Review: Elite

Elite

Elite is a game that most people will already know about, a space trading/combat game set in a miniature recreation of the universe. This version crams 8000 planets in 8 galaxies into 512k of RAM – a feat that I can only assume involves some use of procedural generation. Elite 2 would go further many years later but at the time this was enormously impressive, though of course the planets themselves aren’t hugely detailed, nor can you land on them – they are merely backdrops for the stations you visit.

ST Format Review
Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review
As has become my approach for the more complex games in this series, I started with the manual. It starts by telling you a bit about the ship, which is middle-of-the-road, a reasonable trade ship that can also handle a bit of combat if need be. It moves on to telling you about how you progress through the ranks starting harmless, moving through mostly harmless, poor, average, competent, dangerous and elite, and how the law works (if you’re seen doing something naughty the police will shoot at you). Some details on flying with guidance on key controls come next.

I decided to pause this and practice flight, starting with the most precise job, docking. I started by trying to use the mouse, but I’ll save you from making the same mistake. Don’t do it. There’s some strange idea of the mouse being like a joystick, so that if the mouse is in the centre then you’ve centred movement, while if you move it around it doesn’t move in the manner you might expect from a PC FPS, instead it will remain in continuous motion as if a joystick was that far from the centre. There’s also a very odd dead zone in the middle that’s quite hard to guage. So, don’t use the mouse. Use the keyboard.

< Roll left
> Roll right
S Dive
X Climb
SPACE Speed up
/ Slow down

The rest of the manual details other controls for hyperspace and jump options, but my first mission was to dock. As already mentioned, I first attempted this with the mouse. It did not go well, while I did manage to get to the space station (after spinning wildly trying to get pointed at something), I managed to crash into the wall, continuing the theme of me trying these games and being utterly shit at them. I then figured out that the keyboard was better and docking turned out to be a piece of cake. Thank fuck for that.

The space station bears some resemblance to the ones in Elite Dangerous of course, as you’d expect, but vastly less detailed – to dock you just fly at a black rectangle and hope. It’s a bit jerky, but it is at least filled vectors unlike the 8-bit versions. This was actually pretty impressive until much later in the ST’s life when the likes of Damocles and the Midwinter games made larger leaps (both of course offering far more detail albeit in more constrained locations). Sound is absolutely dreadful, no music other than the intro screen, no ship noises and just some annoying beeps to let you know when you or someone else has fired a shot.

So, back to the manual, aiming to find out some more.

******* a couple of days later *******

I tend to play Elite Dangerous as a space trucker and I’m hoping to do the same here (and managed to figure out the buying and selling before going back to the manual – yeah I’m awesome). Noting that I started on an agricultural world and that I could buy food cheap there and sell more expensively on an industrial world, I purchased food and headed for leesti. I left the station and engaged hyperspace, with all its fancy tunnel-effect, and arrived near my chosen world. I jumped to get closer but was interrupted by pirates. After a lot of faff trying to figure out where the buggering hell it was and wrestling with awful controls I finally shot one down for 0.5 credits. That was worth it. Shot down another, ended up taking down 4 ships which I was quite proud of considering how bad he controls are. The lack of yaw in particular is doing my fucking head in. A couple more goes lead to similar outcomes.

The approach to energy is quite interesting, and I think unusual for the time, in that your shields will regenerate from the energy you have stored, but that energy is also depleted by shooting, while the energy bank itself replenishes at a fixed rate – it means that you have to be careful with your shots, not wasting too many. It creates an interesting mechanic and of course Elite Dangerous goes a step further by allowing you to determine biases for where energy should go.

Another interesting mechanic is the idea that you can jettison from a ship to be taken to the nearest safe space, and as your wanted level is tied to your ship, you can clear your wanted status, and you get given a new Cobra [the starting ship] (minus its cargo). This means that if your wanted level is too much, you could sell everything, go back to a cobra and then jettison from the cobra to get your wanted level back to 0 without losing anything. Whether that is intentional is of course anyone’s guess but it allows a way out if the heat gets too much.

Sadly, for me, all these great ideas are tied to a game that controls poorly, making it too hard to get to the game underneath all the jank. I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this, maybe Frontier Elite 2 will be better.

Review: Super Hang-On

Super Hang-On

Super Hang-On is another game that came with my Atari ST in the Power Pack.

(yeah I’m using a pirated version)

ST Format Review
Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review
The power pack came with Super Hang-On and Outrun. Outrun had the glamour, the Ferrari, the multiple routes to the end, but it was also not a particularly good conversion on the ST. Super Hang-On on the other hand, it was fucking brilliant.

