Atari ST gaming
Gaming greed - this article does not focus on my interest in computer games
exclusively, but that is the sentence that stays behind the spirit. In some
respect, it is my personal Atari story. We'll cover almost 20 years of
Atari, all from my point of view. So I invite you to take a peek into my
mind and perhaps I will even manage to entertain you a bit.
Genesis happened some time in 1987. I was 7 years old and my brother just
bought himself his first computer. It was a mighty Atari 520STM with SF354
singlesided floppy drive. He also bought himself a TV set. First time he
unpacked it, something didn't work right. If I remember rightly, the floppy
drive failed, so the drive had to be given back to the retail store. The
replacement drive was in the mail. I still remember the box standing in our
staircase hall, back in our house in southern Germany. Things went well that
time, and the machine worked. I was always interested in my brother and his
things, so of course I was with him. I was hooked!
There was all this gear on the table which looked like a slick typewriter
connected to the TV. Then there was this green screen. Surely the well known
Atari desktop, and then one could move this little arrow around it with that
little blocky box with a rubber ball underneath. My brother told me it was
called 'the mouse', and I was not supposed to touch it! So all I did was
watch him. Next thing I remember was that he loaded NEOchrome. Now there was
this black screen with lots of colours below, and one could draw onto the
screen with the mouse. I was duly impressed!
Somewhat later, I saw my first ever game on this ST. My brother brought all
the computer gear down into the living room and he connected the ST to the
family TV. Then he had this floppy disk, it was blue with a greyish print
and some sort of bird on it. An original copy of STARGLIDER that he
borrowed from a friend, and he put it in the drive. It worked and that was
cool. This impression of flying a craft with the mouse was great. I wanted
to do that too. I hardly remember if my brother did let me take a ride. From
that point on, there was my interest in computer games.
(Ed note:- That was my first game with the ST as well!)
We're still in 1987, and a bit later, my brother bought a SM124 monitor. At
that point I couldn't understand that move, the picture was a lot smaller
and it had no colour. Yes the colour was the interesting thing. To be honest
I didn't care at that point. My brother began to have a few games for the ST
now. He was also coding in GFABASIC. Sometimes he would allow me to peek
over his shoulder to take a look at what he was doing.
Then he had a few type-in games, I remember particularly a cool Breakout
variant (from "Happy Computer" 10/87) and now things got worse. I wanted
to play too! Soon he had a PD variant of Pacman too, called MACPAN. From
now on, my brother would have a hard time all day, as I nagged him a lot to
be allowed to play this cool munchie game. I was a Pacman addict from the
very first time that I saw this game! Hell broke loose, I would bash on his
door and rant in a way that I'm not proud of today.
That Pacman virus never did lose its attraction to me and I still love well
made Pacman clones today.
Time went on, our family moved to northern Germany in the early summer of
1988, and of course my brother with his computer went with us. He was coding
in GFA BASIC and a bit of assembler in those days. His main project was a
great drawing and painting program called 'Orion' for the SM124. I still
have the disks with this project around, it is about 80% finished and is
I would often take a look while he was coding. A lot of text on the screen,
and he would move up and down, add lines and delete some. Then on a single
click with the mouse, his program would run. At that time my interest was
still solely in games, and so I mostly used those moments to nag him as
well. There were games for the TV set too, and it was always a great event
when my brother moved his TV over to the ST to have colour software on it.
Around this time we all got infected with the NEBULUS craze. One of the
few games my little sister loved too. It was a perfect game - well balanced,
technically upperclass on the ST, and with a unique game idea. We would sit
in front of the ST and play. Soon my brother turned up with the cheat code,
so we could see and play all towers. It was great fun. My Pacman Fever was
turned on again with PACMANIA, still my absolute favourite Pacman clone.
More years passed, my brother finished his A-levels and around this time, he
got really pissed with my games-only attitude. It went something like that
if he wasn't able to keep me away from the computer, then I should do
something useful with it. He took me, loaded GFA BASIC and introduced me
into the wonderful word of coding. We only did a single session together. He
showed me the vital basics on program flow, variables and I/O with a simple
number guessing game, and now I was able to code myself. He showed me his
books on coding. I still have those around, merely 2 meters away from me on
my book shelf. He said: "Boy, I showed you the basics. Here you have my
books. Read and learn from them." Well for a few months I would have no
chance to use them.
