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30Nov/070

10 Lines Of Silence For Evel Knievel

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The legend of my childhood, Evel Knievel died today at the age of 69.  Sure, he has not had the highest profile for past 30 or so years, and sure he did beat that journalist with a baseball bat, but he was also the biggest hero many of us kids in the 70's had.  The dude jumped STOCK motorcycles (not pansy-ass titanium foo-foo bikes) over all sorts of stuff, and broke 100's of bones all in the name of spectacle.   He was crazy, but he was all we had and we loved him.  

The game above, "Stunt Cycle" was made by Atari in 1976.  It was one of my favorite arcade games as a kid.   It was not an "official" Evel Knievel license, but it was obviously inspired by him, and the handle-bar controller was the coolest thing in the arcade at the time.  There has never really been  a good game based on Evel's exploits since.   Maybe now someone will take the time and care to create one.

Rest In Peace Mr. Evel. We will miss you. 

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18Nov/070

Required Playing: Atari ST Games

Title: Lethal Xcess
Year: 1991
Publisher: Eclipse
Developer: X-Troll
Game Design: Marc Rosocha, Heinz Rudolph, Claus Frien
Graphics: Heinz Rudolph
Programming: Claus Frien, Heinz Rudolph
Music: Jochen Hippel

Sifting through my huge collection of vintage games and roms, I have selected a few I have never played to test out. First up is an Atari ST / STE game that was released in 1991 by Eclipse. It is called Lethal Xcess. It is a scrolling vertical shooter in the Zolar Mercenary (Lynx), or Foundations Waste (ST) mold. Supposedly this game literally pushed the limits of Atari's popular 16 bitter. After testing it out, I am stunned that the STE could push that many objects around the screen at the same time. I remember early ST games being much more limited. Obviously, the Blitter and extra color capability of the STE help create the wondrous achievement, but most of the technical kung fu came from individuals with a passion for the machine. The technical innovations in the game were a direct result of the vibrant demo scene that pitted the wizardry of Atari crews against Amiga masters in advanced displays of their chosen machines capabilities. Most of the principal developers of this release were members of one or multiple Demo crews. They released an Amiga version also.

Since the Atari machine did not contain any Jay Miner custom chips, as the Amiga did, the ST crews needed an extra level of technical brilliance to match some of the more easily attained visual mastery of the Amiga crews. They needed to push the limits of the ST to create effects that were becoming standard on console systems of the day (Genesis - Megadrive, TG16, and Super Nintendo). The usage of the 56 over scan, vertical lines of resolution, (Andreas Franz) and sync scrolling (TCB) were first perfected by the these demo crews and are used to make this technically superior release. You will also notice the use of what looks like many more than the standard 16 allowable colors on the screen. This was done through the the use of interrupts.

Lethal Xcess being played with Steem

It's a fun game, but definitely very difficult. I wish I could try it on my ST color monitor because bar none the SM124 was the best color monitor released in the era. I don't have a floppy drive in my pc any more, or I would make a disc and play in the 1040 STFM I have in the attic. The rom file contains a "trainer" mode that I recommend if you want to see the entire game and is available at the official site below.

A game like this would make a great Flash CS3/AS3 release and I will consider it for the next game I make after Pumpkin Man is complete.

Links
Atari Legend Lethal Xcess Page
Lethal Xcess Site (Rom Download available)

Title: Great Giana Sisters
Year: 1987
Publisher: Rainbow Arts
Developer: Time Warp
Game Design:
Graphics: Manfred Trenz
Programming: Thomas Hertzler
Music: Jochen Hippel (Chris H'lsbeck C64 original)

Great Giana Sisters being played with Steem

The great Giana Sisters started out as a release for the C64, and quickly caught Nintendo ire. The C64 game version was just a little too too close to Super Mario Bros. Rainbow Arts was forced to stop selling the game, but pirate copies were spread world-wide. It remained immensely popular in the 80's as it was translated to most of the popular systems of the day. Since Nintendo refused to port their games to 80's computers, this was the only way for a non NES owner to play a game anything like the suburb Super Mario Brothers (without going to the arcade that is).

The Atari ST version was created so early in the ST's life that the programmers didn't know how to do effective side scrolling. So,  a screen flipping technique was implemented. It obvious to any late 80's / early 90's owner of an ST that side scrolling could have been relatively easily implemented, as it was a staple of ST games created during this time. In any case, while playing the game, I hardly notice the difference.

Sisters Giana and Maria must traverse 32 stages to find the big diamond. The can collect smaller diamonds along the way (100 = an extra sister, does that sound familiar?). There are many special objects and bonuses to collect such as lightening, bombs, clocks, and many more. The game plays much like Super Mario Brothers with some holes leading to secret chambers, but most resulting in death. The game also includes 12+ different types of monsters, and is very much more than a simple Mario rip off.