Like most racers of the time it used stripes to convey a rolling road, with sprites by the roadside to help the illusion of speed, the view from behind your vehicle. Like other games, while initially showing you alongside other racers, those others would leave you in the dust at the start never to reappear, because it was a time-trial and not a race, with bikes appearing at random as you made your way through the stages.

Courses twisted and turned, offering wonderful verticality and sweeping bends as you try to take each bend at the fastest speed possible, pushing forward to accelerate and holding down fire to activate turbo. Crashing into anything was a mere delay, not the end of the game, though with limited time to complete each stage you don’t have time to dawdle.

Graphics are excellent, but sound too is worth a mention. While using the Atari ST’s notoriously dodgy sound chip, it manages to convey each of those classic Super Hang-On tunes (which WILL get stuck in your head) beautifully and the music in Super Hang-On remains some of my favourite in any game. Sure it’s not as nice as on other platforms, but with what was available at the time it’s bloody lovely.

A bonus worth mentioning – while most games only let you put 3 letters on the high score table, Super Hang-On lets you have 4, which offers a perfect opportunity for filth. It’s got to be worth it for that alone.

Review: Star Goose

Star Goose

Star Goose came with my Atari ST in the Power Pack, one of a huge selection of games. While not as big a personal hit as Nebulus, I did enjoy it at the time and it’s good to revisit and see how it’s aged.

ST Format Review
Before I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game.

My Review
My copy as a kid came without a manual (you can see the little cards for each game at http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-power-pack_21792.html if you’re curious).

As a kid I somehow missed the fact that alt controlled the left missile and caps lock controlled the right. As a kid I was a fucking idiot.

So, this time I thought it might be nice to actually read the manual. https://www.gamesdatabase.org/Media…tar_Goose_-_1988_-_Logotron_Entertainment.pdf if you fancy it, it’s not a super-long read but it’s a remarkable amount of effort for a fairly bog-standard shooter. Whoever wrote it is clearly a fan of Red Dwarf, even going as far as to name the ship’s captain Scouser-Gitt. With a cheeky 4th-wall breaking bit about scrolling other planets blasting shit out of everything it’s a cheeky attempt at 80s British humour and strangely endearing. I can’t say I learned a huge amount about the game, other than the fucking keys I missed as a stupid fucking kid, but I will continue to read the manual first to reduce idiocy. This is important.

So, to the game. I insert the disk, enjoy the nostalgic glow of that crunchy floppy drive sound, and wait for the title screen.

What I get is actually quite a nice little animation, with the smaller ship dropping from bay doors on the bigger ship. I press fire and I’m thrown straight into the action. This shooter is a tad different to the average as it turns out, with a couple of seldom-seen features.

First up, and most obvious, is the terrain. It has height. If you shoot from down low and there’s a mountain in front of you, your lasers will simply go into the side of the mountain instead of hitting whatever’s on top, and this is because you’re on the ground, not flying above it like most shooters. Additionally, sometimes the terrain stops and while it’s not visually obvious that you’re going over something lethal, your death soon makes that clear and you don’t make the same mistake again. This adds to the challenge no doubt, but I’m not sure it’s that big a deal beyond being a nice bullet point on the back of the box and a nice challenge for the programmers. It looks cool though. To get around this problem, if you have a mountain between you and a big threat, you can use a missile, but of course you have a limited supply.

That brings me to another unusual feature. Ammo is limited. I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a vertical shooter. I discovered this at about the same time I discovered that holding down fire would autofire (unusual for the time – why do you think joysticks with autofire switches were so popular?). Autofire is rapid, and will drain your ammo fast. And then you’re a sitting duck (goose surely).

Luckily there are ways to collect fuel, ammo and shield energy. Scattered through the level are coloured blobs corresponding to the colour of each meter. Additionally, there are tunnels which allow you to top up fuel and ammo.


The refuelling minigame requires use of momentup to get up the walls to catch the pods – so like a swing you go left, then right, then left to get higher up the walls, until you can get what you want. Of course if you speed up you can get more swing, but it also becomes harder to catch the pods.

Overall and the graphics aren’t bad for this stage in the ST’s development (not as smooth as some later games but overall decent enough). Sound is the usual warbly chiptune, not particularly memorable and you do at least have the option of turning it off if you really hate it.