My brother moved about 30 km away for his replacement duty, instead of army
service. With some cash on his hands, he decided to buy himself a newer
computer. No upgraded ST, but he bought himself an Acorn Archimedes A3000,
and I was the lucky one to get the ST.
That was in 1991, and I was 11 years old. All of my friends back then, had
Amigas (of course), and I was the only lamer with an Atari ST. In the end it
was the right choice, as I wouldn't be a scener today if I hadn't had the ST
as a loner in the world. For decent gaming, I would visit my pals to have a
gaming jamboree. But at home, I was lost without a decent software supply.
With only a singlesided floppy drive, and no TV to connect the ST to, I sat
down and learned how to code in GFA BASIC. My motto was: "I don't get new
games like the others, so I have to do them myself!" I learned the art of
coding only to create games. Type-ins from magazines and books, old sources
from my brother, and a simple try-and-see approach helped. From time to time
I would ask my brother for advice. Interestingly, my friends would come over
and be impressed. "Hey, you can code. That's cool." Even if my programs of
that time were very very rudimentary. It was more than just sticking a
cracked floppy into the drive, booting it up and having a ball.
As my main software supply was an Atari dealer in Bremen who sold PD
floppies, I wanted a doublesided drive. The SF354 confined me to a rather
limited collection of software, although it was enough for my personal
coding needs. So I begged my Dad and managed to get a double sided drive on
my 12th birthday. Now I would have been able to go into a store and buy the
original games. But as all other little boys with tight pocket money, that
was not affordable. Bummer, still confined to play new stuff on his friend's
Amiga. Well not exactly. My father managed to make some contacts with a
woman at his company who had bought herself an Atari ST too. So for a few
months, I would get new stuff to enjoy. Some Sierra adventure games to be
precise, King's Quest III, IV and Hero's Quest.
I wasn't good in English at school back then so it was a chance to learn it
while having fun. I loved them, I still like the gaming experience those
adventure games created. At around that time I began to be aware that the
classic home computers that I knew, from the collection of old magazines my
brother handed me, were dying. In the stores, PC stuff would begin to show
up. In the summer of 1992, when I changed school to the local Gymnasium, it
got fully clear. Suddenly even the Amiga owners got sparse, many people
began to have PCs. There was still no other Atarian around, and still no TV
or colour monitor.
At least the latter problem got solved for a while. My elder sister got a TV
for Christmas in 1992, and she was kind enough to lend it to me for a time
to use it on the ST. But not for long, and so I had to get back to the SM124
soon. At least I could play the colour games for a while.
In the following summer, I did meet a PC user who became one of my closest
friends up until the present. He didn't care if I had an ST. He had a new
486 PC then, and he coded too. So we started to exchange program listings
and projects. He was using QuickBasic, and learning C soon after. I would
get infected with the PC influenza then, wanting to make the move someday
but he would come over, see my projects, and would complain about digital
joysticks. ("Way too hard to move, breaks my hand.") He would play and
enjoy the ST as much as I did. Christmas 1993 meant I finally got a TV
myself, and I could go into the colour stuff. Doing games with colour
graphics, enjoying the few ones in my collection and more.
Then in the summer of 1994, I discovered that a class mate had a boxed up
1040 at home, but no working monitor or TV. He kindly offered to give me a
few of his old discs. Now I had a few new games to play and a megademo,
"The Dark Side Of the Spoon". Man I was impressed by that, and I still
am. SUPERCARS II was on those disks as well, and up until now, it is one
of my favourite ST games. It even impressed my PC friend enough for him to
attempt to adapt it. His game didn't feature full rotation but it did have
cool fullscreen scrolling in MCGA. It was made in C, and suffered from some
extremely bad graphics. He is an even less skilled pixel artist than I am :)
By the time my coding got usable, the games got playable. In 1994 I was able
to make a long held dream come true, by writing my own scrolling shooting
game. Fully done in GFA BASIC, it offered a vertical scrolling playfield and
action on it. The routine worked with 3 screens, perhaps not in 1 VBL but it
was a victory.
