Monday, January 02, 2023

SDI: Now The Odds Are Even

The Star Wars program is happening!

Wow, it's incredible how quickly time passes as I've not played this game since I got my first Atari ST. The Sega arcade shooter was converted by Alaric Binnie of Source for Activision and released in 1988. I remember being impressed and unimpressed in equal measure - probably because I liked what I saw but was absolutely terrible at playing it!

As most of us, older gamers might remember, SDI stands for Strategic Defense Initiative and is based on the original Star Wars concept by President Regan devised during the cold war. This technology was supposed to defend Earth (USA!) from the inevitable Soviet attack. Yeah, I know, it never happened... shocker, right?

The game is obviously an action shooter set within the darkness of Earth's space. As it turns out, the defence initiative is actually just a lone satellite armed with a laser gun! Use that to protect mankind from a legion of Soviet nuclear missiles, fighters, and more. Why only one satellite I don't know but, that's the game, so let's crack on...

Soviets are sending everything they have. Well, in stages thankfully.

At first, it was distracting to see the moon moving by. I should have been concentrating!

The fate of mankind...

Our quest begins with the Space Shuttle conveniently dropping us off right before a barrage of Soviet missiles appears. The game is split into two separate modes depending on your performance, offensive and defensive. The first is not unlike other horizontally-scrolling shooters attacking everything that swarms onto the screen. The second is like a 3D Missile Command and a final chance to save everyone from the previously missed missiles.

You'll soon discover that SDI isn't a complex game at all. This is a frenzied shooter with us engaged in battling squadrons of enemy artillery. So shoot everything as quickly as you can physically move the mouse. Of course, each stage gets more aggressive, right up until the point my hand-to-eye reactions simply cannot cope anymore (see the video!).

No need to fret, you're not alone as allies will periodically send power-ups. However, during the heat of battle, these look similar to everything else! Especially when you're in a mindset of blasting everything as quickly as possible. So that means they're immediately destroyed - far too soon to collect their cargo that you watch floating away. Sigh...

A damage meter is shown at the bottom of the screen which is an indication of the state of your performance. Survive, and the Space Shuttle reappears to whisk you off to safety where that performance is rated on a scale. Anything less than perfect and you're sent through to a defensive stage to help defend from the attack. However, a perfect score gets you lots of extra points with a blue dancing duck. (I know what you're thinking and I agree - this makes it all worthwhile!!)

The blood-red moon looks awesome. Don't admire, concentrate on the killing!

I let some missiles get through so now I'm defending the base Missile Command style!


Initially, SDI might appear tricky because you have to do two things at once - keep the satellite safe and chose the direction in which it fires. Arcade games can sometimes lose their functionality when converted to a home computer with a one-button joystick. Not so here, all controls are fully configurable using a combination of mouse, joystick and keyboard.

It is possible to use only the mouse, but I wouldn't advise that. I play using the keyboard to direct the satellite and my mouse to aim/shoot. A joystick would also be a good idea but only if it has good suckers to stick onto your desk! O_o

The keyboard/mouse method is kinda like the WASD/mouse combo used in FPS games. You'll love it.

It's not long before things get crazy with lots to shoot at. Trigger-happy heaven!

Ignore the asteroid shower because it's time to shoot more of that Ruskie hardware.


Space is mostly empty so the good thing about a cold war is having celestial objects as backgrounds rather than boring black. All graphics are by Bryn Redman who treats us to great images of the Earth, its Moon and an asteroid field - I believe later levels feature the Death Star? My gaming skills won't allow me to personally witness that. Hmm...

The darkness of space dictates a more sombre colour palette which suits the cold war scene but there are some brighter moments to behold. I love the red moon that boldly stands out from everything else, it looks amazing. Sadly, there is some slowdown during later levels that are bombarded by tons of enemies. Meh, I can live with that as it's not too bad.

Paul Summers is responsible for the audio and he did a stellar job (see what I did there?). The title screen features a grungy sample but nothing compares to the glorious in-game chiptunes. These are subtle and suit the ambience whilst also complementing the zappy sound effects. To say I adore the (in-game) tunes would be an understatement!

Come on, the defensive stages really are Missile Command. Rip-off but brilliantly done!!

Do well and make the hi-score table. Hang on, this feels like a game in itself? ;-)

The CryptO'pinion?

SDI could so easily have been a bust due to the control system (not to mention the massive graphical requirements). Alaric Binnie has done a fantastic job, not only aesthetically speaking but migrating the arcade's control system over to the ST by using its keyboard/joystick and mouse. This combination works a treat, a commendable effort.

However, I usually find something to moan about and SDI is no exception. I failed to see the logic in having a dark blue cursor that can be problematic against the backdrops. Also, the power-ups are so difficult to catch. No, impossible (for me) to catch!! Finally, why aren't we treated to a nuclear explosion at Game Over. Oh, how I wanted to see that...

This is a simple shooter at heart with little depth. Some might say it's an alternative Missile Command and I get that, the similarities are there. SDI is an exciting shooter and one that is utterly addictive albeit I'm shockingly bad at it. Make sure you choose the control method that suits you to prevent western civilisation from catastrophic demise!

Let me know in the comments what you think about SDI (download for hard drive or floppy disk)

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