Top 10 Atari ST indie games.

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By ChrisTOS

The Atari ST had it’s large share of shareware, freeware and PD games. They were generally found in the PD pages of Atari ST magazines and were collectively known as public domain. Nowadays we call those indie games (from independent) and I prefer that term since it’s broader than all the other terms combined and pretty much explains them. One term to bind them…

So before I start the list, let’s set some ground rules. First of all the list didn’t come from any collective effort. It’s not even comprehensive since only a small fraction of the Indie  games available have been played by the authors of lowres.  Also the games included are the ones that appeal more to the author, which sadly means that you will not find any RPG’s.

So let’s start the countdown.

10. Sinister Developments Centipede. Centipede is a well known game from the arcades that made it to the ST thanks to the efforts of Sinister Developments. There is not much to say about the game other than that it’s nicely drawn, super smooth and with nice sound effects. Unfortunately there is a small logic flaw in the game that might spoil the fun but I had to know it was there to spot it. Still Sinister have given us some great arcade conversions and they are worth a place in the list. Even if it is the last.

9. Holocaust. Holocaust is a 2d vertical scrolling shoot’ em up game.  It features many levels, smooth scrolling, good looking graphics, nice music or samples as well as animations  and a little of voice narrative -with the use of a speech.tos the st speech trademark- to promote the story. Did I mention everything runs in 1 VBL?  The enemy waves don’t shoot at you, which is a good thing, but issues such as the high level of difficulty and the total lack of information such as  shield, score etc award it only the 9th place.  Still the game outshines most commercial efforts and is very polished for an indie game.

8.  Entombed. A Rick Dangerous clone. You are an Egyptian trapped in an Egyptian tomb and you need to escape. So pick up your bow and arrows and keys, avoid the pikes and the fires and the waters, solve the insiduous puzzles enjoy the beautiful graphics and the simplistic sound effects and whatever you do don’t forget to have someone call you after a few hours of gameplay to get you back to reality. There are five tombs, one worse than the one before.

7.  Frantick. In 1993 Atari released it’s ill fated Atari jaguar console. The best game for it was Tempest 2000 but the ST version of Tempest is better left in the bad memories of those who bought it. So why this introduction? Is Frantick a Tempest clone? No, not quite but I bet it was inspired from that. You see the gameplay is similar… only in 2d. The enemy waves come to you from up and down and are strikingly similar to those in Tempest. There are power ups, bombs and bonus stages, great samples and the music fits the frantick gameplay. Though it doesn’t induce Jeff Minter’s epileptical seizures, Dave Munsie comes close with one of the best arcade shooters on the ST. With 4 game modes and 50 waves there’s a lot of gameplay time.

6.  Grandad 2 – In search of Sandwitches. Grandad 2 is a beautiful graphic adventure. You are an old person who lost his sandwiches and is trying to find them. The humour is excellent, the main character is the stereotype of the grumpy smelly old man, the puzzles are interesting and the graphics are beautiful.. but using the joystick to control an adventure game kind of feels wrong. There is very little sound in the game but the game is one of  the best written adventures made for the ST. The game was well worth the shareware fee Mr Ian Scott demanded.

We are almost ready to move to the top 5.  Now things get difficult😀

5. Crapman. Pacman has been one of the most remade games in the history of videogaming. It’s never been done so well in the Atari 16/32 platform at least. Crapman was part of the Synergy mega demo and it inherits all the achievements of the demoscene. Smooth 8-directional  scrolling, constant framerate and great level design make this excellent dot eating game.

4. Cybernetix: What happens when Defender meets Asteroids? A very smooth game (but with some drops in the framerate when a lot of sprites appear), beautiful graphics and lovely sound effects. Quite a few types of enemies, a lot of sectors to clear and a more than reasonable 5 quid asked by Mr Paul Andrews and Mr Rodney Smith.  The game is fast paced and of excellent quality. Plus you don’t lose your power ups when you lose a life. How cool is that?

3. Superfly: All games by Reservoir Gods deserve a place in the top 10, but this one is probably the most addictive one of them all. Simplistic graphics, beautiful music, great looking sprites and more modes to play in this one button avoid em up then you can count, make for an amazing gaming experience. Go save Kylie from Dr Evil, from water to air to space and open all the secrets.

