Converted for the Commodore Amiga by Linel: Programming by Christian Haller and Christian A. Weber, Music and sound effects by Roman Werner, Graphics by Pete Lyon, Title screen by Michael Tschoegl.
Converted for the Amstrad CPC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum by John Wildsmith, with sounds by Nicholas A. Jones. Graphics for the Amstrad version by Hugh Binns and for the Spectrum version by Stephen Crow.
Converted for the Commodore 64 by Tim Rogers, with graphics by Darrin Stubbington and Hugh Binns, title screen by Stephen "SIR" Robertson and sounds by Jeroen Tel for Maniacs of Noise.
All versions released in 1988 by Hewson.
Here's something that this blog hasn't featured in quite a while: a game that was made for all three principal 8-bit computers, that these sorts of comparisons usually are focused on, as well as the two next-generation computers that went through a similar battle of "whose reproductive organs are more appropriate for the job" as the three 8-bits. If only the MSX and 8-bit Atari computers were included here, it would be perfect. But curiously enough, Eliminator was first made for the 16-bit Atari, so that's something to consider with a bit of seriousness. Particularly as it is also one of the select few three-dimensionally behaving games featured on the blog so far. And if that's not reason enough to write about Eliminator, then at least having included it in the teaser picture in last August should give me some excuse to do this now.
Considering Eliminator's origin as a 16-bit game, it's not all that well rated currently in their communities. The ST version has a rating of 5.8 from 57 votes at Atarimania, and the Amiga version has little less worse score of 6.17 from 35 votes at LemonAmiga. Of course, for any 8-bit hardware, the game can easily be considered a bit more impressive, so at World of Spectrum, it has a round 7.00 from 25 votes; at Lemon64, the score is 7.4 from 50 votes; CPC Game Reviews' Chris Lennard has given it another 7 out of 10, while the collective score at CPC-Softs is a rounded 14 out of 20, which basically means another 7. I have my guesses as to why each score is as they are, but let's see if anything new can be learned...
DESCRIPTION & REVIEW
Hewson has always been known as a company that produced innovative and often, in some way or another, technically impressive games. John M. Phillips had already become known from his innovative puzzle-shooter-platformer Nebulus (known in the US as Tower Toppler), and in the traditional Hewson way, his next game would be something very different.
|Screenshots from the demo version of Ammotrack (Atari ST, 1988)|
What apparently started its life as Ammotrack in 1988, Eliminator took a relatively large U-turn in mid-development. The demo of Ammotrack published in Zero Magazine's December 1991 issue's coverdisk certainly looks the part, but is more of a racing game and arcade-like in its execution, than a pattern-based memory shooter. The game file can be found at Atarimania (at least), if you want to have a go at it yourself. Had Eliminator been written for the 8-bits primarily, it might have been considered as such, since it might have been made in a slightly different manner. But since it was developed for the Atari ST first, its initial reception was a bit lukewarm.
The thing is, there were plenty enough of three-dimensionally scrolling forced movement based shooting games already on the market - the two Trailblazer games, Space Harrier, Deathchase and even the earliest Star Wars games could be counted as such. So, there needed to be some specific gimmicks here to make Eliminator special in any way, and mr. Phillips decided in the end to combine some of the gameplay gimmicks seen in the second Trailblazer game (Cosmic Causeway) with road shape alterations which would only become more familiar in later racing games like Power Drift and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, and finally, weapon upgrades almost akin to games like Gradius, but with a possibility to shoot enemies higher above the ground level by using a certain weapon.
As with most titles I mentioned above, Eliminator is above anything a game of memory, in which you learn your way through the courses by a good amount of trial and error. Happily, it also has a password system, so the learning process doesn't have to be as bothersome as it would be without it. This does have its negative effects, though - your starting weapon will still be the one you would otherwise start the game with, and you will start with no score, so if you're planning on getting a good high score, you will start from the beginning, so the password system really is only good for experimenting with the later levels.
