Friday, April 08, 2022

Special Forces



I ain't gettin' on no plane!

Special Forces is the sequel to Airborne Ranger which I've never actually played oddly enough. Anyhow, this game is also a semi-realistic action simulator that puts us in charge of an A-Team group of elite soldiers. And these tough nuts love getting sent on various dangerous missions in the world's nicest places. Trust me.

Hey, I posted about Special Forces in our Box Art section a few years ago, check it out :)

As the game loads, it begins with what I can only describe as a wonderful intro! This illustrates the soldiers arriving by helicopter and then being dropped into a dense jungle. These guys have a total of 16 missions throughout different parts of the world, be it desert, ice, jungle, or (erm) temperate. Only four from your team can be selected for each mission and it's your task to kit 'em out correctly and according to mission requirements.

Special Forces is a combination of action and strategy so the learning curve for a game like this is usually tough. Thankfully, Microprose has provided four difficulty levels so it's worth starting out as a lamer, which is officially called 'conscript'. That means you have an upper hand with better weapons, easier enemies and a map detailing mission targets. This is excellent as it allows you to master the game at a great speed - which is superb.

This game will eat away the hours. Still interested? Then read on...

Having cleared the area of all enemies, I feel a need for reconnaissance to see what lies ahead.
The entire southeast is now free from baddies but, looking at the map, I've still much to do!


Getting to grips

The action is controlled using the joystick so easy to manoeuvre my gang of elite soldiers. Unlike Gauntlet, these soldiers won't immediately face in the required direction but will rotate/turn around. Their current facing direction is indicated using an 'X' pointer which might be discerning at first, especially when the enemy is up close.

Optionally, the F10 key will toggle between snipping/movement mode which is worth experimenting with before rushing off like Rambo... See which method you prefer to use, especially during the heat of battle?

The keyboard is also used to provide loads of extra functions and this is something I found particularly frustrating. At first, it is quite bewildering for my old brain, so I dug out pen and paper to jot down what I felt was a priority to get me started. Let's take a look at the basics to get you through the initial games without dying...

For any mission, get your bearings by hitting the UNDO key to display an overhead map of the warzone. As you will see, your men are shown along with the surrounding area with key places, be that the enemy complex, bridges, trucks, etc. Any red dots are enemy soldiers that are within earshot so beware. Hitting the 'I' key will show more of these red dots based on the latest Intelligence - use this feature as much as possible. Very handy!

This map can also be used to travel great distances setting waypoints by hitting the spacebar and using your joystick. However, I wasn't fond of this feature because it left me unnerved as I prefer to be in control rather than watching my men wander off. But that's just me being a control freak?

As you can see, the map is an incredible tool and so invaluable. Use it for anything you can, planning safe routes, attacking, creating safe zones, it's all up to you. Of course, it helps with mission objectives like knowing just where to plant explosives for example. Basically, if you don't use the map then you're a fool.

Okay, hitting UNDO again returns you to the action. Now press the HELP key for a nifty map of the immediate surroundings as an in-game window - very helpful. Now you can select which team member you wish to view/control using function keys F1-F4 (press twice to control). Key 'A' will select automatic weapons, key 'R' for rifles, and key 'G' for grenades. The weapons your men have at their disposal depending on their individual skillset:

Pistol - is a good weapon with plenty of ammo and a lot more accurate than I imagined.
Machine gun - it's fun spraying bullets like one of the A-Team. But it's also very loud...
Machine/Rifle - a good backup when other weapons have run out of ammo (IMHO).
Grenade - this blows stuff up very well. Just get your aim right!
Law Rocket - Holy Moly don't get too close!
LTD - Laser Target Designator, used for airstrikes.
Explosives - lay a bomb, walk away, and when ready, watch the firework display.


I should use explosives to halt enemy soldiers from getting across the bridges and surrounding me.
As you can see, I've cleared the east and destroyed all bridges, but my team is hurting and tired!