There are some nice ideas, but it is a bit basic, and a lot of the ‘challenge’ is more to do with not being able to see far enough ahead due to being in too close to the action, and poor signposting, than it is to do with the scarcity or the terrain itself. I do consider that the game has something to teach in terms of game design however – if you’re learning to make games this might be a good second step after your first vertical shooter.

ST/Amiga Format Issue 5

Issue 5 – Download

Wait.. what about Carrier Command?
To be honest I just couldn’t get anything interesting out of it, struggling to find the motivation for it and honestly what I was writing was just utter shit. Better to leave it to someone else than do a shit job of it.

The World in October 1988

Musically it was a mixed month. Erasure had A Little Respect, Kim Wilde didn’t trust strangers and Womack And Womack were still in the top 10 but the rest of the top 10 singles were awful. In the albums the Pet Shop Boys released one of their weaker 80s efforts, Kylie clung on, and the rest was absolute dirge. Films were better, Good Morning Vietnam with Robin Williams at his best, Buster (not cool to admit liking it but I do so tough titties), and the wonderful Beetlejuice still clinging on.

Previews
This month’s previews were a mixed bag. You had some things I’ve never heard of like Lords Of The Rising Sun, Pioneer Plague and Dragon Slayer, then you have Rocket Ranger which I only know of by name. Finally we have Afterburner and Pacmania which both came with my ST and were reasonably solid (I’d rate Pacmania above Afterburner), Falcon which I’ve played a little of later versions on PC, and a preview for the wonderful Damocles which would eventually appear in August 1990 – one of the greatest games ever made and you can see a bit more about it at http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-damocles-mercenary-ii_9951.html but rest assured I’ll be giving it a full write-up because it’s a game I adore.

Reviews
Without a teaser on the missed games (just a moan at the Royal Mail being shite, which in the 80s they really were as competition wasn’t a thing), we find ourselves with 10 games reviewed:

– Menace (Shooter – Psygnosis – £24.95 – 90% Format Gold) – distinctly 8-bit looking with limited colours. Big sprites but not very smooth, doesn’t seem to bring anything new to the genre.
– Fusion (Shooter – Bullfrog/EA – £24.95 – 82%) – Bullfrog hadn’t yet hit their creative stride – this slow jerky shooter bears a passing resemblance to Xenon 1 (which isn’t a compliment) but without the smoothness.
– POW (Operation Wolf clone – US Action – £29.95 – 84%) – Claims ST version imminent but I’ve not been able to find any sign of it on the internet so assuming Amiga-only. From Youtube the shooting looks somewhat better than Summer Olympiad!
– Powerplay (Pub Quiz Game – Arcana – £19.95 – 55%) – Christ they must have been desperate to review this shit.
– Luxor (Run and Gun – Paradox – £14.95 – 60%) – Play Turrican instead
– Stargoose (Shooter – Logotron – £19.95 – 68%) – Came with my ST – it’s ok.
– Elite (You fucking know what Elite is – Firebird – £24.95 – 75%)
– Veteran (Another Operation Wolf Clone – Software Horizons – £14.95 – 60%)
– Operation Neptune (Underwater shoot-em-up – Infogrames – £24.95 – 70%)
– Super Hang-On (Bike racer arcade conversion – Electric Dreams – £19.99 – 65%) – criminally underrated
– Netherworld (Shooter – Hewson – £19.95 – 64% [60% for ST version as it’s shit])

Slim pickings this month but I think I’ll probably review Stargoose and Super Hang-On because I know them well, and Elite because I never got to play Elite 2 on the ST and only played Elite Dangerous on the PC (which was shite).

Reviews For October 1988

Review: Elite

Elite Elite is a game that most people will already know about, a space trading/combat game set in a miniature recreation of the universe. This version crams 8000 planets in 8 galaxies into 512k of RAM – a feat that I can only assume involves some use of procedural generation. Elite 2 would go further…More

Review: Super Hang-On

Super Hang-On Super Hang-On is another game that came with my Atari ST in the Power Pack. (yeah I’m using a pirated version) ST Format ReviewBefore I start my review, here’e ST Format’s take on the game. My ReviewThe power pack came with Super Hang-On and Outrun. Outrun had the glamour, the Ferrari, the multiple…More

Review: Star Goose

Star Goose Star Goose came with my Atari ST in the Power Pack, one of a huge selection of games. While not as big a personal hit as Nebulus, I did enjoy it at the time and it’s good to revisit and see how it’s aged. ST Format ReviewBefore I start my review, here’e ST…More