Thursday, 2 February 2023

Thrust (Superior Software/Firebird, 1986)

Originally designed and written by Jeremy C. Smith for the Acorn BBC Micro and Electron, and published by Superior Software in 1986.

Commodore 64 version written by Jeremy C. Smith, with music by Rob Hubbard and title screen by Bob Stevenson.
Amstrad CPC version written by Jeremy C. Smith, with loading music by Melvyn Wright.
Sinclair ZX Spectrum version written by David Lowe, with graphics by Simon Clarke.
Atari 400/800 version developed by James Software Ltd.
C64, Amstrad, Spectrum and Atari 400/800 versions published by Firebird in 1986.

Commodore 16/+4 version written by Matthew F. Young (Lynsoft UK Ltd.) with graphics by Chris Young. Published by Firebird in 1987.
Atari ST version written by Alan Butcher, with music by Rob Hubbard. Published by Firebird in 1989.

Unofficial Atari 2600 version written by Thomas Jentzsch, published by XYPE in 2000-2003 as three different editions: Thrust, Thrust+ DC Edition and Thrust+ Platinum.

Unofficial Vectrex version developed by Ville Krumlinde and published by Classic Game Creations in 2004.



Here we go, FRGCB is back from the short break and ready for some serious comparing action! Following the idea of a Mastertronic month, it seemed logical to use a similar theme for another month for a change, if only this once. So, here at FRGCB, February 2023 is dedicated to Firebird games, ending with another list of exclusive Firebird games for various platforms. But as you have noticed, we start this month with Thrust, which was a game originally developed for the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro computers, and published by Superior Software, after which Firebird got the publishing rights for the rest.

Because of the way the Acorn-specific websites are maintained, none of them have a voting system, and even MobyGames didn't have any scores given for either of the Acorn versions. From the original author's personally handled ports, the C64 version has a score of 8.1 from 141 votes at Lemon64, and the Amstrad version has a 18/20 at CPC-Power and a 9/10 at CPC Game Reviews. The archived World of Spectrum rating from 2017 was 8.15 from 36 votes, and the current rating at Spectrum Computing is 7.8 from 8 votes. The rating at Plus/4 World for the C16 version is 8.1 from 18 votes. At Atarimania, the 8-bit version has a score of 7.3 from 20 votes, and the 16-bit version a much more promising 8.4 out of 12 votes, but the A2600 version shines with its absence there, as does the Vectrex for quite as obvious reasons as the Acorn scores.



Thrust has been referred to on this blog so often in connection to other games with similar gameplay style, that it should be familiar to regular FRGCB readers by now. As you might know, it took most of its inspiration from Atari's arcade classic, Gravitar, from 1982, but Thrust has a more specific mission: pick up a pod somewhere in each of the levels and drag them to space. Actually, there is a bit more to the actual plot of the game, but that's all you really need to know. You control a spacecraft with thrusters in varying forms of gravity, on six different planets, and your ship has the ability to shoot and use a shield - but not simultaneously. The most important feature of your spacecraft is the tractor beam, which can pick up fuel, and more importantly, the pod, which is then attached to your spacecraft with a stiff rod, which adds its own hazardous element to the gravitational aspect of Thrust.

To be honest, Thrust is not quite as complex or infinitely addicting as Atari's original Gravitar is, but it does offer a different sort of a challenge. Consider it a natural evolution from Jupiter Lander, similarly to how the arcade went from Lunar Lander to Gravitar. In fact, the gravity-based cave flying genre really took off on its own on the home computers, particularly Amiga and PC later on at the turn of the 90's, but Thrust is where it all got kickstarted.

Despite its not-so original origins, Thrust is one of the most important games that was ever released by both Superior Software and Firebird, and it has a firm place in computer gaming history books. It is truly an icon in its own right, and I urge everyone to play it, who has yet to experience Thrust - it might even be the better starting point to the genre between itself and Gravitar.



Once again, to those of you, who still think cassette loading times are an important part of the entire 8-bit gaming experience, particularly if it is to laugh at the inferior versions, here's what I found to be the fastest tape loaders for those versions that had one:

Amstrad CPC: 5 minutes 22 seconds
Atari 8-bits: 6 minutes 14 seconds
Commodore 16: 1 minute 15 seconds
Commodore 64: 3 minutes 52 seconds
ZX Spectrum: 4 minutes 34 seconds

On a more curious note, the CPC version features loading music - I have never heard an Amstrad game to actually do such a thing! C64, yes. Atari, once or twice, by having the music recorded on the other channel on the tape itself, but not as a programmed feature. Spectrum, yes, when it's been part of a demo. C16, no idea, but I would hazard a guess that it doesn't have the memory to do such a thing. The C16 version is, unsurprisingly, the quickest of the lot to load the game, but as usual, that doesn't mean the game's quality is any better for it.

