Requiring 64K of RAM to run, and coded by Paul Woakes himself, Mercenary on the Plus4 is an almost perfect conversion of his classic 3D, C64 exploration game.
Developed by Software Creations for Sales Curve Interactive, Solar Jetman is a legendary ‘lost’ game that was canned by its publisher in 1991 and has since resurfaced and been ‘preserved’ online.
Trevor McFur in the Crescent Galaxy was released for the Atari Jaguar in 1993. It is a side-scrolling, ‘bullet hell’ shooter, and it is awful.
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is the 1988 successor to Maniac Mansion. Successor in the sense that it uses the same game engine and gameplay style, but does not exist in the same universe.
Eye of the Storm was the first game released by Rebellion Developments in 1993, and also the first video game designed by Jason Kingsley, co-founder of Rebellion and current owner of 2000AD comic.
Back in 1993 I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Rebellion, in Oxford, England, to see Eye of the Storm; to have it demo-ed to me by Jason himself, and then to take it away for review. Luckily, at the time I was working in Oxford (at Maverick Magazines), so it was only a short walk from our offices to theirs. I spent probably three or fours hours with Jason, playing the game, discussing it with him, and later being given a sneak peek of the Aliens vs. Predator game they were also working on for the Atari Jaguar… It was a memorable day.
Playing Eye of the Storm now I have the same feelings I had when I first played it back in 1993. It’s a clever, playable and absorbing game (identifying alien lifeforms for cash in the atmosphere of Jupiter and shooting down poachers); initially a little confusing (easily sorted with a little bit of effort), and it could easily be dismissed by those who just don’t ‘get’ it.
The basic premise of Eye of the Storm is that in 2124 life is discovered (by a probe) in Jupiter’s great red spot, and there’s a mad scramble by mercenaries to bring back specimens for cash. Except you’re no mercenary – you’re a representative of the Interstellar Conservation Executive (ICE) and you’re there to document these lifeforms for posterity. Not kill or catch them, but identify them. And you’ve got a small, blue spacecraft in which to do it in. And not get killed. So you’re a conservationist of the future, with homing missiles and lasers, of course. And you are encouraged to blow the poachers out of existence!
The ship’s Heads-Up Display (HUD) is nicely designed and each instrumentation module can be turned on or off using key commands. The 3D graphics are simple by today’s standards, but are fast and reasonably colourful. The 3D models are comparable to Star Fox on the SNES, which came out the same year. Not as complex, sure, but only a couple of people made this game – not a large team. The random explosions when you die are quite nice. Kinda weirdly kaleidoscopic and unique…
The mouse and keyboard controls work very well and flying around is fairly relaxing, when you get the hang of flying in a 3D space with a limited turn speed. If you want to play Eye of the Storm seriously: there is a very good game in there to be had. With missions and objectives (watch out for messages that come up). Exploring and marking landmarks will help you find your way around the seemingly featureless “gas giant” although a lot of people may be put off by the lack of ground-based landmarks. There is no ground! There is a mysterious monolith though…
Eye of the Storm is a good concept and a decent game, nicely executed, but with limited appeal. And, while I wouldn’t rate it as a “must play” game, I would recommend you try it out if you’re interested in space cockpit games that are different from the norm. Personally: I really like Eye of the Storm; I enjoyed revisiting it and remembering how to play it properly. In fact: I’d love to see Rebellion bring it back with a few new ideas and features… Extra-terrestrial conservation will be a future trend, I feel. 🙂
Eye of the Storm was released on only two platforms: on the PC, in MS-DOS (the version shown here), and also on the Amiga. I’ve actually never played the Amiga version, but aim to rectify that soon.
Because Eye of the Storm is so good, and because it may seem confusing to play for some people, I’ve written a little starter guide to help first-timers get the hang of it. Hope it helps!
Eye of the Storm (1993) by Rebellion Developments Ltd.
Mini Guide by Mallo, September 2019
The basic aim is to survive long enough to record the creatures and events in the great red spot of Jupiter. To earn money, all you have to do is fly around, observing, identifying and shooting things. First of all: don’t shoot the lifeforms. Shoot the mercenaries that are shooting at you. Of course: to spend that money you make you’ve got to make it back to base alive. To do that, simply turn towards your base (the blue doughnut-looking thing with the red stripe on the side) and fly into the black area, which is the entrance. Once you’re docked you can check your money totals and buy new things. Some upgrades will be out of your reach at the start, but you should buy a number of fuel upgrades and PODs, namely: Defence PODs and Sentinels, which you can then release in space and use as your eyes and ears. From time to time you’ll get a message to capture a certain creature for a bonus. You don’t have to do this, but it is the quickest way to get those engine and hull upgrades.
