Friday, September 04, 2020

Electrons From Acorns


My old mate Stuart, aka the Elk of STatariART, is working on a new diskmag which he's developed using GFA Basic. We're already at issue three which features a nifty user interface, a silly letter (that you shouldn't read) and lots of superb medium-resolution artwork (I'm looking forward to more pics in the future).

Content is low, but steadily increasing now that the groundwork for the magazine structure is improving. He hopes to release a disk monthly, which is ambitious, to say the least, with a plan to recreate that community vibe from the 90s. So, you're invited to contribute whatever you like and have your say. Come on and get involved. :-)

EFA issue #3 can be downloaded from over on the Demozoo website and I invite you all to check it out sometime over the weekend. Here are a few sneaky screenshots to tease you into clicking on that download link. Oh, I also asked Stuart why he's even making an Atari ST diskmag in the 21st century, here's what he had to say...

Hey Steve! First, can I say thank you to the Crypt for picking up my new diskmag thing - I appreciate it cos I know how busy things are down in the fiery depths of the undead Atariverse! Here's a bit of background about me and how I arrived at the idea of doing this diskmag thing for the ST.

My name is Stuart Johns but I go by 'the elk'; my passion thereby being Public Domain, specifically creating artwork and music to contribute to the PD scene. I started out in computing back in 1983 when my folks bought an Acorn Electron and it got me hooked into the 8-bit world. Come the late '80s and we upgraded to a C64, but I soon replaced this with a Miggy and it was on that machine that I began to fiddle around in Deluxe Paint and ProTracker.

After these beginnings in the '80s and '90s amongst Acorns and Commodores, it wasn't actually until 2016 that I got my first ST machine! When I was younger, a musician friend of mine had an ST and I had always been intrigued by them. The chance to get one at a good price came up and I grabbed it. I immediately fell in love with it; not just the aesthetic but the way it worked and of course the MIDI side of things.... and Degas Elite... I mean what can I say? True Love!

It's always been important to me that people use the stuff I am creating as a truly public domain resource - I encourage people to reuse it and change it themselves without any credit to my original work. But I am always trying to find new ways of getting the art out there. The EFA diskmag idea was borne and the Atari ST seemed like the perfect way to springboard this. I wish I had got an ST back in the day instead of the miggy, but it's all good... it just means I have a lot of catching up to do!

That brings me onto the EFA diskmag as it stands. It's up to issue 3 (that being released on September 5th, 2020) and I am coding it in GFA Basic on my STe. The first two issues were extremely bare-bones, but with issue 3 I see a bit of an evolution - sub-menus, structure, cleaner coding for displaying pictures and even displaying text files within the mag itself - with a good deal of help from folks over at the Atari-Forum.com (what is probably simple coding to most folks lol).

So I see issue 3 as a foundation issue. I admit that content is thin, but I feel there is a structure to move forward with and hopefully, people will email their letters, thoughts and pictures (PI2 format please). I will hopefully be doing some interviews and such as time goes on and also looking at the ST itself as a vehicle for PD art and music. Everything starts from something, right?

- EFA diskmag Issue #3 screenshots -





Friday, August 28, 2020

Crazy Cars III


Oh no, another Crazy Cars game? Yep, and I must admit that I was a bit worried because the first was rather crude and the second had infuriating mechanics that angered me so I was sceptical but this. Hang on, it's 1992 (I wish) and Titus appeared to have redeemed themselves with something that actually looks rather good?

The background story is funny but proves you should never look a gift horse in the mouth. When somebody offers you a Lamborgini Diablo, at a rock bottom price, take it and then drive it away as fast as you can!! Which is exactly what we're doing for Crazy Cars 3. Sure, we spent most of our life savings but, in return, we have a sexy sports car and enough cash left over to begin competing in America's Bullrun - the Saturday Night Races.

It might sound lame but this event is huge and takes place throughout the lower 48 States against many rival drivers. There are four divisions and, of course, we begin right at the bottom of the fourth with a measly $6000 left in the pot. Thankfully, that's more than enough to get us racing through Miami, Denver and Memphis. Each win increases your purse, thus opens up the possibility of competing in the more expensive races in other locations.


The map shows each race and who you'll be competing against. Fancy a wager?

Before you rush off and waste that precious cash, it makes sense to practice. So look at the map and take a stab at anything you like. Each location is different with a varying degree of difficulty thanks to narrow, twisty lanes, obstacles and other cars. Not to mention the cops who are looking to boost their Christmas party fund.

Once you feel you've practised enough, slap yourself and practice some more. You won't regret that. Eventually, you will be ready and can head over to the Tournament with confidence. Pick yourself a character, I'm always the Mr T lookalike! It's now a good idea to start cheap with something you can afford, I advise Memphis. All "yellow" coloured places are initially open to you with details of fees, prizes and details of those dreaded cops.

