Category Archives: Amiga

#38: Cannon Fodder

Format: Amiga Genre: Real-Time Tactics Released: 1993 Developer: Sensible Software

[Two of The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse (the only minor deities committed to a programme of rigorous consumer testing) are drinking tea.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Another biscuit?

SECOND CYCLIST: Don’t mind if I do. Now let me see… Bourbon I think. [Sound of munching.] Mmmm.

Cannon_fodder_box_art

[The THIRD CYCLIST enters.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Morning chaps! It’s a lovely day out on the ethereal plane, you should go for a ride. Oooh, are those biscuits? [Takes custard cream.]

FIRST CYCLIST: I would do, but I’m getting my bike resprayed.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Speaking with difficulty while chewing.] Ogh yesh? What colough?

FIRST CYCLIST: Black.

THIRD CYCLIST: [Swallows.] But didn’t you get it sprayed black last time?

FIRST CYCLIST: Yes, but it’s midnight black this time – the guy reckons it’s the blackest black you can get.

SECOND CYCLIST: But I thought black was simply the absence of colour, and hence it’s actually impossible to divide ‘black’ into shades – it’s either black or it’s not black, i.e. grey.

FIRST CYCLIST: [Pauses…] Yeah, but this is really black.

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The mangled corpses of your enemies, yesterday.

[The FOURTH CYCLIST enters carrying a large box wrapped in a bin bag with a note saying ‘TAKE ME’ pinned on the side.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Hey guys, look what I found! Someone just left it lying around outside the front of their house!

[The FOURTH CYCLIST whips away the bin bag with a flourish to reveal an Amiga 500+ with a stack of games.]

THIRD CYCLIST: Cool! Hey you know that reminds of that time at Amiga Power – you know, when we brutally slayed the entire staff?

[The others stop what they’re doing for a moment and gaze thoughtfully at the ceiling.]

FIRST CYCLIST: Oh yeeeahh! I’d forgotten about that!

[The Four Cyclists meditate on the thought for a moment, with wistful smiles playing across the voids where their faces should have been. The SECOND CYCLIST stands and claps his hands together, breaking the others out of their reverie.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Right! Shall we see if it works then?

Cannon_Fodder_recruits

'Cunning Metaphor For The Futility Of War', more like.

[Half an hour later the cyclists are gathered around a dilapidated TV listening to the A500 disk drive grind and sputter its way back into life.]

FOURTH CYCLIST: Right, what shall we play on then? Zool?

THIRD CYCLIST: Frankly I just have one thing to say to that: ‘up to jump‘.

FIRST CYCLIST: How about Cannon Fodder, the Game of Champions?

[Ten minutes later the quartet are watching the words ‘This game is not in any way endorsed by the ROYAL BRITISH LEGION’ appear on the screen, immediately followed by a giant poppy and the words ‘CANNON FODDER’. The accompanying music is ‘War Has Never Been So Much Fun’.]

SECOND CYCLIST: Reminds me of all that fuss about the poppy on the front cover of the game. Yet despite all the Daily Star’s accusations of warmongering and insensitivity, the game actually carried a distinctly anti-war message, as evidenced by the fact that your new recruits queue up in front of the graves of the newly dead – surely a potent image of the futility of war?

THIRD CYCLIST: Errr… yeah.

SECOND CYCLIST: Not to mention the fact that every soldier in the game had a unique name, which meant you couldn’t help but grow attached to your recruits as they steadily moved their way up the ranks. Seeing your favourite general die halfway through the game was nothing short of a tragedy – and by extension, this emphasised the tragedy of death in real-life combat.

THIRD CYCLIST: Yeah, it was annoying when they died.

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Igloos and snowmen were a common occurrence in Cannon Fodder. Natch.

