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My Wasted Life: The Atari Years, Part 1

Hello, my name's Phil and I'm an Atari ST user. No, it's okay. I've come to accept it now.

Yes, in 1991 I became the proud owner of a 520STFM(a whole half a megabyte of memory!). My parents, in their wisdom, thought I should own a computer that could do sensible educational things like word processing and BASIC, not like one of those flashy, brain-rotting games consoles. So, while other children had their Nintendos and Megadrives, I had this. But like I said, I'm fine with it now. Totally, absolutely fine.

So where am I going with this? Well, basically, the gist of this article is I've decided to dig through the lists of old ST games I never got to play, download them, play them, take a load of screenshots and write flippant and hopefully semi-amusing comments about them. Beginning, in correct chronological order, in 1985. It could be a gleeful journey into nostalgia or soul-destroying saga of sheer bloody-mindedness. We just don't know!

I've set myself a few ground rules for this little exercise. Firstly, I'm going to be ignoring text adventures like Infocom's "A Mind Forever Voyaging", as that would require more commitment than I'm prepared to spend on such a frivoulous article. Secondly, each game has to be one I haven't previously owned or played for any length of time before, which hopefully means I'll be able to avoid boring myself and you about games everyone already knows about. Lastly, I play each game through once and once only until I reach a Game Over or further progress becomes impossible. THAT'S IT. But enough of this waffle, let's get "down to it"!!!

Okay! First up in this digital lucky dip is the thrillingly-titled "Auto Duel".


This is the title screen, which is accompanied by what sounds like a long, slow fart. That's probably a bad omen already. Also there's a strange red thing that keeps poking over the horizon, but I'll let you think up your own amusing sexual connotations about that(which I'm sure you have already, you filthy beasts).

Note that this game was created by Lord British, whom you might be aware is the gigantic living brain behind the groundbreaking but terrifyingly obtuse series of Ultima RPGs. I'm not sure who "Chuckles" is, but I'd like to think he was perhaps a children's entertainer fallen on hard times, employed by the cruel despot British to help carry out his nefarious RPG-designing schemes.


After choosing a suitably intimidating name and messing around with some stats, it's finally time to enter the dangerous and exciting world of...Auto Duel!


Yes, this is really it. Stop laughing. In the early days of the ST, most games looked like this, as many were simply programmed on 8-bit systems and then ported over with minimal tarting up. That stickman with the chunky thighs is me, or rather my avatar, the fearsome road warrior Biggins. As you can see, there's a vast array of facilities for Biggins to patronise, all fairly straightforward, except...AADA? What in God's name is that? Let's find out...


Oh. That's quite dull, then. Still, I quite fancy being a courier, so let's see what's on offer...


Pfft. As if my burgeoning career as an Auto Duellist is going to be stymied by such a trivial setback.


Okay, so maybe it is. Time to go and acquire a vehicle, then.


As I can't seem to find a car showroom anywhere, the assembly plant is our only option. Onward, Biggins!


Now, my vehicle needs a name that will strike fear into the hearts of my enemies. BIGGINSVAGEN it is.


Oops, I seem to've spent all my money on armouring my new van and now have none left for weapons. Ah well, I'm sure once my couriering career takes off I'm going to be raking it in.


As you can see, my stickman Biggins avatar has now been replaced with a tiny red rollerskate, indicating that I now possess vehicular transport. Wheee! At last, I'm finally getting somewhere.


Oh, fuckbuckets.

Never mind. I'll just have to acquire cash in the tried and tested RPG manner of beating up random strangers and then robbing them all their worldy possessions. Except...I still can't actually afford any weapons, so this is going to be interesting.


Upon exiting the town, the game unexpectedly turns into a cross between Ultima and Micro Machines, as you chunter in your incredibly slow and jerky way to the next destination. Presumably the game as sold would've had maps with it, as there is absolutely no hint as to which direction you should be going in.


And oh Jesus, is it boring. Nothing's even attacking me. It's just screen after screen of utter nothingness, going on forever, and ever, and ever...


Look, here's a house. You can't do anything with it, it's just there. I think I'll try running over one of those suspiciously large cows standing immobile in the corner.


These are small, but the ones out there are far away.


Hang on, isn't that the same house again? Have I somehow started looping back on myself? ARGH!


