Saturday, December 26, 2020

Hero Quest

A board game? Meh, no thanks...

HeroQuest is one of those ST games I've seen mentioned many times yet, somehow I've never bothered with it. That's probably because it's a board game and I'm not exactly a fan of those (except Monopoly!). The ST adaptation is modelled on that turn-based board game and retains a similar look using an isometric perspective. So, having never experienced Hero Quest, I attacked it with a fresh pair of eyes not knowing what wonders to expect.

Our adventure takes place in Morcar's castle. He's an evil wizard with an army of monsters: Orcs, Zombies, Mummys, Goblins, etc. Thankfully, four valiant warriors have signed up for 13 torturous quests in order to defeat him. That means plunging the castle's depths to battle all kinds of monsters, avoiding hidden traps, and grabbing loot or anything else which might heed the journey. Let's be honest, whatever the story, I'm in. Now, where did I put my sword?

Okay, before we begin, I think we need to see a couple of screenshots. What glorious isometric graphics...

An Elf enters the room much to the delight of the Wizard who punches the air with joy.

This is when being a midget helps, sneak up on your prey and club him to death!

Choose your warrior!

We begin by picking a preferred warrior(s) from four different races - Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf and Wizard. Before rushing off on the first quest, you should consider who you want to be and why because they each have their own different types of strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Even dice rolls, but more on that later.

The Barbarian is built for strength and is a trooper during the bloodiest of melee battles. Stumpy the dwarf is quite strong and also the crafty one of the bunch who uses handy skills to compensate his shortcomings. Elves and Wizards are physically weaker but the clever lads of the group. They use their brains to cast an array of magical spells without running the risk of having to get up close and personal.

Whether you're solo or not, there is an option to choose another character instead of heading out as the Lone Ranger. It's optional but, there are obvious benefits of having friends accompany you on the journey into the castle's terrors. It's here that you can also name your plucky hero and spend cash in the shop to buy weapons, armour, etc. Finally, there is the possibility to nurse a tired adventurer back to full health, but at what cost?

I suggest playing with two characters: the Barbarian is rock solid and the Elf is an all-rounder who offers the chance to experiment with magic. Umm, okay the Dwarf is a good option especially with traps or if something is blocking the way. The Wizard? Well, superb with spells but a bit too squishy for my liking!

Let's take a gander at a couple more screenshots with some rather spine-chilling monsters...

Excellent!! His back is turned and he's unaware I'm here so let's kill him. Wait, I see a chair...?

Oh no, the door slams shut behind you on this quest and the room appears not too friendly!!

Go on a crusade!

Next, decide which of the 13 quests to attempt - they're all different and listed in order of (more or less) their difficulty. Actually, there are 14 quests and the first is basically a trainer that offers a fantastic chance to learn the fundamentals of exploration and combat: the objective is simply to escape, and the quickest adventurer is rewarded with loot which can be used in the shop for the next mission. Use this quest to master the mechanics of HeroQuest.

Whatever quest you decide on, the gameplay is incredibly similar to the original board game. Each player takes a turn by throwing dice to determine the number of action points - used to walk, perform searches and fight the ghouls. Actually, in the case of the Atari ST game, we spin coins but it's the same difference. However, there are limitations to this method; searching for treasure (or hidden doors) can only be performed once during a player's turn. Lastly, the monsters are then moved by the evil Morcar for his turn - which is automatically controlled by your lovely Atari ST.

Well, it's that time again when I break up the boring text with some screenshots. Enjoy these...

Ha ha, you can see me but you can't reach me! Hmm, perhaps it's time for a little magic?

The map is an extremely useful tool and even identifies the monsters. Ugh! A Chaos Warrior?

Come on, a board game... Really?

Yes, and all quests take place on a different level of the same castle - but they all feature many rooms and corridors laid out in a grid formation. Exploration is performed using the direction arrows (or clicking on the desired tile) and the map is an incredibly helpful tool that displays the parts of the castle you have visited along with monsters and objects. It's also great when something doesn't feel quite right, perhaps there's a secret room? Don't forget to search for loot but remember that this castle is riddled with traps and scary monsters so watch your back and tread carefully.

Expect the usual creatures prowling; Orcs, Skeletons, Zombies, Mummys, Fimirs, and many more. All are controlled by the evil wizard hiding inside your 68000 and their actions are executed after the heroes have completed theirs. The computer isn't always offensive and this can present an alternative strategy option. Also, if walking away from a battle is an option then take it because it's not always necessary to fight each and every monster! Think about that.

Seriously, this is one cool board game and something I need to check out. But first, some more screenshots...

We're all playing a game and the first one to blink gets zapped by a fireball!!

I knew it was too good to be true. Sometimes this game is very cruel O_o

Gimme icons!

The user interface is excellent and helps you to explore and interact (comparatively) with your surroundings. The current player has his image displayed top/left along with their attributes for action points, health, mental ability and cash. The icons near the bottom of the screen might look a little confusing but they're easy to learn:

1) The shield with an arrow allows you to end your turn.

2) The shield with a sword begins a fight against a chosen monster.

3) Bunch of keys - use these to unlock doors if you want!

4) The door with a question mark performs a search for what might be lurking nearby, like traps and hidden doorways. Works well with the map when things appear a little 'off'.

5) The opened bag is used to perform a search for treasure (kept by that particular player).

6) Satchel - this is the inventory and features the extra equipment a character can use.

7) Map - I'm sure this one is pretty obvious but is something you should use!

8) Directional arrows - use these to explore the castle (or click the tiles instead).

