called Hoono’s change from level to level. As the game continues your enemy gets much faster than you and their vulnerability time is greatly reduced.

I loved Munch Man as a kid, the sounds of the game was so trippy to me. Come on, that sound when he eats the bad guy? Classic!

Imitation is the most sincere form

Intellectual property is important and as a writer I understand this even more. With that said some of these games were just great fun and I am glad they were made. There are tons more knock offs or clones out there. If you want us to do an article on them drop us a line.

Maniac Mansion review

I rarely do it but Today is the day that I most definitely will! I’ll start the review from the very end of it – the score. Why? Well, reasons may be many, some more other less probable but what the truth is, is that I, as most mammals do, only tend to try to simplify my life. I consider vast majority of my readers at least to be mammals, so I suppose they like things plain and simple as well. That said, if I mention the name of the game and the score, it’s obvious that all the old bastards such as myself will nod their heads in understanding and move away to other, more recent or less well known game reviews and those who still don’t know it (are there any gamers who don’t know IT!?) may find the score high enough to lure them into a quick read. For those that’ll stay and waste five minutes going through my endless blah, blah, blah, here – Maniac Mansion gets 9.5 out of 10. Thank you! Goodnight!



Maniac Mansion was developed and released by LucasFilm Games LLC (now known simply as LucasArts) in 1987 on Commodore 64 and then in 1988 on all other major platforms of the time – Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, DOS & NES/Famicom. And since all these represent different points in wide range of 8 & 16 bit machines, the game version varies slightly in terms of graphics & music depending on given machine’s capabilities. Have no fear though, over the top, B-class movie-like gameplay remains the same on all of these. And that’s the only thing that really matters here, right?! Right!

Maniac Mansion DOS EGA Title Screen
DOS EGA – Title Screen

From the technical point of view Maniac Mansion, often called MM, was a novelty of sorts. It introduced SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine that revolutionized Adventure games genre offering a complete point and click interface instead of typical at the time – text based interface. It utilized now well known Verb + Object operation, where verbs would be a set of actions that player could take upon various objects in the game World. It’s easily noticeable that games that followed for years after used or based their own engines on SCUMM as it not only simplified interaction with the game but made it more fluid, life-like, so that the player would not get distracted by mis-typing lengthy boring-ass commands or using wrong words in former kinds of interfaces. On top of all that MM was the first adventure game that presented the player with more than one character to control simultaneously. Player could switch between them whenever he/she felt like it or needed to.

Maniac Mansion Amiga Main Hall
AMIGA – This is how the Mansion’s Main Hall looks like. It holds quite a few neat secrets as well.

Taking Video Games technology available at the time MM did not stood out in any other area really – graphics were OK but not mind blowing and lacked loved and cherished by everyone Rivers of Blood(tm)… Well, there was *some* blood in the game but hardly enough to keep a gore-hungry, silly TV-shows raised teens at peace. And music? Apart from truly awesome opening theme and few sounds (not on all systems though) during gameplay were practically abundant. Looking at the back catalog of games I played over the years, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s not the graphics or even sound and music that makes a good game…

Maniac Mansion NES Secret Lab
NES – Secret Lab ain’t that secret no more…

Maniac Mansion, from beginning to an end is all story. Story, that is simple, short but drives the player from the first minute when he choses three of the seven available characters (one fixed though) to the last second of gameplay, or till he fails. Yes, in MM one can fail and not complete the game just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing something unnecessary… And why would one wander around doing odd things, digging holes in piles of shit instead of following the flow of the story? Because, lets say that you love cheesy B-class movies that are so bad that they actually are really good… Now, in this World MM would be an absolute king and queen of those movies, all rolled into one!!

Maniac Mansion c64 screenshot
C64 – This is where it all began 20 years before…

You play the role of Dave and two of his friends who have to save Dave’s girlfriend Sandy (even those names seem as if the were taken out of an under budget production made for 75 cents and a promise of mention in the final credits) from the hands of mad scientist – Dr Fred Edison – and his army (well, actually only few) of mutated Tentacles… Sounds cheap & cheesy? It should, the story is so simple that honestly I don’t see it ever getting any better. At least not in 1987, when I was no more no less than six years old and Maniac Mansion was like reading a book that I could actually take part in and it did not suck.

