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Alive 13

e64 revisited

           Classic and Newer games considered on the Enterprise 64..

We  return  to  a  topic  hinted at in last  issue's  big  write-up  of  the
Enterprise  64/128,  my earliest favourite computer never to get the success
it  deserved.  This  issue,  we're covering some of the games that appeared,
both early favourites of mine,  and some latter-day hits which actually went
some way to pushing the machine nicely.

The  first released games on the E64 started as 'Entersoft'  releases.  This
was  the software arm of the Enterprise Computers company,  and existed in a
similar  role to Amsoft for the Amstrad CPC series.  These first games  were
just about all ports or versions of popular second-string 8-bit games at the
time.  This  is mainly what I'm looking at in the first part of this report.
When  the  main  company went bust,  the Entersoft titles were  left  in  an
uncertain legal limbo.  For a long time, it seems nothing was happening, and
at about  that time,  I got out of that machine.  However,  the 'Independent
Enterprise User Group' (IEUG) and their software label called 'Boxsoft' took
over  as  much  as it could.  They were also developing their  own  original
titles,  memory  serves that these were mainly things like art packages  and
utilities, but there is one surprise for a bit later in this report.

Ultimately,  interest  in  the machine went overseas to Hungary.  These  new
parties  effectively  restarted software production,  and also extended  the
idea  of 'porting' beyond any reasonable limit!  But there were also  people
who managed to develop some original titles which finally used the machine's
superior capabilities.

One  strange  fact is,  that you hardly ever see any Enterprise software  on
Ebay.  The machines crop up ready for sale,  yes,  but there are not usually
any  tapes or 'extras' with them?  Which leads me to ask whether people just
bought  the  machines  on their own originally and  lost  interest  in  them
without doing anything further?  It's not as if there wasn't a retail sector
interest at first, because Mr Bracey did sell whatever games came his way at
his Liverpool emporium.  When this source dried up, there was the mail order
option from Entersoft GHQ, at least until they went bust.

So the first part of this round-up is a major trip down a leafy lane of fond
memories, How do some of the classic games look now, in the cold harsh light
of the present day?

the classic stuff..

We start with 'Fantasia Diamond' (Hewson). This was the first game I got for
the  system,  mainly on the grounds there was very little else available.  I
think there was that,  and a crude text-based 'simulator' called "Dictator",
which  was a management program simulating a small Latin  American  country!

Still, I digress.

I  managed  to  remember the name since the last article  on  this  subject.
Clearly it was such a great game,  that I forgot it completely.   Memory did
serve  to  tell  me that it was a rather pedestrian text  adventure  with  a
routine  plot,  and Spectrum quality graphics reminiscent of the 'Hobbit' on
the Speccy, including the onscreen slow realtime redrawing.

I googled a review,  culled from "Crash" magazine,  which seemed to be quite
favourable. There were lots of subtleties which I must have missed the first
time around. Anyway, here's a potted plotline in a cribbed paragraph.

"Fantasia  Diamond,  a family heirloom and the largest diamond known to man,
has been stolen and removed to a fortress across the river. Boris the master
spy,  who  made  his way to the fortress to recapture the diamond,  has been
imprisoned by the faithful guardian who patrols the rooms and corridors  for
intruders.  On your journey you are likely to meet elves, pixies, gnomes and
the decidedly unfriendly woodcutter."

I did try to run it, but for now, my memories will have to stay as memories,
as my emulator set-up disagreed with running it.  This wasn't the only early
program  it  disagreed with,  I think some of these games only worked off  a
very early rom issue.

Anyway, we try our luck with something a bit more arcade orientated. That is
'Wizards Lair' by Bubble Bus. This resembles a cross between 'Atik Atac' and
'Sabre  Wulf',  with  the overhead view of the former game.  There is a huge
maze  to  explore  with your character 'Pothole Pete'.  He has to  find  the
missing  pieces  of something or other (a golden lion) to  defeat  the  evil
wizard.  It was typical of most Entersoft releases at the time with Spectrum
perfect graphics,  although they did try a bit harder with the music. (Which
sounds like hastily kncked-together melancholy dirge now, but I'm a lot more
picky  about my ziks these days!) The game-play was quite fast-paced with  a
lot  to do,  and you had to balance exploring the levels,  with running away
from the monsters, or standing and fighting, and also running out of energy.

Trying  it  now,  the emulator put up its hands in the air in a  gesture  of
weary surrender once more. This time, we had a partial success. The game was
very glitchy and unstable on the emulator, only displaying about half of the
title  screen,  and  dying  as soon as you tried to get into the  game.  Was
anything going to go right here?

So  onto  'Sorcery'  (Virgin  games).  This was the flagship  game  for  the
Entersoft early phase releases.  I first saw this at the PCW show in 1985 on
the Enterprise stand,  and was impressed enough to pre-order it.  There were
no  lukewarm Spectrum graphics here!  I think that these were closest to the
Amstrad  CPC graphics.  (Another machine where the higher capabilities  were
under-used, this game was hailed as a groundbreaker on there too.)

