ST Format Issue 13 - Download
The World in July 1990
In UK news, England went out of the World Cup, losing the semi-final to Germany on penalties in what would become a national tradition. UEFA lifted the ban on English clubs which had been in place since the Heysel disaster. Nigel Mansell announced his coming retirement from F1, and Graham Taylor was appointed England manager. It would not go well. Most importantly of all, my wife was born.
The US entered recession, while George Bush signed legislation to protect disabled workers from discrimination.
Elsewhere in the world East and West Germany officially merged their economies. Martina Navratilova and Stefan Edberg won Wimbledon. Belarus declared sovereignty in its quest to escape the USSR.
On TV the big event was the World Cup final, with the three tenors singing together for the first time - Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma would be the highlight. Oh and some football happened too. MPs voted to make televised coverage of the commons a permanent thing. Stars In Their Eyes (in which people would try to sound like famous singers) made its debut on ITV. Masterchef made its debut on BBC1.
charts had the weakest of the Back To The Future Trilogy at #1, after Tremors had a couple of weeks in the top 10 before exiting rapidly. Dick Tracy was the big budget feature, while Tom Hanks did his thing in Joe Vs The Volcano. I'm genuinely curious as to what the buggering hell "I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle" is like. I'm also curious as to whether Lord Of The Flies is any good - the book is of course magnificent but I don't know much about the film.
chart had Pavarotti at #1 due to the world cup, while Elton John occupied #2 with an album that contained only 1 decent track. With too many greatest hits albums, the chart is pretty miserable.
chart is mixed. Elton at #1 with Sacrifice is decent enough, Pavarotti at #2, Craig McLachlan continued the wave of Neighbours stars releasing singles but while it was catchy enough it wasn't anything special. Roxette's It Must Have Been Love is a banger, and everyone loves MC Hammer's You Can't Touch This, while One Love by Stone Roses is ok, but overall it's a weak chart with a novelty single at #7 (Thunderbirds Are Go).
Issue 13 came out in July 1990, and was my 4th issue. It's actually a pretty decent read, even if the cover is pretty lame. The theme, it appears, is a helpdesk of sorts, a newbies guide, that might be expected more in January's issue than July's. Still, it gets better inside.
The cover disk's headline item is a demo of Battlemaster. As a kid I really couldn't find a good game in there, due to muddy graphics, poor controls and there just not being much to it. The disk page cites Gauntlet as inspiration but I'd be much happier playing Gauntlet as it does something this game has forgotten about - readability. In Gauntlet it's really easy to figure out what's going on, every object's purpose is clear and you know which bits of screen are trying to kill you. Not so in Battlemaster. It's one of the things Nintendo is pretty unique in these days.
In the news, we have Atari's CD-ST. Quite why anyone thought a machine with 0.5MB RAM would be of any use running software from 650MB media is beyond me - it was simply too early for the tech to be usefully applied to the computers of the era, especially given they didn't have the processing grunt to push data around at that rate. Obviously there was some hype around FMV and with 20/20 hindsight we can see that it's shit, but surely the clues were there with how awful Space Ace and Dragon's Lair (which were effectively FMV games) were. Not much else going on in a quiet month.
Here's a video of someone demoing an Atari ST CD unit.
Suffice to say it didn't achieve any level of commercial success. I reckon it might have worked if they'd bundled the Falcon with one, but then again the prohibitive cost might have made the Falcon even more of a failure.
We get an interesting discussion around cheap synthesizers you can plug into your ST and the one I had as a kid gets a mention, the legendary Yamaha PSS-480. While the keys weren't touch-sentitive (ie no variation of velocity) it did do polyphony well and it was well-specced for MIDI and allowed you to generate your own sounds (albeit they were shit). It's where I learned a lot about making music, as I used the free copy of Sequencer One from a later issue of ST Format.
There's a mix of gold and shit this month. You've got Metal Masters which I think is a mech fighting game, Gold Of The Aztecs looks like a shit fantasy scrolly stabby game, and there's Satan from the muppets who brought us the excorable Army Moves and Navy Moves. In more positive news there's a shot of "Murder!" (the ! is required) which I always liked the look of though I suspect it might end up not living up to my idea of what it would be. Another rather interesting title is the Monty Python game. I love all things Python, as any good Brit should, so that's relevant to my interests. Meanwhile Core (of Tomb Raider fame) had Corporation in the works - looks like a futuristic dungeon master game. The cream of the crop though is Life And Death, where you get to be a surgeon and operate on people. Screenshots always looked super-exciting.
ST Format has been shifting in these last few issues to give broader coverage to gaming, perhaps realising that games were a larger part of the target market than they originally thought, and the previews section has shifted a little from the 2 pages with a screen for each game to having additional segments that you'd recognise in modern games magazine previews.
