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Alive 11
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  . .                                 .  . . .....         Version 1.0 .

The Atari STe has always been a rather underrated and under-used machine  in
comparison  to its elder brother.  I think this stems from the time when  it
was originally launched,  and people were generally underwhelmed by what the
machine had to offer.  As I remember it, the pre-launch hype and rumour told
us  to  expect  something  closer to the TT,  certainly a  machine  with  an
enhanced cpu and screen modes.

The  reality revealed a machine which looked 'cut-back' in those  areas.  It
did  offer a new sound system,  enhanced palette,  hardscroll screen and the
blitter  built  in.  However,  the mainstream development community took one
look  and decided not to bother.  The STe was considered an improvement over
what came before, but not enough of one to take seriously.

The  subsequent  history of the STe continued in that vein.  There was  some
limited  support  of some of the extra hardware even when the ST  was  still
mainstream.  This  was almost covert in nature,  and not widely known at the
time.  It  was easy for the game coders to slip in a routine to activate the
increased  palette,  so  you  got  better colour scaling on  Robocop  3  for
example,  or  a nicer looking raster background on 'James Pond'.  Bizarrely,
this "partial" nature of using the STe hardware even extended to games  like
'Vaxine'  which were promoted for their STe enhancements at the  time.  That
one used the increased palette, but managed to avoid using Dma sound for the
in-game sample replay!

The news got a little better as the ST entered the twilight years.  At last,
some  decent  hardware  specific games such as  'Obsession',  'Zero-5',  and
'Stardust' arrived. These were very late in the day, and much fewer than the
mountain of commercial games that were written for the STFM.

Of course there were demos, and these got into the hardware much earlier. We
fondly  recall  Aggression's "Brain Damage" demo as the ultimate  STe  demo.
Which  is  where  it has stayed,  as once again,  not too many  people  have
explored  the  hidden depths of the STe's hardware.  To some extent  it  has
suffered  when  the Falcon '030 came along offering new  possibilities,  and
didn't  really  benefit from the renewed interest in the ST  from  newschool

Now  at least one group are considering the merits of the STe hardware,  and
are  seriously looking to make the ultimate brainblaster from it.  These are
Paradox, consisting of Paranoid, RA, Zweckform, TNT, and of course ace muso,

We say something of their potential with a couple of releases in 2004,  with
the Photochrome busting 640 x 400 screengrab sideshow 'HiResMode' displaying
pictures in up to 14000 colours on a base STe. There was also the 'Xmas2004'
dentro, which gave a pretty good taster for what was coming next.

Strong  rumours of a new STe demo from Paradox,  to be shown at Outline  '05
came true,  and we were duly impressed. It won of course, but we had to wait
a  little  longer,  whilst  Paradox trimmed the rough edges off to  make  it
better  than a 'party version'.  Now it is finally here.  Does it live up to
the brainblaster label?

Pacemaker  is tied closely to the STe hardware.  The readme file is at pains
to point out that it won't run on an STFM or TT,  and that it will be mostly
ok on a Falcon.  As for CT60,  the advice is to switch down to '030 mode, as
the CT60 doesn't like the blitter too much, which is fair enough. I guess if
you ask about emulators,  you will be deafened by the loud chorus of jeering
from Paradox HQ ;-)

Before  I  get  stuck into the main body of the review,  I'd like  to  thank
Paradox  for their extremely helpful and informative readme file.  This  was
very   helpful  for  reviewing  purposes,   especially  with  the  technical
components,  and  describing in detail which bits of hardware were used  for
particular screens.

So,  starting  the  demo,  and the first thing which appears on screen is  a
parody  of the warning hazard triangles which were popular in a  Spice  Boys
release  at the SV2000 party.  This one tells us of a 'Blitter hazard'.  You
are to expect heavy useage of STe hardware!

A  taster effect follows,  consisting of a Copper/metal ingot 'Paradox' logo
on  a plain screen and nothing else.  This is topped by a neat bubble effect
bouncing lens magnifier. The helpful technical data supplied with the readme
says it is converted on the fly, and the blitter is used to get it onscreen.

Then,  here  is  another understated and elegant effect.  This is a  bumpmap
screen,  or  two  bumpmaps,  with different colours and independent movement
patterns,  in a nice 320 x 200 resolution.  We are told it uses the hardware
scrolling and screen splitting features of the STe hardware.

Then we see the main title picture.  This features the Sega icon,  Sonic the
Hedgehog,  and  immediately we spot Paranoid's Sega fanboy influence on  the
design  of this demo!  The Sonic theme reappears between screens as a little
picture insert,  to describe what is coming next. For example, Sonic peering
into  a  telescope to "View the centre of the Earth" is the prelude  to  the
tunnel effect.

