The Atari 520ST was the first 16-bit Atari, with the exception of the personal computer war of the 1980s. The new book from ExtremeTech's editor, Jamie Lendino, shows the incredible influence of the ST on games and music production.
The Atari ST, largely forgotten today, was an amazing computer. Following the 1984 Apple Macintosh, the ST, released by the brand new Atari Corporation under the name Jack Tramiel, was the first personal computer to offer a graphical user interface in bitmap color. Less than a year later, the 1040ST became the first computer to offer 1 MB of memory for less than $ 1,000. The ST was powered by a state-of-the-art Motorola 68000 8 MHz processor and came with a mouse, a 3.5-inch floppy drive and your choice of high-resolution color or monochrome displays. The latest ST models included an additional DSP chip for digital audio, built-in hardware scrolling, faster processors, and a variety of hard drives.
My favorite computer of all time remains the Atari 800, which debuted in 1979. But a special place in my heart is reserved for the 16-bit model of 1985, one that offered both a sophisticated game and a long affinity for music recording. I had to write a book about it. My new book, Faster than light: Atari ST and the 16-bit revolution, tells the story, the ups and downs of this fantastic personal computer, from the very first 520ST to the stellar and rare model of the Falcon 030 that arrived in 1992.
To date, I regularly review digital audio workstation software for our sister site PCMag.com in addition to running ExtremeTech, and I can recognize my love for recording music on my original Atari 520ST system. Like no other computer before or since, it comes with built-in MIDI ports that allow the machine to easily interact with synthesizers, samplers and drum machines. ST's graphical interface facilitates the management of printed music notation. STs even started very quickly because they contain the entire operating system and GUI on fast ROM chips, instead of being loaded off a disk.
One year in the making, Faster than light: Atari ST and the 16-bit revolution is now available on Amazon. Here is an excerpt from a free book; I hope you like it.
Faster than light: Atari ST and the 16-bit revolution
by Jamie Lendino
Computer Role Playing Games (CRPG)
Aside from the pure contraction games found in the golden age of arcades, my other the preferred game genre will always be the GPRP. And as I mentioned in my first book on the Atari 8-bit computer lineup, I was sad that some key titles, such as the Wizardry series, never reached the platform. Others, like Ultima IV: The Origin Systems' quest for the avatar, arrived a little late and lacked key elements due to memory constraints (in this case, the music Game). ST gave CRPG fans like me a lot more to bite in their teeth.
Phantasie (SSI, 1986)
SSI has made a name for itself by offering classic table-top wargaming on screen. But his attempts to simulate RPGs similar to those of Dungeons & Dragons were probably more effective. The first SSI game we will discuss for the ST was one of its best CRPGs. This sets the tone for both what we should expect from SSI and 16-bit platforms in the future.
Phantasia ended up being the first of three installments. The programmer Winston Douglas Wood has developed the game on an Apple II; SSI then transferred it to a number of other platforms, including as a graphically enhanced and more colorful version for the ST. I always like to hear the theme song with its trills in the melody. In Phantasia, you started the game on the medieval island of Gelnor with a group of six adventurers, selected from 15 superb races and six character classes. You had to find the Nine Rings and use them to destroy the Dark Lord Nikademus and his Black Knights. The game presented a system of passive competence. Wood was derived from RuneQuest and D & D.(I)
The cities of the game allow you to organize parties, save games, buy and sell equipment and store your money in a bank. The lands covered wilderness, mountainous areas and, of course, dungeons, populated with all kinds of treasures and 80 different types of monsters. In combat, the game featured detailed drawings of each player and monster. You put your orders in queue and have all executed them all at once, then the combat system played the battle round so you can see what happened before you have made your next set of moves. Seeing the enemies being destroyed one by one was quite satisfying.
One of Phantasia's best assets is his mapping. The "fog of war" was dispelled as you explored and then persisted. This meant that you did not need pen and graph paper to map it by hand. The game even saved the state of a dungeon after you left, which was unusual. And when you returned to a city, you chose the number of experience points you would win for all the characters, another innovative difference from the other CRPGs.
