Category Archives: Atari ST

A collection of all Atari ST-related posts on Break Into Chat.

Unearthed: Dark Fortress for the Atari ST

The title screen from the Atari ST game “Dark Fortress”

Hey Atari ST fans! Want to play something new?

Today I’m happy to share “Dark Fortress,” a previously unreleased game written by Herb Flower for the Atari ST in the late 1980s.

In recent weeks I’ve been corresponding with Flower and Paul Witte to unearth the story of their Atari ST BBS door game Thieves’ Guild, which they developed together in 1988-93 under the “Mythyn Software” banner. I’ll have much more to say about TG in future blog posts.

Witte was the architect of Thieves’ Guild. Flower, a talented young pixel artist, developed a graphical front-end client for TG which featured superb visuals as well as some sound and animation. But Flower’s first foray into games was Dark Fortress.

Flower went on to found the Rewolf Entertainment studio, which produced Gunman Chronicles. Witte and Flower teamed up again in 2001 as “Mythyn Interactive” to develop the MMORPG Linkrealms.

A screenshot showing the first level of the game Dark Fortress.

The existence of Dark Fortress has been noted in the past, but this is the first time the game has been shared widely.

Below, Flower discusses “Dark Fortress” in his own words. His essay his been edited for length and clarity.

Dark Fortress was my first game, written in GFA Basic at age 14. My previous games had been primitive Pac-Man type games using ASCII, written in ST Basic, so GFA was mind-blowing with its “bit blit” function that let you grab and place arbitrary blocks of pixels anywhere you wanted! It wasn’t enough, though — it didn’t have alpha capabilities. I had to dive into my own experiments and research for the first time. I figured out that if I had a monochrome cut-out version of my graphics, I could place it down first to erase the background, and then place the real art on top of it in XOR mode. Success! But I still had the problem of how to update the screen without people seeing the results as it drew — I needed page-flipping. With the purchase of MichTron’s “GFA BASIC Book” from the mall’s computer shop, I found a particular XBIOS call that would let me set the physical screen’s pointer! Now it was time to make the game itself.

Dark Fortress turned out to be a massive experiment, something that taught me about gameplay as I made it. In the end, every map had a theme: Was it a puzzle, based on doing things in the right order, like breaking bricks and pushing skulls? Was it going to be a speed run, like the mermaid level? A jumping puzzle like the vine level? You never knew what the next map would be, and that made getting to the next one kinda fun.

Code-wise, Dark Fortress is a simplistic pile of spaghetti. I was still teaching myself programming and I never thought about ways to be more efficient. For example, I made the maps on graph paper, writing little numbers in the squares to represent the different 8×8-pixel graphics blocks. Then I’d have my sister read me the numbers as I typed them into data statements. Why didn’t I make a map editor? Because I’d never heard of one. While I did think about it as the tedious work went on and on, I didn’t yet know how to do disk storage.

I began realizing that there were better ways to do things as I finished the game, but I figured I’d use them in the next project and I let Dark Fortress stand as it was.

I never released it. Our Utah ST users group (possibly “Central Utah STar Group”) kinda died off after a guy with the disk library got in a car crash on the way to a meeting. The disks were scattered and jumbled and damaged. At the time, with no internet, distributing the game was a mystery I never solved. To this day, I wonder how anything got done at all in those days without networking.

I wish I had added more to the game. There was plenty of room for more graphics, and since I’m an artist more than a coder, I wonder why my younger self didn’t add more animation frames and dungeon variety. Still, having a finished game at that age was an accomplishment — and it’s even kinda fun! I’m glad I made it.

Using high res on my Atari STe with the CosmosEx and a wire

This image shows a CosmosEx screencast of an Atari Mega STe in high resolution.

Throughout my Atari ST-owning life, I have only ever owned Atari’s color monitor, the SC1224. It can display two of the ST’s video modes: low resolution (320×200, 16 colors) and medium resolution (640×200, 4 colors).

The Atari also had a 640×400 high resolution mode, but it required a different monochrome monitor.

I never had one, but recently I came across some high-res software I wanted to test. What to do?

