Review: Midwinter 1


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 Pompey Pirates 28. The intro features some well-drawn artwork, decent music and the usual scrolling text.

The loading screen isn’t quite up to Midwinter 2 standards, it’s solid but those trees are awful. That said, there are hints of the artstyle that would come to define Microprose, that beautiful pixel-art for intermission screens away from their 3D engines.

This options screen feels quite of its time, a little less exciting than the beautiful screens of Midwinter 2, but then again Midwinter 1 was a risky project and probably didn’t have the resources that its sequel would later enjoy as a known quantity.

So to put this game into a bit of historical context, the cold war was ending (as you’ll have seen from the reports about each magazine issue where I cover that month’s news) and environmental awareness was definitely becoming more of a thing. Captain Planet (kids cartoon) would arrive in September of that year, and people were starting to worry about holes in the ozone layer. However Midwinter harks back to an older climate panic, the fear of a new ice age which was prevalent in the 1970s, and indeed the politics of its world are also closer to the 70s [and presciently to the 2020s] with radical left-wing terror groups gaining popularity.

So.. I’m about to discuss the manual and the story – if you want to get straight to the TLDR skip down to “Hariseldon’s guide to things you need to know when playing”.

The manual begins by detailing an assassination attempt on the US President in 2015 (the future) by the Global Green Army, a group of eco-terrorists. These eco-terrorists wanted to see governments act together to combat the greenhouse effect. A second newspaper story from 2017 tells of governents conspiring to have people believe that a mini ice age will solve the climatic crisis. This does not appease the eco-terrorists.

We then get what looks like a top secret government report, The Midwinter Report, which details how a mini ice age may be achieved. It’s actually pretty technical stuff, remarkable work to go into ‘only a computer game’. Anyway, the report initially details how one might predict an ice age. Continental drift is discussed, given the idea that position of continental landmasses accounts for some ice age activity. The next discussion centres around reflecting sunlight where cloud and ice reflect the most. It then details the trapping of heat through atmospheric gases and how this creates a greenhouse effect. There is then some discussion of the need to change one of these many variables if one is to achieve an ice age – that is the need to either increase reflectivity or reduce the trapping of heat. We determine that reducing the strength of the trap by reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would not work due to the effect it would have on plants, and further this is impractical when it is the addition of carbon to the atmosphere by man which is the problem in the first place. Next we have increasing reflectivity. We get a pretty deep meteological discussion of clouds and fog, before alighting on particulate matter entering the atmosphere, much as happens with a supervolcano, or with a large meteor crashing to earth (the science of which is discussed in some depth).

We return to news reports with 2039 seeing a large meteor (initially suspected to be a nuclear weapon) landing on earth, creating huge shockwaves, killing millions and sending the world into darkness. Over the next year temperatures continued to drop, with summer never coming. Mass-migration and war followed, and in the US there was a complete breakdown of law and order. In 2045 we get volcanic explosions all over the world adding to the mess and plunging the world deeper into winter (this bit seems less scientific, more dramatic), and we arrive at 2056 where in London temperatures are below -25C. As ice enveloped the world humanity fractured into small communities scavenging for food, living a medieval existence. Populations still sought equatorial climes but these were massively overpopulated and tensions rose.

And so, in this mess, a group discovers that, with sea levels having plummeted, the archipelago of the Azores has become an island. What follows is a novella which is slightly less interesting than the preceding material, as they join up with another group and slowly make the island viable using sub-surface heat. By 2089 a population of over 500 spread over 50 settlements, and in due course they started taking in refugees who built settlements and made new lives for themselves. The indiginous people tended to congregate near the heat mines in the North West, while the newer settlements, having arrived later, had the less wonderful option of the South East. Their attitudes to life were tainted by the wars they’d fled, and they resented the indiginous people for their lifestyles, which led to feuds. Amid these feuds General Masters arose, creating a rival government and police force/army. Then, finally, Operation Snowstorm was to proceed as planned.

With only a tiny peacekeeping force available, and potential recruits who often weren’t talking to each other, the odds looked grim. Time to fight back.