After playing for a hour or so I can tell you that it was definitely a quality early ST release. At a time Mudpies was the pinnacle of ST arcade game releases, this certainly must have been a watershed moment in ST gaming. It has nice tunes, clean, colorful graphics, and well throughout (if not "borrowed" in some cases) level design. It suffers in places that many ST and Amiga games suffered - controls. The NES game pad's second action button was used for jumping, and this game suffers by having the jump fired off by pressing UP on the control stick. This makes jumping left or right a little frustrating. The great thing about Steem emulation is that I can assign the "UP" joystick action to one of the other buttons on my PC game pad. This makes the game infinitely more playable (for me at least) and I recommend it for any other ST games you might want to try.

The music was composed on the ST Yamaha chip by Jochen Hippel, who also did the wonderful tune for Lethal Xcess. Since he was so prolific in the ST scene, I decided to check out another of his and Rainbow Arts games next.

House of Games Giana Sister Page (ROM Download)

Mark Visser's Atari ST Giana Sisters Site

 

Title: Turrican II - The Final Fight
Year: 1991
Publisher: Rainbow Arts
Developer: Factor 5
Game Design: Manfred Trenz (C64 Original)
Graphics: Sven Meier
Programming: Thomas Engel
Music: Jochen Hippel (Chris Huelsbeck c64 originals)

1991 was a little too late for me and the Atari ST. I still loved the machine, and played Kick Off Player Manager all the time, but the games were starting to get stale. Also,  my college programming classes needed me to focus on ungodly subjects like Cobol and Database Administration. The ST just wasn't the system to cut my teeth in these subjects, so I opted for a PC emulator for the ST, and later for a full blown PC. As ST gaming was concerned, that was that. Of course, any ST or Amiga owner from the time who moved to a PC came to realize that PC games still needed another few years to even come close to the glory days of the 16 Bit ST and Amiga. With the purchase of the PC, I had to stop going to import shops to look for the latest ST software (California is a long way from England), and I never got to play games such as Turrican II. I was in PC game hell. A time when arcade games on the PC were relegated to 4 color shareware titles (some pretty good though). Wolf3d had not hit yet, and magazines such and CGW didn't even have a top 10 list for Arcade PC games. The subject was universally ignored.

I get to play those ST games now though, and boy did I miss something special!

Turrican II is an update on the original Turrican, a C64 mega blast of platform shooting kick-ass! The game consists of 6 huge free roaming worlds to explore as and even a couple levels where you fly an R-Type style ship blasting meanies and collecting power ups. You are Bren Mc Guire, a space marine who must fend off the evil MACHINE while wearing you experimental Turrican armour.

Turrican II being played with Steem

The game plays very loose, like many ST games, but is immensely fun! I reconfigured my PS2 USB to PC controller to have jump be button 2 and fire be button 1. This made the game became much easier and more fun to play than the original UP to jump that I dislike so much. If you are going to play via emulation, the Automation 449 disc works, I couldn't get some of the other versions to start. While being very fun to play, the game is difficult. I haven't found a working "trained" version yet, but I hope to. Your player has a health bar, so unlike other games of the era, at least you don't die the first time you are hit.

I'm off to play this one some more, until next time, happy emulation...

Chip Retro Turrican II Page (ROm Download)
Automation Archives (Rom Available)

 

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16Nov/070

Where Is My Must Have, Retro Game Collection For The Holidays?

Every Christmas for at least the past decade, my brother Jeff and I have traded retro game collections for Christmas. It started in 1998 when I discovered MAME and Dave's Video Game Classics. I collected a CD of ROMS and Emulators, printed a fancy CD label, and gifted it to Jeff as "The History Of Video Games". It felt a bit dirty, but there was nothing else available so it seemed OK at the time. Jeff responded the next year by turning legit, and finding me CD copy of Stella Get's New Brain, A CD collection of Starpath Supercharger games that work with 2600 emulators, while I found him a copy of Activision Classics for the Playstation. After that, we were hooked on legit compilations. For the next couple years we bought each other stuff like Atari Anniversary, Intellivision Classics and Konami Arcade Classics for the Playstation, and a few of the remade classics like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pong, Missile Command and Breakout.

When we both moved up to the PS2 in 2002, this practice continued unabated, and in fact, intensified. While the PS1 was capable of emulating old games, they played a bit on the sluggish side. The PS2 could do the job with no problems. That year, we bought each other Namco Museum and Activision Anthology, and thoroughly devoured them. For the first time in many years I could play faithful versions Galaga, River Raid and Demon Attack (some Imagic games were included with the Activision package). 2003 brought Midway Arcade Treasures, a title that started trend of companies shoveling 20+ games in one package (as opposed to the stingy 5-10 games on Namco collections). 2004 was another banner year with Atari Anthology (80+ games!), Sonic Mega Collection+, and Midway Arcade Treasures 2 released for the PS2. 2005 was probably the best "classics compilation" year on record as it saw the release of phenomenal Capcom Classics Collection Vol 1. and Taito Legends. Both were collections of numerous games that had ever been released in the emulated home format. 2006 was another great year, as we bought each other Capcom Classics Collection Vol.2 and Sega Genesis Collection.