For me, Eliminator has always been a bit of a hit-and-miss kind of affair. The graphical gimmicks combined with some unique gameplay mechanics always managed to intrigue me, but the repetitive nature of the game and the trial-and-error manner of learning process can be frustrating. Since it's still mostly a highly playable game, I cannot fault it too much for what it is. I also have to admit, that some of Eliminator's charm has always been Jeroen Tel's brilliant SID soundtrack, which is enough reason for anyone to check out the C64 version at least. As for the other four versions, I'm not so sure yet, so let's see.
Eliminator happens to be one of those surprisingly rare games, which allows you to use either joystick or keyboard as your control method without having to choose either option in the title screen. The controls are fairly simple: left and right moves the Eliminator left and right, up and down change your weapon, whenever you have more than one weapon available, and the fire button fires your chosen weapon. There are six weapons in the game: a single-shot cannon, a dual-shot cannon, a bouncy single-shot cannon, a side-fire cannon, an air-fire cannon and finally, a triple-fire cannon, or if you're playing the C64 version, a smart bomb.
Since there are different sorts of enemies, obstacles and terrains in the game, you will need to learn your way through each level in their own way. There are a few basic things you need to focus on: destroyable targets that open up passages when shot; jump ramps that either allow you to jump over obstacles or through gaps, or ones that allow you to latch onto the ceiling of a tunnel; and two sorts of bonus items, which either give you better weapons or fill up your ammunition supply (top right meter). The enemies are mostly acting in a fairly similar manner: they appear at certain points in each level, perform their specific figure dances and shoot a few bullets at you while at it, then pass you by, unless you manage to destroy them. You can withstand quite a few hits (the other meter on the right side of the screen), but you still have to focus on dodging bullets as well as shooting. Some of the enemies move on ground level, some move well above the ground, and some move in the tunnel ceilings. There are also obstacles on the ceilings that appear in similar patterns as they do on the ground level, as well as jump ramps in certain designated spots to offer you an option to make your life easier. Sometimes worse, too. As it happens - too often, in fact - you will need to memorize all the levels very thoroughly, so you won't accidentally be jumping onto the wrong lane and crash into a road block. Also, you have to strategize your usage of weapons, because a weapon that shoots more than one bullet at once, is not very economical in the long run, because all weapons use the same bullets, and while you still have shields, too many hits from enemy bullets will cause death. With nothing to defend yourself with after you have run out of bullets, your survival through a level is highly improbable.
The first thing that you notice being really different in the gameplay is the speed. The original ATARI ST version is quite fast, whereas the AMIGA version falls a bit behind it, similarly to the SPECTRUM version. Clearly the slowest one of the lot is the AMSTRAD version, and the C64 version's speed is somewhere between the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions. Since the three-dimensional scrolling speed has a lot to do with how each version's graphics are drawn and other technical klingon that I have no idea about, I shall not even dwell too much on that subject, since I'm not even sure if the scrolling is actually proper 3D. I'm sure the nerdiest of you readers have the knowledge to enlighten us all about it, but frankly, I'm not all that interested in the technical side of it.
Unfortunately, graphics are an important part of this game, and having things coming at you in a properly drawn manner is pivotal to your gaming experience. Although the 3D scrolling has been made very fast indeed for the SPECTRUM version, the object drawing is questionable at best, with all the objects in the distance seemingly looking for their proper place until you arrive at their location, when it might already be too late to determine, where you should be maneouvering your vessel. This is particularly awkward, when you have obstacles coming towards you, which includes destructible (flashing) blocks - you rarely have any idea where the blocks really are until you either crash into them or into the indestructible blocks beside them. The AMSTRAD version fares no better, since it shares the same distance drawing problem, and as I said already, the 3D scrolling is the slowest of the lot. While in the original ATARI ST version, you will be seeing plenty of changes in altitude, the AMSTRAD version seems to only have some rare occasions, when the road has a bit of uphill. I have played the AMSTRAD version up to level 10, and I still haven't noticed any other kinds of hills. There are enough of left and right turns, though. The SPECTRUM version features some downhill sections as well (if that's what they really are supposed to be - they look more than a bit awkward), but from what I have noticed, never in these sections are there any obstacles or enemies to deal with.
