Sunday, April 30, 2017

Atari 2600 Homebrew Project Tracker

There are so many incredible games being developed for the Atari 2600.  40 years old and going strong, there are more games in production for this classic system than we have seen since the Great Crash of '83.  Keeping track of what is going on in the exploding homebrew community can be a daunting task.  There are lots of new developers jumping into the game and technology like the batariBasic programming platform are making it easier than ever to create high quality, fun games.  It feels like someone is announcing something on a weekly basis, whether it's a great idea, a work in progress, a beta candidate ready for public testing, or even a cartridge release.  There is always something going on!  A very exciting time to be a fan of the VCS!!

But, as I said, keeping track of everything that is going on is a big job.  I'm here to try to make that job a little bit easier.  It is the goal of this Project Tracker to keep abreast of all games in development for the Atari 2600.  This Tracker will monitor the progress of announced games in development and update regularly as the status of the progress changes.  To make things a little bit easier, as many games have been announced, worked into development, then shelved or progress just tapered off, I have decided to start this tracker with games in active development as of Jan. 1, 2017.  I realize this will cause a lot of games that have been long workshopped to slip through my net, but I will happily rectify those cases as they are brought to my attention so that they can be tracked.

As things progress, I will update the status of each game according to where they are in the process.  I'll be working out the proper classifications for things as we go along so bear with me.  As games are completed and/or released, I will move those projects to the end of the tracker to be moved off at the end of the year (I'll likely do some kind of Year in Review as well).

If you have a game you are developing or know of someone who does, please contact me with information pertinent to this tracker.  I'll work on setting up an email address for that purpose as well. For now you can drop me a message at my facebook page or in the notes section at the bottom of the Tracker.  If you are a game developer and want to update your game's status, or change any information presented on this tracker, that would be exceptional.  Just drop me a message with your name, the name of your game and its updated status. If, for some reason, you are developing a game and you do NOT want your game listed on this Tracker, that's ok too. Just drop me a request asking for its removal and we'll just act like it never happened.  This is a project to help support the community and raise awareness, that's all.

So without further ado, let's take a look, in no real particular order, at the games currently in development for the Atari 2600:

(Titles are always the working title and will change as necessary.  All developer names are the names I have been able to pull from my sources, usually Atariage ID's or personal names.  Descriptions are all written by me, pics when provided or when ROM available.)

TOTAL GAMES IN THE TRACKER:    26
LAST UPDATE: 6.13.17

CAVES OF ZARGON (NEW 6.10.17)
Developer: VGAGuy
Status:  IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Navigate narrow tunnels and conserve your fuel supply.  Pick up extra fuel to keep the adventure going.




SPIES IN THE NIGHT (UPDATED 5.7.17)
Developer:  Gray West
Status:  RELEASE PENDING
Description:  This is a game originally started in 2015.  Get your spies to the detonator and take out that lighthouse, but if you get caught in the light, it's lights out for you.  Lights.  Also, bad guys shoot at you.


MY KNEE HURTS
Developer: atari2600land
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Germs are trying to infect your hairy leg and you must stop them.




ROBIN'S ROUNDABOUTS
Developer: boski
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Experience the irritation of circumnavigating traffic roundabouts in the comfort of your own home and earn points!



SPACE CACTUS CANYON (UPDATED 6.10.17)
Developer: bjbest
Status:  RELEASE CANDIDATE
Description:  Guide a wayward Space Cactus home, braving canyons full of deadly bandits who hate anthropomorphized cacti.


SWORD OF IFFRIT
Developer: ultima
Status:  IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  An action-RPG based on Norse legend.  Find the mystic sword and avert Ragnarok!


L.E.M. LUNAR MODULE
Developer: Philsan
Status: RELEASE PENDING
Description: We're finally going back to the moon.  See if you have what it takes to touchdown on the moon's surface.


HUNT THE WUMPUS
Developer: The Maxx
Status:  IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  The incredible Wumpus hunt comes to life on the VCS!


PANIC ROOMS
Developer:  Michael Brown
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Vicious vandals have broken into your plush mansion and are ransacking the place.  Protect your treasures and take out the bad guys while seeking safety in your strategically placed panic rooms.