Official prize money is only awarded for coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd but it's possible to boost that via your fellow rival drivers. These guys are always up for a flutter which might be a good opportunity to earn extra money? So long as you don't get too big for your boots and have bothered to practice on more than just a few tracks...


This dream machine won't run very well without repairs and expensive tune-ups.

I'll say it now, I love Crazy Cars III which is thankfully nothing like the first two games in terms of its quality. What a rush slamming it down the road, zooming by the other cars, with the thrill of finally passing a dreaded rival. Controls are excellent with the joystick used to steer this red beast. Push up or hit fire to accelerate and pulling back breaks. You can choose between manual or auto gearboxes which means I always choose the latter!

This racer is fast and furious (sorry) and feels like Titus sneakily took the best bits from a number of others, like Lotus II for example. But that's okay, there are lots of examples of ripoffs being better than the originals. Play dirty if you need to but always keep an eye out for the cops. Those guys never give up and will try to chase you all the way through to the end. So whaddya gonna do? Flee or be a good citizen... FLEE, of course!!!

Collect the bounty for winning a race and then grab what's owed to you by losing rivals. Now, it's time to think and decide just how you're gonna spend that cash. Car repairs, or enhancements like a better gearbox, turbo boost, tyres, etc. Perhaps another harder race which is now unlocked because you're the Million Dollar Man? This routine is continued until you earn enough dosh to enter into the Divisional Race for a possibility of promotion.

One of the best looking arcade racers I've ever seen with lots of lush colours.

And now onto the aesthetics which never matter but are still nice to have...

Well, the graphics are ace. Simple as that. This is one of the most glamorous 16-bit racers with a decent framerate and good sprite scaling for everything that whizzes by. The weather effects are a nice addition but only if you've remembered to change tyres. However, it's the palettes which I adore the most using beautiful colours!

Audio is good with a neat tune and decent sound effects. Most effects are YM chippy and could have been better but there are some neat extra touches, like when going under a bridge. The best is the whirring sirens of the cop cars which are excellent. But this also highlights the Diablo's mundane engine sounds. Catch 22. Ah well...


Three screens you never want to see: the cops, losing, and the ultimate heartbreak!

Every game has a flaw or two and I thought my Diablo suffered lethargic cornering compared to the other cars. Also, I wasn't a fan of the narrow tracks with too many stupid locals getting in my way! My driving skills suffered, as did my wallet paying for all the extra repairs! Possibly too many cars on the roads? Or is it just me?

Crazy Cars III is fandabbydosey. It's the best in the series (hardly a revelation) and hasn't lost any of its excitement so is a thrill. I love the freedom to enhance, gamble, race in different locations, and that rush of being chased by the cops - who are relentless. Is this better than Lotus II? Possibly!! And that is an enticing thought so, set aside a couple of hours over the weekend for you and the kids. You won't regret playing this need for speedster!!

Download the floppy disc via Stonish

Monday, August 24, 2020

ymphibian

I recently read that Effect had released a brand new demo by Tom Kito and stuffed with 12 tunes by Proto. I love chiptunes, and the Atari ST already has some incredible musicdisks in its library, so I had high hopes. Thankfully, ymphibian is foot-tappingly superb and I enjoyed it so much that I made this recording to share.

There's a range of crackers here and that E1M1 tune is shockingly great and something this old Doomguy enjoyed!! Also, I really appreciated the autoplay feature, which is something every musicdisk should have. So, as their website says, "sit back, grab a beer and enjoy the banging beats coming from your Atari ST’s YM2149".

You can download this excellent musicdisk from the Effect website. Enjoy...

Monday, August 17, 2020

Gameboy


Handheld console fans rejoice, for the "Gameboy" has arrived on the Atari ST thanks to a piece of cool PD by Ingo Linkweiler. Well, umm, no it hasn't but instead, we have a program that features three games: Tetris, Pacman and Snake. It runs in GEM - any resolution - and can be installed as an ACC, which I preferred.

Open the ACC and hit any key to begin. The cursor keys can be used to control all three games: in Tetris, Left/Right moves the falling blocks, Up turns them around while Down drops 'em to the floor. Pacman uses these keys to make haste around his maze of weird 'ghosts' and Snake is quite the discrepancy but I oddly enjoyed it.

The Atari ST has hundreds of nifty ACCs and many of which are games. That's kinda cool when you think about it and I love finding little nuggets of ST history like this. Gameboy is a great ACC and I think Ingo created something fun, especially with Tetris. Sadly, Pacman's controls are quite tanky and Snake is certainly a (ahem) challenge! But, what did you expect in 20Kb? Exactly. So this is definitely worth checking out and I loved it.

Click here if you're dying to make GEM cool again.


Gameboy Emulator


Wait, don't go!! The fun doesn't need to stop if you're willing to reboot the ST to exit that little green desktop? If so, then The Untouchables have something rather neat for you. It's called the "Gameboy Emulator" and kinda looks the part with a version of Space Invaders and Tetris that also includes a sampled background tune.