Continue reading

Web browsing on the Atari ST with a CosmosEx

This screenshot shows CAB rendering my personal website. This instance of CAB is running on an Atari Mega STe.

Probably the best retrocomputing purchase I’ve made in recent years is the CosmosEx, a cool peripheral for Atari ST, STe, TT, and Falcon computers.

Soon after I bought it, creator Jookie added “screencasting”, a feature which lets you control your Atari remotely through a web browser. Amazing!

Around that time, Jookie was also working on a replacement STiNG-compatible internet driver. The idea was to provide TCP-IP to the Atari through the CosmosEx. Internet apps which support STiNG, such as CAB, the Crystal Atari Browser, would “just work.”

Fast-forward to this week. I decided to see if Jookie ever got the drivers were working. Turns out he did!

Keep reading to see how I set everything up.

Continue reading

Jon Radoff, creator of “Space Empire Elite” and “Final Frontier”

Jon Radoff is an internet entrepreneur whose career has gone from dial-up to “Beam me up.”

Jon Radoff Headshot

Radoff broke into the gaming business as a teen, writing the BBS door games Space Empire Elite and Final Frontier for the Atari ST in the late 1980s. He built one of the original commercial games on the internet, and founded several gaming and net-related companies since then.

These days he’s the CEO of Disruptor Beam. The company’s latest game, Star Trek Timelines was released for Android and iOS on Jan. 16.

Space Empire Elite is probably the first BBS door game I played as a kid. Did you ever play? Share your memories in the comments. Want to try these old games today? I’ve included links to BBSes at the end.

This interview was conducted by Skype on Jan. 29. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Continue reading

Merry Christmas … Atari STyle

A screen from the ACE-St. Louis 1987 Christmas demo, captured from the Hatari emulator.

A screen from the ACE-St. Louis 1987 Christmas demo, captured from the Hatari emulator.

One of the Atari ST’s unique features was its MIDI interface.

I never learned to play any instruments as a kid, but I have a feeling that if I had had an electronic keyboard to hook up to the Atari, things might have turned out differently.

Continue reading

Hatari, Lantronix, and CosmosEx: My quixotic quest to play “Thieves Guild”

Allow me introduce you to the “Thieves Guild Emulator,” a graphical front-end client for the Atari ST BBS game “Thieves Guild.”

(Update: I have replaced the original video I posted with a new version that includes the game’s sound effects, as well as some gory combat)

It took me a long time to reach the point where I could make that video. In this blog post, I’m going to explain that journey. I’ll also tell you a bit about the game itself. In fact, maybe that’s where I should begin.

Continue reading

Mother’s Day: “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

As Mother’s Day approached, I suddenly remembered two very old programs for the Atari ST which I had fooled around with as a kid.

“Murray and Me” and “Mom and Me” were written by Yakov Kirschen, who called his creations “biotoons.”

Continue reading

Hearing from my software heroes

Using the terminal program "ANSITerm" within the "Hatari" Atari ST emulator to write a message on a BBS.

Using the terminal program “ANSITerm” within the “Hatari” Atari ST emulator to write a message on a BBS.

I spent much of my teenage life inside the confines of the Atari ST terminal program “ANSITerm” by Timothy Miller of Two World Software.

I have mentioned the program before on the blog, and I even described it briefly when I was a guest on the Bobby Blackwolf Show podcast. But I’ve never really given it its due.

Continue reading

Kevin MacFarland, creator of “Assassin”

From writing tic-tac-toe in BASIC as kid to creating the classic BBS door game Assassin, computer engineer Kevin MacFarland remembers his past life as the “C Monster.”

Assassin was of one my favorite role-playing games as a teen, so it was exciting to get in touch with MacFarland and discuss his game. This interview was conducted by email Mar. 2 through May 14, 2013.

Continue reading

More VT-52 demos

Ever since I was made aware of the “Beat Nick Part 2” demo, I’ve been eager to find other Atari ST demos and animations that make use of the Atari’s VT52 text mode.

This week I found three more. I made some video captures of these demos as they appeared in the Atari ST emulator Hatari and I include them below for your enjoyment.

Continue reading