Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 2 / SPECIAL ISSUE #4



A Gallery of ST Summer Fun

by David Plotkin

Lock your doors, pull down the shades and douse the lights. You 're going to do something with your ST that your family and friends might regard as embarrassing, or even socially unacceptable--you're going to play a game! Here, let START's Super Gamer David Plotkin tell you all about ST entertainment--why the ST is a great game machine, what makes for a good game and what his favorites are!

Here's a simple question--why did you buy your ST? You might respond, "Well, I needed a computer to do word processing and to keep track of my personal finances and store recipes and compose music and do graphics," (and at this point your voice trails off into inaudibility, as you say, somewhat sheepishly), "and, er um, I wanted to play some games on it, too. . "

Don't apologize. Even though the name Atari has traditionally been associated with video games, there's no reason for you to feel guilty about using your ST to have fun. After weeknights of working with your "serious" software--databases, spreadsheets, word processors, MIDI programs, graphics programs--why not relax with a game? Even "serious" computer users--from Macintosh yuppies to suited PC'ers sometimes put aside their spreadsheets and boot up a flight simulator or an adventure game, and with good reason. After nine hours of battling your boss, wouldn't you want to take out your frustrations on the evil Dr. Vostokov, Scourge of the Free World? The ST is the machine to do it.


The powerful features of the ST that make it useful for "serious" applications also make it a dynamite game machine. Indeed, Sam Tramiel, president of Atari, has stated that a personal computer designed to play games has to be more powerful than a comparable business computer. Does a computer designed to run spreadsheets need sprites, three-voice sound, multiple colors and bit planes, and joystick and MIDI ports? No. But we've been blessed with these features, and there's no reason we shouldn't take advantage o{ them.

Here's what we've been blessed with: the ST's fast 68000 microprocessor can move many objects smoothly around the screen at once and process complex commands. The good resolution and bright colors make those objects realistic and sharply defined, and the great amount of internal RAM allows complex problem logic, multiple screens and huge adventure vocabulanes. The sound chip and MIDI ports allow digitized sound effects, voices and music that can blast you right out of your chair.

And that's the purpose of this article. I'm going to take a look at the best reasons for you to put seat belts on your computer chair--my favorite computer games--Games that provide fast action, splashy graphics and intriguing strategy. Strap yourself in.


In the three years that the ST has been sold in the U.S., many diflferent kinds of games have been released. They span the range from classic arcade shoot-outs to fantasy role-playing adventures that put you smack in the middle of some very nasty situations.

Arcade games (or "shoot-em-ups,") are the most recognizable kinds of computer entertainment, typically providing fast action in a science fiction setting. Many of today's successful arcade games sport digitized voices and sounds, smooth, colorful animation and literally hundreds of screens.

Interactive graphic adventures have also become quite popular. These come in several flavors; in most, you assume the role of a character with a specific goal--solving a mystery, saving the world or just staying alive! Your viewpoint is usually from the eyes of the character whose identity you have assumed. Some include a picture of your environment, but require that you type in your commands (GO NORTH) and read long explanations in a text window. Their graphics are largely static and as with a non-graphic text adventure you must tell the program what you want to do.

Mindscape has recendy introduced a variation on graphic adventures in some of their newest releases. The screen images are an integral part of the game--you can click on most of the objects and drag them to an "inventory" window or double-click on an object to get a description. Further, the only instructions you can give the program you select from a limited set of verbs acting on the objects that you can see or are carrying. This completely eliminates typing and searching for just the "right" word.

The games in Sierra On-Line's Ultima series are also interesting--you view your hero from overhead and must move and fight against a detailed landscape. The story line is often multilayered and difficult to solve. FTL's Sundog, one of the first games to be released for the ST, set the mark for games of this type and remained an ST best seller for over a year.

And finally, we have text adventures, among the first games for computers of any kind. Even though they use no graphics or sound, they're improved on the ST. Not only do you have room (RAM) for a larger vocabulary and a more sophisticated parser (the part of the program that interprets what you type in), but the ST's 80-column screen makes it easier to read through long descriptions.

zilfin.jpg Rings of Zilfin is
extraordinarily play-
able and it's easy to
identify with your on-
screen alter-ego.


