Jun 052014

Full disclosure: I like kinect. A lot. Not really for VR, where it’s not very useful, and not really for input either, where I feel implementations stretch the limits of the logistics of the hardware. But rather I like it because it’s consumer 3D scan technology, and I feel 3D scan is one of the most exciting areas of technology being explored. Pretty amazing things are being done using rings of time of flight cameras like the kinect, and Kinect 2 is actually really impressive technology for 3D scan, certainly the best at a consumer level. I fully believe that 3D scan home studios, set up by placeable time of flight cameras, will one day replace the concept of “home movies” as VR proliferates, allowing us to not capture a scene from the vantage point of a single camera, but rather capture a scene in its entirety, all at once, such that playback lets us manipulate a camera and re-view the scene from an infinite number of angles. A prominent VR developer, Oliver Kreylos, has been doing really incredible stuff using 3 Kinect V1s in his lab, and infinte realities has some really impressive commercial 3D Scan tech that’s being used in a number of retail games going forward.

Where Kinect 2 falls apart is at Microsoft – their developer program is so backwards. First, a history of Kinect development. Many people may remember Johnny Lee – he was the asian dude who became a pretty big viral sensation when he demonstrated head tracking using a wii remote on youtube. Soon after those videos went viral, he was snatched up by Microsoft and was actually a lead engineer on Kinect.

What most don’t know is that Lee intentionally left the USB protocol for Kinect v1 unencrypted without telling his higher ups at Microsoft, then actually posted a $5000 bounty for open source drivers anonymously the day Kinect was released. The end result was that developers, trying to claim the bounty, found the USB protocol unencrypted and turned Kinect development into something pretty great. Kinect was infamously “hacked” within 24 hours, thanks largely to Johnny Lee.

Johnny Lee now works for Google where he’s working on Project Tango. Unfortunately, there is nobody at Microsoft working on Kinect 2 with the same passion for homebrew and hobbyist development. As a result, the USB Protocol for Kinect 2 is encrypted, thus killing any chance of homebrew driver development. Meaning the features and capabilities of Kinect 2, going forward, will be forever kept in check at microsoft’s discretion. Now, microsoft might have full intent of improving their SDK regularly — and they likely do — but the open drivers for Kinect 1 were always superior to Microsoft’s drivers. An example of the utility of these open drivers – Oliver Kreylos is doing some wild research into virtual reality projection. His work can’t work with Kinect skeletal tracking – just too slow – so he instead deals with raw depth data from the sensor. Kinect 1′s SDK doesn’t allow one to read the raw depth data in this way, only the unofficial drivers do. For this reason alone, Oliver Kreylos is pretty certain his research lab will never be able to work with Kinect 2.

Presumably, this also means Kinect 2 will forever be a Windows 8+ only thing. Kinect support for Linux, OSX, Windows XP, etc all came from the unofficial driver. Kinect 1′s official driver was Windows 7 only.

Beyond that, as a developer who owns an Xbox One already, charging $200 for hardware I have is absolutely infuriating. Microsoft has no plans to sell the breakout box separately from Kinect 2 like they did with Kinect 1. The breakout box is what transforms Microsoft’s proprietary USB3 connection into a dedicated USB3 line and power line. Previously, with Kinect 1, if you had an Xbox Kinect 1, you could buy the breakout box separately, then buy the SDK at a reduced price. Microsoft won’t let devs do that with kinect 2 – the SDK and hardware are bundled. If you want to develop for a Kinect 2, you NEED to buy the hardware with the dev kit, even if you have the hardware sitting in your living room right now. In fact, people with early access to the dev kit have confirmed to me that using an Xbox One branded kinect under windows works just fine.

I’m an example of a developer with utility in mind with Kinect 2, who is actually eager to work with it, and Microsoft is doing all in it’s power to keep me from using their hardware. It’s not like today’s announcement is a surprise – they had said all this stuff long ago (except the USB encryption part) – but it still stings. I figured, with development excitement about Kinect being slightly rekindled, it’d be a nice time to recount the ways Microsoft is artificially stunting the development community for Kinect.

Jan 232014

I’ve been getting tons of spam comments from advertising bots and have to approve every comment by hand. However, one appeared today that I’m not so sure of. The author had a gmail account, but his site was listed as an infographic for a UK depression survey. Most bots I get come from places like www.xtremehampstermasturbation.com or something similarly vile, or post comments like “Wow, so many a thing! How about that article, eh? Link me to site yours, & all ur dreams will coming to be true!!”

However the comment I got today was less broken. It was posted in what looks like unicode-16 (I assume, given the number of unsupported characters) but, once I removed all the weird symbols, the comment read that most of my site was unreadable in safari and was running off the page. I actually do have an old mac to test this on, but it’s ancient (power pc era mac) and safari displays it fine over there. I’m not sure if it’s an iphone safari problem or, more likely, just very convincing spam. Soooo… anybody who is using safari and having similar problems, mind dropping me a comment? Maybe include “menus in space, not in your face!” somewhere in the comment so I’ll know you’re living, breathing flesh and not some cold, unblinking robot?

Much appreciated (in advance).

Jan 212014

NOTE: This is an archived original post that eventually became a full article for Racketboy. This is my original, unedited first draft. I freely admit there are incorrect stats in this article. For a better composed and more accurate final version, please check out the full version at: Racketboy: Commodore Amiga 101: A beginner’s guide

And, amiga fans, please don’t tear me apart for leaving your particular favorite game unmentioned :P

Anyways, I’ve spent about a year now exploring the Amiga Format and I’ve had a blast. Today, getting into Amiga gaming is easier than it’s ever been, and I’m of the opinion that it’s a style of retro gaming that is worth looking into. It’s no secret on this site that I adore retro gaming – I wouldn’t hesistate to call the 16-bit generation my favorite in all of gaming. The conventions, styles, and general methods of gameplay from that period of time remain fun to me to this very day. That isn’t to say I reject modern gaming, but rather, if I have the choice, I will go back to that period 9 times out of 10. As someone who grew up with the Sega Genesis and SNES, I’ve found that there are entire catalogs of games of similar style and complexity out there for the other, more obscure formats. This is basically the sister thread to my [url=http://forums.penny-arcade.com/discussion/17739/whats-a-turbografx-nsf56k/p1]What’s a Turbo Grafx 16[/url] thread, intended as a primer to getting into Amiga gaming and fleshing out the mystique surrounding it.

What is Amiga?
[url=http://arstechnica.com/hardware/news/2007/07/a-history-of-the-amiga-part-1.ars]The history of Amiga is long, complex, and fascinating[/url] but, being that this is a primer thread, I’ll skip to the heart of the discussion. Amiga is a series of computers brought out by Commodore in 1985 (the same year the NES was released in North America). This description, however, sort of sells the format (the correct term when describing the Amiga as a whole, instead of “console”) short. When people say computer, most people will think of something akin to DOS or Windows, but Amiga isn’t really like that. It’s more like a video game console than anything else, which goes back to its conceptual roots, where it was originally envisioned as a video game console that could be expanded into a personal computer. As such, it shares more features in common with console gaming than most other computers. In parts of the world, namely the UK and eastern Europe, Amiga was the most popular and primary gaming format by a wide margin from about 1986 until around 1993, completely dominating the NES, SMS, Genesis, and SNES.

Global Popularity (or lack there-of)
That last line might have caught you off guard. Amiga bigger than the NES, Genesis, and SNES? If that’s the case, why is it virtually unheard of in the US and Japan? Well, for a multitude of reasons, the Amiga simply did not catch on in those regions (at least, not to the extent it caught on in Europe). The circumstances surrounding this are explained in detail in that Amiga History link I posted above, but the long short of it goes all the way back to the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash_of_1983]Video game Crash of 1983.[/url] While it’s mostly assumed that the crash was global (and to an extent it was) the reaction to said crash were not universal. Where as, in the US, we pretty much abandoned gaming until the industry was revived in 1985 by Nintendo, in Europe, the crash signified a switch from dedicated gaming consoles towards gaming computers. Rather than buying machines completely dedicated to gaming, from the early 80′s until the mid 90′s, Europeans bought into machines which looked like a computer, but behaved like a game console. It’s during this period that the greatest European gaming computers took over the market, from the ZX Spectrum 48k, to the Atari ST (Atari remained a huge gaming force in Europe well into the 90′s, unlike the US). The best, and most supported of these gaming machines was undoubtedly the Amiga, which was low cost compared to the IBM PC or Macintosh, but boasted graphics and sound on par with a Sega Genesis.

Features of the Amiga Format
The Amiga format is defined by two characteristics – its CPU and its GPU. At the heart of the Amiga format the motorola m68k processor, a 16-bit (and later, 32-bit) CPU operating at roughtly 24 mhz (usually). Those with an eye for retro-gaming will likely know this processor as the same processor that powered the Sega Genesis, Neo Geo AES and MVS, and numerous other game machines (like the Sharp x68k, Capcom CPS2, Tandy FM Towns, etc). The M68k inside the amiga is much faster than those typically found in consoles, however (the Genesis, for example, operates at 7 mhz, while the Sega CD’s m68k operates at 14 mhz). The most defining component of the Amiga, however, is it’s GPU. Upon release, the Amiga was undoubtedly the most advanced home electronics equipment ever released, and it remained that way until about 1990 (when the SNES was released). It’s imperative that one remembers the time frame when the Amiga was released. In 1985, computer gaming largely was black and white. Console gaming still looked more like the Commodore 64 than anything else. Comparable computers offered CGA (read, 4 colors – cyan, magenta, yellow, green, and white (and black)) colors. The average computer looked like this:

The average console game looked like this:

The amiga, by contrast, looked like THIS:

This image of King Tut is one of the most enduring images of the Amiga. It was very widely shown off as a display of the graphical capabilities of the Amiga at the time, and this, along with a strong endorsement by Andy Warhol, established the Amiga as the first multimedia computer. Before apple became associated with video editing and photoshop, Amiga was there doing the exact same thing with it’s incredible video toaster hardware and Deluxe Paint (probably EA’s greatest piece of software ever). If you were in television or film, you used an Amiga at the time to do video editing. If you worked in print, you used an Amiga with deluxe paint to do your work. If you made games, for the NES, SMS, Sega Genesis, SNES, etc – you used an Amiga with deluxe paint to create your sprites and backgrounds. In short, the Amiga was the format of choice when it came to anything video or audio.

