Saturday, April 24, 2021

Droid Special Edition



Missing: One Droid

Droid was originally developed by MP Lord (he of Hoog fame!!) and was a smash hit that saw a sequel three years later. Sadly, neither of these games supported the enhanced hardware of the Atari STe which meant chip fx, flick-scrolling and a fair bit of slowdown when things got hectic. Not only that, but the joystick controls were finicky and I would often fall off ledges when struggling to jump (pulling down and then leaping - arghhh!)

I remember (back in 2016) being excited to hear that Jamie Hamshere was working on an improved version that would take advantage of the Atari STe. I could only imagine what it would be like to play a scrollable Droid and Jamie even planned to tweak those controls to remove the irritation that threatened each and every jump.

Well, that project was completed late last year yet somehow, I completely missed it. What planet have I been living on? Anyhow, I figured I should boot it up to see how this cult ST shooter played on the Atari STe...


Get out quick, this area is pretty hellish with droids and wall-mounted guns!


An armless Robocop!

Oh yes, we most certainly are. Just imagine yourself as a mechanoid armed to the teeth and able to leap huge heights. Somehow, this beast is trapped inside a massive underground cavern and wants to escape to get home for tea. However, the path through isn't as easy as walking in a straight line and into the light ahead.

The caves are a labyrinth of dangerous rooms and many are guarded or patrolled by other mechanoids all too willing to blast you into smithereens. This is a hideous maze designed with numerous dead ends that require keys to unlock many doorways. It's an underground hell and is nigh on impossible to escape without making yourself a map to help plot your journey. No, wait we don't need a pen and paper because Jamie has added an auto-mapping tool. This helps navigate, find objects and prevent the frustration of getting lost. An exceptional new feature.

That's not all that's changed, the old (large) status display has gone and replaced by the tiniest bar. This still shows the same information for lives, weapons, energy and so on but we now have far more gaming real estate. Are you loving this upgrade already, or what? The various weaponry you're able to carry is also shown - pressing the ALT key will cycle through what you have available. Don't waste your supplies on the wrong monsters!


Oh no, a different type of droid and this one is throwing bombs!


Mummy, I'm scared!

Droid might be a metallic brute but that doesn't mean he's invincible. Watch out for other droids wandering back and forth protecting their area of the cave. They're a few butties short of a picnic but will still shoot on sight. As you progress, you'll see other areas are protected by a variety of strange objects: some shooting out bombs and others like wall-mounted lasers. But there are other things to avoid, like fire or falling into the bottomless pit...

Using the map is an absolute must otherwise you'll only get lost and probably give up. Keep on looking for those keys and carefully plot a route. Mini-bosses appear throughout the entire journey and the first is like an angry prawn! The armoured truck is excellent and an unexpected boss to find in a cavern. I wonder if it's Jet Man?

This game has always been a tough nut for tough nutters and I think this still applies today with this upgrade. Those later rooms are merciless with a cruel design that feels OTT many times with lasers, bombs and mechs all ganging up on you at once. Death results in a life lost which unfairly send you back to the starting checkpoint. Only a skilled and determined gamer willing to spend time and much effort is going to succeed. So good luck!


What the heck is that, some kind of sea creature? I hope you saved your better weaponry?


Fancy a few juicy tips?

1) Don't kill everything you see and therefore run out of precious ammo.
2) Collect power-ups for energy and ammo only when you need to!
3) Closely stalking droids is fun plus it's safer and uses no ammo.
4) Learn to use the mapping tool. It's a little odd at first and reminded me of Heartland.
5) Some weapons are best left until you need them for a specific purpose.
6) Learn the controls and enjoy a few practice games before taking on the challenge.
7) Walk away and give up. You're not good enough!! (I'm kidding, I'm kidding!!)


Be patient and unlock the doorway barrier only after the droid walks away.


Did you know?

Jame worked with Jonathan Thomas on the recent Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge for the Atari STe. This is an upgrade of the classic racer that brings it in line with the Amiga version in every respect, except the tracker music. Now, I know what those guys will think, but I prefer chip over a MOD any day. I personally don't see YM chipmusic by Ben Daglish as a bad thing. Quite the opposite and it's one of the many things that makes the ST so cool.

To play, all you need is a 1MB Atari ST so check it out, folks because the collaboration between these two has proved far beyond fruitful and the expertise Jamie has for the DMA hardware is jaw-dropping. Lotus has been transformed from a great racer into an awesome racer which wasn't easy. I'm sure you will all love playing it.

