Wednesday, June 30, 2021

SuPer eXcellent graphics demo


Let's play!

Yep, I've been enjoying another doodle on my Atari ST and if you wanna see more of my work then click here for a laugh. Okay, this time I've been experimenting with SPX, a technology by Electronic Images, that magically stitches together several Spectrum 512 pics into a ginormous image displayed in scrollable overscan.

I've always loved the idea of the SPX format and remember buying several PD disks back in the day. Of course, most of the pictures were titillating girls or something of a fantasy theme. The potential of huge Spectrum 512 images, in overscan, was quite mind-blowing at the time. (ignore my capture, the scrolling is silky smooth).

SuPer eXcellent Graphics Demo can be downloaded off my Dropbox. Be warned, it's pretty big. In fact, too big to fit onto a real floppy as I got carried away and made lots of SPX images, so installation is intended for a hard drive or Ultrasatan. However, I have made a huge ".ST" image that should work as a good alternative for those using Hatari. Within my download, I've included the Atari ST programs used to create each SPX picture.

Perhaps you feel inspired to make your own SPX images? If so, I'd love to see whatever you guys managed to create!! Righto, I hope you enjoy my humble graphics demo? Let me know in the comments below...


Go, create!

Now, reading these instructions might appear dull and longwinded? Possibly far too much hassle if you're as lazy as me but don't worry because it's actually very easy to make your own SPX images. Have a bash:

- Those without any artistic skills, ahem, should download imaged off the internet!! Look for something large, possibly with a clean background and try to select something that uses a portrait ratio.

- Crop that large image into 320x199 segments. (a pixel line is lost due to a limitation of Spectrum 512). This cropping can be done on the ST or a PC/Mac (I used the freebie 'Preview' on my Mac).

- Once you have your image split into several segments, it's best to convert them into GIFs. Again, this can be done on the ST but is probably much quicker on the Mac/PC if I'm honest. Yowzers!

- Now copy all your new GIF files over to the Atari ST.

- Each GIF will need converting into Spectrum 512 format (.SPC) and the best program for that is 'GIF to Atari Spectrum 512 Picture Converter' by Steve Belczyk. A brilliant program and very fast too!

- Finally, each SPC file can now easily be imported into SPX Creator for both previewing and, well, creating. All your SPX pictures can be displayed using the dedicated viewer, 'SPX_V18D.PRG'


An example...

Check out this portrait image of Jason Voorhees split up into three segments. As you can see, I carved it into the relevant sections, which are converted to GIFs and imported into SPX Creator. A standard ST might take a few minutes to save this fantastic image but it's well worth it (don't worry, it's already on the disk!).






SuPer eXcellent Graphics Demo

Idea and creation were all me - Steve, Crypt Keeper, Strider, AtariCrypt, whatever you call me, it's my fault!

The Credits

Spectrum 512 - Boris Tsikanovsky.
SPX Creator/Viewer - Electronic Images (Gizmo + The Phantom).
Original images - Everything was freely sourced off the internet, appropriate credit to all.
AtariMania & Demozoo - two super Atari resources that I used for my dabble.

Programs Used

Preview - a freebie Mac program to resize and clip each image into 320x199 segments.
GIF2SPC - a wonderful Atari ST program by Steve Belczyk.
SPX Creator - the program that stitches together each of the GIF pictures into SPX images.

Links

SuPer eXcellent Graphics Demo is the latest AtariCrypt production. Yes, there's more here << O_o
Electronic Images released a load of cool disks so check 'em out on Demozoo.
There are many SPX Slideshows although I remember more? I should research and build a collection!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

High Energy


It's time for another bundle of ST joy!

High Energy is something I lack lately especially as I've reached the big 5-0. Well, it's also the name of an Infogrames compilation, released in 1990 when I was still a teenager. Included is Fire And Forget, Hostages, North & South, Teenage Queen and TinTin On The Moon. Quite a rich and varied collection with potential.

I've never heard of this compilation before if I'm honest, so perhaps it was only released in France? Let me know in the comments below. Okay, I gotta say that I'm eager to get cracking with this promising release...