Speaking of that audio component, the Amiga boasted the most impressive audio hardware hardware of any machine for quite a while. It was only when the Sound blaster 32 eventually released that it found an equal. Amiga games use a format called .mod, short for modulation, which provided a number of channels to play music created using samples. It’s perhaps most comparable to midi, although it has certain restrictions which gave it its own unique flavor. Like just about every great gaming machine, the music for the Amiga has a very unique sound which is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the hardware. The best way to demonstrate the awesome capabilities of the Amiga is to compare music written for the Amiga to its contemporaries:

This is stage 1-1 (wilderness) from Golden Axe on the System 16 arcade board:


This is the Sega Genesis version:

And this is the Amiga version:

This is the Rave music from Cool spot on the Sega Genesis:

This is the SNES version:

And this is the same song from Cool Spot on the Amiga:

Whether you prefer the Amiga version or not is up to you (I personally much prefer the Amiga versions of both songs above) but what is undeniable is that there is a certain sound inherent to the Amiga versions. Again, keeping a reference to the time this hardware was released will give you a much better appreciation for the sort of power it had.

Games on the Amiga were distributed in two formats – 3.5″ Floppy disk:

And 650 mb CD-Rom. Disc art for these CDs range from console-quality, like this chuck rock 2 label:

Link’d for huge

to well-below shareware and freeware quality labels, like this Guardian label:

Link’d for huge

Games for the Amiga don’t need to be installed, in fact most cannot be installed. Nor do they have to be manually launched from the OS (called workbench on the Amiga). To boot a game, you simply pop the disk into the Amiga and turn it on. The machine will then boot into the game. Turning the Amiga on without a game inserted will result in a purple screen prompting a game to be inserted, as most Amigas didn’t support a hard drive (and thus, workbench itself was distributed on floppys which were booted into just like a game):

Additionally, unlike the IBM PC or Macintosh, or virtually any modern PC, the Amiga didn’t need a specialized computer monitor. Although most amigas were shipped with a standardized (and incredible) 1080S monitor from commodore, the machines were intended to be used with a standard TV, and most software was written with a normal TV in mind. Almost all Amigas feature a standard RF-out port, or an A/V port. In fact, finding an amiga with a VGA-out port is actually pretty hard to do, as, on most models of Amiga, VGA-out was sold as a separate add-on. Today, this is the ideal Amiga setup:

Like most European gaming computers, the Amiga used a standard Atari 9-pin controller port. This is both a blessing and a curse. For the vast majority of the Amiga’s life, but any sega or atari controller works with it. As such, most games use only 1 button and up to jump, but you can modify an SMS or Genesis controller to map up to a second button easily. A few games use button 2 on sega controllers, but due to the way the A button is read on a genesis controller (it shares the pin with the B button and is toggled via a high-pin switch), 3 button gaming isn’t feasible on an Amiga.

With the introduction of the CD32, however, the Amiga did get a standardized 6-button controller which works with many late-amiga games, and is only compatible with the Amiga (i.e. you can’t use it on a genesis). Unfortunately, it’s pretty much trash:

There exists only 1 third party CD32 controller, but luckily it’s goddamn awesome. It goes by two names, either the “honey bee controller” or the “competition pro CD32″ (not to be confused with the competition Pro, which was an extremely popular 2-button joystick for the amiga). It is essentially a mashup of all the 16-bit controllers – shape and D pad of the genesis, button layout of the SNES, and turbo switches of the Turbo Grafx 16. I have two of them, and it’s probably my favorite controller from that era:

Additionally, every Amiga supports a 2-button mouse (usually plugged in to controller port 1) and, obviously, a keyboard.

Models of Amiga

When I got into the Amiga, I was at first completely overwhelmed by the number of models and configurations of Amigas that existed. Amiga 500, Amiga 600, Amiga 1000, Amiga 2000, Amiga 1200, Amiga 3000, Amiga CDTV, Amiga CD32, Amiga 4000, OCS, ECS, AGA, and so forth. To add to the confusion, the Amiga models aren’t sequential, and thus it’s not enough to simply choose a large number and expect a great Amiga. The Amiga 2000, for example, is in some ways inferior to the Amiga 600, and was released earlier. Some versions might lack a specific port or interface, some have less ram, some have more, some are compatible with a hard drive, some are not, etc.

In reality, there are only 2 models of Amiga you need to worry about – the Amiga 500 and the Amiga 1200, and each of these comes in two main flavors (computer or console). Though it’s all, at the heart, essentially the same hardware with minor tweaks and upgrades, pretty much all Amiga gaming can be broken down into these two types.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll say that the Amiga 500 is comparable to a stock sega genesis in that the vast majority of games released for the format are Amiga 500 games. The Amiga 1200 can be compared to the 32X, in that it saw a speed increase in the CPU, and the graphics chip (called AGA) was improved (although not as drastically as compared to the Genesis->32X transition). More importantly, the Amiga 1200 is mostly backwards compatable with the Amiga 500 library, outside of a handful of games.

The Amiga 500

The Amiga 1200

Now as I mentioned, these two models themselves can largely be bought in 2 different configurations – one shaped like a computer, and one shaped like a console. The Amiga 500 and 1200 refers to the computer shaped models, while their consolized counterparts are the CDTV and CD32 respectively. The CDTV is an Amiga 500, sans floppy drive, that is massive and shaped like an old-school VCR. The CD32 is an Amiga 1200 that is tiny, looks like a Sega Genesis, and also lacks a floppy drive.

Amiga CDTV

Amiga CD32

Now your first inclination might be to assume the consolized versions are superior. In a lot of ways, they’re easier to get into – they’re familiar, easy to set up, and aesthetically pleasing. However the lack of a floppy drive really hurts – the vast majority of Amiga games are floppy only. And while you can add a floppy drive to both, doing so is expensive – more so than picking up an additional Amiga 1200 or Amiga 500 to go along with your CDTV or CD32 would be.

As I mentioned, the Amiga 1200 can play most Amiga 500 games (the number of games which cannot be played on an Amiga 1200 today is insignificantly tiny) making it overall the best selection if you’re getting into Amiga. The Amiga 1200 was faster (featuring an 68030 32-bit CPU over a stock 68000 16-bit CPU), more ram standard (2 mb over the 512kb in the 500), and had an improved GPU (which allowed for AGA (advanced graphics accelerator) games instead of the standard OCS (original chip set) graphics of the Amiga 500 or the ECS (Enhanced Chip Set) of the Amiga 600). There do exist a tiny number of CD32 exclusive games (as in, games only released on Amiga in the CD32 format), most noticeably Flink (which also saw a Sega CD port).

Disadvantages of Amiga gaming
While, over all, I enjoy the experience the Amiga gives me, I cannot simply ignore some big downfalls associated with Amiga gaming. While, overall, I’d compare the experience of playing an Amiga to that of playing a Super NES or Sega Genesis, in many ways it is noticeably inferior.

Getting into Amiga gaming involves getting around a lot of barriers. I dont think most are willing to do the research or put in the money needed to make playing on an actual Amiga worthwhile. you really do need the competion pro controllers, and the good games go for anywhere between $40-$70 after shipping from the UK. When you do wind up with a sweet, full setup, its actually a decent console-like experience. but I suspect many people who impulse buy will be turned off by the prices involved. cheap games tend to be shitty games, like oscar or dangerous streets.

And thats not even getting into specific quirks about amiga gaming in general. Suffice to say you need to temper your expectations. If you go in expecting, for example, full screen gaming, you’re going to be disappointed. the vast majority of games run in small windows that are maybe 70% of the total screen, normally in the upper right corner of the screen.

A screenshot of Shinobi that shows off the black boarder surrounding the screen. And dont expect to use every button on that gamepad – you’ll be lucky to get 2 buttons at the most. And this leads me to the concept of up for jumping. See, most Amiga games used only 1 button (since most simply used Atari 2600 or similar joysticks) so that button was used for firing most often. In truth, most game from that era didn’t need more than 2 buttons, especially platformers which mapped jump to a button. Thus, to get around this limitation, most developers would map the up direction on the joystick to jump. In Great Giana sister, for example, jump jumps while the button is used to throw fireballs. For this reason, it is very wise to track down an Amiga Gravis gamepad, which has up mapped to a button, especially if you’ve cut your teeth on mainstream consoles. The good games on the cd32 that weren’t quick and dirty ports will normally run closer to full screen, and will spare you the “joy” of pressing up to jump, but those sorts of games are rarer.

I hope you dont demand music in every game. or sound effects. or both. some games will give you the choice of one or the other, but not many will let you have both.

If you go in with an open mind and can get passed these flaws, Amiga gaming isn’t terrible. But dont let that 32-bit claim fool you, you’re getting something much closer to the sega genesis than a sega saturn (and in 9 out of 10 cases, if a game is released on both the genesis and Amiga, the genesis version is better). that said, the few games which are really worth playing exhibit none of these flaws, but as I noted, you will have to pay a bit for those games.

The biggest flaw, however, revolves around actually obtaining and using the hardware.

Importing an Amiga
As I mentioned earlier, the Amiga was a massive hit in Europe, but it didn’t make a huge splash in the US or japan. In fact, the CD32 was never even officially released in the US, seeing only an extremely limited release in japan (as in, less than 100 units). Because it’s a much more European-centric format, the overwhelming majority of its software is written for the PAL standard, not NTSC. For this reason alone, getting an NTSC Amiga is not recommended, as in most cases you’re going to be missing out on 90% of the format’s best titles. But, as anyone who has ever looked into the subject is well aware, getting something meant for PAL to display correctly on an NTSC screen is an extreme exercise in frustration.