Okay, their Space Invaders is harsh and hardly complete but it's smooth and very enjoyable for the one game. Yes, I said one game (hit ESC afterwards). Tetris is excellent and very impressive. It reminds me of what I saw on a friends Gameboy back in the day. Yup, definitely a nice albeit fake emulator which I liked a lot.

Clickety-Click to see more and download the Nuntundu Uboy.


Nesulator


Hang on? Were you just about to leave this amazing Atari ST website? Shame on you... Okay, for those brave enough to stay, you may be interested in an emulator by Ed Cleveland? To be honest, it needs a lot more processing power than the stock 8MHz ST can deliver and is beta too. However, it's fun to check out, and my beefy Mega STe did me proud. Even though I was left wondering what it must be like to own a glorious Atari TT... sigh!

Take a look at NESulator and remember, we've also got an entire "Emulation" section to browse :)

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Party Seven!


I was looking back through the AtariCrypt archives and came across Alien World, a sensational shoot 'em up oddly unknown to many. It was developed by Gary Antcliffe for Hi-Tec Software in 1992 and is a bit like Blood Money. He's also the man behind Blazing Thunder, Bomb Fusion, Future Bike Simulator, Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo, T-Bird and Yogi's Great Escape. So, I began to wonder what these other games might be like...



- Alien World -

Firstly, there's no need to rewrite any more of my junk! Just take a walk down AtariCrypt's memory lane and then download what is nothing less than an exciting, if brutal shoot 'em up with super-sonic visuals to boot. Yep, it's tough and takes no prisoners but a skilful and persistent player will be rewarded with a fantastic game.

Grab the floppy disk download from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.




- Blazing Thunder -

Remember in Ikari Warriors when you could kill soldiers from within the relative safety of your little tank? Have you ever wondered what it might be like to permanently be inside a near-invincible tank throughout the entire game? Well, wonder no more because this arcade-inspired (aka blatant rip-off) offers exactly that.

Stop! Don't touch the keyboard because there is an incredibly cheesy intro which is hard not to love. The graphics, and sound effects, are both excellent with our hero looking like a Rambo wannabee with the mad 80s permed hair! Following this is the title screen which is worth leaving displayed just to enjoy the thumping music.

As we begin this vertically-scrolling military shooter, everything is pretty much what you'd expect with soldiers blindly offering themselves as free cannon fodder whilst others lurk in trenches, trees or operate guns. What it obviously lacks in originality is more than made up in the fun department right from the start:

Level one takes place in a jungle, of course before advancing onwards to wetter places for the next stage. These two levels are possibly the best reasons to boot up the game.
We head into the desert for the third stage which is where I found my tank starting to show its cumbersome colours. Having to navigate back 'n forth through the terrain was a pain, especially when ginormous tanks are blocking the way! The boss is impossible to beat without a cheat!
Watch out for the firey landscapes of level 4 with tougher enemies and awkward landscapes. Things are now impossible and I cannot imagine anyone playing this without a cheat!
Level 5 is a breath of fresh air, feeling somewhat like the first two levels and I got serious vibes of Fernandez Must Die. Just watch out for the trains and grenade launchers! The boss is impossibly difficult and even if you do defeat it, the robot guardian appears to kick your butt.
Completing the game rewards you with a lame well-done message. Sigh...

I love rumbling through the jungle in my massive and beastly tank but what were they thinking about when creating such an enormous sprite. It's huge!! Thankfully, the controls are sweet with fast movement and level design which makes it easy to manoeuvre. Running down the soldiers is the first thing to do! Why not? I'm in control of 100 tons of steel so I'm bound to enjoy squashing the enemy into the tank's tread. Watch out for mines that will sap your energy (yep, your tank has energy!) and stay clear hidden bombs marked with a B... B for BOOM!!

Thankfully, there are power-ups that aid health and improve weaponry. Hitting spacebar operates your own collection of bombs - this is insane and dead funny when soldiers are caught in the explosion. They turn into black singed corpses!! In fact, the bombs are most useful against the bigger baddies and end-of-level bosses.

Graphically, this is an average looker with a poor framerate that doesn't come close to Dogs of War or War Zone. I liked the palette and the sprites are the best thing to look at. However, there is little or no animation - your tank! If you're wondering about the audio, don't. Spot effects which are well, you know...

Blazing Thunder is a good shoot 'em up but gets repetitive after the first level and is very difficult. However, fighting from the "safety" of a tank does offer an alternative spice to the genre and running over soldiers is always fun. Okay, I'm never going to delete Ikari Warriors for this but I did enjoy it. Not great but not bad either.

Grab the floppy disk download from Stonish.




- Bomb Fusion -

Like many Atari ST guys, I upgraded from an 8-bit computer which means lots of fond memories and I've always got a soft spot for anything reminiscent of that era. A good example would be the Dizzy games, Starquake, Highway Encounter, Head Over Heels and most certainly the recent and incredible Bugziacs.