Of course, the C64 suffers from the lack of processing power, so it's not particularly surprising that a 3D'ish game would run sort of slow compared to the Z80's with more MHz. But contrarily, the C64 version at least has more to offer in terms of altitude changes and other environmental anomalies. I have yet to see levels with different lanes with a watery grave between them on the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, while the C64 version introduces this element in level 2. Also, you come often enough across downhill and uphill bits with enemies and/or obstacles. Speaking of enemies and obstacles, the C64 version draws all that stuff quite well in comparison to the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, even though the drawing method leaves a lot to be desired. Considering everything, I'm a bit more impressed on the C64 version than either of the other 8-bits.
That said, the C64 version's level design and, frankly, the overall gameplay style is considerably different from all the other versions. Whereas the original 16-bit game and its two other 8-bit conversions are clearly more action-based, the C64 version gives us a more sedate pacing on the enemy attack waves due to some strange eight sprites per screen limit that the machine apparently has, and more focus on the avoiding-and-collecting portion of the game. One could argue, that the original game idea has been thrashed on the C64, and some heavy redesigning has been made. In some ways, the SPECTRUM version is more faithful to the original, but then again, it doesn't feature all the gimmicks from the original that the C64 version does.
But we haven't really properly spoken about the original yet. Since the AMIGA and ST versions are basically similar apart from the slightly lower speed in the AMIGA version, I might as well refer to both versions as the originals. First of all, the difference in 3D visibility is huge, even compared to the C64 version. You can quite easily see from far off, where each object is placed on the grid-based road, as long as the road gives you the opportunity. There are many more occasions, in which the road goes up or down, than what can be seen in the 8-bit versions, and any section of the roads can easily feature any sorts of obstacles and enemies - you just have to memorize everything. This is really what makes the 16-bit versions considerably more difficult than the 8-bits, and not in a good way, because this sort of gameplay leaves little room for experimentation and creativity. In fact, the AMIGA version, being the slower one of the two, feels better exactly because of its slight deficiency - you have more room for error and time to react to what's coming up ahead, even if it's only a very small advantage.
There are a couple of more rather important points I need to make, before moving on. First, the way the Eliminator moves in each version is surprisingly different. In the AMIGA/ST version, there is some noticable inertia to deal with, but nothing particularly difficult. The C64 version has plenty of inertia, but the relative slowness of the game makes it almost as easy to deal with as the original. As a complete opposite, both the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions feature no inertia whatsoever, and the Eliminator strafes in a confusingly slow manner, which is just fast enough to be able to handle all sorts of situations, even though it often looks like it's too slow. And second, the SPECTRUM version is the only one that has no password system. A huge mistake, because Eliminator is a game that relies specifically on your ability to practice and memorize levels, and having no option to play the level you need to memorize, while all the other versions do, is a definite downer. While even the AMSTRAD version has a password system, it also happens to be the most boring and repetitive one of the lot, which is almost as bad as not having a password system in a better version.
