Playing Laser Gates (Atari 8-bit)

The story behind Imagic’s 1984 release Laser Gates is as old as time itself – an advanced race builds super computer and tasks it with protecting them by giving it a reality-destroying device as the ultimate deterrent, but said computer develops a glitch that in turn threatens the entire universe so a lone pilot must fly deep into the belly of the electronic beast to save the day. This mission takes place in a series of horizontally scrolling caverns which are populated by defensive craft, destructible walls and the titular gates which either open and close around their centre or have an aperture to fly through which bounces up and down.

What makes Laser Gates unusual is how complicated it is for a fixed speed scrolling shooter; the player is issued just the one shielded craft so there’s a power gauge for that in the status area, but it’s accompanied by a second bar for the current energy level which constantly decreases during play and will need to be topped up around halfway through each stage. The controls are also surprisingly involved, with the ship pointing and firing either left or right based on the joystick input and, if the player feels brave, being able to nudge the scrolling forwards by “pushing” on the right hand edge of the playfield.

A few features seem to have been lost in translation from the Atari 2600 original where there are ground bases on both scrolling landscapes and a third variant of laser gate which is solid but flashes on and off to allow the player to pass, but that doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience. Laser Gates isn’t the kind of game where you just settle down for a quick five minute blast however – in fact the ship’s shields will take a couple of minutes of abuse even if the player hits fire and wanders off to the point where running out of energy becomes a more immediate concern – and it’s fair to say it’s repetitive since nothing really changes between stages, but that doesn’t stop it being lots of fun when players find themselves properly “in the zone”.

Playing Armourdillo (C64)

The planet of Mobanti was a peaceful world without words for “war” or “destruction” in their language before the human race came visiting. Now it’s peoples have to learn at least some of the ways of war in a hurry and, after sending mostly unsuccessful spies into the enemy camp, a few secrets to creating weapons were discovered that could be merged with the more organic Mobantian science to form the Armourdillo, a hybrid of mutated animal and advanced machine which potentially has the firepower to protect itself from humanity’s onslaught. Think Dalek, but significantly larger and more friendly.

The first live combat sortie for this new armoured vehicle is primarily a rescue mission where, within a given time limit, a quota of life pods containing survivors of the ongoing war must be collected from behind an energy shield at the left side of each play area and ferried across the hostile scrolling environment to the safety of an escape tunnel to the right. Horizontal controls on the joystick tell the Armourdillo which way to move while up and down rotate the gun turret between four positions, allowing it to take out ground- and air-based enemies which drain the vehicle’s shield on contact. Learning the controls and how to aim the weapon accurately are both vital survival skills on Mobanti and will take some practise to master.

Released exclusively on the C64 by the recently formed budget publishers Codemasters, this was a one person project from Giulio Zicchi – his name even appears front and centre on the cassette inlay’s artwork – who wrote the code, drew the graphics, composed the theme tune, sung the… you get the idea. It’s nothing to write home about on a technical level -scrolling a small window of that size is relatively easy and the static starfield isn’t well implemented despite Uridium having done it better the previous year – but the music is great especially the in-game tune activated by pressing F1 during play, the graphics are pretty reasonable too and the gameplay itself proves fun if challenging in part due to the way the Armourdillo itself has to be steered.

In fact I remember this being quite a contentious title within my circle of friends back in the day; I liked the unusual control scheme at the time but not everybody agreed, feeling it was clunky and unresponsive especially when changing direction. Looking at it again now it’s pretty easy to see where those opinions were coming from – despite playing it for a few days for this post I’m still getting my arse handed to me near the end of level 3 – but I still feel that the system is flawed but workable overall and makes sense in context even if I don’t feel comfortable recommending this game to shoot ’em up fans without a few caveats because of it.

The House Of Mouse

So there was no post or indeed video uploaded last Saturday but I do have something of an excuse… it’s because I was out and about for the space of an entire week and, due to my aforementioned lack of organisational skills, there wasn’t a video edited or ready to go. So where exactly did my Beloved and I end up for several days you may ask? Well, I’ll post one of over six hundred pictures that were taken below and we’ll see if you can guess…?

That’s right girls and boys, I was vacationing in sunny Huddersfield! Well okay, it was Disneyland Paris but close enough, right? We had nearly a week visiting at the House Of Mouse with one of the grandchildren, spent a lot of time riding on many of the attractions, even longer in queues for said rides and paid a small fortune for concessions. Generally speaking a good time was had by all, although I really felt it in my legs – Rassilon alone knows how my Beloved survived – and will probably need a few days to recover after all that walking because even if you know where you want to be and have a reasonable idea of the park’s layout there’s still a huge amount of legwork involved.

It’s absolutely worth the effort though, there’s so much to see, do and indeed find around the park with little short cuts between the different areas to explore and attractions to stumble across. Obviously the big draws are the rides themselves and we went on Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates Of The Caribbean several times during the stay. Disney knows how to put on a show so there’s a daily parade down Main Street or the illuminations just before closing time – the latter was absolutely stunning with images projected onto the castle surrounded by lasers, fireworks and water fountains – and, as part of Disney’s Performing Arts OnStage programme, the Videopolis Theatre in Discoveryland had at least one live performance per day from children and teenagers to watch; we saw four in total from Centre Stage, SJ Dance, St Johns Marlborough and Hylands School Arts.

The only thing we’d do differently given the chance would be to avoid going over a weekend because the park and rides were absolutely rammed so waiting times were around an hour on Saturday or Sunday even with the head start we got of a morning by staying in one of the Disney hotels. Even with the distractions on offer in many of the queues, slowly shuffling forwards for that long takes a serious toll. It’s possible to work around those delays by getting a Fastpass – which is sort of like reserving a slot in the queue – and wandering off to find something to do or perhaps consume in the meantime but that needs more organisational skills than mine to do optimally.

The first draft of this post was thrown together on the Eurostar whilst listening to Protracker modules but the wifi was utterly pointless – I ended up inadvertently recreating the scene from Mission: Impossible where Max’s sidekick tries to upload the NOC list before reaching the Chunnel – and I was too tired to get my head around sorting things out on the second train of the day back to Yorkshire, so this is instead popping up the day after along with a collection of hand-selected images to peruse.

I also amused myself by going for a toilet break during the channel tunnel, meaning I got to have a pee under the sea because it’s “better down where its wetter”. Yes I am indeed an adult, why do you feel the need to clarify that?