Tip #1. For your very first sortie: don’t go far, or you will probably die. Just stay out for a few minutes, then return to base. You should then have some money to use for extra fuel. Make sure you save the game every time you dock when you’re starting out.
Tip #2. Identify everything (by pointing at it and pressing ‘I’). Check your ID totals in the Player Status option in the Save/Load menu.
Tip #3. If you catch a creature and there is no market for it, release it back into the wild. Make sure not to accidentally release your last fuel POD by accident, otherwise you’ll plummet into Jupiter’s core. In fact: use the ‘Release’ command as carefully as possible!
Tip #4. Getting an engine upgrade opens the game up significantly, so make that a priority. The Agile Engine is only 20,000 credits.
Tip #5. Getting a hull upgrade will mean that your ship can withstand the crushing pressures deeper down inside Jupiter’s atmosphere, where the weirder lifeforms dwell.
Tip #6. On the HUD, at the bottom are three coloured, horizontal lines. These are important. The top (yellow) line is your speed. The second (orange) line is your fuel, and the third (red) line are your shields.
Tip #7. Make sure to sell your empty fuel PODs once you get going, and to replace them with new ones.
Eye of the Storm keys:
1 – Net
2 – Release
3 – Map
5 – Homing Missile
6 – Missile
7 – Laser
I – Identify
R – Radar on/off
P – POD view on/off
M – Map on/off
B – Base (Turn toward)
Speed up/slow down – either hold right mouse button and backwards and forwards, or plus and minus on the keyboard
S – Sound on or off
G – Ground on or off
Offendron Warrior is a superb retro gaming tribute to Eugene Jarvis‘s arcade classic Defender, using modern pixels and effects, by talented and prolific Korean Hijong Park. It’s currently available for free or donationware on Steam.
If you don’t know Defender – look it up, then go play it. Then come back and continue reading this.
Now… Imagine Defender, but with a few modern twists applied. Such as: homing missiles! And a transforming ship (Interceptor mode flies faster and Offender mode has rapid fire rate).
The basic premise of Offendron Warrior is the same as Defender: protect the vulnerable civilians from waves of alien Infectors, which will try to carry them away from the ground. You can shoot an Infector and it will drop the civilian, but if the civilian falls too far it will die. So you can (and should) catch them. You can catch a bunch of them and chain them up, which is neat. If you lose all your civilians it’s game over.
Holding down the transform button turns you into a mini mech, which shoots rapid, multi-coloured lasers out the front. Firing while moving up and down in mech mode creates a spread of fire, which is a good tactic for dealing with small groups of enemies. For everything else there are homing missiles. Homing missiles will take out every enemy on-screen, but are limited so must be used sparingly. The visual effect of a large group of enemies being wiped-out by homing missiles is quite amazing and really has to be seen to be believed. They are very satisfying to use!
Offendron Warrior is a simple but brilliant blaster. It’s a great tribute to Defender and a very playable and compulsive game in its own right. And – like all Hijong Park‘s games – it really is a tough challenge. It’s great fun, though. So don’t miss it!
As Final Fantasy Legend games go this third instalment in the series is a little weird. It plays just as good as the previous two games (maybe even better because it has the advantage of refinement), but the way it’s presented is somewhat strange.
Final Fantasy Legend III‘s designers decided to use a kind of ‘modular’ or ‘sticker’ design look for the enemies that you see during battle, and when you’re facing off against them they look kinda funny… I guess that was the intention, although the change of style results in a bizarre-looking game rather than a scary one. You might be asking “What could be scary about a game like this?” and I would simply point to Su-Zaku in the first game – an indestructible fiery bird capable of drawing terror from all who encounter it… But the monsters in this just look googly-eyed and daft. It’s a pity because I loved the look of the first two games.
Final Fantasy Legend III is a fine JRPG though, and it does a few things new in the series that give the game an extra dimension. Firstly: you can jump over holes in this third game, which is new. Jumping was not something that was allowed in previous games, and it might seem quite minor, but it allows for different puzzles to solve. Secondly: this time your party members can eat the meat dropped by slain monsters, which transforms them into different races, each with unique abilities and powers. While the meat-eating element does add another layer of interest to Final Fantasy Legend III it’s not obvious which races are most useful in which situations, so unless you have a chart to refer to you’ll be flying blind. There is one in the manual, but it’s a bit of a beast… [pun intended].
Another cool feature of Final Fantasy Legend III is The Talon – a legendary time-travelling spaceship that you acquire some distance into the game. You must collect a number of upgrade units to make it battle-ready, but when you do you can fly around the game world, shoot enemies with it, and get in and out of it at will. It’s worth persevering with Final Fantasy Legend III to at least get The Talon upgraded. 🙂
Vladimir Romanyuk‘s incredible SpaceEngine is a simulation of the entire observable universe, with the goal being “scientific realism”, and to reproduce every known type of astronomical phenomenon.
