Sunday, December 09, 2018

MANDELST


MandelST is a new fractal generator developed in GFA Basic by Manos Kantzos (thanks to GeoAnas for the heads-up). I love messing about with funky fractals and this program is a cinch to use - which is a good thing for me!

Mandelbrot/Julia productions can be generated within moments but faster computers will certainly benefit from their extra grunt. Of course, emulators are a good idea unless you prefer to leave your ST on overnight! Images can be export as Degas PI1 or TIFF, which I think is extremely cool. Also, basic animations are possible which will take us deep into our freaky infinite mathematical world - what an absolutely stunning idea with great potential.

I've been having a play over the weekend and created some peculiar images and a nice animation I'm quite proud of. MandelST is a great program and it's superb to see something new coming out for the Atari ST so I'm hoping Manos continues to develop and improve upon it. Have yourself some geeky fun zooming in on infinite. I have!!


My Funky Creations


Saturday, December 08, 2018

Lupo Alberto


Do you remember the excitement when Lupo Alberto was released back in 2015? Well, today I've taken another look because I was contacted by Luca Stradiotto who supplied a cheat code that enabled me to get much deeper into this *difficult* game. Otherwise, I'd have never stood a chance! However, I got myself stuck and had to quit...

Lupo Alberto looks and sounds great but that push scrolling lets it down, especially when killed by something off-screen! But it's still good fun and the two-player co-op is a fantastic feature as is being able to change character. Overall, it's a shame that this was never released because I enjoy playing it. Well, until I got stuck!

 
 

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Clever & Smart


Magic Bytes released Clever & Smart back in 1987 which is a peculiar puzzler based on the original Spanish comic strip. We're in an odd city and appear to play as two special agents - who are controlled at the same time. Okay, they're hardly Mulder and Scully but these guys have been informed about a gifted scientist, Dr Bakterius, who is being held prisoner by a terrorist organisation called OMP. Yup, I guess it's our job to free him!

The city is viewed from above and exploring is quite a weird experience so watch out for odd characters lurking the streets - it usually ends in a brawl. Finding a cop won't help because they just disappear for some odd reason? I wandered around for a while until a car suddenly appeared with the sole purpose of running us down!

  
Terrorists are causing troubles again so let's plod through the city looking for clues... I think?

By chance, I entered the sewers through a manhole and found myself in a place that reminded me of an old ZX Spectrum game, Maziacs. I pottered about, dodging rats and silly cats, but there wasn't much else of interest other than to seek out an exit. Also, bumping into the walls displays a menu with two useless options, so I assumed I needed to find helpful items from in the city above? However, I found nothing in the three games I recorded...

Graphically, this sucks as it's almost like my Atari ST has been transformed into an Amstrad. This isn't a game you'll boot up to be blown away by gorgeous visuals and whoever created that shuffling walk (during the sewers scenes) should be shot!! Saying that I must admit some of the sprites are kinda cute and those brawls are a neat touch. Also, I wouldn't expect much from the old YM2149 other than the odd scratchy effects and annoying footsteps.

  
Wow, these sewers are bad but not as much as our shuffling walk. Funny looking sprites though!

Well, that was certainly one of the most unusual games I've ever played. Lots of careless walking about, wondering what to do and where to do - and then you get mowed down! Perhaps if I had the manual then things might have been different? However, many more hours would be needed on this bizarre puzzler and I'm not feeling the vibe. So, that's that. Anyone else played this and dying to educate this grumpy old retro gamer? Go on, I dare ya!

I hate to torture Y'all but if you fancy a go then grab yourself either the floppy or hdd versions. Good luck!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Another World


Another World was released by Delphine Software back in 1991 and I feel this 16-bit legend is groundbreaking and something everyone will fondly remember? Gameplay feels like a cross between Prince Of Persia with dollops of Dragon's Lair thrown in, which isn't something this old retro gamer would normally be too eager about. However, this beauty is going straight into our Pixel Art section thanks to the stunning visuals created by Eric Chahi.