Okay, here goes... in Bomb Fusion, Terrorists have sneakily planted explosives inside a nuclear station and we've come to save the day - arriving in a Sinclair C5. So it's our job to systematically defused each bomb before the radiation levels reach dangerous levels. I'm getting whiffs of Bomb Jack but there is also the additional task to collect and store any leaked fuel pods. Well, I guess that adds a little more depth to the game?

Getting around each level is easy thanks to a number of platforms used to access each remote bomb. Sometimes these are way out of reach which means using pressure pads or falling off the screen. Yep, falling off the bottom of your screen allows you to reappear at the top which is a nifty idea. Also, there is a weird ball randomly bouncing around for some reason - touching that isn't good for your health.

Graphics never make the game but, let's be honest, it's always nice to see your Atari ST looking hot!! Sadly, I can only imagine the shock on anyone's face when they first played this - did we get a direct Z80 port or something? Also, the music is irritating and possibly the worst I have ever heard from the Atari ST. Be quick and hit F10 to flip to sound effects before your ears bleed. Yes, they are still lame but a zillion times better than the music!

Once you've got over the shock of your Atari ST pretending to be a ZX Spectrum, this is quite good. Scurrying off the screen, frantically trying to defuse the next bomb is a rush. However, it doesn't really go anywhere beyond that and later levels are very difficult. Ten minutes fun but definitely the weakest game of the bunch.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.




- Future Bike Simulator -

Apparently, motorbikes were banned in 1995 only to be replaced by 300mph anti-gravity Future Bikes! The highways having been converted into The Strip, which is a new track designed for speed without annoying roadworks or Sunday drivers. Each section is littered with mines, bombs and other riders who can be shot and then robbed of their loot. Use this cash to upgrade your bike with missiles, shields and other goodies.

The controls are great but, sometimes, a track would felt a little too cluttered, especially in the city. Ride, blast and kill anything that gets in your way and survive as long as you possibly can. What more could you want?

Visually, I might have been impressed around 1988 but this came later so I'm shocked it's not better - although I thought the sprites scaled nice. Interestingly, there is an option to increase the framerate by hitting the F key which is fast and excellent. You can flip back using the N key but then everything oddly feels rather sluggish. Sadly, the audio is very disappointing with mediocre sound effects but at least the title screen music is superb!
I found that the 25Hz mode was best experienced using real hardware. By far!
This is a neat game but I failed to see anything resembling a simulator so I'm renaming it to Future Bike Racer. The tracks are long and crammed with many bad guys to blast into smithereens but there's nothing mind-blowing here. However, I did find enjoy the simplicity of doing nothing more than riding my bike and killing folk!

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.




- Scooby-Doo & Scrappy-Doo -

I'm a bit of a fanboy for platformers and this scooby snack helps to prove why I love the genre. It's bright, colourful, detailed and the controls are excellent. However, it's based on Scrappy-Doo, that annoying pup who ruined what was once a fantastic cartoon. Anyhow, Shaggy and Scooby have been kidnapped by the evil Baron Von Drak which means we are (groan) Scrappy-Doo who must attempt the rescue. We begin on a ship which is heading to a desert island with later levels taking us through caves and forests before a battle with the Baron himself.

Each stage is superbly designed and fun to explore with the chance to enter hidden secret levels for tons of bonuses. The enemies are varied and run around like crazy fools with some hopping to and from the different ledges, which was most unexpected. There are several items to collect for health or power-ups and Scrappy can throw a mean couple of punches, even if his reach isn't that great. Collecting scooby snacks will eventually reward you with an extra life and you will need that for the desert stage and onwards when things get a lot trickier.

Visually, this is an excellent treat alright!! Scrolling is smooth, sprites are cartoon perfect and the levels are utterly gorgeous with a great design using bundles of colour. Audio is probably the best of all the games mentioned here thanks to funky chiptunes. You can switch to sound effects but I wouldn't bother if I were you.

Overall, this is a tie with Alien World for the best of Gary's games. They're very different of course but I cannot decide between the two. Good old Scrappy has delivered a killer punch with something that looks, sounds and plays brilliantly. I personally think this is one of the best platformers for the Atari ST. Yep, I said that.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.




- T Bird -

It's time to put on your Buck Rogers big boy pants for a blaster similar to Space Harrier or Galactic Conqueror. It's easier than the Sega conversion, so nowhere near as difficult as I originally feared thanks to its casual mechanics and fantastic controls. Graphically, there is a serious lack of colour and flair so things look incredibly bland. I don't get it, it's not like they sacrificed any glam for that (ahem) extra speed... Audio fairs a little better with chip music playing in the background and there is the option to hear sound effects instead. Don't bother.

T-Bird isn't a bad shooter but the above-mentioned games are miles better so I'm sensing that this was a port with little dedicated ST love. That is a massive shame because the ST rocks with 3D games like this. Ignore what I said about Bomb Fusion because this is definitely the weakest of the bunch and I'm gutted about that.