CARROT KINGDOM
Developer: Jinroh
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  The Adventures of an adorable rabbit girl as she traverses the dangerous Carrot Kingdom.


DUNGEON II: SOLSTICE (UPDATE 6.10.17)
Developer: David Weavil
Status:  RELEASE CANDIDATE
Description:  The sequel to the instant classic, Dungeon.





TREMORS (UPDATE 4.30.17)
Developer: mojofltr
Status:  RELEASE PENDING
Description: Previously MINE DIG, the game has been revised with theming from the movie Tremors.


AARDVARK
Developer: nanochess
Status:  IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  A port of the Commodore and Atari 8-bit classic!


THE BLACK CANDLE
Developer: TheMajorHavoc
Status: EARLY DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Dungeon crawler/RPG


DANNY
Developer: The Maxx
Status: BETA TESTING
Description:  Skateboarding peril!  Navigate danger filled streets and grab low hanging fruit.  Watch out for the cops!


AIR TAXI
Developer: Kylearan
Status: EARLY DEVELOPMENT
Description:  A port of the Amiga and Commodore classic


NeXION 3D
Developer: TheMajorHavoc
Status: RELEASE PENDING
Description: First person shooter inspired by Berzerk!


GIZZLE WAP AND THE GREAT BLIZZARD
Developer: Mountain King
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  You and your bird friend search for survivors after a great blizzard.


RAILSLIDER (UPDATE 4.2.17)
Developer: Lillapojkenpaon
Status: NEARLY COMPLETE
Description: Twin stick shooter (will require special controller) puts you against evil robots as you slide along a center rail.


CHAOTIC GRILL
Developer: splendidnut
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description: A brilliant remake of Burgertime.


DODGEBALL
Developer: tschak909
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description: It's one-on-one dodgeball action for the your VCS.


FRANCES ICHABOD CRANIUM
Developer: atari2600land
Status:  IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Waffles and Pretzels are coming at you from all sides.  Dodge waffles and shoot the pretzels in this 2K arcade game.


PANKY THE PANDA
Developer: Ben Larson
Status: RELEASE PENDING
Description: Adventure platformer following the trials of a Panda as he attempts to rescue his brother.

PArsec (UPDATE 3.26.17)
Developer: hloberg
Status: ON HIATUS
Description: A port of the TI-99 game.


UT2600/FLUT
Developer:MLdB
Status: IN DEVELOPMENT
Description:  Demake of the popular Unreal Tournament game for the Atari 2600.


NO TOUCHY! (UPDATE 3.26.17)
Developer: The Maxx
Status:  BETA TESTING
Description:  Flap about, grab the eggs, but avoid the spikes.






COMPLETED!

THE CELLAR-Y GAME (UPDATE 3.13.17)
Developer: atari2600land
Status: COMPLETE
Description:  Avoid the celery and roast the on coming Vegans in this 2K arcade game.




This tracker will be updated at minimum weekly.  Updates will be noted with a date of the most recent information for that game.  Again, if you know of a game I missed (and there are likely plenty) please let me know!

Thanks

Stan!




Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Learning Curve: 5 Hours with AD&D: Hillsfar

Not all games are Pac-man: the kind you can just pick up and play, with simple rules and fairly easy to understand parameters and goals.  Many games, sometimes even those that seem straightforward, have a steep learning curve which requires you to spend more than just a few minutes working out the nuances of the game play.  Too often these games get dismissed as “too hard” or “too clunky” and get tossed in to the pile of games that are collected and not played.  And sadly, a lot of really good games get lost in the shuffle due to a lack of pick-up-and-playability.  I’m guilty of doing this and you are too.  This was partly the motivation behind my old “Closer Look” series in which I took a hard look, and many hours of gameplay, exploring games that might not otherwise get a second look from the casual gamer.  Through that experience, I discovered that many games are quietly very good, but due to their steep learning curve, they don’t get the play or recognition they deserve.  Uncanny X-men is a perfect example. The litmus test for a game’s accessibility seems to me to be around 5 hours of game play.  If you play a game for 5 hours and cannot get into what the game is trying to do, then chances are good the game is A.) not very good  B.) just not for you. 
So with that in mind, I have vowed to sift through my NES collection, pull out those games that I have dismissed as “terrible” and give them 5 honest hours of game play to see if I am missing out on rewarding experiences due to an unusually steep learning curve.  I will play each game for 5 hours and then write up my experience, providing an hour-by-hour breakdown of what I discovered through my play.  Then I will weigh in with whether or not I find the game to be secretly great, not very good, or probably good, but just not for me.  I would love to hear feedback from you whether you agree or disagree.  You might even point me in the right direction!


