"Peace is merely war at a snail's pace."
Anon (in the gutter)
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST
Jeff Minter's occasional newsletter
- or -
Why we haven't published any more shareware lately...
by Jeff Minter
It's been a very long time since I last wrote one of these,
longer still since last time I wrote on this here Mac. This is
the same Mac I wrote the first NOTBs on years ago, now retired
from active service at Llama HQ (replaced by a sleek new Centris)
and living here with me in West Wales. This display used to seem
so high-rez but now it seems rather sad in comparison to my usual
1280x1024 mono (on the TT) or 1024x768 256-colour (on my PC).
Nonethtless I do love this little Mac, and it's a testament to
the quality of Apple's design that it is still a very usable
system for wordprocessing now, even with only 1 Mb and no HD. The
keyboard's still excellent, the mouse is built like a tank and
just feels much more solid than the average ST or PC mouse.
The last time I wrote any kind of newsletter was when I released
the demo version of Hardcore and asked for comments on the game
design. Hardcore should have been finished ages ago, but there
has been rather a large interrupt in the form of Atari Corp., who
have been keeping me busy writing thangs on their two new
beasties, Falcon and Jaguar. Llamazap on the Falcon should be
released any time now, it's in pre-production now and they had
final code off me ages ago. The Jaguar project is well advanced -
more on this later.
A year and a bit ago now, I was invited to Atari UK to look at
something new. That something was a couple of machines that at
first I thought were just STs, but a bit darker than usual, with
their lids off and Richard (Richard Miller of Atari UK, ED.)
hanging over the innards with a soldering iron. These turned out
to be the first Falcons, on their way out to a show in Germany.
Atari wondered whther I'd be interested in doing a game on one of
these new beasts, and that sounded like a rather spiffy idea to
So, for the past year I have been deeply busy doing a game for
Atari on the actually rather excellent new machine called the
Falcon. The new game is called Llamazap and incorporates gameplay
elements from Attack of the Mutant Camels, Llamatron, Sheep in
Space, Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time,
Gridrunner, Abductor, and Subgame 1 out of Iridis Alpha... not to
mention Scramble, Robotron, R-Type, Defender and Asteroids. The
main format is a horizontally scrolling shoot-'em-up, bi-
directionally scrolling like in Defender. The play area is
approximately 30 screens long and 2 screens high - the display
also scrolls vertically as you move your ship up and down. The
game format is based on the Attack of the Mutant Camels theme -
that is you have certain large targets on each level to eliminate
before you can progress to the next. Of course these targets
don't just sit there waiting for you to dish it out; they spawn
projectiles and myriads of menacing meanies bent on kicking your
butt from here to Upper Goat Lane, Norwich. On many levels the
nasty alien vermin also take time to abduct dolphins, neurally
rewire cows into cybernetic killing machines, transform innocent
and fluffy sheep into half-spaceship, half ovine kamikazes, and
manifest in the form of giant DMs to stomp on innocent goats.
You, as the hard llama out of Llamatron, get to leap into your
choice of three traditionally horribly beweaponed spaceships and
fly off to invade their space and show them who's really boss.
This is the first game where I've actually had a real graphic
artist, musician and DSP programmers work with me, so it looks
and sounds quite a bit better than my games usually do. Peachy
256-colour graphics throughout, including the largest camel
sprite ever to be seen in any video game, anywhere, in the entire
Universe, on level 13. Wicked DSP sonics in a variety of styles
from rock to rave. There are 25 levels in all; there are five
themed zones with four main levels each, and a Transition Level
separating each zone. The transition levels require the furry
hero to leave his craft and battle the aliens directly; this
provided me with a nice opportunity to reacquaint the player with
such old friends as Llamatron, Metegalactic Llamas Battle at the
Edge of Time and Gridrunner. All done with the usual dose of
Yakly strangeness and continual reference to excellent beasties.
The game's been finished for a while now, although it took
longer than I expected to get it past Atari's extremely rigorous
game testers, who would come up with stuff like: "If I play the
game for 1000 hours, then, on level 14 I rescue a llama while I'm
wearing my purple tank-top, and it's Tuesday and John Skruch just
ran out of Camels, and I go up the screen reciting the Lord's
Prayer backwards, press all three FIRE buttons and shout "Ning!
Ning! Ning!" at the top of my voice, then the score appears three
pixels to the right of where it should actually be. Sometimes.'
Anyway, it's done now, and Atari are printing the manuals and
making the keypad overlays an' stuff and it should be our Real
Soon now. Honest.