So, we arrive at the team screen where we see what recruits we have. Currently there’s only Captain Stark (that’s you). When I get going I’ll be out looking to recruit agents and send them (and myself) on missions to sabotage enemy resources or recruit more team members. One interesting thing is the damage system is quite sophisticated. Damage an arm and you’ll not be able to snipe. Damage a leg and you can’t ski. Snow-buggying needs at least 1 arm and 1 leg working. It’s all pretty cool. You can recover by resting, but first aid is faster. You have muscle power which basically functions a lot like action points in a turn based strategy.

Hariseldon’s guide to things you need to know when playing

So, what are the best routes to victory? Well, the objective first up is simple. I need to destroy General Masters’ base. However, that’s difficult, and there are some things I can do to make that easier.
– His army has 6 colonels who each lead a brigade of 5 attack squadrons, of which they run one and the other 4 are delegated to Captains. Destroying the colonel’s vehicle (the lead vehicle in each squadron is the cheese-wedge-shaped Snow-Witch) will cause that brigade to disband. So defeating 5 brigades will see Masters without an army with which to invade. Destroying one or two will at least slow him down.
– Destroying the fuel tankers (snow-bears – the most lorry-like vehicles) in convoys will slow a squadron down
– Destroying all enemy-held radio stations will get a message out which will automatically recruit all 32 people.
– Destroying enemy-held warehouses deprives local forces of fuel and weapons
– Destroying enemy-held synthesis plants makes it harder for them to refuel, slowing them down

On the recruitment front, I’ve done a couple of things to help. While I’ve provided the manual below, the details of the people you recruit are scattered throughout the manual, while figuring out who can recruit who involves scanning all that text. To save you some time if you’re playing too I made these:
– – Who can recruit who and what skills they have in a simple Excel spreadsheet
– – The personnel pages all in one collection, separated from the rest of the manual and rotated to be easier to read

The game is turn-based in a way. Time is split into 2 hour blocks, in which you’ll use each member of your team to do something in real time. When time runs out you move to the next team member. When everyone’s done you synchronise watches, and the next turn starts. Any spare time is used to rest.

Eating and resting are vital to keep energy levels up. Rest transfers energy from energy reserves to muscle power, which is where energy is drained from during actions. Eating replenishes energy reserves. Sleep replenishes alertness, as without sleep you’ll be a mess. You can sleep in a hut, a house or a police station, though the latter will lead to capture if the enemy arrives.

You can get ammo at Magazines (I stupidly thought it meant somewhere that publishes reading material) and stores, the latter also providing food.

The enemy will begin in the South East and work their way up to the North West taking control of Heat Mines. When they have all of them, you lose.

When you get to a settlement, press X to switch to the icon view so you can make use of buildings, sabotage things, use the church or a bunker for sniping, get food and ammo from a store, rest in a house or police station, etc.

If you’re being attacked, get to a tree or settlement – if the former, then press S to go into sniper mode – the tree will give you a bit of height to help you pick vehicles off. You can one-shot anything. You may of course go to sniper mode at any time, but you might be in the open without cover.

End of Harisedon’s guide to things you need to know when playing

There you go, I just saved you the need to read a 195 page manual, though you might want to anyway as it’s not a bad read.

Anyway, so I had a couple of goes at the game just wrapping my head around the basics so I could go into a proper playthrough for the purposes of a review. This is a big game, which requires a big review. For this review I’m going to decline the kind offer of bombers and mortars attacking me, but I’ll also decline to put it in training mode (which basically means nobody shoots at you). I feel like that’s a happy medium. I’m not a complete masochist and the controls add enough difficulty on their own.

So here I am at the start. My team consists only of me. Not much to do from here for now so I’ll just click on Captain Stark (that’s me).

I’ll explain this profile screen a little. Two watches on the left – the brown one is my current time, and the grey-blue one is the time at the end of this turn. Next, the red running man – the red will drain down to the bottom, replaced by white, as I lose muscle energy (think of that as action points). Next we have the icons for the Map screen (m on the keyboard if I’m in 3D mode), the Decision screen (I’ll explain more in a bit), back to the team screen we saw previously, two icons to cycle through the team profiles, and finally an SOS rescue which can only be used once per character which takes you to the nearest settlement. The body under qualities and skills will colour parts in different colours, green going to red, as those body parts sustain damage.

