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Saturday, April 17, 2021

50 ST games you have to play


A new Atari ST book!

I know, I know, I'm late to the party for this new goodie - a brand new book by non-other than Karl Morris to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Atari ST. A flabbergasting 50 games are featured along with segments for point & click games, Jeff Minter, how to emulate an ST, YM2149 chip. Oh, and I particularly enjoyed the Ad Breaks!

Karl begins with a heartwarming dedication to the passing of his friend and fellow Atarian, Curt Vendel. An introduction then begins to offer an extraordinary insight into the entire era of just what makes the Atari ST everything we love: from its early years, the people, events, stories, hardware, technology, and specifications. I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into the mid-80s and also something that I'll probably read a number of times.

Arghh, somebody's broken up my beautiful Atari ST in pieces!!


Get to the games!

Okay, you all know how much I love my Atari ST, and this is my era of "Atari" so, I was expecting only good things and the book does not fail to impress. Starting with the earliest, we have the timeless classic Time Bandit to begin his 16-Bit gaming journey. Later, there are beauties like Operation Wold (Arcade Conversions), Dungeon Master (Adventures), Backlash (shoot 'em ups), Supremecy (Strategy), Vroom (Sports) and much more.

But wait, not only is there the usual selection but also a raft of games traditionally ignored, which was a lovely surprise. I was pleasantly shocked to see greats like Sentinel, Corruption, Masterblazer, Beyond Zork, Stardust, Backlash and Lode Runner. Karl is obviously a guy who loves to play Atari and that shines through.

Hang on, I didn't see Resolution 101!! (Okay, I'll stop that now! I don't want to be one of those people lol)


The book has a number of cool ads and I'd forgotten about this for Defender of the Crown!


Same old same old?

We've seen dozens of magazine articles and books so this had to offer something extra special. Thankfully, this is a book that is well-made with a chic style and presentation that is nothing short of excellent. The writing style is engaging and from a perspective that is both insightful and fun to read. Content is both predictable and unexpected so it doesn't fall into the trap of featuring the same old games we've already seen a million times.

Each of the games is presented in a format that I really admire rather than defaulting to a meaningless Top 50 chart show. All are split into segments of genre which makes finding what you need a cinch. I also liked the layout with photos of title screens, box art and other tidbits displayed as a funky GEM window. Ad Breaks feature often and are a nostalgic reminder of how the Atari ST magazines once captivated our imagination. Love it!!


The other books and goodies by Zafinn are magnificent - I feel like a BIG kid on Christmas morning!


The CryptO'pinion?

I think you can already guess how thrilled I am to own yet another Atari ST publication. I've found it to be an enjoyable read which I'll return to time & time again. However, the AtariCrypt website failed to get mentioned, but I can forgive Karl because he managed to get Atari Legend's website wrong - twice!! (Oops, I'm so sorry Maarten!).

But seriously, this is the bee's knees and for a meagre €35 it's incredibly good value. Sadly, I believe the available stock is running low so now is the time to act if you want a copy. My sincere gratitude to Karl for holding onto a copy for me over the last few months - I love the extra goodies, especially the fridge magnets!!

Come on folks, grab yourself a copy of this wonderful new Atari ST book from the Zafinn Books website.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #AtariSTe



It's finally here, folks!!

After months in development, the time has now come to ditch your PC and dust off the old Atari. Yes, a public release of the Atari STe upgraded Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge will be available to download from tomorrow - April 10th. The only caveat is that your computer requires 1MB Ram and a working floppy disk drive.

The plan was to update Lotus with features missing from the original ST release. Jon added sky rasters, revamped roadside details and boosted the framerate. He later used the Blitter Chip to crunch those car sprites and smoothly scroll the landscape which delivered even more speed. Jamie Hamshere worked on the DMA audio to ditch the horrendous sound effects. As you can imagine, the end result of all this effort is staggering.

I'd like to thank Jon for all his hard work and for sharing what he created each step of the way. It's been great to follow, a fascinating experience and tons of fun. I would like to thank Jamie & Masteries for their incredible DMA skills; I'll never forget the first time I played Lotus with sampled sound effects alongside the chip music.

Downloads will be available from tomorrow morning via AtariMania. Well, that's my weekend sorted - enjoy!


One day I'll get myself a sports car and I'll live the game for real. One day...


Did you know?

