The 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X

 the 8-bit book cover

 

The aptly titled 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X (link) is the third and final book of the Golden Years trilogy by excellent indie publisher hiive books. It is thus complimentary to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64books and, as expected, follows their template, though simultaneously changing and broadening their focus. The 8-bit Book, you see, covers over 200 games released for such diverse machines as the BBC Micro, the Amstrad CPC, the VIC-20, the MSX, the Dragon 32, the Oric-1, my personal favourite Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, the Atari 8-bits, Sinclair’s ZX81, the Apple II and even the Sam Coupe. Not that the Speccyand the C64 are ignored, mind; far from it. It’s just that only games that were missed from the previous books are dealt with. Oh, and don’t expect any consoles in the book. This is all about the glory of the 8-bit micros.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. The first nine each cover one year worth of games, while the last one all those late 90s releases. Interestingly, every chapter starts with a prologue that briefly describes each period, whereas the book begins with an excellent foreword by David Braben of Elite fame.

8 bit book repton page

 

As is the case with the rest of the books of the series, each page of The 8-bit Book covers one game and presents it complete with all the relevant info you might care for, a description of the game and an eclectic selection of pictures covering everything from screenshots, to game boxes, to cartridges and loading screens. As for the accompanying text itself, it’s very well written and higly informative, not only describing the game itself, but also (among other things) providing behind the scenes information, mentionig reviews of the era, sequels and even remakes. I guess that by having a look at the freely available ZX Spectrum Book you’ll have a not-so-rough idea of what to expect.The games covered range from well known classics like 3D Monster Maze, Elite and Miner 2049er, to platform specific hits such as Frak!, Get Dexter and TI Invaders, to less played versions of well known games such as Manic Miner for the Sam Coupe, to brilliant obscurities like Forty Miner and everything in between. What’s more, The 8-bit Book has quite a few articles on games from every conceivable genre, almost equally covering all included formats and even sporting a few oddities that showcase the creativity and imagination of 8-bit developers.

All in all, expect a truly varied read that effortlessly jumps from nostalgia to gaming history and even touches on design philosophy. You can order a copy, find out more and see a preview of The 8-bit Book 1981 to 199X here.

 

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.