Exactly what constitutes a good game--one that challenges you, keeps you playing for hours--is tough to quantify. (I could say, "I know what I like, and I do/don't like this," although that's not very helpful.)

Let's see. The aesthetics of a game are important--good graphics and sound--but they're secondary to a game being very "playable." And after playing hundreds of hours of computer games, I have a few ideas on what constitutes "playability. "

Ideally, a game should let you win. As contemporary author Harlan Ellison noted in a video game review some years back, many computer games are "Sisyphian"--you simply play until you get killed. (For those of you who don't remember your Greek mythology, Sisyphus was doomed eternally to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it slip from his grasp and roll back down to the bottom.) Of course, there have been some very popular games that are Sisyphian (eg., Missile Command and Centipede), in which the object is to see how many points you can accumulate and/or how many levels you can ascend to. The trick is, a game shouldn't be so difficult at the beginning that you can't improve your skills at shooting down missiles or zopping monsters.

If you're playing a game that kills you off quickly and doesn't give you the chance to improve either your arcade skills or your problem-solving ability, you'll either throw the game disk against the wall or format it and put your letters to Aunt Matilda on it.

If I had to identify a single thing that a game must have to be successful, it's the feeling that what you're doing is important and that you are actually present. The game has to have a semblance of reality within its fantasy context. You must identify with the game and be able to at least partly forget that all you're really doing is manipulating binary bits, improving your eye/hand coordination and your problem-solving ability.

FTL's Dungeon Master is an excellent example of how "real" a game can be (Editor's note: And if you don't believe Dave, check out Heidi Brumbaugh's review elsewhere in this issue.) In Dungeon Master, you form a party of explorers and explore a dungeon with the final goal being to defeat an evil wizard. The graphics are extremely realistic, the digitized sound is eerie and it's not long before you've lost all sense of being at a computer--you are actually deep in the dungeon, fighting for the lives of your party.

And finally, an excellent example of a game with multiple levels that lets you win is the original Atari 8-bit Star Raiders. The game had fast action, multiple levels and multiple ranks awarded to you when you completed it. And, even though it took a lot of practice and hair-trigger reflexes, you could achieve the highest rank imaginable--Star Commander, Class One. When you finally achieved this rank, you felt as if you'd graduated from Starfleet Academy, with honors. The playability of 8-bit Star Raiders is something that all ST arcade games should aspire to.

pinballwizard.jpg Accolade's Pinball Wiz-
ard is the best of the ST
pinball games. You can
build, play and customize
your own pinball


Over the years, I've seen many roundups of favorite computer games, although I've never made such a list until now. So here it is--my favorite ST games. These are the ones I've played over and over, and find myself coming back to on a regular basis. Bear in mind that this list is highly subjective--your opinions may vary (although I hope not too much).

Time Bandits

Michtron's Time Bandits still retains its attraction for me. In this arcade/strategy game, you guide a small man around a playing field filled with a variety of structures: a ghost house, a western town and even the Starship Enterprise. Upon entering each structure, you are assaulted by all manner of weird beasts, each one cleverly animated. To exit a structure, you must find keys for the exit locks. You may enter a structure several times, but the play gets harder each time. Beside the enticing variety of screens and superb graphics, I think the attraction of Time Bandits is that as you get better, you get to see more screens. This arcade game is also unusual in that you can save your game.


Firebird's classic Starglider is an extremely playable space flight and combat game. Your view is first-person out the cockpit, and you swoop down on enemy forces on the surface of a planet, blasting away with your lasers. Smooth animation in simulated vector graphics gives the very real impression that you are flying an attack spaceship.

Rings Of Zilfin

SSI's Rings of Zilfin is another favorite. In this medieval fantasy you guide a small character through a variety of adventures, battling enemies, making money, gathering weapons and finally solving a mystery. Not only is this game extraordinarily playable (it seems to go out of its way not to kill you off), but you begin to identify with your onscreen alter-ego--if he or she dies, you feel rotten.