The new Lotus Esprit actually works on the Atari ST and features nice sky rasters, faster gameplay and more. The only caveat is the 1MB Ram and also a Blitter Chip (check the Options menu in GEM if you're unsure!). All Mega ST's meet these requirements and late-model STFM's have an empty socket... Feeling tempted to upgrade?

Worried that you don't have a working floppy disk at hand? Well, the download is compatible with floppy disk replacements and can also run off hard drive/ultrasatan using programs like Floppy Image Runner.

The 16MHz Mega STe can run Lotus at dizzy speeds - just hold down the SHIFT key at bootup. Also, if you're missing the peculiar YM effects then press the ALT key at bootup to disable the DMA samples.

Finally, if you have extra hardware connected to your Atari STe, like hard drives, then power it off. Do not try leaving the hard drive on and attempt to bypass its auto-booting. Power it off and cold boot the computer.


Check it out, I made the high score table. Honest, I swear I did... ahem!!


Preview Release Timeline Updates (for reference)

Exciting news alert folks!! Massive progress is being made to the Atari STe upgrade of Lotus Esprit Turbo and I have been given the latest development releases that feature DMA sound samples alongside that gorgeous chipmusic. The roaring samples are taken from an unknown computer made sometime in the mid-80s.

Sorry, I forget its name. Amoeba or something silly? Not sure...

Anyhow, I've made a few video recordings to flaunt each release. All credit to Jonathan Thomas and Jamie Hamshere & Masteries (for DMA audio) for their hard work with each new release. Don't worry, the fantastic chipmusic remains as an option and the DMA playback has no negative effect on framerate. Great work lads, keep it up!!

For reference, here are the links from each development build history I've received:

Apr 10th - It's finally here to download from AtariMania!!
Mar 31st - video #6 Player two has sky gradient, Blitter scrolls the landscape per pixel, more audio refinements and a higher framerate!
Mar 28th - video #5 Portugal track (audio sample for the intro and many improvements made to the volume balance of YM/DMA.
Mar 21st - video #4 Practice track with a massive change to the audio. Lotus can play play DMA sound effect samples alongside the glorious Ben Daglish chip music!!! Volume refinements to come thanks to Jamie...
Mar  7th - video #3 Iceland track (DMA sfx).
Feb 28th - video #2 Mexico track (chip music).
Feb 21st - video #1 Italy track (chip sound effects).
Feb 21st - website feature with information, specs, photos, etc.. :-)
Dec 24th - Jon posted on Atari-Forum about his Lotus plan!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Sophélie



It's all bums and boobs!

Sophelie was once a goddess of heaven but has since been vanquished and left to roam the lands searching for her body. Why I hear you cry? Well, some kind soul has turned her into an albatross so she now spends her time flying through worlds looking to find her original appearance. As storylines go, this is silly, to say the least!

Yep, this is a horizontally-scrolling shooter not too dissimilar to the typical R-Type or Menace. However, this time we're not killing monsters or aliens but instead some of the weirdest things that you might never have expected to see; planets, snowmen, wolf heads, giant eyeballs and even trees. The landscapes are lush with colourful and angels will appear to help at regular intervals. Hey, this is starting to sound really great, right?

Well, let's take a look at some screenshots from the first level...


Yep, giant eyeballs are coming for you and are actually tough to kill too!

Now, this is getting silly! What have the trees ever done to you?

Let's kill the planet? No literally by shooting down rotating planet Earth's!!


Spit, don't shoot!

We begin with the (ugly?) hand of God safely delivering us to each world ready for battle. These worlds are split into several segments with each having its own brand of enemy who is all too eager to see you dead. Each will swarm with its own style of attack pattern and might even shoot at you - the Earth fires mini-planets!

Some of the nasties are far too easy to kill whereas others are quite impossible thanks to the rate at which we shoot. It's too low, so this makes killing certain enemies quite impossible because they move too quickly in comparison to what we're able to shoot. Dying can be a bit troublesome especially when you materialise too close to an enemy and therefore instantly die. Invulnerability could easily have been utilised for a second or two to fix that!

Angels visit after each of the segments to offer a power-up and these are pretty much essential from the start. Miss them, and the following swarm of enemies is quite impossible to beat. Also, dying baddies might sometimes throw out an extra power-up, but these fall off the screen before you've had a chance to even think about collecting them. Finally, there is a time limit to kill everything which is very peculiar, to say the least.

