After last week’s prod at A New Dimension we jump forwards a year to 1988 and the release of Scoop’s That’s The Way It Is on the C64. This is another three-parter – the third is “hidden” and probably went unnoticed by at least some viewers back in the day – this time developed by the artists rapidly becoming known as The Maniacs Of Noise, so it won’t come as much of a surprise that the bespoke soundtrack included is nothing short of excellent. The show starts with an upscroller with large, nicely drawn characters and colour splits at the top and bottom of the screen to make them fade in and out that’s there to dish out the credits and take care of a few hellos.
The main meat of the demo comes next, with a Scoop logo built from sprites which are overlaid onto a scrolling landscape, another large scroll font this time shifting horizontally with an even nicer character set than the one used for the earlier upscroller and a slightly surreal bitmapped picture of a swimsuit-wearing young lady with sunglasses in the foreground who seems remarkably happy and oblivious to essentially being in open space and surrounded by stars and a couple of barren, crater-scarred but brightly coloured planets, one of which appears to have attracted several orbiting moons.
Finally, there’s a small raster bar part hidden away which can be accessed either by resetting the C64 or hitting F1 which is just TMC showing off a little whilst talking about how easy raster and scroll demos are, having spent a chunk of text from the previous scroller berating other developers who were producing similarly “tricky” raster-based demos for their lack of originality. It’s actually a reasonably good example of the genre as well though, with a couple of different colour tables that can be cycled via the space bar and a short but lovely, slow piece of music playing behind it that wouldn’t have been out of place in a game on the highscore table.
Although there are some very nice touches on the code front including that Scoop logo with the mountains passing through it and the hidden raster bars, this was never intended to be a raw technical demo and instead focuses on the design and presentation. In that respect That’s The Way It Is was a trailblazer, setting new standards for sound and graphics whilst influencing many of the demos which would follow in various different, sometimes subtle ways and playing a significant role in kickstarting the trend for design-based demos that has continued to this day.
The first demo I remember seeing on Commodore’s wonder machine the Amiga was Doctor Mabuse Orgasm Crackings’ Demons Are Forever, running on a display machine at the local independent computer shop and it was something of a revelation compared to what little I and the shop’s other teenage hangers on had seen from the 16-bit generation to date as well. With the Atari ST for example, the graphics had unsurprisingly improved from what we were used to on 8-bit systems but sound hadn’t noticeably moved on at that point.
Demons Are Forever pushed the quality bar upwards by quite a distance with well drawn, colourful graphics, detailed animations, fluid 50FPS sinusoidal movement and an amazing, bespoke Soundtracker module from composer Frog which matched the on screen action well, something that wasn’t commonplace in demos of the time. There were already loads of demos with sprite sinuses so this wasn’t a first – the same developers’ previous release Spaceship did something similar but far less involved, relying on the Amiga’s hardware sprites rather than blitter objects – but Demons Are Forever stood out for beefing up the presentation, offering lots of potential movement patterns for the objects and by having those beautifully drawn transitions between the balls and titular winged creatures.
Because of all that attention to detail, Demons Are Forever is fondly remembered by demo watchers to this day and its influence on the scene at the time can’t be underestimated either; it spawned a couple of fairly direct clones for the Atari ST and C64 for example and was at least a partial template for many demos which followed.
And just because I can, we’ll finish on a bonus video of the aforementioned Spaceship demo from DOC; it was called that because… well, it’s got a whacking great bias relief spaceship scrolling past with hardware sprites swirling around over the top, Amiga rainbows on some of the playfield colours, a starfield in the background and SLL’s excellent “Hymn To Yezz”, a tune I’ve “covered” a couple of times over the years.
Published by Firebird’s Silverbird label for a couple of quid, Matta Blatta is a horizontally scrolling blaster for the Atari 8-bit from developer Shahid Ahmad who previously coded Chimera on a range of platforms. It was released in 1988, which was quite late in the day for the Atari’s market here in the UK so quite a few fans of the machine or indeed shoot ’em ups may not be aware of it; I missed out personally because most of the local shops had already stopped selling Atari 8-bit games by that point and the lack of new releases meant I’d already been enticed away by the C64, copious amounts of new releases and a larger library of software overall.
Matta Blatta is also a surprisingly simple game as well, each level is populated by just one type of enemy with a fixed movement pattern and the player merely has to survive through each onslaught to progress to the next, although actually making it through a wave is tricky though, since the speed of enemy movement doesn’t leave much in the way of reaction time. The collision detection is definitely on the side of the invading forces as well with little mercy being shown to the player’s craft when it gets too close to the enemies or their bullets, something that other games in the genre tend to be far more generous about.
That stinginess means Matta Blatta can often be irritatingly tough, but at the same time it’s not ridiculously difficult in the way that something like Firefleet is. There isn’t much variety to the gameplay – not necessarily a problem to my mind, but that can sometimes be off-putting for others – but, along with existing games already doing the same sort of thing better, Zeppelin’s Zybex came out the same year and offers far more meat on the bone for just a quid extra. Matta Blatta probably won’t be anybody’s first choice when thinking of something to destroy on the Atari 8-bit, but there is still some fun to be had from the frantic manoeuvring and wanton, sometimes desperate blasting it offers.