Dan Ackerman and Matthew Bacon unveil
some classic GEM games
Before becoming a serious Atari
user, I always associated the term "computer game" with the likes of
Xenon, Kick Off 2 and Zool. However, following the purchase of my
high resolution monitor, computer games took on a whole new
With only two colours available on screen
(black and white), you could be forgiven thinking that games designed
for ST-High would
lack depth (no fancy explosions or parallax scrolling here).
Modern console and PC games are often
slated for looking great but being terrible to play. However, games
designed for ST-High are - more often than not - the complete
opposite and oozing with playability. The other great thing about
these games is that they are often 100% GEM compatible (hence the label
GEM games). What does this mean? Well, it means you can still play a quick game of Pac-Man
while writing a letter. Cool or what?!
Over to you Dan...
First off, let me be 100%
honest with you. The slowest low end Atari system that I use on a
regular basis is in fact a TT030 with 20 MB of memory and a Nova graphics
card. This may not seem slow or low end to some of you, however compared
to my accelerated machines and emulated systems, it is to me.
I have mentioned this fact so that you
can appreciate and understand the angle from
which I have approached this article. I am
looking towards the future of our platform, not the past. As I watch Aranym and Atari
Coldfire Project (ACP) progressing to the point of
general consumption, I can see new systems that will give us the
ability to run at higher resolutions and speeds undreamt of in the
past. With this in mind, I am confident that the demand for entertainment as well as
productivity will remain, as all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
is where GEM games fit in...
Pac-Man for GEM
Pac-Man for GEM is an ordinary Pac-Man game, similar to the
original. The difference between this and other implementations is
that this one runs in a GEM window on any Atari or compatible
It works in any video mode from two colours right up to true
colour (although extra-low resolutions like 320x200 are not
supported as the game doesn't fit on the screen). It's theoretically
possible to make Pac-Man work on small screens, however, you
would have to
create smaller versions of the game graphics (but it is probably
more trouble than it is worth - Ed). Pac-Man also includes
sampled sounds effects (all user adjustable) and variable speed.
Pac-Man for GEM is controlled by using the arrow keys on the keyboard.
I prefer a good joystick for this sort of game, but you get used to the keyboard very quickly.
The distribution package has a level set with ten levels (and new
levels can easily be made by editing the level file) and two graphic tile sets. The levels
are all new and are only reminiscent of the original Pac-Man levels.
While Pac-Man features
graphical effects, it also suffers from occasional screen update problems.
However, in general
they are not too detrimental to enjoyment or play.
BoinkOut2 is an update of BoinkOut. What's BoinkOut? Well, let me
quote the original author...
BoinkOut is an arcade game that combines elements from
Breakout, Arkanoid and Boink, and plenty of its own tricks. The
basic idea is to destroy all the bricks by hitting them with the
ball, which you control with the paddle, while preventing the ball
from dropping to the bottom of the screen.
BoinkOut was originally written as a programming tutorial for
the US Atari Magazine STart (www.atarimagazines.com/startv5n3/advancedblitter.html). The original article was written by a certain Sam Streeper
who also happened
to work at a little computer company called NeXT, where after he
hadn't been paid for the Atari version, decided to port it to the
machine sitting on his office desk.
Below is a newsgroup
posting on comp.sys.atari.st by Sam Streeper
at the time (http://groups.google.com/groups?q=boinkout+%2Batari&
On a side note, I ported BoinkOut, the blitter game in November STart,
to the NeXT cube, and it runs about the same speed on a 25MHz 68030 as
it runs on a Mega ST with a blitter chip. The comparison is not totally
fair, because my cube is running a lot of other tasks (all graphics are
done by a separate window server process, so there's a _lot_ of inter-
process communication) and the NeXT runs a 256Kbyte screen and uses
floating point instead of integers... Technology buys you a lot, but it
doesn't always buy you speed. Sam Streeper
a rather nice little BreakOut game, it was shipped with every NeXT
machine that went out, making it a somewhat famous game in certain
Now to bring a little bit more trivia into the saga, the
head man at NeXT was a certain Mr. Jobs, who later returned to his
original company and took the helm of Apple computer (bringing along
a number of NeXT employees in the process). As a consequence of
this, a certain game called
BoinkOut - that was written for an Atari magazine - has become apart of the
distribution of Mac OS X Server!
A further twist to this tale
is that there is an old legend that Steve Jobs, when he
worked at Atari, developed the original Breakout in conjunction with
Steve Wozniak (also of Apple fame), but that their implementation was too
complex to put into production...
BoinkOut2 was created since the original BoinkOut for the Atari
didn't understand any of the extended resolutions beyond those of
the ST. Along the
way, several updates and features were added, such as the ability for
users to create their own level sets and configure the appearance
of the program.