AD&D: Hillsfar

Hillsfar, as it will heretofore be referred, is a traditional Western RPG.  The kind of game where you build your own character and set out on a generally wide-open quest in an immersive world.   That fitting because this game is part of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons world, the primordial soup from which all Western RPGs spring forth, at least as far as I am aware.  I wasn’t big into the AD&D scene back in the day (shocker, I know) so I’m not as familiar with the nuts and bolts of how this game ties into that world, but I shouldn’t have to be in order to enjoy a video game, not if it has been made properly.  Hillsfar is one of two AD&D titles for the NES.  The other, Dragon Strike, is more of an RPG shooter, something you don’t see too much of.  That game has more pick-up-and-play appeal so you’ll want to check that out on your own sometime; it’s pretty good.
Hillsfar looks like the kind of game I can sink my teeth into.  I absolutely loved Wizardry and Wizardry II, and as long time readers know, I have an unnatural attachment to the Might and Magic franchise on the PC.  But for some reason, this game didn’t grab me the few times I’ve popped it into my NES and tried to delve into the adventure.  So let’s spend 5 good hours playing and see if we can find the joy hidden in the city of Hillsfar…

Hour 1:

I spent most of this hour just figuring out what the game was about and how to get started.  I created my character:  I started with a thief because traditionally with these kinds of RPG’s having a thief as your first character is a good way to get access to stuff that other classes cannot.  Thieves can pick locks, sneak into places, and otherwise interact with characters that your average Fighter or Cleric cannot.  Whether or not this was a smart choice is yet to be determined.  You don’t start the game at the city of Hillsfar, you start at your camp right outside, so to get to town you have to engage in a very tedious and mostly annoying horse ride to the city.  This horse ride will link all destinations you travel to and will be a pox upon fun.  The horse is sluggish to control and the obstacles are random and not smartly spaced.  And whatever you do, don’t under any circumstance crash so much that you lose your horse.  More on that in hour 2.  
Once you arrive in town it is best to seek out your guild house and get something to do.  It is very easy to wander around town aimlessly and get into general trouble.  As a thief you can pick any door lock and go into pretty much any building if you have the wherewithal and the talent.  Furthermore, nere-do-wells wander the streets making you bad offers that more often than not send you to the arena (you do not want to go to the arena).  Every class belongs to a guild in Hillsfar and finding the guild house will grant you access to the quests that will give your life, and  hopefully the game, some meaning.  Hillsfar is a very open RPG and does not give you a master quest to complete.  Your destiny is tied to your guild and how you choose to play.  That’s pretty cool, but can be meandering if you don’t find your guild and get to work.
So I made it to the Rogue’s Hideout, home of the Master Thief and immediately asked for something to do.  My first quest was simple: just retrieve an item from the sewers. (well, I had to find the Magic Shop and talk to a guy first, but that was relatively easy)  This moves you along to what seems to be the basic game mechanic in Hillsfar:  enter a building, find the thing you are looking for before time runs out, and escape.  If you take too long the guards show up, take all the gold you found and either toss you out or toss you into the arena.  I got tossed out a lot and sent to the arena a couple of times as well.  In the arena you have to engage in absolutely confounding hand-to-hand combat with a monster opponent and, one way or another, emerge victorious or badly beaten (meaning with 1 HP, and given that recovering HP in this game requires a miracle or lots of gold, you don’t want to lose in the arena)  By sheer luck I escaped both times the victor.
Navigating the interior of buildings is also the province of luck, as the layout is randomly selected from a set number mazes and treasures and traps are scattered throughout.  Most chests are locked and require picking.  Many contain gold, a few are empty, and some give you bizarre items like old clothes, or are helpful by revealing the location of floor traps.  Picking chests proves to be a challenge as there is a time limit and if you choose the wrong pick, it will instantly break, leaving you with a useless set of tools.  This happened to me a lot.  Once your time is up, you get a notice saying the exit can now be found (you can exit immediately upon entering through the main door, but where’s the fun in that?) and that the guards are on their way.  From that point on, it’s a mad dash to find the newly spawned staircase, avoid getting pinned by the guards, and escaping with your plunder.  Since the layouts and stair placements are random this is not an easy task.  I spent much of the first hour breaking all of my picks, getting tossed out of the sewer, and generally getting beat up.  At the end of my first hour I had 9 HP, 3 Gold, and nothing to show for my troubles.  Not the best start.