Fire & Forget

Here we have a racer by Titus which feels technically similar to other, old generation, ST racers especially their own Crazy Cars. However, this time our car has received a weapons upgrade to blast everything into smithereens. Hmm, this makes me think of another oldie that I really enjoyed, RoadBlasters by US Gold.

Anyhow, why is the future never portrayed in a positive light for many 16-bit games? Well, once again, the world is in turmoil (ironic, eh?) as the big cities have been destroyed with millions of people slaughtered. Thankfully, some survived and luckily, you are one of them! Our mission is to operate a powerful weapon called Thunder Master, which happens to be a supped-up shiny red sports car that gets about 5 miles per gallon!

The mission takes us to various places around the globe with a simple objective - drive and shoot. The roads are crammed with zillions of bad guys in vehicles like tanks and planes with many obstacles to shoot. Two players are supported with the second taking charge of an aircraft instead of a car. Each player has unlimited lives and ammo but fuel consumption is drastic and doesn't last long without collecting the supplies lying in the road.

Talking about fuel, isn't it odd that this depletes at a staggering rate, regardless of speed? Anyhow, completing each track is pretty easy and an enjoyable romp destroying your foe by merely holding down the fire button. There are three levels of difficulty but the format remains pretty much constant as it gets harder.

Tips!

Sometimes I try to help you guy out with a few of my expert tips because I'm probably the best gamer you'll ever know. Yes, it's true. Absolute gaming legend. Anyhow, the only tip I can give you is to play Roadblasters instead. A similar game that is miles better than Fire & Forget. Okay, it's not perfect and feels really old compared to Crazy Cars 3, Vroom, Lotus 2, and others but it's great fun and that's what matters the most.

Aesthetics

The graphics and sounds are fine with decent artwork used in the menus. However, the game's framerate is shocking. Objects will appear and then, within an instant, are gone due to the incredibly low framerate that bursts eyeballs after 10 minutes of gameplay. Yes, I think we might have another Outrun on our hands?

Audio is actually not bad using crude samples but I appreciated the effort. However, the pessimist within cannot help but wonder how many cycles were wasted that could have gone into making the game visually better.

The CryptO'pinion?

Fire & Forget offers racing, guns, and missions dotted around the globe (although that's nothing more than a change in aesthetics for the most part). The actual driving feels totally unrealistic, even for an arcade-style racer and the roads are overly cluttered with baddies and nasty objects so expect many infuriating explosions!

Sadly, Titus has made the ST perform like a 2mhz computer with a framerate that destroys any chance of long-term enjoyment. There are many other, far better, racers available for the Atari ST. You have been warned!

Not the best of starts was it? Let's take a look at some screenshots from my first play...


Titus takes us to all the troubled hotspots throughout the world. Phew, looks like Blighty is fine!

Ignore the colours and that ludicrously bad framerate because the car is awesome!

My first attempted at a one-handed two-player game (to get some screenshots) was a disaster!

My very first game was terrible but I made it onto the high-score table!!



Hostages

Now we're talking. Hostages is something I cannot describe without using the word - "classic". When I say that, I really do mean it because this is as good now as it was back in the day. This game is all about strategy and covert operation as terrorists have taken over an Embassy and are holding lots of frightened hostages prisoner. Yes, a familiar tale and one that has been translated into a computer game quite brilliantly I think.

The rescue mission is Operation Jupiter and we have been commanded to enter the building, kill the terrorist scum and guide all the hostages to safety onto the top floor. You can forget taking the Arnie approach as that will only get you and your men killed. So, think more like Who Dares Wins and you get the idea.

Operation Jupiter is split into stages; the first is getting a small team of snipers in place, who will then eliminate any terrorists they see standing near a window. However, before they can get into position, they need to carefully make their way to specific key areas in the street. This means avoiding the enemy searchlights which is absolutely brilliant. I love nipping into the shadows to avoid being seen - and shot at! Be slow and methodical.