The official distribution archive comes with three different level sets
BoinkOut, Bumper and Test. The file, boinkout.lvl, contains 36 levels and contains the original levels from
Mr. Streeper detailed in the STart article. The file, bumper.lvl, contains 24 new levels written by myself
only contains two levels (an example file set).
Elite TNK (The New Kind) is one of the biggest GEM games you will
find. It is a GEM port of Christian Pinder's project, Elite (http://home.clara.net/cjpinder/elite.html).
Elite TNK is a project to reverse engineer the original Elite found
on the BBC Micro and produce an up-to-date version of the game written in C.
Elite, originally written by Ian Bell and David Braben and
published by Acornsoft, is a 3D space combat and trading game which
has been available on just about every platform you can imagine.
This game is truly immense. With multiple galaxies, missions and
a make your own adventure system. Consequently, Elite TNK can keep you busy for
weeks. The controls are complex and will take a while to master, but
this is more of a feature than a complaint.
The game is controlled by a combination of keyboard controls and the mouse/or joystick.
The user has the option to switch from the default mouse control, to a classic Atari joystick if you
are running on Atari hardware. You can also configure the game to use simpler graphics
which help to
speed up the play quite a bit. Included with the game is a hypertext file that goes into the details of
the keys used in the game and configuration options.
The only real problem with this game is it does take a high end
machine to enjoy it. The minimum resolution of 800x600 eliminates
most non-upgraded machines. Note that, with all of Elite TNK's options turned on, you'll need all the processing power you can throw at it. The one
fatal flaw of this game for me is that it doesn't like my TT030 and
refuses to run.
Asteroids for GEM
This implementation of the well known game, Asteroids, uses
authentic-looking scalable vector graphics. The game runs in a GEM
window under any Atari or compatible computer, although an 030
processor is recommended as a minimum for smooth operation. The game
can be controlled from keyboard or mouse and is very configurable. Asteroids scored 6th place in the
1999 GEM game competition organised by MagiC Online and Place 2
This game has three different methods for controlling your ship.
The first method utilizes the arrow keys on the keyboard to manouver your ship
and the space-bar to fire your ships weapon.
well, however, the controls may sometimes seem unresponsive and multiple keys at once will not work. The second method
utilizes the left and right [Shift] keys for rotation, [Control] for thrust and [Alternate] to fire. This
method is a bit more responsive. The third method (and probably the most used) is via
however this can sometimes seem over responsive for my personal taste.
While the initial configuration for your system can take some time to
fine tune, all in all, this is a good solid implementation of the game. The vector graphics work
well and can take those old enough back to the early days of arcade gaming.
What would a list of GEM games be without at least one card game.
I chose to include GEM Peaks, a nice little Solitaire game written by
Christian Putzig for the MagiC Online competition in 1999. The graphics
are crisp and clean, the play is nice and most modern features are
supported. If you are jealous of Solitare found on other
operating systems, this will be a nice and enjoyable option.
What is NetHack?
NetHack is a single player dungeon exploration game that runs on
a wide variety of computer systems, with a variety of graphical and
text interfaces all using the same game engine. Unlike many other
Dungeons & Dragons inspired games, the emphasis in NetHack is on
discovering the detail of the dungeon and not simply killing
everything in sight - in fact, killing everything in sight is a good
way to die quickly. Each game presents a different landscape - the
random number generator provides an essentially unlimited number of
variations of the dungeon and its denizens to be discovered by the
player in one of a number of characters: you can pick your race,
your role, and your gender.
For information on running the program,
see the README that comes with each copy. For details on the game itself, check
out the guidebook at http://nethack.sourceforge.net/v340/Guidebook.html.
GEM NetHack is the source of all modern NetHack's with a GUI. I
imagine that for some people it would come as a surprise, to hear
that such a major game had its boost into modernity on the Atari 16-bit platform. But it's true. It all goes back to the
following post (http://groups.google.com/groups?
&selm=13522%40uqcspe.cs.uq.oz.au&rnum=26) by a programmer named Warwick Allison
in 1993. The revelation is
right there at the top of the post...
No longer do you have to play NetHack with silly
This port of
NetHack gives you full-colour graphics, plus a completely GEM user
interface. Not to be confused with the hackfnt technique of simply
changing the font, THIS version gives you 16x16 pixel, 16 colour
graphic icons for EVERY OBJECT IN THE GAME - that's about 850
That was the start of it all. Aside from a few modern variants of
NetHack, if you play with graphics in windows, you are playing with
these exact same icons. Icons which were created on the Atari
platform for the Atari platform. Warwick has moved on over the years
and the last I heard his TT030 was stored in a closet, but you can
still see his involvement with NetHack at http://trolls.troll.no/warwick/nethack/. While you
are there, take a good look at the screen-shots of the modern implementations on
the site. Recognize the graphics anyone?
