In the interests of happy stuff, here is a list of my top twelve* Atari ST games, with a bit about why I love them so much that I might as well marry them.
Virus is a game where you hover about in a diamond, destroying infected flora and basically have a stressful time trying to control your craft. I loved it because it presented a land to explore, and because it took the time to throw in details only the insane would find. I spent many happy hours just looking for the whale/shark thing and then trying to blow it up. A bit like early Cousteau, really.
11: Fighter Bomber
For the most part a fairly standard flight sim, the joy of Fighter Bomber was the customisable aspect. Particularly the way it allowed you to fill THE ENTIRE SKY with refuel tanker planes. The game would run at about one mile an hour as a result, but it was a hell of a spectacle at the time. Never mind your missions, control, I’ve got a mid-air pile up to watch.
10: Sky Chase
One person controls one wireframe plane, another the other, then you just try and kill each other. Beautiful in its simplicity, real megadudes pick the paper aeroplane every time. This was the first game I played that felt communal, where winning OR losing was funny. My older cousin destroyed me again and again, and I never once minded. If I have to be Charlie Brown, this game was my football.
9: Alpha Waves
So, you’re a bouncy spaceship/bird thing and you’re hopping through the subconcious trying to escape a dream. I think. What’s not to love?
The thing with all these 3D vector graphics games is the participation they required in terms of imagination. There was a level of immersion that better graphics only distracts from. Alpha Waves clearly makes no sense, but it doesn’t stop it being any less breathtaking. In my mind it was a world of cathedrals and shopping centres - clean and bright and towering and overwhelming. The impetus to succeed was the desire to explore and to map, and to mentally paste on top any story I wished.
You hop around in your car/plane, shooting towers and planes in order to shut down forcefields.
Simulcra is one of two games here which was guaranteed to succeed with me due to the preponderance of bold colour against a black backround, something which seems to have lodged in my head as a toddler when I was obsessed by dominos! Seriously, it’s an addiction - show me colour on black and I’m yours! That aside, it just had a lovely flow to it, and was extremely satisfying to play. Also, whenever the car got the flying upgrade it made you feel like a total badass, and who doesn’t like that?
7: Get Dexter/Krafton & Xunk
One game, two titles. The aim was to escape a scientific institute with your little ‘podocephalus’ mate, Xunk.
And this is the other - look at that black! Look at those colours! So beautiful!
I never really knew what I was supposed to be doing in this one, and I never really cared. It was the first game I played where you could manipulate your environment and collect odds and sods, and I always felt as though I was genuinely controlling a little world. It is testament to how much that appeals to me, that I think I got stuck on room five or so and STILL never got bored! To this day, I would happily give over any free time to Krafton and Xunk. Love those guys.
You have a fighter plane, a bomber, a helicopter, a hovercraft, a large tank and a little tank at your disposal. The first five are good for destroying things, the last one good for honing Guy Siner impersonations.
For some reason, my most vivid memory is buying the magazine which had this on a cover disk in Syston, Leicestershire. Nothing Earth-shattering happened, it’s just a prosaic but happy memory.
Anyway, the appeal in this one was the variety and the speed with which everything happened. The graphics had been whittled back to merely the suggestion of what they were representing, and consequently it ran like a dream. Dogfights felt like film dogfights, y’know? Fast and chancy and exciting. The different viewpoints you could see everything from was always a big early 90’s draw, too - I suppose there’s an element of directing your own film around your actions. This one was most like my childhood toys came alive and ran amok, anyway.
5: Supercars 2
Top down racer, only your car can be upgraded with homing missiles and machine guns and such.
As with Sky Chase, the beauty of this one was unlocked in two-player mode. There’s something innately wonderful about sending a missile out the back of your car as your friend is committed to a jump behind you. It’s the same funny if you win, funny if you lose idea, and it NEVER got boring - Benji Adams and I played a one level demo happily for weeks before I got the full game. Sometimes, there is just nothing funnier than shooting a hapless friend. Pure, lean, simple joy.
4: F-19 Stealth Fighter
Take charge of the then highly secretive F-19 and sort out some middle east problems, and then crash into an aircraft carrier.