Maniac Mansion Apple II Library screenshot
Apple II – Library – The source of all knowledge… And funny smells…

I’m not gonna spoil this truly awesome game for you by telling you about all the inside jokes, puns and 80’s pop-culture references because I know you’ll enjoy it far more discovering everything by yourself. All I’ll mention is the game offers huge re-playability value due to the fact that all the secrets and gags cannot be found on one playthrough. For one, the characters player choose at the beginning all have unique personalities and respond to same situations differently and may even need to find different ways of solving similar problems. Also many, many things in this game lead to failure but failure through tears of laughter as authors did not kept the best stuff only for actions progressing the plot. And this is exactly what makes a great game – when failure is *also* an option worth taking. ^_^

Maniac Mansion Atari ST kitchen screenshot
Atari ST – There’s no kitchen without chainsaw and some mature cheese.

Maniac Mansion, even though it changed the face of Adventure games genre forever cannot be treated like pure adventure game only. I’d say it’s an interactive movie with adventure and arcade elements at heart. Some puzzles must be timed perfectly to complete, other require smart switching between chosen characters and using their positions and available actions at just the right order. And at another time you’re sitting there watching the game unveil its cinematic sequences just to add depth to the story. Please, pretty please, with a rotten turd covered cherry on top, notice that I used italics whilst mentioning cinematic sequences. Oh, darn, I’ve done it again…

Maniac Mansion c64 tentacle
C64 – Tentacle in its full 8-bit awesomeness…

Why only 9.5 out of 10, if the game clearly was the next Bible!? Or Bible 2.0, if you please (I expect a lot of hate mail now, he, he… ^_^)!? Well, it sure was fun playing it and I even recall one time when as a child I played it with two friends, each of us taking a role of another character… It’s not difficult to guess we did not fare far in the game… Maniac Mansion is just awfully difficult at times, presenting the player with numerous dead ends upon reaching which there is no choice but to reload the game. Or even many time & monkey-like agility based puzzles that one may repeat time after time until perfecting them, so that he/she could progress just that little further in the game. Honestly, sometimes when I play it it feels as if my head was split and someone pissed inside – there seems to be the brain there but my reflexes just ain’t what they’re supposed to be, short-cutted or something. Or maybe I’m just getting old, that’s all? That said, all the humor, re-playability and utterly awesome setting of Old Mansion that holds unknown secrets and a lonely kidnapped girl do make me wanna play it again… Today… Must fight the urge to play the darn gameMust not choose the system nowI am the master of my own mind & willAhhEhhBollocks! I’ll give this bad boy one more roll. ^_^

Frontier (a.k.a. Elite II)

Frontier_elite2_box

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

That’s how you roll in style in space…

Well, this quote from the famous Star Trek series, that crippled many of the young geeky minds, can easily be applied to describe the game of Frontier. In fact this and MUCH more! But, let’s get to the heart of the thing while it’s still beating…

Departing from Matthews where dogs bark with their asses…

Frontier was developed by David Braben and released in 1993 by Gametek and Konami on various Amigas, Atari ST & PC. It’s a sequel to Elite hence why it’s often addressed as Elite 2 and predeccesor to First Encounters – which is also known as Frontier: First Encounters or simply Frontier 2.

100,000,000,000 Planets in Frontier sounds unbeliveable but it’s all truth!

But enough of the boring details, let’s spill some blood on this one… Frontier is a game of undefined genre. It’s a wild mixture of simulation, strategy with adventure and role playing elements. And as much as it seems that this kind of mix’n’match would not work out it actually does and the game is no less than brilliant! It’s a true sandbox experience where you have no laid out route to game’s completition and no scripted time or area predefined events. In fact, you can play it as long as you want and how you want. That is until you get killed or die in a far out system left with no hope of survival because you’ve spent the last of your money on slaves instead of fuel aiming for quick and illegal profit…

It’s not only mining colonies and military bases in Frontier, there are some modern settlements here as well…

The game World, or Universe to be more precise consist of just a bit short of 100,000,000,000 (!!) planets and moons. There’s also 82 kinds of missions/services generated randomly, so chances that you’ll run out of things to do and places to go are quite slim. In the World of Frontier you can become anyone you want! There’s many routes you may wanna progress in, like mining, piracy, trade, bounty hunting or working for one of the multi-system organizartions and picking either of the choices does not mean that you won’t be able to follow another if you decide to do so later on.