This is a fantastic quest and is quite the nervy rush getting Sir Ragnar back home safely.

Oh cr+p!! This is Ulag, the Orc Warlord and yes, he did kill me...

Clash Of The Titans

Nobody enters Morcar's castle without expecting a fight with something unholy and it's a bonus leaving any room unhurt, albeit in blood-splattered clothing! He has many gruesome creatures walking the corridors so it's not long until something comes looking for you - all are controlled by Morcar. Ie, your lovely Atari ST.

A skirmish in HeroQuest isn't exactly what I expected of an 'RPG'. Firstly, a battle can only happen against a foe who is on an adjacent tile and that fight is presented on a separate screen. However, there isn't anything to do as the computer rolls special dice for attacking/defending characters - skulls (for attack) and shields (for defence). So, if the monster has more skulls than you have shields, then that difference is deducted from your health. Likewise, if you are attacking and happen to have more skulls than the monster has shields then, you win.

This system might work for the board game but isn't what I initially expected. Especially as each player has a different amount of dice: Wizard = 1, Dwarf and Elf = 2 and Barbarian = 3. What is quite peculiar is when neither side rolls successfully so they both stand idle doing nothing more than staring at each other! Actually, that is quite annoying as I feel it's a missed opportunity which could leave you somewhat vulnerable before the next turn.

Zombies never fail to impress and they're also in Hero Quest if you scroll down a little...

An unsuspecting Zombie victim but I've not got enough action points left...

No problem because his attack was fairly weak so I came back stronger and killed him!

Clash Of The Mages!

Elves and Wizards have a different style to their combat thanks to range attacks as magical spells. All magic can be used against any enemy currently within the same location, so that means you don't need to be close in order to attack an opponent. The ability to team/work should now start to prove its worth to all players?

Magic comes in a huge variety to attack or hinder the enemy in some way. You can even help or hinder one of your party if you so desire. Each type of spell is grouped into four categories: air, wind, fire, and earth providing a separate style of magical ability. There is no in-game help so it's best to experiment to see what you prefer.

Along with spells to replenish health and harden defences/strength, there are also many nifty alternatives:

1) Tempest blows a torrent of wind around your foe thus confusing them so they lose a turn. Perhaps this is something you might wish to use on a fellow team 'mate'? :-)

2) The Genie spell is actually quite incredible and can pack a humongous punch.

3) Ball Of Flame and Fire Of Wrath are two spells that provide powerful attack options. Both could potentially turn an Orc into a pile of dust very easily.

4) But what if you happen to wander into a room that's full of monsters? A good spell might be Courage which will help give you that much-needed adrenalin boost!

5) Pass Through Rock is incredible and an unmistakenly selfish, albeit cunning ability!

That's more like it!! Unfortunately, I'm in a room with a Chaos Warrior...

Sometimes magical spells fall short of the mark so run to the nearest Barbarian for help!

Help, I'm confused!

You shouldn't be. To succeed in HeroQuest you should take it slow and be that careful explorer who wants to survive and reap all the rewards. Remember to search each room thoroughly for anything that may help. Especially the hidden loot which is spent on upgrading weapons and other stuff for the later quests.

The quests are all very different but the ultimate goal is to follow the instructions and complete what's required before safely escaping. Personally, I prefer to be the Barbarian as I'm more of a melee kinda guy but I do sometimes require the assistance of another teammate to increase my chances of survival (they're collateral damage!)

Hero Quest isn't a difficult game to master and is a lot of fun, especially with family.

Spend your plundered booty on something useful for the next quest.

Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into! Try, try again...


Most definitely! I love the isometric style as each room looks superb using a strong palette which is nothing you would expect a wizard's lair to look like. But, it works. The characters look amazing with incredible detail and I think the Mummys are the best - but I also love the Skeletons with their scythe! Sadly, animations are fine but should have been better, especially for walking. Oh, and the battles are nothing more than a sword slap in the face!

Bangin' Beats?

Well, the sound effects are basic; a fuzzy shuffle for walking plus a few chinks & clangs during a battle. It's a shame sampled sound effects aren't used throughout seeing as the ST is mostly idle. Music can be played in-game and is absolutely awesome, I gotta say. However, there's not enough so it can become quite repetitive after a while, so I'm glad of the option to hit F10 to disable that in favour of just the sound effects.

From the very start, Hero Quest impresses with its aesthetics. Just watch this intro...

I love this intro which tells the story of how Morcar became the evil wizard.

The CryptO'pinion?

Don't be mistaken and assume that this is an RPG, it isn't. Sure, there are elements that provide a lukewarm role-playing experience but this is a board game first and foremost. Each hero has their own strengths and weaknesses but there isn't much character building beyond the equipment and collecting stuff. They are also separate from one another - there isn't an actual requirement to work as a team so you cannot progressively group-attack a particular monster because each battle is a new and separate act. Remember, it's a board game.

However, it's a brilliant board game conversion and is definitely better with everyone huddled around the Atari ST just like they did back in the day. Even solo, this is a fine adventure especially if you play with a couple of characters. I suggest a few practice games to see which you prefer the most but grouping them is certainly a recipe for success.

Considering I'm not a fan of board games, I am really enjoying HeroQuest a bunch. A wonderful game!!