    * The original web feature proving why 2021 might not suck after a year of paranoia.
    * The public release of #LotusSTE was April 10th so get it downloaded right now mister!!


Another killer area with droids, bombs, guns and fire. RUN!!


Aesthetics

Things might appear similar but a keen ST gamer will notice the play area has increased by a huge amount. The colours are improved and the Blitter is moving the sprites so that ugly slowdown has gone. The only thing missing is Droid's minigun from the original. Finally, this shooter now smoothly scrolls in all directions compared to the dreadful horizontal flick-screen method. Jamie, you've (respectfully) blown the original game into pieces!!

The audio has also seen big changes with the addition of in-game music and sampled sound effects thanks to his skills in getting the utmost out of the audio hardware. Check out the funky theme music using his own program: Turbochip to knock out 7-channels using the DMA and YM2149 together for phenomenal results.


The new map tool. Finally, I won't get lost anymore. He says...


The CryptO'pinion?

Miles did a great job and produced a platformer that was different, challenging and stuffed full of action. It's quite incredible considering it wasn't commercial so all credit to his talent, commitment and love for the Atari ST. However, the lack of dedicated hardware had a negative effect, plus I found the controls very irritating and I would also get myself lost - a lot. I guess Jamie felt the same way and went ahead to rectify these niggles?

Jamie's project to enhance an already great game has come together well and is a perfect blend of improved aesthetics with better gameplay. Finally, I'm not accidentally falling off ledges by failing to make those tricky jumps. As remakes go, it's fascinating to think just how much hard work he invested into improving this olde classic. Yes, it's still the same game but one that has been rolled in glitter so sparkles like it's brand new and I love it.


- DOWNLOADS -

AtariMania has the floppy disk download.

Jamie bravely recorded a complete playthrough!

Fancy going Godlike with infinity energy and ammo?
Then enter this code on the title: FEELCOSMICALLTHETIME

Saturday, April 17, 2021

50 ST games you have to play


A new Atari ST book!

I know, I know, I'm late to the party for this new goodie - a brand new book by non-other than Karl Morris to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Atari ST. A flabbergasting 50 games are featured along with segments for point & click games, Jeff Minter, how to emulate an ST, YM2149 chip. Oh, and I particularly enjoyed the Ad Breaks!

Karl begins with a heartwarming dedication to the passing of his friend and fellow Atarian, Curt Vendel. An introduction then begins to offer an extraordinary insight into the entire era of just what makes the Atari ST everything we love: from its early years, the people, events, stories, hardware, technology, and specifications. I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into the mid-80s and something that I'll probably read a number of times.


Arghh, somebody's broken up my beautiful Atari ST in pieces!!


Get to the games!

Okay, you all know how much I love my Atari ST, and this is my era of "Atari" so, I was expecting only good things and the book does not fail to impress. Starting with the earliest, we have the timeless classic Time Bandit to begin his 16-Bit gaming journey. Later, there are beauties like Operation Wold (Arcade Conversions), Dungeon Master (Adventures), Backlash (shoot 'em ups), Supremecy (Strategy), Vroom (Sports) and much more.

But wait, not only is there the usual selection but also a raft of games traditionally ignored, which was a lovely surprise. I was pleasantly shocked to see greats like Sentinel, Corruption, Masterblazer, Beyond Zork, Stardust, Backlash and Lode Runner. Karl is obviously a guy who loves to play Atari and that shines through.

Hang on, I didn't see Resolution 101!! (Okay, I'll stop that now! I don't want to be one of those people lol)



The book has a number of cool ads and I'd forgotten about this for Defender of the Crown!


Same old same old?

We've seen dozens of magazine articles and books so this had to offer something extra special. Thankfully, this is a book that is well-made with a chic style and presentation that is nothing short of excellent. The writing style is engaging and from a perspective that is both insightful and fun to read. Content is both predictable and unexpected so it doesn't fall into the trap of featuring the same old games we've already seen a million times.

Each of the games is presented in a format that I really admire rather than defaulting to a meaningless Top 50 chart show. All are split into segments of genre which makes finding what you need a cinch. I also liked the layout with photos of title screens, box art and other tidbits displayed as a funky GEM window. Ad Breaks feature often and are a nostalgic reminder of how the Atari ST magazines once captivated our imagination. Love it!!