Once they're all in position, we can take a sweep of the embassy just to see if any terrorists are dumb enough to stand near a window. Scan the sides of the building and patiently wait to see who might be walking by. It's worth going slow and possibly making a second sweep of each side of the building. Voyeuristic and tense!

Now we can send in the second squad who burst through the windows like something from a Hollywood movie. Once inside, these guys will search each part of the building like a Doom marine using a crude but effective 3D perspective. The hostages are easily recognisable as they're the ones who have probably peed their pants. Guide them to safety one by one without being seen. It's a lot harder than it sounds so you should learn to use the map.

Don't expect a heroes welcome unless all successfully completed their mission.

Tips!

Use the practice mode before jumping straight in. The first level is harder than you might think, so slow down and watch the motion of those spotlights which are predictable. This is a game that takes patience so, whatever level you're at, don't rush or panic. Finally, learn to master the awkward controls when scouring the rooms for hostages and nasty terrorists. The map helps a bunch and shows you the direction you're facing.

Aesthetics

Graphically, this is fantastic and shows just how advanced the (then) new 16-bit computers were compared to their 8-bit counterparts. Each scene is dark and moody, yet compelling with a natural feel to the situation at hand. The artistry is stunning and seeing something as simple as a shadow behind a window is perfectly done.

Animations are quite funny compared to later games but I love what they did. A faint image of a soldier sneaking into the darkness or leaping over a wall is excellent. Equally impressive are the cutscenes which I really enjoyed between each stage. Cracking 80s-style TV and I loved it all so very much I gotta say.

The audio is mind-blowing from the intro that helps create the dramatic buildup using deep thumps as our team of kick-ass soldier emerge. It doesn't end there as lots of samples are used throughout each of the stages for maximum effect. Guess what? Just like the visuals, I've nothing to moan about. Excellent stuff!!

The CryptO'pinion?

Playing Hostages is quite unique and something way ahead of its time in my humble opinion. The format of how the action takes place and the methods of different mini-games to complete the mission is excellent. It certainly paved the way for future tactical-based games in many respects. I think I'll have another game now, without getting Mike killed this time! (why is it always Mike that dies?). Anyhow, I think Hostages is fantastic!!


We begin by getting the snipers in place which means dodging searchlights and hiding in the shadows.

Check the map to verify your positions are correct. I still say 'Mike' sounds rather odd...

Okay, let's take out some of the more stupid terrorists dumb enough to stand near a window!

The next three men abseil and burst through the windows to enter the Embassy.

Now the fun really begins but remember, don't shoot the hostages. Unless they're annoying!



North & South

This is an alternative reenactment of the barbarous American civil. There are lots of the silliest challenges to win a comical take on the Civil War. Like Hostages, this is quite unlike anything I'd previously seen at the time and is stuffed with gorgeous art and sound. Plus it features lots of humorous touches that I find hilarious.

Firstly, one or two players are supported which is great and probably better than battling against the computer. Whichever side you choose, you're playing as the Captain in charge of cavalry, infantry and artillery. It's now you should decide whether you want Indians, Mexicans, reinforcements and weather problems plaguing your troops. I say yes, the more stuff we have, the better. They each add their own brand of humour and effect.

A map of eastern America is displayed that shows the location of each country's troops and the current situation. Choose whether you wanna invade the south or protect your independence from the north before planning the strategy of your war through a series of questionable conflicts. Perhaps you might also prefer to rob a train and cash in to help fight against the enemy in greater numbers before jumping straight into the hell of war?

Using the map, we can move and advance our troops from State to State, waiting for the right time to do battle somewhere in this huge country. Depending on that location, wars are fought on a different style of the battlefield using small units of cavalry, soldiers and artillery. These battles are fantastic with head-on collisions I could enjoy all day long. They're simple and silly so hardly realistic (best without the computer's assistance?)

Watch out for reinforcements from Europe via the sea and it's always worthwhile not venturing too far west into Indian territory. However, the presentation of this retaliation is brilliantly executed with a random outcome. The Mexican's won't get involved too much, other than attacking Texas and you'll probably lose men in the process. Storms wander the landscape and make it impossible to do much until it's passed. Each adds a little extra fun.