Deja Vu

Mindscapes's Deja Vu is a fine interactive graphic adventure with a mystery theme. It features excellent graphics and digitized sound, as well as some very humorous passages. It is also easy to play, since you control it by clicking on the command you want and the item you want to use. I found myself identifying very strongly with the character, a detective who is being framed for murder.

blockbuster.jpg Blockbuster is easily
the best commercial
version of Breakout with
80 screens, stunning
graphics and punchy

Pinball Wizard

I've always loved pinball (although I was never very good at the real thing). Accolade's Pinball Wizard not only lets you build and play your own pinball games, but customize them to your heart's delight, adding bumpers and colorful obstacles. The best of the ST pinball games.


Quite a few versions of Breakout have appeared for the ST, including some very good ones in the public domain. You should be able to get them from CompuServe or your local Atari users group. (Editor's note: In addition, START has published its own version of Breakout--Brickyard--in the Fall 1987 issue.) But easily the best commercially available Breakout game is Blockbuster from Mindscape. There are 80 screens included with the game, plus a utility to design your own screens, providing you an almost infinite number of game possibilities. Blockbuster's stunning graphics and punchy sound add to the fun.


Your mission in FTLs Oids is to rescue helpless space creatures--through a combination of daredevil flying and some heavy-handed blasting. A mother ship drops your vessel off over a variety of heavily defended planets. You must blast their defenses, then land your craft (as in Lunar Lander) to rescue the captured inhabitants. This game also includes a well-done screen designer and user-designed screens are circulating on bulletin boards and between user groups around the country.

Artic Fox

And finally, Arctic Fox is one of the few games that Electronic Arts has ported to the ST and it's one of my favorites. In it, you pilot a supertank as you try to destroy enemy alien defenses at the South Pole. Unlike many games, you can win this one--just destroy the enemy fortress. (As with Star Raiders, it's not easy, but it's possible.) Your view is firstperson, out the front port of your tank (similar to the coin-op classic Battlezone), and between the realistic arcade action and the strategy required to achieve your goal, Arctic Fox furfills one of my most important gaming criteria--the feeling that you are there.


There are other programs that could fall under the games aegis--for instance, simulations are a "fence-straddling" category of computer entertainment. (For a list of current ST simulations, see the sidebar with this article.)

As with all best lists by reviewers, I'm sure you may find that I've omitted your favorite game or that I've included one or two games that you find awful. I did say at the beginning that this list is highly subjective. But I hope that I've pointed you to programs that will stretch your ST's capabilities. . .

Even more than a spreadsheet or database.

Dave Plotkin is a chemical engineer with Chevron U.S.A., and a frequent contributor to START and Antic.


Ultima I and Ultima II, $39.95 each; Ultima III and Ultima IV, $59.95 each. Broderbund Software, 17 Paul Drive, San Rafael CA 94903, (415) 492-3200.

Sundog, $39.95; Dungeon Master, $39.95; Oids, $34.95. FTL Games, 6160 Lusk Blvd., Suite C-206, San Diego, CA 92121, (619) 453-5711.

Time Bandits, $39.95. MichTron, 576 Telegraph, Pontiac, M1 48053, (313) 334-5700.

Starglider, $29.95. Firebird, distributed by Rainbird Software, 3885 Bohannon Dr., Menlo Park, CA 94025, (415) 3297600; (800) 345-2888.

Rings of Zilfin, $39.95, Arctic Fox, $39.95. Distributed by Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Drive, San Mateo, CA 94404, (415) 571-7991.

Deja Vu, $49.95; Blockbuster, $39.95. Mindscape, 344 Dundee Road., Northbrook, IL 60062, (312) 480-7667.

Pinball Wizard, $34.95. Accolade, 550 Winchester Blvd., Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95128, (408) 985-1700; (800) 423-8366.

ST Simulations

Summer Fun For Your Computer

Compiled by Dave Plotkin

In my "For The Fun Of It" column in START Special Issue #3, I reviewed three ST simulations--Test Drive, F15 Strike Eagle and Vegas Gambler. However, there are quite a few more ST simulations than what I presented there. There're simulations for everything you can think of--from flight to underwater combat; from driving to pinball.

So here are some more programs for late summer fun--software to let you experience thrills and danger all from the safety of your easy chair!

Sub Battle Simulator by Epyx.

