Ziggurat

Occasional ramblings on games, generally retro related

​When my parents brought home a ZX81 one day (complete with wobbly 16K RAM pack, of course) I discovered the joy of programming. But it wasn't until I got my hands on a ZX Spectrum that my obsession with games really began, which continued with the C64, Amiga, right through to this day. The 80s and early 90s were an amazing time for games, not just for the games themselves but for the fascinating people behind them - it was truly a time of pioneers and creativity.

I myself have spent the last (almost) 20 years working in the games industry on all manner of platforms, most recently iOS. Ziggurat Development Ltd is my company here in NZ that provides contract programming services.

December Games Revisited

One of these days I’ll get my act together and not wait until the dying hours of the month (and even year in this case) to write these things… With that said, I did manage to have a decent play on a bunch of the biggest December games from 1986 and 1988.


”The Sentinel”, Geoff Crammond/Firebird, 1986

”The Sentinel”, Geoff Crammond/Firebird, 1986

Reviewed Zzap!64 December 1986.

I recall playing this quite a bit on the C64. I figured I’d revisit the Amiga version as the screen redraw is unsurprisingly somewhat snappier. My first attempts were complete failures, and I had to resort to reading the instructions (shock horror).

The game is still an interesting and enjoyable challenge. The way the procedurally generated levels and progression works means that you never quite know how difficult a level will be (aside from the initial one). There are 10000 landscapes in total with the player starting on “0000”, and when a level is completed the player jumps forward by a number determined by how many resources were left. The difficulty varies tremendously, though each level is - in theory - completable. I say in theory as on one session I hit landscape 0023 pretty quickly, and I’m convinced that one is impossible (I couldn’t find a way to even make the first teleport!).

The sense of dread as the Sentinel rotates is still palpable.

Zzap!64 took the rather unusual stance of not rating it, instead just awarding it a Gold Medal. I think that was fair enough. It’d be nice to see this re-done on a modern machine with a solid framerate.


”The Trapdoor”, Don Priestly/Pirahna, 1986

”The Trapdoor”, Don Priestly/Pirahna, 1986

Reviewed in Zzap!64 December 1986.

Before I had my C64 I played this on my Spectrum. The graphics were very impressive - big, bold characters, and it did a great job of hiding the Speccy’s colour clash.

The C64 version is good. I didn’t expect to spend much time on it, but an hour quickly passed. It’s has a lot of character and humour. The one thing that really lets it down is the plummeting framerate whenever there’s a few things going on on screen… which results in slow response times and frustration. Makes me wonder if the Spectrum version suffered from that too.

I may have to give this a proper play under emulation where I can crank up the CPU.

Zzap!64 awarded it 89%.


”The Sacred Armour of Antiriad”, Palace Software, 1986

”The Sacred Armour of Antiriad”, Palace Software, 1986

Reviewed Zzap!64 December 1986.

This was one of the most impressive looking games on the C64 at the time. Coming from the Speccy, it blew me away.

As with many games, I never got very far back then. I decided I would rectify that with the use of trainers (naturally). The controls are frustrating.. stand and push fire to throw a rock, stand and push up to jump, but move left and right and hit fire to run and jump etc… what?! When you get the armour and are flying around, the pinball-esque collisions are infuriating.

For a game that was a direct result of Dan Malone’s fantastic art, I had naively expected some kind of cinematic ending when the game is completed. Hah! A simple “you win” kind of message and then back to the title screen. Ugh.

Not sure it deserved the 93% Sizzler.


”BMX Simulator”, Codemasters, 1986

”BMX Simulator”, Codemasters, 1986

Reviewed Zzap!64 December 1986.

I think I may have moved onto the Amiga by the time this came around, and so I had never tried the C64 version.

I found it completely frustrating. The game is utterly punishing of pixel mistakes and it’s all too easy to end up in situations where you instantly fall off your bike as soon as you respawn. I fired up the Amiga version as that’s the one I remember playing, and that seemed to control better… but it still wasn’t great.

Zzap!64 rated it 83% and declared it worth a look if “you’re too old for the real thing”… I think I’m too old for this unforgiving gameplay.


”Trailblazer”, Shaun Southern/Gremlin Graphics, 1986

”Trailblazer”, Shaun Southern/Gremlin Graphics, 1986

Reviewed ZZzap!64 December 1986.

This is a game that I often loaded up on my 64 back in the day, but I don’t think I was ever really any good at it - something that hasn’t changed in the intervening years. A fiendishly difficult game requiring super quick reactions, but somewhat enjoyable.

I’m sure the music was better… and the scrolling message on the main title screen was a lot longer. I’m obviously confusing it with another game, but what one??

It received a 93% Sizzler.


”Boulderdash Construction Kit”, Databyte/First Star, 1986

”Boulderdash Construction Kit”, Databyte/First Star, 1986

I was sure I would end up spending most of my “revisiting” time playing this one. Boulderdash is such a classic, and this was considered the ultimate version.

But… to my shame I never actually managed to play a single level. The main menu (on the game program, not the construction kit) was impenetrable. I’m still baffled as to how one actually starts a game. Seriously.

A common theme I’m discovering is how little patience I have for this stuff, so I’ll just take Zzap!’s word for it and maybe I’ll try again sometime.

The 97% Gold Medal ranks it as one of the most highly rated C64 games ever .


”Operation Wolf”, Ocean, 1988

”Operation Wolf”, Ocean, 1988

Reviewed in C&VG December 1988

Note: The ST and Spectrum versions were reviewed, but I played it on the Amiga. I’m pretty sure it was a straight ST port (ugh).

I had somewhat fond memories of playing this on the Amiga - I seem to recall thinking it was an impressive arcade conversion… I’m not quite sure why as the scrolling is not smooth, neither are the animations. The sound is pretty average. The mouse should work well for aiming, but the cross hair seemed weirdly offset from where I was firing - not by a large amount, but enough to cause many frustrating moments, like when daggers are flying towards you. I’m doubtful I successfully shot a single one. Worst of all is that it is ridiculously hard. During a dozen or so attempts I completely failed to get past the first level. I suspect that is largely due to me losing skill and patience over the years, but still…

91% C&VG? no… a decidedly average ST port. Disappointing.


”Emilyn Hughes International Soccer”, Audiogenic, 1988

”Emilyn Hughes International Soccer”, Audiogenic, 1988

Reviewed in C&VG December 1988, C64.

I’ve played many footie games over the years, but the UI of this game totally stumped me. I completely failed to even start a game which wasn’t computer vs computer. I have no idea how that is done. It looked like a relatively deep game, with management being a huge part of it.

C&VG scored it 94%, saying it was “an amazing product”. Who knows.


”International Karate+" Archer Maclean/System 3, 1988

”International Karate+" Archer Maclean/System 3, 1988

Reviewed C&VG December 1988.

Note: The review was of the ST version, but the Amiga one is similar enough.

I actually bought this back in the day (still have it!) and played the hell out of it. IK on the C64 was one of my fave games of that period, and IK+ improved on it considerably. It still holds up well. Unsurprisingly, the game now feels rather simplistic as far as fighting games go, but I love that. I love the fact that it is all controlled with a standard 8 direction, 1 button joystick. My only minor niggle is that it could do with some faster/smoother character animation.

C&VG awarded it 93%, and for once I would agree with that.