Let's now take a peep at some screenshots from the second world...


Some of the sprites are freaky... freaky-cool!

I can't make out whether these are balloons or floating severed-heads!

Damn snowmen, they all deserve to die!! O_o


Aesthetics?

Visually, this isn't too bad with colourful palettes, funky sprites racing across the screen and smooth parallax scrolling running at a brisk pace. In fact, I love the level of detail that's gone into the sprite's artwork the most: Sophelie's animation is superb and never have I played a game with such a whacky variety of enemies!

Sadly, the audio is disappointing with a fuzzy theme tune and near-silent gameplay. Well, apart from the death kill sound effect and a strange background whistle. Overall, it's shocking because the YM is far more capable.

Well, that was a mixed bag alright so let's take a peep at the third world...


These are insanely difficult to kill, if not impossible without losing all your lives!

He's big. He's bad. He's about to be brown bread!!

Hey, a power-up appears from a dying beast yet you have no chance of collecting it!


The CryptO'pinion?

On a basic level, this isn't a bad shoot 'em up. The levels are colourful, the baddies look great zipping across the screen and the action is constant. Also, I like how angels regularly appear with a gift to improves your chances of winning. However, this is also one of the most boring games I've ever booted up. The graphics might change but the gameplay is bland and repetitive so becomes tiresome. And then there's the audio... Ugh, terrible!

It's an understatement to say that there are better Atari ST shooters. Sophélie looks nice, sounds awful and doesn't bring anything new to the table but there are boobies so perhaps it's worth it after all? Nah...


- DOWNLOADS -


8BitChip has Sophélie ready to run from your hard drive.
Stonish and Old Games Finder has the floppy disks.


Oh no, another grisly death beautifully laid out. Interesting artwork!

Monday, March 15, 2021

TRS-80 emulator



Let's go back to the days of Starsky & Hutch and Asteroids!

Most people might think it's pretty stupid to emulate a retro computer using a retro computer? Thankfully, not me because I've found something rather incredible called 2nd Life. It's a TRS-80 Model III emulator by Sander Berents and is something I stumbled on purely by chance so figured I should give it a playtest.

Now, I've never actually used a TRS-80 so I imagine not many made it outside of the US? Anyhow, Tandy and RadioShack released the first model in 1977 and it was a huge hit for those wealthy enough to have lots of spare cash. Back then, I would have been six years old and too young to care about something like this :-)


It's sadly-impressive that something this good was released when most of us had left the Atari world!


What's a RadioShack?

Like you, I love my Atari ST, even when it pretends to be something else, be that a Sinclair, Commodore or even a peculiar clunk of hardware by RadioShack (I used to love the Tandy stores). Anyhow, a TRS-80 emulator sounded far too tempting not to boot up so I read the docs and hit the web to learn how to operate this ancient beast.

First things first, do read the docs and take a look at the FAQ text file to understand which options to enable/disable for the best performance and compatibility settings. You will also find two more disk images with compiled and BASIC games but you'll be best with a 16MHz computer to enjoy something close to native speeds.

2nd Life requires ST High resolution and is very easy to use. Along the bottom of the screen, are four floppy disk drive icons - click to highlight Drive 0 and use that as the TRS operating system boot drive. The second drive icon can be used for anything like games or other images that you may have downloaded from the net.


One of the first things I booted up was Donkey Kong. Okay, it looks terrible but plays well.


Old but not that much different...

Using the TRS-80's DOS commands feels a little quirky but is fairly easy to learn. For example, DIR will display the directory of a disk and it can be expanded with extra options and filters, as you'll see in the video:

DIR 0 - will produce the contents of Drive 0
DIR 1 - will produce the contents of Drive 1. Easy, right?
DIR 1,/BAS - this displays the same list but filters for BAS files.
CAT 1 - this provides an alternative way to load programs!

We're gonna get a little more complex now but it's worth it to watch the dancing alien:

BASIC RUN "DANCING/BAS,1"

The command looks worse than it actually is. Breaking it down, this simply instructs the computer to load up the BASIC program. Then that will load/run the file "DANCING/BAS" which is stored on Drive 1. Easy!



Sea Dragon is a terrible mess of ZX81 blockiness but it is a brilliant shoot 'em up!


Get to the games already!

