|A . S P A C E . O D D I T Y . . . .|
Yes, Alien 8 has arrived, the new megagame from Ultimate, and shock, horror, it looks almost identical to the last megagame from Ultimate, Knight Lore - the same number of rooms, the same 3D graphics, just substitute a dinky robot for Sabreman and the Werewulf. But first impressions aren't always best as Ross Holman and Chris Wood found out when they started playing ...
Help is at hand. You'll never get lost again if you follow our room-by-room guide to the Alien 8 spaceship.
|"Next time I'll remember the bleep cheese"|
|"Lucky I know my bleep from my right!"|
|They may look cute but don't be fooled, these clockwork rodents are out to wind you up.||Danger, UXB. Just one touch and you'll be blown into oblivion.||Jump on the arrows to control the direction of the robodroid - but you'll probably find it easier to jump on and off again rather than crossing the central square.||The mines blocking your exit may be a minor problem for the robodroid - but they mean major surgery for you. So, watch out if you come rushing in from this door.|
|Wait for the mice to clear a path for you, then leg it to the other side. But watch out for the mice - the fewer the mines, the faster they move.||Keep an eye on your light yearometer - even at sub-hyperwarp speeds it's later than you think.||Here's where your robodroid begins its minesweeping manoeuvres. And if it strays from the path, you'll just have to leave the room and start again.||The robodroid spins into action, antennae flashing. OK, so it looks like a pudding basin with ears but you'd be sunk without it.|
|"Going up - my CPU's in my speech unit"|
|"Top of the bleep world, ma!"|
|What do you get when you cross a dalek with Mickey Mouse? Whatever it is, it'll probably look very like this.||Prepare for another elevating experience. Entice the dalek off his perch, hop on and you've got lift off.||Going up - and down. But if you sit here you won't come to any harm. Robots don't get veritgo.||Another thermolec valve to add to your collection. This one's just visible, but you'll have to hunt for some behind collapsing blocks.|
|C'mon level with me - the perspective makes it tricky in some rooms to tell if the doors are on the floor or up in the air.||It's lucky your cybot's made of heavy metal - you'll need all his head-banging skill to move this block and release the dalek.||These two blocks are elevators liek the one you're on, but they offer a one way ticket to destruction. Wait where you are till you reach the bottom then run like hell.||If you happen to nut one of the pyramids, you'll end up with a nasty case of concussion - and another life lost.|
|"One down - 23 more rooms to bleep"|
|"Ride him, cowbleep"|
|This bunch of stiffs is the future master race. (Some future - Ed.) But only if you can activate all 24 rooms before your time runs out.||If the matching thermolec valve isn't here, you'll just have to go and find it. And remember that you can only carry four at one time.||The travelling Toffos are your only hope of escape. Try and postion them between you and the sparkler and then make a mad dash for freedom.||Another valve, so jump on the sparkler and use it as a springboard to give you a leg-up onto the blocks. The masonry will disintegrate and you're there.|
|The activation socket flashes on and off showing you which shape valve to plug in. Once it's in, the room goes white and, bingo, you're ready for the off again.||This pile of rubble started life as a column. But the only way you're going to reach the socket is to knock it down and start clambering.||Bronco-bustin' an alien sparkler is a tricky business. It's either bucking you onto the boulders or trying to scramble you along with the egg-shells.||You won't get to work on one of these eggs. Even when the aliens have hatched their shells can still do you some damage.|
Much easier to pick up the gist of the plot by playing. All you need to know is
that you are a robot, sorry, cybot, programmed to look after all the needs of the
frozen astronauts, off on a jolly jaunt to
colonise distant worlds. Unfortunately,
the ship has been invaded by aliens and
the life support systems have been
damaged. You now have to reactivate
these systems before the astronauts turn
into real stiffs.|
Reactivation is achieved by collecting 'thermolec valves' (different shaped objects) and plugging them into the cryogenic sockets (holes to plug in different shaped objects). With 24 chambers to be reactivated and only 5 initial replacement packs (lives), it's not a task that'll be
completed first time out. You're going to
have to get used to the screams of a lot of
defrosting spacemen as they re-enter the
atmosphere. Luckily, on the Speccy
nobody'll hear them.|
Any resemblance to any other Ultimate program is purely uncoincidental. And sure, you're going to think you've been conned by a clone when you first load it up. But once you're into the game you'll see that it's much more complex than its predecessor and perfects all the techniques that Knight Lore prepared us for.