Play the game

So let's begin a game. There are lots of missions to choose but it's best to start at the beginning and work your way through in order. Read the dossier and note any details you think will be handy before deciding which soldiers are best for the mission. Each soldier has their own special abilities, skills and fitness levels. Decide based on the current mission demands - and tool them up accordingly. Pistols, rifles, explosives, etc... Think carefully.

When in enemy territory, don't rush off like a headless chicken, seize the opportunity to view the map to get your bearings. Each mission takes place over a ginormous area with enemies hiding in the brush, patrolling, or haplessly wandering (argh, I hate those trigger happy dudes manning the gun turrets). The map also displays essential places for the current mission, like enemy bases, bridges, rivers, roads, supply convoys, etc.

Just watch out that someone doesn't sneak up on you while you're thinking about your next move. If they do, why not use your explosives expert to destroy a bridge and cut them off? You won't want the fight coming at you from multiple directions so learn to control the action. A nice tip to get you started ;-)

Specials Forces splits you in two: one part is a Commander deciding what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The other is a soldier, all too eager to kill nasty people, blow stuff up and rescue the innocent. Hey, remember there is no 'I' in team, so think as a collective rather than solo. Why not lay traps or use a soldier for reconnaissance?

Whatever mission you chose to send your boys on, firstly, get a grip of the joystick controls and the method of quickly flipping between your soldiers. Not only that but also flipping between the different weapons that each soldier is carrying. Periodically check the map to see what dangers and points of interest are in your local vicinity.

The beauty of Special Forces is that you're always in charge whatever the circumstances and that's all within a free-roaming world. There are many different types of missions with each presenting a wide range of potential problems and their solutions. You will probably spend lots of time studying the map and planning? I hope.


This sounds too good not to attempt, and it's a night so I need stealth and explosives?
Okay, the boys have arrived safely but it's dark and there are many dangers across the "water"


Graphics

Oh, I gotta say that I loved the foreseen visual style employed by Special Forces. Each terrain looks the part, especially the arctic regions, but attention to detail is superb no matter where you happen to be. A lot of effort went into designing these locations and I appreciate the subtle extras like shadows that add depth.

The sprites are nice and well animated but hardly a requirement for a game like this where you don't want the enemy to be hanging around too much! Thanks to our point of view, it's always funny to see the little soldiers wobbling as they walk. Scrolling is good in all directions but you have the option to press F9 at any time for 60Hz.

However, the top-down view might work great, but it's a little too low. I would have liked it zoomed out because this might prevent me from accidentally walking into a turret or hidden ambush. Perhaps I'm being too picky?


Another day, another mission. Unfortunately, I'm in the heat of the battle right from the start!
It's a heavily fortified island and I figured it might be a good idea to first cut two supply routes...


Sounds

After an amazing intro, there is no music beating out of your Atari ST. Not even during the menus, which is where you spend lots of time before commencing any game. That's a shame, I'd have loved something YM'y to listen to whilst I kit out my men. The silence is disappointing to see, erm, hear I mean. Well, or rather not to hear!

In-game, it needs to be all about the sound effects to help represent what's happening. These are sadly few and there are no decent samples for gunshots or muddy footsteps as you wade through a swamp or dense woodland. In fact, you will mostly get to hear gunfire from either yourself or nearby enemies taking their potshots. Regardless, I am glad there's no annoying music as I would have needed disabled that to concentrate on the gameplay.


The manual isn't the most helpful and can feel bloated with unnecessary information.


The CryptO'pinion?

At first, I was unsure about Special Forces because there are initially so many keys and the manual isn't the best, so quite dispiriting. I wasn't too sure about the point of view as I often got attacked by enemies that were off-screen. I also felt dismayed about the lack of health kits so once your soldier is critically injured you may as well keep him safe or send him to the drop zone - but at least it's not a system of one shot and you're dead!