This is the map of the whole island – I’ve selected people so you can see them. Settlements are green dots, and if they have white borders they’ve already been captured. The black crosses are enemy forces, and you’ll note that the blue mouse pointer is pointing at a greeny-yellow arrow which is me, and near that there are enemy forces.

Zooming in two levels we can see a bit more clearly, hopefully you can see my arrow pointing straight at the enemy. Clicking ‘People’ on the right brings up a key so I can see what’s at each location. Mousing over each green dot I can see what’s there. The person I can see nearby to my South East is Llwellyn – he’s a good recruiter in that he can recruit all the other peace officers except Gaunt (or at least that’s my current impression reading the docs). I’d like to do some recruitment so clearly I should get to him. However, that may not be easy with forces near him and right on my tail (you always start with enemy forces on top of you). However, on this occasion I’ve been lucky. The dot very near me to the North East is the bottom station of the cable car service, which leads directly North to the dot above it. Now that may not sound useful, but the top station always has a glider, which might be useful to take me either to the garage to the West, or down to the Barefoot Valley settlement where I’ll find Llwellyn. It’ll be tricky given the enemy forces near him, but if I can recruit him it’ll be useful. The settlement has a white border which means it’s been captured, which means I must destroy the police station. Onward.

So I closed the map and clicked throught to the Decision Screen. A little explanation. First up, we get a short profile, I’m currently in Barefoot Valley which is Llwellyn’s territory if you read my recruitment guide or the manual. Two watches and muscle energy (it’s red because it’s full – counter-intuitive I know) are as described previously. In this case there’s a picture of me on skiis but if I’m driving a vehicle I think I’ll see that. Below that I get icons – left to right they’re Map, Profile, Team, Snipe and Ski. The last 2 are of interest. Snipe lets me take some pot-shots at the bastards chasing me, or ski lets me run away. The icons shown here will vary depending on injury, what vehicle I’m in and if I’m near a settlement or building (in which case icons will appear for any relevant buildings).

So I’ve decided to whip out the sniper rifle. The graphic shows while I wait for the disk to chug.

So to explain this screen. I’ve used the mouse to look around, annoyingly up moves up and down down instead of reverse, but otherwise it’s fine. My guy is a bit wobbly, probably because he’s cold. See the 3 lights on each of the bottom corners? If they’re cycling then the enemy is in that direction. I’m going to hit space and blow the vehicle up.

I shoot the vehicle, it hurtles towards me having been destroyed, hopefully it won’t kill me. I can still hear a vehicle. Let’s see what’s out there to the left. I take a couple of hits but I manage to get a second vehicle. More humming, let’s see what’s out there. Eventually silence – they’ve run away. I’m safe, for now. Time to go ski. Press X to get to the decision screen, then click the skiier.

The loading screen for skiing and it looks like I don’t have any injuries, which is handy.

I take my first steps into the huge world. Time for a screen explainer. First up, the bombs either side of my ski mask – I think they’re grenades. At the bottom the direction indicators are showing me where the enemy is (and it looks like they’re nearby – I can hear an engine drone so they must have turned back). And across the top we have a picture of me, an indication that I’m skiing, my Muscle Energy (as you can see, some white so I’ve expended some), the time (I’ve used 26 minutes of the 2 hours of this turn), a speedometer, a rate of incline (the icon will show you skiing up or downhill, a compass and below that an indicator for your turning rate (which moves as you move your mouse left and right), and a map (the arrow is me, the dots are buildings – in this case there’s a line of dots and I think that’s the cablecar where only the bottom and top dots matter). Time to head to that cablecar. The vehicle chasing me unwisely steps into my sights, a tossed grenade (space) and he’s done. No drone so it looks like I’m safe to go about my business.