Luckily for you, the reader of this thread, I spent over half a grand trying out various hardware solutions so that you don’t have to. If you do chose to import hardware, don’t skimp on the video converter – cheap solutions simply won’t work. I first tried a cheap Pal->NTSC converter and it never powered on. I tried other video converters of varying quality, and most got hung up around the need for a non-interlaced signal. After trying almost a dozen converters, I found one that works perfectly with both the Amiga 500, and Amiga 1200 (along with the Amiga CD32):

The Atlona CDM-660 typically goes for about $150 online, although you can find it for cheaper if you really look around. It’ll convert both an S-video and composite video signal both ways (either PAL->NTSC, or NTSC->PAL). In truth, this is an awesome piece of hardware that, if you’re really into retro gaming, has uses beyond just the Amiga. The only major downside is that it doesn’t support RF-input, requiring an RF->Composite converter if you’re looking to get into, say, Amstrad CPC gaming. But for it’s cost, it’s very useful. Compared to other converters, the video quality is excellent, without a hint of ghosting or blur that typifies these sort of converters (in fact, when outputting through S-video, the picture quality is almost too crisp).

This isn’t all you’re going to need, however. European outlets output at 220v, while our American outlets output at 110v. You’re going to need a power inverter to get this machine turned on. Unfortunately, places like fry’s tend to only stock plug converters, which simply change the size and shape of the plug. Do NOT use these – they’re cheap and will MELT within hours. They’re extremely dangerous and you’re better off just lighting your $20 on fire, as its safer. I use this instead:

These are a bit pricey – I paid $60 for mine (well,$120 actually, since I have two) but they’re high quality and most importantly they are SAFE. You can safely keep this baby plugged in 24/7 without worry. Make sure you get something rated for at least 300 w – I went with 500 w actually just to be certain.

With both that video converter and the power inverter, you can safely connect your European Amiga to an American TV and outlet and enjoy the full range of what the Amiga offers. Best of all you can connect two Amigas to that video converter at the same time – my CD32 connects via S-video and my Amiga 1200 connects via composite, with a switch on the back to change video. I daisy chain the inverters and thus my entire setup looks like this:

Games can be easily imported via Ebay, although you can expect to pay between $40 to $70 for complete games (box, manual, disks) after shipping. Some games will require the manual as a form of copy protection, although there exists projects online to provide digital copies of Amiga manuals for the purpose of defeating this copy protection (thus enabling second-hand sales).

I realize however that this is way, way more than I could ever hope most people would go through to experience Amiga gaming, which leads me to the subject of emulation.

Emulation – Legal, modern day Amiga experience

For me, there is nothing better than experiencing the real deal on real hardware. For most, however, the best option is to play Amiga on their modern PC. Unlike grey-area emulation of console games, Amiga emulation is 100% legal, and is, for most, the preferred way to experience the Amiga today. Following Commodore’s closing, ownership of “Amiga” changed hands many times until, today, it resides with the people who put out Amiga Forever. Amiga Forever is an incredible package – $30 gets you legal copies of every Amiga kickstart rom, along with a legal copy of Amiga Workbench 3.1, and a registered copy of Win-UAE, the actual emulator. This is everything you will need to run Amiga games (and programs) on a modern PC. With this setup, you can either A) Run real Amiga CD32/CDTV games on your PC via your CD-Rom drive, or B) Play freeware/public domain games. Tons of developers have released their entire amiga libraries online for free, including Delphie software (Another World, Flashback) and Team-17 (Super Stardust, numerous others).

I have a decent Amiga library today – 53 games across both CD and Floppy. Which leads me to the meat of this topic (and likely why people are still reading this):

Games worth playing
There is absolutely no way I could ever hope to cover every Amiga game worth playing – it has a library into the tens of thousands, much larger than even the Genesis and SNES. There are numerous ports from the mainstream consoles of varying quality (in general, if it comes form Japan, it’s probably a terrible port), and an unlimited number of public domain (read: homebrew) games. Quality ranges from among the best 16-bit games ever released, to the worst games of all time. One of the biggest problems about getting into Amiga gaming is figuring out what to play – you can easily drown in the library unless you have some direction. Thus, I’m going to limit my discussion to the top 10 games I’ve found on the format, which are largely exclusive to the format (i.e. no mainstream console port, although they may exist on other European computers, probably the Atari ST). Before I do so, however, I want to express the ways in which the Internet has made getting into retro-consoles so much more fun and easier.

When I get into a new console or computer, I really get into them. I love to read the history, read articles and reviews on software, both written today AND from the time it was alive. I just like taking it all in – it’s like a whole other world of gaming to explore. In many ways, this research process is just as fun to me as actually playing the games. Thus, I feel it’s important to point out the two most important research tools I used:

Lemon Amiga
Lemon Amiga is the best Amiga website in the world. It is a large database of just about every Amiga game ever released, with a powerful search engine that lets you filter results. Users can offer quick reviews, ratings, or even detailed, multi-page reviews. You can search by developer, by aggregate ratings, by publisher, by format (i.e. Amiga 500, Amiga 1200, CD32, CDTV, etc). You can even search for games which have been ported to other formats, like Sega Master System or Arcade ports. Each game has a variety of links, such as magazine reviews online, fansites, screenshots, boxart shots, advertisements, manual scans. Everything you could ever possibly need. It ties in closely to the next site I’m going to talk about:

The Online Amiga Magazine Rack
I wish there was something like this for US magazines – The Amiga Magazine Rack is an on-going project to convert every amiga magazine from about 1985 to 1998 into a digital, searchable format. There are thousands of full magazines on this site, indexed by page number and content. You can, for example, search for a specific game and it’ll return pages from magazines featuring cheats, guides, reviews, interviews, previews, etc for that game. You can also view entire issues online. As I mentioned, Lemon Amiga ties in closely with this site, with every game on that site linking to content on this site, so that when you search for, say, Chuck Rock on Lemon Amiga, you’ll get interviews and reviews from a variety of Amiga Magazines hosted on this site. This is a very cool resource, as it gives you a window into the viewpoint of Amiga from the time period when it was alive. I’ve gone through and read entire catalogs of many magazines – my favorite has to be Amiga Power, which is setup very similar to both GamePro and Nintendo Power. CU Amiga also is a great magazine, and Amiga Format is another I recommend (Amiga Power is a sister magazine to Amiga Format, which concentrates entirely on games while Amiga Format is more about software and Amiga in general. Think the difference between EGM and EGM2).

One last link before I get into the games: [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUoJBerFDsA]100 Amiga games in 10 minutes[/url] is part of a series of videos on youtube and is an excellent look into Amiga gaming. If nothing else, if you’ve made it this far into this topic and are still curious about Amiga gaming, you should watch that video. It gives you an extremely quick look into what the format has to offer, and it’ll only take 10 minutes of your time. The music is, of course, awesome.

Now onto my top 10 games list (in no particular order):

When I first saw this game, I knew it had classic written all over it. The very first Amiga game I ever saw screenshots of, and the game which alone got me into Amiga gaming. It’s the very first game I picked up. A true Amiga exclusive, with excellent visuals that doesn’t require anything other than a stock Amiga 500. It’s a hack and slash platform game, similar to Blackthorne if you’re familiar with that. Incredible graphics and music. Remember once again that this is from hardware that, at the time, was competing with the NES.

Shadow Fighters
It’s testiment to this game’s quality that I’m including it on my top 10 list, because I was sure I’d hate it the first time I saw it. Everything about this game seems stacked against it – it’s a 1 button fighting game on a format notorious for terrible fighters with a terrible art style (it seriously looks so ugly). Yet after spending extended amounts of time with it, I can confidently say that it’s not only the best fighter on the system, but one of the best fighting games of that entire generation. Despite playing with 1 button, each fighter has 9 normal moves, and between 5-10 special moves on top of that. A balanced, fun fighter that is worth digging up. It comes from Gremlin Games, which I’ll get into later on.

Lotus Trilogy
This series of games survived the fall of Commodore and eventually wound up on other systems sans the Lotus license (as Top Gear) but the originals on the Amiga remain the best in the series. Incredible music and varied gameplay from each game in the series, it’s one of the best remembered series on the format. Lotus 1 is a standard racing game, while Lotus 2 is the best Outrun clone you can find, and Lotus 3 plays like a mix of Lotus 1 and Lotus 2. Like Shadow Fighters, this one also comes from Gremlin games. You’ll be noticing these guys name quite a bit. They’re still around today, I might add. You might know them, as they’re a high profile developer: They changed their name to Sumo Digital a few years ago.

Fightin’ Spirit
I said Shadow Fighter is the number 1 fighting game on the Amiga, but this one has to be 1b. A single glance at this game will tell you that the developers are gigantic Neo Geo fans, as interviews have confirmed. It looks, sounds, and most importantly FEELS like a neo geo game, specifically fatal fury. It’s also one of the most full featured games on the entire format, taking full advantage of the 6-button CD32 controller.

Zool 2
When I first got my Amiga, Mr_Grinch on this site recommended that I stay away from Zool, because as a Sonic fan I’d hate it. In actuallity, I was familiar with Zool from the Sega Channel days. He was right to steer me clear of it, as Zool 1 is a terrible game, with awful controls, no level design, and poor art direction. Where he screwed up was not recommending me the sequel, which is massively improved in just about every way, to the point where I’d call it one of the best 16-bit platformers around. It’s also a game which got better as it went along – the Amiga 1200 port improved upon the Amiga 500 version, and the Amiga CD32 version wound up being a hell of a game with exclusive levels and a kick-ass soundtrack (along with proper controls). There exists a Jaguar port (which I own) but it’s a straight 1:1 Amiga 1200 port, complete with up-to-jump. It’s made by, you guessed it, Gremlin Games.

(Super) Stardust
These two games – Stardust and Super Stardust – are likely the best known Amiga games today, due in large part to their incredible, well-performing PS3 sequels. Brought out by Team-17, one of the best developers on the Amiga, these games play true to their PS3 successors, taking the standard Asteroids concept and injecting it with a serious amount of awesome modernization. These games are actually a bit deeper than the PS3 sequels, featuring currency, a shop, a story (with cutscenes!), and an interesting 3D tunnel minigame. The CD32 version is the best available.