Apparently I’m a sucker for vector 3D! Who knew? There was something very peaceful about F-19 Stealth Fighter. In an attempt at realism the flights to targets were long, and the sorties brief, allowing the player to take the time to imagine worlds upon the tiny boxes that represented buildings, trucks and cars. I always liked how a parachute immediately appeared whenever you shot a plane down, too - killing people is a lot easier to bear when everyone survives!
The jewel in the crown of the game was the replay feature, which allowed you to watch your idiot attempts at flying from any angle and in great (for the time) detail. Particularly compelling was the option to view the action from the POV of a plane you would later shoot down. Seeing it circle, take off, land and repeat as the camera followed your position, knowing its destruction was ever approaching, was a heck of a mechanic for an impressionable mind. Silly as it seems now, it appeared there were consequences for mistakes - little cyber lives has been played out in the imagination while watching this, and you were coming to end them. A tiny remove from a standard shooter, but a significant one.
An enormous asteroid named Damocles is en route to destroy the planet Eris, and it’s on you to stop that, however you can.
I obsessed about this game for months before it was released. To a boy fascinated by 3D world exploration, the possibility of an entire solar system to pootle around in was irresistible. I collected magazine articles and guides and all sorts, and to this day have never been as excited about the release of any one thing, be it game, film or music. Damocles didn’t disappoint, and yet in retrospect it was too big for me. I never did complete it, because I just couldn’t let the task get in the way of my exploring. The game had an Einsteinian idea of time dilation as a core mechanic, so a quick trip to a neighbouring planet would often result in the asteroid apparently speeding up and destroying Eris while you were still on the way. Whoops!
I remember being fascinated by an in-game TV set, which had a wireframe commentator silently intoning something or other, and wondering how graphics could get better than this. The Gamma system remains the most convincing game world to my mind, and it was never better realised than in Damocles. I felt like an inhabitant of the place, and I felt like I’d stepped into a real sci-fi, which - at the time - was kind of the dream.
(You can get Damocles, plus its forebearer Mercenary, AND its sequel Mercenary III, to play on PC for free from here: http://mercenarysite.free.fr/mddclone.htm , which is amazing!)
2: Cybercon III
An evil computer has gone bjonkers (icelandic for bonkers) so you’d better get in there and shoot some sentient wheels off their sentient axles.
(I found my first glitch in the demo of this game - it was supposed to be an enemy free walkthrough of the first level, but if you shot the security camera in the first room, all the enemies appeared! I felt like Matthew Broderick in WarGames!)
Anyway, Cybercon III is a deliciously creepy game, mostly through the use of sound. You could hear doors letting enemies in and out from rooms away, but had no idea where they were coming from, making for quite a panicky experience. Also, there was the ability to plant your own security cameras and watch the live footage from a control room. Seeing a robot RIGHT OUTSIDE the room you were in was always good for a shudder! Essentially the perfect game for someone as obsessed with Jim Cameron’s Aliens as i was - in my mind the complex WAS the colony from the film, and the robots the titular creatures.
The ludicrously complex control system made for a rewarding experience once mastered. The game was one which greatly improved the more effort and attention you put in - rather than becoming samey, the game world felt ever more intimidating, with the balance of your feeling ever more capable to take it on.
And again, it was balm for the imagination. An entire universe could be imagined outside the complex (I even wrote a story about that imagined world once for a school project. Imagine how sexy I was) and by the end I felt as though I had genuinely taken on an army. In a fun way.
1: Turrican 2
Some aliens exist. Go and kill them to death.
I have no idea why anything in Turrican 2 happens, but I’m glad it does. The huge levels with their seemingly endless hidden areas, the INCREDIBLE music, the super bomb weapon, the level based ENTIRELY on Aliens. How I loved it all. Give me a Competition Pro joystick and a spare five hours and you’ll not hear a single complaint from me.
Although you could imagine a world beyond, and imagination would help along the way, Turrican 2 is far more set out than some of these others. All that is required of the player is to run, jump and shoot (and fly for a bit). It is effortless in its simplicity and awesome in its grace. There has NEVER been a better shooter, and I have never punched the air harder than when I actually completed it. I love you, Turrican2, cheers for existing!
Trademark 20th Century Fox? Never heard of ‘em!
So there you go. Does anyone want to drive me to my lock-up so I can get the old ST out for a spin?
(Most of these videos are of different formats, but don’t bell, anyone - they look similar enough to convey the idea.)
*Take that, conformity.