All in all, I think all the 8-bit versions have something different to speak for themselves, but each of them have clear differences to the original 16-bit game, that can be considered either good or bad by each gamer's preferences. The sheer speed in the SPECTRUM version is remarkable, but simply due to its 3D drawing problems here, it fails to be an enjoyable game. In the AMSTRAD version, this isn't so much of a problem, since the gameplay is repetitive enough and the graphics style allow for better guesses in what's coming up ahead, so you won't have to practice and memorize as much as learn patterns, but this also makes it more boring in the long run. The C64 version features a nice alternative top-level weapon, as well as all the necessary gameplay elements to feel more like a complete'ish conversion, but the level design and overall style of gameplay is quite different from the original. In truth, I cannot honestly say which one should be considered the best one, since the 16-bit versions play differently enough to be considered their own league almost. Certainly, the ATARI ST and AMIGA versions have all the elements the game is supposed to have, but then they're also the most difficult ones of the lot because the action is so hectic and the amount of memorizing you have to do is ridiculous. If you enjoy these sorts of games, then that's your advantage, but I happen to like the C64 version's pacing and design a bit more, because it offers more time to focus on everything. Still, it cannot be denied that the 16-bit versions are made to look and play better, because their hardware allows it. I don't like it anymore than you do, but here are the results:
1. ATARI ST / COMMODORE AMIGA
2. COMMODORE 64
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC
I just hate it when a game's playability gets so heavily dependant on how its graphics work. Further in the past, there have been examples of games that were reimagined in a different way because the way the original worked on the original platform would either never have worked as a straight conversion, or more likely, would have been dull and unimaginative. Some early titles from Cosmi and Gremlin come to mind. But since Eliminator was made for the 16-bits first, the 8-bits had to try their hardest to keep themselves in the market, and thus copy the original as well as they were able to. Graphics have always been the highest selling point of games, and I don't think it ever was more the case than in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
|Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore Amiga intro + loading screen, Atari ST.|
Bottom row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64.
Part of this phenomenon of competing in graphics must have rubbed off even into loading screens, because here, every version has their own version of the cover art. Strangely, only the C64 version's loading screen by Stephen Robertson features the same elements as the cover art does, and the AMIGA loader goes just as much overboard with its grey borders as the original cover art. The original AMIGA release also features a credits sequence before the actual loading screen, which I haven't seen featured in any of the cracked versions. Although it is of little consequence, the title logo's colouring is the most like in the cover art in the ATARI ST and C64 versions, while the AMIGA version features a more radical effect, and the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions none.
|Title screens. Top row, left to right: Atari ST NTSC/PAL, Commodore Amiga.|
Bottom row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 PAL/NTSC, ZX Spectrum.
In the title screen, we have the most visible remnant of the developer's earlier Ammotrack preview - the game logo is very similar and has a similar visual effect. The logo's colour scroller is supposed to go through as many of each machine's available colours in as many shades as possible. For the AMSTRAD version, though, they only managed to squeeze in four of the machine's lightest colours, and the SPECTRUM version's colour scroller doesn't look very smooth in its progression of colours. But it's not of much consequence. The C64 version is the only one of the 8-bits that looks closer to the original 16-bits, and the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions look very different with blue framing and less attention to either shading (SPE) or colouring (CPC).
|Info screens from Commodore 64 (left), Commodore Amiga (middle) and Atari ST (right).|
Although not quite as necessary as on the 16-bits, the C64 version features an additional info screen, the primary function of which is to provide an interface for inputting passwords. On the 16-bits, there are some actually helpful bits of information, such as how to toggle music and sound effects, but the ATARI ST version also tells that it has a unique switch button for displaying the game properly on either a 50Hz screen or a 60Hz one - PAL and NTSC respectively.
|Get Ready screens. Top row, left to right: Atari ST/Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64.|
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum (left) and Amstrad CPC (right).
As is only natural for an arcade-influenced game such as Eliminator, we get the obligatory "Get Ready!" screen, which isn't very interesting as such, even though each version is a bit different in this regard - apart from the AMIGA and ST versions, of course. After the "Get Ready"-like text has been on the screen for long enough, the curtain of blackness rises and reveals the 3D landscape of a checkered road and a background of sorts, which we will get into just after this bit. The AMSTRAD version is the only one of the lot that forgoes having an actual horizontal line at the bottom of the black curtain, and the SPECTRUM version is the only one, in which the roadside background colour is fully displayed before the curtain has fully drawn up.