Alien Breed
The best way to describe Alien breed is that it’s the overhead missions from Contra 3 expanded into a full game. There are numerous alien breed games on the amiga, and late in the Amiga’s life it became the format’s premiere FPS, with the last Alien Breed game running on an engine that rivaled that of Quake. However, those games required incredibly beefed up Amigas, and thus most refer to the overhead games. They’re incredibly fun in 2-player mode. If you’ve ever played Loaded on the PSX or Saturn, it’s a lot like that.

Turrican Trilogy
I said I’d avoid games which were massively ported, but it’s impossible to talk about the Amiga and not talk about this series of games. Although C=64 fans also claim this game as their killer app (and with good reason), most will say that the definitive port belongs to the Amiga if they don’t claim the C=64. The best way to sum up these games is a mix of Contra and Metroid. They’re incredibly well polished, and among the best action games of any platform from that era. Both the C=64 and Amiga ports demolish any other version of the game – the Sega ports are massively inferior, and the TG-16 port is awful. The Atari ST ports are also notably inferior. This is about as close as the Amiga ever came to a mainstream world-wide hit.

Beneath a Steel Sky
If there is one single game out of this entire topic that you should play above any other, this is it. The Amiga was home to some of the best adventure games of all time, featuring killer ports of the monkey island games. But this game takes the cake. I have this game in both 15-floppy format and CD format. The CD32 version features full voice acting which is actually really good. A tale set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s one of the most refined adventure games I’ve ever played, bringing the formula down to the the simplest mechanics – all that’s needed is a 2 button mouse. The boxed versions of this game come with a comic book detailing the events leading up to the intro of the game that was drawn and written by Alan Moore. This game is actually freeware today, and fully compatible with ScummVM. Even if you find this whole Amiga deal isn’t for you, you should still check out this game.

Link’d for h-scroll

Ruff n’ Tumble
Probably the poster-boy for just how far ahead of the competition the Amiga was, this game is fully playable on a stock Amiga 500 with an OCS. Fantastic art direction and one hell of a plaform game to boot. The best way to describe this game would be a slow Gunstar Heroes. This game was made by an all-star team of Amiga developers and it shows.

Keep in mind, this is only a personal top 10, and I could hash out several more of these lists before I start to get into bad games. It’s impossible to compress the entire Amiga library into a single post and do it justice, this is simply intended to get people interested in exploring the library.

What about Demo scene?
This could be an entire topic in and of itself (and Hardcore Gaming 101 has an excellent article on the subject here), but the Amiga format largely popularized the Demo scene (which began on earlier PCs like the C=64). Demo scenes grew out of crackers who wanted to personalize cracked releases of games – they’d brand their releases with increasingly elaborate intros. These crackers, those men who gave birth to an entire art form, still exist today – Razor 1911 for example. But many of these crackers realized they had more fun creating the demos than just cracking the game, and soon shifted their talent towards creating full demos. These are simple programs that set out to stretch the very limits of what is possible on the amiga visually and audibly. There are decades worth of demos out there, and it’s impossible to say which are the best, as the technology behind them was often shared (or imitated, or competed against, or all of the above).

The Amiga demoscene exists to this very day, with thousands of demos releasing every year. These really should be seen on real hardware, as youtube videos just aren’t nearly as impressive. Many historic graphical tricks were berthed from these demos, from parallax scrolling to h-blank interrupt polling. If you’re a graphical geek, this is as good as it gets.

Because I can’t possibly mention demoscene without providing at least ONE example, I’ll link one of the best known demos of all time: State of the Art

I spend a lot of time at retro-gaming sites, everything from Sega-16 to racketboy to assembler. Across the most hardcore retrogaming sites, knowledge of the Amiga is still iffy – I think the format has a stigma about it which has been hard to shed. The difficulty in getting a working setup has provided a barrier which prevents many from getting into what is an awesome form of gaming. For too long, Europeans have horded one of the best-kept secrets in gaming, and it’s time the Amiga stretch its legs. If I’ve inspired even one person to take a closer look at Amiga, then I’ve done my job.

I’ll close this post with a few pictures from my own personal setup:

My power inverter next to my Amiga 1200. The Amiga 1200 has its on-and-off switch on the PSU, which is external, so I have it setup next to the machine itself for easy power on and off.

The Atlona CDM-660 PAL->NTSC video converter.

My CD32 running Shadow Fighters

TSR thanks:
Hardcore Gaming 101
Lemon Amiga
The entire EnglishAmiga board
Paperweight of the Assembler forums

Jan 172014

I almost forgot to post this pic, and I havent seen people talking about it online. During joe ludwigs talk on the steam vr api, he mentioned briefly incompatibility. That was the stuff I said about how they want their api to be the “direct x” for vr headsets. When he was going over this, he put this pic on the screen and said they designed the api using all theses headsets and that it works with them all. Obviously some are apparently valve or oculus’ current headset. But there were many I had never seen before. Who is making these?

Here’s the pic (linked for hscroll?):

vr headsets

Jan 172014

Just wanted to toss out that oculus rift want my first taste of vr. I’ve been a vr enthusiast since the 90s. I’ve tried several vr systems before or, including the vfx-1 and even the Atari jaguar vr prototype (the full color one, not the early monochrome proto that is floating around). It’s not like I didn’t know what vr was like previously, or that I simply haven’t grown jaded yet. The simple truth is that today’s vr is nothing like the vr of the old. It’s ok to be skeptical, but really, until you strap on one of these modern vr headsets, you don’t know what vr really is. It’d be like trying to guess what PlayStation games would be like having only ever played atari 2600 games prior. You might understand the broad concepts, but the execution is entirely different.

Let me be clear – what I saw two days ago? I can say with confidence that the vr we’d always been promised is actually here.

Jan 172014

I can’t believe the interest you guys had in this. I am humbled and grateful that you listened to my words. I need a night to recoup – two days of conference tires me out. Then I’ll post a big write up of a bunch of stuff I haven’t gone unity detail about tomorrow. I’m also recording a podcast for a group tomorrow and I have a meeting with virtuix soon enough,oso hopefully I’ll have some more news for you guys.

Thanks again for the feedback. Im just a small developer who was keeping a blog for my reddit buddies. I never expected the internet to focus on my tiny blog for a few days.

Jan 162014

Steam vr has a built in legacy mode for non vr games that projects onto a vr screen. The current vr mode demos this in bpm. Going forward, steam vr will detect when games are running in vr, and when they’re not, they’ll project onto this vr screen automatically, to provide compatibility across the board.

Bool issteamrunninginvr() returns vr state in steam vr sdk.

Steam vr sdk is intended to foster vr adoption.

Steam vr is running in a variety of unreleased vr hardware. Snapped a pic of “future hardware,” I’ll upload later.

Steam works vr api is to vr what direct x or opengl is to video card hardware.

Jan 162014

Valve has issued a challenge to the entire entertainment industry, and that challenge has a name: “presence.” Presence is the magic that vr has always promised, and it is what will transform entertainment.

Presence is the new term for a concept most have never experienced, not even those with oculus kits. It is the result of all their research, it is what vr is and what vr does.

Presence is a state in which, due to a variety of factors, virtual reality becomes imperceptible from reality. A number of technological hurdles must be passed before this occurs – 95hz refresh rate seems to be neccessary (but maybe not!). High resolution is necessary. Latency from motion to last photon needs to cross below 20 ms. Pixel persistence of less than 3ms is a must, and is reasonably the upper limit. A wide fov is necessary, at least 85 degrees (the rift is 90). Positional tracking accurate within 5 mm. Much more advanced optics than currently exist. And all this is just for visual stuff, you also need user input, content, etc.

Once all these meld, however, you are in for a wild ride. Once presence kicks in, you cannot stop your subconscious from feeling like it is real. You’ll feel vertigo. You’ll start sweating under the sun. You’ll get goosebumps in the cold. Once these low level functions of the brain are convinced, for all intent and purpose, you are in the game. The holodeck realized.

The demo valve put together here, they believe, is one of the first vr experiences on the planet to approach presence. You’ve read the impressions, people are blown away even if they can’t quantify why. Presence is why. Immersion is nothing compared to presence.

Valve doesn’t intend to produce a vr headset, theirs is an r&d proto. They might, but it’s not in the works. Instead, they’re freely sharing their research with a number of companies who will bring vr to the masses, she they believe oculus will lead the revolution.

“The doom of vr is coming” said abrash, indicating that soon a transformative experience that will define vr is inevitable. Valve sees vr as the most important venture going forward. Out will iterate on pc, and it will change the world. They believe a consumer vr experience that invokes presence will be available by 2015. Today is day one, the rules of vr are being written right now.

Palmer luckey came in doing clean up, preaching what he’s learned about vr development, what works and what doesn’t. That stuff is widely available online, so I wont cover it… yet. But valve issued the gauntlet – bringing vr to the masses will take the joined effort of the entire entertainment industry. This is larger than one single company. When we arrive, and we will arrive, it will change not just entertainment, but computing entirely.

Ready, player one?

Jan 162014

I didn’t say super stardust vr is in development. I said it was described to me. This might be confusing for people who don’t follow hardware development, but I’m almost certain such a game is merely an internal test. That’s usually how these things go. You take a completed game and test your hw with it, that way you’re not spending your time building a game just to see if your hw is purging correctly. Valve did the sane thing with half life 2 vr.

Jan 162014

I keep getting hit up for info on the PlayStation vr headset. Someone asked how a top down shooter could work in vr. It’s still apparently super stardust, just with a vr camera. Remember, all cameras are first person. From my own experience developing in vr, they likely just took a normal stardust build and applied vr head tracking, because that’s how this stuff normally goes when doing early tests. I was told that you can turn around in your chair and see the asteroids coming at you towards the planet at your back.

Edit: I’m so sorry guys, I’ve been using swype this whole time and it frequently screws up. I just noticed in my last PlayStation vr post I said they were thrilled that the tech was taking off but only for their headset. I actually meant they were thrilled vr was taking off and not just with their own headset. Or, in other words, they realize vr is bigger than any single company.