Phantasie first appeared on several 8-bit systems in 1985. The ST port, arrived a year later, was considerably cleaner and more colorful, and supported ST's mouse-based GUI. In an April 1987 article on Phantasie Dragon # 120, Hartley and Patrick Lesser wrote that the ST port "incorporates much more sophisticated graphics and sounds and has become a new game due to the ST environment." Windows now executes a large number of keyboard commands, such as Fighting, spells and gain levels … In the ST version, just click on the guild doors with the mouse, and a drop down menu at the top of the screen. screen displays your choices. "
There was no music in the game, but it was one of the rare flaws of the game. To this day, I hear in my head the distinct sound of the "beep" of the game. Phantasia delivered hours of deep goodness in role plays, and it was also the beginning of a superb trilogy. Remember that it would take at least a year before The Bard's Tale and a Ultima IV conversion, let alone Last V and VI. For a time, Phantasie was the hardest GPRC available for the ST.
The second installment, Phantasie II, took place shortly thereafter. There was a new city screen and, of course, new maps to explore and monsters to fight, including new terrain features such as molten lava, haze and dark voids. Otherwise, the game remained true to the original mechanisms, which, as the World 1-1 blog points out today, was commonplace with Ultima, Wizardry and other popular games series. of role.(Ii) This time, Nikademus has created an orb used to meet the inhabitants of the island of Ferronrah. Your goal was to find and destroy the orb. There was a new skill called Toss Rock, which each of the six characters could perform in combat at any time. You can import your group from the first game to play second, even though you have lost most of your accumulated gold and experience. Together, both games could add up to more than 100 hours of play.
Thief (Epyx, 1986)
The Rogue Dungeon Exploration Robot was originally written for UNIX-based mainframes in 1980 in the form of a graphical iteration of previous textual adventures (even though "graphics" meant in this case simple ASCII text characters). But Snape has a proven track record at Atari ST thanks to a colorful port of Epyx. Your goal was to recover Yendor's amulet from the Dungeon Lord. After entering your name on the brand's title screen with the red snake, you started each game with a mass, armor, bow and arrows. Along the way, you've met hobgoblins, bats, kestrels and many other monsters, 26 in total. Walk through each level of the underground labyrinth and you'll discover gold pots, armor, new weapons, food, chopsticks and scrolls that will allow you to cast magic spells, some of which may be cursed.
In fighting monsters, you have gained experience points and levels. If you lose all your health, you are greeted by a death screen, completed by a three-dimensional tombstone and a personalized inscription containing your name. If you started another game, you had to start over again at the top of the dungeon, and the layout was randomized each time. You have never played the same game twice.
The main view consisted of three windows. The larger one displays the dungeon, while the right side shows your current inventory. You can control your character with the mouse, but it was awkward; I've always found that it was much easier to use the keyboard cursor keys or the ST numeric keypad to move in eight directions instead of four. You are attacked by moving "in" a monster and picking up objects just by moving on it. The lower part of the screen contained a textual update of the action in play, such as "You defeated the killer whale" or "The kestral hit you." As you played, you had to keep an eye on the bar graphs, which indicate the number of life points you have left, your current strength level, and the strength of your armor. After the fight, it was important to rest to restore the health points.
The Atari ST port of the awesome CRPG contained a beautiful magnified view featuring colorful graphics and icons of attractive characters and monsters. You can also play the expanded game – it was always more appealing in this way than the old school ASCII characters – or switch between the two views during the game by pressing the Enter key. Other keys allow you to equip or remove weapons or armor; at some point, your package would fill up, so you had to drop some items if you wanted to buy new ones.
Each interaction with the monsters was also somewhat random, as in Dungeons & Dragons, and weighted one way or another depending on the power of the monster you were attacking as well as the strength and strength of the monster. Armor of your character. Sometimes, secret passages allow you to access parts that are not normally visible. The lack of multiple backup function made access to the deepest of 26 levels extremely difficult to claim Yendor's amulet. You could save your progress and go to dinner, but once you are dead, you would be dead and the save would have disappeared.
