The age we live in is often referred to as the space age. Computers and outer space seem to be made for one another. After all, it was computers that certainly made the space age come about. As computers became more and more affordable for institutions such as businesses and schools, it was only natural that those with imagination would sneak games into those systems. The first popular game was, of course, Star Trek. Modern day space warfare games on multi-user mainframes include Empire and various graphic and non-graphic space war type situations (similar to that which was developed at MIT in the early computer days).
Now that home computers are becoming common place, space warfare at home appears to be a rapidly spreading pastime. Ever since Star Wars and Space Invaders made their debut nearly simultaneously, celestial battles have really gotten off the ground (sorry!). So here we have the following games reviewed to give you an idea of what is 'out there'. Space Invaders, Star Raiders, Missile Command, Battle Warp and five versions of Star Teak have already been covered in previous issues. - LP
12215 MURPHY AVE.
SAN MARTIN, CA 95046
ATARI 800 48K Disk $39.95
THE SANDS OF MARS, issued by Crystal Computer, has been advertised as the finest adventure of its kind. It is so difficult to solve, that the company has even offered a $100.00 reward to the person or persons who solved the mystery which lies beneath the SANDS OF MARS. Being an adventurer, I decided to answer the call and went to my local software distributor. He happened to have a copy which he just received. I plopped down my $39.95 and raced home to play. After playing the adventure without success (more on the reasons later) I decided to write a review about what I had encountered. I'll start with the documentation first.
SANDS OF MARS includes an instruction booklet, a map of Mars (I guess that's what it is) and two disks containing the program. The booklet gives a brief history on the civilizations of Mars and their current status. It includes a glossary of Martian terms and explains what items are available before you start your expedition. The mission is to go to Mars, rescue a long lost scientist, solve the mystery beneath the SANDS OF MARS and return to earth. Other items contained in the booklet are landing and take-off procedures and what you can expect on Mars. I don't know what the map is, but it may provide clues once you arrive on THE RED PLANET. The game itself consists of two phases, hence two disks. Disk 1 contains the program for initialization, take-off, flight to Mars and landing on Mars. Disk 2 contains the program for the exploration of Mars and the take-off sequence (more later on this).
The program starts by giving you a fixed amount of local currency. You then must outfit your mission. A list of available items is given, which ranges from food tablets, weapons, space suits, ropes and rocket fuel, to the actual crew members you decide to take. Each item costs a fixed amount and upon purchase is deducted from your total currently available. Entry of the items is done by typing the first and last letter of the item requested. A prompt appears and asks you how many of the items selected you wish to purchase. Having gone through this sequence several times, I noticed that the amount of currency you start with and the prices of the items change each time. This feature makes each game different. When you feel you are ready to take off, the display switches to a view of the launch pad with the Starship HERMAN waiting for take-off. The screen also shows a blockhouse on the right with a revolving radar dish. A little blue truck leaves the blockhouse travels to the launchpad, deposits a little man and then returns to the blockhouse. (CUTE!!!) The screen now switches to the control room. A large screen appears with the message "PREPARE ME FOR TAKE OFF". If directions are requested, then they will appear. The object upon take-off is to control thrust, burn rate and pitch of the starship in order to dock with an orbiting space station. Velocity for docking must be 18,000 mph. Pitch (from my experience) is not really critical. The first few times (two in my case) the lift-off seemed somewhat challenging. After that it was quite boring. Two joysticks are required to manipulate thrusters, main rockets, pitch and fuel burn rate. The values are presented on the screen along with the rocket sounds at take-off. The screen jiggles around to simulate the rocket vibration. If you exceed the 18,000 mph needed to dock, you end up in space and must find Mars from that point. If you succeed in docking, which isn't really too tough, you are rewarded with 20,000 additional units of rocket fuel. This may come in handy for the landing sequence. At this point two options are available:
Hyper-warping requires you to have purchased ASTRACRYSTAL, a navigator and a computer programmer. Without all three of these don't plan on getting to Mars. This method is the quickest way to get from the space station to Mars and can save you from the perils that manual navigation present.