2. Starball, a pinball game where you have to shoot monsters and ships using the ball.  It’s a game that combines the usual gameplay of a pinball game with forcefields, space stations and minigames. If you ever wanted to know how it is to play space invaders and arkanoid with pinball rackets then this is the game for you. Starball will run on all ataris and will make use of the extra hardware. Beautiful graphics and sounds, fast action and lots of hours will be spent on it. Only complaint is the ball physics. It feels like Newton’s first, second and third laws don’t work the same way in starball’s universe.

1. Llamatron: Once upon a time there was in the arcades a game called Robotron. Jeff Minter prefers Llamas so you get to go on a shooting rampage with your friendly neighborhood llama. So pick up the powerups and beasties, kill everything else, finish all the levels and get your epilepsy medicines. The game can be played with one or two joysticks just like the original Robotron. Llamatron was probably the most succesful shareware game ever released for the ST. Jeff Minter has said he received thousands of letters, and while not all the people payed the shareware fee a significant portion did. 5 pounds well spent.

Llamatron

A random level from llamatron

So, this is our list. What’s yours? Please send us your comments and your favourite indie ST games.

11 Responses to “Top 10 Atari ST indie games.”

  1. Dma-Sc Says:

    Glad to see Entombed featured in this list, i loved playing that one.
    I must also agree on Sinister’s Centipede, superb clone.

    I would have personally inserted “Hector vs Mutant Vampire Tomatoes from Hell” in this list, i remember it as an excellent plateformer : http://eab.abime.net/showpost.php?p=686936&postcount=125

    In retrospect, ST Magazine really did a good job at selecting PD games for their disks : http://www.abandonware-magazines.org/affiche_mag.php?mag=6&page=4
    Disks at : http://stmagazine.free.fr/archives/56_127.php
    I must thanks them for that too (i mean, along their nice demoscene section).😉

  2. 505 Says:

    Indeed, Starball is amazing, full of surprises. Regarding crapman, for me especially the music of crapman makes it stand out so much. The gameplay of crackman might be even more entertaining🙂
    However, in my eyes, Dynabuster+ by .tSCc. belongs on the top of this list, too. Also, Donkey Island surely would have had the potential as well, but wasn’t finished. Other “independent” games that come to my mind were Pooz, Chuchu Rocket and Creams minesweeper clone. In ST highres I used to play “Fussball ST” a lot – it’s a soccer manager and very addictive for a reason I never understood😉

  3. 505 Says:

    erm.. midimaze!🙂

  4. CiH Says:

    A great articIe and I wouldn’t generally disagree with the majority of your choices but..

    Frantick at number 7. was an interesting choice. The one thing I remember when I tried and reviewed it for a Maggie issue back in the dim and distant days were my experiences with a somewhat flawed pre-registration version.

    The game was fast and furious and over all too quickly for your one life that you had with the crippleware edition. In my view at the time, the gameplay’s steep learning cliff acted as a disincentive to register and get to know the game better.

    Dave Munsie redeemed himself with his next game, Asteroidia, which was a cool free-ranging Asteroids clone with a few extras and a nice virtual playing area which didn’t feel confined. Maybe one I’d put in my personal top ten😉

    • ChrisTOS Says:

      Yes, well the version 1.1 (I think) that I played is much more forgiving than what you described. First of all you start with 5 lives and 5 or so bombs while the first few levels are much easier. The game is on my todo video list so maybe I’ll update the post with a vid to show you what I mean. Generally I found out that it’s not a much liked game indeed though I am set for another go anytime. Check the STOT thread where we played the game:
      http://atari-forum.com/viewtopic.php?f=53&t=17173

  5. ggn Says:

    Ooops, I forgot to mention Herman (st format 63), the awesome boulderdash clone/mutation. If you forgive the scrolling, there’s a very cool game in there🙂

  6. ggn Says:

    Hmm, okay, my longish reply to this thread probably either hasn’t appeared yet, while the 2nd reply did. I guess I’ll just split what I wrote in more small parts🙂

    Original post follows:

    Okay, I mostly agree with the stuff Chris posted above (after all, he did ask for my input while writing this article ;)), I’d like to seize the opportunity to suggest a few maybe not well known PD (just hate the terms “freeware” and “indie”, I’m a 80s-90s guy :D) games I played over the years.