Loading screens where available.
Top row, left to right: Acorn BBC Micro/Electron, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC.
Bottom row: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 16, Atari ST.
The loading screens are, while clearly somewhat different on certain platforms, also very similar in design. Most of the loading screens are based on the Firebird cover art, or the other way round, where your spacecraft is pulling the pod towards the exit of the cavern. The C64, CPC and Spectrum loaders are practically the same, while the Atari ST screen uses a different angle and a slightly different styling for the game logo, and more appropriately, a dark sky above the cavern exit. The original Acorn loading screen shows the spacecraft in a cavernous area with the orb waiting to be picked up, which in its own way is also very atmospheric, if a bit sloppy in execution, but I actually prefer this one over the others.



If you want to play the original ACORN version on an emulator, be prepared to do some heavy user keymap editing. The game in its original form cannot be played with a joystick, and the keyboard controls are: Caps Shift for left and CTRL for right (which are logical on a BBC Micro keyboard, but are linearly on top of each other on a European standard modern PC keyboard, divided by the Shift key), Space for tractor beam, Shift for thrusting and Enter for shooting - all of which are on different sides of the keyboard. But the thing is, you can't really make a user keymap on real hardware, so gamers with a real BBC MICRO are forced to make do with what they are given. Of course, it wouldn't be normal, if the ELECTRON version didn't have slightly different keys. You get CTRL and A for left and right, but the rest of the keys are the same as on BBC MICRO. Happily, this is slightly more logical on a modern PC keyboard, so you probably won't have to do much of user keymapping - not that you actually can do such a thing on ElectrEm, which is probably the best standalone Electron emulator out there.

Rather oddly for the C64 version, it was also designed to be played strictly with the keyboard. The keymap is set somewhat accordingly to the original, with A and S for left and right, but everything else is the same: Shift for thrust, Space for tractor beam and Return for shooting. The C16 version uses the same keys as the C64 version. The AMSTRAD and ATARI ST versions are similar to the two Commodore versions, but left and right are remapped to Z and X. The SPECTRUM version allows you to redefine the pre-defined keys, which are A and S for left and right, I for thrust, P for fire and M for tractor beam. The ATARI 400/800 version uses Z and X for left and right, but the other actions happen from the non-numeric function keys at the right end of the keyboard: START for throttle, SELECT for shooting and OPTION for tractor beam - that's F2, F3 and F4 in a PC keyboard, if you're playing on an emulator.

The two unofficial console versions are a bit more difficult to describe, because they have some fundamental differences in their controls. The ATARI 2600 version... well, one of the versions, since it has gotten a few updates since its original release. So, at least the latest one of the A2600 versions supports the driving controller, and some people have even included a throttle pedal to play the game with, apparently giving the perfect Thrust experience with it. However, most A2600 users probably only have a joystick, which in itself is mostly fine, but seeing as the joystick only has a single fire button, you need to throttle with pushing the joystick up, so when you need to use the tractor beam, which is down, you cannot do both things simultaneously. Playing the game on an emulator helps, as you can use Shift as throttle while pulling down for tractor beam. The fire button is for firing, as you would expect. Going through the A2600's switches reveals a hard mode, which is displayed by different colours on screen. The only gameplay-related difference seems to be, that the planet defence systems shoot at a higher rate.

But the VECTREX version goes with a button for all the usual actions (buttons 2 to 4), and adds one for locking thrust, which is used in the new Hard+ difficulty level only. In addition to Hard+ mode, there is also a Time Attack mode in the Vectrex version. In the Hard+ mode, the only notable difference seems to be, that all the bullets shot by the planet defence systems are homing in on you, and they shoot at a higher rate. The Time Attack mode gives you a time limit, within which you must get through as many caverns as you possibly can, but you don't need to focus on fuel depletion or your number of lives - just be quick about it.