In recent years, Christian "Marvin" Bressler has taken over
maintaining the GEM version. Not only has he kept the Atari version up-to-date, he also appears to be somewhat of an expert on
ascensions. If you don't know what "ascension" is, then you
obviously have missed out on playing a great game.
STune is a real-time strategy game for GEM, allowing play versus
the computer or versus another human across a network (a STiK API
compatible networking layer required). To quote various other sites,
if you were envious of Dune 2 on that other platform, then this might
be your fix.
The game is primarily controlled via the mouse, but there are some keyboard shortcuts for some actions.
Once you have played a game or two, the interface will be quite intuitive and easy to use. Some of the
more recent changes have been updated graphics and a level editor for creating your own scenarios.
Triple Yahoo is a clone of Yahtzee,
but with a twist. Instead of only
one score card, the player (or players) have three columns of scores for
each game. Each score column works in a multiple manner. So, a Full
House (three of one kind and two of another) has a base score of 25
points. If it is placed in the first column you receive 25 points,
the second column it is worth 50 points and in the third column it
is worth 75 points after the bonus multiplication is applied. This
allows a bit of strategy in the game. Should I take that three of a kind
in the third column or should I place it in the second column and
hope I have an extra four of a kind later for the extra points.
The game has simple but effective graphics. Not overly done, but
enough to be satisfying. It is also sprinkled with appropriate sound
effects, that heighten the enjoyment of play without distracting. I
definitely have wasted too many hours on this one in the past.
This game is listed as Shareware. I don't have a registered copy and Stuart Denman is now
working for Surreal Software (www.surreal.com). My
wife's attempts to reach him in recent years have failed. So we are stuck with the Shareware
alerts that appear periodically in the game. While annoying they do not disrupt play too
In the mid 80s a small British team of programmers called Magnetic Scrolls
prepared to become the European answer to Infocom. After releasing only seven games, Magnetic Scrolls perished
in the fast growing multimedia age. Nevertheless their thrilling stories, a trailblazing parser and excellent
graphics made them a milestone in adventure game history (www.if-legends.org/~msmemorial/).
Magnetic Scrolls games were one of the pinnacles of text adventures. Complex plots, stunning graphics and
a sometimes irreverent humour made its games a treat to play and sometimes a bear to finish. You may have noticed the bit in the last line
about graphics, yes unlike Infocom, no longer was the game entirely up to the imagination of the player. Many scenes or locations in the game
had graphics. Some of which were quite amazing artwork for their time. In the USA during the 80s, The Pawn
as likely to be on an ST owners shelf as Dungeon Master or Defender of the Crown.
GEMagnetic is a port of Magnetic
(www.if-legends.org/~msmemorial/magnetic.html), an interpreter for running Magnetic Scrolls games.
GEMagnetic allows you to play games such as The
using True Type Fonts and other modern goodies, while
busily working on something more serious. While in general it works,
there are some items missing from this implementation and it is a
bit unstable under emulation. But if you really need a fix for a
Magnetic Scrolls game, this can get you by.
GEMagnetic uses converted game files which can be found from the Magnetic site listed above. The
GEM interface allows configuration of the font and display colors as well as the option to load
the graphics in normal size, double size or skip them all together. Game files are loaded via the menu,
but actual game play is done via the keyboard in the input area of the game window. Graphics are
displayed in a separate graphics window. A version of GDOS is needed as well, but any version should
GEMTrek is a "Battleship" clone with a Star
Trek feel. Its graphics and sounds follow the
Star Trek style, allowing the user to decide
to battle against either the Romulans or Klingons. It runs as a program or as
a desk accessory and is a decidedly nice little diversion.
Once you have selected who you are going
to fight, it is time to place your ships into
the play area by using GEMTrek's simple drag and drop system.
Don't forget to hold down [Shift] if you want your ships to be
HA! One less Klingon ship threatening my space. Unfortunately I
lost two of my ships getting him...
I'm sure some of you are asking yourself
where your favorite GEM game is, and why it isn't in this article. I
know that many of the major games aren't in this article. Space and
time considerations make it impossible to cover 100 plus games in
one article, unless everyone wants to wait until fall of 2004 for me
to finish it up. I therefore tried to pick a variety of games from different
genres and present a small sample of games to whet your appetite. Hopefully
you have seen something in here that has sparked your curiosity and
given you some more wasted hours on your desktop when you should
have been doing more productive tasks.
If you are interested in finding more GEM games and toys, then please stop by GEM Candy
(http://gemcandy.atari-users.net). It's a new community site I've started specializing on the topic. It's new, so there is not
much there at the moment, but I'm looking for more of your help in tracking down these files (before
they disappear) and creating a central place for keeping in contact about new games
and toys (among other things...) as they