The floppy discs can be downloaded from Atari Legend and it works perfectly on both types of Atari ST.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Merry Christmas

Well, it's certainly been a peculiar year, hasn't it? Sadly, it doesn't look likely to get better any time soon but I hope everyone remains in good health. I wanted to thank each and every one of you guys for visiting my humble website throughout another year and I appreciate your comments and messages. Actually, I can't believe how long I've been working on AtariCrypt, but the Atari ST is a beautiful computer and dear to my heart - so worth it :-)

I would like to thank each of our patrons, both past and present, for their immense support which is something I cannot express enough. I do hope you guys are still enjoying your Patreon gifts from earlier in the year? I'm using the mug right now!! Anyhow, that was an exciting project and something I would love to try again sometime.

STay safe everyone and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas †

Friday, December 04, 2020

Tristam Island

Another Brand New Game?

Yep, Tristam Island is a new text adventure for the Atari ST by Hugo Labrande. Oh, and also just about every other computer ever made!! It's only a few quid and that payment grants access to each and every download available, plus some hints & tips. Heck, there's even a free demo for those eager to evaluate it first.

The adventure begins having crash-landed, only to find ourselves stranded on the beach of a tropical island somewhere in the South Atlantic. Okay, my mind is picturing golden sands, blue skies, juicy coconuts, sexy female natives, and freshly running mineral water that's been magically enhanced with more than a dash of whiskey...

But enough of my silly dreaming! We actually begin hungry, tired and rather soggy. Later on, we realise that the island was once inhabited, which is unexpected, and now I can see an abandoned house up on the hill. Let's go!

I found ST High delivered the usual brilliantly crisp display and was my personal preference.

An ASCII Expedition!

General exploration is very easy using compass directions, of course, and all locations offer a detailed description without being overbearing. Clues are subtle, as are solutions, so I often found myself backtracking when I realised what I had foolishly bypassed. Those muddy steps were a killer and try fishing without a flower!! O_o

This is a text adventure like the old Infocom adventures and is using the Z-code Interpreter Program which is launched as a TTP program. Don't be scared, it can easily be installed as an application for z3 files. Actually, I'm grateful GEM wasn't used as that might have been sluggish wheras this feels fast and fresh in all three resolutions. ST Low felt a little too cramped but ST High is pure perfection, of course.

The parser is excellent without any of the irritations I had with Ooze not too long ago. It's straightforward using commands like "n" to walk north, x to examine, l to look, I for inventory and so on. This is true for items & objects: pull rope, open compartment, get a fishing rod, smell flowers, etc/etc. The inventory functions are rather restrained with having only one pair of hands so carrying multiple items, or using large objects, will require thought.

Medium resolution works very well but you might wanna change the colours first?

The CryptO'pinion?

Exploring remote islands is a pleasant surprise but there are a few irritating niggles that hampered my progress. I found some of the puzzles quite bewildering and was baffled by oddities that made no logical sense: like struggling to make a hammock and the fishing task is weird. Plus the inventory is (initially) a pain in the bum.

However, the story is interesting and I was soon questioning everything like an insufferable Sherlock Holmes wannabe. Tristam Island will appeal to oldskool adventurers and is nothing less than a charming and challenging adventure. So, if you haven't downloaded this new adventure, then I hope I've helped persuade you to give it a go? Personally, I hope and expect to lose many hours on this island over the coming Christmas holidays.

Whatever computer you use, this is a belting adventure and worth every penny - just make sure it's an Atari ST though or don't talk to me again! Downloads are available from the Tristam Island web page. Enjoy!!

Yep, changing the default colours almost makes ST Low worth using so I went a bit silly...

Friday, November 27, 2020

Iceblox Plus

Yet Another New Game?

Okay, I might be a couple of years late but here is Iceblox Plus, a brand new Pengo remake by Karl Hornell for Côté Gamers. It's based on the recent Commodore 64 conversion - which is actually based on the old mobile phone original. Phew, that is some history and it's actually strange to think it was something I could have played on my old Nokia!

Anyhow, the game introduces us to Pete the Penguin and explains the gameplay basics which are crushing blocks as the method used to eliminate our enemies. As in Pengo, there are 16 icy screens with blocks to shove or smash; some you wanna break whereas others can be used to slide into the baddies for an instant kill (flames and burning wheels). A few blocks will contain hidden coins and it's these that we should break open to complete each level.

Sounds cute and cuddly doesn't it? Well, let's check out the first screenshot of our chubby fella...

Wee-SMASH!! This image fails to display my joy at sliding a block for a kill. Points awarded too!

Gaming like it's 1982

Iceblox breaks you in gently with just the one flame lurking about the first level but things soon heat up with the next level having two flames chasing after you. By the fourth level, three flames are chasing which is pretty frantic. However, I personally found the difficulty drastically increasing from level 6 which is all thanks to those dreaded burning wheels! These do a magnificent job of tracking down poor old Pete for a terrible death by fire. He prefers it cold!

It's interesting how the levels become progressively harder; thanks to their unassuming design and those firey enemies who appear in a variety of combinations (up to) four at once. Both have great chasing techniques that feel somewhat like H-Mec II but killing them results in many bonus points. Plus a much-needed short breather, before they respawn!

You won't last long without a few practice games, trust me. This next screenshot was a killer...

Run Pete, RUN!!! (He's got no chance because I was controlling him <insert evil laugh>)

Fancy some tips?

Oh heck, I only managed to reach level 12 which isn't bad at all (for me). So I hope this helps you guys:

1) Don't just run around like an idiot - think before you make your move! 

2) Use the blocks to extinguish those dreaded enemies for a burst freedom albeit only for a second or so. Hey, don't knock it, every second counts.

3) Each nasty provides a high degree of cunning chase, rather than blindly heading to your location. However, the wheels can be infuriating so take them out as quickly as possible.