Submarine Simulations

Sub Battle Simulator allows you to command one of several submarines on war patrols, and supports varying levels of difficuley. Its controls are complex but not not difficult to master; the graphics satisfactory but not dazzling. $39.95. Epyx, Inc., 600 Galveston Dr., P.O. Box 8020, Redwood City, CA 94063, (415) 366-0606.

GATO is a solid submarine simulator that's also easy to control. However, I found the graphics somewhat disappointing, since they are seemingly translated from the Macintosh version, with a resulting lack of color. $39.95. Spectrum Holobyte, 1070 Marina Village Parkway, Alameda, CA 94501, (415) 522-3584.

Silent Service is my favorite submarine simulation. You can control it easily, and it has excellent graphics and playability. Silent Service also supports varying difficulty levels and complete war patrols. $39.95. Microprose, 180 Lakefront Drive, Hunt Valley, MD 21030, (301) 771-1151.

Hunt For Red October is based on Tom Clancy's best-selling novel. Your mission is to defect to the United States with the Typhoon-class ballistic missile sub Red October, all the while avoiding attack from both the Soviet and U.S. navies. Multiple screens allow you to monitor your weapons systems, your course, speed and the status of your pursuers. $49.95. Datasoft, 19808 Nordhoff Place, Chatsworth, CA 91311, (818) 886-5922.

Flight Simulators

Flight Simulator is from Sublogic, the company that virtually invented microcomputer-based flight simulations. Flight Simulator is astounding in both its graphics and its realism, and is easily my favorite computer simulation. Sublogic's continued support is shown with their publication of the "Scenic Disk" series, which provide other areas of the U.S. for you to fly over. These disks contain much more detail (buildings, hills, bridges, etc.) and scenery for you to look at as you fly. Flight Simulator $49.95; Scenic disks 7 and 11, $24.95 each. Sublogic Corporation, 713 Edgebrook Drive, Champaign, IL 61820, (217) 359-8482; (800) 637-4983.

Harrier Strike Mission by
Miles Computing.

Harrier Strike Mission lets you control a Harrier fighter plane, the British attack jet equipped with VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) capability. Your mission is to take off from your carrier and bomb an island fuel depot and airbase while avoiding enemy missiles and attacking aircraft. $39.95. Miles Computing, Inc., Entertainment Software Division, 7741 Alabama Avenue, Suite #2, Canoga Park, CA 91304, (818) 341-1411.

Harrier Combat Simulator (formerly High Roller) is another Harrier simulation with a slightly more complex mission--in order to bomb the enemy headquarters, you must first establish tactical bases along the way. Multiple skill levels, excellent graphics and an accurate recreation of jump-jet performance make this a challenge. The game was developed the help of British Aerospace, Great Britain's aeronautical agency. $49.95. Mirrorsoft, a division of Mindscape, Inc., 3444 Dundee Road, Northbrook, IL 60062, (312) 480-7667.

Super Huey by Cosmi.

Super Huey is a helicopter simulation with four different options--you can fly solo and acquaint yourself with the chopper, rescue stranded military personnel, fly exploratory sorties and familiarize yourself with the terrain, or combat enemy helicopters with your missiles and machine guns. $19.95. Cosmi, 431 North Figueroa Street, Wilmington, CA 90744, (213) 835-9687.


Superbike Challenge is a motorcycle simulation that lets you race your 1000cc motorcycle on a dozen of the world's most exciting Grand Prix courses. Your screen displays show speed, RPM and lap times; the game's realism even extends to steering--lean too far going around a corner and you can wipe out! The game also lets you race against a friend or the computer. $19.95. Broderbund Software, Inc., 17 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903, (415) 492-3500.


The Pinball Factory is a colorful pinball "construction set," allowing you to create your own pinball game board. Place flippers and bumpers, alter the logo and even the game physics, such as number of balls, gravity, bounce factor and bumper strength. Allows up to four players. $39.95. MichTron, 576 Telegraph, Pontiac, MI 48053, (313) 334-5700.

Pinball Wizard is another "construction set." Customize your board with spinners, bumpers, drop targets, lights, kickers, one-way doors, flippers and many other features. You can even paint your own designs on screen. (Reviewed in the Spring, 1988 START.) $34.95. Accolade Software, 550 Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128, (408) 446-5757.