Sunday, August 09, 2020

Party Seven!

Gary's games

I was looking back through the AtariCrypt archives and came across Alien World, a sensational shoot 'em up. Oddly, unknown to many gamers out there. It was developed by Gary Antcliffe for Hi-Tec Software in 1992 and is a bit like Blood Money or Zynaps. You know the kind - kill everything whilst trying not to die a humiliating death!

Anyhow, he's also the man behind Blazing Thunder, Bomb Fusion, Future Bike Simulator, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, T-Bird and Yogi's Great Escape. Quite a bunch... So, I began to wonder what his other games might be like.

You've guessed it! Yes, here is a quick compilation of Gary's games for the Atari ST. Take a look...

- Alien World -

Firstly, there's no need to rewrite any more of my junk! Just take a walk down AtariCrypt's memory lane and then download what is nothing less than an exciting, if brutal shoot 'em up with super-sonic visuals to boot. Yep, it's tough and takes no prisoners but a skilful and persistent player will be rewarded with a fantastic game.

Grab the floppy disk download from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.

- Blazing Thunder -

Remember in Ikari Warriors when you could kill soldiers from within the relative safety of your little tank? Have you ever wondered what it might be like to permanently be inside a near-invincible tank throughout the entire game? Well, wonder no more because this arcade-inspired (aka blatant rip-off) offers exactly that.

Stop! Don't touch the keyboard because there is an incredibly cheesy intro which is hard not to love. The graphics, and sound effects, are both excellent with our hero looking like a Rambo wannabee with the mad 80s permed hair! Following this is the title screen which is worth leaving displayed just to enjoy the thumping music.

As we begin this vertically-scrolling military shooter, everything is pretty much what you'd expect with soldiers blindly offering themselves as free cannon fodder whilst others lurk in trenches, trees or operate guns. What it obviously lacks in originality is more than made up in the fun department right from the start:

Level one takes place in a jungle, of course before advancing onwards to wetter places for the next stage. These two levels are possibly the best reasons to boot up the game.
We head into the desert for the third stage which is where I found my tank starting to show its cumbersome colours. Having to navigate back 'n forth through the terrain was a pain, especially when ginormous tanks are blocking the way! The boss is impossible to beat without a cheat!
Watch out for the firey landscapes of level 4 with tougher enemies and awkward landscapes. Things are now impossible and I cannot imagine anyone playing this without a cheat!
Level 5 is a breath of fresh air, feeling somewhat like the first two levels and I got serious vibes of Fernandez Must Die. Just watch out for the trains and grenade launchers! The boss is impossibly difficult and even if you do defeat it, the robot guardian appears to kick your butt.
Completing the game rewards you with a lame well-done message. Sigh...

I love rumbling through the jungle in my massive and beastly tank but what were they thinking about when creating such an enormous sprite. It's huge!! Thankfully, the controls are sweet with fast movement and level design which makes it easy to manoeuvre. Running down the soldiers is the first thing to do! Why not? I'm in control of 100 tons of steel so I'm bound to enjoy squashing the enemy into the tank's tread. Watch out for mines that will sap your energy (yep, your tank has energy!) and stay clear of hidden bombs marked with a B... for BOOM!!

Thankfully, there are power-ups that aid health and improve weaponry. Hitting Spacebar operates your own collection of bombs - this is insane and dead funny when soldiers are caught in the explosion. They turn into black-singed corpses!! In fact, the bombs are most useful against the bigger baddies and end-of-level bosses.

Graphically, this is an average looker with a poor framerate that doesn't come close to Dogs of War or War Zone. I liked the palette and the sprites are the best thing to look at. However, there is little or no animation - your tank! If you're wondering about the audio, don't. Spot effects which are well, you know...

Blazing Thunder is a good shoot 'em up but gets repetitive after the first level and is very difficult. However, fighting from the "safety" of a tank does offer an alternative spice to the genre and running over soldiers is always fun. Okay, I'm never going to delete Ikari Warriors for this but I did enjoy it. Not great but not bad either.

Grab the floppy disk download from Stonish.

- Bomb Fusion -

Like many Atari ST guys, I upgraded from an 8-bit computer which means lots of fond memories and I've always got a soft spot for anything reminiscent of that era. A good example would be the Dizzy games, Starquake, Highway Encounter, Head Over Heels and most certainly the recent and incredible Bugziacs.

Okay, here goes... in Bomb Fusion, Terrorists have sneakily planted explosives inside a nuclear station and we've come to save the day - arriving in a Sinclair C5. So it's our job to systematically defused each bomb before the radiation levels reach dangerous levels. I'm getting whiffs of Bomb Jack but there is also the additional task to collect and store any leaked fuel pods. Well, I guess that adds a little more depth to the game?