Genealogy of a Jaguar
I've been destined for Jaguar for a long time, or that's how it
seems to me at least. Long-time readers of Llamasoft newsletters
will understand why, but for anyone who doesn't know, I'll give
the history of the Jaguar console.
Way back in 1987, I was invited to Konix to see the prototype of
a revolutionary new game console, to be called the Multisystem.
At that time, the Multisystem was an exciting design, with 8086
CPU supported by a fast blitter and a 256-colour byte-mapped
display. There was also a DSP for audio. One of the most
intriguing aspects of the Konix was the design of the console
itself: It was shaped like the controller of an aircraft or
spaceship, and cried out for some good 3D flying/driving games.
In due course I got a development system and it was agreed that
I'd do an advanced version of Attack of the Mutant Camels on the
system. This was about 70% completed when Konix ran out of cash
and the whole project failed. This was a shame, as I'd been
working for months and didn't get paid, and the concept and
hardware was good and might have held back the Japanese tide in
Europe; Sega and Nintendo weren't as well established back then.
Oh well, I hated bloody 8086 code anyway.
Then, in 1991, Atari UK approached me to do some work on a new
console. Somewhere along the way Flare mutated in Flare II
(imaginative name change, guys) and created a new beast, this
time called Panther. I submitted a game design to Atari and while
they pondered spent a few weeks getting to know the Panther. This
time the CPU was a good ol' 68000 and in no time I had screens of
scrolling backdrops and herds of bouncing antelopes leaping
gracefully across them (well what else d'you expect from me?).
The system had a powerful sprite engine, able to generate
hundreds of hardware sprites in a selection of pixel depths, and
do naughty things to them. Unfortunately just as I was starting
to have fun Atari decided to pull the plug on the Panther,
muttering something indistinct about a more advanced console
being developed and pissing me off as yet again I had a perfectly
good console snatched out from underneath me in mid-game.
So I settled back down to doing some more shareware, and then
the Falcon came along and soon I was busy with Llamazap.
Occasionally I'd go to a devcon and hear something mentioned
about a mysterious thing called Jaguar - evidently the 'more
advanced console' promised at the demise of the Panther. I asked
Richard Miller, Atari's VP of R&D and trouble from way back,
whether the Jaguar (which may or may not exist, I added, as it
was still Top Secret at that time) would be fast. He just laughed
and said that speed wouldn't be a problem.
Guess what? He was absolutely right...
Now I can't tell you a lot about the Jaguar, I had to sign NDAs
about NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements, ED.) before I could even
get near the beast, but I can give you my general impressions of
what it's like. Atari invited me to Sunnyvale for a few weeks to
write some demos for Jaguar at the start of the year, and while I
was there I had an excellent time, met some most excellent dudes,
hung out with Richard for the first time for years, and got
bruises on my jaw from where it kept gitting the floor as I got
more familiar with Jaguar.
I arrived at Sunnyvale as a complete novice on Jaguar. I'd seen
it at a devcon a couple of weeks earlier and read the manual, but
the first time I sat down to code one was my first day at
Sunnyvale. It was love at first byte. I was expecting quite a
steep learning curve - the Jag's an advanced beast, a long way
from yer humble ST, full of multiprocessor RISC tech and more
copro's than you can shake a knobbly stick at - but within two or
three days I was up and away. It's just so nice to code.
Everything does just what you'd like and is set up exactly how
you'd like it to be. As for the speed, well, if coding your
standard ST is like riding a pushbike, coding Jaguar is like
being strapped to a cruise missile. It kicks. It burns. You tryu
and slow it down and the little sucker just keept right on going.
It does extremely, deeply naughty things to bitmaps of all sozes.
It never runs out of colours. One cannot foam at the mouth or
rant dementedly enough about this hardware. We are talking full-
on, all out, X-rated technolust here.
Some of you may be thinking you've seen this all before; the Yak
rants and raves about some new console and then it goes down and
is never heard of, and besides, who are Atari anyway in these
days of Sega and Nintendo?
Sega and Nintendo are powerful opponents for Atari, it's true.
However, Atari have the big advantage of being the first player
in the 32/64 bit game. Sega and Nintendo are committed to their
current systems for at least a couple more years (Sega have a 32-
bit system, "Saturn", in development, but are unlikely to release
it until their own Mega CD Megadrive bolt-on has had a decent
innings, and despite Nintendo's much-publicised link-up with
Silicon Graphics, they're only promising hardware in the arcades
in 1994 and no home console until late 1995). There is also the
new [Panasonic] 3DO console soon to be released, and it certainly
does look quite nice, but the launch price anticipated - around
$ 600 - is pretty high for a game console. They are in danger of
Archimedesing themselves - that is, producing something that
everyone agrees is really jolly nice but which is just that bit
too expensive to actually buy. Atari's projected launch price of
$ 200 is at least on the same planet as Sega and Nintendo's
current offerings, and the hardware is every bit as powerful as
3DO's (if not more so). Admittedly it doesn't have a CD, but if
you really want one you;ll be able to bolt one on and it'll still
be piles cheaper than 3DO.
A Storm In Cyberspace
You are no doubt all aware that I do love my Williams games,
especially Defender and Robotron. Well, first the bad news: my
Jaguar game is not based on any of the classic Williams arcade
games. However, there is one non-Williams game which is just as
good - and which has never been convincingly converted to any
other format. It's a game which I used to play most nights with
the lights off and fast, loud music playing; a game which has one
of the most fiendish addictive hooks I've ever encountered. Steve
Woz, founder of Apple Corp., used to have one in his games room
alongside his Defender machine (and at the time he lived on a
ranch with a herd of 40 llamas - such excellent taste).
The game to which I refer, if you hadn't guessed it already, is
Tempest. For those not ancient enough to remember this excellent
game, I shall explain. Tempest was an extremely fast-paced 3D
shoot-'em-up implemented on Atari's colour vector graphics arcade
system. Graphically Tempest is absolutely unique - pure Techno
(and after 6 million identical versions of R-Tpe rampant on all
formats for the last million years, I guarentee you'll be
refreshed). Imagine a neon web suspended in virtual space,
extending down into the screen. You are a small yellow kind of
claw-shaped thingie and you can move around on the top of the
web. You fire rapid-fire shots, which look like tiny flowers,
down the channels of the Web. Your enemies appear as tiny dots
off the bottom of the Web; they land on it and swarm up it
towards you. Should they reach the top before you zap them, they
walk along the edge until they find you, whereupon they grab you
and carry you off to their lair at the bottom of the Web, where
they presumably do a lot of nasty stuff to you because you never
come back out again. They also find plenty of time to fire at you
and even electrify sections of the Web to fry you at a distance.
Each Web is a different geometric shape, some are connected
allowing you to walk a full circuit around the top edge, some are
open, meaning that it is possible to get trapped in a corner.
Should you zaop all the meanies in a level, you zoom rapidly down
through the Web and then soar off through space in a tidy little
hyperspace sequence, until eventually you arrive at the next Web
and alight on its top edge, whereupon the assault begins anew.
There have been efforts to transfer the Tempest idea to other
formats but they have largely been unsuccessful. There was a game
called Web Warp on the Vectrex, which had nice Web graphics but
laced the pace and gameplay of proper Tempest. There was Axis
Assassin on the old 8-bit Atari (and C-64, ED.), which tried to
look more like Tempest buty which failed to captivate, due to a
slow update rate and pixels the size of Lego bricks to represent
objects which should be formed of straight, clean vectors. There
was a version done years ago on the ST by Atari UK; like the
Robotron version also perpetrated by them at the same time, it's
best to draw a discreet veil over this... thing. Suffice to say
that if Dave Theurer (the very excellent designer of both Tempest
and Missile Command) were dead he'd doutbless be spinning in his
Anyway, Tempest has finally made the transition, got a bit
prettier on the way, and is now alive and well and living in West
Wales. A new generation of fingers hover over the Superzapper
button awaiting the choicest moment to unleash total destruction.
A new generation of buttocks clench at the sound of Pulsars
Of course I'm not just going to convert Tempest to the Jag raw
and leave it at that. Jaguar's so powerful most of the hardware
would still be asleep in bed if all it had to do was run basic
Tempest. No, there's plenty of enw stuff, even on the basic game.
(Like Def II on the ST, Tempest will come with the option to play
the original Tempest game, in vector or enhanced modes, or play
Tempest 2000, with graphical and gameplay enhancements). A
variety of new enemies and weapons are available, there's some
particle system effects you just have to see to believe, and you
can have a Droid like in Llamatron while you learn to play. There
will be some extended warp sequences with bonus games in them,
and a whole bunch of other new powerups and stuff. I did think
about having a solid Web but decideed against it, as the neon web
is so characteristic of Tempest; if you rendered it solid it
would look like a bit of drainpipe. Neon stays, even if it does a
few things the original Web never did.
