In the 8- and 16-bit home computer era, movie license games were typically developed either as platform games with a tenuous link to the movie in question, or some sort of minigame compilation, with each major scene from the movie being represented as some sort of interactive challenge.
Mindscape’s Days of Thunder was different. Here was a game that took the basic concept of the movie and simply used it as a basis to create a fully fleshed out experience — one that complemented rather than attempted to imitate the original work. The subject matter — motorsport — was ideal for such a treatment, and, on paper, Days of Thunder was a great idea.
Sadly, less than stellar performance meant that the game wasn’t as good as it could have been — a lack of speed and responsiveness in a racing game is a bit of an issue! — but it remains an interesting proof of concept as well as an intriguing anomaly that broke with the conventions and norms of the time. So I salute the effort involved, if not necessarily the final product we ended up with!
Do you know what “trimetric projection” is? If not, take a good look at Atari’s Crystal Castles. That, dear reader, is trimetric projection at work.
This 3D perspective take on the Pac-Man formula is a popular game from Atari’s early days, and enjoyed numerous home ports over the years, particularly on Atari’s own platforms. It’s a fun — if challenging — game, and remains noteworthy from a historical perspective for being one of the first arcade games out there that it’s actually possible to “beat”. Although good luck with doing that.
Also, if you score first place on the high score table, you get to enjoy your initials presented in 3D trimetric projection for everyone to admire on the first level of each new playthrough!
Mention early first-person perspective 3D games to someone and they’re most likely to picture a “gridder” — the projection of a 2D map into a fake 3D perspective, through which you move by “step”, one cell at a time.
The reason for this is that it was the easiest way to create a 3D effect without actually having to do any real “3D” — hell, one of the earliest and most famous examples of this was on the humble ZX81 in the form of 3D Monster Maze. And indeed this style of presentation (if not necessarily the exact execution) remains popular today for many first-person perspective dungeon crawlers from both Eastern and Western developers, allowing for intricate, interesting level design without the need for complex 3D modelling.
Some talented coders in the early 8-bit era figured out ways to get more natural movement through these “projected 2D” maps, allowing you to rotate through angles other than 90 degrees and move relatively freely. One such example on the Atari 8-bit was 1982’s technically impressive Way Out (sometimes stylised as Wayout). The creator of this game, one Paul Allen Edelstein, remains part of the games industry to this day, albeit now with a specialism in video and audio compression technology rather than 3D graphics.
At any point in gaming history, it seems that there’s always one particular territory doomed to be singled out for making “weird” games.
What “weird” actually translates to in most circumstances is “interesting, unconventional, subversive and highly creative”; regrettably, while “weird” is undoubtedly a more concise description, it also carries with it somewhat pejorative connotations.
While today Japan tends to be singled out as the “weird” locale of choice, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it was France putting out the most creative, unusual and fascinating games on the market, and Infogrames was a leading developer and publisher during this period.
Here’s The Light Corridor, Infogrames’ delightfully abstract 3D take on the traditional “bat and ball” game — an oddly hypnotic experience that, while simple to play, is extremely addictive…
Today’s Atari ST game is one of my favourites from my childhood… and a cool example of a developer thinking creatively.
Interphase, developed by The Assembly Line and published by Image Works and Mirrorsoft, is a game about infiltrating a building. The twist is, you don’t control the one doing the infiltrating; instead, you are hooked into the building’s electrical systems, manipulating them from an abstract 3D representation of “cyberspace”, while your off-screen companion is doing the difficult bit of actually getting through the building.
It’s a really cool game, and one that had a decently long lifespan too, thanks to its original commercial release being followed up by the complete game being given away as a freebie on an ST magazine’s cover-mounted floppy disk — ST Format, if I remember correctly. It remains solidly playable today, and well worth a look.
Today’s Atari ST game is a good example of the sort of technically impressive titles that came from the development company Hewson.
Probably best known for their impressive platformer Nebulus (known on some platforms in some regions as Tower Toppler), Hewson was a company that became renowned for its visually striking games, making use of a variety of techniques to provide the illusion of pushing the hardware “beyond its limits”.
Eliminator sees the company turning its hand to the quasi-3D effect of late ’80s racing games… and then layering a brutally challenging bit of shoot ’em up action atop it. I also have fond memories of it for admittedly strange and anecdotal reasons that are little to do with the game itself…