It uses up-to-date data on real interstellar objects (from the Hipparcos Catalogue for stars, and the NGC and IC catalogues for galaxies), all of which can be visited and explored using the simple controls and the Heads-Up Display (the HUD, which also displays detailed properties of any object that is selected, such as mass, temperature, radius, et cetera); it uses procedural generation to fill in the gaps, and describe places we don’t yet know; and it also includes a complex space exploration element for creating relatively realistic spacecraft to travel around in. Be warned, though: SpaceEngine is not Elite Dangerous, No Man’s Sky, or any other kind of fictional space opera – this is serious, hardcore, realistic stuff. You do not go around blasting lasers at Thargoids in this…
That said: anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy, physics, or science should have a look at SpaceEngine. It’s not perfect (and is improving all the time), but it is pretty damn astounding – the level of detail, variety and beauty in the game is jaw-dropping. Just like the real universe…
The first public release of SpaceEngine was in 2010, and it has been free to download and use since then. Only recently (June 2019), with the release of version 0.990 on Steam, has SpaceEngine become a paid-for program. And at a mere £20 it’s a worthwhile investment if you’re fascinated by the cosmos and science – as everyone should be!
More about SpaceEngine:
The software has its own built-in database which gives detailed information on all celestial objects and allows the player to create custom names and descriptions for them.
SpaceEngine has a locations database where players can save any position and time within the simulation, and can load it from that specific point.
Although objects that form part of a planetary system move, and stars rotate about their axes and orbit each other in multiple star systems, stellar “proper motion” is not simulated, and galaxies are at fixed locations and do not rotate.
Most real-world spacecraft such as Voyager 2 are not provided with SpaceEngine.
Interstellar light absorption is not modelled in SpaceEngine.
SpaceEngine is easily modifiable and supports a large variety of add-ons. The online community has created many third-party add-ons, including high-resolution textures, language localisations, spacecraft models, edited shaders, galaxy models, lens flare effects, and fictional planetary systems. Most add-ons are available via the official website forums.
In SpaceEngine‘s “beta spaceship mode”, the program simulates inertia, realistic gravity wells, and atmospheric dynamics.
Although faster-than-light travel is not currently possible, SpaceEngine implements a feasible warp drive based on the Alcubierre drive.
Relativistic effects on the speed of light are simulated, in areas such as redshifted galaxies, the gravitational redshift exerted by black holes, and the theoretical redshift produced by the above-mentioned warp drive.
This early Spectrum shooter by Gargoyle Games might look a bit archaic by today’s standards, but back in 1984 when it was first released it really set the gaming world alight. Well, the Spectrum gaming world – at least…
Playing it now you’d be forgiven for wondering what the fuss was about, because Ad Astra doesn’t have a moving starry backdrop to give the impression of speed (the stars are static); it doesn’t have the correct perspective on the craft you’re controlling (something that always bugged me, even as a kid playing it); it doesn’t have selectable difficulty levels, and it doesn’t have much in the way of excitement.
It does have large, rolling planets that come at you (impressive for the time); a blue mothership section; some nice explosions, and some TIE Fighters… Maybe that’s what impressed people back in 1984?
Ad Astra is a game that has dated quite badly over the years. It’s simple enough to play, but is from a time when video games were usually very primitive, and – as shooters go – this one is a bit of a throwback.
Konami‘s Salamander is a classic scrolling shooter first released into arcades in 1986. It is part of the Gradius/Nemesis series and features both side-scrolling and vertically-scrolling gameplay set over six different levels.
Unlike Gradius, Salamander has a simultaneous two-player mode. Player one controls the Vic Viper from Gradius, and player two controls a new ship called Lord British (as far as I’m aware: this has nothing to do with Richard Garriott – founder of Origin Systems – who also calls himself Lord British and has done since the late ’70s).
The progressive weapons power-up system has been simplified in Salamader (over Gradius). Now you don’t have to activate a weapons change – it happens automatically when you pick up a dropped power-up. Salamander does retain the extra firepower pods, and the speed-ups, from the first game, but expands on the weapon types.
Ask anyone who’s played Salamander and they will probably mention the fire levels as being the ones that really stand out. As you move left to right, huge solar flares blast out from the fiery surface and you have to avoid being roasted. If you’re skilled enough you might even be able to fly through them…
Salamander is fairly unremarkable at the beginning to be honest, but does improve rapidly as the graphical tricks start to show themselves. The early levels are relatively easy and – of course – the later levels truly are ‘bullet hell’.
A number of home computer and console versions have been released over the years. The Commodore 64 version, by Imagine Software, is known for being very high quality. As is the PC Engine version. More modern re-releases are mostly emulated versions of the original arcade game, so are considered authentic.
More: Salamander on Wikipedia