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from 8BitChip.




- Yogi's Great Escape -

Jellystone Park is going to close and all the animals are to be transported to the zoo so Yogi decides to escape before it shuts down. I imagine the local council sold the land to a housing property developer... Anyhow, I had high hopes for this platformer after seeing the screenshots full of colour and gorgeous cartoon sprites.

The main objective to dash through to the end of each level avoiding any nasties along the way. There are picnic baskets and items to collect but your main objective is to escape before the timer expires. Each level follows the same basic principle and there are lots of enemies, moving platforms, rolling platforms, long jumps and others stuff to ruin his day. Most of which feel fiddly and unfair, especially those irritating rolling platforms!!

The controls are responsive but Yogi's movements feel somewhat wooden and unrealistic. Plus he's too big for the environment which makes some jumps rather awkward. In fact, it doesn't feel like he can jump - it's more like floating? Very similar to something like Ghost Battle, rather than what you would actually hope for.

Visually, I love its cartoon appeal. Lots of care must have gone into going that extra mile - smooth scrolling, tons of colours and gorgeous sprites. Okay, the animation is lacking but this is one gorgeous looker! Audio is terrible with no in-game music only meagre spot-effects! Plus I didn't care for the fuzzy title music whatsoever.

Overall, Yogi felt flawed with weird mechanics and limited content which is a shame because it looks the business and certainly had potential. There's just something that puts me off and doing little more than rushing through each level. Sadly, it looks like Yogi isn't smarter than the average bear after all, so you're better off playing Potsworth & Co, Rolling Ronny, Stario, Magic Boy, Magic Pockets, Terry's Big Adventure, etc/etc/etc...

Grab the floppy disk from Stonish and the HDD from D-Bug.




- The CryptO'pinion -

Well, that was a peculiar and mixed bunch of arcade-inspired games. It's obvious there is a couple of direct ports here, which is a shame but understandable, I guess. It's also obvious that Gary's skill in getting the best out of the Atari ST improved considerably over the years and he certainly ended on two huge highs with Alien World and Scooby-Doo & Scrappy-Doo. In fact, these two are Christmas crackers and blew me away!!

I often wonder what it must have been like for people developers back in the day working against the constraints they were under. Anyhow, I personally enjoyed doing this and found it incredibly interesting so who knows what I'll do next. Have you played any of these games? What did you think? I'm interested to hear your thoughts...

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Mr. Do! Run Run


It's been a long time since I added something cool into our Pixel Art section so let's fix that right now with what I personally consider to be a fantastic arcade conversion with utterly gorrrrrgeous visuals! Yep, it's Mr Do! Run Run which was released in 1990 by Time Soldier dudes, Electrocoin. (I quite liked that quirky shooter).

The sweet pixels were created by Gary Felix who was responsible for Exolon, Future Sports and others. Ignoring the rather lame animated intro (sorry Gary) the clown title screen demonstrates what to expect from this arcade game. Even though it's peculiarly freaky, especially is you hate clowns. In-game graphics are nicely authentic to the arcade original using a rich, bold style with cutesy sprites. Lovers of Mr Do and PacMan are instantly going to feel at home in this world of colour. In fact, it almost makes Rainbow Island look drab. Well, almost!!!



In this top-down runaround, we play the part of a clown who dashes around the screen collecting fruit whilst trying to avoid various nasties that are chasing. We're armed with one ball to defend ourselves but this can be replaced by picking up several smaller balls off the floor. Heavy logs have been precariously propped and require only one well-timed nudge to see it roll down the screen squashing anything in its path. Just don't get in the way!

This gameplay is similar to PacMan but Mr Do is also writing a line as he moves (think Qix). Use this to draw a box and turn the pills into fruits: repeat the process to flip them into oranges, lemons and eventually pineapples for extra points. Yes, it is 'familiar' but the gameplay mechanics are excellent to provide a frantic adrenalin rush as you race around. The level is completed once all the balls are collected or the baddies are dead.

Now, although this is a Pixel Art feature, I feel I must mention the music by Wally Beben. I'm often amazed what the ST can produce but I feel he knocked the ball out of the park with truly outstanding arcade sounds:


Mr Do! Run Run is a tough game and the first screen will kick your butt!!! Stick with it. The joy I felt when finally reaching the second level was an ecstatic moment indeed. My advice: ignore the Qix elements and concentrate on mastering the controls and killing monsters with your ball(s). Once you're comfortable, then learn how to farm fruits and collect the bonuses. Not to mention the panic of learning just when to roll those logs :-)

Personally, I think this is one of the most overlooked ST arcade conversions. It is absolutely superb but, enough yapping from me because I think it's time to view some cool screenshots and get it downloaded!!


FLOPPY  |  HDD




Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is one of my favourite musicians who I've enjoyed listening to over the decades. However, that's quite an odd statement when you consider his name is credited on only three Atari ST games (chip). Well, I don't care about quantity because I could never forget my first Atari ST Christmas when I booted up Zynaps and Rana Rama. What a magical moment in time it was hearing these tunes!!