Our adventure begins with a nice intro that nicely explains how our unfortunate hero, Lester Chaykin, managed to find himself in such a strange world. Okay, we're not talking Race Drivin' standards (and the elevator scene is boring) but it's definitely worth watching. I also like the sound effects which are a lot clearer using an Atari STe. Nice!

  
We start in deep waters so be quick before something reaches up! Hang on, what's that in the background?

  
Ugh! Slugs everywhere and I hate them but not nearly as much as this angry monster!!

There's no denying that Eric has created incredibly beautiful backgrounds for each and every area. Their abstract artistry is outstanding using a bleak, futuristic style which produces such an eerie environment. Characters are made using chunky polygons which are superbly animated. Just watch Lester run and jump his way through but he's a gullible chap so I dare you not to smile when he holds up his hand at the end of the first stage. Love it!!

It's attention to detail like this which is so impressive, like on the first screen with that ugly beast on a distant ledge who looks rather ominous - it then turns around and sees you. Scary stuff!! Also, when trapped in jail, I love to watch those distant prisoners working in the background. And what about when Lester flops to the ground after a slug slashes his leg? Brilliant stuff and Another World is surely one of the best-animated games from the early 90s?

  
Banged up with an odd-looking fella. Sadly, there is no obvious escape...

  
Another World is full of frustrating traps so watch where you walk - and how you jump.

Overall, this is such a classic adventure which I have loved and hated in equal measure. Sure, I marvel at the aesthetics but its gameplay is rather cruel and unforgiving which makes me scream out loud at my monitor!! I mean, something as simple as those floppy slugs on the first level, yet they killed me so many times...

However, it's because of the visuals why Another World takes its rightful place within our Pixel Art section. I hope you approve of my screenshots which I think help to demonstrate why I love these pixels so much? A truly wonderful game so grab yourself some of Eric Chahi's cartoon styles on either a floppy disk or for your hard drive.

  
Gunfights are fun but tough to master. I win the odd battle - just look at his singed corpse!


AtariMania has a great walk-through which is very helpful to frustrated games (like me!)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Jason C. Brooke

Many of us enjoy the gorgeous chipmusic from games like Out Run, Flying Shark, Vixen, Starquake and Overlander. These and others were all created by Jason C. Brooke and are also some of my most favourite tunes from the 80s.

I found Jason lurking on twitter so it wasn't long before I began stalking him for a mini-interview. Well, you know me!! Back in the day, I didn't realise that the same guy created each of these tunes so our chat was fascinating to discover he made the humble YM2149 perform far better than Atari had ever imagined.

I'd like to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to travel back in time 30+ years. Bless him for racking his brain when trying to remember old stories and the various jobs he worked on. He's a cracking fella and one I found to be extremely modest about his achievements. However, I fear he doesn't fully appreciate just how memorable he helped make certain games like Ikari Warriors as a belting example. I hope you guys enjoy this interview and if you wanna hear some of his works then head over to SNDH Records [an awesome digital recording of the SNDH Archive].



Jas C. Brooke - The Interview


How did you get started with computers?

As a kid, I was blown away by seeing a ZX81 obey a list of instructions: I'd encountered another 'computer' so began frantically saving up my paper round money to buy a ZX Spectrum. At the paper shop, there were magazines about these computers and I was hooked on the whole idea of programming.

I imagined that games programmers actually lived in a "software house" and spent their lives making machines do clever things. But before I met 'computers', I used to spend my teenage years writing music. So, when I was asked by a careers officer what I saw myself doing for a living, I naively replied that I wanted to be a music composer.

In response, I was informed that there were only probably two people in the whole country who earned a living from writing music and one of them was Andrew Lloyd Webber. OK - think again!



What 8-bit software did you create?

I knew of a lad at school who was called "Boffy" and he did weird stuff and it turns out that what he did was 'computing'. I ended up teaming up with him to write some Music Composing software for the Spectrum in 1984. He sent it to Melbourne House and they gave us £300 in advance because they wanted to market it. So that was my first encounter of the Games Industry, just around the time I was starting my A' Levels.

Melbourne House stepped back from the deal a few months later, but Boffy and I had spent our sixth form days on various projects and, by the end of my A' Levels, I'd started on my own - a Spectrum game called Plum Duff.