At this point, I ran into my first enemy car that killed me in approximately 0.05 of a second. Hooray! Er, I mean, oh dear. So ends my brief career as an Auto Duellist, and it's back to the panto circuit for poor Biggins. Perhaps the game would've been more fun if I'd known(or cared) what I was doing. But I doubt it.

Well, that's first game down. Hopefully the next will be slightly less dreary. I wonder what it is?


Yes, it's CRIMSON CROWN! But is it as head-slappingly dreadful as it looks? Find out, next time! Maybe.

About this entry


So... it's basically a proto-GTA, then? Fantastic! I want to play it.


By Seb
June 19, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

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Ha, I did think quite a lot of GTA when I was doing this. I think Auto Duel actually could've been a decent game if they'd made the driving bits faster and more interesting - I don't think it's possible to convey quite how drab and depressing those sequences are in pictures alone.

By Phil_A
June 19, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

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Excellent feature!

Any chance of you happening to pull the excellent "Oids" out of your Atari ST lucky-bag sometime in the near future?

By Zagrebo
June 19, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

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Why oh why am I so enthralled by other people writing about bad video games? Keep it up.

By Phil Reed
June 19, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

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I love Oids! It doesn't really fit the criteria of these articles as I played it to death back in the olden days, but what the hell.

By Phil_A
June 20, 2008 @ 12:40 am

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If it hasn't been maliciously thrown out while I've been away from home I should still have my Atari ST sitting in a garage somewhere. The mouse input was knackered and half the floppy discs were corrupt but I never had the heart to throw it out.

If you by any chance come across a 2D side scroll-er where you play some sort of young wizard and it constantly plays a vivid rendition of greensleeves in the background give me a shout. I used to play it all the time at my cousins and can't remember the name or find it anywhere now.

By Scott Lyons
June 20, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

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Okay ignore me, I just found the damn thing using that google thing. It was called Black Lamp if anyone is interested.

By Scott Lyons
June 20, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

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I remember Black Lamp! I didn't own it, but my cousins did(who were the only other people we knew who had an ST). It was incredibly difficult, I seem to recall, a kind castle-exploring platformy game where you were constantly attacked by all manner of nasties on every screen.

By Phil_A
June 20, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

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I still have my 520ST, gawd bless it. Remember the totally pointless 'North and South', about the American Civil War? This made no sense at all to an adolesent female living in Basingstoke.

By Tanya Jones
June 20, 2008 @ 3:55 pm

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I've only played "Black Lamp" a couple of times (the Amiga version, I think). I seem to recall that it's a bit rubbish.

"North and South" was pretty clever because as well as being a shove-the-troops-around-the-map strategy game it incorporated arcade sections in a way that actually worked quite well. As usual with that sort of game, it also worked best with two players.

By Zagrebo
June 20, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

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"North and South" was one I never played, but French developers always seemed to have a knack for those kind of quirky, genre-mixing games, didn't they? Anyone remember "Metal Mutant"?

By Phil_A
June 20, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

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I just had a shot of the Amiga version of "Metal Mutant". It got some absolutely stinking reviews back in the '90s (and a couple of good ones) but it's not a bad wee game; quite an interesting "each screen is a small puzzle" type of gameplay. The way the robots change into each other is a cop-out, though; they should have had a funky robo-transform animation rather than a silly bit of magical "sparkle".

By Zagrebo
June 20, 2008 @ 6:06 pm

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I had North and South for my C64! Man, I loved that game.

By Jonathan Capps
June 21, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

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I didn't have another person to play it with, which I suspect was the key to me not enjoying that much. I loved all the arcade favourites, though, like Pacworld, Rainbow Islands...

By Tanya Jones
June 22, 2008 @ 10:38 am

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Funnily enough, there's a recent thread on the World of Spectrum forums relating to a game called "Battlecars" published by Games Workshop in 1984 which seems to have been a predecessor to this game.

By Zagrebo
June 23, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

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If anyone’s interested, I wrote an article about “Metal Mutant” on my blog-o the other day:…

Also, when are we going to see more in this series? It can’t end with just one!

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By Zagrebo
February 04, 2009 @ 11:44 am

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“My Wasted Life”, I mean. I think I can stand there being only one “Metal Mutant” game.

Zagrebo's picture

By Zagrebo
February 04, 2009 @ 11:44 am

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