Ultimately, we're here to play some TRS-80 games and I gotta tip my hat to this old piece of 70s kit. There are some great games in its library and there's a good reason I chose Sea Dragon as the video thumbnail. Like any old computer, there's a wealth of vintage games from the era: Pacman, Invaders, Frogger, and so on. I'm a geek, so I enjoyed the thrill of playing with something that's almost as old as me. No rude comments, please!

Performance-wise, the humble 8MHZ Atari ST will successfully emulate and run everything you throw at it. However, it's going to struggle with the games as it's simply not fast enough. Personally, my Mega STe is the basic and minimum requirement and produces near-perfect speeds, generally speaking. So, 8MHz will be fine but 16MHz will get you gaming. Hardly a shock and just the same as with other emulators we have within our library...

Don't forget to read the docs as README.TXT is there for a reason... Okay, I'll nag no more!


Yes, this really is Frogger. Hopper has awful collision detection but is a pretty good game.


Games! Give me games!

One of the best games I played was Sea Dragon, which is a fantastic scramble through watery canyons. Sadly, I wasn't impressed with Penetrator that struggled with jerky graphics and twitchy controls. It was a shock to see a chunky version of Donkey Kong with huge black and white blocks but the gameplay is superb and that's what matters. However, the blocks worked great for Armored Patrol and the wealth of PacMan games!

There are a few games bundled with 2nd Life and many are great but sooner or later you will want more. Thankfully, there are some great websites with disk images stuffed full of games and I managed to find racers, lots of different Space Invaders, Zork and even Temple of Apshai - which is nothing at all like the Atari ST version and its "turn-based" element caught me off-guard, in a nice way. But boy, is it slow - even on a real TRS-80. Yikes!

Most (all?) disk images found on the internet won't be compatible with the Atari ST. Thankfully, Sander has a utility to convert these for 2nd Life and it works a treat from what I've seen so far. Hence, how I got to play Hamburger Sam, Berserk, erm Robot Attack and the sluggish Temple of Apshai.


He might not be yellow but he's on the TRS-80 as Gobbler!


The CryptO'pinion?

I initially expected the TRS-80 to be nothing more than a cumbersome piece of ancient hardware that I wouldn't particularly enjoy. I couldn't be more wrong, this is a machine that appears to have more power and versatility than I would ever imagine. It's a great computer and it's no wonder those plucky Americans snapped it up!

2nd Life is an equally fantastic piece of software and I'm impressed how well it runs in terms of its speed and compatibility. The inclusion of a utility to convert disk images into a format that 2nd Life can recognise is a wonderful addition and opens up the possibility of playing everything there is. Techies can go further: font editor, altering the keyboard layout, linking computers via parallel ports and even tinker with a disassembler debugger...

The TRS-80 is a great machine and it is so impressive to see the Atari ST flip back in time so easily and reliably. This is a fantastic emulator - however - you will need a >16Mhz computer to start gaming like its 1977 and my Mega STe felt close to the speed of a real TRS-80 (from what I've seen online). I have really enjoyed using 2nd Life and I'd love to hear what hardware and performance you guys are getting, so let me know in the comments below.

GitHub has the download which includes the source code for those uber-geeks amongst us :-)



- MORE GAME SCREENSHOTS -



Look what I found and it's quite different to the Atari ST game. Quick, kill the Ant Man!!


This is Astro and it's a BASIC game. No, I mean it's written in BASIC and it's good.


Hamburger Sam, based on BurgerTime but felt more like Mr Wimpy to me. Love it.


This is Speedway and it's kinda like an early Spy Hunter or Major Motion. Hmm...


Runner demands quick control action - you'll regret not reading the FAQ text file!


I only ever played Penetrator on the ZX Spectrum... and this isn't as good!


Hang on, is that Berserk? No, it's Robot Attack and completely different. Honest.


Limit Zero is absolutely superb and something you should play!!


ScarfMan? Okay, it's getting silly now...


Lunar Lander is a cracking conversion but too slow for an 8MHz ST to handle.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Frenetic



Cor Blimey!

Those with a good memory may remember seeing Frenetic here on AtariCrypt about five years ago but my review was, ahem, less than favourable. If I remember correctly, the graphics were nice and I thought the gameplay was well-balanced yet I oddly rated it as nothing more than a cheap & nasty Amiga port. Well, that was a long time ago and I figured that I needed to revisit Core's vertically-scrolling shoot 'em up. Let's see if I was wrong...