Jan 162014

So the second session was about what specifically users can create and sell on marketplaces Abe what value is added. Valve sees ugc as any sort of fandom that comes from a game, including reviews, art, guides, faqs, wikis, mods, extra levels, etc. They want to ultimately monetize this creation for everyone adhering to their goal of free open trade. Benefits may seem obvious, such as increased visibility, but hidden benefits include users creating tools that are actually superior to their own, as well as curating a userbase that can be hired, as they did with counter strike, dota 2, etc. Further, if you’re giving your assets away, out eliminates the value of piracy. Why steal from l4d2 and rip out off when valve gives it away?

Lots of this stuff is obvious of you’ve ever done any modding before but it’s pleasing to hear it come from such an entity. Their speech was half a plea to embrace ugc, to release your tools to grow your economy. In this sphere, I feel valve really “gets it.” Coming from the historical sonic hacking scene, it’s neat to hear a content producer repeating the sop that we’ve operated under for over a decade. My favorite line from valve? If you don’t foster ugc, the community will just do it behind your back.

Jan 162014

Opening speech was valves approach to dlc and micro transactions. Anyone who plays tf 2 or dota should know how it goes but the long short of it is that valves philosophy regarding item transaction I’d that monetization I’d gauged in player happiness. Stuff like in forza where you can pay to win doesn’t make players who pay happy, but rather makes players who don’t pay unhappy. The secret to valves success odd the ability to trade. Trade transfers value from non paying players to to paying players and vice versa. The numbers they showed are surprising. Only say 13% of players are paying for content, but something like 75% of players own pay-only content through trade. Hence, those non paying players add to the value of the items sold. By cross trading between dota ave tf2 at the steam store level, the existing player bases stack and grow, increasing value. In the end, everyone wins. Players can make money by buying stuff, non paying players can make money through trade, valve makes money by facilitating this, and content creators make money through their creation. It’s a terrific approach to dlc and they encourage people to enter the steam community marketplace both as users and as have creators.

The next talk is all about user generated content.

Jan 162014

The devs I spoke to talked about the actual PlayStation vr headset.They described super stardust vr to me and explicitly talked about how it was different than the hmz line. Sony has been working on vr for ages, longer than people realize. They’re pretty thrilled to see vr taking off just as their tech is maturing and are interested in the long-term future of the medium, but just their own headset

Jan 162014

Today is the big day for VR but I wanted to begin by addressing valve’s vr solution since I woke up to dozens of text messages from friends asking if this really was “better than oculus.” Well, first thing to understand is that what valve demonstrated isn’t a consumer product and likely won’t be for a while. It was using custom tech, was uninhibited by the need to even approach a consumer price point, and needed an entire (small) room for tracking. Prior to trying it I was told it blew away Crystal cove and it really does. That said, oculus has prototypes that blow away Crystal cove as well. The statement isn’t meant to be “console warrior fanboy” fodder, but rather an indication of how rapidly vr is improving. Today we’ll see a lot from oculus. They are a central cog in valves vr plans, and the two companies are clearly working in close proximity. Count them out at your own discretion.

Incidentally, I spoke with a dev from a major gaming company the other day and got him to spill the beans on the PlayStation vr headset. Lots of pleasing info. Vr, at this point, is more about these companies thinking forward and long-term about the medium as a whole. This stuff is in good hands.

Jan 162014

They send steam os on these swanky little steam usb drives, but the machines the themselves come blank, so you can install any os. Only problem is I need a keyboard to install with, so for now it’s just a cool looking paper weight.

It’s fun to turn on and play with the touchpad though because they power on. You can make them play sounds and “spin” even during bios.

Jan 162014

Sorry guys, ny phone died at the conference and I couldn’t stay in one spot long enough to charge it. I’m writing a big write up about what I saw but I’ll likely post it tomorrow. Tomorrow, a friend is coming and she’ll be blogging too, so we’ll have more content. The after party went until just now, so sorry for the long silence.


I’ve got a lot to talk about tomorrow.

Jan 152014

I’m signed up to see the valve vr hardware. It’s behind a black curtain so no one can see it. Everyone who has tried it says it is mindblowing and blows crystal cove away. They need to call me to let me know when I can see it, so I need to save my phone’s battery. So no posts for a bit until then. Be back with impressions!

Jan 152014

so a lot of people are confused because they showed off the touchscreen, then I said it’s fine. They indeed demoed the touch screen with battlefield 4 when explaining the iterations and design process of the controllers, but then later clarified that the screen had been removed. So they showed puff the functionality before saying it was gone. They have reasons for removing it, though, because they realized it was redundant. You already have fingers on touchpads, and the screen would have mirrored part of the display, so they figured it wasn’t necessary. What they showed off bf4 can still be fine with the touch pads, it just doesn’t have a screen anymore. Plus, they reasoned a screenless controller would be cheaper, thus driving down cost, thus fostering adoption.


Hope that clarified. I’ll be posting more thru out the day, but I’ll likely have a big write up tonight, as well as detailing the steam machines we got. Thanks for questions being posted here and on various forms and reddit, I read them all and I’m trying to find your answers.

Jan 152014

They’re showing battlefield 4 working with the touch screen. The touch screen is a game changer. It intimately connects with steam and games.

The demos people tried at ces was legacy mode, basically the controller emulating a 360 pad. Native mode is wildly different, and it’s where the controller shines. Crowd sourced configurations, too.

The days of not being able to remap stuff in certain games are dead. The controller has a real time firmware, not software.

Welp, New steam controller has no touchscreen anymore. This controller looks amazing, wow. It solves the problem of cardinal input with each pad having ridges to orient yourself. The two pads aren’t symmetrical anymore, the right has less ridges than the right.

The steam controller now has two diamond button layouts where analog sticks would reside. So normal abxy buttons and what looks like a dpad. Uses aa batteries.

Going over the controller api now, built into steam api.

Api has flag to tell if finger is resting on touch pad without moving. Looks a lot like sdl joyinput. Init takes config file, config file is human readable file for mapping. Haptic feedback is a function where we set duration as an analog for strength. Expect to poll controller multiple times per frame, extremely fast non blocking calls.

Over ride mode lets you set constant button configurations, or for modifying legacy mode in game to make on screen menus. Hence you can mix and match modes on the fly – native support in game, legacy mode in menus, etc.

Driver is generic hid, so cross platform support. “It just works.”

All controllers, even the protos, have gyroscopes in them for motion controls, they’re just disabled right now.

Steam api supports 16 steam controllers at once.

Because it uses hid, android and ios support likely.

Jan 152014

Valve is holding a competition – if you send a potential hire their way and they wind up hiring that guy, valve will personally buy you every game on steam right now.

P.s. steam just surpassed 75 million active users.

Jan 152014

Valves vision of the future is pretty wild. A lot of info about builds – alienware launches in September. They talked about dev support – it’s not a question of if aaa support will come, but “when.” As in when does it launch. Supposed to be tons of unannounced aaa support. I’m pressing to find out the alienware specs – they’re out there, but I have another meeting, do check in next update.

Jan 152014

The steam controller feels terrific. It’s bigger than I expected but fits my hands well. The back panel bumpers are easy to reach and depress – I had an old gravis controller back in the day with back bumpers that were stiff and in the wrong place so you constantly hit them on accident. These are placed in a good spot, I don’t find myself having trouble hitting or not hitting them when I want.

The triggers are analog, but they also have a clicky secondary depress, like another button. Think the GameCube controller with less throw.

These versions still don’t have the screen, only 4 buttons in the middle. Presumably, we’ll get to try these out with some software soon enough.

Jan 142014

So I won’t be able to go to all the sessions because they occur concurrently, but these are the ones I’ll be attending day one:
-getting started linux development
-breakout steam machines and controller
-optimizing linux games for amd
-linux and opengl q&a

Additionally I have a meeting scheduled with virtuix to learn more about their sdk.

Day two is all about VR :)

Jan 132014

I’ve arrived safely. What a ripoff! I’ve seen snow all of twice in my life, so I had this expectation that “the north” was 9 months of snow with a 3 month summer vacation in the upper 50′s. What I’ve arrived at is wet and rainy and cold, but sans snow.

Now I wait 3 hours at the airport till my buddies can come pick me up. Thank god I brought my vita.

Jan 132014

My steam dev days trip officially begins. 4 a.m. and I’ve woken from a dream about my plane falling from the sky. Let out be said that if I go out like Ritchie Valens, I’m doing what I love.

It’s t shirt and shorts weather in Houston. Let’s see how it feels in Denver in a few hours.

Jan 102014

I think these two games are worth talking about early just because the circumstance surrounding them is pretty fascinating. More than any other two games for the Jaguar, I feel these two titles defined its legacy. It was clear Atari’s attempt with both games – to ape Sega’s Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter in an attempt to prove the Jaguar was a beast inside. It makes sense that Atari would try to emulate those two titles, as they were the most groundbreaking, visually impressive titles of 1993-1994, the year the Jaguar was released.

However, as was a common plague for the Jaguar, Atari’s poor quality control and rushed development of both games lead to titles that absolutely, positively stank. Visually impressive in screenshots (again, keeping the time period as a frame of reference) but terrible to play. Checkered Flag is usually picked up with most people when they try out the Jaguar as it’s likely the 2nd most easy to find game on the system (only behind Cybermorph), while fight for life is a bit rarer (being the last game Atari ever produced), but both are just as legendary in their awfulness.

Checkered Flag

This series has a pretty long history, actually. It predates the Jaguar by a few years. Checkered Flag, by rebellion (the people who made Alien vs Predator!) was originally planned as a sequel to Pole Position for the Atari Lynx. The Lynx version of Checkered Flag is actually pretty excellent for the hardware and one of the standout titles for the system. It garnered favorable reviews at the time and sold decently (relative to the system):

So, naturally, when Atari decided to make a big, “64-bit” version for their arcade-at-home console, expectations were huge. Rebellion was already making a name for themselves as one of Atari’s more standout development teams, and it was expected that the transition would be smooth.