Having played all the (known) versions of Thrust, I have to say the original two ACORN versions are very well designed in all aspects except for the controls. The caverns are just perfectly designed regarding your ship's maneuverability within them while carrying the pods, and the gravity and inertia works just slowly/quickly enough for any player to be able to react to everything going on. Between the two ACORN versions, there is one minuscule difference: in the ELECTRON version, you cannot shoot things that are outside the screen borders, which I think might be due to memory restraints.

From all the original conversions, the C64 version feels the closest to the ACORN versions. It's a bit slower, though, and like in the ELECTRON version, you can only shoot things that are inside the screen borders. (There is a longplay video on YouTube, though, in which the player shoots things outside of the screen, but I don't know why I wasn't able to do that in my copy.) The AMSTRAD version corrects that issue and plays pretty much the same as the BBC MICRO version, but is notably slower than even the C64 version.

The ATARI 400/800 version feels similar enough, but due to the chosen graphics mode, it was necessary to do some slight redesigns to some levels. However, I did come across some odd problems regarding bullets not making an impact on planet defence systems, even though they clearly reached their destination. It might have something to do with the angle of impact, because sometimes, my bullets would destroy one defence system immediately, but it is a notable problem, nevertheless.

Considering the hardware, the C16 version is surprisingly close to the original, but jerky scrolling with slightly uneven spacecraft movement makes the game really difficult to navigate. However, there was a revised version released for the C16 in 2009, fixing the uneven movement issue, which makes the game a bit more enjoyable. Like the C64 and ELECTRON versions, though, you cannot shoot things outside the screen.

Out of all the official conversions, in some ways, the SPECTRUM version feels the most far off from the original. Your spaceship's movement and screen scrolling both feel a bit uneven, and the scrolling happens comparatively late, so you need the level layouts firmly memorized. The planet defence systems are much more aggressive than in any other version so far, and they have a higher firing rate - often shooting more than one bullet at a time in several directions. Perhaps the oddest thing, though, is that the pods you need to pick up have an unnatural swing to them, as if you're dragging an automatically swinging pendulum behind you, regardless of its position or relative movement to your spaceship. In short, the SPECTRUM version feels completely all over the place.

Taking a quick dip into the 16-bits, the ATARI ST version feels more floaty - the gravity is not quite as heavy as in any of the other versions, which affects the behaviour of the pods quite drastically. There also seems to be more levels in the ST version, as the third and fifth levels were completely new, and level four was level three elsewhere. The general difficulty level is higher than in most 8-bit versions, with the SPECTRUM version being the closest equivalent in enemy behaviour. On the plus side, though, the ST version's scrolling is more naturally flowing than the push-scrolling method used by every other version.

The ATARI 2600 version has some slight redesigning made for certain levels, but the really wonky thing about this one is, that you need to be at a certain odd angle for the tractor beam to latch onto a pod. It's some diagonal, I guess, but I have never so far managed to get the pod up on first attempt.

Even though the SPECTRUM version feels too different from the original, it's still nothing compared to the VECTREX version. Again, you will notice some level design differences here, but upon further examination, the proportions of the cavern designs versus your spacecraft and the pods you need to pick up are very different from the original, making certain parts of the game very tight indeed. Also, it doesn't help, that the gravity works a bit different here, and the inertia between your spacecraft and the pod is more aggressive. I found this all so much of a difference, that I haven't been able to pass level 4 once so far. That's not to say, that the VECTREX version isn't a technically fantastic achievement - rather, it's just not quite correct. Having two additional play modes just doesn't really help with the more fundamental problems, I'm sorry to say.

That said, I think the VECTREX and SPECTRUM versions are on equally bad footing, albeit in very different ways. The ATARI ST version feels too floaty and uncontrollable, and the high difficulty level doesn't help it, but the additional caverns raise the version's value a tiny bit. Next up, the ATARI 400/800 version has enough problems to be below the average, considering its hit detection problems and redesigned levels. The C16 version, if going strictly by the original release, would fall down with the worst of them, but the 2009 update does help things enough to make it more playable than the ATARI ST version. Out of all three ATARI versions, the A2600 version beats the other two quite easily, even with its controller problems, but then again it was made with time and love. Then, I will have to give the C64 and AMSTRAD versions a shared spot, because while I cannot seem to confirm the C64 version's shooting-things-outside-the-screen possibility, they both still have their different advantages and disadvantages, and are good enough to be almost equal to the originals.