One thing I didn't bother to show here is the way the Eliminator gets introduced on the screen in each version. On the 16-bits and the SPECTRUM version, a circular hole opens up in the middle of the road, from which the Eliminator hops up and lands on the spot before the hole closes. In the C64 version, it just arrives on its spot from behind the camera, which is still more than the straight unceremonious appearance in the AMSTRAD version.
|Screenshots from level 1, left to right: Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.|
The most immediately noticable difference is the colouring, which on the 16-bits is naturally more impressive with all the colour gradients and everything. Next, the 3D scrolling speed, which has already been dealt with in the Playability section, but what hasn't been dealt with yet regarding scrolling, is the scaling, and how far each version is actually able to draw things properly. Of course, drawing and scaling objects "properly" is something that none of the 8-bit versions can do in a 3D environment, but the C64 version is somehow able to pull it off, since it actually makes an attempt at drawing the whole distance - as far as the game is supposed to be able to show, anyway. That said, it doesn't really look too good in certain parts, where you are going through a curved downhill or something - you'll see what I mean in the next set of screenshots. The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions draw a strict line at around the fifth weapon icon slot, and never move the skyline from that point, which makes the ascending and descending bits look a bit wonky. Mind you, the AMSTRAD version doesn't even have the descending bits. Nor does it actually scroll the whole shown distance properly - the furthest third of the view just jitters cheaply in order to create some sort of an illusion of movement.
|Screenshots from level 2, left to right: Amiga/ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.|
|Bonus screens with level codes, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Amiga/ST.|
After having beaten a level (or stage, as they are here), you get to the bonus screen, which in most cases also includes an entry code for the level you have just beaten. The SPECTRUM version, as has been pointed out earlier, doesn't feature level entry codes at all, and all the text is red with no shading. In the AMSTRAD version, all the text is green, but at least there is some shading, and in contrast to the 16-bits and the C64 version, it doesn't say where you should be typing the entry code, because the AMSTRAD version has no Help screen - logically, you type the code in the title screen. The C64 version is similar enough with the 16-bits, at least when it comes to the text colouring, but the 16-bits have a separate screen for telling you about the password. Funnily enough, the first password has a typo on both AMIGA and ST: it should say AMOEBA instead of AMEOBA. If you type it wrongly, as shown in the password screen, you start from level 1. If you type it properly, you will start from level 2. Oh well.
|Screenshots from further levels, left to right: Amiga/ST, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.|
|Crashing examples, left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga/ST.|
|Game Over screens, left to right: Amiga/ST, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.|
|Writing your name on the Hall of Fame. Top left: Atari ST. Top right: Commodore Amiga.|
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC.
Finally, when you get your score on the Hall of Fame, you get to write your name in various ways. The original ATARI ST version and the C64 conversion let you only enter your three initials, or whatever three letters you wish to enter. In the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD conversions, you are allowed five letters. For some reason, the AMIGA version lets you type in as many as nine letters and other characters, which is not quite enough to type "Skapadi Poy", but just enough to type most people's first names and then some. Another point of interest is the picture of the Eliminator on both sides of the high score table: the AMIGA version doesn't have them, the AMSTRAD version shows it from behind, like you normally see it in the game, and the other three show it from the front, and all four versions still have their own renditions of it. Also, the Hall of Fame text at the top is styled on the C64 and the 16-bits in the same vein as the game title logo in the title screen, but the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD have it strictly green, albeit in different fonts.
In this particular game, the 3D scrolling speed is a key element in measuring quality of the overall graphics, but it's certainly not the only point worth considering. Indeed, the way the game draws objects from distance and brings them towards us is just as much of importance, if not more so. Only then, we need to focus on arguably lesser points of consideration, such as graphical variety, colours and details. But when all elements are put together, I think we have a fairly clear list, but the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions both have different elements that have as much weight in graphical importance, making them quite balanced to one another. So, here we go:
1. ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. COMMODORE 64
4. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC
As you might have guessed from my earlier praise of Jeroen Tel's SID soundtrack, it has been the most memorable thing about Eliminator for me. But much like with the soundtrack he made for the C64 version of Cybernoid, I cannot honestly say it's unsurpassable - tastes might differ. Before we condemn any version's soundtrack as unworthy or the opposite, each version's soundtrack must be carefully analysed in their musical content and their fitting contextually with the game itself, plus consider the worth and quality of the sound effects, where available.