Getting around each level is easy thanks to the number of platforms used to access each remote bomb. Sometimes these are way out of reach which means using pressure pads or falling off the screen. Yep, falling off the bottom of your screen allows you to reappear at the top which is a nifty idea. Also, there is a weird ball randomly bouncing around for some reason - touching that isn't good for your health.

Graphics never make the game but, let's be honest, it's always nice to see your Atari ST looking hot!! Sadly, I can only imagine the shock on anyone's face when they first played this - did we get a direct Z80 port or something? Also, the music is irritating and possibly the worst I have ever heard from the Atari ST. Be quick and hit F10 to flip to sound effects before your ears bleed. Yes, they are still lame but a zillion times better than the music!

Once you've got over the shock of your Atari ST pretending to be a ZX Spectrum, this is quite good. Scurrying off the screen, frantically trying to defuse the next bomb is a rush. However, it doesn't really go anywhere beyond that and later levels are very difficult. Ten minutes of fun but definitely the weakest game here.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.

- Future Bike Simulator -

Apparently, motorbikes were banned in 1995 only to be replaced by 300mph anti-gravity Future Bikes! The highways have been converted into The Strip, which is a new track designed for speed without annoying roadworks or Sunday drivers. Each section is littered with mines, bombs and other riders who can be shot and then robbed of their loot. Use this cash to upgrade your bike with missiles, shields and other goodies.

The controls are great but, sometimes, a track would feel a little too cluttered, especially in the city. Ride, blast and kill anything that gets in your way and survive as long as you possibly can. What more could you want?

Visually, I might have been impressed around 1988 but this came later so I'm shocked it's not better - although I thought the sprites scaled nice. Interestingly, there is an option to increase the framerate by hitting the F key which is fast and excellent. You can flip back using the N key but then everything oddly feels rather sluggish. Sadly, the audio is very disappointing with mediocre sound effects but at least the title screen music is superb!
I found that the 25Hz mode was best experienced using real hardware. By far!
This is a neat game but I failed to see anything resembling a simulator so I'm renaming it to Future Bike Racer. The tracks are long and crammed with many bad guys to blast into smithereens but there's nothing mind-blowing here. However, I did find enjoy the simplicity of doing nothing more than riding my bike and killing folk!

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.

- Scooby-Doo & Scrappy-Doo -

I'm a bit of a fanboy for platformers and this Scooby snack helps to prove why I love the genre. It's bright, colourful, and detailed with excellent controls. However, it's based on Scrappy-Doo, that annoying pup who ruined what was once a fantastic cartoon. Anyhow, Shaggy and Scooby have been kidnapped by the evil Baron Von Drak which means we are (groan) Scrappy-Doo who must attempt the rescue. We begin on a ship, heading to a desert island with later levels taking us through caves and forests before a battle with the Baron himself.

Each stage is superbly designed and fun to explore with the chance to enter hidden secret levels for tons of bonuses. The enemies are varied and run around like crazy fools with some hopping to and from the different ledges, which was most unexpected. There are several items to collect for health or power-ups and Scrappy can throw a mean couple of punches, even if his reach isn't that great. Collecting Scooby snacks will eventually reward you with an extra life and you will need that for the desert stage and onwards when things get a lot trickier.

Visually, this is an excellent treat alright!! Scrolling is smooth, sprites are cartoon perfect and the levels are utterly gorgeous with a great design using bundles of colour. Audio is probably the best of all the games mentioned here thanks to funky chiptunes. You can switch to sound effects but I wouldn't bother if I were you.

Overall, this is a tie with Alien World for the best of Gary's games. They're very different of course but I cannot decide between the two. Good old Scrappy has delivered a killer punch with something that looks, sounds and plays brilliantly. I personally think this is one of the best platformers for the Atari ST. Yep, I said that.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.

- T Bird -

It's time to put on your Buck Rogers big-boy pants for a blaster similar to Space Harrier or Galactic Conqueror. It's easier than the Sega conversion, so nowhere near as difficult as I originally feared thanks to its casual mechanics and fantastic controls. Graphically, there is a serious lack of colour and flair so things look incredibly bland. I don't get it, it's not like they sacrificed any glam for that (ahem) extra speed... Audio fairs a little better with chip music playing in the background and there is the option to hear sound effects instead. Don't bother.

T-Bird isn't a bad shooter but the above-mentioned games are miles better so I'm sensing that this was a port with little dedicated ST love. That is a massive shame because the ST rocks with 3D games like this. Ignore what I said about Bomb Fusion because this is definitely the weakest of the bunch and I'm gutted about that.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.

- Yogi's Great Escape -

Jellystone Park is going to close and all the animals are to be transported to the zoo so Yogi decides to escape before it shuts down. I imagine the local council sold the land to a housing property developer... Anyhow, I had high hopes for this platformer after seeing the screenshots full of colour and gorgeous cartoon sprites.