Manual navigation presents some interesting problems. First, you must find Mars. The screen shows your starship, the space station and a starfield. You must engage your rocket engines and maneuver -ising the joystick. If you fail to move the joystick, you will burn fuel in place. Several dangers face you in this method of traversing space. Space pirates may appear, board your ship and steal anything they can get their hands on, including equipment and crew members. You can fight these ships using Lasers or Rifter Pods (assuming you purchased them). Other weird craft may appear: Space traders, or alien ships. They may be hostile or just inquisitive. When craft appear you are offered several alternatives. You may hail them, offer to trade, send a diplomatic envoy, call Starfleet for instructions or blast away at them. By entering the appropriate number and pressing RETURN, your orders will be executed. The structure and sub-structure available are a bit confusing. The manual assumes you have played LASER WARS, but does explain what is available. It took several replays of the game to become used to what I could and could not do as my mistakes caused complete and utter destruction, forcing me back to a replay. This is more of a frustration than a challenge! When encountering any alien vessels, none of the commands appeared to work except blasting them. This portion needs improvement to give some positive response to the player other than some message that says "Orders carried out". The landing sequence, once you find Mars, is pretty straight forward. Keep the landing velocity less than 50 mph at touch-down. When landing, I kept waiting for the HI-RES close-ups referred to in the manual. All I ever saw was the landing values displayed on the screen. No close-ups, no anything except, you guessed it, the flash of my ship being vaporized. Yes... I had to start from scratch. I have been informed that a change sheet was supposed to accompany the program and tell you not to expect a HI-RES landing. Real fine!!! Well I made it to Mars. "Very nice landing commander" was my welcome. A message appeared instructing me to insert disk 2 and hit RETURN when I was ready.
After I inserted disk number 2 and hit RETURN I was greeted with a disk line error. At this point I decided to try something. I powered down the system and rebooted with disk 2. The program asked if this was my maiden voyage or a continuation. I hit continuation. After several buzzes and clicks, I found myself standing on Mars next to my spaceship. Several thoughts came to mind as to why this had occurred
Knowing my software distributor is not in the habit of playing the customers software, I opted for theory 1. When I took an inventory I found I had very little food. I started to explore Mars. I encountered some lizard men and even ventured beneath the lost city of Lumeria. I couldn't do too much exploring as my food ran out and everyone died. Movement is controlled by the use of the joystick, accompanied by the pitter-patter of your footsteps. Your party is represented by a man-like figure. If you stop moving and happen to hear the pitter- patter of footsteps, BEWARE!! Some unseen danger is nearby ready to leap out and destroy you. Hills, ruins, vegetation and creatures are all displayed on the screen. The screen display scrolls along to present new terrain as you travel. The same technique is used during manual navigation from the space station to Mars. There is a problem with this method. If you reach a point where you cannot continue, the scrolling stops! I didn't have to travel very far before this occurred. Now Mars and space are fairly large, and being forced to stop after only a little traveling is not realistic. Besides, my crew got eaten by lizard-men because I was trying to run in a direction I couldn't go. This whole mess could be corrected if a wrap-around technique were employed. Although not a major flaw, it does detract from the realism of the game. Overall, the graphics and sound were fine. Again, I feel they were not something that would win an Academy Award. The next day I returned the program to my software distributor and found out some interesting- things. I was not the first to return this software. Others had preceded me and all problems were due to our friend, Mr. Disk Link Error. I saw LASER WARS and asked for a demo on his system but we couldn't get it loaded due to a boot error! The manager talked with someone out at Crystal Computer. The disk problems were apparently a plague that had struck the company. This I can understand, as not all disks are created equal. What's the verdict you ask? Well, let's take everything into account.
THE GOOD NEWS
It is apparent that a lot of work and detail went into creating this game. The graphics and sound used in the SANDS OF MARS are good. The game flow and sequence of events is not bad either. Everything progresses logically. The Martian landscape is interesting. The game becomes challenging when facing alien ships and lizard men on Mars. Everything is in real time, and your party can be annihilated if you don't act quickly.