Early documents show that, at one point, Atari had actually considered returning to the Pole Position name, meaning Checkered Flag might have been called Pole Position III at one point. however, no official marketing material for the game exists under that name, so it’s just speculation amongst knowledgeable Jaguar historians. The first time the game was shown off in any form was from an early launch-era Atari Jaguar advertisement:

Called Checkered Flag II here, this screenshot features drop dead gorgeous visuals for a home console at the time. It is, unfortunately, a bullshot. That area is not in any known version of the game, that background bitmap is nowhere to be found in the final binary, the final version’s draw distance isn’t that great, nor is the shadowing, and the final version lacks any sort of texture mapping. That’s not to say that version didn’t exist at one point – most assume it actually did because it’s not doing anything the Jaguar can’t do. The thing about the Atari Jaguar is that it has an extremely unconventional design. The Jaguar itself doesn’t really have a CPU in the strictest sense. It has, instead, two general purpose processors called Tom and Jerry which handle virtually every part of the Jaguar – writing and drawing to the frame buffer, blitting, AI, controlling the DSP, addressing, polling controller inputs, etc. How people tend to categorize these CPUs varies depending on developer – some call them 2 GPUs that act like a CPU, some call them 2 CPUs that act like a GPU. However, what is obvious is that, as opposed to conventional console design of the time, the Jaguar didn’t have specialized hardware to handle certain tasks. Thus, every single action the Jaguar performed affected performance. AI routines, for example, would drop the framerate of games. Polling the controller in inefficient ways (the controller uses a complex multiplexer to get input from 24 buttons on only 15-pins, hence polling the controller was a nightmare) could affect music playback. The Jaguar is entirely connected.

The Jaguar did have an m68k CPU that smart programmers could exploit. Jeff Minter, the man behind Tempest 2000, for example, wrote the main game’s code for the m68k – a forbidden practice by Atari at the time, but it left Tom and Jerry open to handle the music and visuals. The smart way to develop for the Jaguar is to do what Jeff Minter did – come up with core gameplay elements first (AI, user input, etc) that are as low-cost as possible, then use whatever you have left in the machine to try and pump out the best music and visuals possible.

That wasn’t Atari’s SOP at the time. Atari’s “do the math” marketing was blowing up in their face. They were desperate to prove that the Jaguar was far superior to its 16-bit rivals. To the early Jaguar developers, they actually mandated that they concentrate on visuals first – huge, 3D displays with enormous sprites. gameplay came second. Jeff Minter’s tempest 2000, for example, was lambasted by Atari prior to it becoming a cult classic at Winter CES 94.

So, bringing this back to Checkered Flag (II), it’s likely that the version pictured above was actually built at one point. But, as many found early demos for Jaguar games prove, it likely was nothing more than a tech demo running on its own. Rebellion has said that the first version of Alien vs Predator they produced for the Jaguar ran at 60 fps and a higher resolution (the final runs at about 15 fps) because they developed the graphics engine first, and had to take out stuff as they added in AI routines, player input, sound effects, etc. They have also mentioned in interviews that Checkered Flag at one point ran at a higher FPS. So most assume that the Checkered Flag II picture is likely from a product pitch tech demo that wasn’t really a game.

In any case, the next time Checkered Flag II emerged, it was titled Red Line Racer, just months before its launch:

It’s crossed out, because the person who scanned the image thought it was a cancelled game (incidentally, most of those cancelled games on that page have since been released :D ). This version is clearly more in line with the final checkered flag given that this ad appeared only 2 or so months before the game went gold. You can see the graphics have been scaled back pretty severely. Within a month of this ad running, the game was renamed Checkered Flag and finalized.

Now, for those who have never played Checkered Flag, you might be wondering how this:

could possibly be so much worse than this:

Don’t ever let a screenshot deceive you. Checkered Flag is fools gold. It looks terrific in still screenshots, but in motion it’s a wreck. The game is clearly not finished, and it’s obvious the team was cutting stuff out as development proceeded to try and squeeze out what they intended. The game, for example, runs at time at single-digit framerates. This absolutely kills the game as it becomes impossible to control. The controls are said to be based on a bell-curve, according to the developers, but they just don’t work. Sometimes you can slam on the d-pad as hard as you can and your kart will barely bank, missing a turn and crashing you into a wall. Other times, you’ll feather tap the d-pad and turn hard at a 90 degree angle. There really doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the controls – they work when they want to, and they often do not want to work. The low framerate exasperates problems because you often turn too late – you start pressing the button when you think you should, but by the next time the screen updates, you’re several steps ahead of where you would be and you’ll over or under-compensate. The low framerate and awful, abysmal controls makes this virtually unplayable.

Not that playing the game is much fun in the first place. The game features really no opponent AI – the opponents move along pre-defined paths on the track. They’re not racing you, so much as they’re driving along side you. Perhaps to make the game beatable, the opponent AI will shut off if they get too far ahead of you. You can see this in action by simply coming to a stop on a straight away. If you’re in an area where the draw distance is good enough (it varies from area to area), and come to a dead stop, you can see at the very edge of the viewable area, that the opponents will stop and wait for you to begin moving again. Other signs that the game is that the game has some sort of flimsy damage system where ramming into walls will supposedly fuck up your car – although you’d never notice. There are areas for pit stops on every track, but they’re not implemented. You drive through them without any sort of cutscene or checkpoint or anything, and your car isn’t repaired.


An interview with an Atari QA tester at the time reveals insight into how troubled the development of checkered flag was (and the culture at Rebellion and the difficulty they had getting the Jaguar to do multiple things well at the same time):

Interviewer: Control of Checkered Flag comes to mind... That just needed a little tweak.
Lance (QA): We spent MONTHS tweaking the control on C. Flag. That was about as good as the programmer could get it... God, I forget his name. We locked him in Sunnyvale for like 3 months. I had to playtest that thing in manual transmission. Ugh.
Interviewer: The coder said it would not be any better than that and then Atari would go and release it? Kinda hard to believe....
Lance (QA): Yeah. They needed titles and weren't willing to just eat the game. They didn't care if it was a POS. No offense. The guys worked hard on it. It just should have been a demo is all.

Interviewer: Lance, what was test life like at Atari? I've heard crazy stories of people with booze in their cubes taking naps all day and stuff ... the stories are almost too far fetched to be believable!
Lance (QA): Exactly. Those stories are true. I often slept under my desk. I was tired.

Lance (QA): What was great, was that the lead programmers/artists at Rebellion had never even seen Alien or Predator movies. None of them.
Interviewer: Funny, I remember reading how they went and watched them all though.
Lance (QA): They watched the movies after we MADE them. The first rev they submitted to us as a FINAL was awful...There was no objectives other than shooting and finding the exit. That was all the game consisted of.
Interviewer: Was it really faster in a prev version than the final?
Lance (QA): As long as there were no objects in the game, the engine was FLYING. As soon as the sprites were there.... Ugh. ;)

But because, visually, Checkered Flag, in still shots, looked so similar to the Arcade version of Virtua Racer, Atari focused a lot of their marketing on the game. It was rightly lambasted as one of the worst titles on the console. Now, going off on a slight tangent, Checkered Flag isn’t the only 3D racing game on the jaguar. There exists a semi-psuedo sequel on the Jaguar CD called World Tour Racing. WTR itself had a troubled history and underwent many name changes. There is no hard evidence that it was ever a checkered flag sequel, but most Jag fans treat it as such because they are similar. The main difference being that, while CF tried to mimic Virtua Racing, WTR was more trying to be something like Daytona USA or Ridge Racer or Need for Speed (even though it wound up being well behind any of those games). WTR, like CF, was shipped unfinished – the lead programmer for the game said that he submitted a later build to Atari JTS that ran at a higher framerate with more complete texture work, but by that point they’d already allowed Telegames to start printing discs of the unfinished version. The unfinished version looks terrible – mainly because the texture work was using placeholder graphics (that weren’t even the right size, hence the unreadable, stretched banners). But WTR has two major things over CF – A) It’s actually playable, with working, good controls, and B) It has a fucking killer soundtrack. Like wickedly awesome.

Fight for Life

This trend of releasing unfinished games came to a boil with Fight for Life. If Checkered Flag was Atari beginning their game with a fumble, then Fight For Life is throwing a pick-6 on the last play of scrimmage. Every single mistake made during Checkered Flag’s development was repeated in Fight for Life. Billed as Atari’s answer to virtua Fighter, at the time, it looked pretty stupendous in screenshots, with lots of texture work. The animator and modeler for the game actually worked on VF1 for Sega and jumped ship to work on Atari. Atari had released some pretty good Jaguar games leading up to Fight for Life and it seemed like they were serious about making a better game, but the end result is pretty garbage.

Like CF, Fight for Life features a number of fundamental, foundational problems. This time, the game is just no fun to play. It runs at a generally acceptable 20-ish FPS, but moves like it’s in slow motion. It’s not that the framerate is low, because tiny animation details show that it’s running at a good FPS. It’s just slow. I think they were trying to imitate VF1′s deliberate pacing, but it winds up feeling like you’re underwater. Animations are way too long for any action – press punch and watch as a good 3 second animation plays out – completely unacceptable for any sort of fighter. The lifebars are also way, way too long. There is no time limit in a fight, and a good best of 3 match (the default is actually best of 5!) can last over 10 minutes long.

Mechanically, the game is serviceable. It’s pretty much a standard, albeit slow, virtua fighter clone. The moves list is actually alright except for the fact that you don’t start off with any moves and instead must steal moves by defeating opponents. This lets you build your own character, and the number of moves in the game is actually large, so by the end of the game you have a custom super fighter that can pull off lots of moves, but it is rough in the beginning. It seems like, buried under all the trash is an average game. And it turns out this is exactly the case – see, Atari had actually gotten into the habit of not paying their employees at the time. Much like the USFL, developers weren’t ever sure if their checks would cash. Fight for Life came out as Atari was shutting down and being sold to Hasbro, so the final 4 or so months of work on the game were unpaid to the developer. And thus, in retaliation, the developer withheld the final builds of the game from Atari. No pay, no game. Atari, needed to recoup some sort of the development fees, released a very early beta of the game as the final. The version of fight for life that was sold is a 60%-ish complete version of the game. This is pretty apparent by the “intro” to the game which features several minutes of characters standing around doing nothing:

A few years ago, Jaguar Sector 2 – one of the best Jaguar fansites, contacted the lead programmer for the game and he gifted them the source code to the final build of the game. JS2 subsequently built 28 copies of this game and sold them, making them amongst the rarest, hardest to find Jaguar games around. I have number 22 of 28. Dubbed Fight for Life Limited Edition, this version is much improved and is actually a pretty good game for the system:

Better texture work, faster FPS, faster and smoother gameplay, no 10-minute long fights. Sure, it’s well below VF and even Battle Arena Toshinden, but it’s not a joke anymore. What is a joke is that this version never got an official release, and that Atari thought so poorly of its own customers that they’d release an actually-unfinished game. And that’s how Atari bowed out of the gaming industry – not with a stellar last effort, but with a cheap, insulting cash-grab.