  
Plum Duff is not only a game I'd never played but I had never heard of it until this interview!! O_o

It was time to get a job, and my parents were suggesting things that sounded really boring. On the other hand, I'd heard there was a company in Manchester called Binary Design that were looking for Games Programmers - so I moved to Manchester in 1986 and started writing games, eventually selling Plum Duff to Bug-Byte. That was my first 8-bit game and my last was Feud. I asked Jason for more information because Feud was a favourite of mine:
[Feud] I was the sole programmer for the Amstrad version. We used to program all versions at the same time (I was working at Binary Design) and there was no organised sharing of code even though the CPC and Spectrum were both Z80. However, the Spectrum programmer adopted some of my code but only parts of the AI would have been the same, so I doubt they played very similarly.
  
I remember buying Feud which a couple of my mates and I loved - we played it to death, almost!!



Jason and Dave Whittaker join forces!

Binary Design's musician was David Whittaker and I loved hearing his music while games were being developed. Max Headroom was being written when I started there but people complained about how much processing time the music driver ate up. In 1987, Dave (who preferred 'David' I seem to recall, but we all called him Dave anyway!) had a conversation with me about writing a new driver. I'd done that sort of thing myself years before but somehow hadn't connected my experience with what I was currently doing. So I wrote a new, more optimised - shorter and faster - driver, with a few extra features. I think the first music to benefit from this was Dave's Glider Rider.

Then, Dave decided he was leaving Binary and I was offered his old job. But it wasn't long until I was also offered a joint Directorship by Dave who'd set up Musicon Design alongside the games company Icon Design - which was Binary's rival. Around this time, the Atari ST and Amiga were steadily joining the 8-bits as target machines for games development. In my own time, I wrote the driver which Dave used, then wrote conversions for Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, MSX, Atari 800, Atari ST, Amiga and PC. At one point, I recall noting that we'd written the music for 8 of the top 10 games. (I think days had more hours in them back in the 80's?)

When I worked alongside Dave at Musicon, if we got an arcade conversion come through, it was often me who ended up doing it. Dave preferred to do originals. Conversions like Outrun were done by the company sending an audio cassette tape with the music on, often taped from the arcade machine actually in an arcade. So there'd be lots of muffle, lots of background noise and lots of chance of the tape playing at the wrong speed so that the tempo I ended up with was not at all the same as the arcade original. Unfortunately, I didn't realise this at the time!

My job was to play a short part of the music and listen for the bass, the backing and the main tune. I might also have to make decisions about what to miss out because the arcade machine's hardware was far more sophisticated than the 3-channels of square waves and the white noise produced by the Atari ST's AY chip. But for games like Buggy Boy and Pacland, the original sound wasn't overly complex.






How was multi-platform music created?

All programmers at both Binary and Icon Design used a Tatung Einstein as a development system which had links to output the compiled code to Spectrum, C64, Amstrad and Atari 800. The ST and Amiga were different so, if I was writing music on the ST that I'd already composed for other AY-sound-chip-based systems, then I would port the musical data over to the Atari ST and work on it directly on there.

We didn't have MIDI or any fancy musical hardware or software. My drivers were written in the relevant assembler language for each target machine and the code was compiled and tested time and time again with music being typed in as "defined bytes". I simply gave each musical note a label like "c3" for 'c' on the third octave and "fs2" for 'f#' an octave down. Then there'd be labels for extra features to create chords and different 'instruments'.

I would then send the music to the programmers to help them implement the music. I've just found the instructions for Atari ST game Savage which is typical of the information I'd have sent for other games. The only thing I've changed in the following text is to * out the phone numbers because I don't know who'd own them now. [download].



Which Atari ST tunes are you most fond of?

It was interesting to take a peep back at what I've done on Atari ST. Outrun was an arcade classic and a relatively early conversion for me (from one of those audio tapes!). So I'm fairly fond of that one, though it is basically a port from Spectrum 128k. By the time I was asked to write some music for Overlander on the Atari ST, I had noticed that companies seemed to be asking me to do the music for games in the racing genre. I think this probably had something to do with Outrun so Overlander is one of my 'Outrun'-esque pieces.

