Saturday, March 20, 2021

Sophélie




Bums and Boobs!

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

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

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



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



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



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




Spit, don't shoot!

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

Some of the nasties are far too easy to kill whereas others are quite impossible thanks to the rate at which we can shoot - it's too low. So this makes killing certain enemies quite impossible because they move too quickly in comparison to our fire rate. Dying can be a bit troublesome especially when you materialise too close to an enemy and therefore instantly die once again. A simple invulnerability effect could easily have been utilised for a second or two. Quite unfair!

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

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



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



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



Damn snowmen, they all deserve to die!! O_o




Aesthetics?

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

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

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



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



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



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




The CryptO'pinion?

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

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

If you're curious then grab the floppy disk via Stonish or Old Games Finder. Enjoy...


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

Monday, March 15, 2021

TRS-80 emulator




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

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

I've never actually owned/used a TRS-80 and I imagine few made it outside of the US? Anyhow, Tandy and RadioShack released the first model in 1977 and it was a huge hit for those wealthy enough to have lots of spare cash burning a hole in their pockets. Back then, I would have been six years old and too young to care about something like this :-)

Okay, let's begin with a screenshot of the credits. Oh yeah, it's screenshot time...



It's sadly impressive that something this good wasn't released earlier in the ST's life.



What's a RadioShack?

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

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

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

Lots of features and is very versatile. Plus it can play many different games too which matters more...



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



Old but not that much different

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

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

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

BASIC RUN "DANCING/BAS,1"

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

This is starting to be fun so I went searching for a game like Menace or R-Type. Ahem, screenshot time...



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



Get to the games already!

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

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

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



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



Games! Give me games!

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

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

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



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



The CryptO'pinion?

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

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

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

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



- MORE SCREENSHOTS -



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Frenetic




Core Blimey!

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

Frenetic transports us slap-bang into the 23rd Century with soulless scientists still debating over the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Well, as often happens in the world of sci-fi gaming, life on Earth is under attack from such creatures. It had to happen! This time it's aliens from the planet "Mozone". Hmm, anyhow we have to head into the unknown to pave the way for the safe travel of Earth's vessels and help prevent the extinction of humanity. Sounds like fun, right?

Before we begin, how about a screenshot? Yeah, let's do just that so here you go...



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



Big levels, Big Guns, Big Monsters

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

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

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

Let's take a break from reading and view another screenshot. How about one that looks creepy and very alien...



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



Aesthetics

The backgrounds are excellent on most levels, especially the first with tons of colour and artwork I really liked. The enemies move spritely with different attack patterns and the bosses are ginormous creatures taking up most of the screen. The vertical scrolling isn't great which is disappointing because the Atari ST has many similar games with smoother framerates. In fact, I'd say that the graphics look better in these screenshots compared to when actually playing.

The music is by Martin Walker and is brilliant - I love it!! Not only that, but it works well alongside the sound effects too I thought. Sadly, that same tune plays throughout which is incredibly disappointing and a massive shame because Martin's one-track is quite excellent. We needed more as I know I would have enjoyed listening to more of his work.

So, it looks pretty and sounds great so let's celebrate with one final screenshot of a funky boss...



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



The CryptO'pinion?

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

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

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

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

Atarilegend has loads of floppy menu disks and D-Bug has the best version for a hard drive.



Rob & Lee, coder and artist for Frenetic. Gee whiz thanks, guys. It's a lame ending screen too!

Friday, March 05, 2021

Yet Another Atari RAM Test


Have you got a spare couple of hours?

It's been yonks since I posted anything in our Software sections so here is a Ram utility that I think is the bee's knees. Yet Another Atari RAM Test, by Christian Zietz, rolls through a number of intense tests that execute in-depth algorithms to help diagnose potential problems with our beloved Atari computers. Let's hope it finds nothing!

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

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

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

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