4) Use the maze design by hiding behind static blocks for cover (see below).

5) Don't panic. I know, it's easier said than done, but panicking only gets Pete killed quicker!

Pete is a penguin and NOT a chicken. Ahem, you can't hide forever...

Graphics & Sounds

Okay, this is no Gods or Magic Boy but I doubt any version of Pengo would drop your jaw to the floor? Well, Iceblox is actually strikingly 8-bit with a bold design using colourful and beautifully animated sprites - I love how Pete wibbles as he walks! Plus he actually turns into a skeleton when dying, which is kinda sad but also funny. It looks old yet sorta new?

The audio is just as cute as the visuals with jingles and chip music by M.D. Smit. Everything has a simplicity I adore - it's not trying to produce the greatest ST music but it's humorously apt for the task at hand. Love it!!

So, it looks and sounds like the 8-Bit era should have done all along? Yup, and it's screenshot time too...

Oh no, things are hotting up (sorry) with both a flame and a burning wheel chasing you!

The CryptO'pinion?

I don't think I've played a version of Pengo since the 80s and that was probably on my ZX Spectrum. Iceblox Plus is a great twist on the original theme and, rather than a straight conversion, it comes with bells and whistles that I like. My only real gripe is the limited play area using a grid layout of 12x10 which I thought was a little claustrophobic.

I really enjoy how Iceblox Plus transported me back in time and those of us old enough to remember the original (or the 8-bit conversions) will appreciate the balance of both authentic and updated styles. Although I panic like a big girl's blouse from level six onwards, I'm completely smitten by the exhilarating oldskool gameplay. Iceblox is a great game!

AtariMania has the download and there is a boxed version by Cote Gamers (now sold out).
Has anyone got Iceblox Plus for sale? I would love to own this game... thanks! 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Techno Cop

I Am The Law!

Have you ever booted up something that instantly felt cheap and tacky yet you spent hours playing and never once considered hitting the reset button? Think Club Drive for the Atari Jaguar... Well, here is a game by Gremlin Graphics that tries to blend together two genres: car racing and a quiet walk through rough neighbourhoods.

If you hadn't already guessed, we're one of the heroes in blue but, no ordinary policeman. No, we're a Techno Cop who is under orders to take down various members of the DOA - Death On Arrival. This is a huge gang of thugs who enjoy driving fast cars, live in abandoned buildings and look like extras from a Death Wish movie!

Actually, being a Techno Cop must be cool because they get to drive a VMAX Turbo Interceptor sports car and use a Magnum to kill anyone they don't like the look of. That's about as technical as it gets and I love that simplicity so, ignoring first impressions, I soon started to enjoy what is nothing less than crude and violent.

Sounds like my kinda game then!! Shall we take a gander at the racing part first of all...

It's hardly Crazy Cars 3 or Vroom, but this is a fun section of an insane game!

All In A Day's Work

For each stage (scene of a crime), we begin behind the wheel of a fancy sports car on the way to a troubled hotspot. The roads are cluttered with DOA agents but our VMAX is fitted with a cannon to blast those suckers into smithereens. The dashboard shows speed, revs and even a damage meter that worsens with each roadside skirmish. Also displayed is the distance to a crime hotspot - so put the pedal to the metal!

Upon arriving, we get out for a stretch of the legs as the game flips into a scrolling shoot 'em up quite similar to Thunder Jaws or Rolling Thunder. These rundown apartment blocks are full of trash, graffiti, thugs, hookers and even rats that nibble your toes. The thugs are relentless; carrying chains, whips, baseball bats, knives and more. It's now that you should use the magnum and blast 'em into a gloopy mess of blood and gore. More, later...

Mission objectives detail how you uphold the law; be it a hostage situation, a mugging in progress, a boss to eliminate, etc. It would be impossible to follow out these orders without using your wrist gadget that shows lives, score, and jumping energy - plus you can even swap the magnum for a net, used to capture rather than kill. Importantly, it also features a radar to help locate each boss. Beware, this isn't a direct route so you may need to use the elevators to avoid a dead-end. Completing a mission grants points and promotion through the twelve ranks:

1 Grunt... 2 Rookie... 3 Flat Foot... 4 Patrol Man... 5 Cop... 6 Officer...
7 Sergeant... 8 Enforcer... 9 Commander... 10 Top Cop... 11 Chief... 12 Technocop

Okay, now that you have an idea of this whacky game, let's take a look at the next screenshot...

Hey, have I got the time? Erm, no I don't so let's just move on searching for bad guys!

Gimme That Joystick!

The VMAX handles like a wooden wedge and is very unrealistic. Okay, this is an arcade racer and nothing serious but, even so, it's lagging way behind something like Crazy Cars 3, Test Drive, Lotus 2 or Buggy Boy. And by a mile. Sadly, it's all too easy to crank up the damage by smashing into the roadside objects when preoccupied with shooting enemy cars. Plus, I didn't care for the initially sluggish rate of fire. Road Blasters, this stage is not!!

I learnt that it's good practice to simply rush to the next crime hotspot, ignoring the DOA cars the best you can. This is not only quicker but saves lots of potential damage so your game should last longer too. Plus, quick racers are awarded upgrades such as a turbo boost and (much needed) faster firing.

The crime stages are best where we can walk, crouch, leap and run through (yet another) condemned building with ease. The leaping is ace, allows you to explore quicker, and is best when surrounded by henchmen. The radar is a huge help and I doubt it would be possible to complete any mission without using it. And learning the map.

