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”.

Watching PasIntro (Atari 8-bit)

If you write a new high-level compiler for an 8-bit system, what do you do in order to promote it? Well in the case of Mad Pascal for the Atari 8-bit, the developer was Tebe of Mad Team so the most obvious way for him to showcase what his shiny new utility is actually capable of was always going to be to create a demo with it. The result is PasIntro and, considering it’s not running at flat out assembled code speeds, the results are surprisingly impressive.

There are two routines included, a large twister and some Kefrens bars. The latter is somewhat anaemic – I’m assuming it’s actually rendering everything to a back buffer over multiple frames rather than racing the raster and drawing a new bar on each scanline as it’s about to be displayed like these routines would normally do – but it still works reasonably well despite that. Where PasIntro shines visually however is the large, colourful twister routine which looks very smooth and has an independently-moving grid effect behind it which is a very neat touch.

But the biggest selling point for me personally is the bit that wasn’t written in Pascal, the soundtrack from Wieczor of Lamers which starts playing as the demo’s pre-calculation begins and continues behind both of the effects as they cycle through their presets. It really does have to be up there amongst my all-time favourite pieces of POKEY music and adds to the experience as a whole.

Watching Onedimensional (Atari 8-bit)

Running over last weekend was the latest edition of the Atari-centric Silly Venture party which has spent nearly two decades bringing fans of all things Atari together to party, chat and do demo-ish things; there were some great releases over the various Atari platforms as always, but I found myself drawn to one particularly old school demo which took part in the 16K Atari 8-bit competition. It’s called Onedimensional, was coded by Shadow of Noice and is basically a 1980s-style raster intro which features a four colour logo parked at the top of the screen, a double font scrolling message trundling past at the bottom and industrial quantities of raster bars dancing like nobody is watching between them.

This really couldn’t be described as pushing the Atari 8-bit’s boundaries and Shadow himself commented that it’s a “compo filler” in the scroller, but regular readers will know I love me some raster bars so a new production that does lots of variations on that particular theme is always going to catch my eye. The graphics are reasonable and do what they’re there for – Rocky’s logo is well drawn but part of me wants a teensy bit more colour – whilst the music was composed by Tobikomi (who appears to be a newcomer to the POKEY by the look of it) and is quirky but fun, suiting the on-screen action well especially since all of the effect and logo colour changes have been synchronised to it.

To be honest, I resisted the urge to do something along similar lines to this for about a decade – even when I finally gave in there were excuses like using 256 colours in MD201701 to hide behind rather than just going hell for leather with a no-nonsense, WSYNC-powered colour splitter – because the potential backlash from hardened Atarians to something like that is, quite frankly, terrifying! But Shadow made of sterner stuff than me and ran with it, doing every solid job overall especially when considering the small memory footprint he was working within.