THE NOT SO GOOD NEWS
The documentation does not reflect the program operation in many places, and is incomplete in other areas. I realize this is an adventure and if everything was revealed much of the fun would be removed. I do believe, however, that you should at least be given a chance to complete it. Alternate solutions should' be available to many of 'the problems you face. This was not apparent in the program. I also feel that an adventurer should not be wiped out or destroyed instantly without warning. He should be given at least some chance of survival. Again, this did not occur. The game can only be saved once you land on Mars. The entire take-off sequence, and especially the purchase of goods, cannot be saved. Perhaps an improvement can be made to allow this to be done The documentation tells you to save programs on disk #I yet the program prompts tell you to save it on disk #2. The landing sequence Hi-Res graphics were missing (I never got the change sheet). The manual never mentions how to move or use weapons when you explore Mars. By the time I found out, by trial and error, half of my crew had been eaten by lizard men. There is no documentation at all on how to boot in the programs. Perhaps this seems a trivial point, but if a problems arose due to booting in, I might think it was due to some configuration error rather than a program fault. This is true of other programs such as LASER WARS which has nothing at all! The program does not live up to the advertising hype of "Revolutionary 3-D graphics". The only 3-D things I saw were the revolving radar dish, and the view of space from the bridge of the Starship Herman. These are certainly not revolutionary, at least in my opinion. This package gets an overall C. (I didn't include the program crashes as part of my evaluation). The value of the program is that it is a bit different from most adventures. The fact that it is multi- hased in nature and does not require you to enter two-word phrases and hit RETURN make a difference. The price of $39.95, however, is steep and in this authors opinion not worth it.
6660 Reseda Blvd.
Reseda, CA 91335
24K Cassette, $19.95, Disk $22.95
Reviewed by Mike Des Chenes
At first glance, Starbase Hyperion reminded me of a reconstructed Star Trek game. I was never a big fan of those ever popular computer Star Trek games. However, I found myself playing Starbase Hyperion over and over and over. I hope that my review does justice to this fine program from Quality Software. Most people who have seen the game demonstrated weren't very impressed with my presentation, but when I talked them into bringing the program home and giving it a try, they were waving cash in my face the next day. The important thing about this game is that you should read both the instruction booklet and the Battle Manual before you sit down to play. The Battle Manual is a fictional "Classified Document" for "Star Commanders," and marked "EYES ONLY". It includes helpful information on enemy ships, ground defense, ship tactics and other classified subjects which came in very useful during my campaign.
Starbase Hyperion is a single player tactical simulation game. You'll probably need to play several times to learn not only the rules, but also the advantages and errors of different tactics. My first few games were disastrous. I was getting zapped within the first few minutes.
Your mission is to defend your Star Fortress against invasion from enemy forces. You must create, command, and deploy a fleet that includes five different classes of warships. At the same time, you also have the equally important task of managing limited resources that control your power generators, shields, probes, and ship construction. One feature that I applaud is the choice of different game levels along with an almost unlimited number of scenarios. No two games will be exactly alike.
Starship Hyperion is not an arcade type game (a nice change) nor does it have Star Raiders' type graphics, but it does have good graphics and color with great sound effects and playability. This is a game that will make you feel like you've accomplished a personal victory with every game you win. Starship Hyperion is a program that won't disappoint you once you've learned the game strategy. A must for your software collection. NOTE: Both the cassette and disk version are copy protected.
6 York St.
Bridgeport, CT 06610
119.95 8K Cassette
The first thing that you'll probably say before giving this program a chance is "8K!, it can't be that good." But don't let the memory requirement fool you. For an 8K program, I am impressed with the game's playability.
Starship Duel, as the name implies, is a two player, shot your opponent type game. The object of the game is to destroy your opponent's fleet of 10 starships, one at a time. Two fleets of reserve starships are located horizontally on the screen, yellow ships on the top, and the green ships on the bottom. The amount of shots available for each ship is limited to 36, but before your shots are depleted, the message "LOW" appears on the screen to warn you that you have only 5 shots left from that starship before it disintegrates and is replaced by another (if you have reserve ships left). However, you can replenish your fuel supply by shooting a white "X" that keeps popping up on the screen.
I have a bad habit of not reading instructions. So, because this is a two player game, I plugged the joysticks into jacks one and two. And for the next ten minutes I was not able to get the playfield to come up on the screen after I chose the game option. I finally decided to give the instructions a try and found out that the game uses jacks one and three and for some strange reason the game crashes when using the wrong ports and must be reset and RUN again.