Frenetic transports us slap-bang into the 23rd Century with soulless scientists still debating over the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Well, as often happens in the world of sci-fi gaming, life on Earth is under attack and this time it's by pesky aliens from a planet called "Mozone". Hmm, anyhow it's our duty to head into the unknown to pave way for the safe travel of earth's vessels and help prevent the extinction of humanity. Sounds like fun?


Giant trees and rocks throughout level one and it's pretty much green throughout!


Big levels, Big Guns and Big Monsters. Gameplay?

There are eight ginormous levels stuffed with hundreds of aliens out for human blood. Some will stroll into your line of fire whereas others swirl majestically onto the screen so bang on the fire-button and kill as many as is possible. Power-ups are available along the way to upgrade your ship's firepower and can also bless that with different types of upgrades: improved forward firepower, speed, side-armaments, shields, etc. Sadly, the pickups areas are few, so I was often left vulnerable and underpowered after losing a life. Yes, all power-ups are gone after dying.

Hang on a moment, do you have a friend? Well, there is an option for two-players which is brilliant and certainly comes in handy on those harder levels. Sadly, I have no friends... Sniff... boohoo...

Finally, each stage has the expected end of level boss and they are huge beasts. When I say huge I really do mean it. They will take lots of time and firepower to defeat, but most aren't really that difficult unless you have previously lost your power-ups. Then you can expect the battle to last a long time... a very long time!


Later levels might look funky but the gameplay remains exactly the same!


Aesthetics

The backgrounds are generally excellent on most levels, especially the first using tons of colour with artwork that I liked. The enemies move spritely using different patterns and the bosses are ginormous creatures taking up most of the screen. Sadly, the scrolling isn't great and the ST has many vertically-scrolling shooters that move much better than they do here. The graphics look better in these screenshots compared to when actually playing.

Music is by Martin Walker and is great, I love it!! Not only that, but it works well alongside the sound effects too I thought. Sadly, that same tune plays throughout which is incredibly disappointing and a massive shame because Martin's one-track is quite excellent. I know I would have enjoyed listening to more from him...


Some of the bosses are great and some are... rather rubbish!


The CryptO'pinion?

Well, it looks like I wasn't wrong after all? At best, this is an average shoot 'em up but, if you can find a friend then it will be a little more bearable. Well, for a few games anyhow. Frenetic needed more progression, more power-ups, more pizzazz. It's boring. So boot up something like Xenon, Wings Of Death, SWIV or Flying Shark.

What I liked: the first couple of levels have well-balanced gameplay and I even reached the third stage - without cheating believe it or not! However, the best feature of all is the two-player mode which is fantastic and certainly helps to (partially) compensate for the things I am now about to moan about.

What I didn't like: the power-ups are desperately needed to defeat the bosses but these are lost after losing a life and new pick-ups are very scarce. Each level is a long slog without variety, excitement or progression and the repetative tune becomes irritating. Basically, I'm getting a nasty whiff of a cheap Amiga port.

Reading this back, I feel that I'm being too harsh or perhaps I'm in a bad mood today? Okay, am I wrong? Is this a great shoot 'em up and I'm talking rubbish? Let me know what you guys think in the comments below.


Rob & Lee, coder and artist for Frenetic. Gee whiz thanks, guys. A lame ending screen too!

Friday, March 05, 2021

Yet Another Atari RAM Test


Got a spare couple of hours?

It's been yonks since I posted anything in our Software section and here is a Ram testing utility that I think is the bee's knees. Yet Another Atari RAM Test, by Christian Zietz, rolls through a number of intense tests that execute in-depth algorithms to help diagnose potential problems with our beloved Atari computers.

I won't pretend to understand the technical wizardry but I love finding utilities like this. I want my ST healthy so, I've had it running for what feels like a lifetime and it's not (yet) found any errors. This is excellent news but I'm also thinking that this program might be helpful to anyone experiencing anomalies or peculiar crashes.

Yes, I enjoy finding nifty programs like this lurking in the ST archives and I hope YAART proves helpful if you're suffering hardware problems? The download comes ready to support the ST/STe/TT/Falcon but take a moment to read the text file and also try to boot cleanly with as much spare Ram as possible (read YAART.TXT)

I hope you guys have healthy Atari computers? Let me know in the comments below. Good luck!!