Doing the bulk of the arcade conversions in the early days meant I had little chance to create my own tunes. Vixen was an early exception and so I'm fond of that, though I do think it's overly twee in the middle! And Savage was one I was fond of because it was all original music and I was given it over a number of platforms so I was able to spend more time on it than usual. When I look back at much of the music, it's with a knowledge that they could have been better: if I'd had two days instead of one or one full day instead of a half!

As for Resolution 101, that was just a basic "12 bar blues". We hardly ever knew what the style of a game was, merely guessing from the title. I'm not convinced that the music here fit the game and I don't think it was what the developers were quite after - but they went with it!






Any free time left to play?

At Binary Design in 1987, we had some arcade machines in the office, mainly because was being asked to convert them to home computers. I played Pacland quite a lot but at that point, I wasn't being asked to write the music, but the game (though that didn't happen). If a game looked like you had to spend time on it, I'd avoid it because I didn't have the time. I guess there were some puzzle games too but in short, I don't think I ever did much gaming!



Are there any long-lost unreleased tunes?

Yes, there was one piece I wrote called Dreadnaught but I haven't seen of that since. Also, I have this other note of a game "Chainsaw Warrior" which I must have written music for it as the two pieces both have how long they last - and NO music would last 0s! Sadly, these ST tunes are now long lost.
;Chainsaw
;Title tune "The chain"    1m 19s
;Game tune  "With Caution" 2m 08s


Do you listen to chip/music?

I rarely listen to music. I don't find it particularly restful, which may well be because I find myself listening out for the bass line, the main tune and whatever might be appropriate for that third channel!






Are you proud of your achievements?

I don't look back with pride at what I did because I was fortunate to be able to encounter those early days of Computer Games, especially from the mid to late 80's. From around '89, I was back into programming and did little music as I had moved into writing 3D games: F29 Retaliator (PC - DID/Ocean - and I wrote my own music for that one) and Darker (PC, Psygnosis/Sony). Then I joined Perfect Entertainment. I wrote some sound and video compression code for the Discworld games but otherwise, I moved away from music.

When I look back at my music-writing days, I smile at how the careers officers had told me I couldn't write music for a living and yet, by heading in the direction of Computer Games Programming, I ended up doing just that without even seeking it out. By 21 I had achieved my childhood dreams and got bored of it so the challenge of writing 3D games on a 12MHz 286 PC was my next goal.



Jason "at work" with Brian Beuken during the development of Ken Griffey's Slugfest in the late 90s.



So what's Jas up to these days?

As the games industry developed, it became less creative and less technically challenging. By the 2000's, programmers had become 'coders' just making the computer do what somebody ELSE said it should do. I'd moved on to Gameboy in '98 but when I ended up on XBox/Playstation II in 2002, there was little left that interested me.

I'd become a Christian in the 90's and my evaluation of life had changed. I knew that one day 'soon' I would step away from the industry, but it wasn't until 2003 that the day arrived. Personal circumstances, coupled with the unethical direction of the company in which I was working caused me to jump into something new.

I'd been studying Biblical texts from a 'programmers' perspective, noting how they interrelate, and observing certain structures which are part of ancient orality. Some of these structures are very like ones found in musical forms. I'd started to dig into this, effectively reverse-engineering the texts and working out how they developed. One thing has led to another, with new languages to deal with - Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic instead of Z80, 6502, 68000 etc.

The end result will be a piece of software that enables people to explore Scripture from a structural and developmental viewpoint rather than just linear words. The research has been immense, but I've never been involved in a project which has so great a potential for a valuable and longterm impact. Life has not just been an experience, but a development - to something that would have been off the radar and impossible for me to aim towards when I mentioned being a "music composer" back in my teenage years. It seems to me that God's plans were not my plans, just as my plans were not the plans of that careers officer.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Robotz


Once again, we find ourselves in deep space onboard a ship which has been invaded - by robots. However, they are the most sluggish robots I've ever known so how these brutes managed this is anyone's guess. Anyhow, as the last surviving crew member, we must eliminate them before they take over. This won't be easy because each room has electrified walls for instant death! (Hey, let's find some rubber gloves before we begin! No? ...sigh...)