Once past the hurdle of the keys, I began to relax and enjoy the game for all the tactical joy it possesses. Each mission is its own giant adventure of pain and misery so, being out in the field, is a thrill because the world is immense and great to explore. It's up to you how to play, either devise a route and calculate how you're going to cope against an overwhelming enemy. Or perhaps sneak through picking off the enemies one by one?

Whatever you're after, Special Forces isn't faultless but it is deep in exploration, strategy and action. So, it's very engaging and captivating therefore one of the best war games I've ever had the pleasure to play.

Oh yeah, I'm proud to own this piece of Atari ST gaming history!! Any fans out there?

Saturday, April 02, 2022

shooter.prg


When nerds play...

I'm not big on social media, as you know, but one of the reasons I remain on the cesspool that is Twitter is to follow people like Jonathan Thomas. Yep, that same dodgy fella who developed Pole Position for the Atari STe and then dared to update Lotus Turbo II in ways I never thought possible. Okay, I guess he's not a bad lad...

Anyhow, his tweets are often fascinating because he pokes within the depths of ST games. It's here that weird techniques are discovered or he experiments with probable improvements. He also playtests enhancing performance by utilising the Atari STe hardware. All this coding talk is way over my head but intriguing nonetheless.

So, onto his latest 'project', a horizontally-scrolling shooter for the Atari STe not too dissimilar to Menace, R-Type, etc. Although it's early days, Jon is using the hardware scrolling with the sprites/particle effects handled by the Blitter. There's no DMA sound but I cannot complain as he was generous in sending me an early beta lol

I asked Jon for his thoughts and ideas for what might eventually be a new Atari STe game. Although he replied having no concrete plans for a full game, he did hint toward several extremely promising goals:

A title screen (we will need a name for this!)
16x16 sprites for a selection of individual enemies
Each sprite will use 10-15 predefined attack moves
A couple of (2-3 minute) stages with increasing difficulty
A "game completion" screen
Multiple DMA sound effects
Chipmusic hopefully by (fingers crossed) Dma_Sc

Having "played" this beta, I must say it's impressive along with the prospect of what's already been achieved in a short time. I really liked the feel of the joystick controls and collision detection is spot-on. Border rasters indicate the remaining CPU time for future development opportunities so demonstrates great potential. Yes, I'm excited.

If like me, you love hearing what other people are doing with their Atari STs then take a look at Jon's Twitter stream. It's amock with weird programming gizmos (that I shall never understand) as he enjoys dismantling many Atari ST games. I can only imagine the dorky fun Jon has with his Atari STe and I hope that continues!!

Update: Jon has started a source repository for those interested in helping out.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Title-Designer


Let's play...

By sheer chance, I found another demo/intro maker the other day and it's also something I've never actually seen before. It was released in 1987/89 for the Atari ST by Hans-Conrad Stamm. That's right, The Blade Runners! Just when you think you know your ST stuff, something appears out of the blue. Well, new to me!

Creating your first demo screen is a cinch because this is a remarkably easy program to use. Your intro can feature scrollers, colourful rasters, music and more. It's up to you to decide what and how to make your screen appear. Those with the skills to draw their own images or sample music will get even more from Title Designer.

( Sadly, there are some visual issues on anything other than the original Atari ST )

Over the last few days, I have made several intros and what's immediately impressive is how effortlessly I could make screens bursting with colour - I only wish it supported traditional YM tunes along with samples utilizing the STe DMA hardware. Having said that, this is a belting program stuffed with loads of features and I love it.

So, come on ST folk, get this program downloaded as I would love to hear what you make of it - let me know in the comments below. Don't forget there are many more gems for your Atari ST right here on AtariCrypt.

I've uploaded my own creation to YouTube so brace yourself for a thrilling rocky rollercoaster ride (hey, whilst you're there, why not check out our channel?). I'll also upload it to Demozoo for those wanting to download it!

Okay, here are a few cool Title-Designer screenshots to check out...


Remember reading those menu disk scrollers? Well, now you can write your own!

Chose their colours. Yes, that is colours rather than one single colour.

Why not add a couple of visual effects to your drawings?

