by Steve Bak and Pete Lyon
Distributed by MICHTRON
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
Low resolution $29.95
by D.F. Scott
D. F. Scott is an artist, writer, educator and programmer living in Oklahoma City. He is currently engaged in the study of quantum physics, computing and other ways in which elementary particles interact with each other. Otherwise, he fills infinite pieces of paper.
It's about time someone wrote this game. The ST game player withstood nearly two years of not having one decent Galaga-style game. No one could explain how coin-op games could scroll so smoothly and have such fluidly-moving targets using 8-bit "engines," when we ST-owners possess superior hardware and our scrolling looks like riding a stage-coach over Death Valley.
Finally, there's Goldrunner. The scrolling of its background terrain is so fluid (as I said in ANALOG Computing's "ST notes") that you'll be taking apart your monitor in search of axle grease. Authors Steve Bak and Pete Lyon of Microdeal (their previous achievement was Karate Kid II) receive my "Gold-plated Blitter Chip Award for Finally Coming Through with Something We Needed after Waiting Forever." This may also be the first game I've played whose music I'm happy to leave on.
You really don't need docs for this game; you shoot things and they blow up. You can fly with either the joystick or mouse. Don't let other things shoot you, and by all means, don't run into any tall buildings with long shadows. Your ship is a brilliant gold and begins life fully equipped with five deflector shields, four cannon turrets, and "turbo thrusters" which behave more like trans-warp drive. Your shields protect your ship, but not your faculties—you lose turbos after two shots and two of your cannons after four. After six hits, it's pixels to pixels, dust to dust. You have four lives to complete your mission, with no bonus lives.
The terrain levels are called "rings" because if you travel far enough in any one direction, you'll end up where you started. People who see this game instantly say, "Wow, this is like Xevious!" They later learn Goldrunner has a few features of interest that Xevious didn't pursue: speed control and direction reversal. This is where the mouse works wonders—it can be as responsive as the accelerator pedal on a Lamborghini.
The scrolling doesn't just flip between slow and fast gears; it changes speed gradually. If you slow down enough, you don't stop—you go into reverse, giving you full freedom of motion. Your gold ship performs a dazzling 180-degree back-flip that would make Greg Louganis green with envy.
The objective is to destroy a minimum number of ground targets in each ring, here represented as "energy processing centers." Your progress is recorded by a pink atom icon on the right side of the screen. As the ring's energy is depleted, pixels drop from that icon like light bulbs from a Las Vegas marquis during a hailstorm. When each pixel is gone, you're free to find the exit into the next ring.
The ground features are assembled components rearranged in successive rings. They include tall buildings which would be relatively easy to avoid if you weren't being attacked by airborne enemy ships every second. There are also several harmless shrines and ground murals apparently constructed in worship of various gods and squid.
Certain regions of each ring contain tight packages of about 100 ground targets, none of which will fire back at you. The casual player might approach this region as a bounty handed to him on a gold platter. Don't be trapped (the Tao reminds us) by illusions; your bullets destroy the first target they touch. When flying around the "energy cell sandwich," the air defenses consider you an easy target. Unless you have a clear path between yourself and the airborne target, you're virtually defenseless, since your bullets end up embedded in ground targets.
Thankfully, the airborne "ships" cannot collide with you. Instead, they glide over or under you. If collision were the order of the day, the average game would last four seconds. Ships usually travel in fleets of three, whether they fly into view from off-screen or are dispensed by a mothership. There may be twenty different types of enemy ships, of which only one—a yellow/violet diamond-shaped guy I like to call "The Yellow/Violet Diamond-shaped Guy"—can multiply. If you shoot one of the three "Guys," another multiplies into three, leaving you faced with five. Shoot one of those, and yet another violates the laws of physics to make seven.
If you die, the ring you've worked so diligently to pulverize rebuilds itself. This presents a peculiar predicament for one's scoring strategy: as the player learns to master one ring, after dying, she may destroy the same targets again, and really rack up some points. Yet, when she finally masters that ring, then heads to another (ring 4 is hell; it's even called "Styx"), her fate may be sealed by enough enemy mines to dwarf all those planted in the harbors of Nicaragua. With mastery may come lower scores. Enemy mines look like those in Defender, although each may have peculiar characteristics. Some just float on by; others are magnetized to your ship; and some seem to be tethered to you—turn and run, and they whiplash into your bare backside like a mosquito who's spotted & varicose vein.
The avid Galaga or Gyruss player will welcome the "challenge waves" in between rings, where the object is to blow up everything for a 10,000-point bonus. Your ship is nonvolatile during challenge waves, though, since this stage has no speed control, I find it convenient to drop the mouse and pick up my joystick.
After exhausting all possible praises of the authors' permutations on popular game premises, we arrive at the fact that the spectacular fine-scrolling routine Bak and Lyon have conceived is what makes Goldrunner work—to be precise, what makes it fly. If they use it in another game, it too will succeed. This is yet another instance where two programmers have created code that outperforms DRI's, and they are to be commended.