ST Format Issue 10 – Download
The World in April 1990
In the UK we had the Strangeways Prison riot, and an earthquake (unusual for Britain). It was only 5.1 so not much to write home about but quite exciting for Britain. Aldi opened in the UK – they didn’t make much impact at the time but these days they’re quite popular. Customs seized parts of an Iraqi supergun. Labour were 23 points ahead of the Tories, piling pressure on the government. Steven Hendry at 21 became the youngest ever world snooker champion. He would go on to bore us all to death for many years. Liverpool won the league. They’d have quite a long wait to do it again, but they wouldn’t go on and on and on and on and on and on about it.
The Poll Tax came into effect, prompting further rioting. It was deeply unpopular.
In US news the Hubble Space Telescope was launched. It was awesome. Two hostages were released in the Lebabon hostage crisis.
Elsewhere in the world Yugoslavia got their first non-communist government. Meanwhile East and West Germany agreed to merge currencies and economies on July 1st – an extraordinary endeavour given how uneven they were with the Eastern economy in a dreadful state.
On TV Round The Twist made its debut on BBC1, a wonderfully quirky Australian kids show. ITV launched the less wonderful You’ve Been Framed. It’s still going, even though with Youtube now a thing it no longer needs to exist. They still pay £250 for videos of people falling over. Jeeves and Wooster started its 4 year run. British Satellite Broadcasting launched its satellite TV service. It would later merge with Sky.
The film charts are a bit better – Look Who’s Talking at #1 is no classic but it’s fun, but at #2 is Uncle Buck, a film I truly adore. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure at #3? Yes please (just don’t watch the 2020 sequel).
The album chart has three greatest hits albums in the top 4. Ok #2 is Bowie so I can forgive that but otherwise it’s a poor effort.
The singles chart is better, with Madonna’s Vogue at #1 (admittedly not as good as her earlier work), the wonderful Snap with The Power at #2 and Alannah Myles at #3 with Black Velvet (absolute banger). The Happy Mondays and the B-52 are there too, and the magnificent They Might Be Giants with Birdhouse In Your Soul at #10.
Issue 10 came out in April 1990, and was my second issue of ST Format. The cover feature this month was the question of what makes a good game great, though I can’t honestly say the image captures that. The cover disk featured a demo of Wipe Out which I played more than I really should despite it being shit. Basically it was a 3D version of the Nokia snake game (though Nokia mobiles weren’t yet a thing). The difference was that you were competing against AI also laying trails, and the objective was to make your opponent crash into your trail. I guess it was probably closer to the light cycles in the Tron movie then. Anyway, you get the point.
News covers the release of the Discovery Pack, replacing the Power Pack, with fewer games. The lack of games is however counterbalanced by STOS and Neochrome being bundled in. The games include 3 from the Power Pack (Outrun, Space Harrier, Bomb Jack) and one addition (Carrier Command). Also Atari were still trying to flog their CD-ROM drive, though any fool knows CDs will never take off. Atari made a rare profit, $45.7m compared to losing $97m the previous year.
We have an interesting innovation of some software which works with a Teletext adapter to grab pages from Teletext and automatically convert that to share prices to keep you up-to-date so you can trade more profitably. Of course now we do all that with APIs over the internet, but this was a remarkable solution at the time.
We get a feature on what would later become known as Photoshopping – the idea of taking scanned images and mixing them into something new using an art tool. The image, created with Spectrum 512 (so named because it can work with all 512 colours of the palette) looks pretty good considering the machine it’s running on.
The feature on killer games gives us a 4-page analysis of what works and what doesn’t, from the perspective of the era, and may prove an interesting historical read for some. We have Peter Molyneux arguing for originality (this was when he was a legend, rather than the sad figure he became later in his career). We have a brief discussion of older classics like Space Invaders and Centipede, looking down at their graphics in part because graphics were evolving at a fast pace in those days, and developers were finding new ways to push the hardware, which made graphical prowess a bigger factor than perhaps today where it’s more art style that differentiates than pure technical power. We have a boxout covering arcade and movie licences, the latter tending to be shit while the former was a more mixed bag – typically an interpretation of gameplay on a more advanced system and at this point in the ST’s life typically slow and jerky. They end by noting that no killer game had emerged from a movie license and they were right until Westwood’s Bladerunner game in my opinion (can be found on Gog if you want it).
We have a little box on solving the ST’s horizontal scrolling problem, though I think they’re being a tad premature here. The article finishes up by noting a slow shift away from the bedroom developer towards teams with a specialist for code, another for music and another for visuals, and that’s something that has only accelerated as modern PC games require teams of hundreds of individuals with specialist roles, taking something away from the auteur development of the past.
