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Manic Miner

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Written by ST Graveyard

November 6, 2018

Comments

Every ST scener today must have heard from Steve, right? Steve Gregory? No? Atari Crypt! Ah yes, now we are getting somewhere. Well, Steve Gregory is not only an avid ST gamer (and ace reviewer), he's also a big ZX Spectrum fan. And that is quite a good thing, because visitors to his website must have noticed that he isn't shy of reviewing those more obscure, underground, ZX type of games released on the ST you never heard of before. This has helped me discover some true hidden gems on my favourite system. What some of you might not know is that Steve can be a really stubborn fella. You see, a while a go, the creator of the game we are discussing here, started working on an updated version of Enduro Racer (which he sadly never finished). Steve got in touch with Peter Jørgensen, expressing his enthusiasm about this project and they became friends. Peter found out about Steve's crazy ZX passion and thought it would be a good idea to pull an April Fools joke on Steve. He created an intro picture of this ZX classic, Manic Miner, and told him he was making an ST version. Of course, Steve went through the roof. When he found Peter was pulling his leg, Steve started whining and pushing, day in, day out, for Peter to make this game a reality. And well, the rest is history, so to speak.

How's that for a backstory and an intro to this review? (Ok, I gave my own spin to it a bit, but it is mostly accurate ;-) )

(ed : Just got a message from Peter telling me he has known Steve since 2014, while creating the awesome Project-Ymer program. Today he is his nr 1 beta tester. So again, not 100% accurate)

As you might already know, I grew up with an Atari ST, but my dad bought a ZX Spectrum himself in 1982 (I was 2 years old). In 1985 he sold the thing and went for an ST. I still have some very vague memories of the ZX, blurry images of Frogger and a Breakout game are still marked on my retina. But that is about it. I never played any other games, and had zero experience with Manic Miner... until recently, that is.

Manic Miner was quite the game so it seems. Released in 1983, it was the first Speccy game featuring an in-game tune which was thought impossible before, and it did some other nifty tricks in the loading screen. After the release on the Spectrum, the game was converted to a whole bunch of other systems and a few sequels were released called Jet Set Willy.

Today, Manic Miner is considered a true classic. According to Wikipedia, it has won several awards and is even placed on #96 of Polygon's top 500 'best games of all time'. Heck, a few years ago, even an Xbox 360 update was released on Xbox Live called Manic Miner 360, that is saying something. Now, thanks to the great Bionic Nerd, we are able to play this classic on the ST, so let's delve into this one and have a closer look.


Graphics

This game is true to the original version, almost pixel by pixel. The graphics were ripped from the Speccy and updated for the ST. Luckily, the pixellated look remains. The maps were designed from the ground up on the ST but created to be as accurate as possible to the 1983 classic. In the end, this gives us a very solid and fluent conversion, programmed in pure ASM, with an oldschool look. The character animation is nice, the colours are varied and vivid. The intro and game over screens are detailed (and the latter one pretty funny as well). Of course, this is no Bitmap Brothers game, it doesn't really look like a 16-bit game, but that is the point.


Sound

The intro tune is a conversion of the famous 'The Blue Danube', which was also present in the original. Music in this game has been created using Peter's own software, Project-Ymer. A classic YM chiptune, that gets on the nerves in a while ;-) You have the ability to switch it off if it becomes to much. There are no sound effects present during gameplay (ed : these will be available in the final release), only the original music. Oh, and normally I don't do this, but I'm reviewing the beta version, which will be very close to the release version. It has some extra intro tunes which you can choose. One of them is the main theme from Goldrunner by Rob Hubbard. Amazing, and Peter promised this stays in the final version as a hidden treat.


Gameplay

So what is the objective of the game? You play as Miner Willy and you have to escape 20 caverns before your oxygen supply runs out. As in classic single screen platform tradition, you need to collect certain objects in each screen, while avoiding a lot of moving baddies and other static obstacles. Moving enemies always walk a certain path at a constant speed. In fact, this whole game is based on timing. If you jump too soon, you could fall to your death. Or if you leap too quickly, you might hit a spider or mining robot and lose a life. This is old school gaming in its purest form. Every level is based on a certain pattern and you must find out the best (and sometimes only) way to grab all objects whilst avoiding being killed so you can exit the level. Trial and error is the only way. And remember, there is a time limit.

Willy has 2 lives which you will lose before you know it. You can earn an extra life every 10000 points you score, but don't count on that too much. Starting from the first level, the difficulty is brutal. This is something we are not used to experiencing any more in modern gaming, but the creator assures me that it is very true to how it originally was.


Conclusion

The conversion process of the sequel to the orginal Manic Miner, called Jet Set Willy, was started back in the day, but eventually cancelled. So we never had the chance to play a Willy game on our precious ST, up until now. (ed : Jet Set Willy was eventually reversed engineered and unofficially released in 1998) As a first game, Bionic Nerd has made something to be proud of. If you are not afraid of a real challenge and want to know what games were all about in the first half of the 80s, Manic Miner is a beautiful example. And even though it might feel unfair at first, and lots of perseverance is needed, it is addictive as hell. You will be playing quite a bit if you want to experience the end sequence ... Unless you cheat, of course ...