When  I  got it,  I remember playing it through very quickly,  having had an
intensive  'how-to' course on a friend's copy of 'Sorcery Plus',  which  was
the  CPC  disk  version,  with extra levels,  over the previous summer.  The
classic  'Sorcery'  part was a smallish game with about forty  screens,  but
there  was  a lot of care and detail put into those.  It was a  fast  action
game,  where  you  had to eliminate the monsters with whatever  weapons  you
could  find,  and banish the evil necromancer from your village.  The 'plus'
part involved going after the Necromancer in his castle afterwards.

Now this is good, just ignore the fact you're being dragged inexorably to
the right hand side of the screen!

This  one was *almost* there on the emulator.  Everything was fine up to the
point  when  the  title sequence is finished,  and you go to play  the  game
itself.  The  player  appears,  and  the joystick constantly pulls  to  the
right, up to the point where you get stuck. Is this another problem with the
ROM version,  as in it needs a very early ROM to work correctly.  This could
be behind the problems with the other games tested so far?

It does get better from here, honest!

Here's  a  funny little game now,  it is 'Devils Lair' from Loriciels.  This
French  softco was a name we were going to get a lot more familiar  with  in
the  early  ST years.  For the Enterprise,  they produced this fantastically
difficult platformer.  Death was everywhere around you,  and if this was not
enough,  your  energy levels were dropping through the floor even before you
could  find the time to say "Argh!"  Getting  anywhere  at all in  this game
was a major breakthrough! Good  points  were  the 'not made on  the  Speccy'
original graphics,  including some intricate animations of the player sprite
getting impaled on spikes, blown up in a minefield, zapped in half, fried on
an electrocution  plate  etc. The coder and designer  of this game must have
been real  sadists!  The  positioning really had to be down  to the  nearest
exact  pixel!  It  was  that  unforgiving!  This  is  a very  unusual  game,
especially  for  that  time,  as  I  think  it was specially written for the
Enterprise, and exclusively for that system. Googling for information didn't
produce any results beyond what I had already written for Alive 12!

Oh,  I nearly forgot, there was a burning flame which turned on and off, and
a laser beam to dodge too!

This  game  chose  to  co-operate with the emulator.  Playing  it  now,  the
graphics  and  sprites seem to be 'larger' than I remember.  It is still  as
hard as ever.  This time around,  I didn't even get off the first screen.  I
think  this  is the game that ruined the membrane joystick  on  my  original
Enterprise 64!

Or  on reflection,  it was probably this one that did the most harm to  that
flimsy construction!  'Starstrike 3D',  by Realtime Games was a deserved hit
on whatever platform it touched down on.  It owed a lot, no, owed EVERYTHING
to  the  Star Wars X-Wing vector line sit-in cabinet arcade  game.  Realtime
changed the name and were unable to offer the cabinet as an option, but that
was  all!  They made a surprisingly serviceable copy of the original in  the
small world of the 48k Speccy!

My  first contact with it slightly pre-dated me getting the  Enterprise.  It
was  on  the machines of my Speccy-owning computer peer  group  at  college,
where we discovered the best way to thrash this thing.  When a version of it
was made for the Enterprise, of course I had to have a copy! You were served
up  with an indentical experience from the Speccy one,  with no enhancements
made for the better hardware, but this time it didn't matter!

Booting  up  now,  the emulator was happy to oblige,  and yes,  it is just as
quick and addictive as before!  There seems to be a lot more confusing stuff
happening  on  screen,  but  that is probably age-related (myself,  not  the
game!)Shields down, incoming.. Aaagh!! Dead! (Try again.)

Swiftly moving onto 'Nodes of Yesod' (Odin) now. This was the last game that
I bought before Enterprise and Entersoft went under.  This game was a modest
hit for the makers, Odin Graphics, rated a "Crash Smash" for the Speccy, and
a  version  was duly commissioned for the Enterprise.  This was yet  another
typical early period release,  with more Speccy graphics.  Apparently,  they
had  to  code a workaround specially to make this work for  the  Enterprise!
However, a cool title tune, with sampled speech(!) made up for this.

The  game  was  extremely playable,  and was another  roam-around  a  cavern
system.  This one was on the moon,  you were in a space-suit,  and you had a
little  mole  helper to zap the bad guys and dig tunnels for you.  You  were
looking for missing pieces of something, and a monolith, and trying to avoid
dying whilst doing all of this .  You could fall down too far,  or bump into
too many bad guys (Teddy-bear on a spring being typical!) or the red  space-
suited bloke could nick whatever you were carrying and dump it elsewhere  in
the cavern,  which was annoying! And yep, this one still works, and time has
been  kind to my memories of it.  Maybe I will have a push to try to  finish
the damn thing one day?