Gun love is why we're here and Techno Cop is superb. In fact, there are times I forget I'm a policeman and behave more like an escaped psychopath because it's easy to ignore the plan and go about killing everyone. Yep, everyone! Even the odd innocent kid stupidly runs by or when playing outside. The death of all victims is bloody and violent as they scream and explode into a pile of gloop. Gloop with eyes stuck on top. Brilliantly brutal and I love it.

You won't believe how cool that is. Argh, go on then, here is a screenshot to prove it...

Come on, how cool is that? Play the game and enjoy the effect for yourself lol

Aesthetics 80s-Style!

The driving scenes are quite bland with little scenery and average framerates. Though I did like the mountains and the palette choices/changes. Weirdly, the DOA cars are cumbersome beasts and the road changes far too quickly to be driven well. The fuzzy sampled sound effects are great... Okay, it's not Turbo Cup but I enjoyed them.

The scrolling-crime parts are excellent!! Each building is packed with incredible attention to detail: litter, traps, graffiti, broken plaster, damaged floors, dead bodies, loot and traps. It's basically the perfect environment for the Michael Winner movies!! Enemy sprites are nicely animated and detailed, even down to their spikey punk hair. Okay, the scrolling could have been better but at least the developers didn't wimp out with push/flick.

Audio is made using crunchy samples which are nice and add to the violent atmosphere although I don't understand why our Techno Cop makes a silly "meow" when he jumps! Anyhow, the best sound effect from the entire game is the screaming explosions when killing a criminal - your gun can turn a human into a horrendous pile of slop! It's brilliant and makes Techno Cop one of the most hilarious killers you could imagine. Fan-freaking-tastic!!

It's fun, fun, fun and looks/sounds the part. So, one more screenshot of me getting promoted...

Promotion leads to better gameplay with many more baddies all too willing to challenge me!

The CryptO'pinion?

You can't go wrong with fast cars and big guns. This game has what it takes but there are a few more niggles that bugged me: the driving stage feels like a clunky afterthought but the power-ups are a neat touch. The missions are pretty much the same, thus quite repetitive and later tasks certainly require extra time.

However, Techno Cop still scores very highly because of its arcade styles, and killing scumbags is quite simply brilliant. Okay, it could have been better in parts but blasting baddies into a pile of mush is bliss. I loved it.

Download for floppy or hard drive.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

Sine Scrollers?


I've always had a thing for sinus scrollers! I mean, just look at it. Gorgeous!! This screen is called The Two-Screens-Together Demo by Black Byte/Bytechangers and weighs in at only 3.5Kb - less than JetPac!! But why so tiny? Well, it was programmed for the first-ever STNICCC in their "VIC Times Revisited" competition. I guess, the rules were obvious with a Ram limit based on the Commodore machine. Impressive results, to say the least.

Sadly, there's no music but I guess there wasn't enough space left over, which is completely understandable. However, I'd still love to see this screen updated with music and freed from the shackles of that old competition because it's too good to remain as is. I'm sure something beautiful could be done with this piece of code?

I'm always on the lookout for screens with similar scrollers but only found a limited number over the years. Sadly, I fail to remember which disks I saw back then, so it's been a painful process hunting them down. Of course, similar effects are used in many demos for waves, circle scrollers, distorting images, etc... but I'm specifically referring to a sine wave used for a horizontal text scroller - like the one displayed above in all its wavey sexiness.

There must be a ton of cracktros and demo screens that I've forgotten about!! So, if you know of any using this sine scrolling technique, then please let me know in the comments below. Until then, here is a selection of text scrollers using the sinus effects which are all utterly amazing and definitely worth downloading...

Possibly the best-known ST sine scroller I'd say? Okay, there's no sound but the visual effect is great and incredibly well coded. I wish more would have been done but there's no denying how cool this is.

Circle Dots by MJJ Prod

This is such a smooth screen and with gorgeous music by Dma-Sc. The scroller is sine-tastic and works well with the stark palette style which really appeals to me. Oh, and there are some dots too which ain't too bad!

Sinfull Sinuses by Chronicle

What a great demo this is with a bunch of cool visual fx and great music. The sinus parts are very good throughout but this is all about the sinus text so I loved their big blue sine scroller, which is just lovely.

Another fine sine example and taken from one of the best megademos there is - Just Buggin'

Disk #0052 by BITS

A slap-bang, in-your-face, no-frills sinus scroller and it's pretty darn excellent too!!

Flexiscroll by The Resistance

An awesome screen from the Decade Demo but it spends (most) of its time doing everything other than what I wanted to see! However, as a demo, it's pretty cool with some lovely fx and wonderful chipmusic.

Genesys by Aenigmatica

Yes, it's quite mild but the sine scrolling is there and I like it. This is a pretty great demo too.

Menu #3 by Electronic

I don't remember this group from back in the day but here's an intro with a nice sine-scroller. Sadly, there appear to be many of their disks that still need to be found and preserved. Can you help?

An intro for a cool MOD disk that includes (possibly) the best player available for the Atari STe? Well, I was blown away by it! Anyhow, this intro has a dodgy image, cool music, and a neat sinewave to enjoy.

Arsch Screen by FOXX

This was released as part of Phaleon's GigaDemo and boy what a screen from an outstanding megademo. Nothing short of mind-blowing. Yes, both the sine scroller and the megademo. What a point in time this was!!

Alvin Puzzles Cracktro by Elite & STAX

This cracktro was used many times because it's fast, classy, and superb. I only wish the sine scroller has a splash (ahem) more colour! One of my favourite intros for the ST. Erm, cracktro I meant to say.