After nearly a decade of great retro compilations, I fully expected that Jeff and I would exchange some retro gaming goodness this coming Christmas 2007. However, as far as the PS2 is concerned, it looks like the tidal wave of great compilations is over. Taito Legends 2 was released back in July, but we have both since picked it up. While it seems that Taito and Midway may have exhausted their back catalogs, other companies seem to have forgotten about us retro-gamers. 2007 will see no Capcom Classics Vol. 3 or Sega Genesis Collection Vol. 2 even though there seems to be a wealth of untapped material that could be utilized. As well, Konami never released a definitive compilation for the PS2, even though it seems that they have many more than 10 or so games they keep recycling on the GBA and DS. Furthermore, where are collections from M.I.A. companies like Tecmo (Rygar, Silkworm, etc.) (And No, your XBOX only title does not count) , Exidy (Bristles, Crossbox, Venture, Targ, Mouse Trap, etc.) , Centuri (Phoenix, Vanguard, Tunnel Hunt), Gremlin (Moon Cresta), Tehkan (Swimmer, Bombjack, etc.), Rock-Ola (Nibbler, Eyes), Stern (Berzerk, Frenzy, Armored Car etc.), Universal (Mr. Do, Ladybug, Space Panic, etc.), Cinematronics (Star Castle, Rip-Off, Armor Attack, etc.), or some of those licensed Bally/Midway games (Burgertime, Gorf, Blue Print, Wizard Of Wor, Tron, etc.), or a collection Nintendo's actual coin-ops (not the NES versions)?

With Microsoft offering retro games as part of Xbox Live, and Nintendo selling them at $5-$10 each for the Wii, it might seem like these collections are thing of the past. While Namco have a Wii version of their collection this season, it is notable only for what is *not* included, Galaga, which honestly, is one of the only reasons to own a Namco collection in the first place. Namco has tons of games to pull from, and one wonders why they remain mostly untapped.

Beyond Coin-ops, why haven't we seen a good retro collections for the Atari 8-bit, Atari 5200, or Atari 7800 or any of the 16-bit computers (ST, Amiga). What about a Vectrex Collection? A 3DO Collection. Heck, even an Atari Jaguar and Sega 32X/Saturn collections would be interesting at this point. I suppose my real question is this: in the era of downloadable content, are these type of pleasingly massive retro collections a thing of the past? I hope not, or Jeff and I are going to have to quickly find something else to give each other for Christmas this year. Hey Jeff, how about one of these?

-Steve Fulton

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6Nov/070

History Of Atari 1971-1977

My latest writing project, "Part 1" of the History Of Atari (1971-1977) went up today at Gamasutra. The series is culmination of nearly 5 years of research and include content from my own personal interviews with Nolan Bushnell, Chris Crawford, Ralph Baer, David Crane, and others.  You can read it here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/2000/the_history_of_atari_19711977.php

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5Nov/070

Great Article On The 50 Greatest Game Design Innovations

Ernest Adams has written a fantastic article for http://www.next-gen.biz about the "50 Greatest Game Design Innovations".   There is tons of good content here to get you thinking, mull over, and argue about.  Take a look at it here: http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7769&Itemid=2

Here are some of my comments about the entries:

3. Stealth

Ernest says that the "first known us is unknown" and one of the comments tries to cite "Metal Gear in 1987", but most students of game design and classic games would have to throe-up "Castele Wofenstein" by MUSE, released in 1980.  One of the best strategies in that game was donning a Nazi uniform and sneaking by the guards.

9. Dialogue Tree

I'd have to say that the dialogue tree in Ultima IV was one of the first uses of great dialogue system.

12. Multiple Skill Levels

Early Atari coin-ops allowed the arcade operator to set the difficulty level of the game, mostly to make more money.  The Atari 2600 launched with the "Difficulty A-B" switch that allowed players to alter the difficluty of games based o ntheir skill level.  The first use that I can recall was in the 1978 version of Breakout for the 2600.  the difficulty switch changedthe size of the paddle.

17. Interactive Drama

All roads to and from this lead to Chris Crawford.

23. Gestural interfaces.

I would think the Power Glove would fit this category

31. Procedural landscape generation.

"7 Cities Of Gold" indeed.  One of the lost classics of the 8-bit era.

 

 

   
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