When shooting at your opponent, it's not just a simple matter of hitting him with your laser. You must be precise and hit him with the "end" of the laser beam and the ship must be moving in the direction that you want to shoot. Also, you can not fire the laser when your ship is stationary. There are four game options available. Game I is the simplest one-on-one combat type game. Game 2 is the same except that the starships become partially or totally invisible toward the left and right edges of the screen. I also noticed that in all game options it was impossible to shoot when your ship is on the edge of the screen, even though it was a wraparound playfield. The ships also would change brightness as they were moving, and disappear when stationary. I don't know if this is intentional, but it seemed to be annoying on my screen. Game 3 has a blinking "white phantom" ship which moves randomly across the screen. If any starship flies into or collides with the phantom ship, that ship will be destroyed. However, if either player shoots the white phantom with the "end" of their laser, then the phantom ship becomes your ally, takes on your ship's color, and will only destroy your opponent's ship. The playfields background has randomly plotted stars which make the game nicer graphically. However, if either ship hits a star, the star is erased. Player missile graphics would have been a better choice to use for the ships. Over all Starship, Duel has its good and bad points. Playability, graphics, color, and sound are good compared to similar shoot-em-up space games. However, the $19.95 retail price seems a bit high for this particular game.
Longwood, FL 32750
24K Cassette, $14.95
How can we possible have a complete review of space games without including a version of the ever popular Lunar Lander. The best version available thus far for the Atari is from Adventure International.
Once loaded, (which seems to be very difficult with many Adventure International's Atari programs), you are given the choice of four difficulty levels. Novice, Scout, Captain, and Commander. Novice, the easiest, gives the user plenty of fuel and a fairly simple landscape in which to land your LEM. The Scout level has a smaller fuel supply and a slower landing speed must be observed than in the Novice level. The Captain level has a more difficult landscape than in the Scout level along with smaller landing pads. And then there's the Commander level, where you must maneuver your LEM into a crater and land your ship at the end of a winding underground tunnel. Halfway through the tunnel you must land your ship in order to replenish your fuel supply or you'll find yourself out of fuel before you reach the landing pad at the tunnel's end. I haven't made a successful landing as of yet in the Commander level (But I'll keep trying). The entire game uses the joystick controllers for left and right thrust, braking rockets, and for choosing the difficulty levels.
You get 5 chances to land the LEM each game, with a new supply of fuel for each try along with your updated score. On the first three levels, you have a choice of 5 landing areas which are numbered to indicate the difficulty and score values. The fuel supply is shown as a green bar graph located at the right of the screen. The graph turns red to indicate that 75% of the fuel has been used. There is also a similar bar graph on the left side of the screen that changes from red to green which indicates whether or not your descent speed is low enough to make a safe landing. After each landing attempt your score is shown, and if you land successfully 5 out of the 5 tries, you'll be rewarded with a special display showing two astronauts walking on the lunar surface and planting the American flag. Very well done using player missile graphics.
Lunar Lander is a very enjoyable one player game. I would like to have seen the use of a numerical display as used in the arcade version. However, the bar graphs seem to do the same job. I hope to see a version of Lunar Lander that incorporates many of the special features that are possible with the Atari. But as I mentioned earlier, this is the best version I have seen to date for the Atari Computer. Sound, graphics, and playability are very good as we all would expect from Adventure International. I would, however, recommend that they find a new source for tape duplication.
Conflict is a challenging tactical simulation game that combines the usual lo-res grid scenario with some nice hi- res graphics and sound. On top of that, it's fun to play and there is enough diversity in the scenarios to keep you interested and challenged for quite a while. Each new game lets you select how many planets, star bases, hyperfighters (yours) and planet pulverizers (the computer's) will populate the universe. As you probably guessed, the more of theirs and the fewer of yours, the harder it gets.
There are some irritating bugs in the version I used which are nothing more than sloppy programming and testing. The battle messages which let you know the result of each conflict at the end of every turn, overwrite one another and become unintelligible very quickly. Also, on several occasions I got a no 'SHIP DESTROYED' message only to find that a fighter I had expected to be in a certain place wasn't there or anywhere else on the next turn.
The most frustrating problem cropped Lip when there were more than two opposing ships in the same sector with a planet. The hi-res graphics scan would occasionally "murphy" my position changes. It could conceivably have been an extreme case of fumble fingers on my part, but it happened often enough that I'd advise you to watch for it.
