Swifty Software, the Melville, Long Island-based producer of Atari computer software, is one of the more interesting small companies in the electronic gaming field. The whole operation is run by Lee Jackson, a full-time teacher who has an incredible eye for programmers.
It was from this humble source that a game dubbed Space Chase first rose to public notice over a year ago, picking up a rave as a dark-horse classic in the very first issue of EG. That game's designer, Fernando Herrera, went on to more than justify his early promise by winning the first Gold Star award from Atari for the best piece of individually produced software for the 400 / 800 computers, My First Alphabet.
Fernando has since gone on to head up software design for his own company named, aptly enough, First Star Software. So Lee Jackson went out to find a new prodigy. Now Swifty has published Haunted Hill, by G. P. Richardson, an outstanding idea wrapped in excellent sounds and clever graphics.
What at first looks like an offbeat Centipede rip-off turns out to be an altogether different animal with an innovative play mechanic - and no way to take advantage of it. Programmed entirely in BASIC, players will, in turn, become puzzled, frustrated, angry and astonished.
Haunted Hill should serve as a primer for "Everything Bad about BASIC as a Language for Programming Games", a tome EG's Game Doctor has been threatening to write lately. Players control an allegedly horizontally-mobile human surrogate. The playfield itself is littered with tombstones and a snake-like congaline of vampire bats. Players fire up at everything. Hitting a bat turns it into a tombstone. The grave markers can withstand up to four blasts. A color shift marks each successful hit. After four hits, the headstones either disappear or become ghosts - the real heavy duty characters here. Hitting a ghost counts for bonus points but you can't let the beggars touch you or they instantly frighten you to death.
Sounds like a real hoot, no? Try playing it in BASIC, then ask me. The response is frequently nonexistent. Imagine the thrills and delights of getting trapped in place, all but snapping your joystick shaft from its base due to the incredible torque as a ghost heads right for you - and you can't move.
Please, folks, get real. Re-program this gem in assembly language - or at least employ machine language subroutines. Fernando overcame the speed problem in games such as Space Chase and Time Bomb but G. P. Richardson is dealing here with a flatout speed / action contest and BASIC joystick response just won't cut it.
As many game programmers have shown, BASIC still has its place in the world of computer game software. Haunted Hill, however, is definitely not that place. There is no denying the considerable talent of G. P. Richardson, however, and the thought of what this game-maker could do with a workable design language should make the mouths of gamers everywhere water in anticipation.