I thought this was a powerful feature to have before loading another program or ST desktop.

And here's the result after mere minutes. Yes, minutes! (credit to unknown for the superb image)

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Persistence Of Vision


Menu Disk #099

POV was one of the best demo-packer groups for the Atari ST. They made 165 compilation disks, most programmed by Mac Sys Data, with fellow members including Ozymandias, Boris, Gonzo, Aly, and Dr Syne. Numerous disks featured music by Tao, Lotus, An Cool, David Whittaker, Ben Daglish, and many more.

I admire POV because they brought multiple demos, intros, and more to users like me who couldn't afford to buy, or freely source, everything flooding the ST world back in the 80s and 90s. Plus their compilations were professionally produced and crammed with loads of goodies I would probably never have got to see otherwise.

I've chosen to record their 99th menu because it's a great screen and also marked the end of an era, but not the end of the group, who continued on for years. Along with their copier, the disk features four demos: Life's A Bitch by TLB, The New Year Demo by X-Troll, Stuffy's Demo, and TSB/Adrenaline Intro by Kids Ghost Brothers.

Okay, it's not the greatest measure of what made the POV menus so appealing - there are far better - but I am sure that the infamous sampled soundtrack from Life's A Bitch more than makes up for the rest. So funny!!

Credits for Menu #099
Boris - Code & Graphics
Ozymandias - Graphics
Count Zero - Music
 
Links and a bundle of other POV Menu screenshots
Persistence Of Vision are on YouTube!
Exxos has a great POV section on his website.
Demozoo has a section dedicated to POV.
If you think this is all, boy, you're so wrong! [AtariCrypt]

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Hector vs The Mutant Vampire Tomatoes From Hell


Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes?

Hector vs The Mutant Vampire Tomatoes From Hell was released in 1993 by Pete Whitby of Jetpac fame (remember that superb conversion?). Of course, this is a platformer based loosely on the Space Panic theme and first begins with a fascinating demoscene-like presentation. It even has a scroller to read - a great start.

Each screen has a selection of evil tomatoes roaming about like they own the place! There are four types each with different characteristics and abilities but the only way to kill them is to dig holes with our trusty spade and hope they fall in. Then we rush over and smash in their faces with our spade. Gruesome fun made dead simple.

The monsters have various levels of AI which means there are the thickos who are all too willing to fall into a gaping hole along with the smarter ones who can jump and brandish weapons. What, you thought these privileges were yours alone? Oh, and don't expect them to remain helplessly trapped inside a dug hole - hurry!

Actually, there's little need to hurry because there's no time limit. That's right, no time limit. Fabulous!!


The first level nicely introduces you to the game so experiment with leaping, digging and killing.


Joystick Controls

Hector can walk, jump, and climb ladders and I must say how slick and responsive the joystick controls are. To dig, hold down the fire button and push upwards, whereas pulling down fills it in. A hole doesn't need to be completed in order to temporally capture a tomato, which is a superb ability, especially on later levels.

Hector is free and easy, he can change direction in mid-jump anytime and can cling and fall off ladders at will. That's a lot better than it sounds. This tomato-basher can even sneak up on any tomato to instantly begin the joy of clubbing. Try it!! Oh, and don't forget to jump! Have I said just how amazing the controls are?

Splattered tomatoes produce a range of bonuses - points, bigger leaps, extra lives, and more. You want guns? Yes, we have guns that can shoot, freeze and even throw out sliding landmines (an unexpected and welcome mechanic). Always grab any bonus because I felt they are an integral part of the gameplay design and success!

The joystick controls are extraordinary, both in function and in the fluidity of action. Wonderful just wonderful!!


Okay, I've got a weapon and I'm not afraid to use it.


Aesthetics

Each level feels 8-bit and is a little boring at times. Okay, it ain't no Rainbow Islands or Magic Pockets but that's okay because I like the style which is perfect for the Panic theme. The sprites are the best thing with cute expressions and are nicely animated - just wait until you see the Berzerker, so freaky. I love how he looks.