There’s plenty of random generated missions to go through, ranging from passenger/cargo transport to spying/assasination requests…

Loads of trade commodities, ship equipment, ship kinds and different fraction promotions, provide for a long and exciting gameplay. In fact when you start of you’ll find yourself in a small settlement with a very basic ship equiped with what seems like garbage and only 1,000 credits to spare and will have to take a long and hard route before feeling safe and comfortable in the dark World of Frontier. But this is exactly what makes this game so special – it does not lead you by hand mission after mission, instead it drops you somewhere in the middle of cold and dark nowhere and tells you to deal with it! And you will have to, cause otherwise you’re not a real man (or woman, since I don’t wanna sound sexist here).

Space: The Final Frontier…

That said, Frontier is a truly excellent product shadowed only by the fact that it is not a game for all.

Many people may not appreciate its hardcore „kill or die” approach and difficult beginnings. But those who decide to go through tough initial period usually fall in love with it because it’s an entertaining and deep experience that rewards patience.

Cobra MK I – it’s not a killing machine but I’ve flown worst.

It’s really impressive how HUGE game David managed to fit on one floppy and how well it worked out in the end especially that it is mainly one person’s effort. The game looks and plays the same on all systems yet all of these had some unique and system specific bugs in earlier, unpatched releases. Bugs like famous wormholes that allowed for huge jumps over great distances in Universe using just a tiny bit of fuel or „earning” money by endlessly „trying to sell” a passengers cabin with passengers still in it…

Each “dot” even if it has no name displayed here is a seperate solar system with its own planets and moons.

Frontier is quite cheap on eBay as it was fairly popular in the early 90’s, and hence many copies are still sold for prices that are easy to swallow. Same as with earlier reviewed Fury of the Furries, Frontier is widely considered abandonware and can be downloaded from Abandonia or Planet Emulation for PC & Amiga respectively, and run through either DOSBox or WinUAE.

Apart from these two ships and the crew on this station… In space noone can hear you scream.

As much as I’m a firm believer that any game that let’s you become a Space Pirate and not only blow people to pieces with various rockets, plasmas and lasers, but also trade slaves, drugs and radioactives, deserves an easy 10 out of 10, I won’t give it. I’ll settle for 8 out of 10 because as I mentioned before not everyone will find Frontier enjoyable – it’s a difficult game with no tutorial or hints and can just be a bit too overwhelming for a Sunday player.

Attacking other ships near Space Stations may turn their defences against you, ultimately bring an end to your Frontier life.

Rick Dangerous & Rick Dangerous 2

Rickdangerousbox

No time for love, Dr. Jones…” Well, in here there’s always plenty time for passionate and long lasting love, classic video game love that is!

Rick Dangerous – Amiga title screen Rick Dangerous II – Amiga title screen

Anyway, when there’s no Dr. Jones somebody has to step in and take his place and be that smart heroic persona that saves the day, in style. This is exactly where Dr. Dangerous comes in… Well, I’m not sure he’s a doctor but with that kind of surname he bloody sure should be!

Rick Dangerous – Level 1 – Amstrad CPC – Running away from a falling boulder, Indy style…

I realized I cannot review Rick Dangerous without taking a look at Rick Dangerous II – as these games are like Star Wars – sure, you can watch one and have fun but until you’ve seen them all you know nothing of the dark side… Or until you’ll push some LSD with magic mushrooms and few nicely rolled fat spliffs, but that’s just sliding a bit to much of topic here… ^__^

Rick Dangerous – Level 3 – C64

Games of the dark side (I should trade mark that statement!) that Rick Dangerous 1 & 2 surely are, were developed by Core Design and Published by Microplay in 1989 & 1990 respectively, on most major systems of the time – Amiga, PC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum & Amstrad CPC. And even though these computers all had different capabilities and limitations the game plays equally awesome on all of them and only benefits from slightly higher resolution and bigger sprites in better colors on more advanced ones.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 3 – Atari ST

