CINEMATRONICS EMULATOR ARTICLE - April 1997
|With Sparcade and MAME holding a powerful grip at
the pinnacle of the arcade emulation scene, other authors have turned to niche areas in
which to specialise.
One of those is the sub-genre of the early vector graphics games, pioneered by Atari (with Asteroids, Battlezone, Gravitar and later Star Wars) and a US company called Cinematronics as an alternative to the blocky pixel-based graphics prevalent in the late 70s. The clean, crisp vector lines and the unusual gameplay of most of the titles using them drew a substantial audience for the abstract-looking games, and a few enjoyed respectable success, although ironically none eclipsed the original Space Wars, a game predating even Space Invaders and Pong.
Practically all the Cinematronics games are covered in this, Zonn Moore's fledgling emulator (the Atari titles appear in Neil Bradley's EMU 2.0 and also in GT's commercial Atari Collection), with the ones most familiar to gamers probably being the extremely tricky Star Castle, tank-based dogfighter Armor Attack and the seminal first-person shoot-'em-up Tail Gunner. There's a lot more to the collection than these, though - Rip Off is a fast-moving slant on Cosmic Guerrilla, notable for giving the player infinite lives as he attempts to protect a stash of fuel containers from marauding enemies, while the bafflingly strange Sundance sees bouncing stars being captured in black holes in a giant space grid. Barrier plays like a weird cross between a racing game and an aggressive variant of chess, while in Boxing Bugs the player controls a disembodied arm attempting to deflect spiders who are trying to push bombs into a boxing ring. No, honestly.
And what's going on in Demon is anyone's guess.
The technical highpoint is reached in War Of The Worlds, where giant Martian tripods rendered in full-colour vectors (unheard of at the time) march menacingly in 3D towards the player's tank, but technical achievement is the least of the concerns displayed in these games. What's on offer is some of the oddest and most original thinking in game design, even by the standards of the time. You can have fun spotting the elements of these trailblazing games that have cropped up in today's hits, but mostly you'll have fun simply doing what gamers almost never have to do any more, namely being forced to learn a whole new set of skills and ways to approach a game. And for about three minutes' downloading time (including all the games) and no money at all, you can't ask for much more than that.