Pretty much everyone who plays games can probably name at least one title that they respect, but absolutely can’t abide the thought of playing ever again.
For me, one of those games is Elektra Glide, an incredibly popular title developed by Adam Billyard and published by English Software. It’s a technical tour-de-force for the Atari 8-bit, for sure, featuring spectacularly speedy 3D-style graphics, parallax scrolling, wonderful use of colour and an incredibly memorable soundtrack.
I also despise playing it with almost every fibre of my being; I’d thought returning to it some thirty-two years after its original release might have caused my opinions to mellow on it somewhat, but nope! Still, it sure is pretty…
You know me, I love an arcade racer. And while the Atari 8-bit era was very much a time where this genre was just starting to define itself, there were still some fun, interesting games to enjoy.
Baja Buggies from Gamestar is a game from the early days of the system that I didn’t play that often back in the day, primarily because it was on cassette, and who has time to sit around waiting for those things when you have a US Doubler-equipped 1050 disk drive for high-speed floppy loading goodness? (Said drive died recently, please raise a glass in memoriam. Thank you.)
Anyway. It’s an interesting racer that eschews the Pole Position timers-and-checkpoints formula in favour of an endurance race format: pass 80 opponents before you wreck your buggy or cross the finish line. The desert awaits!
Although the Atari 8-bit range of computers mostly lost what little “mainstream” relevance they had with the onset of the 16-bit era — which, in turn, was killed off by the widespread adoption of standardised MS-DOS and Windows PCs — there are a few dedicated developers out there still plugging away at this old hardware.
The results these modern maestros can get out of ancient computers can be, at times, absolutely astonishing. Some form part of what is known as the “demoscene”, producing audible and graphical showcases that push the hardware to its absolute limits. Others take that extra step and add true interactivity, making actual games with impressive visuals and sounds to show what they’re really capable of.
Yoomp from 2007 is an example of the latter. It makes use of some clever graphical techniques, fully optimised for both PAL and NTSC displays, and some delightfully catchy, toe-tapping music courtesy of the Atari’s trusty POKEY chip. If you’d like to find out more about this game — and download it for free to try for yourself — check out the official website here.
Any time you undertake a project like this, you have to accept that some elements of it are just going to be less of a “spectator sport” than others.
Such is the case with today’s Atari ST game, the not-much-to-look-at-but-fun-to-play Shanghai by Activision, an adaptation of Mahjong Solitaire that makes use of the ST’s built-in graphical user interface GEM as the foundation of its aesthetic. This was not at all an unusual approach back in the day, and is akin to more modern PC games running on Windows 95 and beyond making use of a windowed interface and standardised Windows controls. Not the most beautiful look, no, but perfectly functional — and a lot more intuitive to those who perhaps don’t play a lot of games.
Compared to more recent adaptations of Mahjong Solitaire, Shanghai is fairly limited, but it nonetheless remains a pleasingly relaxing, Zen sort of experience. Once you figure out how to read the screen properly, that is…
3D engines are everywhere these days — you can probably name at least two off the top of your head — but in the late 1980s, they were a new and exciting phenomenon.
One of the first companies to figure out a means of making a reusable 3D engine that could be applied to multiple games without too much difficulty was Incentive Software from Reading in the UK, who developed a system they dubbed “Freescape”.
The first game released that made use of Freescape was named Driller, and unfortunately at the time of writing I’m yet to play it. This was subsequently followed up in 1988 by Dark Side, which I did play, however, and have some rather fond memories of.