In this issue for instance we have a lengthy preview of Magnetic Scrolls game based on Alice in Wonderland, and the windowed system it uses. It's actually quite an interesting evolutionary dead-end, and evolutionary dead-ends are always fascinating in that they offer a bit of insight into how games evolve. In this case, where Zak McKracken took adventures in a different route in escaping the bounds of text adventures by using a point and click interface with verbs and inventory supplementing a full graphical environment, Magnetic Scrolls had roots in text adventures and so their approach is in many ways more traditional. While the graphical image is clickable and interactable, they've also got windows with text descriptions in the traditional text adventure style, and have icons for movement, and listing items in the room and so on, with menus to interact with those objects. In a way the visuals are simply shortcuts to push parsed messages to the parser and to present the available options to the user to avoid the hassle of typing (while still allowing them to do so). It's a layer that sits atop the standard text-parsed adventure, instead of being a direct replacement for it. It's clever, but you can see they were bound my thinking around text adventures rather than consideration of graphic adventures. One suspects they went down that path because they knew they could no longer charge full price for text adventures and wanted graphics that would look nice in a review, but didn't quite go far enough in ditching text because that was what they were used to.
The second preview is a little bit naughty. Their graphics editor was working on a game for EA, and we have a 3 page preview for that game which frankly looks ugly as sin. Next issue it will get a Format Gold.
The third preview centres on Bullfrog, and thus it's pretty interesting. I've posted it in full below for you guys to enjoy, but I'll also just talk about it for a bit as I can obviously look at it with a bit of hindsight. Their humble beginnings as makers of serious software and then the mediocre Fusion certainly don't hint at greatness, and you can clearly see that Populous made them. Without Populous we'd never have heard of Peter Molyneux, we wouldn't have Theme Park/Hospital, we wouldn't have Black & White, and the world would be a less fun place.
The story around the naming of Powermonger is interesting, showing that even in 1990 software publishers were using focus groups, something I didn't think was the case. As it is I do wonder if the game might have been more successful as Warmonger (the original title) or one of the suggested titles Megalomania, which Sensible Software would later use for their magnificent game.
The focus is clearly on Powermonger and one gets the impression that Flood was knocked out as a quick project to keep the books balanced and possibly to train up some of the newbies. There wasn't much hype pre-release and it barely gets a mention here, though it did get a Format Gold (possibly because the magazine writers were a little too friendly with the devs - who knows, I guess we'll find out when I play it).
One interesting thing is that even here Peter is bullshitting a little. He talks about designing your ranks (presumably the uniform your soldiers wear) and that absolutely isn't in the game. Similarly there's mention of neighbouring fishing villages playing a game of baseball which I'm pretty sure is fictitious. The killer feature is named villagers going about their business - my suspicion however is that it generates the names and tasks as they appear on screen and forgets them as they disappear, but it does a decent enough job of creating the illusion so I'll let him keep that one. Powermonger is a VERY good game by the way.
Games reviewed this month:
Damocles (Explore a solar system, save a planet from a comet - Novagen - £24.95 - 94% Format Gold)
Wipe Out (Tron Light Cycles on water - Gonzo Games - £19.99 - 64%)
Flood (Platformer [from Bullfrog] - EA - £19.99 - 91%)
AMC (Run and gun from Army Moves devs - Dinamic - £19.99 - 69%)
F29 Retaliator (Flight Sim - Ocean - £24.99 - 76%)
Midnight Resistance (Run and gun - Ocean - £24.99 - 41%)
Khalaan (strategy - Rainbow Arts - £24.99 - 59%)
Thunderstrike (Abstract 3D shooter - Millenium - £24.99 - 88%)
Treasure Trap (Isometric adventure - Electronic Zoo - £24.99 - 81%)
Atomix (Puzzler - Thalion - £19.95 - 79%)
Rourke's Drift (Strategy - Impressions - £24.99 - 46%)
Skidz (Shit skateboarding game - Gremlin - £19.95 - 71%)
Prophecy 1 (Platformer - Wired - £19.99 - 67%)
Of those, the ones that interest me most are the Treasure Trap and the legendary Damocles. The latter was one of my favourite games growing up, while Treasure Trap was a game that interested me but I never got round to. I want to take a look at Flood because it's a Bullfrog game I've not played, though honestly it doesn't look like anything special. Finally I think it would be useful to have a look at F29 Retaliator to compare it with F-19 Stealth Fighter.
For those playing along at home, I'll be sourcing pirated releases from the TOSEC collection on archive.org. Here's a list of releases, likely you'll also find decent releases at AtariMania.
- Flood - Automation 313, Fuzion 9, SuperGAU 346, Medway Boys 76, Pompey Pirates 43, Vectronix 517
- Treasure Trap - Superior 74A
- F29 Retaliator - Automation 377, Pompey Pirates 38, Superior 75, Vectronix 480
- Damocles - Automation 294B, Fuzion 13, SuperGAU 488/955, Medway Boys 73, Pompey Pirates 41, Vectronix 803