If I had to choose a single game Atari ST today, despite its lack of depth (no pun intended), it would be Snape. It is hard to exaggerate the meaning of this game because it gave birth to a whole genre of RPGs of action and action turn – based such as Diablo and Torchlight, not to mention the proliferation of "roguelikes" that dot the game landscape. today on consoles, Steam and phones. I like to think that a good deal of this influence came from the port of Rogue on Atari ST.
Trilogy of the Temple of Apshai (Epyx, 1986)
Refreshing interpretation of the common GPRC, the original Apshai Temple first appeared in 1979 and has given rise to many variants, sometimes collectively known as Dunjonquest. The Temple of Apshai trilogy was notable for its improved graphics, its mouse-driven interface and its memorable soundtrack on the ST. This package included enhanced versions of the original game and its two direct complements, Upper Reaches of Apshai and Curse of Ra.
In this game, you've controlled a single adventurer who has explored a dungeon, fought monsters, and collected treasures and magic items. The GEM interface, although appreciated, still looked a bit like a prototype: sometimes moving your character into a room took several attempts, and you still needed the keyboard to hope to quickly defeat the monsters.
Temple of Apshai originally stood out as one of the world's first graphical GPRCs. It was also the first game that included room descriptions of a paragraph length, as the columnist Scorpia pointed out in a comprehensive survey of all GPRCs published in mid-1991.(Iii) The descriptions were printed in the manual and you matched them by number in the room you were in. This gave the game a similar feel to playing Dungeons & Dragons around a table with a real dungeon master. The ST contained enough power to hold and display these descriptions as part of the game, however.
My favorite game on Apshai is still Gateway to Apshai on Atari 8 bits. But the Apshai Temple Trilogy occupied me for many hours on the ST and I enjoyed the improved graphics. The critics were a little less friendly. Gregg Pearlman pointed out several gaps related to the interface in the May 1987 issue of Antic and said that while many elements of the game were interesting and imaginative, "Apshai should probably have been a little more optimistic for the ST, however, instead of just looking that way."
Another reality: the city (Datasoft, 1986)
Next, let's talk about the port of an existing 8-bit title that offers a good window on what the ST brought and did not bring to the table. Philip Price's Alternate Reality series, unfortunately unfinished after just two of the seven scheduled installments, quickly made its way to the 8-bit Atari line at ST. Price has not programmed the ST port; This task was entrusted to Rick Mirsky and Jim Ratcliff, with Steve Hofmann graphics.
As before, you were abducted into a quiet life by an alien spacecraft and transported to a room with an exit. You first created a character by browsing through a colored portal, which would randomly freeze a group of rotating pawns to mark your different attributes (strength, dexterity, etc.). You have emerged from the other side of the portal in the town of Xebec & # 39; s Demise. Eleven in the city, your goal was to develop your character by exploring the different passages, fighting enemies, buying gear, eating in taverns and collecting other clues to try to determine how to return to Earth.
The ST port was accompanied by a quick reference card explaining the need for a blank character disc, which you had to create before you started, as well as following instructions that encapsulated the beginnings of life on the board. ST form:
- If you have a machine with a ROM-based GEM (the operating system is still in the computer), simply insert the face 1 of The City into drive A and turn on the computer. The game loads automatically.
- If your computer is equipped with a RAM-based GEM (you are using a system disk to start the computer), insert the GEM disk into drive A and turn on the computer. Once GEM is loaded, remove the disc and insert the 1 side of The City into drive A. Double-click the drive A icon, and then open the Auto folder. Double click on the AR file and the game will load.
The game itself involved many innovations, such as time changes, night and day cycles, hidden attributes of characters that affected your well-being in different ways, in order to complete the matching system that was responding to your actions in the game, to a sophisticated combat system to seduce or fool your enemies, and even an economy in the game where you could earn money at various jobs and invest in banks.
