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Something for Nothing

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 persona.

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). Right? Wrong!

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!

This 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 machine.

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 some interesting graphical effects, it also suffers from occasional screen update problems. However, in general they are not too detrimental to enjoyment or play.

[Screen-shot: Welcome to Pac-Man for GEM]

[Screen-shot: Pac-Man for GEM in action]

 

Summary

Name:

Pac-Man for GEM

Author:

Mario Becroft

URL:

http://gem.win.co.nz/mb/atarisw/Pac-Man.html  

Status:

Freeware

 

BoinkOut2
[Screen-shot: BoinkOut2 welcome screen]

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&
hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&selm=294%40next.com&
rnum=5
)
.

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

Being a rather nice little BreakOut game, it was shipped with every NeXT machine that went out, making it a somewhat famous game in certain circles.

[Screen-shot: BoinkOut on a NeXT machine]

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 while, test.lvl, only contains two levels (an example file set).

[Screen-shot: BoinkOut2 in action]

Summary

Name:

BoinkOut2

Author:

Dan Ackerman

URL:

www.netset.com/~baldrick/boinkout2.html

Status:

Freeware

 

Elite TNK
[Screen-shot: Elite TNK in action]

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.

[Screen-shot: Elite TNK welcome screen]

Summary

Name:

Elite TNK

Author:

Christian Putzig

URL:

http://home.t-online.de/home/christian.putzig/

Status:

Freeware

 

Asteroids for GEM
[Screen-shot: Asteroids for GEM in action]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 be!

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. This works 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 the mouse, 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.

[Screen-shot: Welcome to Asteroids for GEM]

Summary

Name:

Asteroids for GEM

Author:

Mario Becroft

URL:

http://gem.win.co.nz/mb/atarisw/asteroids.html

Status:

Freeware

 

GEM Peaks
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.

[Screen-shot: GEM Peaks welcome screen]

[Screen-shot: GEM Peaks in action]

Summary

Name:

GEM Peaks

Author:

Christian Putzig

URL:

http://home.t-online.de/home/christian.putzig/GEMPeaks/
GEMPeaks_eng.html

Status:

Freeware

 

GEM NetHack

[Screen-shot: Welcome to GEM NetHack]

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?
q=gem+nethack&start=20&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8
&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 character graphics!
OVERVIEW
--------
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 different icons.

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.

[Screen-shot: GEM NetHack in action]

Summary

Name:

GEM NetHack

Author:

Warwick Allison
Current Maintainer: Christian "Marvin" Bressler

URL:

http://user.cs.tu-berlin.de/~gaston/nethack/

Status:

Freeware

 

STUNE
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.

[Screen-shot: STUNE title screen]

[Screen-shot: STUNE in action]

Summary

Name:

STUNE

Authors:

Jens Syckor, Thomas Huth and Matthias Alles

URL:

www.uni-ulm.de/~s_thuth/stune/

Status:

Freeware

 

Triple Yahoo
[Screen-shot: Welcome to Triple Yahoo]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 badly.

[Screen-shot: Triple Yahoo in action]

Summary

Name:

Triple Yahoo

Author:

Stuart Denman

URL:

www.umich.edu/~archive/atari/Falcon/Games/triyahoo.zip

Status:

Shareware

 

GEMagnetic

[Screen-shot: GEM Magnetic in action]

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 (www.if-legends.org/~msmemorial/games.html/pawn.html) was just 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 Pawn 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 work.

[Screen-shot: GEM Magnetic welcome screen]

Summary

Name:

GEMagnetic

Author:

Dan Ackerman

URL:

Status:

Freeware

 

GEMTrek
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.

[Screen-shot: GEM Magnetic welcome dialog]

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 vertically aligned!

[Screen-shot: Placing your ships in GEMTrek]

HA! One less Klingon ship threatening my space. Unfortunately I lost two of my ships getting him...

[Screen-shot: GEM Magnetic in action]

Summary

Name:

GEMTrek

Authors:

Jurgen and Uwe Holtkamp

URL:

www.holger-herzog.de/run-software/download.html

Status:

Freeware (formerly Shareware)


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 appear.

Useful links

 

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #9, October 2002

 
Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine