Saturday, October 31, 2020

Go Ahead Make My Bed

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 but also a fantastic example of the banter between ST groups. I love this a lot and ended the show 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 quite a large number of ghoulishly 'scary' games to choose from and many I have yet to feature. But here is some nerve-racking ideas which are highly recommended...

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. Anyone played 'em? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Oh, and don't forget about ZombieCrypt which is spine-chillingly lame for tonight. 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 chipmusic, 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 type 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 how it looks and play the game!

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

There might only be 8 levels but completing them grants the chance to do it again but with insanely zippy baddies. This is olde retro gaming at its finest and I really enjoyed the frantic challenge. Highly recommended!!

Grab the download off AtariMania and why not try out 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

If you love retro gaming on the world's best 16-bit computer then check this out! Jeff, from Into The Vertical Blank, has recently released two video compilations featuring 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 more.

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

I really enjoyed watching both videos because the presentation is fast and fluent; they didn't drag on with overly long clips so you get to watch many different games within a short period of time. I also enjoyed the varied range of games and 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 website with Podcasts and much more.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Ooze



Get ready to be scared stiff!!

I'm always a little sceptical of so-called horror games because they're never really gonna be all that scary. In fact, the only game that has ever made me jump was the Jaguar's Alien vs Predator - it was a late night and I jumped out my skin when an alien shrieked just as I was turning around! 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 most helpful.

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 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 journey was on offer.



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


I love cheeseburgers!

We play as a character called Ham Burger, which is fantastic, and have just inherited Carfax Abbey from our late uncle, Cheez Burger (oh, these names are killing me). However, it appears he died under mysterious circumstance so, rather than enjoying our wealthy new lifestyle, we instead investigate what's happened. Yep...

From the start, the game sets a creepy atmosphere on 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 no ordinary chair because it's haunted. That's right! In fact, almost every room is haunted by something which means it's a good idea to take it slow and ponder your environment 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 lol. Just try sitting on the porch chair for an eye-opening experience I didn't expect. Also, the characters are excellent - I laughed when rescuing Marie: "Marie EnToilet"!! However, Murx is an oddity which made me chuckle and scratch my head! And when you die, the game pranks by banning you from the RAM!!




I'm rich and also haunted!

The world of Carfax Abbey is small but will feel much bigger because of the time spent in each location. It's tempting to rush off and explore but that means you'll miss everything 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. So it's possible to 'sit down' or 'run south' to hastily exit. A handy command called 'exits' informs you of all possible routes from your location.

Each area has a vivid description which is extremely longwinded so it's possible to overlook something obvious, like the lance which infuriated me. Thankfully, that can be changed with the 'brief' command which I used from the moment I entered the Abbey. 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 extremely subtle hints.

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 Infocom or 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. Ooze can be so vague considering the immense amount of descriptive text.




An adventure with an atmosphere?

Visuall, I loved how Ooze combined the two resolutions for great effect. Low is obviously used to display a range of gorgeous images and the clarity of Medium is put to great use in order to read the text. This is superb and works really well. Sadly, not every area appears to have its own 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 not so much. It's as if the low-res images have simply been converted on the fly rather than drawn specifically for this display. Which is a shame.
Audio is superb with lots of samples for eerie creaks, footsteps, ghoulish screams and so on. However, the atmosphere is spoilt a by the ST's keyboard clicks which I didn't see any way to disable. It's no big deal but I'd have prefered to disable these which are a lot louder than the sampled sound effects. (xcontrol didn't work)




The CryptO'pinion?

Ooze is a great adventure and will certainly appeal to those looking for something of horror rather than fantasy. Sadly, I found the room descriptions overly longwinded and, at times, poorly translated into English. Exploring is finicky from the moment you have entered the Abbey - walking upstairs is quite an event. If ever there was an adventure that demanded you made a map, this is it. I found it impossible exploring upstairs without one.

This isn't something you can easily pick-up and play, not without spending a lot of time. But, if you fancy a break from those fancy Magnetic Scrolls, then I'm sure you'll enjoy this. Ooze offers a sarcastic twist on the horror genre with neat puzzles and a fantastic sense of humour - give Marie a kiss! Oh, don't forget the pen and paper!



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