Music is wonderful and there's a great reason for that - thank you Jochen Hippel for his absolutely magical musical talent. The sound effects are produced from a variety of FM samples so, I imagine Pete didn't have an Atari STe, which is a tremendous shame. Hang on, did I just hear a Rick Dangerous sound effect? Excellent!!


Argh! Don't forget where you dug those holes otherwise you're left hanging and vulnerable.


The CryptO'pinion?

Hector provides a brilliant spin on the Panic genre with perfect controls for fluent movements that have us leaping and clubbing the freaky fruits with ease. However, I'm baffled why he climbs the ladders so slowly as this doesn't gel with the rest of his movements. And that's my one and only beef with this incredible PD game.

For me, the game design, controls and AI are marvellous. All these help to make the game so playable and therefore very, very addictive. Quite simply this is one of the best platformers I've played in ages. Amazing game.

Okay, the all-important download, a great video by Wasabim, and some more awesome screenshots...


The main menu is ace with a belting chiptune, scroller and helpful information.
The only level I didn't like the look of because it's a bit too green 'n mushy!
Those tomatoes are annoying so squash them for a great pizza topping!
I love the armour this guy is wearing but who's that sneaking about near the top? Freaky!!
I scored 9301 on my second attempt. Not a bad score if I'm honest. Can you beat me?

Friday, March 11, 2022

The Chaos Engine



Run. Shoot. Kill. Kill some more!

Hello and welcome to another slice of Atari ST history from my own collection and this time it's the Gauntlet shooter, The Chaos Engine by the Bitmap Brothers. For some reason, I didn't buy the game back in the day and I'm unsure why... Ah, I've remembered! I was probably too busy roaming the universe in Elite II to care about anything?

Anyhow, Chaos Engine incorporates a Victorian-era steampunk composition with several unique characters who each have their own traits. Quite often with games like this, I have a favourite character that I stick with throughout but not so with Chaos Engine as I tend to bounce between them all depending on how I feel.


Credits
Title: The Chaos Engine
Year Of Release: 1993
Developer: Bitmap Bros/Renegade
Programmers: Mike Montgomery, Steve Cargill
Design: Eric Matthews, Simon Knight
Graphics: Dan Malone
Sounds: Richard Joseph
Music: Farook Joi, Richard Joseph, Haroon Joi

Downloads
D-Bug has a fantastic version that can run from a hard drive.
If you're wanting the floppy disks then visit Atari Mania.


Personally, I absolutely love this shooter and feel it's one of the best by the Bitmaps. However, I have also found that it's marmite to some who don't like its style, control system, or even the fact it's a ripoff Gauntletier. I find that baffling so why not click here to see what I thought of it a few years ago. (2015 actually - how time flies!!)

How do you gentlemen feel about this marvellous creation by the legendary Bitmap Bros? A great shooter or a cheap Gauntlet ripoff? Let me know in the comments below. Until then, let's check out the box and its contents...


Now that's what I call a decent collection of screenshots rather than the usual one or two!
Here are the floppy disks. Now it's getting really interesting, eh!
The manual is really good. Although I've never read it until I went to take this snap!!
One day, I will post one of these cards...
I love this but, to me, it feels like an afterthought or the original design for the back of the box.
I've always thought that the computerised player two is an incredible feature.
The Bitmaps always went that extra mile. I only wish DMA samples were implemented.
Normally I keep everything safely within the box and in pristine condition. But, not this time...
...I couldn't help myself and the wife was pleased that I'm taking over a corner of the bedroom. Honest.

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Rodney v KFC


Zinger Burger anyone?

Rodney is a cool chap who loves his Atari ST and meeting up with fellow friends. One day, he was happily on his way to the Dullsville copy party until he had his compact disk collection stolen by KFC Gang. No, not that tasty fried chicken place but a mob calling themselves Klepto Foreign Chickens. So he went back home determined for justice! Grabbing an anti-chicken gun, he headed to their hideout for revenge - and his floppy disks!