Paradox  indulge  in  a  little  'rotzoom'  next.   The  'Fake  Radial  Blur
Rotozoomer'  is  a  large  font text or texture.  This is  duly  zoomed  and
rotated,  with a blurred afterimage in darkening blue shades.  This confused
Felice momentarily who thought something might have been wrong with his Mega
STe,  until  I  told him it was meant to look like that!  The technical info
describes this as a pure blitter effect,  as the cpu starts the ball rolling
by zooming and rotating the texture, but the blitter does all the rest.

This  is  one  of the more intricate and "made for TV" parts  of  the  demo.
Described  as 'Smearing 3D blobs,  it is a little bit like a starfield,  but
with blobs rather than stars, and these motion-blur when they move, on a 3-D
axis.  In  fact,  it's  less  of a starfield in motion,  and more of a comet
frenzy!  At the  same  time,  Paradox  made  this  their  greetings  screen,
fulfilling  a  double  function.  The greets use the same fade down  as  the
stars. The blitter is implicated here.

There is a second part,  without greetings,  where the blobs or stars bounce
up and down. It is simply an extension of the screen before.

Of course,  to qualify as 'newschool', most demos have to have a classic DHS
style  tunnel,  or did that start with the Avena Dementia demo?  There was a
time  when  this would have once been a cutting edge effect  on  the  Falcon
'030.  Now  Paradox  make  it look easy on the STe.  The effect is a  double
alpha-layer  tunnel,  with an additional bright yellow light or flare  which
perks  up  the sombre palette used for the tunnel.  For such  an  impressive
screen, this makes little use of STe specific features, apart from the light
flare getting blitter assistance.

This effect is described in the readme as 'Linear Melt-O-Vision Blobs'.  I'd
describe  it  as an onrushing starfield effect,  but with solid blobs  which
scale  up as they come towards you,  then fade out and melt.  The blitter is
king once more as it carries out all the fading, zooming and melting, all at

We  come  to the penultimate screen for Pacemaker.  This is the  "Moneyshot"
effect,  which impressed us at Outline. If anything is 'brainblasting', then
this  is  it.  Sonic the Hedgehog has a new job at Atari now.  He's a  large
sprite in the foreground, running down a solid and multicoloured textured 3D
half-tunnel.  The viewpoint  reveals he  is running in space, with a distant
planetery  background.  The  view closes in,  then zooms out again. Then the
tunnel  spins  around..  Sonic continues his race for life,  and a  metallic
"ker-ching" can be heard over 505's sublime soundtrack,  when Sonic picks up

We are told this is a combined blitter and cpu effect. The cpu generates the
landscape and sprite, but the blitter makes it possible to handle the sprite
in  realtime.  The  alternative method of pre-shifting in memory would  have
needed  16 megabytes!  The credits for this screen include an original Sonic
sprite and sample as supplied by Sonic Team of Sega!

And  all good things must come to an end,  and here is the endpart.  This is
somewhat  different  compared  to what came before.  If  anything,  it  most
closely resembles an oldschool amiga-ish screen, with rasters and distorting
vertical  scroller,  in  a  smart squareish font,  and there is a disting  1
bitplane  logo  in  the  background running  simultaneously to the scroller.
There is also a custom  soundtrack by 505,  which  takes  over from the nice
soundchip tune we had before.

There is overscan, the rasters use 4096 colours, and the distorting scroller
uses  the STe's screen splitting capability.  The soundtrack is depacked and
replayed in realtime using a new custom packing technique by RA.

So brainblasting or brain-numbing?

Well certainly not brain-numbing, in fact a good effort all round.

I hate to say this,  but I think 'Brain Damage' is still in front. There was
a  bravura and sheer theatricality to that demo,  which sticks in the memory
and will be very hard to beat.

The approach of Paradox is a much more careful technical and considered one.
They are doing neat stuff with the STe hardware,  it is well presented,  and
has  good design with a 'Sonic' theme running throughout.  I would say it is
more  of a 'coders' demo,  where the cognosti spot how certain effects  were
done,  rather  than a crowd-pleaser for the most part.  We had to wait until
nearly the  end for  that  jawdropping  "Oh wow!"  moment,  when  Sonic  was
strutting  his stuff in the STUN-Runner tunnel,  but when he did,  jaws were
duly dropped :-)

I get the feeling that they are still holding back a bit, and there is still
more  to  come  from this team.  The expertise is all there,  they  are  the
masters  of the STe hardware.  Now if they can code some more 'big'  screens
for the next one, then we might just have that Brain Damage beater at last!


GRAPHICS:-  85%  - Zweckform responsible for these,  memorably cheeky  Sonic
cameo cartoons between the main action.

SOUND:- 90% - They've got 505 on the team,  how can they go wrong?  Haunting
YM melody with Musicmon effects complemented by cool samples at the end.

GEE-WHIZ:- 88% - For copious use of STe hardware.

OVERALL:-  80%  -  A  good  solid  demo,   tends  to  be  a  more  technical
demonstration rather than a multimedia brain-overload,  apart from that last
but one screen of course :-)

CiH, for Alive! Mag,Nov '05
Alive 11