Basically if you like (a) really fast shoot-'em-ups, (b) the
particle system effects in Trip-A-Tron, and (c) drop dead graphic
effects, better start saving up for you Jaguar now...
I've mentioned before that I'm no longer alone in the lightsynth
project; myself, the very excellent Dr. Ian Bennet out of Inmos,
Master of the Splines and Keeper of the Vertex Normals, and the
quite unnaturally talented hardware designer Dave Japp out of
Division, makers of rightenous VR hardware, have all teamed up to
form a company called the Virtual Light Co., (and, I might add,
called the Virtual Light Co for over a year before a certain
William Gibson published his latest book Virtual Light,
excellent!) with the avowed intention of using naughty hardware
to produce an absolutely spanking light synthesizer.
The Virtual Light project is proceeding steadily. VLC's
Transputer-based system has been doing the rounds of clubs and
raves, and in the last year we have worked at gigs with The
Shamen, Primal Scream, The Orb and even a couple of dates on
Prince's UK tour. I can't really mention what we're doing at the
moment, as we're still discussing our plans with certain people;
but if things go well, there will be a sequel to Trip-A-Tron
created by the Virtual Light Co. which you just wouldn't
With all this stuff happening there isn't really a lot of time
for me to do any Shareware at the moment. I haven't gone off the
idea, and I expected that if things get a bit quieter at some
future time I'll do some more stuff, maybe on the Falcon this
time (a 4-player Falcon version of Llamatron would be quite a
laugh, I think) but I can't promise any new material for a little
while. The PC version of Revenge of the Mutant Camels is about
half done, but the guy doing the conversion is at Uni at the
moment and naturally his studies have to take priority. He's
working on it whenever he gets the chance, so hopefully in a few
months we'll be able to release it.
I'm Off Then
Right, that's it, you've had your lot, you know what we're
doing. I certainly know what I'm doing; I'm off down the pub,
come back, play some Tempest, go to Gatwick, get into a metal
tube, be temporarily suspended 35000 feet above the surface of
the Earth drinking gun and tonics, land on a bit of land
surrounded by wetness, and spend two lovely weeks reclining on
the granular interface between sea and land, ofeering up seldom-
seen parts of the Yakly surface area to the gentle caress of hard
radiation from a thermonuclear reaction eight odd light-minutes
off. Methinks there will be plenty of donkeys and every chance
that they'll do parascending. Excellent.
I'll leabe you with a couple of little lists; remember if you
haven't got a Falcon yet buy one now, and if you value your
sanity start saving for your Jag straightaway, because you'll go
completely insane if you see Tempest 2000 and realise you can't
play it until your fingers bleed. Not that I'm biased towards
Atari or anything, me, oh no siree.
Yak's Top Moments of Recent History
- Getting demo mode 16 on the Jaguar to work and realising what
you could do with it.
- Spending an hour in VR on a state-of-the-art system, in Studio
A at Paisley Park, listening to The Orb on a 10K studio
- When I was learning Jaguar and I'd written this warp effect
that was intended to be strictly non-real-time, and Leonard
said to put it in a realtime loop and see what happened.
- When the first Flippers emerged from the Web and behaved
exactly like real Flippers: Tempest lives again!
- Going flying with Richard in Sunnyvale, and being in exactly
the same position I've been in on various flight simulators,
flying over the Golden Gate Bridge, but actually there in a
- Graphics Demo Mode 20.
- Any one of those times when you're on top of the Web, the
Flippers are marching towards you, there's a Fuseball on the
top rail right next door and you're out of Superzapper - and
the last enemy reaches the top edge and you zoom out of there,
Yak's Top Blasters
- Tempest 2000 (Jaguar); not that I'm biased or bigheaded or
anything, oh no, definitely not, it's not like me.
- Jungle Strike (Sega Magedrive); dubiously gung-ho theme, but
- Pop'n'Twin (SNES); seriously wiggled-out graphics.
- Pinball Dreams/Fantasies (Amiga); classic pinball with good
- Lemmings 2 (You name it); ski-ing lemmings. Excellent!
- Starfox (SNES); super FX ain't no Jaguar, but it'll do for
- Street Fighter II (SNES): don't get me wrong, I hate beat-em-
ups, EXCEPT when I'm a large green beastie with a wicked head-
Take care, catch ya on the Flipside...
-- YAK 30/09/93
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.