There’s more droning – something is chasing me and missiles fly, but I don’t care. I can see the bottom station of the cablecar line. Time to head straight for it. I get there, stop and press X for the decision screen, where I click the door to go in.

And here I am in the cablecar station (with a little picture inset). Time to click that cablecar icon and see where I end up.

A nice loading screen then I get to ride in real time in the cablecar. One benefit of cablecars is that you rest for the whole journey, and another is that you’re safe from being shot at. Finally we arrive at the station.

Before moving onto playing some more of the game I want to talk a little bit about graphics, sound, performance, all that technical jazz. So first up, the pixel art isn’t bad. Not quite as good as it would later be in F-19 and in Midwinter 2, but definitely above average. Meanwhile the 3D engine does chug a bit, especially if you compare it to Damocles which isn’t too far from release at this point. However the complexity of the geometry is far greater than that of Damocles. The rendering engine is also doing some really remarkable things, using dithering for shading to generate extra colours where most 3D engines even later in the ST’s life were simply content to have a flat colour for each surface (off the top of my head I think we got some form of texture-mapping in Legends Of Valor but I’ve not played that so I don’t know how well that performs). The frame rate is undoubtedly poor then, averaging around 2 frames per second, but thankfully the weapons are forgiving which means you can largely get away with it. Audio is primarily chip drones for vehicles and chip explosion sounds – nothing to write home about. The Amiga seems to have had proper engine sounds and some other effects, but ST owners weren’t quite so lucky.

So for this top station’s decision screen I can ski, or I can hangglide, or go back down the cable. I didn’t come this far not to hang glide. I’m going to go North-East to the garage to get a vehicle seeing as I want to show you around the game a bit.

Loading, waiting to jump in…

And here’s me pranging it. The graphic actually animates quite nicely. Needless to say I reloaded my emulator snapshot. Numerous attempts don’t go any better. Some googling tells me that not many people could actually get hang-gliding to fucking work. Eventually, I conclude fuck this, and ski towards the garage. At least up here on the hill I can get some momentum and thus speed.

And I go arse over tit. Inevitable at the speed I was doing – still, I will keep going to get my vehicle, hopefully I can get my injuries healed when I meet Llewellyn.

I’ve made it to the garage, but I’ve run out of time and need to wait for the next situation report. Back to the team sreen and click the synchronise watches (the two watches in one icon) icon and this is what I find.

So, the enemy has prisoners, numerous factories, too many mobile vehicles for my liking (I’ve destroyed 4 of them but that’s not made much of a dent). The big problem here is the 3 radio stations they hold. I could do with getting hold of those. Looking at the map, I’ve highlighted settlements with radio stations with white fills – the ones with white borders are captured.

I’ve added to the ST’s display here to show you some points of interest on the map. Now I can only find two occupied radio stations, which makes my goal of destroying 3 a bit of a challenge, and they’re a fair distance apart which also doesn’t help. I’ve also located Masters HQ, which is down on the South East. That is an option, if I can figure out how to get to it without dying.

At last I have a vehicle. I’m going to make a break for it, I’m going to try to take out Masters solo.

And I get shot. Luckily within range of the garage 0 I get repaired and go again. May as well try to rescue Llewellyn on the way…

And here’s a settlement. Let’s go in and have a look. The red person icon next to the police station tells me I need to go there to get my man. I go to the store and get some explosives.

I wonder what happens if I hit this plunger.

I’m out of time.. sit rep time.

So they’ve gained a factory and a synth plant and two warehouses. Crucially no radio stations. No change to the state of their army. I enter the ruin of the police station and get a hands-joined icon which must be recruitment.

Woohoo, I’ve got my man. That was easy. Onwards we travel, stopping at a store on the way to eat and rest.

The enemy was thankfully leaving us alone, but time was running short. Another sitrep, more losses – another radio station chief among them. I had to get to the General’s hideout. My vehicle was gone. Bugger. Had Llwellyn stolen it? He had. Well, it looks like it’s on Llwellyn to make that journey then. Doing 70 mph sticking to the lower flatter land I mostly outrun my opponents, firing the odd missile when they’re in sight (my vehicle is fast and well-armed though not particularly sturdy).