So, with only three chiptunes under his belt, how could I possibly say that Dave Rogers holds this accolade? Easy, because quality reigns over quantity and I've never stopped enjoying his work for over 3 decades. So he must have done something right?

Okay, back when I was running with the Super Pack feature, I got the notion to contact Dave after reviewing the *legend* that is Zynaps - a fantastic and underrated shooter with a massive learning curve. Yep, it takes no prisoners but the rewards are great if you put the time into beating its cruel nature. Which is just what I did - check out my video (which features all Super Pack games).

Well, knock me sideways because Dave replied and kindly took the time to answer a few questions. It was interesting chatting with the guy I've admired for decades and, like me, he's a northern lad. Talk about win-win! My sincere thanks to Dave for taking the time to be interviewed and I'll try my best to forgive your Mac hatred ;-)


DAVE ROGERS - THE INTERVIEW


Tell us about yourself...

The first computer I wrote music for was the Amstrad, using the basic sound command in Locomotive Basic and later I used my own compilers and drivers. For Spectrum and Atari ST games, the music and sound were not written on the machines themselves but were written on the Amstrad and the data was ported across. So, for example, the ST version of Zynaps uses the same sound data as the Amstrad version with a different driver.

I worked entirely from home (I had no choice really, due to some health problems at the time). I never met any other programmers, or anyone in the software industry, apart from two local guys here in Liverpool - Colin Hogg, who later founded The Code Monkeys software house, and Paul Kenny, who worked with me on the Sega.


What hardware was used?

This is quite the list: ZX81 and extras, Amstrad CPC 464, Amstrad disc drive, Dragon32, Spectrum 48k, Spectrum +3, Atari ST, Atari monochrome monitor, Atari disc drive, Sega Megadrive, Gameboy, custom electronics to interface the latter two, PC. I have never owned or used a Commodore 64.

The music compilers, editors and sound drivers for the Amstrad and Spectrum were my own. The driver for the ST was a line-by-line conversion of the Spectrum driver, done by a programmer at Hewson because I was new to the Atari ST and the 68000 (I never found out who did the conversion). The first time I used MIDI was with Cubase on the ST. I very much enjoyed using that setup. The Atari monochrome monitor was very clear, and that early version of Cubase was very simple and intuitive, unlike the cluttered mess that it has evolved into today.





Hang on, did I hear you say MIDI?

I used that Atari setup for doing the Megadrive and Gameboy music (Universal Soldier, Centipede, etc). Everything was written on the Atari ST and tracks were auditioned using sounds from a Korg DW8000 keyboard and a Roland D110 rack module put through a home-made mixer. Then the MIDI stream was converted to data for the Megadrive or Gameboy. Voicings for the Sega's FM sound chip and the Gameboy's sound chip were also done on the ST, using editors and drivers designed by Colin Hogg and myself.


Living the rockstar lifestyle, eh?

Almost everything was composed on guitar, a Gibson SG, but not through an amp. I just played it in a very quiet living room, usually in the small hours of the night when I could think clearly. As the music gradually took shape on the guitar I typed in the notes and durations in the form of plain text into my compiler program.

One note at a time. On a 1 to 10 scale of tediousness, it was an 11.

In your interview with Jason C. Brooke, he describes what sounds like a similar method: giving each note a text label, like "c3" to mean C at the third octave. I think many of us came up with similar methods.





Who inspired you back then?

I can find something to like in almost all genres of music, and from all eras, but particular favourites include XTC, Genesis, Police, It Bites, and Nik Kershaw. I'm always looking around for new stuff, and I'm constantly amazed by the brilliant musicians that can be found on YouTube if you look a bit outside of the mainstream.

However, the music that I always go back to, time and again, is by Tony Banks, both within Genesis and his solo work. Such epic, elegant tracks as Afterglow, Burning Rope, Mad Man Moon. Coincidentally, one of Banks' lesser-known tracks, "Charm", appears to be a nod towards early chip music, including the distinctive sound of fast trills. "Tony Banks - The Fugitive - Charm" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGS9xzyp9go

Trills were often used by chip musicians to try and compensate for the severe limitation of having only 3 channels to play with. So if, for example, you had a melody line on channel 1 and wanted to accompany it with a 4 note chord, say Cm7, you could trill between C and G on channel 2, and between Eb and Bb on channel 3. It wasn't a proper chord of course, but by trilling rapidly, at say 25 Hz, it gave a reasonable impression of one.

The only musician I worked with was a friend, Paul Kenny, on the Sega titles. But maybe cross-platform conversions could be thought of as "working with" other musicians? In Ranarama for example, Steve Turner had written an excellent melody line for the Spectrum version of the game, so when I did the ST conversion I followed his melody closely, added an intro, added bass and harmonies, then made a completely new section to lengthen it.


Why only three Atari ST chiptunes?