Mr Heli Cracktro by The Replicants

The Replicants released what seemed like a zillion hacks and I've found a fantastic sine-scroller disk!!

The Anomaly Megademo is an absolute cracker and this screen is simply divine. Outstanding. [link]

Phototro by Hemoroids

This is a superb demo with a great plasma screen but the sine scroller is also pretty darn cool.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Go Ahead Make My Bed

Happy Halloween!

I figured I needed to make a silly video for Halloween and what better than Chainsaw Massacre by The Lost Boys? It's a short and nostalgically entertaining demo but, also a fantastic example of the banter between ST groups back then. I love this a lot and ended my video recording with a beautifully scary image taken from Halloween, by The Black Twins.

Those of you who are too much of a wimp to watch a Swedish Carebear getting mutilated might be better off playing a game or two instead? The Atari ST has many ghoulishly 'scary' games to choose from and many I have yet to feature here on AtariCrypt. But here are some nerve-racking ideas which are highly recommended by yours truly...

Horror Zombies From The Crypt is the obvious choice - because it's fiendishly superb. Ooze was recently reviewed and, while it's a little quirky, there are lots of things going bump in the night to entertain. Following on in a similar vein is The Curse of Rabenstein, a brand new slice of horror which is jaw-droppingly awesome. Frankenstein takes us all on a humerous B-Movie adventure. But now, I feel I need to inject some violence into the world of horror and I personally feel nothing beats Death Chase for immense blood and gore! Finally, there is Nightbreed if you dare to try your luck within the disturbed mind of Clive Barker?

I'm now in the mood for something new (for me) to play: Brides Of Dracula, Munsters or Night Hunter. Has anyone played 'em?? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Oh, and don't forget about ZombieCrypt which is spine-chillingly cool. By that, I mean it's that lame slideshow I made a while back. Watch it and let me know what you think!

Happy Halloween folks and remember, it'll soon be Christmas!! ;^)

Evil Ash, from Evil Dead II and then featured in ZombieCrypt on the Atari ST. How cool is that!

Sunday, October 18, 2020

GEM Desktop Music

Music while you work!

Over the decades, I've seen many neat programs that would play a piece of chip music, in GEM, as a background task. I always thought this was so cool and wondered why there wasn't more. Well, it turns out that there are a lot on several Budgie UK disks. (I don't think I ever saw these types of programs on any other floppy disks?)

Anyhow, I've spent some time going through my disks to gather a quick, no-frills compilation. Some of these tracks were made by Goth but I'm not sure who else to credit for the rest - possibly Budgie UK? There's also an intro included which is a scroller text by me using a utility coded by Dogue de Mauve of Overlanders.

I hope this floppy disk is of some interest to you ST Nutters? Like it? Let me know in the comments below!
(my download is updated to v1.1 -thanks to Tronic of Effect for his superb new addition!!) :-)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Evasion II

Ignore the looks - play it!

Evasion 2 was developed by Chris Skellern for Budgie UK and is a maze game where we run around collecting pills whilst being chased by the nasties. Yes, I know this sounds all too familiar but the structure of the gameplay's mechanics is different and very much a frantic rush. Each level offers a chance to collect power-ups - to freeze the baddies, drop smart bombs and gain extra lives. Heck, you can even drop mines in their path which is a brilliant touch I thought.

There might only be 8 levels but completing them grants the chance to do it again - but with insanely zippy baddies!! This is a perfect example of how cool retro gaming is. Evasion is maddening and I really enjoyed the frenzied challenge.

No, it's not a lame pac-man clone. You will love the adrenaline rush it provides. Highly recommended!!

Grab the download off AtariMania and why not also play Starburst (another corker by Chris Skellern).

Ignore how it looks. Yes, it isn't 1982 but since when did aesthetics matter? #GameplayMatters

Beware, these humble-looking tiny blighters are actually infuriatingly intelligent and fast!

Arghhh!!! I came so close to finally completing the game - and without cheating! :o)

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dave Semmens

It's now over three years ago since I featured a platformer called Spellfire The Sorceror, something that I hadn't previously heard about so was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. It's tons of fun and very easy to pick up & play. Plus another glaring example that the Atari ST can scroll - when in the hands of talent.

It was programmed by Dave Semmens, the same guy how gave us Kid Gloves II, but he also made a couple of older ST games which, ahem, left a lot to be desired. I began to wonder what could have changed for such an immense leap in quality compared to those earlier efforts? The difference is quite staggering!

So I tracked him down to find out, and then asked a few more questions too! :-) Dave was more than willing and I thank him for being such a great guy taking the time to chat with me. I hope you enjoy this little interview and don't forget to check out his incredible photography (and FaceBook group) which are both linked below.

- The Dave Semmens Interview -

Hello Dave, tell us all how you began...

I got interested in computers when I bought a C64 as a teenager. I soon started programming in basic and then looked at assembler. Within a short period, I realised that I wanted to try Z80 so sold the C64 (which was 6502) and bought a ZX Spectrum with microdrive. I bought an assembler and started coding simple games like TRON. One of my mates spotted an advert for programmers in Otley. I decided to give that a try and got the job.

The company was Source The Software House and they did many conversions from arcade/other home computer formats. I worked on a number of Spectrum titles and then added Amstrad (which is also Z80) to the list and then moved up to 16 bit with the Amiga and Atari ST. After a couple of years at Source, I went freelance and spent around 4 years working for Mirrorsoft, Probe and US Gold on various 8 and 16-bit projects.

What were you using back then?

