Review: Dragon’s Breath

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 this occasion I’ve chosen Automation 300. This intro isn’t hugely exciting, a picture of some boozy pirates, some terrible chip music, a scroller. Very low-effort.

So, we get the logo, then some scrolly text with a nice wibbly reflection at the bottom while some awful chip music warbles on.

Before I go any further it seems wise to discuss what the game is. So it’s not your usual hack and slash or shooter or whatever else. Dragon’s Breath is a strategy game. Your objective is to find 3 pieces of a McGuffin for reasons I really won’t bore you with (the story is dull as dishwater). To do this, you need to get one of your dragons guarding each of the 3 pieces in different towns and villages on the map.

This means that you need dragons. In this case you need to hatch them from eggs, and you need to make them as strong as you can. You do this by cooking them slower on a lower heat. Cooking dragon eggs costs money, which you collect in taxes from towns and villages under your rule. You will need to capture towns with your dragons and search those towns for the McGuffin – capturing towns also generates cash. There’s a spell book with which one can cast spells on the eggs, the hatched dragons, my towns, and the enemy.

So, to the game. I get to pick one of three characters, I’ll be lazy and pick the bloke on the left. I’m not sure it makes much difference but Greta Thunberg on the right is scary. Interestingly it looks as though there’s some palette-splitting going on here as moving the mouse below a certain point changes its colour to red.

So I arrive at a map. This is the world. I click on my character’s portrait and begin.

This is where the magic happens. The icon row at the bottom is important. There’s a picture of me, but that doesn’t do anything just yet. Next a return to the map screen, then an icon to check my dragon collection, with only one dragon currently available.

Mousing over different bits of the dragon reveals different statistics. It’s pretty of course but I’d prefer a straightforward table. This dragon is a bit short on eyesight, wisdom and strength, but at least he’s healthy. Nothing a good spell can’t fix.

Next up is the eggs screen. Continuing a theme of gorgeous pixel artwork wasted on a poor UI it’s not immediately clear why there are different-coloured eggs, nor does the manual explain anything useful. I eventually figure out click an egg then click the empty space in the middle to get the egg ready. I click and drag the valve on the right to what I think is minimum heat as that leads to stronger dragons (though for the life of me I can’t remember where I read that). I do the same for all 4 eggs so I have a set of fearsome dragons ready to cause chaos.

Clicking from the egg screen to the spell screen via the crystal ball icon gets me here. I’d like stronger dragons. This will require that I decypher the spell book. Ingredients are on the shelves and mousing over them reveals their contents. There are 3 tools, from left to right: Cutting, grinding, mixing and adding unaltered. There’s also a bunsen burner (which will be familiar to anyone who hated chemistry lessons at school). There’s a condenser on the right. You can adjust the flame and the condenser using knobs nearby. Between that and the different ingredient types, it seems that spells will have quite a few possible combinations.

Reading the shelf and cross-referencing with the book, it seems I have Acrus (a power modifier), Churl (has power over the mind), Tius (directs spells at humans and villages), Rasqon (directs spells at dragons), Ceeocor (directs spells at eggs), Magoem (also directs spells at eggs but be careful of side-effects), Igele (negative mind/sense), Ulin (see Tius), Haloros (mind control), Mionacal (not clear what it does), Arolig (improves flight at a cost to strength) and Oreganse (growth).

I want to get a better egg so I’ll use Ceeocor as director, Ulin to improve eyesight and mind at a cost to power and growth, and Oreganse to try to counter the negative effects. This is definitely a game where you’ll want your notebook to scribble out spells to re-use them. The Ceeocor must be mixed with no bunsen or condenser, Ulin will be added with the condenser and Oreganse will be ground and burned. That took a while… And there’s no feedback on whether or not it had any effect.

Looking at the books is revealing. I have some money, not enough frankly, and there’s a trader waiting for me.

Clicking the door in the main menu brings me a trader selling spell ingredients, but at this point funds are tight and I’m not sure the ingredients actually do much.

Back in the book I can check out gossip. Not sure how much help that is – maybe the full game had a proper paper map or something.

A quick look at the map and I find a village I might like to check out. Let’s send my dragon there.

More zeal improves your chance of capturing the square but at a cost to your dragon’s health. I’ll use the minimum zeal. I need to wait a game month to see if it was successful.

It turns out I only chose raid rather than capture. Let’s try that again.