The war is only won when the victors have successfully beaten their brethren down into the bloody mud...

Tips

Play arcade and enable all the extras for more fun: Red Indians, weather and so on. The computer is way too tough so I often play against myself. The battles are more fun and the entire game lasts a lot longer too. For a strategy game, my advice might appear quite contradictory, but, stop thinking and have fun with the 1860s.

Aesthetics

North & South has some of the most glamorous cartoon visuals. Throughout, there is a high level of humorous artistry which I find stunning thanks to how each scene is presented using bright colours and lovely animations. The overhead battles are my favourite, what's better than running down troops on horseback?

Audio is magnificent with a quirky intro tune that is unforgettable. It paves the way perfectly because it's nothing like I imagined for something that's based on the troubles of a young America. Sound effects are a big deal and massively entertaining with great quality and humour. So, the French actually have a sense of humour? Nice!

The CryptO'pinion?

I wouldn't describe North And South as a serious strategy war game. There are elements but it's quite a simple affair with battles, fort invasions, etc that are more arcade than tactical. In fact, I could bang on all day about the battles, humour, funny sounds, etc but this isn't what makes North & South a great game. Of course, they are valid points, but I feel North & South is actually quite a simple concept that has been perfectly executed.

This is an extremely enjoyable and completely unrealistic reenactment of the American Civil War and something you can play time and time again. It will appeal to all equally so boot up North & South right now. Enjoy!


What a cool menu screen this is. Click around the screen to see what's what.

The map that oversees the war. Watch out for Red Indians, ships, dozy Mexicans, etc...

Let the battle commence with artillery, mounted soldiers and grunts all battling it out.

My first game went rather well, I thought. And then displayed this beautifully animated image.
Hmm, perhaps they're right? Watch out for him on the right-hand side of the screen...



Teenage Queen

For some odd reason, Teenage Queen gave me a Cuddly Demo vibe and I've no idea why! Anyhow, yes we get to play strip poker against a young girl, which sounds dodgy to me. Oddly, I'm unsure whether I've played any cards game on my Atari ST, let alone strip poker against a sexy young girl in some rather risky positions!

Let me be honest, I've no idea how to play poker so, the games I endured were hit and miss. However, I did land lucky a few times and made a little progress but that was purely by accident. Generally, she beat me each and every time so I wasn't able to get many screenshots, which was probably a good thing thinking about it...

Ignoring the adult aspect, this is a decent game and not too difficult, even for me! The user interface worked like a charm utilizing both mouse buttons to bet, raise, flip cards and so on. A good cards game albeit pervy.

Tips

She has more chance of losing her nerve if you bet high. Why does this sound wrong? Play something else.

Aesthetics

I guess the graphics had to be good to attract the right kind of player? The artwork is stunning even though it was initially peculiar to see the girl drawn rather than digitised. Thanks to the talent of Jocelyn Valais, it actually works brilliantly and the curious amongst you can view more screenshots over on Demozoo.

The audio is made from French samples, obviously, for everything you hear including the girl's voice and her playful laughter. However, this sexy giggle is a little too much after a while and feels creepy and wrong.

The CryptO'pinion?

I doubt Teenage Queen is something I'll return to but that's possibly more to do with my lack of interest in cards and gambling? The artwork is stunning and the user interface works a treat so I'm sure the poker aspect will appeal to all interested? Don't get me wrong, it's a good cards game but not really my cup of tea.


Right from the start, it looks great but the audio might creep you out!

She looks familiar...

I bluffed my way into winning as I had no idea what I was doing!



TinTin On The Moon

Who remembers those old Herge cartoons as a kid? Tbh, I never liked them but let's keep an open mind and jump straight in. Firstly, you must watch the intro! It's brilliant and I think they did a fantastic job to get both this and the game onto a floppy. The game begins with us having left Earth into the darkness of space avoiding asteroids. Weirdly, there are coloured balls that need to be collected before we can proceed to the next stage.