So, now check out our map and start planning your movements with the microwave on legs.
"How do I become a hacker?" That's a question more and more of you are writing in to us at YS to ask. To put it bluntly, a lot of you are trying to run before you can walk. If you really want to become a red-hot hacker then you've got to be prepared to put in some graft. The best way to gain the necessary experience is to get out there and start writing machine code programs of your own. Only then will you start to get the feel for the hacking game.
Learning to hack is a bit like learning to read - first you learn the Z80 instruction set (your alphabet) and then you'll begin to recognise the groups of instructions which make up common subroutines (words). Soon you'll surprise yourself with the speed you've started to hack at. Instead of giving up in despair, you'll be recognising whole chunks of code at a glance.
However, you'll always come across games which don't seem to fit in with all you've picked up previously. 3D games are the biggest headache in this direction and what's Alien 8? - why, a 3D game, of course. The standard way of tackling 3D graphics requires a lot of maths and a lot of late nights but at least you'll be able to hack into it. Alien 8, like a lot of arcade games, doesn't use the bog-standard method, of course, because that would be just too slow. At first glance, the toughest part of the whole process is overwriting. This means that once a room is set up, the programmer can start filling it from the 'back' so that the objects which appear nearer to you 'overwrite' everything behind them. The maximum number of distinct objects in a room is an incredible 56 and it only takes one slip-up to ruin the whole optical illusion.
Ultimate write everything initially to a buffer high up in memory and then the final stage is to copy the whole lot into screen RAM where you can see it. Most games which use a screen buffer (JSW is a prime example) use the LDIR
instruction to copy to the
screen. Of course, Ultimate
have got to be different -
they copy line by line from
the bottom up! But it's not
bloody-mindedness, just that
they write their programs on a
machine with an identity
crisis - it only thinks it's a
Spectrum (delusions of grandeur, eh? - Ed.).|
Ultimate's code is slick and professional but it bores me. Alien 8 is no exception. This time I managed to catch them out though - in one part of the program there's a jump made to the very next instruction. It's a bad habit to get into, as it wastes space and time, though it makes assembly listings much more readable for us hackers. So, as space isn't a problem in Alien 8, I'll let them off just this once but it'll be a hundred lines each if I catch them doing it again!
For all that, I've got to hand it to Ultimate. Alien 8 was a tough one to crack. Since our last hack into one of their games, they've made a few improvements to the speedloader they use - it's even acquired a name, Speedlock. At any rate, it's been a couple of times round the track since it was used for Decathlon.
After that, it seemed a doddle writing an infinite lives program. So easy in fact that I added the facility for infinite time. Now the clock wraps right round when it gets to zero. It's a bit of an anti-climax when you run out of time anyway - we were expecting, if not a big bang, then a bit of a whimper as the space ship enters the atmosphere and your unfortunate astronauts frazzle. No such luck.
The second program is a bit
specialised but I rather like it
and thought you might too.
Type it in and alter the lines
that are indicated and you'll
have a program that saves any
screen at any stage of the
game to tape, just by pressing
Pause and then the S key.
Think of the fun you can have
- save a series of screens
onto tape, dump them onto
your printer and turn them
into your very own Alien 8
cartoon. Send them in so we
can all have a look. Software
prizes for the funniest!|
At Troubleshootin' Pete's insistence, I've made things a bit easier this time as some of you had a few problems with Underwurlde and Ghostbusters and he couldn't help - he's totally useless (so what's new? Ed.) when it comes to helping with hacking problems. It's now a one stage operation. After typing in the program and running it you should get a 'STOP statement' message. If you get 'ERROR in DATA', go back and check your data. If all's well, you can now take out line 25 and save the program - next time you use it you can just run it. Then enter 'GO TO 30' and put your fully rewound Alien 8 tape into the cassette recorder and press play. The game will now load and give you infinite lives and time. Don't worry that the name 'Alien 8' doesn't appear on the screen, it's just that the program ignores the header on the tape. If the second part of the tape fails to load straight after the first part, you'll have to rewind and start again. If there are any errors the program keeps trying to reload rather than stopping with an error message.