The adventures take place in undisclosed early years of the 20th Century where you’re in control of British chap going by the name of Bond, James Bond. I’m sorry, I must have been stuck on the game’s similarities to a certain movie series – of course you play as somebody else… Jones, Indiana Jones. Ehm… I mean… Dangerous, Rick Dangerous! That’s more like it! Anyway, the similarities of Rick and Indy are many and they’re more than obvious – both Rick & Indy are adventurers seeking forgotten treasures and fighting bad guys for a living, and also they both sport hats & brown leather jackets, so popular in the early 1900’s. Now, that’s enough to become an heroic icon in my books!

Rick Dangerous – Level 2 – ZX Spectrum

As Rick, in both games, you’re bound to go through hundreds of screens – most of time each being a separate part of a bigger level – of blood, sweat and tons of swearing. Rick Dangerous with its hellish unforgiving laugh-in-a-player’s-face difficulty makes other tough games look like a kindergarten toys. In fact there were times when I thought that the game was punishing me just for playing it! Not many games have that kind of, ehm… …incentive to them, but that said it actually works quite well as inspite of being hard as my auntie’s cookies are – Rick holds tons of “just one more screen and I’ll go to bed” gameplay to it.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 2 – PC DOS – PC outing of RDII could work in two different graphic modes – CGA and VGA, with pallettes of 16 and 256 colors respectively, even though the game never really used all 256 colors.

Each level consists of numerous places and ways that your character can part with his life, and for that matter – he will! Constantly, time after time, playthrough after playthrough! Rick Dangerous is one of those games that back in the days of its release caused joystick manufacturers to see huge increase in profits. Not that there were so many users playing it and wearing controllers out but if others reacted to the game similar to how I did – their joysticks also ended up in pieces thrown at the wall. All of them, one after another, in one sitting… Yeah, I know, that was pretty stupid & lame… But so was I.

Rick Dangerous – Level 4 – PC DOS – CGA mode…

You are not helpless however – you have your wits, charm, adventurers 6th sense and also if the earlier ones are not enough – a gun & some explosives to help you go through each area. Both, bullets and explosives are limited though, so you’ll find yourself often stuck between an easy way to complete a difficult task or an unknown that may end up fatal because of you not having any means of defense. The sooner you’ll learn how to properly utilise and save these tools of the adventurers trade the sooner the game will grow on you as you’ll be able to complete a stage without dying in same spot more times than you have fingers… And toes… Put together.

Rick Dangerous II – Level 4 – C64 – Commodore most definitely sported the best looking and most playable out of the all 8bit outings…

I realize that these two games are tough as a year-old doughnut and tend to bring tons of frustration where its not necessary, but maybe it’s because they hold a serious challenge? And challenge is what’s pushes me more and more until I beat the basta… I mean game, until I beat the game! I don’t know the exact reason, but even though Rick Dangerous is as difficult as passing a whale on a toliet – through tears of anger and pain – it will no doubt grow on anyone who’ll spend time learning it’s gameplay mechanics & all the quirks. It’s not a game for everyone as on times it feels as if the Developers took pleasure in laying out incredibly tough obstacles just to see the player fail numerous times but it is a game for everyone to try and see if they’re up to the challenge.

Rick Dangerous II – PC DOS – Rick’s first experiences with ACID… He never listend in school when kids were tought just to say “No”…

Quick Note: I don’t know of any places that the game could be purchased other than eBay but if you just wanna give it a quick whirl, see how it plays, you can always find it either on Abandonia for PC or Planet Emulation for all other platforms, as Rick Dangerous is now considered abandonware. Also below you’ll find intros for both titles – they’re not much but they’re there nonetheless.

Exile

 

Exile title
Exile title

 

Exile is probably the best game most people have never heard of. It was first released on the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro in 1988. The game was designed and programmed by Peter Irvin and Jeremy Smith (the author of Thrust, another ground breaking game that was converted to all the computers know to man).