Once we have enough, the game flips into a platformer with TinTin's gang in need of rescuing, I think. Actually, I didn't know what was going on but eventually, I saw various friends tied up in need of rescuing. There are also bombs that need defusing, fires to put out and some baddies to try and avoid (or extinguish).

To rescue your fellow cartoon friends, walk over them. They'll jump up and suddenly jet off somewhere... to do something... The bombs can be defused using the same method but what about those fires blazing away? Use an extinguisher but watch your back for bad guys roaming the place who are very quick on the draw.

The controls are fine but using a fire-extinguisher reveals how clumsy this game can be. Putting out a fire can be awkward, especially when near a ladder or simply standing too close to the flames. Bad guys are best eliminated by falling on them I found otherwise they tended to shoot me before I had a chance to act.

That's about as far as I dared venture with this confusing part of the game, sorry. It's quite boring really.

Tips

If you like the look of the 3D space shooter then play Galactic Conqueror instead. So cynical, right?

Aesthetics

Visually, I really liked the look and style which never fails to disappoint using great backgrounds and nice sprites. Animations are superb too and who doesn't love seeing little Snowy run, sit and bark at the baddies? However, Tintins's animations are fluffy: he walks with a shuffle and looks like he's about to fall over. Weird!

Audio is once again a high standard with lots of samples for everything. They are excellent but I must admit that the rocket scenes were tiresome with that whaaaaaay-like sound effect. I didn't like that at all lol.

The CryptO'pinion?

Oddly, I feel this is the least impressive game in the entire compilation which is quite shocking when you consider that disaster by Titus. Perhaps I'm being harsh? But it all felt rather wishy-washy with little guidance so not always obvious what to do. I only managed to playtest for a short while because I was bored to be brutally honest.


We begin in space and there are coloured balls to collect...

Hey, I see Snowy the dog! But why does TinTin look like he's going to fall over all the time?

There are fires, captured friends and baddies lurking about the place. Where's my shotgun?

Yikes, I'm actually seeing stars. Quite a cool effect actually!


The CryptO'pinion?

As it turned out, this is quite an unusual bundle of ST joy rich in quality and alternative genres. Hostages and North & South are outstanding strategy games that will eat away your free hours - in a good way I mean! No slog, all enjoyment. However, High Energy isn't perfect with TinTin possibly only appealing to his fans? Fire & Forget is best forgotten and Teenage Queen features great artwork but the audio will make your skin crawl.

I enjoyed High Energy but unsurprisingly, there are only two games worth playing. Thankfully, they are corkers that are still excellent today. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below. Each game can be downloaded from websites like Atari Legend, AtariMania, with some adapted for hard drive by D-Bug and PP.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

CRACKERS II: The Data Storm


What, another book? Count me in!!

Here we go again! Macro Breddin has the next Atari ST book on Indiegogo itching to be backed by the community. Sadly, I've not had the time to properly read through the first Crackers book and already the second is on its way! Like the three 'Borders' books before it, the Crackers book, The Gold Rush, is of the same high standard. In fact, I prefer this style, design and have thoroughly enjoyed what I've read so far. Check out my ST shelf!

Okay, the second volume takes us forward into the glorious 1990s...

"The Data Storm will look at the transformation of the illegal scene in the 90s. Between the U.S., Europe and Hong Kong, crackers strove for global deals through huge data lines. Bigger and better umbrella organizations emerged. From then on, cracking and hacking games developed into an international business – even with sophisticated hardware copying tools. The narrative of CRACKERS II reveals the story of some outstanding crackers and hackers on C64, SNES, Megadrive (Genesis), Amiga and especially on the Atari ST.

Relive the best computer times and experience the exceptional methods of famous code breakers, disk dealers, software pirates and lawmakers in the 1990s."


Anybody else only interested in the Atari ST side? Nah, I should keep an open mind hehe! Righto folks, if you loved any of the first books then I'm sure you're as excited to support this latest volume just as much as myself.

Don't dawdle as there is little time remaining, so back it now over on Indiegogo /|\