These two games have become legendary amongst the average gamer as evidence of the Jaguar’s poor library. They’re the epitome of the rushed attitude and poor quality control Atari had at the time. I think they paint a poor, misguided image of the Jaguar – it’s nowhere near the worst system in the world and is home to quite a number of decent titles – but when the two biggest first party titles are this crummy, it’s hard not to think poorly of the system.

Jan 102014

The post crash years of the game industry are infinitely fascinating to explore. Due to a variety of reasons, time seems to have largely forgotten everything that wasn’t Nintendo until about 1991 when some more serious competition began to spring up. Numerous worthy titles from about 1984 onward were lost in a sea of worthy titles that graced the Nintendo platform. This is mainly due to the iron clad grasp the Nintendo had in 2 out of the 3 major markets. When virtually everybody had a Nintendo, releasing a great game on a more obscure competitor virtually ensured irrelevancy. A few worthy titles have gained notoriety simply because of the success their series had on later systems – Konami’s MSX output is a great example of this. Others have been given a second lease on life because of word of mouth and the later recognized brilliant pedigree of their developers and publishers. Wonderboy 3 falls into that category.

But there are tons of titles which still, to this day, do not get the recognition they deserve. While, arguably, some of these sorts of titles are niche and their appeal obviously limited despite excellent execution and premise (I’m looking at you, Ninja Golf), there exists one game series which I feel would have been right at home on any action gamer’s shelf. A true lost classic, one that was derivative enough to feel familiar to anyone weaned on the NES, and influential enough to inspire countless great clones, yet somehow still forgotten.

I am talking about Turrican.

Turrican is the rare sort of game that does everything correct and still doesn’t see the success it deserves. This isn’t to say Turrican is an unknown title. I imagine a number of our European posters have entered this topic wondering how such a game could be considered “lost.” Indeed, Turrican is one of the greatest and best remembered game series to ever come out of the continent. However, because of the formats it chose to embrace and Nintendo’s dominance on overseas market share, it never achieved global success like it should have.

Before they eventually entered the public consciousness with their Adult Swim tv shows, I had heard of Tim Heidecker and Eric Warheim referred to as “the comedian’s comedians” because of how well respected they were amongst their peers. Turrican, similarly, is “the action gamer’s action game.” Amongst developers and video game historians, Turrican has a pedigree that is sparkling, and influence that is surprising. It’s just that for all the heaps of accolades placed upon the series, it never registered with the greater public consciousness. This thread is my small attempt to do the series the justice it deserves.

For the purpose of this thread, I will split the Turrican series in two. The first half of the series has been referred to by fans as the “8-bit series” because they were primarily coded as 8-bit games on the Commodore 64 by Manfred Trenz. The second half of the series is referred to usually as the “16-bit series” because they were coded primarily for the Sega Genesis and Super NES systems, without the involvement of Manfred Trenz. This topic intends to only cover the 8-bit series, as they ultimately have wound up being more important in the context of gaming history and are generally better regarded (although, I will profess a love for the 16-bit series and urge everybody to at least try Mega Turrican/Turrican 3, despite it being a much different beast than the 8-bit series).

The story of Manfred Trenz

The story of Turrican is intimately linked to the rise of one of gaming’s lost pioneers – Manfred Trenz. Like another highly gifted single-man developer, Jeff Minter, Manfred Trenz was equal parts coding genius, visionary, and gaming enthusiast (and perhaps a tiny part plagiarist as well). Trenz began his coding career in 1986 not as a developer at first, but as a hobbyist in the then-budding demoscene. Demoscene, for the unaccustomed, is a longstanding competitive, and often highly-experimental, artistic subculture that aims to meld hardware manipulation and programming with artistic expression. It has an incredibly rich and complex history which has birthed virtually every video game visual technique in modern history. I could never hope to do the art form justice in a mere summary, but hardcore gaming 101 has an outstanding article on the subject if anybody is interested.

After quickly gaining a reputation as one of the more gifted demoscene programmers, Trenz began developing one of his earliest titles – a side scrolling shmup called Denaris. Denaris, like most of Trenz work, was unabashedly derivative, to the point where his game was pretty blatantly an R-Type clone. Trenz, again like Jeff Minter, wasn’t so much concerned with coming up with novel implementations, but rather, in true postmodern/copyleft tradition, concentrated on remixing what had already been done and aiming to simply do it better on weaker hardware (better of course being a subjective term, but that was indeed his goal). Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in perhaps his best known work – The Great Giana Sisters.

Perhaps the best known Mario clone of all time – The Great Giana Sisters

The thing about Denaris is that it was a GOOD R-type clone. A damn good clone. So good, in fact, that it caught the eye of Rainbow Arts, who held the exclusive rights to produce home computer ports of R-type. Interested in his work, Rainbow Arts actually hired Trenz on as an employee to handle the C64 port of R-Type himself, which wound up becoming one of the very best home ports of the game for a number of years. This relationship between Trenz and Rainbow Arts would eventually give birth to a retail release of Denaris under the name Katakis, and eventually the titular Turrican series.


The first Turrican began development in 1989 on the Commodore 64. Conceptualized and coded by Trenz himself, Turrican was designed to be a cross between what he considered to be the two greatest action games at the time – Contra and Metroid.

Taking the level based structure of Contra as it’s core component, Turrican is made up of 5 very large, non-linear worlds. Although each world had a definite beginning and end (marked by enormous, screen-filling bosses), the path the player chose to reach the end was up to him. Turrican rewarded exploration not with new skills or weapons ala Metroid, but rather with 1ups and crystals, of which 100 could be collected to earn a continue. In contrast to Metroid and even Contra, exploring for these additional lives was imperative because Turrican was brutally difficult. Until one had played the game long enough to master the game, these extra lives were absolutely necessary to advance.

Luckily, Turrican’s outstanding level design made exploring these enormous, labyrinth worlds a joy. Turrican himself has a few primary weapons – a standard attack which can be changed with powers ups (such as a larger laser blast or a spread shot), some grenades, and a morphball-like mode that is clearly taken straight out of metroid, complete with the ability to drop bombs.

Because of the unique nature of Commodore-style controllers of the time — there was no standard controller and thus most developers assumed players would be using 1-button atari joysticks as their primary input — Turrican’s most iconic weapon was born. The nature of 1-button controls means that the main button is primarily used to fire, while up tends to be used to jump. Because pressing up makes you jump, you can normally only fire directly in front of you. However, the large, labyrinth levels scroll both horizontally and vertically, and very often you’ll be put in situations where enemies will be coming at you from above and below. To make dealing with these enemies managable, the Power Line attack was introduced. By holding the fire button down for a set period of time, the player will stop firing his normal weapon and instead fire a long, rope-like laser beam which can be rotated in around the player in 360 degrees.

The nature of having to stop for a second before you can use such an attack drastically dictates the pace of Turrican. It’s a much more methodical action title than the two titles that directly influenced it. Often, you’ll find yourself walking a few steps in any direction, then stopping and activating the Power Line in anticipation of an offscreen enemy rushing you from directions unseen. Avoiding an unseen enemy attack is imperative in this game because of a rather antiquated convention by modern standards: you have absolutely no invincibility or recovery time from an enemy attack. Unlike in Metroid, where being struck by an enemy will send Samus Aaron back a bit out of harms way and gives her a few seconds where she is invincible, Turrican will simply drain your lifebar steadily until you manually move to stop touching your attacker. This means that, if you’re not paying attention, a single enemy can drain your entire lifebar in mere seconds.

This slower pace dictated by a need to always be on the defensive is directly at odds with the two other working factors in the game – namely that your success is tied to how many extra lives you can get, and more importantly, the time limit placed upon you in each stage.

That’s right, each level has a time limit – several hundreds seconds each. These levels are enormous, with many dead ends (that are often filled with 1ups or crystals) that makes mutliple playthroughs necessary. And therein lies the genius of the game – it’s inherent tension. Everything is stacked against you in every level. Do you spend your time exploring the tiny hole you notice as you’re running by a cave that is obviously just big enough for you to squeeze into when in ball form that could potentially yield a dozen 1ups, or do you trek onward towards the boss because you only have 100 seconds left? Do you crawl forward at a snail’s pace, trying to be as careful as possible to avoid attack to spare your lives, thus costing you valuable exploration time, or do you rush forward head first, netting you much more time to search for lives at the expense of tons of energy? These sorts of questions are faced by the player constantly. And, depending on your skillset, each style of play is rewarding in it’s own way. There is thrill in honing your skills to such a level that you don’t need to secure many 1ups, just like there is thrill when your life is so low that a single hit will kill you so you venture down a waterfall only to find an invisible block yielding a full energy recharge at the last possible moment.

Make no mistake, the first time you play Turrican you will die. A lot. The second time as well. You’ll keep dying until you either give up (shame on you!) or learn to conquer it. Overcoming turrican is great in the same way that beating contra for the first time is great. It’s a personal accomplishment.

It’s also helped by Trenz’s understanding of what makes for captivating game design – constant evolution. By 1989, gamers had already grown to expect longer, consistently changing games. Gone were the days of single screen, 1-background games. Levels weren’t simply synonymous with “different waves of enemies in various patterns,” they equated to new tile sets, new visual tricks, new things to see and do that you didn’t see or do in previous levels. Turrican delivers this in spades. For the hardware, the amount of deviation from level to level is staggering. One level might take place in a bright sunny rocky mountain, with a blue sky and other-worldly vines growing everywhere, where you are expected to walk and jump to reach your goal. The next might take place in an underwater labyrinth, where suddenly physics are slow and floaty and you find yourself able to jump enormous leaps. Another might grant you the ability to fly with a jetpack inside of a cavernous mountain. The game keeps throwing new stuff at you. All along the way, new, more impressive visual tricks are unveiled. Early on, it’s easy to be impressed by merely above average spritework, but it soon gives way to parallax scrolling (which is hugely impressive on the C64) to even stuff like scanline specific palette swapping on more powerful hardware (i.e. the underwater trick that Sonic the Hedgehog pulled off in Labyrinth Zone).