Strangely enough, there isn't much to analyse in the four other versions, because they're very much the same, aside from some small differences in sound types. Of course, the 48k SPECTRUM version has the music and sound effects played through the machine's in-built monophonic speaker, which limits the said version's soundscape quite a bit, with only the title theme tune kept in, and the sound effects are more of the splurty and noisy type, as you would expect from the 48k Spectrum. In the original soundtrack, you can hear a title theme tune, a few short little effect-like things for Get Ready, Game Over and Bonus screens, as well as a nicely energetic in-game tune, which plays throughout the game, apart from the sections between levels. The 128k SPECTRUM and the AMSTRAD versions sound surprisingly much like the ATARI ST version, only the low end and percussive bits are more pronounced on the ATARI. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the AMIGA version sounds almost like it was sampled from the ATARI version, and only some light effects were added into the mix to make it sound a bit smoother and bigger. All four multi-channeled versions based on the ATARI soundtrack also play various sound effects, of which there are slightly more on the 16-bits, but the 128k SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD follow the original surprisingly well. But there is one little hitch in the 8-bit versions: you have no option to toggle music or sound effects, so you are stuck with both - although of course, you can turn the volume down from your TV set if you're bored with the soundtrack.
Although the original soundtrack contains memorable, and even surprisingly catchy tunes, the C64 version's soundtrack has the ability to get under your feet, particularly the lengthy in-game tune. The other two actual tunes aren't bad either - I would even go so far as to call all of the Jeroen Tel tunes better than anything in the original soundtrack, but perhaps that's just my opinion. Most likely the reason why I'm more partial to it, is the much better usage of both percussive and chord base elements in all the songs in the soundtrack. There is one problem with the C64 version, though - it has no sound effects at all. While the music offers plenty to listen to, so you won't necessarily be missing any sound effects, the fact remains that there are none. Not even as an option. And for that reason alone, I'm afraid I'm going to have to place the C64 version between the 48k SPECTRUM and the rest of them.
1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. AMSTRAD CPC / ZX SPECTRUM 128k
3. COMMODORE 64
4. ZX SPECTRUM 48k
Yes, I know, the last one must have come as another shock. Jeroen Tel is one of my favourite C64 composers of all time, but having no option for sound effects could be considered cruel, no matter how good the music is. But then, all the 8-bits are compromised in their own particular ways, and if you're really looking for a proper version of the game to play, you have to turn to the 16-bits. Here are the ever-so trustworthy mathematical overall results:
1. ATARI ST: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 12
2. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
4. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 6
5. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 5
6. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
Unlike many other Hewson classics, Eliminator was destined to be more of a product of its time, rather than a timeless classic, meant to be remade or tributed in various future games. Although it cannot be denied that Eliminator bore the Hewson mark of uniqueness well enough, there is a good reason why we didn't get to see many more winding three-dimensional roads combined with what were basically elements from perpetually scrolling 2D shoot'em-ups: the concept just wouldn't really be worth exploring further until it was possible to do it in proper 3D, and more particularly, in first-person mode. But still, Trailblazer works better as its own separate thing, and 2D shooters work better by themselves. Eliminator was an interesting attempt, and merely for the sake of listening to some good tunes and witnessing some fine old-school coding, it is still worth taking a look at every now and then as a reminder.
To my knowledge, there have been no proper remakes of Eliminator for modern home computers, but I found this thing called Eliminator Tribute for Android platforms (requires a 2.3 system or higher), which looks pretty much exactly like the original 16-bit game. Also, while doing some further googling, I noticed some people were pondering on the possibility of making Eliminator for the 8-bit Atari in 2011, wonder what became of that?
Well, that's it for now, hope that was worth reading. Next time, we're having another very special entry here, combining two different series together for the first time ever, and probably for the last time as well - let's see what happens! Until then, have a good week, and see you later!