SECOND CYCLIST: Erm, I’m not sure you’re really getting this are you? The point is that in most war games you’re in control of nameless goons or some ridiculous super-soldier that can be resurrected at the touch of a button, and as such you never really end up caring about them. But by giving the soldiers individual names, Cannon Fodder succeeds in creating a bond between the player and the game characters, and their very fragility and the permanance of their death serves to strengthen this bond. Because you know that your character can be killed by just a couple of shots, and that if he dies he’s gone forever, you take extra care to look after him. Do you see?

FIRST CYCLIST: YES!!! GOT HIM! DIE YOU MOFO! Right, that’s level 1 done, anyone else fancy a go?

THIRD CYCLIST: ME ME ME!!!

SECOND CYCLIST: Sigh.

Lewis

(Hang on – what on earth was all that about? – Ed)

Sorry, it’s a review In The Style Of… Amiga Power. You can read more about the mighty beings of Amiga Power by cruising down the InformationSuperHighway to this CyberInfoDump. If you didn’t find any of this in the slightest bit interesting or amusing, then you probably used to read (“Michael Jackson” – Ed). Tsk.

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Filed under 1993, Amiga, Real-Time Tactics, Sensible Software

#25: Knights of the Sky

Format: Amiga Genre: Flight Simulator Released: 1991 Developer: MicroProse

I was playing a demo of Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. the other day. The graphics were superb – the representation of Rio de Janeiro was almost photo-realistic – but the game itself was deathly dull. Like pretty much all modern flight sims, it basically amounts to lining up your sights over some plane or tank that’s so far away you can’t actually see it, waiting for a lock on, then pressing the fire button. *Yawn*

Knights_of_the_Sky_Cover

Unfortunately, it seems that as real-life planes rely more and more on flight computers to navigate and select targets, the computer games based on them become less and less enjoyable. Perhaps by the time we reach Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 10 you won’t even need to do anything – you could just step outside for a cigarette and let the game play itself.

Thank heavens then for Knights of the Sky, a blesséd antidote to all this modern fly-by-wire, fire-and-forget, head-up-display, ensure-contents-are-piping-hot nonsense. Here’s a simulation where top speeds rarely climb into triple figures, where fire and forget equates to lobbing a hand grenade out of the cockpit and hoping for the best, and where your head-up display mostly consists of a petrol gauge and a compass. Welcome to World War 1.

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The great thing about Knights of the Sky was that you felt completely vulnerable throughout every mission – even just a few direct hits with a machine gun could send you spiralling to a fiery death, which led to some tense dogfights. Pretty much every mission I attempted would end with me coaxing a critically damaged plane back to my home base after a few too many close encounters with the enemy. The wings would be practically falling off, the petrol gauge would be virtually on empty, and I’d be wrestling with the joystick to just keep the plane going in a straight line… Most of the time I didn’t make it, but on the rare occasions where I somehow managed to land my charred mass of wood and canvas back on friendly soil, I’d be practically dancing round the room in excitement. And, to my knowledge, there are very few flight sims that can inspire dancing.

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By far the best aspect of this game was the two player mode. There were surprisingly few Amiga games that you could play over a link cable, but these games were among my favourites, and most of them are (or will be) on this list (I’ve already covered one of them – Stunt Car Racer).

Knights of the Sky just came alive in two player mode. As much fun as it was having my plane shot to pieces by nameless Germans, it couldn’t even come close to the sheer thrill of having my plane shot to pieces by my Amiga-500-owning mate who lived round the corner. As I said earlier, dogfights were tense in Knights of the Sky, but they were a good deal tenser when playing against a friend, especially if he unplugged your joystick in the middle of a loop-the-loop (thankfully, the computerised Germans never learned that little trick).

knights_of_the_sky_outside_plane

Actually shooting down your opponent’s plane was surprisingly hard – the view from your cockpit was incredibly restrictive (most of your view was taken up by instruments and a bloody great big wing in front), so it was really difficult to keep the other plane within your sights. Also, because the planes were so slow, actually turning round to try and get on the tail of your opponent was a constant struggle. And any slightly more advanced manoeuvres were a risky business – the planes could only fly at low altitude, so if you went into a steep dive there was a good chance you’d end up ploughing into the deck, and climbing steeply would generally cause your plane to stall. In fact, participating in a dogfight was kind of like watching two valium-addled geriatrics wrestling each other for the last Werther’s Original. In slow motion.