The ST version added support to join guilds from different disciplines, which brought another interesting dimension to the development of the character. Dedicated fans may have noticed significant changes in the arrangement of Gary Gilbertson's memorable music. This is more than a compensation for the three-voice configuration of the Yamaha chip instead of POKEY's four-voice polyphony on the 8-bit platform.
Six other games were planned in the series. The City had to be a kind of base for other games once you built your character. Only another game (The Dungeon) has been released. It was in fact only a split of what was supposed to be part of The City. So there was unfortunately not a lot of exploration and development of your character. In addition, the game was incredibly difficult, with copper, shops and experience points hard to find. And every time you died, you were gone forever and you had to start over from the beginning, unless you made an extra copy of your character's record. Even the song played at your death was worthy of distinction, with lyrics on the screen and a bouncing ball, as in the title sequence: "Now that you're gone … some are going to be on, on and on … "minor imperial march that resembled the way Mozart made fun of Salieri in the movie Amadeus. What did you expect me to do current references of pop culture?)
The weather has not been favorable to the impressive technical achievements of the alternative reality either. The view of the game through the interface was small and the 3D animation somewhat slow. And as with most games from this era, you had to map it on paper (although Datasoft provided you with graphic paper and a length of advance in the manual). In the end, the alternative reality proved too ambitious for its time, but it paved the way for modern, persistent, open-world CRPGs such as The Elder Scrolls and World of Warcraft. (Note: this is tricky to emulate, as it seems particularly sensitive to the TOS version and requires early hardware configuration.) For this to work in Hatari, use TOS 1.00, uncheck Fast Floppy Access, check the emulation of the MMU and uncheck the corresponding box. Timer-D box patch.)
Ultima III: Exodus (Origin Systems, 1986)
Ultima creator, Richard Garriott, founded Origin Systems in Houston in 1983 with his brother, his father and Chuck Bueche (Chuckles, fame of Ultima). The group had grown up trying to collect payments from other companies having published the Garriott games. Origin has released many key ST games throughout the life of the platform. Ultima III: Exodus is one of my favorite RPGs on the Atari 8-bit platform. His arrival on the ST, refreshed with a new graphical user interface, gave me a reason to play and solve it again.
As before, the game was the first in the series to allow you to play a group of characters (in this case, four) in order to save Sosaria from the evil Exodus. You had to train your adventurers by fighting monsters, obtaining treasure, and gaining points and levels of experience. The goal was to discover the secrets of the mysterious moongates and find the four marks that allowed you to enter the lair of Exodus.
The graphics have been significantly improved on the ST – not necessarily sharper, but with 16 colors instead of four and without the need for artifacts to display them. This meant that you could easily see the actual differences in the appearance and outfits of each character, and you did not have to rely, for example, on a character carrying a cross and on the other holding a stick for tell the clerk of the assistant. The game was also a little faster, which made it easier to move around Sosaria and explore the cities. Another essential difference between Atari 8-bit and ST versions, and not necessarily for the better, lies in the music. All the tracks in the game were the same, but on the ST, they were higher than an octave. I never understood why that was the case and I had always found it boring. (Your tastes may vary.)
A review of May 1987 in Antic There was still a lot of disk access, which was a problem at the time but less now if you were playing on an SD card or in an emulator. It also had the standard mouse / keyboard interface by default. The mouse control helped you, but you still needed the keyboard to perform many tasks and both did not necessarily make the game easier to control. Nevertheless, the game was nice and probably the best iteration at the time (despite the subsequent upgrades to MS-DOS and the remake of LairWare in 1995 of 640 by 480 pixels on Mac).
(Iii) Scorpia, "Computer Role Playing Survey" World of computer games, October 1991, 109
Jamie Lendino is the editor of ExtremeTech. He is also the author of Breakout: How 8-bit Atari computers have defined a generation and Adventure: Atari 2600 at the dawn of console gaming.