Well, the ST work only started towards the end of my stint with Hewson. Before that, it was all Spectrum and Amstrad, and after that, it was Sega and Gameboy. So my time writing for the ST was pretty short. Another reason is that I tried to aim for originality. Anything that sounded too much like existing music was thrown away.

Also, there are three tunes that were never used. One of them was my first attempt at the title music for Stormlord, which Raffaele Cecco didn't like, so I had to write another. And I'm glad because the first one was awful!





Looking back...

I'm quite happy with maybe about 70% of my work. Some of it has aged well with me, some has not. I'm still fond of Zynaps. However, a slight annoyance is that some YouTube videos contain glitches and spurious sounds. In this recording, for example, there's a horrible high pitched screech from 1:52 that wasn't in the original. The clean version for comparison can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkMe4vH7Zug


What's Dave Rogers doing these days?

I've never stopped writing music, but hardly any has been published, just these few on Soundcloud.

I'm currently using a PC (I hate MACs, sorry) running Cubase SX. I know that is out of date, but I'm comfortable with it. The software synths I'm using are similarly outdated, favourites being the Wavestation, Edirol Orchestra and some FM emulators. Inputs are from a Casio MG-510 Midi guitar, and occasionally an Edirol keyboard.

I think it's amazing that there is still so much interest in old computers and the games. Although maybe it's not all that surprising really, because they were a part of people's lives as they were growing up, and those sort of memories do tend to stick around. Anyway, I loved being involved in it, and contributing in some small way to the memories, and I really do appreciate the kind reviews and comments I've received over the years.

Cheers,
Dave Rogers, July 2020, Liverpool

Friday, June 26, 2020

War In Middle Earth


Games I have never played. . .

I've had this golden oldie gathering dust for over 4 years now and I've never once booted it up. Yup, I've no idea why, but its three floppy disks have never seen the inside of my ST's drive!. Heck, I've never even tried it in emulation... I'm now wondering why I'm so lazy and stupidly wasted cash to rescue a game I didn't really want?

I imagine it was going cheap on eBay but I've loved anything by Melbourne House, since my Speccy days so it was bound to happen!! Hang on, did you think that I was going to say "Tolkien" instead back there?? Anyhow, this 30-year-old treasure is in nice condition, even though the paper (for map and manual) smells a little musty.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-Lords in their halls of Stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Well, that sounds rather interesting!! But, for those who might not know, Tolkien's War in Middle Earth is a strategy adventure based around little creatures called Hobbits. You can't miss them - annoying fellas with big feet! This adaptation is loosely based on the books but, I believe, there is always the option to veer from the storyline to venture forth your own way separate from the novel. How far that might get me is anyone's guess.

So, umm, I've got little else to say about this RPG but I did notice that the screenshots display the Speccy and Amstrad versions - not exactly a positive sign!! Maybe I should stop yapping and boot it up? Has anyone played this? What can I expect? Should I watch the movies first or (gulp!!) make an effort to read the books? Surely not!!

Okay, enough questions. I've got a few free weekends coming up so let's see what happens...

 DISK  <  DOWNLOADS  >  HDD

Friday, June 19, 2020

Serenade #78


I really enjoyed the STAX #90 feature so figured I would do another one! This time we delve into the Serenade archives to see what's lurking on one of their amazing 85 "PD" disks - nothing quite like keeping it legit? Anyhow, menu #78 appeared to stand out from the crowd with lots of cool games crammed onto the one disk.

This is quite a simple menu compared to others from their catalogue but there is stereo music for those lucky enough to own an Atari STe. In fact, it's one of few mods which hasn't aged badly at all, so it's a massive thumbs up from this chiptune guy. Also, the scroller is very interesting - apparently, Man Utd did well against their arch-rivals!

The entire Serenade library can be download from Stonish with credits/etc on Demozoo.



- DEADLAND -

A platoon of little stickmen have crash-landed on the planet Ursula Minor and this place is crawling with Ursulan Soldiers who are eager to kill you without mercy! Also, there are dangerous natural disasters to avoid so it's best we don't hang about and quickly repair our spaceship to escape this hellhole. Which means piecing that together (JetPac-style!) before anyone can be safely evacuated. Sounds very easy, right?

Deadland first feels similar to Rebellion or Cannon Fodder: control the direction of your active soldiers using the mouse and a right-click turns them into trigger happy Rambo's. The planet is crawling with enemies and constantly frantic so it's tough learning to battle whilst planning construction work - that might also leave some vulnerable? It's easy to lose your bearings and, just when you're getting to grips, your men drown in a mud pool!!

The enemy is relentless so you cannot expect to wander about easily killing anything without taking a more strategical approach. Each member of your team is listed on the righthand side of the screen for a health condition and other abilities. Don't forget to look after these guys - green is never good outside of the GEM desktop. There is a lot to master whilst here, especially whilst defending against enemies, incoming rockets, mines /etc.