Sadly the disk got unreadable, so I was unable to preserve this game called
OVERKILL ST, inspired from a PC shareware game called OVERKILL. With some
improvements, and a sprite routine in assembly language, it might had the
power to beat Megastar. The 1995 period was rather productive. I knew the ST
was commercially dead, PCs had eaten the market, but I didn't care. As long
as I had only the ST, I would make the best out of it. Many of you probably
know my game SPACE BATTLE. I did it in 1995, impressed by the DRAW command
QuickBasic on the PC had. The idea was from a similar game I had seen on the
Archimedes of my brother. The vector rotator was a special algorithm. My
friend was working on a 3D routine around that time. He had one that would
rotate an object around the Y-Axis exclusively. So I adapted the routine to
GFA BASIC and it worked, and with only a few simple rewrites. It worked in
2D, and did what I wanted:
My interest in the ST started to freeze then. My brother bought himself a
PC, so I got his Acorn Archimedes. That mean machine is another story!
Years passed by. In 1998 when I had been into PCs for quite some time, my
old friend showed me an interesting piece of software. "Hey, this is an
Atari ST emulator. Might be interesting for you!" It was Pacifist, and
that reignited my interest in the ST. Soon I imaged up my old disks, and
with the internet in my hands, the software supply exploded. I dug up my old
520STM, and played on the original hardware too. It started to get limiting,
as I discovered many interesting software packages and games, that didn't
work too well, or at all in 512K of RAM.
Around that time my ill-fated SEUCK shooter 'Megastar' was made, half with
Pacifist, half on my 520. Gaming and emulators exploded for me. In 2000 I
decided to upgrade my real machine, so I bought myself a secondhand
1040STFM. Those who visited Paracon 6 have seen and signed it! With my
studies underway and fulltime internet access, I learned about the scene.
Rich Davey pointed me to #atariscne, and here I am. The rest is history.
In 2001, a course on assembly language, (which I will tutor this summer)
ignited my interest in machine code. I soon moved to try it on the ST as
well, although I haven't done that much. I have understood quite a bit of
it, and from time to time, I try to learn and adapt some more. GFA BASIC
still is my language of choice on the ST, and I do not plan to abandon it
soon. I learned it is fully possible to do decent prods in GFA BASIC, and so
here I am. Coding, playing for fun, and gaming on the ST are still my main
interests. You can't leave your roots, once infected by the Pacman
influenza, you can't get rid of it, no matter how hard you try.
In between, I bought myself a secondhand Falcon. Although it is a mighty
machine, it does not come near what I feel when using a plain ST. I use it
to make my prods Falcon compatible, and for the occasional Falcon only
stuff. Perhaps I was confined to the plain ST for too long, so I prefer the
ST just because it was always there?
Lately, I have discovered an interest in original games on the ST. I bought
a small collection via Ebay, and I play them when I'm home with my 1040.
Also a original of Lethal Xcess, my favourite shooter, made it into my
hands. Now I can understand this collecting obsession. Originals feel
different from the cracks, perhaps because the floppy disks still look
unused, perhaps it is the package and the manual with it. Certainly an
What will the future bring? I don't know! One thing is for sure, the Atari
scene is alive, although small and exclusive, I will stay and I will
continue to code games for the ST. It is still as much fun as it was in 1995
for me. The difference is that now my games get finished, have better
graphics thanks to skilled artists like ST Survivor, and that other people
outside of my family get to see them as well. Games are still what I like -
even if I do the occasional demo screen, there I'm trying out new techniques
to adapt them someday into my game code. Now so much time has passed, and
Atari is still there for me.
Thank you, my dear brother Hans-Dieter, and thank you Atari for this
pleasing and soulful computer!
Stay alive, stay /|\ !
Simon Sunnyboy/Paradize for Alive, 2005-03-15