On the whole, CONFLICT is a nice addition to the game shelf. The problems noted should be easy enough to correct and hopefully will be removed from future releases.
You may find your first game a little slow if you follow their familiarization suggestion and use only one ship on each side. Don't despair - things get much more interesting with a few more ships and planets in the universe.
One of the best 'Dungeons and Dragons' games based on a Science-Fiction theme to come along for the Atari Computer System is Rescue at Rigel, by Automated Simulations. This game makes excellent use of sound, real time interaction and playermissile graphics. And to further add to the mood of the game, a science fiction style character set.
Having played Rescue at Rigel many times before, I thought I was familiar with the command of the game. But, reading the instructions one more time proved differently. The instruction book (which is 32 pages long) fully describes the sixteen commands and their application in the game, as well as everything else that you need to know about Rescue at Rigel.
The object of the game is to rescue ten human beings from an asteroid orbiting the planet Rigel (hence the name, Rescue at Rigel). You, in the part of the character "Sudden Smith", have been supplied with a Blaster, an adjustable Powergun, a defensive Shield, an AMBLE (Accelerated Movement through Bio- Lectronic Enhancement) System; also known as Bionics, and several Medikits and transporter beams. Using this equipment, you have up to one hour to free the ten prisoners from this orbiting rock or your rescue ship will leave without you. There are seven types of aliens that make their home in the asteroid, all of which are hostile to you and your mission, and will do their best to see that you fail.
Although Rescue at Rigel makes no use of joysticks (and it was missed initially), one soon gets accustomed to entering all commands through the keyboard. A suggestion to Automated Simulations: add a prompt line so we will not have to refer to the instruction book to check on those little used commands (ie: B=Blast, F=Fire, S=Shields, etc.). A quick reference card is supplied, but in a fast moving game of this nature, it is better to keep one's eyes glued to the TV screen. This game is a challenge, even on the easiest of the three difficulty levels (most people will not last more than a half hour).
The graphics, interaction, nice sound effects, and fast- paced real time action make for an interesting conflict/simulation.
Galactic Quest, another space-based adventure-type game from Crystalware, puts you in the position of a star cruiser Ensign. Your ship's captain has just 'bought it', and now YOU are in command of the ship. Your mission: to defend your ship from any deadly Vegan assault cruisers that happen along, and to do as much trading throughout the star system as possible and build up your revenues. The game ends when (a) you have destroyed 100 Vegan cruisers, (b) you have earned ten thousand Quintons (Quinton=$$$$$$), or (c) you have gotten yourself blown up.
To defend your ship you have Rifter Pods (similar to photon torpedoes) and Meson LASERs. To move about you switch to either a diagram of the local star system surrounding your ship, or a galactic star map showing the section of the galaxy containing all the nearby star systems. It isn't too difficult to keep an eye on oncoming Vegan ships'. The Star Map can give you at least 30 seconds warning before they approach, or spy reports from your bases will let you know also. However, it is up to you to check these resources. just sitting there flying your ship with the joystick, without checking these readouts may result in your destruction.
The danger of getting destroyed by an alien ship, running into a sun, or accidentally hitting the self destruct button (an easy thing to do), present the main dangers and suspense in the game. As far as the trading aspect of the game goes, I found it fairly boring. You have a dozen and a half planets with which to trade; you buy some goods, use what you need, then trade off the rest for profit at another star system. One 'bug' in the game: after trading with a planet, how after traveling a dozen systems away, do I come to arrive at the same planet? In other words, you may come across 2 or 3 planets VOLCANIC, and so on.
The game does use several of the ATARI's capabilities such as course scrolling screen, rewritten character sets, and sound effects. However, most of the graphics and sound movement routines are identical to those found in "The Sands of Mars". In all I found the game mildly interesting. Those who know little of the 400/800's abilities may find the game fascinating, the more experienced will just say "is that it?"