We used a system called Programmers Development System (PDS) - it allowed a PC to be connected to the target machine and for all the assembly of code to be done on the PC then downloaded to the target. This meant that if the machine crashed (which it did often) then the code was still safe. Originally, I started with a basic Amstrad PC that didn't even have a hard drive - just huge floppy disks. We slowly moved over to faster and better-equipped PCs as time progressed and the codebases/graphics for each game got larger.

I still have my Atari ST in the loft along with copies of all the games I worked on and quite a lot of magazines with reviews of my games. But it's much easier these days to just boot up an emulator to play them :)

Dave hard at work in 1986 in an office made in heaven!

What was it like working in the games industry?

This industry is not like any other I have worked in. The people (most of them) would put themselves through hell to get a game out. I have worked with teams that spent days in the office, with very little sleep, and that was on floors or couches in the meeting rooms. I remember rushing disks down to a waiting motorbike courier, who would speed off at high speed to deliver the latest build to our QA people. I always said that crunch time to get a game out (normally the last 2 months) was the best of times and the worst of times.

To see a team come together and work together in this period was fantastic - the late-night antics and comradery were brilliant. But the impact it had on people was huge 20-hour shifts; nothing but take-away food for days on end was a killer and I had one lead engineer end up in the hospital with heart problems after one game.

How did you find this development?

I was always pushing to speed up the code as I wanted it to be better than anything out there - I wanted to have a proper dual playfield parallax not just a wrapping background etc. So I was always looking to improve. I discovered that, on the Atari ST, if I had the sprites at a 0-pixel shift when they hit the scroll point, then I had more processor time to scroll the screen which compensated for the lack of hardware for screen/sprite manipulation.

Any inspirations?

The games by Ultimate always blew me away - such great games and so playable.

Rainbow Warrior, eh?

This was late in my time at Source and the project had been given to an engineer. He was new to the company (if I remember correctly) and, in the end, he didn't get it completed. I found that the programmers coming in, who had not worked on the 8 bit systems, did not have the same concerns for memory. They had 512k to play with and didn't have to worry about finding ways to compress the graphics and save as much memory as possible.

As this was based on several mini sub-games, it was decided to split them up across a few programmers. I picked up a couple of levels and (maybe) the front end. I think Rainbow Warrior was my first Atari ST/Amiga game.

And then SAS Combat Simulator?

SAS was a straight conversion from one of the 8-bit versions (C64 I think) so I was just asked to create a like for like version for the Atari ST. The problem with budget conversions was that you were limited to what was possible on the 8-bits. There wasn't much time to do the conversion if you wanted to make good money, so it was a case of doing the best you could in a short time. The game played ok as it followed the playable C64 version.

By the time you had finished any game, it was hard to judge how playable it really was as you had to spend so much time playing and replaying sections yourself to test it. That got very repetitive!

But then two fantastic games!

I think one main reason for both Spellfire and Kid Gloves 2 being better and more polished is because they were my games. They were not conversions - I designed and put in more time/effort as they would not have had the same time limitations as the other conversions. As I designed the games, I could also make the mechanics fit well with the limitations of the system I was working with. Time and polish = quality :)

I was also on a royalty deal for both so made sure everything was as perfect as possible. As a programmer, I had a set of routines that I would use for all games - the basics like sprite and scroll routines. I would improve these over time and the main time to put extra effort into improving these was for my own creations.

Looking back, would you do anything differently?

No - I loved my time in the industry and would do it all again. I wish I had been 3/4 years earlier as that is when the big money was flying around. I will always remember the teams and people I worked within the Games Industry. I have yet to find a more dedicated bunch of people and, as I am getting on a little, so I doubt I ever will.

So what are you up to these days?

I now work as a project manager/agile data specialist for the largest online betting companies in the world. I still code in VBA and Tableau. I have a wife (the same one who suffered the games industry :) ), three kids (all grown up), a grandson and a small yappy Yorkshire terrier. My passion is now photography - not writing code. You can find some of my images on Flickr and I have a Facebook Group :) His photography is outstanding!! -Steve

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Into The Vertical Blank

The boys are back in town

If you love retro gaming, especially using the world's best 16-bit computer, then check this out. Into The Vertical Blank has recently released two new compilation videos that feature a ton of Atari ST games - Photon Storm, Rainbow Islands, Stunt Car Racer, Sideways, Scooby-Doo, Fire And Ice, Oids, James Pond, Bubble Bobble, and lots more.

But hold your horses, there's also a hefty wedge for the overlooked Atari STe!! Stuff like Rock 'n' Roll Clams, Asteroidia, Uridium, Prince of Persia, No Buddies Land and other (Atari STe) upgraded titles.

I have really enjoyed watching both videos because the presentation is fast and fluent; ie, they don't drag on with overly long clips. This means you get to watch many different games within a short time. I also enjoyed the varied range of games too, along with the fact the Atari STe was used whenever possible. Yep, I hope there are more in the pipeline!

Both videos are on YouTube but don't forget to check out their excellent website with ST games, Podcasts and more.

My greetings to Fultonbot and 8bitrocket. Keep up the fantaSTic work lads!!!

Saturday, October 03, 2020


Get ready to be scared stiff!!

I'm often a little sceptical of so-called horror games because they're never really gonna be that scary. In fact, the only game that has ever made me jump was the Jaguar's Alien vs Predator - it was late at night and I jumped out of my skin when an alien shrieked. Terrifying at 3am!! Anyhow, enough of my scooby-doo adventures.