Oldschool gamers will agree with me that this a very nice (con)version and a game that deserves a spot in the AL review database!



Score
  • Graphics: 7
  • Sound: 6
  • Gameplay: 8
  • Overall: 7

Review Comments

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AtariCrypt
Wow!! You're a young spring chicken. TWO when the Speccy was released! Sigh... I was eleven. Still, what this means is that I have a massive memory filled full of that era when the Speccy games where made by small homebrew like companies before the big boys like Ocean and so on bought them out or overpowered them! Happy times. I'm always interested in the similar areas of the Atari ST too. I find things like that so fascinating. The ST scene (and yes then and today) is stuffed full of an incredible amount of talented people making code, music, art and Peter is one main player. To think he went to this effort of making Manic Miner from the ground-up is humbling and proves his passion (even though he's got a cruel side that winds me up lol). Anyhow, great review and I must admit i laughed seeing my name here on this outstanding resource. Humbled yet again! However, the music deserves better than a 6 :p
Keep up the great work mate. Awesome website.
November 7, 2018
ST Graveyard
Alexander Holland provided the link with the story behind the release of Jet Set Willy on the Atari ST :

The Story of the Atari ST Version...By Paul Taylor

My friend Carl Whitwell and I produced the Atari ST version of Jet-Set Willy for Software Projects, circa 1989. The guy we were working for was Tommy Barton, who was one of the directors of Software Projects. We finished writing the game, which was as perfect a reproduction of the original ZX Spectrum sound and graphics as you could get. If you saw it, you would think it was the Spectrum.

At the Software Projects offices, we were also given the opportunity to play the Commodore Amiga version of Jet-Set Willy, which was not yet finished at that time. Tommy took us through to a different room with an Amiga in it, and remarked that Shahid Ahmad was working from home but had left a recent copy of it as a demo. It looked like many Amiga games of the time, full of hardware sprites with smooth movement and lots of colour shades. I particularly remember The Forgotten Abbey, as it revealed the flaw in this approach: each of the monks looked exactly the same. In our version, being an exact replica of the original, each monk is a different colour. Other screens in the Amiga version just had coloured blocks instead of proper sprites, since he hadn't finished them yet.

Our Atari ST version was created in two stages. First of all, we disassembled the original Z80 code and reverse engineered it into C. Then, we re-coded some of Matthew Smith's graphics and sound routines for the Atari ST. We worked using a Sinclair Spectrum with the Zeus Disassembler and the original Jet-Set Willy program, and an Atari ST 512 with the Sozobon C compiler. We had no physical link between the computers - the disassembled code was listed on the Spectrum screen, and entered into the Atari by hand! Each screen's data was dumped as hex, and dictated to a typist who entered it into struct { } statements in the C program.

By the end of the 1980s, Software Projects felt that Jet-Set Willy had had its day, and decided to cancel both the Amiga and the Atari ST projects. (However, the Amiga version of Manic Miner, also by Shahid Ahmad, had been on sale for a few months by this time). Since Software Projects weren't interested, we gave a copy of our ST version away to someone in England who wanted a copy for himself. Apparently, he gave copies to lots of people. That version can be identified in a number of ways. We altered the authorship message to read "Perfect Conversions, Hamburg", for example.

We once asked Tommy Barton about Matthew Smith, and whether the mythical game Willy Meets the Taxman had ever existed. He replied that Matthew had indeed started work on a sequal to Jet-Set Willy, and had even shown demos to the staff of Software Projects. Tommy recalled seeing sequences in which Willy waltzed with Maria the housekeeper. He said that the graphics were bigger, and not really the same as Jet-Set Willy or Manic Miner. However, he said that Matthew had lost interest in the project very quickly, and had left. He no longer knew of Matthew's whereabouts.


Snippet taken from the WayBack Machine
November 7, 2018

Son Shu Shi

March 21, 2021 by ST Graveyard

What an accomplishment this game is. Created with such a small team, the result is really amazing. The game oozes creative passion. While the gameplay is really well balanced, it is a tough cookie, very hard from time to time with its moments of sheer frustration. As of level 3, timing becomes key. You will need to practice and learn the levels to complete this game, there are so many bad guys on screen it sometimes gets a bit hard to take.

Blood Money

April 4, 2020 by Morcar

Graphically, it's also nice on the eyes with well-defined graphics and animation. You really get the feeling that the developers put some thought and love into the game. Remember what I said about the large levels? Well these are wonderful and are very different to each other, they also scroll fairly smooth in all four directions.

Cybernoid - The Fighting Machine

March 28, 2020 by Morcar

When you boot up the game you’re presented with a fantastic loading picture of your ship. It's detailed with bold colours and it tells you This is 16-bit, bitch. Then you get the wonderful rendition of the Cybernoid theme that's on all the 8-bit versions. It's not exact but the changes still make it noticeable to anyone who knows it.

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