Hour 2:

This hour brought more frustration and futility.  I was able to complete my first quest: finding the rare mushroom in the sewer and getting out without capture, but I had broken 4 of my lockpicks and lost all of my gold.  Needless to say, being a thief with no lockpicks makes you a pretty useless thief, so I spent most of this hour going back into the sewer, running around trying to find unlocked chests full of gold and escaping without being caught.  This was neither easy nor fun.  It might be what passes for grinding in this game.  But eventually I collected enough gold to repair all of my picks and was able to resume questing.  The next quest took me to a Hermit’s Hut to recover another item, a phial of liquid.  After all the sewer diving I had been doing this felt much easier, however getting to the hut and back proved to be a problem.  
To get to the hut I had to go to the Trading Post, a seemingly useless waypoint between Hillsfar and many of the world’s destinations.  At the Trading Post you can buy or trade for a new horse, talk to the guy at the Trading Post, or attempt to walk to Hillsfar if you haven’t a horse or the gold with which to purchase.  That’s about it.  It’s not very helpful, as my experiences soon prove.  
During one of my forays into the Hermit’s Hut, I managed to break two picks, was caught, and tossed out with very little gold to my name.  I decided I needed to return to Hillsfar to regroup and then try another campaign into the Hut.  Whilst riding my horse to Hillsfar, I was thrown off one time too many and my horse got annoyed and left me high and dry.  The game gave me a few options of what to do next, one of which was to look for a new horse, the other was to wait for another passer-by to give me a lift to the Trading Post.  I first looked for a new horse, to no avail.  The I opted to hitch a ride to the Trading Post.  Once there I was given the standard options of buy a new horse or walk to Hillsfar.  New horses cost considerably more than the 3 Gold I was packing, so walking seemed to be the only option.  This was not a good option.  8 times I attempted to walk to Hillsfar and 8 times I was beset by bandits who took my remaining 3 gold, roughed me up and dropped me back at the useless Trading Post.  8 times.  8.  This easily took up 15 infuriating minutes of game time.  Eventually I was able to find a new horse wandering around get back to Hillsfar, but I had lost all desire to ever leave and if I never saw the Trading Post again it would be too soon.

Hour 3:

I had taken several days break from playing Hillsfar after my ill treatment on the road and it proved to hearten me a bit.  I was able to restock my supplies in the city and then liberate the phial of liquid from the Hermit’s Hut with relative ease.  I was getting better with the lockpicks, I wasn’t panicking and breaking them constantly, and I was getting out without getting caught much more successfully.  The really good news:  for recovering the phial I got 1250 gold.  Oh how to spend it?  Well, let’s just say that in Hillsfar, fortune is easy come, easy go.  All it takes is one unlucky trip in a house and you’re back to skid row.  More on that later.  For now, I was riding high with a pocket full of gold and feeling like I was getting the hang of things.  The next quest was to find an amulet.  To do this I would have to prowl about a couple of taverns and the sewer seeking information on the amulet’s whereabouts.  Eventually the search brought me to a Hut located just outside of the city.  After about 6 successful forays into the hut, I began to suspect that the amulet wasn’t there at all.  This is hard to know since the chests all appear at random and you rarely have enough time to search every single nook and cranny of the building before the guards catch you, but after multiple trips coming up empty I began to suspect that something was amiss.  However, I was pleased to see that I was able to make so many trips, pick so many locks, and escape so many times without being caught.  It felt like I was finally starting to get the hang of the basic game play mechanic.  But no amulet.  The one thing I did find repeatedly was a piece of paper encouraging me to pick the cellar door in the taverns back in the city.  So as my third hour wound down I retuned to Hillsfar once again…