Like Thrust, Exile is a game based on cave exploration with a physics mode. But unlike Thrust instead of just having Gravity Physics, Exile also has features such as inertia, mass, explosions, shock waves, Water, Wind, Fire, Intelligent Animals (Frogs, Wasps, Frogman, Snail, Fish, Spiders, Birds and Imps), Automated Turrents, Serveral different types of Robots all with Artificial Intelligence, Teleportation, Gravity, Weighted objects, and different weapons. It was the most complex game available for the BBC Micro, and possibly all 8bit machines.

 

Exile Amiga Title Screen
Exile Amiga Title Screen

 

The game also offered an enormous and detailed world, which was perfect for exploration. This large map was inhabited by many different creatures, robots, and puzles. All this was explained in the plot as the crew of the Pericles having set up a base in a natural cave system, with Triax having his own base in caves deep below.

Exile’s AI programming featured innovative routines like creature strategy code that knew about noises nearby, line-of-sight vision through the divaricate caves and tunnels, and enemy’s memory of where the target was last seen.

The main game is an character astronaut with a jet pack. He cannot die, if he is attacked or injures himself when he reaches a point near death he is automatically teleported to safe locations previously reached and designated by the player, until he these locations run out and he is ultimately back to his orbiting spaceship. Despite this, the game was still very difficult to complete and could take hours to play through.

The story of game starts as follows;

The player takes control of a space-adventurer Mike Finn who is ordered by his superiors on Earth to divert his spacecraft to the planet Phoebus to investigate the distress calls broadcast by the members of a previous mission. Finn’s mission is to rescue any survivors of the mission from a psychotic scientist, Triax, exiled there many years before.

 

Exile Amiga Gameplay
Exile Amiga Gameplay

 

Exile was supplied with a novella setting the full background story to the game and the game objective. It also provides limited clues regarding the scenery, objects and lifeforms that are encountered in the game.

The game came out for the Commodore C64’s dying days in 1991, and it the last game I bought for my c64 before I sold it. I pre-ordered the game after being blown away by a covertape demo (given away with Commodore Format, I think). When I upgraded to the Commodore Amiga shortly after, Exile was my first purchase.

The Commodore 64 offered better graphics and sound than the BBC and Acorn versions, and the Amiga version which was also released in 1991, had even better graphics and sound including a an atmospheric theme tune containing a deep voiced Exile sample and some eerie strings.

Allthough most gamers have never heard of most people have never heard of Exile, those you have played it will never forget it. Amiga Power magazine voted the  Exile to be the best game of 1991. The multi-format magazine Edge retrospectively awarded it 10 out of 10, together with only 2 other games.

Ghouls N Ghosts

Ghouls N Ghosts splash screen
Ghouls N Ghosts splash screen

Ah, the game that made me break one of my many Sega Genesis’s. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was released to the arcades in the spring of 1988. Maybe by Capcom, it was the popular sequel to the 1985 arcade smash Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

In Ghouls ‘n Ghosts the heroic knight Arthur must once again faceoff against the demonic hordes of Loki. After an attack on his kingdom Arthur’s lover, the lovely Princess Prin Prin, is killed along with many innocent civilians. To avenge the death of his love and restore her soul and the souls of the others Arthur will have to take down the big man Loki himself.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts plays pretty much like Ghosts ‘n Goblins it is a platform run and gun type of gameplay meaning you have to always be on your toes firing away at the enemy and  avoiding traps and pitfalls. Luckily this time around Arthur can fire upwards and while jumping fire downwards which is a must in this game. In addition Arthur has an array of weapons at his disposal including a mega axe, a golden sword and even golden power armor.

Ghouls N Ghosts screenshot
Ghouls N Ghosts screenshot

When Arthur jumps in certain spots on the map a treasure chest will pop out of the ground. If Arthur destroys the chest he can find two things. First is an evil magician who turns him into a duck. As the duckyou are pretty much undead chow because you have no armor or weapons. The best thing to do is avoid any enemies until the effect wears off.

The second thing that can appear from the chest is Arthur’s golden armor. The golden armor allows any weapon Arthur currently has to gain a charged power up move that unleashes a special attack. Sadly, the golden armor works just like the normal silver armor where as if Arthur is hit it will break apart leaving him pretty much naked.