Here’s where I crashed and had to borrow another vehicle.

I’m slowly getting there – not too far to go now til I’m deep into enemy territory.

I’m so close I can practically taste the victory! The drone of enemy vehicles is starting up again – they know I’m here, but it doesn’t matter, I’m too damn fast.

I’m in Shining Hollow – am I about to defeat Masters?

I crash into the base because why wouldn’t I? Sitrep time, but I don’t give a shit.

So, here I am. I’m at the Shining Hollow settlement. But I have no fucking dynamite. NOOOOOOOO! I need to find a store to get some. Next town over to the left. I reload a previous emulator snapshot and get the supplies then rush to Shining Hollow, the enemy swiftly on my tail and firing missiles.

Headquarters is destroyed – time to sitrep and see if I get an exciting ending screen.

Oh my fucking god I’ve done it, I’ve destroyed the HQ and killed General Masters!

So is it any bloody good?
I’ve already gone over the technical aspects above but I’ll summarise again before moving to more substantive matters. The 3D graphics are damn clever, throwing a lot of polygons around. The fractal-generated landscape is pretty on a map though perhaps too undulating vs real life. Frame rates suffer but they’re not unmanageable. 2D art is well-drawn, though not yet to the signature Microprose standard.

So, to gameplay. I’ve clearly taken an easier route to victory, the proper approach being to either capture the radio stations or recruit all those people manually, perhaps destroy a couple of brigades. As it is though my playthrough demonstrated most of the activities on offer – skiing, sniping, vehicles, hang-gliding, recruiting people, getting supplies and sabotaging buildings. To that end I’m reasonably qualified to talk about the game. First, difficulty is brutal. The enemy is shooting at you with homing missiles and it’s not entirely clear what the best evasion technique is though I found getting a fast vehicle and flooring it helped. However, this posed its own issues. The landscape being so brutally angular means you can very easily find yourself on a piece of land that’s at a bad angle and tips your vehicle over, and it’s not terribly clear where that line lies. This could have been alleviated if the autopilot and programmable routes of the sequel were present. The difficulty of the game then comes in part from brutal opposition but in part from the game itself, such that perhaps playing in training mode is best as at least you don’t have to worry about being shot at. This leaves you free to concentrate on getting around, recruiting, and doing the longer approach, with a little less stress.

While the multi-character stuff is innovative, I found myself playing it more like Midwinter 2’s single-character game, and that may just be my problem, but keeping tabs on different recruits would, I suspect become quite long-winded. I will say that recruitment is a bit anti-climactic, in that, if I recall correctly, Midwinter 2 lets you define certain skills for your character like sex appeal, threats, etc and the people you meet would have weaknesses to particular diffferent techniques and you’d have to figure that out – and getting it wrong or talking to a traitor can get you captured. As much as the 3D was developed in the sequel to provide that beautiful tropical feel with beaches with real tides, the 2D elements of the game were also really hugely improved in the sequel.

So then, is this game worth playing or should you head straight to the sequel? I never played Midwinter 1 until this review, and I had a fucking brilliant time with it. It took a lot of figuring out, and getting my head around the controls was a challenge, but those controls are the same in the sequel so you’d still have that same learning curve. There’s definitely a lot of actual entertainment to be had from Midwinter and of course it’s a historical curiosity as it’s the ancestor of the Ubigame in so many ways (and the sequel did the icon map much much better by the way). So, in short, go play it.

Review: Rainbow Islands

Rainbow Islands

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 Pompey Pirates 26. It’s a decent enough intro, and a very strong disc given it somes with Bubble Bobble.

So, that loading screen. Holy fuck. So colourful, so beautifully drawn, perfect use of dithering – from a distance on a normal monitor it looks like it has hundreds of colours, I can only imagine with CRT colour bleed it had a similar effect. Fuck yeah.

A simpler screen next, with the palette cycling to give simplistic animation. The speed of the cycle however makes it look really psychadelic.

Onto the map screen, which players of Super Mario will be familiar with, and the chip music starts. Onto the game.