However, the very fact that the planes were so completely rubbish was what made Knights of the Sky so exciting. Because it was so much of a struggle to fly your plane – and even to find, let alone shoot at, your opponent – winning a dogfight created a palpable sense of achievement. Especially if you could do it without unplugging your opponent’s joystick.

knights_of_the_sky_map

Of course, the game is not without its faults. The graphics, for example, could be politely described as ‘uninspiring’, and they look positively Stone Age by today’s standards. Also, the single player campaign could become a little dull after a while, and there wasn’t really enough variety to hold your interest for extended periods of time.

But for the two player mode alone, Knights of the Sky more than deserves to be on this list, if only because it proves that flights sims can be exciting after all.

(Skip to about the six minute mark to see some dogfighting action.)

Lewis

P.S. While researching this post, I came across a game called Rise of Flight. Could this be a spiritual successor to Knights of the Sky?

(Screenshots from www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1991, Amiga, Flight Simulator, MicroProse

#20: Wizkid

Format: Amiga Genre: Miscellaneous Released: 1992 Developer: Sensible Software

Wizkid is an early title from Sensible Software, who went on to develop the legendary Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. It makes it onto the list by merit of its sheer lunacy – a trait I feel should be encouraged in games wherever possible.

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The R. Crumb-inspired box art for Wizkid

Wizkid is a sequel to the 1987 game Wizball, although it bears little resemblance to the original game. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to actually classify Wizkid into any kind of genre. The main chunk of the game involves clearing the screen of enemies by knocking blocks into them with your floating head, but once you’ve finished a round, your head is reattached to your body and you have to solve a series of increasingly bizarre puzzles to find the route to the next level. An example of one such puzzle is when you’re presented with the screen below.

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One of the earliest puzzle screens.

 Here’s what you have to do, according to the GameFAQ by Johnny “ThunderPeel2001” Walker:

Keep winding the well’s handle until the bucket appears. Jump onto the bucket to sink deep into the well. Go into the Ladies room and use a toilet in order to unblock the volcano (this is Wizkid, weird things happen). Go out and into the Men’s. Use the urinal one in from the left and it should leak when you flush it.

Head back outside and jump into the bucket again before you drown. Water should rise and take you back onto the upper screen. Now you can keep winding the handle for infinite colour bubbles, but you can also jump into the volcano (where the bubbles come from) and you’ll find yourself next to a Kitty and the exit to Round 3!

In short, you have to use a ladies’ toilet at the bottom of a well to unblock a volcano, then flood the level with a faulty urinal. Told you this game was weird.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

The toilets at the bottom of the well.

In a later level, entitled ‘Wizkid Meets Dog Girl’, you have to jump into the mouth of a barking, digitised woman, and in the level entitled ‘The Ghost of Wizkid Past’, you have to work out a way to kill yourself in order to descend into the grave, fight Dracula and find the exit for the next level. The whole game is like some crazy acid trip of inventiveness, and you get the impression that the developers were having an absolute whale of a time coming up with all this stuff.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The turtle jail where the evil Zark is holding your cat hostage.

The game also keeps up Sensible’s tradition of including loosely justified hidden obscenity: to finish each level you have to collect a set of musical notes, which then cascade down from the top of the screen in what the manual calls the ‘golden shower’. Ah, good old Sensible, where are you now? Best Amiga developer ever? Probably. Any company that releases a game called Sim Brick is all right in my book.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth sheild of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

If you jump on the fourth and sixth shields of the Viking ship a donkey is revealed. For no reason.

So there you have it, Wizkid made my life slightly better because it made me laugh. A lot. Possibly even as much as Advanced Lawnmower Simulator (but more on that another time).