Once you work your way through five levels you discover you need a special weapon in order to defeat Loki. This restarts the game and you must fight your way through the same five levels and back to Loki’s chamber.

The game is extremely fun to play, but it can be very unforgiving at first, but once you learn your jumps, attacks and timing you can make it through the game without too much trouble. I can say this now, but when I first played it I had an awfully hard time and ended up punching my poor Genesis to death.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had some great music composed by Tamayo Kawamoto. The bosses were well designed along with the levels making sure your twitch level was high. In addition to great arcade success GnG was ported to several systems including the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, CP System, Commodore 64, X68000, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, SuperGrafx, Sega Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Virtual Console, ZX Spectrum.

The Software Hunter

Sniper sights FPS game
Sniper sights FPS game

You ever notice people don’t spend a lot of time in a software store pining over a game they wish to buy or in deep thought over if a game they are about to purchase is going to be worth it or not? While it is true that with the internet, video trailers and tons of promotion that many gamers know exactly what they are going to get out of a game I have also found people are just more willing to go with what everyone else is getting and not as willing to search out that unique game that might not be a major franchise.

I remember heading down to the only store within fifty miles that sold Amiga and Atari ST games. I would spend hours reading the back of software boxes and staring at the one or two screen shots to decide if I would pick the game up or not.

I miss talking about hardware and software with the store owner who actually knew what he or she was talking about. Today, many store personnel only know the basics and if they know a drop more it is confined to the system or game that they play. Back in the day the store owner not only knew about every system and software sold they were also involved in the community and could connect you with other people.

Sure, sometimes when picking a title it was hit or miss. A well written description and a nice screenshot could be misleading, but for the most part after spending so much time making your decision you more often than not ended up with a game that you enjoyed. Today they want you to play a game and sell it back to the store (at a loss) within a week. Many do not want a wall of software boxes standing like trophies as a testament to their gaming superiority. People want an orange envelope and the next flavor of the month.

In the software stores of old you could actually make friends. People talked to one another about which system they owned and what software titles they were playing. You would debate which game was worth the purchase because you would not be back for a month or maybe more. Now you walk quietly into the store, pick up your preorder and quietly walk back out.

Don’t get me wrong, modern day technology and accessibility has done wonders for gaming and the ability to download demos and read real user reviews is a wonderful thing, but I miss the days when we were true software hunters. It is like searching for that perfect spot for a picnic and knowing you found a gem. It is about telling your friends about the awesome game you found and getting them into it. It is about seeing your friend load up a game and wondering what it is and where did he or she get it.

Perhaps I’m getting a little too nostalgic in my old age. I guess when you used to travel over fifty miles for a TI-500 cartridge you realize it was more than just a system and a game it was a true hobby that you cared about. Now you just log in and download or click and have it mailed to you, simple, easy, but is it better?

There are still titles out there today that don’t get a lot of press. They are not sequel number 238 in a series of remakes based on a remake. These games are made by programmers who don’t have dual 32 inch screens and a coffee bar in the office. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a coffee bar) You can still be a software hunter searching out those rare titles that give you a great experience and a box you are proud to display in your office, room or basement. The question is, are you up for the hunt?

About the Software Preservation Society (SPS)

Software Preservation Society logo
Software Preservation Society logo

About the Software Preservation Society (SPS)

SPS is a privately funded association of art collectors and computer enthusiasts striving for the preservation of computer art, namely computer games.

Art is an important cultural asset. Thousands of museums and archives all over the world preserve and restore pictures, books, movies and audio recordings and information in general for generations to come. To accomplish their assignment, national libraries are backed by law which, varying from country to country, forces production companies to deliver copies of publications, books, audio recordings and movies to the archives for long term preservation. It seems that as of today, nobody has ever thought or actively cared about the true, unmodified and verified preservation of computer games. Without any action taken, time will run out, very quickly.

Unlike games from the 1970s (delivered on solid state ROM-modules) and games from and after the mid-1990s (delivered on optical media like CD-ROMs and DVDs which are supposed to last for decades), computer games from the 1980s and early 1990s were delivered on magnetic media like tapes or floppy disks and are now at the brink of extinction.