Hour 4:

So I picked the cellar door and eventually found the chain the amulet was on, but no amulet.  This meant a trip back to the Rogue’s Hideout to get more information from the master.  Apparently the amulet has been carefully tucked away in the Cleric’s Guild (also known as the Shrine of Tempus).  Getting into the guild house proved to be a bigger challenge than expected.  The lock is impossible to pick as it requires a pick I do not have in my tool set.  I’ve purchased 3 different sets of lock picks and none of them contained the correct pick, so I assume it’s a pick I need to find elsewhere or my luck is just terrible.  But there’s more than one way to pick a lock and a couple of times I was able to get in by physical force. This is a dicey proposition however as the lock is trapped and 75% of the time you will spring it and take 3-5 damage.  This caused several reloads and about 15 minutes of frustration.  Nevertheless I got in several times and explored the guild.  The building layout is static, but the traps and treasures are randomly placed.  This makes definitive exploration nearly impossible.  There simply isn’t time to see all the sights and get out unmolested.  The only upside is the hefty coin pouch I got from all the plundering.  Annoyingly, six trips in and no amulet.  Experience is a great teacher though and I’m no longer taking lumps getting in.  A knock ring purchased for 250 gold got me in nearly every time and with no fuss.  It’s not all good news, though, as this process is a series of diminishing returns with most trips into the Shrine netting an average of 195 gold.  So I’m 45 minutes in and I’m in a downward spiral of losing gold, finding no amulet and sometimes dying due to traps.  I’m back to not having fun.  I feel like I’ve checked every chest and I’ve even started checking walls and dead ends for secret doors or anything that might move the game along.  This doesn't seem like the kind of game prone to such devices, but at this point anything is worth a shot.  Hour 4 wraps with no amulet, a wasted hour of dungeon crawling and me questioning if I can even take an hour 5.
Give me the damned Amulet!

Hour 5: 

25 times I went into the Cleric Guild in search of an amulet.  25 times I emerged with nothing but gold and a few healing potions.  My time with Hillsfar was winding down and I was having decreasing amounts of fun.  So I decided a new tactic was in order:  Start Over.  It might seem a little late in the game for such an idea, but if I was going to salvage anything out of the final hour, this might be the only way to do so.  So I started over, this time as a Cleric.  The thief thing wasn’t panning out so maybe a different character would bring me better luck.  And, maybe due to familiarity with the game, or maybe the Cleric path is just easier, it seemed to be a lot simpler to get going.  I rode into town and checked in at the Shrine of Tempus (they just let me in, a frustrating juxtaposition from my previous experience).  I spent most of the fifth and final hour tooling about town finishing quests with relative ease.  I even had to go to that miserable Trading Post several times to complete quests.  Dungeon diving was much easier as it seems far more chests are just open and ripe for the pilfering than in the Thief track.  I soon accumulated a sizable pile of gold and had quite a few completed quests under my belt when I came upon the Haunted House (bonus points to any RPG with a haunted house).  My next quest required me to enter the Haunted House and find a bandit who had something the guild wanted.  Sadly, upon attempting to pick the lock and enter the haunted house, the only apparent way in, I triggered a trap which exploded and killed me.  The real tragedy: I had failed to save this character at any point during my game.  Thus, my final hour of play, while much more enjoyable, was completely undermined by a failure to save.  The entire hour just wiped away by a single trap.  Frustrating.



Final Appraisal?  AD&D: Hillsfar isn’t a terrible RPG.  It’s clunky and very slow to start, but I think someone determined to sit down and learn its ins and outs will be able to find something here to enjoy.  Some of the game play mechanics are tedious and some are downright incomprehensible.  The bulk of the game is just journey to X find the Y and return with no combat or battle system unless you get tossed into the Arena.  But the world is fairly well constructed and I can see really getting in to it if you are not turned off by the obtuse mechanics.  

