Sunday, 9 September 2012

Starglider Main Theme

These days it's too easy to be somewhat callous when considering a videogame soundtrack, when modern games get the treatment of 100-man orchestras, CD-quality sound or famous composers working on them. Rewind back to the earlier time of beeps and bloops and games like Starglider, a wire-frame vector artwork arcade-style flight shoot-em-up burst on to the screens of the Atari ST from Rainbird software (whose producer Jez San also designed the SuperFX chip for the SNES and now works on one of the more successful gambling websites in the UK - well played!). 

Like many games of its time, it managed to get as much as it could out of the meagre hardware of the time, with some of the sound effects are basic to say the least (lots of crashes and laser sounds from the noise generator). The game came with a novella, a mini story giving the background to the whole scenario that sees the AGAV, an outdated museum piece of a fighter, pit against the Egron empire who have managed to trick the planetary defence satellite system on Novenia by disguising their landing ships as interstellar migratory birds, the stargliders. Fighting a partisan war against a menagerie of weird geometric shapes, this was a tough game played almost entirely with a mouse for firing and movement. 

And the gameplay itself was arcade in its furiousness but had lots of nice touches that added  a tactical element to the game. Refueling came from strafing down wireless power cables to recharge (which in later levels became more heavily defended by Egron forces as they learned of the technique), whilst shield recharging and missile reloading meant having to land in rotating refueling pods scattered around. No pick ups here; this meant speeding away and looking for the nearest safe place to stay. The game even had indestructable units; the Stomper and iconic Walker class units that needed a direct hit from a guided missile, of which a maximum of two you could have at one time. Firing a missing was a risky business as you had to make sure you had enough space to get the missile oriented properly, line up your shot and hope you had enough fuel in the missile to reach your target. Occassionally, you would miss and would cause you to bank round and try another shot; even then your guided missile wasn't safe from incoming laser fire.

With the bulk of the storytelling done by the novella, the opening music is a small, 22khz sample of the Starglider theme and serves to get the blood pumping. Whilst short and sweet, it literally makes your ST sing to you - something that until then most Atari ST players had not even heard of studio-level samples being played like this. Even a small snippet like this creates a great little pavlovian response in players, getting them ready to go fight the Egron invasion.

So nowadays, when we're stuck with "awful" soundtracks, I think back to the days when we were only able to listen to small, low quality clips of soundtracks owing to power and size constraints (and think we were lucky).

Anyway, I'm going to get a copy and play this now - all this talk of shooting and flying has made me want to get back in the cockpit.