It all adds up to a mechanically sound title that feels greater than the sum of its components. The brutal difficulty and deliberate pacing is pure classic gaming convention – at only 5 worlds, the game can technically be beaten within minutes, but learning to play with enough skill to do so will require hundreds of playthroughs. It’s that style of game where each time you play, you get a little further and a little better. It’s a perfect example of a small title that lasts for months.

The glue which holds all this refinement together is masterful coding. Turrican produces the sort of experience one would expect from an NES action title on substantially weaker hardware. Most gamers tend to forget that, prior to Mario 3, games which scrolled in multiple directions were outstandingly rare. Video game hardware of that time period was generally geared towards single screen setups, or, with the aid of powerful mappers, the ability to scroll in 1 direction (either horizontally or vertically). Mario 3 accomplishes it’s multi-tiered scrolling by utilizing clever implimentation of the NES hardware, which has a framebuffer large enough to store two screens at once. Mario 3 orients these screens vertically so that every level in Mario 3 is twice as tall as one screen and relies on character-width scrolling to move the left-most visible column of the screen to the far right of the screen as it passes, shifting the game 1 tile at a time and using the natural overscan on a CRT tv to hide artifacts of the effect (which is why, when played on emulation, the far right of the screen displays miscolored junk — you were never supposed to see that stuff). The C64 didn’t even have that ability in hand – it’s ability to scroll in either direction was pure hardware trickery, and for Trenz to pull off scrolling in both directions at once, while still having enough CPU cycles left over to actually power the game itself, is nothing short of amazing. From a coding perspective, Turrican is amazing. It is precisely the sort of product one would expect from a genius coder in the same way we expect mind blowing tricks to come out of John Carmack. Turrican did Mario 3′s vaunted multi-direction scrolling on weaker hardware before Mario 3.

The original Turrican was released on a litany of systems, but for all intent and purposes it was Commodore’s killer app. The 8-bit C64 version was handled by Trenz himself, while the highly updated and equally as awesome 16-bit Amiga version was handled by Factor 5. Both C64 fans and Amiga fans like to claim this series as their own, and both are among the strongest reasons to own either format. There are slight differences, the most obvious being much improved graphics on the Amiga and a constant soundtrack composed by Chris Huelsbeck (the C64 has music intermittently amongst long periods of silence, sort of like Halo). The song in the link posted at the very top of this article is the Turrican theme song – virtually every game in the series features some variation of this song in one way or another.

The original turrican had a few problems. First, it was a bit too ambitious with the amount of moves it gave you. Between your power line, your normal shot, the ability to jump, to morph into a ball, to drop bombs, to use grenades, and to use a screen-clearing special attack, it was all too much to map to a 1-button controller. Thus, several moves were mapped to a keyboard, which is normal for european games of the time but is a bit tough for modern gamers to adjust to especially if they want to play on real hardware. It is also monstrously difficult, more so than any other entry in the series. European gaming was notorious for its difficulty — the term NES-hard has nothing on European-Hard — but Turrican 1 goes well beyond the norm. It also has the least amount of variation of any game in the series.

Despite these drawbacks, it’s still an outstanding game and an incredible entry to a legendary line of games.

Turrican 2 is where, by all accounts, the series blew up. Turrican 2 wasn’t radically different from its predecessor, it was simply better. Featuring larger, more detailed worlds and an even better soundtrack, it is probably the best regarded title in the entire series and undoubtedly one of the greatest games of all time, regardless of format. That’s not hyperbolic praise, the excellence of this title can’t be understated.

To begin with, the problems with the first turrican’s controls were deftly solved — the game supports a 2 button joystick. Thus, the game can be played entirely with a joystick without ever reaching for your keyboard. Gone is the ability to use grenades, but in its place is the ability to use your ball attack any time you wish (you could only use it a few times per life in the original). The with the ball attack always at your disposal (which also renders you completely invincible) the level design was free to be more complex and take advantage of it. Hence, you’ll notice a lot more small spots that you can squeeze into to find hidden paths and areas. It also makes the game a bit more fair – when enter a room filled with enemies and are overwhelmed, you can simply drop into ball mode and spam bombs until the room clears a bit.

Turrican 2 had much more impressive visuals on both the C64 and Amiga, with much more variation between worlds. It also took the jetpack concept from Turrican 1 and completely ran with it. Where, in Turrican 1, a single level gave you the ability to fly around for a bit of time, turrican 2 instead turns into an entire different game midway through level 3.

For 3 entire levels, Turrican 2 ditches its run and gun style of gameplay as you enter a space ship and turns into a side scrolling shmup that plays like a sequel to Denaris. In fact, a ship toting a banner that reads “KATAKIS LIVES!” can be seen near the end of these levels. Given that shmups were Trenz’s bread and butter, these levels are magnificent and probably the highlight of the game for me. I would buy an entire game made up of these shmup levels by themselves – they are among the best 8-bit shmup action you can get on any system. In any other game, this would be the showcase, but in Turrican 2, it’s merely a bonus game.

Following Turrican 2, for a variety of reasons including personal satisfaction, Trenz vowed to never code for the C64. He was an 8-bit coder by build, and wouldn’t touch a 16-bit system. Thus, Factor 5 assumed control of the series and Rainbow Arts began pumping out the 16-bit turrican games without Trenz, ultimately taking the series in a much different direction. However, in 1993, as one last hurrah, Trenz revisited the series one last time.

Super Turrican, not to be confused with Super Turrican on the SNES, is a PAL-exclusive NES title, making it one of the most uncommon titles in the NES library. While, from a content perspective, it’s not as impressive as his previous two works (mainly feeling like a remix of Turrican 1 and Turrican 2 with new level layouts), what IS impressive is the end credits for the game.

They are 4 words long: “Created by Manfred Trenz.” And that is all that needs to be said. Trenz build Super Turrican entirely by himself.

Today, such a concept is entirely alien – a retail game, fully distributed by a big publisher, being made entirely by one man. Even in 1993 the practice was already long dead. Trenz coded the game, did all the art himself, and wrote the entire musical score all from scratch in assembly.

A final tip of the hat from a legendary coder, it shows how amazing his skills were. What would have taken a team of 5 to do in about a year, Trenz did by himself in the span of months. If you have any respect for game development, understand how significant and impressive this is.

As a final tidbit to point out how incredible Trenz is, despite being PAL-exclusive, the game runs at a fixed speed on both an NTSC and PAL NES. This is an ability and technique that most full development houses couldn’t do, often resorting to retooling a game for months to adjust for the 50/60 hz speed difference, or simply ignoring it and letting the game run fast or slow depending on the region. Trenz’s game will adjust speed on the fly, because it’s coded to do so.

Oh, did I mention his music is amazing? Because it is.

While Trenz would never return to the series, his work grew an enormously devoted fan following and, a few years ago, a group of Super Fans released Turrican 3 on the C64. Built off of the C64 Turrican 2 engine, this is an entirely new game featuring new levels, new bosses, and a whole new side scrolling shmup level. Ditching the old C64 convention of mixing sparse sound effects with occasional music, the game instead features a full soundtrack and no sound effects. Made up of C64 remixes of Chris Huelsbeck’s Amiga soundtracks in SID format, the soundtrack is everything that is awesome about the C64:

Though a little rough around the edges with a steep difficulty curve, it is a worthy successor to the line and entirely different from the Amiga version of Turrican 3 (which was a port of Mega Turrican).

Outside of Europe, sadly, Turrican is largely unknown because of a series of blunders. Most ports of the game to consoles or handhelds are awful. The main ports the rest of the world saw were on either the gameboy, the Sega Genesis, or Turbo Grafx 16. Each is flawed in several ways, either with missing graphics, missing levels, or poor gameplay changes.

The worst offense to befall the turrican series is the Genesis port of Turrican 2. Turrican 2 came to the Genesis as a tie-in to the Jean Claude Van-Dam movie Universal Soldier. What was otherwise a solid port of the game was neutered with terrible sprite changes and missing levels. The shump levels, for example, were replaced with horizontally scrolling run and gun levels that feature no exploration, and are placed at the beginning of the game, giving it a very back heavy feel. More stupidly, the sprite changes feel out of place. The first boss, for example, which was a screen-filling robot originally, was changed to an awkwardly large Dolph Lungdren sprite:

And, similarly, perhaps due to the propensity for licensed games to be garbage and thus reviewers not willing to give the game a fair shake, or perhaps because of their age (they were released several years after the originals), or perhaps because of their even harder than normal difficulty, the game was slammed by reviewers completely unaware of its award-winning heritage. The treatment Universal Soldier saw from reviewers in America stands as firm proof in my eyes that prestige and pre-release hype really do matter for many reviewers.

Sadly, several of the games were never released in Japan in any form. This limited their world-wide appeal.

That said, amongst developers, Turrican has achieved the level of recognition it deserves. Numerous game series and developers directly cite Turrican as their direct inspiration, the most obvious being Duke Nukem. Duke Nukem is such an homage to Turrican that it actually features artwork ripped directly from the game.

More recently, Fan games like Hurrican, T2002 on the Gameboy advance have kept the series alive. The best known fan nod to Turrican is 2012′s Gunlord for the Neo Geo MVS and Sega Dreamcast, an unofficial sequel to Turrican.

Gunlord for the Neo Geo AES

These games deserve better. They stand the test of time. I didn’t experience these games until 2 years ago when I got into Amiga gaming and I was instantly hooked. Nothing said in this writeup has been steeped in nostalgia. For any serious retro gamer, this is a series that is required reading. Hopefully, I have inspired at least one person to take a closer look at this forgotten classic.