Learning Curve:  About 2.5 hours of solid play should get you accustomed to how the game works and what is expected of you.  It probably takes a little longer to get invested in the world of the game, but it is possible.


Will I Finish It?  Unlikely.  Most of my time in Hillsfar was spent being extremely frustrated and the brief moments of accomplishment weren’t enough to help me power through the annoying parts.  I may give Hillsfar another look in a year or so, after I get over the aggravation of this play through, but I’m not inspired to keep the adventure going at this time.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Homebrew of the Month: Omicron

Welcome the inaugural edition of our new feature: Homebrew of the Month.  Each month I will be purchasing a new homebrew to add to my collection, playing it and then reporting back to you with all the pros and cons of the game.  Given the quality of homebrews coming out I have a feeling this will be a love letter column to the community, but more than anything I hope it will motivate you to get out there and try some new games you might not otherwise have considered!  For the sake of being thorough, every game featured in this project will be played a minimum of 2 hours cumulative play time, usually more, just to make sure there are no hasty generalizations or snap judgements.  So without further fanfare, let's take a look at this month's homebrew:  Omicron.

Game:  Omicron
Developer: Simone Serra
Available:  Atariage

What's All This Then?

I purchased Omicron because it's description sounded much like a simpler version of a game I already like and find endlessly challenging, Mutant Virus for the NES.  That game can be found in my list of the 30 Hardest NES Games Ever.  However, what I was pleased to discover was that Omicron is bigger on action than in Mutant Virus while the strategy is a more subtle aspect of the gameplay. That doesn't mean you can overlook it, though.  I have found that the strategic elements are what make this game far more compelling than your average shooter.

The premise of Omicron is that you command a team of scientists combatting an alien virus that has gone out of control.  You've lost communication with your team and must now battle all four elemental iterations of the virus to rescue your comrades.  Battling the virus requires collecting immunity fragments and pushing the virus back.  Contact with the virus elements is instantly fatal, however, you can blast them away and in the Absorb levels you can soak up the strains to keep them at bay.  The virus manifests as each of the classical elements: water, fire, air, and earth.  Each manifestation comprises a level of game play, increasing in difficulty as you progress through the elements.

Thus the game is divided into 4 levels, each level made of up various stages.  There are 4 kinds of stages:  Resist! Absorb! Rescue! Collect! We'll take a closer look at each one in a minute.  The basic game play varies by stage, but the general gist is that you need to collect immunity fragments, avoid and blast the virus elements, and generally survive until you have collected enough fragments to progress to the next level.  Sounds simple, but the action is fast-paced, your ship moves with virtually no friction, and the virus actively hunts you down every time you grab an immunity fragment.  Omicron is challenging right from the start.  Let's take quick look at each stage and briefly discuss the merits and difficulties therein:

Resist!  This is the most straightforward stage of the lot.  The virus begins to spread and you must use your anti-matter cannon to blast it away.  Immunity fragments appear at regular intervals (a time bar at the upper left counts down to the next manifestation) and you must collect them before they expire.  Failure to do so will cost you a life.  This is a good introductory level to the basic game play and will give you a chance to get used to the controls.  There is some learning curve here, because the game doesn't handle like Asteroids; your ship moves very swiftly and stops on a dime.  The physics will take some getting used to.  Otherwise, just blast away, dodge the virus, and collect the fragments.

Absorb!  Now take everything you just learned and forget it.  The anti-matter cannon is off and you'll spend most of this level working to evade the spreading virus.  However you can pick up Virus Cores which imbue your ship with the power to briefly absorb the virus and clear it out.  You can stockpile 3 Virus Cores (noted at the upper right of the screen below your extra ships) and no more will appear until you have used at least 1 to absorb the virus.  Use the cores sparingly, however, or you'll find yourself stranded, defenseless, and late in the stage collecting cores can be tricky.  Oh, and you still have to collect immunity fragments on a time limit to progress to the next level.

Rescue!  Maybe my favorite stage, this is a variation on the Resist! stage only this time the immunity fragments spawn inside a viral bubble and you must blast them free before you can collect them.  The same rules apply as in Resist!, but the challenge is increased since every fragment now comes with a hefty viral deposit to add to the already growing menace!

