Another day arrives and with it comes a crate of old software boxes for the Atari ST. With it being my primary PC during my high school and early University years I accumulated a bit over time and wasn’t afraid of jumping in at the occasional sale either.
The latest box was a big change from the last in that there was a fair amount of productivity software in there amongst the games. Just about every ST user would be familiar with the word processor 1st Word/Plus but my big interest was art packages and I started early with NeoChrome, PaintPro and Degas Elite before finding the right tools later on.
Of some of the stuff I found this time, I really wish I were a bit older at the time to have truly appreciated what Cyber Paint (an animation tool) could offer because it was pretty impressive software at the time, for any platform. Anyway, on to some of the goodies…
Deluxe Paint (1990)
My absolute favourite art package on the ST was Deluxe Paint – it had taken a long time for the famous Amiga software to arrive but the wait was worth it as it was a fantastic tool that let me be way more productive than I had ever been previously. Most of the “standard” tools at the time were from early in the platform’s life as little else had been developed that did the task much better.
From what I could remember, Deluxe Paint can’t be looked at as being a port of the Amiga version but more a new product designed to be familiar to ST users but with a feature set in line with the original software. In my case I found it’s UI similarities to NeoChrome helped me jump in quickly and work in a way I was comfortable with.
Even with the more restricted graphic capabilities of the ST some great images were possible. I probably used the gradient fill more than I really needed to but I churned out a few pics over those years.
I’m definitely no artist but here’s a handful of my favourite creations. They’re more than twenty years old now and might seem tiny (ST low res screen was a mere 320×200 pixels with 16 colours) but I enjoyed what I was able to come up with and that’s more than enough. The Star Wars pic even got printed in ST Format magazine so I was pretty happy with that one. 🙂
Now, let’s move on to the games… 🙂
Better Dead Than Alien (1988)
I have to admit that the title alone probably makes this game sound a lot better than it is but nevertheless I did spend quite a few hours playing this game. It’s basically a Space Invaders / Galaxians clone with powerups that as you can see from the box shot, had a pulp sci-fi vibe to it.
Each wave would have its own unique enemies to shoot at and waves would occasionally be broken up with boss battles. The game tended to not stray from a fairly limited colour palette but that was made up for by the variety in the enemy designs for each wave.
To aid you powerups were available but you needed to shoot the occasional green eyed alien you would find who would then drop a power up canister for you to collect. They weren’t totally necessary for success but I think they went a long way in getting you through waves quickly.
What made this game very different for me though was that player one had the option to use a mouse to move your little ship around and it changes the game completely. You could even say that it makes the game a whole lot easier too but for what the game is I think that is fine as it does result in you being able to play for a lot longer than you would if you were using just the joystick.
Definitely not a shining example of games from the platform but it was something I played regularly and got more than my money’s worth from.
Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit (1987)
This was the first game making software I had ever seen at the time and went a long to making me understand that even with a neat tool like this that making games is pretty hard work.
Created by Sensible Software, Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit (or SEUCK) provided users with a simplified framework from which they could together the pieces for their own game. Users were limited to either static screens or vertically scrolling playfields but it was still possible to make a lot out of what you had available.
The tools allowed you to create player and enemy sprites, background tiles and playfields, define enemy attack patterns and even create sound effects though unlike the Amiga version the ST couldn’t use samples.
I remember a lot about my own attempt at using SEUCK. It was called “Atari Assault” (fanboy!) and had you piloting a Fuji shaped ship over a circuit board playfield shooting down spinning flopping discs and evil competitor logos. Not entirely original I’ll admit but it did keep me amused.
There’s a good chance I will find the disk itself stashed around here somewhere and it still works… it was not necessarily a good game but it worked!
Back when Peter Molyneux was at developer Bullfrog and his promises were only slightly less grandiose, he helped usher in the “god sim” with Populous.
The game sets the player up as the deity of a small group of followers on a procedurally generated map. From the beginning you have the ability to alter the terrain which allows you to provide the area needed for your followers to expand their homes and produce even more followers .
Increasing your followers is important as there is a competing deity (AI, or networked player) on the map who is doing the same and at some point when the two of you face off you want to make sure that you’ve got the advantage.
Raising and lowering ground though aren’t the extent of your powers. As you accrue followers you gain the ability to perform divine acts including earthquakes, volcanoes and floods which is carefully used can make your opponent’s ability to defeat you very difficult.
With 500 levels there wasn’t a shortage of content for you to get through even if most of the challenge lay in geographical variety more than anything else. And though games descended from it may be more far more detailed in their options and simulation, Populous excels in being the type of game that is easy to pick up and play while still providing hours of fun.
No system in the modern era is complete without a version of Tetris in its library and this is one of the most notable ones thanks to it being the very first commercial release of the game.
Published by Mirrorsoft in the UK it would be available on formats ranging from the ZX Spectrum all the way up to the Commodore Amiga.
The ST version was almost identical to the Amiga’s whose visuals played off the game’s Russian heritage in its visual design. The arcade version developed by Atari Games came out a year later in 1988 and carried the design motif even further. It was a great game version of the game too.
Playing this is confirmation of just how perfect the deign of Tetris was from the very beginning. Thirty years later very little has changed at all from the core mechanics and the game continues to win new fans and keep old ones challenged.
This is one game I definitely think deserved more than to simply disappear after just one sequel.
Mike Singleton’s Midwinter was pretty unique at the time of its release not only for its scope but for the many mechanics present at the time which you now see in abundance in modern games.
The game takes place on the isle of Midwinter, created after a cataclysm causes the Earth to plunge into a new ice age. The Free Villages Peace Force (FVPF) led by John Stark manages the security of the island but when the ruthless General Masters takes steps to take over, it’s up to him to rally the people and defeat Masters before it is too late.
The game is played from a first person perspective as Stark initially begins his task and travels the breadth of the island (a substantial 410,000 square kilometres) through skiing, snowmobiles and even hang gliders. This is all represented in 3D polygons that are brilliantly effective in showing the wintery world.
Where the game first begins to surprise though is the moment you try recruiting your first ally. You see, everyone in the world of Midwinter has some kind of relationship with each other and the chances of your success might just be determined by knowing who to recruit at the right time. As Stark isn’t universally liked, you will have to rely on the rest of your team to help you through.
And from here the game begins to branch out more as the game takes on a turn based approach where you are allocated a slice of game time (two hours) for each member of your team to do what they need. The key here is the more members you have, the more that can be done in each turn. So recruitment becomes a powerful tool at your disposal.
As your team builds up, learning to best use their talents will further make your task easier. Some are good skiers making basic travel easier and less likely to get injured. Others are good marksmen which will help when fighting against the General’s forces. All of them have their own way of contributing to the cause which is important as injuries to key members is likely and you’ll need to give them time to recover by having others take over.
This all sounds fairly typical of games now but when Midwinter was first released these additional layers of complexity were unheard of. The game’s hefty manual did a lot to alleviate it by including a lot of information on the game, including characters bios, to help make planning a lot easier. There was even a giant map thrown in with all of the settlement locations marked out clearly.
For those with the skills, it was entirely possibly to complete the game within a short timeframe if you were able to travel to General Masters home base and take him out but you also risked the same happening to you without any backup. But the option was there for anyone willing to try.
There was an attempt to bring the game back a couple of years ago but it appears that process has stalled indefinitely which is an absolute tragedy. Hopefully someone else can pick up the baton and we can once again lead the resistance.
Taking into account the amount of game boxes I still have piled up, there might be some more posts like this down the road! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.