Look at those massive colourful sprites! Animation is insanely smooth. The game only scrolls vertically which helps a lot and backdrops are mostly solid colour which also helps, but it’s still an impressive technical feat with fantastic art direction. So, time to collect fruit.

For those who don’t know, the big gimmick is rainbows. You can fire them, trapping your enemies, and you can use them to build ramps to otherwise inaccessible locations. Movement in general is solid, with a good quality jump (and we all know how much that matters in platformers – so many ST games learned NOTHING from Mario).

If you dawdle for too long the music speeds up and water starts filling the level. There’s no timer visible so I’m not entirely sure how it calculates this, but it’s enough to add a bit of tension to the game, though it was a little annoying when I was poking and prodding the game.

It seems to me that, like Super Mario World, the mechanics allow for a very high skill ceiling. The way rainbows can be used, thrown when in mid-air for instance, allows for some really interesting ways to traverse the level. My only possible critique is that it might have been nice to have more space to use all this by having some horizontal movement too, though no doubt this would have been less smooth on the ST.

I ended up playing it quite a bit last night, didn’t get screenshots as I was just busy having a good time, but it’s a fantastic little game, with a nice level of challenge.

So, long story short, if you’ve not played it, get on it. It’s an absolute cracker, built with love, with beautiful graphics and fantastic platforming mechanics which allow some truly joyful traversal of its world.

Review: Pipe Mania / Pipe Dream

Pipe Mania / Pipe Dream

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 Fuzion disk 6. The intro music is good enough, the scrolly text does what you’d expect, but it’s clear that they can’t draw people. It’s an abomination.

So, Pipe Mania. It had a somewhat troubled development, being hawked around a number of different publishers, and there was some confusion around naming and branding, but it’s still a classic.

The intro screen is simple enough and features some pleasant sampled music. The game has much in common with Tetris in that it tasks you with fitting randomly supplied pieces into a whole. The difference here is that you’re dealing with pieces of pipe, which must be placed to direct water around the screen.

You start with an empty board and pieces slide down the left hand column, until time runs out. Your mission is simply to stop water getting out of the end of the pipe, so you must keep extending the pipe until time runs out. The pressure (get it?) builds up as the water gets closer to the end, with the music speeding up and the key rising, until you crack. The sound design is perfect and the graphics, while not outstanding, do their job just fine, maintaining clarity which is what matters most in a puzzle game.

This game is a quick and easy one to review but it’s still a game that works today – it’s perfect for a quick pick-up session, and it will get your blood pressure up. You should totally play it. In my opinion ST Format got is wrong when they gave this such a poor score, perhaps because they didn’t quite know how to review games of this type just yet – there was still something of a graphical arms race and so a game with graphics that were really nothing special was never going to score highly, which is a shame as it’s a proper classic. This is a game which holds up brilliantly today and would likely work well on a phone or something like the Switch.

Review: Conqueror


ST Format Review

My Review
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For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.04. With a few releases to choose from, I’ve gone with Medway Boys 60, but I could just as easily gone with Automation 273, SuperGAU 799, Pompey Pirates 25 or Vectronix 773.

We get 2 intro screens, the second animating by sliding columns of the image up the screen, while some shit music plays and a graphics equaliser runs. Still, 6 games on one floppy is not to be sniffed at. Even if the picture of a pig is shit.

Conqueror is a tank game, written by David Braben, of Elite and Zarch/Virus fame. This game uses an enhanced version of the Virus/Zarch engine to generate its landscapes, but instead of a spaceship, you control a tank. The intro screen is a model of hopelessness when it comes to usability, so let’s hope I can figure it out. One positive note, the ST Format cover disk pages at least informed me of the controls. Either two joysticks or a single stick to direct the tank and fire the gun, with the mouse directing the gun. It sounds like another shite Braben control scheme. The tank rotates in 3D at about 3 frames per second, which doesn’t bode well.

It turns out the ST Format instructions were a lie. The game systematically ignores my instructions from the joystick, though the turret does move when I move my mouse, albeit I’m not sure how they correlate. Here is the screen for the keyboard controls. I want to kill myself.