There’s some discussion of the need for speed, and certainly lack of it is an issue with many ST games but quite a few work without it (see Midwinter). That said, developers were starting to find tricks to disguise the wait for disk accesses, many of which persist in modern development (things like pre-loading content if you think you’ll need it soon – this also means holding fewer things in memory at once and thus allow one to do more with what’s there). We get a little boxout on the snobbery around prices, with Microprose pointing out that their research showed people wanted big exciting boxes and were happy to pay for it, and a slightly snobby put-down of Pipe-Mania suggesting it took little programming skill (not entirely true – more importantly they’re devaluing the game design skill because creating a great simple game design is a hugely skillful thing to do). The list of games they define as classics is interesting – I’m not sure The Last Crusade, Starglider 2, Virus, Strider, Defender of the Crown or Space Ace belong there at all.
We have previews for Battlemaster which I remember playing a cover disk demo of and having no fucking idea what was going on. That did not sell the game to me. Then there’s Back To The Future 2 which I also played a cover disk demo of but enjoyed rather more (visuals are cool but the gameplay in truth was mediocre). We get a glimpse of World Soccer from Microprose which I don’t remember at all (perhaps that became Microprose Soccer?) and a platformer Fire And Brimstone which I also don’t remember much about. Dragon Flight looks like it might be an RPG but I can’t be sure. More exciting releases come in the form of two flight sims, Flight Of The Intruder set in Vietnam, and Their Finest Hour (sequel to Battlehawks 1942). There’s the futuristic helicopter combat sim (if I recall) Thunderstrike with its light-source shaded 3d (beaten to the punch by Midwinter). Finally htere’s some weird shit in the form of Alpha Wave.
Games reviewed this month:
Dragon’s Breath (Strategy – Palace – £29.99 – 92% Format Gold)
Paris Dakar (Rally – Tomahawk – £24.99 – 32%)
Wayne Gretzky Hockey (Sport sim – Mirrorsoft – £24.95 – 90% Format Gold)
Kid Gloves (Platformer – Logotron – £24.99 – 77%)
Crackdown (top-down run and gun – US Gold – £19.99 – 81%) – very generous judging from Youtube footage
Ivanhoe (Run and Stab – Ocean – £19.99 – 66%)
Escape From The Planet Of The Robot Monsters (Isometric exploring/shooting – Domark – £19.99 – 80%)
Castle Master (Freescape – Incentive/Domark – £19.99 – 90% Format Gold)
Space Ace (Interactive Movie – Readysoft – £44.95!!! – 58%)
Armada (Turcan wargame – Arc – £24.95 – 91% Format Gold) – looks like I was right about the typed commands so no idea what happened in the Borodino test
Oriental Games (1 vs 1 fighter – Microstyle – £24.99 – 78%)
Full Metal Planete (Strategy – Infogrames – £24.99 – 78%)
Demon’s Tomb (Adventure – Virgin – £24.99 – 61%)
Windwalker (No idea – Mindscape – £29.99 – 51%)
Of those, the ones that interest me most are Dragon’s Breath (which fascinated me as a kid but for some reason I never ended up buying), the utterly gorgeous-looking Ivanhoe, Castle Master (which looks like taking Freescape to the limit). The rest, if I’m honest, doesn’t grab me particularly. I’ll probably tackle Ivanhoe first as that’s probably the one I can get a review done for quickest, then Castle Master which is a big game but probably has the least learning curve, then I’ll dive into Dragon’s Breath, which I reckon will take some figuring out.
For those playing along at home, I’ll be sourcing pirated releases from my TOSEC collection. Here’s a list of releases, likely you’ll also find decent releases at AtariMania.
– Ivanhoe – Automation 429, Vectronix 773
– Castle Master – Automation 247, Flames of Finland 4, Fuzion 4, SuperGAUY 328, Pompey Pirates 35.
– Dragon’s Breath – Automation 300, Pompey Pirates 36, Vectronix 394.
This Month’s Reviews
Dragon’s Breath ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62 – I’m not on my usual PC and for some reason the version of Steem on this one won’t let me have a maximised window without going full screen, so screenshot sizes may vary. On…
Castle Master ST Format Feature (previous issue) ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.04. On this occasion I’ve chosen Automation 247. This is another very simple intro – a nice digitised image, scrolly text and some actually quite decent music. On to the game.…
Ivanhoe ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.04. On this occasion I’ve chosen Automation 429. The intro is quite low-key, just a simple static image and a basic scroller. The game introduces with a super-smoothly animated sword flying in over a well-drawn facial close-up…