Fernando Herrera was the first winner of Atari's annual 'Star Award'
for a program he wrote for his little boy called My First Alphabet. Most
of you will have heard of the program but many will not have seen it as
it is only available on disk due to the fact that it has to access a
large number of pictures throughout the program. The idea is very simple
- just show the letters of the alphabet accompanied by pictures which
represent those letters. Sounds as if anyone can do it, doesn't it? The
secret of Mr. Herrera's success though is an exceptional talent for
graphic composition and a skilful mind in structuring the program to
achieve the desired result.
With his $25,000 prize in his pocket Fernando promptly set up First
Star Software Inc. and took a crash course in machine language. Now,
writing an alphabet program out of love for his son is one thing, but to
write a successful arcade game to launch a new company is surely
something else. Does he succeed? Take a look at ASTRO CHASE and you will
find that the answer is an unqualified 'Yes'.
The scenario is that the Megard Empire has surrounded the earth with
a force field and placed pulsating Mega Mines which are slowly advancing
on the earth. Your mission is to destroy all the mines whilst fighting
off the Megard saucers. Sounds familiar? Sounds just like the sort of
blurb that poor programmers use to dress up their latest Space Invader
variation, but ASTRO CHASE is very different. It begins with an
excellent blast-off animation to take you into space from where you see
the earth, complete with a map of North and South America, surrounded by
various other planets. You can't see the force field but it is there
preventing you from straying too far. There are eight types of enemy
fighters at the various levels but your real task is to destroy 16 mines
which are slowly but surely making their way towards earth. Fernando has
invented something he calls 'Single Thrust Propulsion' which means that
you can set your craft in motion and it will carry on in that direction
whilst you fire in any direction around you! It takes some getting used
to but is a great joy once you get it right. Each of your craft will use
up energy but there are energy posts at the limits of the available
universe if you can get to them and 'shield' bases to give you up to 10
seconds of protection from enemy fire. The enemy saucers are not too
difficult to destroy but the real problem is bumping into a 'hot star'
whilst being pursued. These are tiny pinpoints which don't do you any
damage as such but which you can get stuck on and so destroyed by a
pursuing enemy craft.
The graphics on this are quite stunning but Fernando has gone much
further and crafted a game in which he appears to have thought of
everything. There are 34 levels, but if you are good you can start at
any level up to 24. So as not to spoil the fun the higher levels can
only be obtained by completing level 24. The best feature to my mind
however and what sets this apart as an exceptional arcade game is that
every 4 levels you come back to earth for a rest and each time can enjoy
an animation sequence which adds a little more to the previous one. I
get bored with arcade games which just give you points and more points
but finding out what the next animation sequence is going to be has got
me absolutely hooked! I have only managed it to level 20 and I fear that
I will not improve so if somebody gets up to the Master levels let me
know what happens.
The game has excellent graphics, scrolls, has music which
automatically turns itself down while you are fighting! or which can be
turned off and surely marks a big step forward in game design. First
Star Software has set itself a big task to follow this but if they can
do it they stand a chance of becoming THE Atari Software house to avidly
watch in the future.