I first featured Ooze in our Box Art section and figured it was about time I dusted it off and booted up this adventure developed by H. J. Braendle and Guido Henkel of Dragonware Games back in 1988. My box is quite battered with floppy disks that no longer work! But at least I have the manual which is, for a number of reasons, most helpful to me.

Helpful because I'm not a massive fan of text adventures if I'm brutally honest. Though I have enjoyed a few over the years on both my ZX Spectrum and Atari ST. And, more recently, I bought a couple of crackers - Hibernated 1 and The Curse of Rabenstein so I felt confident with Ooze to see what kind of horrific journey might be on offer.

Okay, let's begin with a screenshot from the beginning of our adventure, at Carfax Abbey...

We begin standing outside and looking at our inheritance. Oh, how I wish this was real life!!

I love cheeseburgers!

We play as a character called Ham Burger (fantastic!!) and have just inherited Carfax Abbey from our late uncle, Cheez Burger (oh, these names are killing me). Yep, this sounds like a horrifying comedy? Anyhow, it appears he died under mysterious circumstances. So, rather than enjoying our wealthy new lifestyle we instead, investigate what's happened.

From the start, the game sets a creepy atmosphere upon arriving to check out our new home. Thunder is rumbling and an old signpost details the address, 666 Rue Morgue. Nervously walking up, we see the porch and an old rocking chair but this ain't an ordinary chair because it's haunted. That's right! In fact, almost every room is haunted by something, so it's a good idea to take it slow and ponder the environment carefully. Very carefully.

Ooze has a fantastic sense of humour. Wait too long and a panicky message appears asking if you're still there. Don't leave me here alone, it whimpers lol. Just try sitting on the porch chair for an eye-opening experience that I did not expect. The characters are excellent and I laughed when rescuing Marie: "Marie EnToilet"!! However, Murx is an oddity which made me chuckle and scratch my head. Oh, and when you die, the game pranks you - by banning you from the RAM!!

Oh yes, there are lots of silly pranks and fun places to explore so let's see some more screenshots...

I cannot spoil what happened but you can still get a glimpse of the humour!

You might not see it but the text can be very vivid to portray the scene nicely.

More humour after a wrong decision. But look at those weird trophies. Nice graphics!

I'm rich and also haunted!

The world of Carfax Abbey is small but will feel bigger because of the time spent in each location. It's tempting to rush off and explore but that means you will miss everything important (as expected) and probably die. So be warned! Getting around is done using the expected compass directions (N/S/E/W) plus U/D for up/down. It's possible to 'sit down' or 'run south' to hastily exit. A handy command called 'exits' will inform you of all possible routes out from your location.

Each area has a vivid description that is extremely longwinded so it's possible to overlook something blatant, like the lance - which was totally infuriating. I know, I know, all adventures require that you read the room's description but it's apparent that Ooze takes this to the extreme thanks to the amount of detail mixed with subtle hints. Thankfully, that feature can be changed by using the 'brief' command, which I did from the moment I entered the Abbey!

The parser is good but I fear something was lost in translation from its German roots. Simple commands are often confused by a pedantic requirement for correct input. Try unlocking a door, searching a trunk or switching on the lights. Well, light... Quite irritating, so Level 9 quality this is not. Whatever you read in the description, examine that said object fully because nothing is obvious. Find the chalk if you can, or suss out what you're supposed to do with the Parlor rope.

Surely you're interested to see more? I thought so, so let's view some more screenshots...

We're starting to get somewhere now but then this happened... but then a "plopp". Hmm...

Some areas really do offer nothing valuable other than a lovely walk to the next room.

Oh my, things are hotting up in the bedroom!

An adventure with an atmosphere?

Visually, I loved how Ooze combined the two resolutions for great effect. Low is obviously used to display a range of gorgeous images whilst the clarity of Medium is put to great use in order to read the text. This is superb and works really well. Weirdly, not every room you visit appears to have its own separate image which I found a little confusing at first.
Those with a crisp monochrome monitor will be happy to know Ooze works in high resolution. The text looks wonderful but the images... hmm... not so much. It's as if the low-res images have simply been converted on the fly, rather than drawn specifically for the mono display. Which is a shame.
The audio is superb with lots of samples for eerie creaks, footsteps, ghoulish screams and so on. However, the atmosphere is spoilt by the ST's keyboard clicks, which I didn't see any way to disable. It's no big deal but I'd have preferred to disable them because they are a lot louder than the sampled sound effects. (and no, xcontrol did not work)

Looks great, sounds great. That can only mean one thing, more screenshots...

Sometimes the player can be too daft for his own good...

Think before you act but, whilst you're here, check out this artwork!

Sometimes the descriptions don't match the visuals which is a tad annoying.

The CryptO'pinion?

Ooze is a great adventure and will undoubtedly appeal to those looking for something of a horror nature rather than a predictable fantasy theme. Sadly, I found the room descriptions overly longwinded and, at times, poorly translated into English. Also, basic exploration can sometimes be finicky - right from the moment you enter the Abbey (walking upstairs is quite the event). If ever there was an adventure that demanded you make a map, this is definitely it.

I found it impossible to explore upstairs otherwise. And there ends my one and only hint!

This isn't something you can easily pick up, not without spending a lot of time with it. But, if you fancy a break from those fancy Magnetic Scrolls, then I am sure you will love this game which is worth your effort. Ooze offers a sarcastic twist on the horror genre with neat puzzles. Plus it has a fantastic sense of humour: give Marie a juicy kiss! Go on, do it...

A preview image from another game that was never released. What happened I wonder?