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.lemonamiga.com)

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Filed under 1992, Amiga, Miscellaneous, Sensible Software

#11: Beneath a Steel Sky

Format: Amiga Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure Released: 1994 Developer: Revolution

Ah, the point-and-click adventure – a genre so fondly remembered yet so close to extinction…

The fortunes of these most traditional of adventure games took a nosedive with the demise of the Amiga and never really recovered; the kids got into their fancy new ‘Grand Theft Autos’ and ‘Tomb Raiders’ and rapidly lost interest in figuring out how to combine broken string with some mud in order to create a mask with which to frighten the temple guard into giving you the key for the dungeon. Actually, when you put it like that it’s probably not surprising that the popularity of these games waned – after all, one of the best points about Grand Theft Auto is that you never have to spend twenty minutes painstakingly combing the screen with the mouse in a bid to work out whether you’ve missed picking up an essential item. “Ah, so that tiny yellow-green blob 14 screens back was actually a key!” is something you’ll never hear uttered by players of GTA.

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Of course, I’m doing the genre a disservice – for all the frustrating back-and-forth wandering and pixel hunting there were a hundred more golden moments of ‘Eureka!’-style puzzle solving, not to mention elaborate plot twists. For, of course, ’tis in the narrative where these games truly excel, and Beneath a Steel Sky was a shining beacon in this respect. The developers even went so far as to create a mini-comic to be shipped with the game, detailing the events leading up to the opening credits.

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Set in a dystopian future Australia, the comic describes how the main character, Robert Foster*, is raised by Indigenous Australians after a helicopter crash in ‘The Gap’ (the Australian Outback). He learns electronics and builds himself a robot, Joey, who becomes your companion throughout the game. Upon reaching adulthood, Foster is kidnapped by stormtroopers sent from Union City (a possible future Sydney), and his tribe is murdered. The stormtroopers have been sent by LINC, the mysterious computer mainframe that controls the city.

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The game proper opens with a jaw-droppingly animated (for the Amiga) sequence as the helicopter crashlands in Union City and Foster escapes. It emerges that in this ruthless future world, cities comprised of mammoth skyscrapers have swallowed up most of the remaining liveable land. Working class citizens are confined to the upper levels of the city, whereas the leisure elite luxuriate below (‘beneath a steel sky’, geddit?). In order to confront LINC and learn the truth about his past, Foster must evade security and work his way down to the lower levels.

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If the set-up sounds a little similar to Mega-City One in Judge Dredd, then it’s no coincidence – Dave Gibbons (of 2000 AD and Watchmen fame) did all of the artwork for the game (including the mini-comic), and every screen simply drips with cyberpunk chic. At the time it looked astonishing, and even now the dystopian backdrops are capitivating. The anticipation of what graphical delight awaited you on the next screen was almost as much of a draw as the fantastic plot.

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Even though the game plot was more serious than some of it’s point-and-click contemporaries (e.g. The Secret of Monkey Island), BaSS still managed to squeeze in a fair amount of humour, mostly of the British variety (i.e. double entendres and sarcasm). Indeed, the fact that the game never takes itself too seriously is one of its most enduring features (Gears of War take note – non-stop, po-faced machismo is more likely to make gamers laugh derisively into their sleeves than empathise with the characters).

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Of course, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. The chief problem with the game was it’s sheer size (in terms of memory space anyway): the Amiga 600 version of the game came on a whopping 15 floppy disks (which I believe is actually the most disks used by one Amiga game – correct me if I’m wrong). This meant that backtracking through screens might involve several bouts of disk-swapping and loading, which became very tedious very quickly. Luckily I upgraded to an Amiga 1200 after I got BaSS, which meant that I could load the game in its entirety onto the 1200’s mighty 60 megabyte hard drive.

Blimey, it’s crazy to think now that my current mobile phone has nearly 67 times more memory than my old Amiga 1200…

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The other major problem with the game was the problem shared by many point-and-clickers – that of the obscure puzzle. To be fair, BaSS was relatively good in this regard compared with some other examples in the genre, but even one of the first puzzles in the game (which involved wrenching a rung from a ladder to use as a crowbar) had me backtracking between screens for AGES. And of course, all this was in the days before GameFAQs.com (God bless you GameFAQs! Sing hallelujah, for yay, the days of becoming frustratingly stuck in video games hath endeth!).

