Saturday, May 26, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 2 : Mercenary (Commodore 64)

Mercenary was another game introduced to me by my friend Steven Ready way back in 1985 on his Atari 800XL.  Of course, far better and larger games have been released since, but Mercenary was probably the only game ever to completely blow me away simply because it was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It literally was an entire, explorable planet in a computer, AND in 3D!  What more could an 8 year old boy in 1985 ask for!

The game begins with a short introductory animation, with you flying towards Gamma Five, when suddenly there is a malfunction with the guidance system which results in you and your ship the Prestinium to crash land in the centre of Central City, on the planet Targ.

The game is viewed in first-person perspective, and the world is presented to you in extremely fast wire-frame vector graphics.  You have complete freedom to travel across Central City by means of aircraft, hovercraft, or foot.  One of the great things I remember about playing this game for the first time is wanting to explore the architecture of the planet, and seeing all of the various sites.  It's very easy to get lost if you do not have a vehicle to travel in, and walking from one place to another can take a very long time.

There isn't just the surface of Targ to explore...  Beneath the surface is a vast underground complex waiting to be mapped, and way up in low orbit is the Colony Craft which has many rooms to explore, although you need a ship powerful enough to reach it.

The aim of the game is quite simple - to find a way off the planet.  This can be achieved in several ways, which makes playing this game extra special since it can be finished with multiple endings. You begin the game having crash landed conveniently at Centrepoint Airport with Benson the robot as your only companian.  You start with 9000 credits and immediately after crashing you have the option of purchasing a ship at the airport for 5000 credits, or alternatively you can steal it, resulting in a dogfight with an enemy ship. You see, the planet Targ is in a state of war between the indiginent Palyars and the invading Mechanoids, and one way of completing the game is to play them off one another, trading items in order to raise enough money to escape.  All of the buildings on the surface belong to either one of these races, and each species want you as a 'hired gun' to destroy their enemy buildings.

One of the highlights of playing this game back in the 80s was mapping the vast game world - It's big, and numerous keys are needed to unlock all of the doors in the underground complex.  Items can be collected in various rooms, and most of these can be traded with both races within their respective installations/complexes for extra cash.

I have this game on pretty much every platform it was made available on, and although in my opinion the Commodore Amiga version was, and still is graphically the best (thanks to the faster processor which enabled faster rendering), the C64 version is my favourite.  It was quite an achievement for the programmer Paul Woakes to develop such an advanced 3D game on what was a primitive 8-bit computer - these computers were never meant to display fast moving complex 3D graphics, but the speed of Mercenary's graphics were VERY impressive for the time, and really made you feel as though you were actually on Targ.

A great many hours of my childhood were spent trying to complete this game. I did achieve it, several times, but fortunately the programmer produced Mercenary : The Second City on most 8-bit computers to keep all Mercenary fans interested in further adventures.  Two further sequels for the 16-bit Atari ST and Commodore Amiga - Damocles, and Mercenary 3 : The Dion Crisis were released.  Techically, these games were far more advanced, featuring solid 3D graphics, and an entire solar system to explore, with planets, islands and different cities, however the original Mercenary was and still is my favourite. 

Playing this game back in 1985 was almost like a glimpse in to the future and what gaming would eventually become some 20 years later.  Games like Grand Theft Auto allow complete freedom within a computer generated world, but just remember this....  Mercenary did it first!

Maps from various sources (here, and here)

And for some further reading, check out the short Novella which came with the Targ Survival Kit.  It's a really good read - Click on the link below to download the PDF file  :-

Click to download

Friday, May 25, 2012

Games that remind me of my childhood Number 1 : Action Biker (Commodore 64)

I thought I should start a new feature on my blog to go alongside my "Songs that remind me of my childhood" posts.

It seems only fair to start with quite possibly one of my all time favourite computer games - Action Biker.

Action Biker was released way back in 1985 by Mastertronic.  I was first introduced to the game by my friend Steven Ready.  At the time, I had a Commodore Plus 4 and he had an Atari 800XL.  I was impressed with many of the games on the Atari, and most of them were not available for my Plus 4 - this being one of them.

The game is very simple and is played from a 3D isometric view.  You play Clumsy Colin, (do you remember the KP Skips adverts from the mid 80's?) and the aim of the game is to ride your motorbike around town, picking up collectables which appear one after another.  Some can be found with little effort and are easily obtainable, whereas others are slightly harder to find.  Skill is required, particularly when riding up and down the Rollercoaster and Construction Site.  Some of the collectables improve the performance of your bike, whereas others are just pointless which have absolutely no use whatsoever (two tone horn, lunchbox!)

You also need to watch your fuel level, filling up occasionally at the petrol station.  One of the collectables is a larger tank which allows you to go longer without having to fill up.

When I got my Commodore 64 in 1987, this game came with the computer (yes, thanks to a 'friend' who had compiled me several game tapes... shhhhh).   At only £1.99, it wasn't long before I bought an original copy, and even to this day I still play it.  It's an ideal game to load up when I have 20 minutes or so to kill

And the music...  Such a simplistic tune, but quite often you can still hear me humming the memorable main theme, originally written by Rob Hubbard.

Anyway, as posted previously, here is my remake of the theme tune, complete with me playing (and finishing) the game in high speed.  (Hey, do a google search for Action Biker and my video is number 4!!!!  Woo hoo.)

The Game Map (Atari Version) by Peter

An amazing game which some people will think has not aged very well.  Personally, I think its simple gameplay is what makes me come back to it again and again, even if I have finished it multiple times.  I would recommend this game to anyone - just don't bother with the Spectrum version.  That one is a completely different game altogether, and not a very good one at that!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It's an easy life!

If only my life was so relaxing!