ASTEROIDS and ATARI: these two words must be known to every family in the world (except for a few remote tribes here or there). There now exist three formats by ATARI of this most popular game; the arcade machine, the video computer system version, and now the 400/800 computer cartridge. Now I must start out by saying the computer version of this game is a big let down. I don't know who at ATARI wrote it, but they should have seen the computer version of Missile Command to learn about more of the ATARI's capabilities. The difference between the video game version of ASTEROIDS and the computer version isn't near as great as the Missile Command versions. And compared to the newer ASTEROIDS Deluxe arcade version, the computer ASTEROIDS looks bad indeed. If you haven't seen the 400/800 ASTEROIDS, just picture several blue meatballs against a black background and you have a good picture of how the graphics are.
The imagination that went into the computer version not only isn't there, it's almost retrogressive. You have several options in the game. Hyperspace will blank out your ship and randomly place it somewhere else on the screen. However unlike the arcade version it usually puts you in a safe area - your chance of materializing inside an asteroid isn't too high. Flip over is an interesting option allowing you to instantly flip your space ship 180 degrees to destroy an aft coming asteroid rather than having to waste a couple seconds pivoting, The shield option is ridiculous. It's not even close to the ASTEROIDS Deluxe feature in either graphics nor function. The arcade option gives you a time limit on how long you can use your shields (as does even the video game version), and should you get struck by an asteroid, you will be nudged by it. Now if you get caught between TWO oncoming asteroids (approaching each other head on), you will be obliterated. The computer shield option simply turns your ship into an uninteresting blob allowing asteroids to pass behind you undisturbed. No time limit, no danger, no nice graphics. (Note to ATARI: look at ANALOG SOFTWARE's Race In Space if you need any further ideas for shield effects or nice space-type sounds).
Not to cut down this game any further, but the sound effect of the oncoming space rocks is pretty pitiful. Why they used the first sound effect they probably came upon instead of experimenting with new ones I couldn't even begin to guess at.
There are a few good points to this game though. Up to four players can compete, either one at a time, or simultaneously. There are even versions where you can blow away your opponent's ships. An interesting difference between this game and the video game ASTEROIDS: the saucers in the VCS version are much better shots. However when you really get going in the computer version, that saucer is nuisance enough.
The saving grace to this game is that it's addictive. And at the very least it will improve your peripheral vision. It also will run in 8K (but who cares? how many 8K 400's or 800's are out there? 10? 11?). 1 won't heartily recommend this game, however, if you DO like 'STROIDS, you may as well buy it until an improved version comes along.
P.O. Box 641
Melville, NY 11747
24K Disk $19.95 - 16K Cassette $14.95
Review by Mike DesChenes
Space Chase is a one player game pitting you against intelligent alien ships. Your mission is to save a number of planets in the solar system from these space menaces. Using the joystick to guide your ship, you must collide with or touch a large number of white dots (planets) which disappear on contact. You must try to clear the screen of these planets and at the same time try to outmaneuver the alien ships. You receive points for every planet you touch. However, if the alien ships come in contact with a planet, your score goes down. You also have nuclear devices that you can leave behind in hopes of destroying an enemy ship. When an enemy ship has been annihilated, it is soon replaced with another, but destroying an enemy ship adds points to your total. Another of the options are shields. The shields only protect you from the nuclear devices, not the enemy ships.
The first game pits you against one enemy marauder, and the user selects the amount of nuclear devices available and whether or not shields will be used. Once that galaxy is conquered, you must face two enemy ships. When and if you survive the second galaxy, you continue on to the third galaxy, where you are then confronted by three ships. The game ends when an enemy ship collides with yours. It then displays the top score, number of planets saved, and number of galaxies conquered.
Space Chase is fun and sometimes can be very addictive. Excellent sound and color with good graphics. Well worth the, price. Another fine job from Swifty.
ABOUT A.N.A.L.O.G.'s PROGRAM LISTINGS:
We have spent some time considering the best method to present our program listings. The greatest problem encountered by our readers occurs in the understanding of the 'control graphic character set'. If you see an unusual character, look it up in the BASIC Reference Manual to find out how to enter it into the computer. To get the listing format in the magazine, we use an Epson MX-80 F/T along with a short program to format the listings to 38 columns. Rather than have "[CONTROL T]" printed instead of "0", we chose the 38 column format to make debugging easier, so what is on your screen is matched to what is listed in the magazine (the last character on a line on the screen will be the same last character in the magazine listing).