Of all the games on this list, I’d rate BaSS in the top five games I’d like to play again, which just goes to show how much of an impression it left on me (if you fancy giving it a go yourself, you can play it for free using ScummVM). Interestingly, it seems that point-and-click adventure games are starting to make a bit of a comeback, chiefly thanks to the Nintendo Wii and DS. The laid back pace of the point-and-clicker is perfect for the older end of Nintendo’s gaming spectrum, and the Wii remote and DS stylus might as well have been custom made for playing this kind of game… With talk of a Director’s Cut of Broken Sword to be released for the Wii and DS, as well as the release of a new generation of point-and-clickers (e.g. Sam & Max: Season One, The Secret Files: Tunguska), perhaps this is the start of a point-and-click rennaissance?

In the meantime, here’s a clip of BaSS to whet your appetite – this is the CD-ROM version of the game, which used voice acting rather than text (although, inexplicably, everyone seems to be American, even though the game is set in Australia…).

Lewis

*An empty can of a certain Australian beer is found near the crash site, thus providing Foster with his surname.

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Filed under 1994, Amiga, Point-and-Click Adventure, Revolution

#1: Stunt Car Racer

Format: Amiga Genre: Racing Released: 1989 Developer: MicroStyle

Bizarrely, the inaugural post on this blog is for a racing game. Bizarre because generally I don’t actually like racing games that much; yet, when I think about it, the two or three that I’ve really enjoyed (Ridge Racer, Burnout 3, Gran Turismo) probably rank up there as some of my favourite game experiences, and Stunt Car Racer certainly deserves a special mention.

Most racing games before the mid-nineties were pretty rubbish. It was only with the 3D revolution that racing games really reached their full potential – before that it was all stripey grey race tracks and simplistic leftright leftright holddownthebutton gameplay (try playing a game like Lotus Challenge now and I guarantee the nostalgia won’t last beyond a couple of pixellated crash barriers). However, Stunt Car Racer WAS in 3D at a time when perhaps only a handful of games were, and what’s more it used the 3D space in a way that few games have, before or since.

The raison d’etre of Stunt Car Racer is the tracks – glorious, insane, rollercoaster-like tracks that leave you gripping the joystick for dear life as you hurtle through the air after burning up impossible ramps, then gritting your teeth as you plummet back down, engine still racing, the screen cartwheeling as you miss the track by inches and smash into the dirt below with a bone-shattering crunch. At a time when racing meant dodging in and out of identical 2D cars, Stunt Car Racer did vertical – and how. There was even a loop-the-loop…

The key thing about all this vertical fun was the ever-present sense of danger – there were no barriers to any of the tracks, so you always felt that just one small slip of the wrist could send you hurtling into the abyss, costing you valuable time as your stricken vehicle is winched back onto the track and, more importantly, causing potentially race-ending damage to your car. Above all, it was the intense adrenalin rush this caused that is my stand-out memory of the game; that and the excellent two player mode (only available over a link cable, but more than worth the considerable hassle of stringing together several wires and tellies).

I sold my Amiga recently (sacrilege I know), but I booted up Stunt Car for one last go before I carted the whole lot off to Mr Ebay. It’s lost none of it’s charm: sure, the graphics are basic (even for the time) and there’s only one other car on the track at any one time (believe it or not, that blocky red thing in the screenshot is a car), but it still retains an impressive sense of speed and danger as you hurtle round those suicide bends.

The creator of the game, Geoff Crammond (dubbed ‘Sir’ by Amiga Power), later went on to create the seminal Formula One Grand Prix series on the Amiga, but I’ll always remember him for this classic game. Nice one Sir Geoff.

Lewis

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Filed under 1989, Amiga, MicroStyle, Racing