  
Each level has a unique design so will demand lots of precious time to master the tighter areas.

Developed by P Fox of ProjectX, Robotz is kinda like a tactical remake of the Berzerk genre. Each of the rooms is different and populated by a number of randomly placed robots which follow your movements in their own specific order (use that to your own advantage). We are armed with a one-shot gun which is my only gripe because it's rather restricting! Especially as each robot is protected by a shield so your shots cannot destroy them but will stun for a few seconds. Ultimately, blast each generator into smithereens to leave the invading robots helpless!

  
Some levels have more freedom to move but some don't and thus are extremely tricky.

For a homebrew release, I must say that I adore the visuals which personally remind me of a cross between Xenon and Leavin' Teramis. The palette is gorgeously metallic and I love those shadows which add so much depth to the scenario. All sprites are simple but nicely detailed with good animation and I giggle at our protagonist's legs as he walks. Yeah, it's funny but nowhere near as entertaining as his "ouch" scream when losing a life (Grrr!!)

  
Sometimes it's easier to walk around... Oh no, the next level features TWO generators!

Thanks to ST Format, I think many have played Robotz but how long did you last before hitting the reset button? Personally, I think this is a cracking example of 16-bit Marmite but whether you will enjoy the stress and tension as much as I did is debatable. Yeah, Robotz is cruel yet tremendously addictive and highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Manic Miner

There are now 3 videos of ST Manic Miner which you can find on our YouTube Channel.

It gives me the greatest of pleasure to present Manic Miner for the Atari ST which has been InDev throughout much of the year by Peter Jørgensen. It's a brand new remake with redesigned graphics and funky music (sound effects still to be completed). Each and every one of the twenty screens is included but there will also be a few surprising extras which I'm very excited about. However, we’re keeping these under wraps for the time being.

Please do note, this a WIP and thus unfinished. As you will soon see, each level faithfully follows the same design mechanics of the original but don't for a second think this means we have a boring carbon copy ripoff. Willy's adventure has received a cool 16-Bit makeover with beautiful YMT audio and each screen has been designed with a painstaking attention to detail. Before you ask, yes the gameplay will remain authentic to the old 8-Bit days.

Keeping this project quiet from my friends was very tough but beta testing each release over the last few months has been a joy. It's so impressive to see how it has transformed from a (cruel) joke into a fully playable game. The final version is only weeks away so you know where to go when the download is released - watch this space :-)

Update - the latest *beta* is now available to download via the Demozoo website!!

  
Wacky Amoebatrons and The Endorian Forest not only have cool names but are favourites of mine.

  
Can you complete all twenty screens without cheating? Luckily, beta testers have extra lives!!


A few words from Peter...

I wrote Manic Miner because I have a friend that was very sad that this platformer didn’t exist for the ST. So I thought that I would make him happy and began drawing the title picture which soon lead me onto designing the intro screen - but I only wanted to make a prank for April 1st. Sadly, I did not finish in time. Then the idea started to continue on with the programming and see what happens. However, I’ve not made a game in decades because life always got in the way but I wanted to do this remake just to stop my friend from crying. So you could say that this is a Manic Miner AtariCrypt Edition!

My goal was to make the gameplay feel as close to the original as I possibly could but still take advanced of the Atari ST's hardware. Thus, this is a remake rather than a conversion because I have not used a single piece of the original code. I have spent many hours analysing each level, and I’ve used the original sprites and recoloured them but some needed minor changes to work. The map graphics were changed in a big way, to what I think was the idea was behind each level. I played the MSX version so I could see how the game acts and I also think this is close to the Speccy original.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the results and I hope people enjoy playing Manic Miner again :-)

  
The Vat has a change of colour and the Kong Beast looks like he's blowing kisses! (sorry Peter) ;p

  
Kong Beast returns for a tougher battle... but... Argghhh, I hate those annoying freaky telephones!