Star Fighter 3000: The Next Generation reviewBy Andrew Weston. Published: 17th Nov 2008, 15:57:36 | Permalink | Printable
Star Fighter 3000: The Next Generation was born from the 3D0 version of the original SF3K that was ported back to RISC OS and this year freed from programmers' hard discs for the platform to enjoy, writes Andrew Weston. In this review Andrew weighs up much-improved graphics and sound against playability and stability.As reported here, the release of Starfighter 3000: The Next Generation finally brings probably the most graphically advanced 3D graphical game to the RISC OS platform - after lingering for around five years on a very small number of hard discs.
Having tested the game now as fully as I can, it seems a good time to report on what can be expected for those who still haven't heard of this game or still are looking for excuses not to at least try it out. It's part of the RISCWorld DVD released shortly before Wakefield 2008 and so along with the game you get, for around 20 quid, eight years of articles, software and many other features from this CD-based magazine.
The loose band of games enthusiasts and programmers known formerly as Visions of the Impossible and later Flaymz jointly put together SF3000:TNG with the intention of it accompanying a major hardware release at the time - ideally sometime in 2001. VOTI had previously been responsible for packaging and producing games such as Sunburst and The Chaos Engine. Furthermore, they had several projects in development that have sadly fallen by the wayside, such as possible network support for Artex's highly impressive but RISC OS 4-flawed strategy game TEK (again tailored for future a hardware release), a top-down racing game and more.
The coordinator, Nathan Atkinson, had a particular talent for finding portable pieces of code and authors interested in converting them to Acorn kit and other RISC OS-powered machines. Having got into touch with coder Andrew Hutchings it became feasible to suggest the possibility of converting his port of SF3000 for the relatively unrecognised 3D0 console back to RISC OS. Hutchings was the principal author of SF3000 and other Acorn 3D titles that progressively improved technically: Chocks Away and Stunt Racer 2000. These games were just behind Drifter, the 3D track racing game by Andrew Docking that always seemed experimental to this reviewer but was impressive enough for Acorn to demonstrate it on their machines during at least one late 1990s show.
The main bulk of the work was done quietly and very efficiently by Lee Noar without much contact with the rest of the VOTI group but Nathan then used the rest of the group plus some other contacts such as ex-demo author Paul Thompson to present the game as a distinct release. Lee Johnston, a programmer, who did a lot of recording and music rehearsal in his spare time, put together some decent music to introduce the game. To set the record straight, the new title page artwork for this second release was done by Ramuh and not myself as the RISCWorld article states.
On with the show
The first noticeable aspect of the game is the different user interface. The original SF3000 was designed purely for Acorn computers and was extremely impressive at the time by managing to make full use of the sound capabilities of pre-RiscPC hardware and very likely pushing these machines (for example the 12MHz A3010) to their absolute limit. Whereas it was possible to play Doom on such computers, the combination of texture mapping and 3D polygon structures hadn't been incorporated into a full-scale game - mainly short demo sequences - at least until the likes of Drifter appeared.
SF3000:TNG doesn't explode in your face with music and in-game action as the original did but once the game is started the difference becomes apparent. Higher quality audio and cut-scene sequences of cinematic (or as close as we're likely to get) quality animation introduce each mission.
While some controls are shown in the configuration utility supplied with the game, navigating the in-game menus and the function of the 'special' keys along with other in-game controls has to be worked out by the user. The in-game graphics are a generation ahead of the original with halo-effects around thrusters and the sun and the atmosphere utilising a much wider-range of colours than the original's 256 colour palette (as cunning as it was). The ground is textured in greater detail as well as most objects. Modern games players have already noted that the lack of texture mapping on certain buildings but there is greater polygonal detail. Transparencies accompany effects and are used to greatly enhance one particular mission.
Getting stuck in
Along with the greatly improved graphics, there are other enhancements which make the game somewhat more immersive, such as the rumbling sound of large ships at close proximity, the movement of the water and the ability to level mountains with sustained firing. Maybe the most immersive enhancement is the oft-suggested ability to fly in cockpit mode thus turning the game into a flight-simulator and letting the player enjoy looping-the-loop. Many of the missions will be recognisable to players of the original and playing them again in a more realistic environment will be a must for many fans.
Accumulation of ship upgrades is through bonuses this time, however, rather than a combination of bonuses and cash-convertible points that could be used at the mothership shop.
At first sight, this all makes for much the same impact that the original game had on the player - an engrossing, all-action, multimedia piece of entertainment. However the problems that prevented this game from seeing the light of day as originally intended mean that SF3000:TNG constitutes more of a demo than a full game.
The main reason for this is that the game-save function doesn't work properly. This means that the player has to go through the entire set of missions for each level without the passwords facility of the original. While that might be possible - there are cheat modes as well - the game has a tendency to crash after a lengthy playing session and I have not been able to play the entire first mission set through. It is possible, however, to play any mission using one of the cheats. On a more fickle point, the bilinear and trilinear filtering options can't be used to their full effect within the game as they slow the whole thing to an impossible pace. Whether the graphics acceleration within the Iyonix could resolve this is possibly a matter for technical debate.
Thus SF3000:TNG overall is a welcome development and we should perhaps be thankful to APDL and Flaymz for it not being kept from the RISC OS community forever, which would have been a tragedy. For many years, Chris Bazley had worked on ensuring compatibility of the original game with all Acorn and RISC OS machines including RISC OS 4 and 5 as well as fixing bugs and enhancing the game significantly. This culminated in a re-release of the game again orchestrated by Nathan Atkinson through iSV Products alongside VOTI's Sunburst, Superior Software's Air Supremacy (which David Bradforth had rights to) and Hybrid's Acorn Archimedes Elite.
What this amounts to is that even if SF3000:TNG was released as a full game and even when the later missions become accessible, it does not so much replace as complement the original. Chris more recently even released a patch enabling owners of the original Fednet release to upgrade the game from the original floppies right up to the modern 32-bit compatible version ensuring, in Chris's words, that "everyone can enjoy the various improvements of the last decade".
The year of 1994 was a pivotal one for the Acorn community and the release of SF3000 began an era which would see a string of games releases capturing the interest of a great many users. It awakened a sense of possibilities many of which didn't of course emerge but some certainly did and even now there are one or two games descended from the excitement of time that await a satisfactory release for modern RISC OS machines. Fourteen years later, SF3000:TNG is a serious contender for the most graphically advanced game for this platform and thereby throws down the gauntlet to the new generation of RISC OS users.
Star Fighter 3000: The Next Generation released
A review of an earlier Star Fighter 3000
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