The main objective is to dash through to the end of each level avoiding any nasties along the way. There are picnic baskets and items to collect but your main objective is to escape before the timer expires. Each level follows the same basic principle and there are lots of enemies, moving platforms, rolling platforms, long jumps and other stuff to ruin his day. Most of them feel fiddly and unfair, especially those irritating rolling platforms!!

The controls are responsive but Yogi's movements feel somewhat wooden and unrealistic. Plus he's too big for the environment which makes some jumps rather awkward. In fact, it doesn't feel like he can jump - it's more like floating? Very similar to something like Ghost Battle, rather than what you would actually hope for.

Visually, I love its cartoon appeal. Lots of care must have gone into going that extra mile - smooth scrolling, tons of colours and gorgeous sprites. Okay, the animation is lacking but this is one gorgeous looker! The audio is terrible with no in-game music only meagre spot-effects! Plus I didn't care for the fuzzy title music whatsoever.

Overall, Yogi felt flawed with weird mechanics and limited content which is a shame because it looks the business and certainly had potential. There's just something that puts me off and doing little more than rushing through each level. Sadly, it looks like Yogi isn't smarter than the average bear, after all and you're better off with Potsworth & Co, Rolling Ronny, Stario, Magic Boy, Magic Pockets, Terry's Big Adventure, etc/etc/etc...

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from D-Bug.

- The CryptO'pinion -

Well, that was a peculiar and mixed bunch of arcade-inspired games. It's obvious there is a couple of direct ports here, which is a shame but understandable, I guess. It's also obvious that Gary's skill in getting the best out of the Atari ST improved considerably over the years and he certainly ended on two huge highs with Alien World and Scooby-Doo & Scrappy-Doo. In fact, these two are Christmas crackers and blew me away in terms of quality programming and gameplay.

I often wonder what it must have been like for people developers back in the day working against the constraints they were under. Anyhow, I personally enjoyed doing this compilation and found it incredibly interesting. So who knows what I'll do next? Hey, have you played any of these games? What did you think? I'm interested to hear your thoughts...


  1. Thanks. I enjoyed the video and the coder clearly was pretty talented. I liked Alien World but think the game design looked (as you sorta indicated in 2015) a bit mish-mashed together. I suspect this coder and a good design and artist could have produced some excellent ST games. To be honest I think the ST was not served very well in many of its games being lazy ports or not standing up well compared to Amiga games but these show that they COULD have.... Might have to go play some of these!

    1. Great to hear, let me know what you think of any you decide to play. Of course, I'd recommend Scooby. My first couple of games didn't get too well but it's actually really excellent. I actually reached the end of level two just before posting this review - without inf lives i mean! lol. And me, getting off the first level of any game (without inf lives) is a fantastic sign! :D

  2. Gary Antcliffe is definitely a good programmer. I still remember scooby and scrappy Doo for its colourful background. Sometimes it looked as if there were more than 16 colours on the screen. I'm in a hurry to try his other games. Thanks for this great review mate.

    1. tbh mate, almost all ST games use more than 16 colours. Even if they switch the palette for a status panel and then again for the game. So essence, most games will be 32 colours by default. There's so many games I've featured over the years which I've seen this. I never really saw it until I began poking about lol.
      Plus there's also then the option to have other cool effects to get even more colours. Or even an option to use colours for backgrounds? Like in (say) Gods, for example.
      So yeah, most ST games from (say) 87 onwards broke the 16col limit. Thankfully :)

  3. Thanks for the technical explanations mate. Have i understood well they used interruption tricks and different graphic zones to display more colours. When you look at wrath of the demon or fire and brimstone. You easily notice that there are more than 16 colours on the screen. It's blatant. Demos display even more colours and some drawing programs (spectrum) were able to display the whole stf palette. Glorious era 😀

    1. Exactly :) And demo makers took it even further imho with technical achievements that blow my tiny mind! Btw, I saw Spectrum 512 on sale the other day on eBay and it looked in good condition. So tempting.... then.... I remembered I cannot draw! lol

  4. Spectrum 512 might be a good bargain if you manage to get it at a reasonable price 😊. Just the fact to own the software in your library is a powerful motivation.

  5. This is an interesting take to review games made by a particular programmer - Do you have any more planned?
    And with regards Spectrum 512? don't do it! - I remember hearing it was a pain to use (besides, most 512 pics I remember seeing were digitised, apart from maybe the wings of death title screen?).
    As always, keep up the good work my friend :)

    1. I hope so. Perhaps not only the programmer but also artists/etc/etc. We'll see what happens :) Thanks!!!

      I've forgotten already about Spec 512... can't really afford to waste cash on something that would sit on my shelf gathering dust. It's not like I've an artistic bone in my body anyhow lol

  6. Hi Gary, I recently seen our Atari ST game Spherical on youtube great :-)
    If you want any other material like screenshots or other stuff let me know.
    Cheers Corey