There  were  other  games  released  in  the  period  after  the  demise  of
Enterprise.  Some  of  these titles managed to avoid being based  on  Speccy
style graphics.  Names such as 'Cauldron',  'Jammin',  'Super Pipeline', and
'Airwolf'  all  had a Commodore 64 heritage.  'Get Dexter' or  'Crafton  and
Xunk'  bore a closer to the superior Amstrad CPC graphics.  These games were
promised  but  didn't  get to my attention in time,  as the ST  was  already
looming  large  in my life by then.  From subsequent internet  trawling,  it
looks like these managed to get a release in the Hungarian market at  least,
and are available from websites there as emulator images.

At some stage, the Hungarian Enterprise fans decided to see if they could do
any  better,  and the second part of this report consists of a quick look at
some of the best stuff from this later period.

the newer stuff..

Some  of the Hungarian early prods went right back to basics  and  resembled
nothing more than the worst of some early Entersoft releases.  This would be
expected  as they were getting to know the basics of the  machine.  However,
things  soon got better,  and they even made some releases making use of the
machine's  capabilities,  specifically  the  better  graphics.  Of  all  the
different people who went down that road, one name in particular stands out,
that is 'Orksoft', whose releases really were the pinnacle of quality gaming
on the Enterprise 128.  Even now,  when the main part of activity has passed
by,  there  are  still a few things going on now via a one-man  band  called
PovySoft. And who knows what might appear in the future?

So we start  with 'Pacman City' by  Orksoft. This  appeared in 1993.  It is
an  overhead view arcade roam-around,  with a character loosely based on the
classic  Pacman.  There  aren't so many ghosts to dodge,  there is a bit  of
pill-eating,  and  a  lot of exploration and finding keys.  It runs in  what
looks like a custom sixteen colour mode,  using the 256 colour palette,  and
at a guess,  it's around 320 x 200 pixels. It is a fairly gently paced game,
with  some huge levels to explore.  Any extra information is exclusively  in
Hungarian,  so I can't tell you a lot more,  but it seems to have been well-
received enough to spawn a sequel "Pacman City II".

Orksoft  offer something quite different,  for their 1994 vintage next game,
which is called "Book of Life".  This suffers from the language barrier, and
I never quite figured it out.  There is clearly an adventure base to it. The
title screen features one of the best static screens on the Enterprise, with
an  unusual four colour hi-res mode,  and much use of stippling or  shading.
The  game itself,  in complete contrast,  thrashes the most out of a low-res
256  colour  mode,  where  you get a first-person viewpoint.  This  strongly
suggests that some kind of 'Wolfenstein' game engine might even be  possible
on the Enterprise!?

To  round up a busy section from Orksoft (yes,  there are others by them!) I
found  a  demo  of  a platformer called "Dark  Lord".  This  has  a  passing
resemblance to games like 'Nodes of Yesod',  but features a very psychedelic
sixteen  colour ST-res screen mode and pretty large sprites,  and some  nice
music.  I'm not sure of the age of this production, there is no date listed,
it may even be a newie! I hope so!

Povisoft  have  been  the  predominant  producer  of  new  goodies  for  the
Enterprise in recent years.  They've produced versions of 'Soko-ban' for the
size-limited Mini-Games competition,  and now they have come up with a fresh
release with a 2006 date on it. This is a puzzler called "Atomix". There are
Soko-ban  elements  in  there,  but  you have to manouvre the  pieces  of  a
molecule  around  a  maze and join them together under the cosh  of  a  time
limit.  It  is  graphically  'fair',  clearly an 8-bit game,  but one of the
better ones so that is reasonable enough.

I'm saving the best to last,  that is,  the 1990-vintage "Magic Ball".  This
came from another prolific local label called 'A' Studio',  but Boxsoft also
got  its  name  on  the credits,  and the instructions  are  in  the  Englsh
language, rather than that strange Magyar script!

It is a Ball-Blazer clone, which is hard to screw up, unless someone does an
Atari GEM version of it I guess!  Fortunately,  the temptation was resisted,
and  they really got it right on here!  The graphics are nearasdammit 16-bit
quality, and it is one of the quickest games out there, lightning fast, as a
good Ballblazer game should be!

I thought I'd share this with you.

     Static screenshot conveys NO impression of how quick this is!
     I also think some of the shading was lost in this grab!

If  you  were  only  allowed one game to show  off  the  potential  of  your
favourite  computer,  I'd  choose Magic Ball for the Enterprise.  Everything
about it screams quality and effort.


We've  only touched on a tiny part of the Enterprise  games  back-catalogue.
There's  a  lot more out there.  Quite apart from the other  lame  Entersoft
releases,  there  were  a fair number of originally authored games,  many of
which  weren't too much to look at,  but quite a few exceeding the  original
expectations. In this article, I've just taken a snapshot of the ones that I
consider  to  be  'the best' of the  post-demise  software  production  from
Hungary,  as  well as sharing a few fond memories of the early games that  I
owned and played.

I  would  say that in spite of the machine's premature demise in  the  wider
marketplace, the Magyar posse did it proud in the end!

NEXT TIME, we take a look at some demos!!

 CiH, for Alive Mag, June '06..

Alive 13