    So here I am now, with a big stack of ST User/ST Format coverdisks in front of me, let’s see…

    Nova (st user june 90 – http://www.zhell.co.uk/stuser/userjl90.zip): Wow, the first coverdisk I ever got, the label’s very worn out from so much usage, and what a great game inside! Simple shooter, easy to pick up and play, but becomes very tricky quickly! My brother woke up one day in 2003 and decided to port it to the pc (http://www.pouet.net/prod.php?which=10218)!

    Maze (st user oct 91 – http://www.zhell.co.uk/stuser/usroc91b.zip): I wasn’t fortunate enough to play Midi maze back in the early 90s, but this one’s pretty good as well! Features blazing fast 3D and a horizontal split screen mode so 2 players could play on the same machine!

    Grav (same coverdisk as above): Everything by the magician programmer Martin Brownlow is worthy of a mention as far as I’m concerned (hey, masterpieces like MDK 1 don’t come by so easily you know!). This is probably the first game he published and it’s a cute thrust clone! The second one was better in most ways, but this is good enough as well.

    Chain reaction (st user aug 92 – http://www.zhell.co.uk/stuser/userau92.zip): Spent a ridiculous amount of time in my youth with this🙂. Grow your atoms in a grid, when they get too big, they explode and expand. If they touch other big atoms they explode too. Utter crap description, but it’s good multiplayer mayhem (and the AI’s pretty good too :))

    Zap (st user may 91 – http://www.zhell.co.uk/stuser/usermy91.zip): Tricky (and tiny!) shooter by the author that gave us Phraqtal🙂

    The last arcadian (st format 42 – http://stos.atari.st/stf.htm): A really nice 3D shooter!

    Abombinaball (st format 47): A nice puzzler featuring a ball jumping around collecting bombs in a specific odrder (and with countdown timer to boot!). Brownlow wrote this, so I’m biased😉

    Prensorium (st format 51): Guide your cute small tank around corridors and kill enemies in this top-down 2D realtime puzzler!

    Skulls (st format 53): Minesweeper clone that utilises the STE hardware. Good enough for me🙂

  7. ggn Says:

    Tri-heli 2 (http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-tri-heli-ii_10689.html): I think this is a port of an 8-bit game but I can’t remember the title right now. Anyhooooo…. You guide a helicopter, throw around bombs to dig the ground and gain access to diamonds. But watch out for airplanes shooting dirt that can restore the ground and even trap you inside! Oh yeah, check out the authors’ other games in Atarimania, they’re all cool.

    Archon 3.5k (http://pouet.net/prod.php?which=29684): Nuff said, it’s Archon, and it’s been ported to 3.5k by Delta Force! Enjoy🙂

    Grav 2 (st format 40): What I wrote about grav 1 above, only more awesome!

    Chaos (http://dbug.kicks-ass.net/dbug/ check out patches page): A port of a turn-based spectrum game with wizards casting spells at each other, trying to wipe out the rest. Priceless if only for the samples!

    Chain reaction (http://atarilegend.com/games/games_detail.php?game_id=4530): Not to be confused with the game above, this is a very nice columns conversion to the ST.

    Well, there you have it – it wasn’t 10 games and I can’t rate games as “top” that easily! Also, I probably forgot tons here, I might be back with future posts. But I remember having fond memories of them, so I simply hope people will discover some hidden gems in here!

  8. I have been a busy ox. Again. | The Grunting Ox Says:

    […] port done as well and to this day many regard the game as something of a classic (as you can read here).  Definitely Llamatron was the most popular thing we did on the 16 bit […]

  9. Sauron Says:

    One game I rarely see mentioned in lists like this is Droid by Miles Lord. I used to play this over and over again. While certain parts of it felt incomplete and it was possible to get stuck in a certain spot, it was extremely well done and certainly rivaled many commercial games in its overall quality.

  10. ggn Says:

    I finally remembered the atari 800 game that Tri-heli 2 was based upon and I thought I’d post it here😛

    http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-buried-bucks_844.html

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