In case you're wondering, they are ST compact disks and not CDs. ;-) Think Automation, Fuzion, Pompey Pirates, Elite, Dream Weavers and others that you can find over on Atari Legend.

The plan is to kill the chickens and reclaim his collection. But he's only got a few minutes before the bus drives off leaving him behind - and he doesn't wanna miss the copy party! Yep, this may sound like a lame dream but we must help Rodney get his collection back so he can meet up with his mates and copy some ST disks.



Chickens everywhere should be scared of Rodney with his anti-chicken gun!


Rodney should have locked his disk box!

As you've guessed, this is a platformer in a similar mould to the likes of Magic Pockets and others. Infiltrating the gang's hideout is easy, to begin with. This place is inhabited by the thieving scumbag birds who robbed your floppies and scattered them about their lair. Thankfully, one shot is all it takes to kill them and, if you see your disks, then grab 'em quick. Walk, jump, shoot, collect disks - that's about as complex as it gets.

Interestingly, Padman coded the game in GFA Basic for all 1MB computers. But it's best when run on an Atari STe thanks to the extra colours, DMA sound effects and gorrrrgeous music.

The controls are very responsive: left/right walks and pushing upwards leaps Rodney - with diagonal support. The fire button blasts a puny gun that sends the chickens to a slaughterhouse - I found it best pressing once, instead of repeatably bashing the button. Hey, these cluckers make a funny noise when dying which I love!

However, don't dawdle with idle exploration or listening to the chickens die. Remember that bus we need to catch? Yep, there's a timer and it's immensely restricting without any allowance for mistakes. So, if you need to backtrack after missing a ledge, don't bother. It's best to restart because you'll never make up the lost time.

Once all disks are collected, and the KFC dead, you can head towards the exit and then catch the bus to see all your ST mates at the copy party. This quest is straightforward: locate the disks and kill the KFC gang members along the way. I won't knock that simplicity because this is fun and the map is huge with a superb design.



I love how the chickens have those beady eyes and fall off the screen when shot.


Aesthetics

Graphically, this game is great with a murky palette that nicely represents the KFC's underground hideout. The sprites are few but humorously bright and perfectly drawn - I love those chickens so much! All animations are excellent and I adore how Rodney's quiff flaps as he walks (a ripped sprite from an unreleased Amiga game?)

The scrolling is smooth in all directions but sluggish which is disappointing, especially on the Atari STe. Perhaps I'm being harsh because Padman miraculously used GFA Basic so the results are outstanding in one respect. However, the cynic within asks why the Blitter/hardware scrolling wasn't used for a faster display.

For the audio, we have excellent sampled sounds used for dying chickens, disk pickups and an 'ugh' as we jump. Okay, it's no Death Chase but what we have, I like. However, it's the music that sets this game apart from the crowd thanks to terrific chiptunes. TAO's in-game music (Atari STe) is absolutely phenomenal.



Liking the subtle stamp Padman placed here. Let's turn that chicken into a curry!!


The CryptO'pinion?

I've enjoyed (trying) to help Rodney reclaim his Atari ST disk box but there are a few issues that obviously narcked me. For one, there is no indication of the outstanding disks left to collect so I felt blinded. Plus I wanted a better gun and more chickens to shoot. Worst of all, I hated that stupid time limit with a vengeance!!

Nevertheless, I don't want to be overly harsh as this isn't commercial and better than some of the dross we've endured by certain companies. Rodney vs KFC is actually very playable and, although it's doubtful I will find all the disks, it keeps dragging me back for that "one more go" and I love that aspect of this cool platformer.

Grab the floppy disk from Atarimania and check out a great video by Gears Of Games.



Those look like the unbranded disks we would all order by the 100s back in college :D
This is possibly the hardest part of the game, one slip and you fall into the fire!!

Can you beat my high score? In fact, this was my first ever attempt. So beat that! :p