Eventually I bite the bullet and configure a 2nd joystick, as apparently joystick and mouse isn’t an option after all. This is going to be fun. Or not.

So I drive around a bit, the 3D chugging along slowly, and somehow knock some tanks out, no idea how, and somehow remain alive, no idea how. I feel like this is a tech demo still searching for a game, much like Virus. I can’t honestly recommend this. The good news though is that this is likely to be the weakest of this month’s games.

ST Format Issue 9

ST Format Issue 9 – Download

The World in March 1990
In the UK 37 people were arrested in Brixton rioting against the poll tax. In Trafalgar Square 113 people were injured and 340 arrested in further poll tax riots. The riots were because instead of being charged on the basis of the value of your property, you were charged a flat rate based on the number of people. This would lead to the absurd situation of a single person in a mansion paying 1/2 of what a couple living in a tiny flat would pay. It went against all notions of a progressive tax system and inevitably angered many.

In US news the SR-71 Blackbird, a truly beautiful plane if ever I saw one, made its final official flight. Driving Miss Daisy won best picture at the Oscars.

Elsewhere in the world Imelda Marcos went on trial for being insanely corrupt – she is most famous for her enormous shoe collection. Mikhail Gorbachev was elected as the first executive president of the Soviet Union. Lithuania declared independence but Russia denied its validity.

On TV John Major delivered the first ever televised budget. The guilty-pleasure quiz show Turnabout debuted on BBC1 and would last 6 years, while Rude Dog and the Dweebs debuted on the Children’s Channel.

The film charts feature War Of The Roses at #1, Born On The 4th Of July at #2, Driving Miss Daisy at #7, not the most exciting line-up.

The album chart.. Phil Collins is still #1, and the rest of the chart is just dire. Notting Hillbillies for fuck’s sake. I suppose at least we have Iron Maiden with Run To The Hills and Chris Rea with Road To Hell. Nigel Kennedy enjoyed his brief spell as that famous bloke who plays violin. Fucking Michael fucking Bolton is at #8. What the cunt is wrong with British people?

The singles chart, oh thank fuck for it. Dub be good to me at #1. But fuck me the rest is bilge. The Brits 1990 at #2 (when the Brits was mega-naff, before it embraced Britpop – a medley of hits from the era) and fucking Michael fucking Bolton at #3. Jive cunting Bunny at #4. Kill me. I suppose at least we have the B-52s with Love Shack and Erasure with decent but not their best Blue Savannah.

The Magazine
Issue 9 came out in March 1990, and was the first issue I missed, because I was an idiot. It turned out I missed a belter. The cover wasn’t exactly an attention-grabber, focusing on the exciting world of scanning. There’s a decent cover disk with demos for Conqueror and Pipe Mania, plus a demo of the art package Canvas – there’s a tutorial and a review for the package.

Atari decided to phase out the much-loved (by me) Power Pack, the 520STFM would feature in the new Discovery Pack at £299 with a much-reduced line-up of software. Interestingly ST Format actually address the fact that 23 free games had rather impacted the bottom line of software houses. The 520STE would be £399 without a bundle, or £499 with some serious software. A peculiar strategy.

Atari priced the new Atari Lynx at £149. It would fail.

The scanning feature is predictably dull. I’ll mention it no further. More interesting is a section on how to program for the STE including important information like register addresses. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – we’ll never again have tech press where the journalists actually know their stuff like this. It’s a thing of the past.

There’s an interesting segment on the education sector which was still using the BBC machines – STF rather optimistically thought the ST might become the education machine of the 90s. It did not. The Acorn Archimedes was the main machine until PCs started to take over. The Acorn Archimedes was actually a really cool machine, a 32-bit RISC machine released in 1987 with 1MB RAM in most cases, and capable of displaying 256 colours at 640×512. The CPU is the ancestor of all the ARM chips powering our phones, tablets and now Apple Macs today.