From a preservation point of view, tapes and floppy disks are a nightmare for several reasons:

1. Tapes and floppy disks constantly degrade, in two ways. First is the physical degradation of the orientation of the metal particles which form the magnetic field and store the data. This process is slow, and given the fact that the data is encoded digitally, it may be too late to do anything when reading errors occur. Reading errors happen when it has become difficult to decide if a particular bit is 0 or 1. Preservation should occur before it becomes a gamble to get a good read.

2. Second is the chemical degradation. The metal particles bound to the plastic platter of a floppy disk or the surface of a tape can come off the surface. In fact, in most cases the bonding will simply fall apart after years of temperature changes, moisture and other issues of improper storage. Record companies struggle with this problem when remastering old recordings and have developed a process called baking where the original master tape is actually put in an oven to rebind the coating to the transport material. After baking, playback is a one try only process because the media will fall apart after passing the playback head of the machine. While similar to the original is sufficient for analogue material, even a single misinterpreted bit in the digital world means instant failure.

3. While no user can actually press industry standard vinyl recordings, CDs or DVDs at home (recordable media can be spotted by simply looking at it), tapes and floppies can actually be written and modified with consumer-grade equipment. It takes a lot of expertise to distinguish a professionally replicated medium from a home made copy. Even if a disk was produced by a commercial replicator, it does not necessarily mean that disk is still authentic and appropriate for preservation. Apart from a game possibly being copied over the original (as we have seen many times to “fix” a broken disk), many games themselves persist some kind of save state or high score, thus changing or erasing data that was available on the disk in the first place. As soon as the disk has been modified in any way, the authenticity of that copy is put into serious doubt.

SPS has successfully mastered these challenges and developed software and hardware technology to deal with the problems arising during the preservation process. Founded by computer expert and preservation pioneer István Fábián in 2001 as CAPS (the Classic Amiga Preservation Society), our highly specialized team has more than nine years of field experience. SPS members have not only been involved in playing games on the machines which are regarded retro today, but were programmers and designers also responsible for some of the games and programs available on these platforms.

While our original disk imaging tools (working on e.g. a standard Amiga 1200 with a compact flash adapter) are still good and easy to use, we are currently moving on to a completely self-contained floppy controller “KryoFlux” developed by SPS that works with any modern PC via an USB connection. This does not only speed up imaging of disks, but also enables physical media restoration of any title preserved so far.

Preservation at SPS usually is a two step process. Contributors from all over the world can help imaging disks with our unique technology. At SPS, our experts then use the Softpres Analyser to investigate the disk structure and create an IPF (Interchangeable Preservation Format) file. Scripting allows a flexible, even game-specific, way of representing data when read by a tool, or when rewritten to disk. Often rather different methods are required to represent various disk formats or copy protection methods when intended to be read by e.g. an emulator or to be written back when restoring an original disk. Due to the high quality of the preservation technology, IPFs have become the de facto standard demanded by Amiga users when looking for unmodified images true to the original.

While disks themselves are the problem that needs to be addressed quickly while they are still readable, SPS is also striving for complete archival of manuals and boxes in the form of physical products as well as digital scans. As of today, SPS has digitally archived about 3000 games produced for the Commodore Amiga, but now also supports other computer platforms like Atari ST, CPC, Spectrum and the Acorn Archimedes, to name just a few. Complete support for other platforms, like the C64 (which is a real challenge due to a second “computer” built straight into the floppy drive) is in the works, but disk imaging of such material already works today. It is only a question of manpower when the data imaged will be ready for presentation in dedicated IPF files. Again, this is a race against time to protect gems of yesterday from fading into oblivion.

For more information visit http://www.softpres.org/

Contact the Software Preservation Society:

Softpres.org Germany
Christian Bartsch
email: cb@softpres.org

Softpres.org UK
Kieron Wilkinson
email: kieron@softpres.org

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If you want to see part of this article you can do so at SPS’s facebook page. If you want to see how their analyser software works view this facebook page. If you want to follow them through facebook click here to go to their fan page.

We must help in order to ensure that many games and programs we enjoyed in the past get preserved for generations in the future.