Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Asteroids Shoot Out

Asteroids was released into the arcades in 1979, and made a break from the traditional raster based graphics to give the game a stunning and unique look. The new technique was vector graphics, wire-frame objects calculated and drawn in real time to give a neon like feel to the whole game.

Because the arcade machines required special hardware to produce the new style of graphics, home versions struggled to replicate the display. Instead the games companies used different techniques to emulate the game from sprites to custom written, maths-heavy drawing routines.

So – which of the Spectrum clones can claim top dog?

This is an overview of the tests that were conducted, for the full reviews of each game check out Episode 3 (link at the end of this page).

The first game under the microscope is Cosmic Debris (left) from Artic computing. This version of the classic looks very authentic, having vector-like  graphics and all the game elements of the original. The asteroids move around as they should, splitting into smaller chunks when hit and the saucers make random appearances. Thrusting differs from the arcade in that the ship continues to move until opposite thrust is applied, making control a bit tricky.

The sound is adequate but the real let down comes when you lose a life. The screen fills with diagonal lines and you have to press a key to continue playing. There is also no on-screen information like scores, hi-scores of lives.

Next we Meteor Strom from Quicksilva. This game is one of, if not the first, Spectrum games to feature speech, although what it actually says is up for debate. The vectors have been replaced by large raster based graphics that move about in character jumps, and the ship only has eight points of rotation. Having said that, the game does play quite well, but there is still the problem of a continually moving ship is thrust is applied. Not a bad game overall.

Meteroids from Softek doesn’t even try to mimic the vector graphics, instead we get large images – not sprites, just large chunky images that jerk around the screen. Sound is limited and the ship is fixed to eight points of rotation. Thrust moves the ship and the stops it dead with no inertia.

Another Meteoids (left), this time from DK’Tronics fairs no better, with juddering character based images, fixed eight point rotation and below average sound. This game also has a massive problem; when you shoot an asteroid it doesn’t break into segments that move off in the opposite direction, instead it spawns smaller images around the compass points. This means if you hit an asteroid close up, you are likely to die instantly when the smaller objects are spawned.

Next we Planetoids from Sinclair, a game claimed by many to be the best asteroids game for the Spectrum. Again we see the lack of vectors, instead we get smooth moving, solid asteroids and a ship with sixteen point rotation, a huge improvement from previous games. Sound is limited, but the thrust works just like the arcade. There is still room for improvement, but this is the best one tested so far.

Spectroid Storm from Abersoft is a dreadful game that really shouldn’t waste column space. White background, jerking images, poor control, terrible sound and impossible thrust all add up to an easily forgettable game.

One game I missed during this test was Deep Space from PSS, so for completeness, the review is here.
Deep Space is, despite being graphically average, a decent game to play. The small, character based, asteroids move around in eight pixel jumps and the smaller ones are difficult to hit. The ship as fixed eight point rotation and the sound is limited to explosions.

The star filled background is nice and control is responsive, but the size of the graphics lets it down. Thrust moves the ship and then stops, there is no inertia, but we do get the saucers making an appearance. As mentioned before, game-play is nice, giving a good long game, it’s just a pity about the size and movement of the graphics.

To find out the winner, watch Episode 3


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