Collect!  Just because the manual calls this a "bonus" stage, don't think it's a cake walk.  True, the virus is non-lethal here, and you can't really lose a life, but collecting the fragments is no easier because the virus will slow you down dramatically if you come into contact with it.  And you will come into contact with it, a lot.  The spread rate is much greater than in the other stages and trying to plow through the virus is like running through mud.  But, if you collect all the fragments you get a point bonus and an extra virus core for your stockpile.

How's it Play?

Ok, so all of that is well and good, but is it any fun?  Oh my, yes!  Not only is it fun, it's challenging and engaging, and definitely has that "just one more game" quality that great shooters possess.  Be forewarned, there is a decent sized learning curve when you get started.  The ship physics take time to learn and the basic game play reads as obvious in the manual, but can take a minute to translate into actual game play.  I also recommend you play with the colored background option (Left Diff A) as it makes it much easier to see and differentiate the Virus Cores from the Virus Roots that spawn the virus.  This tripped me up for a long time when I first started playing.  Switching to the colored background fixed this issue right away.  But once you get going, Omicron is very addictive and lots of fun.  I've played it now for at least 3 hours and I've only just gotten to the Fire level (that's level 2).  It gets very hard to turn this game off.  Omicron features a perfect blend of action and strategy that makes it more engaging than your average shooter and definitely one of the most compelling homebrews in my collection.

Whistles and Bells?  

Omicron features one of the most striking label designs I've seen in a while.  Colorful, bold and definitely distinctive, Nathan Strum's work really shines here.  The manual is equally impressive.  There's lots of info crammed into it, so take the time to read it.  The game itself features a few whistles and bells as well.  An option screen lets you choose from a couple of difficulty and controller settings. There is a 2.5K version of the game you can play, which presents plenty of challenge as you fend of endless waves of virus.  And the game features AtariVox/Save Key support to save your high scores.  The music does a nice job of matching the frenetic pace of the game.  Don't let the punchy title screen music fool you, the game play music really adds to the intensity!

Final Assessment 

Omicron is a great addition to any 2600 library and a must have for fans of shooting games that require more than just a quick trigger finger.  This game gets a very strong recommendation from me!


Tips and Tricks

Before we go, here are a few words of wisdom from the field:

Don't Sleep on this Game.   Ever.  The virus might seem quiet right after the immunity fragment appears, but they come alive the minute you grab it and will hunt you down and corner you.  During Resist! stages, blast virus elements constantly, and when you use virus cores to absorb, clear as much room as you can in the short time allotted.  Never get lulled into false senses of safety, they do not exist.

Room To Move.  Regardless of the stage, you are always going to need room to navigate, whether it's just buying time until the next immunity fragment spawns or if you are trying to get to the fragment to collect it.  Make sure you keep plenty of free space around your ship.  The virus will actively close in upon you, so make sure you have plenty of room to negotiate safely.



Clear First, then Collect.  It might seem tempting to rush forward to grab the immunity fragment when it appears, particularly with the time limit and all, BUT it is good strategy to clear plenty of space around the fragment before you make a dash for it.  The fragment likes to wander about and can easily leave an area that looks safe for one fraught with peril.  If you clear out a nice wide area, then you can collect it with some confidence that it won't meander into trouble.

Go Around.  In the Collect! stages don't try to plow through the virus to get to fragments.  The rate of slowdown is so dramatic you can easily miss several fragments just trying to get free of the mess.  Go around the virus clusters.  It may take a little more time, but it will take far less than trying to push through even what looks like a small strain, as those can quickly expand and surround you.

Stake Your Claim.  Early on when playing this game, I find it is best to pick an area of the screen and focus on keeping it clear of virus.  Using this area as a safe place to hang out while you are waiting for the next fragment to generate.  Grab the fragment and retreat to your camp.  In later levels this isn't as easy as your camp will fill up with virus elements rather quickly, but for the first few stages it can help you get your bearings.


That's it!  What are you waiting for?  That virus isn't going to destroy itself!


See you next month when I'll take a look at what has been heralded as one of the MUST HAVE homebrews of the modern era: Juno First!