The third Freescape game, Total Eclipse, was released on 8-bit home computers first (ZX Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC), and later appeared on 16-bit machines, including this excellent Amiga conversion, published by Domark in 1989.
Dark Side is the second Freescape game from Major Developments and Incentive Software. Freescape was one of the earliest (if not THE earliest) 3D game engine and was used to make a series of significant games in the mid Eighties.
This Atari ST version of Dark Side came out in 1989 and featured much faster, smoother graphics than the 8-bit versions. The cockpit graphics were also more intricate than the originals too.
Dark Side is the same game as previous versions though. You’re a lone trooper on a mission to destroy some enemy solar cells. You have a space suit, some lasers, and a jet pack with limited fuel. You also have a limited amount of time to complete the mission. So it’s a race against time.
The Commodore 64 version of Incentive‘s classic Driller is surprisingly good, considering that the machine isn’t particularly suited to this kind of game.
The graphics have a chunky, C64 charm and look about them, and the subdued colours work well in the context of an atmospheric science fiction game. The frame rate is probably the lowest of the 8-bit versions, but that’s okay if you know how to play the game properly (ie. by adjusting your steps and turns by using the increment keys). Driller is quite a slow game to play anyway, so the frame rate doesn’t really get in the way.
Playing Driller on 8-bit machines is an interesting piece of time travel on the subject of 3D gaming. Freescape, and Driller, was one of the very first attempts to create a fully explorable 3D world inside a video game.
American publisher Epyx released UK hit game Driller onto US PC markets under the title of Space Station Oblivion in 1988.
There was no need for a title change really. Driller says it all.
The PC MS-DOS version is the fastest and smoothest of all the 16-bit versions around. Well, of ALL the versions around. Unless someone’s remade it and I’ve yet to notice…
PC Driller doesn’t have the intricate cockpit graphics of the ST and Amiga versions, but it does have the zip. It’s fast. And can be played in CGA (four colour) and EGA (16 colour) modes.
Which version of Driller has the greatest frame rate? Probably this one, although it doesn’t have the artisnal graphical quality of the Atari ST version.
Driller and Freescape started life on the ZX Spectrum in 1987 – performing miracles on Sir Clive’s humble little machine. Creating 3D worlds were people said there was none.
And, being more than just a graphics engine, Freescape (and Driller) lived on into the 16-bit realm, and beyond.
Driller appeared on both the Atari ST and Amiga (and in PC MS-DOS under the title of Space Station Oblivion, courtesy of Epyx) in 1988, and it really showed what Freescape was – a firm step towards the future of 3D gaming…
With the extra frame rate, extra smoothness, and extra speed in the gameplay came a feeling that Driller wasn’t really all that bad, deep down. Pun intended.
These grabs are from the UK Atari ST version, which takes Driller to another level, with its ornate cockpit dashboard designs (something the US PC MS-DOS version doesn’t have).
Driller first appeared on the ZX Spectrum in 1987. This version is where it all began.
Driller‘s engine – called Freescape – was to go down in history as one of the first to make 3D gaming a real possibility.
The ZX Spectrum version runs at about ten frames a second at best. Eleven if you’re lucky. Not surprising considering what the game is doing.
So developer Major Developments kept the gameplay simple in the hope that it wouldn’t bore you.
By ‘simple’ that means: remembering about ten different key strokes to keep your viewpoint in shape… and also being quick on the draw when confronted by enemies.
Driller is surprisingly strategic when you get into it!
Driller was the very first Freescape game. A very important game for its time.
It first came out in 1987.
It was one of the first ever games that allowed you to explore a full 3D environment, and Freescape was the engine that made it possible.
During play you can rotate the first-person field of view and also look up and down. You can choose whether to step or turn in increments. And you can shoot objects in the enviroment to interact with them. Shoot a tank to destroy it. Shoot a door to open it. Shoot a switch to activate it. And so on. The puzzles are simple, but for the time the engine was mind-blowing.
The Amstrad‘s extra colours and decent frame rate make this version the best of the 8-bit originals.
The Amiga and Atari ST versions take Driller to another level though.
Dark Side is the 1988 sequel to Driller is a very early example of a first-person, full 3D, explorable world, that can be viewed from almost any angle.
The game engine – Freescape – has gone on to become famous as one of the earliest examples of its type, and one that was hugely influential on every 3D exploration game that followed.
Dark Side – in my opinion – is much more interesting than Driller, the game that preceded it, and in it you play a government agent sent to an alien moon to fight terrorists and to disable an immense beam weapon they have built, before it is used on your home planet.
You can walk around, fly (using a jetpack), shoot, and rotate your angle of vision up or down, or around.
Considering the Spectrum’s limitations, Dark Side is a tremendous achievement. That such a complex game was crammed into just 48K of memory is quite staggering really.
A number of other Freescape games followed Dark Side, courtesy of publisher Incentive, though you could argue that none of them managed to better this game.