So I’ve captured a village, fantastic. I’m going to hike the tax. I have a dragon so they can bite my shiny metal ass. Gotta wait for my 4 eggs to hatch before I can do anymore work.

Looks like my finances are dire. More tax needed.

The enemy is camped in my back yard. I am NOT happy. Still waiting for dragons. The books are finally balanced and a healthy profit coming in so I can hopefully get somewhere once my dragons are ready.

I’ve lost my village! Nooooo! So.. no village, no tax money and currently no dragons. This isn’t going well.

My dragon hatches, but then my dragon in the village where he was overthrown gets killed by the enemy’s dragon.. what? Even worse, that animation wasn’t MY dragon hatching, it was someone else’s. For fuck’s sake.

And I’m fucked.

Someone got their dragon killed.

In the end though, I have no money, no villages and no dragons. I’m fucked.

So, the game.. is it any good? Well it’s no Midwinter. It’s not bad, and things like the spell system make it seem very deep, but it’s really quite shallow in that really you’re just trying to build units to attack and balance a budget. The magic, in truth, is mostly hampered by an arcane interface and an awful manual – it would possibly feel less deep with a proper interface (even something as simple as previewing the effect of each action before committing to it) but it would be a lot more manageable for my modern sensibilities. As it is, it feels like the magic is padding a game that isn’t as deep as it likes to think it is.

Graphics are mostly static, and they’re pretty, but the shots shown in magazines were deceptive and conjured something in my 10-year-old imagination that the game couldn’t deliver. Sound consists of awful chip music.

In the end, there are better games doing similar things – I’d much rather play Powermonger or Mega Lo Mania if I want to fight battles.


Review: Castle Master

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.

So we get a castle with an animated dragon, and then we get to choose whether a knight is rescuing a princess or the other way around. You can guess which I chose.

Controls are… interesting.

So, I arrive outside the castle. Let’s see what awaits. As you can see, the geometry is far simpler than in Midwinter, though perhaps having a flat floor isn’t such a bad thing.

Somehow I remembered that to open the drawbridge one must throw a rock at the black button on the left. I think I saw it in the ST Format review or something. Anyway, onwards.

So I have to time my way past the brown block that’s going up and down. Just a brief word on technicals – sound is reasonable enough with simple spot effects but the frame rate is probably worse than Midwinter.

A quick wander into the courtyard and then into one of the.. I want to say tents.. takes me into a room where what I think is a bat attacks me. I throw some rocks at it. On vanquishing the best I find a really shit key.

Is that a horse?

So following adventure logic I click on everything (right-click does actions, left click throws rocks) and I find a key in the well in the courtyard, so I now have two keys. Time to find some more places of interest.

I enter the South East tower – let’s see what I find. The first door needs a key I don’t have but the second opens.

So I’m in the kitchen and it does actually look like a kitchen. Cheese on the table, a pot boiling in the fireplace. I’ll eat the cheese and see if it kills me. It doesn’t. There’s a key hung up in the room which I assume will unlock the room next door. This theory proves correct and I enter.

So I think this thing wants to kill me. There’s no RPG levelling up, no weapons, so I presume throwing rocks will eventually kill it. This does not work. I escape and make my way to the door at the end of the corridor.

I find myself in a plain corridor and there’s a sign on the wall. Right-clicking reveals this. Most of the signs seem to be similarly unhelpful. Following the path takes me back to the gatehouse and then back to the courtyard. Time to try another door.

I arrive in the chapel, which seemed to feature in a lot of review screenshots. Other than some cheese on the floor there’s not much to it.

If you want to see someone more skillful than me playing have a look at this walkthrough.

Overall it’s a fairly basic game, still rooted in 8-bit gaming. Not a bad game but I think the limitations of Freescape were beginning to show and I think they were probably right to finally milk it with the 3D construction kit and move on.

Review-ish: 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 before the logo slides in equally smoothly. The chip music is unimpressive.

Pressing fire takes you into a story intro with some decent artwork, though seemingly just the one screen.

Into the action then, with beautifully-drawn sprites and.. oh that animation is so jerky. The scrolling is awful too. And the chip music.

You know what? I’ve reviewed too many of these to make any damn effort with this one. I’ll give it a miss and suggest you do the same. Btw the Amiga version is equally shit apart from better sound.

Next up, Castle Master.

ST Format Issue 10

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.

The Magazine
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

Review: Dragon’s Breath

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…More

Review: Castle Master

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.…More

Review-ish: Ivanhoe

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…More