The other books and goodies by Zafinn are magnificent - I feel like a BIG kid on Christmas morning!


The CryptO'pinion?

I think you can already guess how thrilled I am to own yet another Atari ST publication. I've found it to be an enjoyable read which I'll return to time & time again. However, the AtariCrypt website failed to get mentioned, but I can forgive Karl because he managed to get Atari Legend's website wrong - twice!! (Oops, I'm so sorry Maarten!).

But seriously, this is the bee's knees and for a meagre €35 it's incredibly good value. Sadly, I believe the available stock is running low so now is the time to act if you want a copy. My sincere gratitude to Karl for holding onto a copy for me over the last few months - I love the extra goodies, especially the fridge magnets!!

Come on folks, grab yourself a copy of this wonderful new Atari ST book from the Zafinn Books website.


Friday, April 09, 2021

Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge #AtariSTe



It's finally here, folks!!

After months in development, the time has now come to ditch your PC and dust off the old Atari. Yes, a public release of the Atari STe upgraded Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge will be available to download from tomorrow - April 10th. The only caveat is that your computer requires 1MB Ram and a working floppy disk drive.

The plan was to update Lotus with features missing from the original ST release. Jon added sky rasters, revamped roadside details and boosted the framerate. He later used the Blitter Chip to crunch those car sprites and smoothly scroll the landscape which delivered even more speed. Jamie Hamshere worked on the DMA audio to ditch the horrendous sound effects. As you can imagine, the end result of all this effort is staggering.

I'd like to thank Jon for all his hard work and for sharing what he created each step of the way. It's been great to follow, a fascinating experience and tons of fun. I would like to thank Jamie & Masteries for their incredible DMA skills; I'll never forget the first time I played Lotus with sampled sound effects alongside the chip music.

Downloads will be available from tomorrow morning via AtariMania. Well, that's my weekend sorted - enjoy!


One day I'll get myself a sports car and I'll live the game for real. One day...


Did you know?

The new Lotus Esprit actually works on the Atari ST and features nice sky rasters, faster gameplay and more. The only caveat is the 1MB Ram and also a Blitter Chip (check the Options menu in GEM if you're unsure!). All Mega ST's meet these requirements and late-model STFM's have an empty socket... Feeling tempted to upgrade?

Worried that you don't have a working floppy disk at hand? Well, the download is compatible with floppy disk replacements and can also run off hard drive/ultrasatan using programs like Floppy Image Runner.

The 16MHz Mega STe can run Lotus at dizzy speeds - just hold down the SHIFT key at bootup. Also, if you're missing the peculiar YM effects then press the ALT key at bootup to disable the DMA samples.

Finally, if you have extra hardware connected to your Atari STe, like hard drives, then power it off. Do not try leaving the hard drive on and attempt to bypass its auto-booting. Power it off and cold boot the computer.


Check it out, I made the high score table. Honest, I swear I did... ahem!!


Preview Release Timeline Updates (for reference)

Exciting news alert folks!! Massive progress is being made to the Atari STe upgrade of Lotus Esprit Turbo and I have been given the latest development releases that feature DMA sound samples alongside that gorgeous chipmusic. The roaring samples are taken from an unknown computer made sometime in the mid-80s.

Sorry, I forget its name. Amoeba or something silly? Not sure...

Anyhow, I've made a few video recordings to flaunt each release. All credit to Jonathan Thomas and Jamie Hamshere & Masteries (for DMA audio) for their hard work with each new release. Don't worry, the fantastic chipmusic remains as an option and the DMA playback has no negative effect on framerate. Great work lads, keep it up!!

For reference, here are the links from each development build history I've received:

Apr 10th - It's finally here to download from AtariMania!!
Mar 31st - video #6 Player two has sky gradient, Blitter scrolls the landscape per pixel, more audio refinements and a higher framerate!
Mar 28th - video #5 Portugal track (audio sample for the intro and many improvements made to the volume balance of YM/DMA.
Mar 21st - video #4 Practice track with a massive change to the audio. Lotus can play play DMA sound effect samples alongside the glorious Ben Daglish chip music!!! Volume refinements to come thanks to Jamie...
Mar  7th - video #3 Iceland track (DMA sfx).
Feb 28th - video #2 Mexico track (chip music).
Feb 21st - video #1 Italy track (chip sound effects).
Feb 21st - website feature with information, specs, photos, etc.. :-)
Dec 24th - Jon posted on Atari-Forum about his Lotus plan!