We have previews for Wipe-Out (tron light-cycles/Nokia Snake in 3D) which I played a fair bit on the ST Format cover disk demo but never shelled out for. Toyottes is a super-cute platformer which always appealed to me but I never had the funds for. I don’t know much about East Vs West or Colorado, we’ll see if reviews come up for those later on. I remember Klax being something of a big deal but I never entirely got it, while Imperium is a grand strategy that rather passed me by. I’ve never played Impossamole in either its 8-bit variant or the ST version so I’d be curious to see how that came out. Virgin had World Cup Soccer 90 lined up for the coming world cup in Italy, there would be many more shameless cash-ins (to be fair I have no idea if this one was good). There’s a big preview of Castle Master. I look forward to finally giving that a go soon.

Games reviewed this month:
Pipe Mania (Puzzle – Empire – £19.99 – 76%) – a travesty that it didn’t get 90%+
E-Motion (Weird abstract 3D thing – Accolade – £19.99 – 76%)
Midwinter (3D FPS/driving/romancing/recruiting/threatening – Microprose – £29.99 – 96% Format Gold)
Anarchy (Defender clone – Psygnosis – £24.99 – 77%)
Risk (Board game – Leisure Genius – £19.99 – 68%)
Rainbow Islands (Platformer – Ocean – £19.99 – 93% Format Gold)
Space Harrier 2 (It’s Space Harrier ffs – Grandslam – £19.99 – 51%)
Operation Thunderbolt (Lightgun played with a mouse – Ocean – £19.99 – 73%)
Conqueror (Tanks in a Virus/Zarch-like landscape – Rainbow Arts – £24.95 – 91% Format Gold)

I’ll tell you straight up, I’m looking forward to playing Pipe-Mania and Rainbow Islands, and I’m curious about Conqueror, but Midwinter is the daddy. I cannot fucking wait to get my hands on that one. Midwinter 2 consumed hours of my life, it was honestly one of the greatest games ever to appear on a 16-bit system, so the chance to see where it all started is a pretty big deal.

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.
– Conqueror – Automation 273, SuperGAU 799, Medway Boys 60, Pompey Pirates 25, Vectronix 773.
– Pipe Mania (aka Pipe Dream) – Automation 200, Fuzion 6, SuperGAU 388 or Medway Boys 50
– Rainbow Islands – Automation 231, SuperGAU 312/867, Pompey Pirates 26, Vectronix 294
– Midwinter – Automation 263, SuperGAU 198-9, Medway Boys 64, Pompey Pirates 28, Vectronix 361.

To me, this seems to be the moment when we enter the 2nd phase of ST games. There’s the 1st phase where the games are barely different to the 8-bitters barring more colours and better resolution, but you have a few wonderful bits of experimentation and creativity among the shitty arcade ports, then the 2nd phase which really is when the ST was at its peak with a new breed of more complex and better-presented game (albeit with less experimentation, and we’re still not yet at the point where the devs really grasp what the machine can do early in this phase – it’s still about a year away), and finally we have the decline, the 3rd phase as the Amiga took over. Welcome to phase 2.

Reviews This Month

Review: Midwinter 1

Midwinter 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 Pompey Pirates 28. The intro features some well-drawn artwork, decent music and the usual scrolling text. The loading screen isn’t quite up to Midwinter 2 standards, it’s solid but those trees…More

Review: Rainbow Islands

Rainbow Islands 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 Pompey Pirates 26. It’s a decent enough intro, and a very strong disc given it somes with Bubble Bobble. So, that loading screen. Holy fuck. So colourful, so beautifully drawn,…More

Review: Pipe Mania / Pipe Dream

Pipe Mania / Pipe Dream ST Format Review My ReviewFor this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.04. On this occasion I’ve chosen Fuzion disk 6. The intro music is good enough, the scrolly text does what you’d expect, but it’s clear that they can’t draw people. It’s an abomination. So,…More

Review: Conqueror

Conqueror ST Format Review My Review[image 001]For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STFM, running TOS 1.04. With a few releases to choose from, I’ve gone with Medway Boys 60, but I could just as easily gone with Automation 273, SuperGAU 799, Pompey Pirates 25 or Vectronix 773. We get 2 intro screens,…More