I really enjoyed Deadland and the concept is great but this isn't something you can easily pick up and play. It takes time and a map would have been nice as would using the cursor keys to scroll. Yep, I have struggled getting to grips with Deadland but it's an excellent strategy and potentially rewarding. If you're brave enough?


Deadland doesn't give a moments peace and constantly throws everything at you. Is that a rocket I can hear?



- TRAPPED II -

I couldn't get this to work on my Atari STe - blank screen! So I switched to emulation to discover a nifty Tron game. I've never been much of a fan of the genre but I gotta admit that it's good and features different game styles, screen layouts and even a few power-ups (which I didn't expect). There's not much to look at (shock) and I imagined the sound effects would grate, but they didn't. After all these decades, I actually enjoyed a Tron game!


Some of the screens are nicely designed and help spruce up the simple gameplay.



- MANIC MINEFIELD -

Minesweeper was another fad which I have always failed to appreciate and Manic Minefield appears faithful to what I remember with gameplay that's about as enjoyable as I expected. Anyhow, after a few games I enjoyed this crude imitator even though I never won a single game! Actually, I would often feel robbed of a win because I'm sure the ST cheats!! Then it rubs salt into your wounds using a fuzzy sound sample to mock your lack of success. Interestingly, the board size, wallpaper, /etc can all be altered in the Options screen, which is kinda cool.

Manic Minefield is okay and I imagine fans will enjoy it? But I doubt it's something I will play again...


With one click I nearly cleared the board screen which left no real options... which means BOOM!!



- FRANK & THE LOST AUBERGINE -

Never would I have imagined loving a game's title more than "Hector vs The Mutant Vampire Tomatoes From Hell" yet here is Frank And The Lost Aubergine which is superb!! It's a fast-paced platformer developed using the STOS Missing Link extension and has us frantically running around screens crammed with monsters and gems.

Collect every gem to proceed onto the next level but watch out for the baddies. These can be killed by dropping a well-timed bomb directly in their path - difficult but doable. Or you could just slam into them albeit at the expense of losing one of your 50 lives. Yep, 50 and you'll need them all because there are lots of monsters!

Movement is very fast - too fast!! It's extremely difficult positioning just where to stand when you wish to leap off a ledge. In fact, leaping over the wider gaps is close to impossible and it takes too many attempts. I love a platformer that tests your patience, skills and dexterity but it simply doesn't work here. A good idea poorly executed.


Never have I known a game to give so many lives. Be warned, you will need every one of them!



- DELUXE INVADERS -

I love Space Invaders and I'm confident nothing will ever beat Sinister Developments' fantastic conversion which is arcade perfect using authentic effects!! However, this is a conversion of Roklan's 8-Bit Deluxe Invaders by the legend that is Dave Munsie. I've never played the Roklan game so was hoping for something different.

There are two game modes: slow and fast. The slower game looks superb with colourful aliens invading your screen and can be sped-up by flicking over to 60Hz - something you should consider. The faster version is better to play but appears boring in comparison, so I went looking for green cellophane to wrap around my monitor!

Sadly, I didn't feel it with Deluxe Invaders and much preferred the original if I'm honest. There are better "Invader" games for the Atari ST and I'm also a bit deflated because I've finally found a Munsie game I don't like :(


So, which game do you prefer - colour or speed? Yeah, I'm not so sure I get it either...



- NIBE -

This is a great snake game which I featured this a couple of years ago so I'll copy and paste:

NIBE is a Nibbler/Snake game by Marc Bourlon that features an ever-greedy snake who wants to chomp his way through lots of apples. However, this gluttony makes him grow longer with each bite so it becomes harder protecting him from bumping into walls or even his own tail. It's our job to help him eat his way through lots of screens - and many are pretty cruel in their design. You can even change the game's speed (if you dare!!)

Graphics are humble and suit the retro theme plus I love its title screen - which is actually a good intro. Sadly, there are no sound effects so Mad Max music plays throughout - never a bad thing!! Overall, Nibe is pretty straightforward and also extremely challenging thanks to a sinister design. Stick with it because the basic mechanics are spot-on and Nibe will certainly test your reactions, patience and concentration so prepare thyself to be tormented!!

I really enjoyed this olde game but beware, it's tough. Probably too tough for you!!!


Nibe demands Godlike gaming skills. Come on, just look at those impossible apples!!



- MULTRIX -

Groan, another Tetris game? Yup, and it's not that good I'm sorry to say so play BLAT or Teserae instead.


Okay, I'm being harsh!! It's a basic Tetris clone, which is "fine", but you should still play BLAT!



- The CryptO'pinion -

Well, that wasn't the awesome ride through the Atari ST history books that I first imagined. In fact, it was a little bit of a letdown if I'm honest! Not only did I have compatibility problems with a couple of games (Atari STe) but this was a true mixed bag of joy, disappointment and even a few stinkers thrown in for good measure!

It all depends on what you like but, for me, Deadland and Nibe are the best reasons to click download.