As a quick end note, completing Thrust once will give you a new game mode with reverse gravity, and completing the game a second time will make the caverns invisible without the aid of the light emitted by your tractor beam. I have never managed to beat all six of the original levels on any other version than the C64 (and even that for the first time as I was recording footage for the accompaniment video), so let's leave it at that. If one or more of the versions doesn't have these other game modes, I have yet to find out about it, so please do leave a comment if you know better.

3. ATARI 2600
4. COMMODORE 16 (2019)
5. ATARI 400/800



Probably the most immediately recognizable part of Thrust is its graphics, which aren't pretty per se, but functional and... well, recognizable. Regardless of which version you happen to be the most familiar with, the game looks pretty much the same on all platforms.

Instructions screens, left to right: Acorn BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Atari ST.

Only three versions display the set of keys used in the game prior to the actual title screen, and all three versions look very different for this occasion. The BBC MICRO screen uses the standard teletext display mode, while the ELECTRON version adds the game logo, as it was on the two ACORN versions, to the top of the blue screen with yellow basic text. The only other version to display the controls screen is the ATARI ST version, which actually alternates between this one and the loading screen. Quite obviously, it's the most graphically advanced of the three, but it's not exactly one of the most important things in the game.

Title screen / high score table.
Top row, left to right: Acorn BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Atari 2600.
Bottom row: Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Vectrex.

For most versions of Thrust, the high score table acts as the title screen. What you see around the high score table is basically the first thing you see when entering the first level, unless you're playing the VECTREX, ATARI 400/800 or ATARI ST version. The VECTREX version alternates between a screen with a shining game title logo with three triangular spaceships below it, and the highest scores for the three game modes. The two mentioned ATARI versions display none of the terrain graphics, but the info panels are kept at the top of the screen. Other deviations from the norm comes in the ATARI 2600 and COMMODORE 16 versions, both of which show no high score table, but the info panel and the level graphics are there, surrounding the title logo and some other text.

What's so striking about the original graphics of Thrust, is that all the graphics are as uniform in style as you could possibly get. It's all vector-based, just lines with no colour fills at all. Even the original info panel uses the same style, and still manages to be stylish.

Level 1 screens.
Top row: Acorn BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Atari 2600.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Vectrex.

Already from the title screen / high score table, we can see some of the most obvious differences between all versions. The ELECTRON version is monochrome; the C64 and AMSTRAD versions have a wider screen, compared to the two ACORN computers' taller screens; the SPECTRUM version uses at least some filled graphics and different colours; the COMMODORE 16 version uses just one colour for the objects and another one for terrain; and quite obviously, the VECTREX version is black-and-white and the screen is much taller than it is wide. What we cannot tell from here yet, is what the ATARI 400/800 and ST versions look like.

Starting the game sheds some light on those two, most dramatically on the former. Since the ATARI 400/800 line of computers is rubbish at producing graphics of a higher resolution, the developers at James Software decided to go with the usual route, and use multicolour graphics for the terrains and land objects, instead. Unfortunately, your spaceship is still the white wireframe object it is in all the other versions, albeit a wider one, which looks just plain wrong in context. Somehow, the A2600 version manages to look more its part, even though the machine is supposedly less capable.

Oddly, the VECTREX version, which is vector-based by necessity, instead of due to a stylistic approach, looks a bit lame by comparison. Some details are missing, and the terrain is only shown as a single line forming the surface. The SPECTRUM and ATARI ST versions have unorthodox colour choices, but otherwise do their jobs perfectly well. Here, on closer examination, the two COMMODORE versions have less colour than the original BBC MICRO version, and some of the designs are a bit different, but still some of the closest to the original. The AMSTRAD version has all the right colours, but the object designs are similar to the C64 version.

Warping out of the level.
Top row: Acorn BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Atari 2600.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Vectrex.
The single most flashy visual effect of the game is the warp-star of your ship and the pod when you reach a certain point going up. It is nothing more than four thick lines extending to the principal directions, sucking the two subjects into the warp with the act, and then retracting the thick lines back into nothingness.

Most of the warp effect versions are similar to the original. Of course, the ELECTRON version continues being monochromatic, but the SPECTRUM version also uses the same colour for both warp crosses, and the cross looks more like cheap helicopter blades instead of a portal. The ATARI 400/800 does a fairly good job with the warps, but oddly, in the ATARI ST version, you get another single colour rendition for both warps. Also, you can see your ship and the pod still on the screen for a fraction of a second after the warps are faded away, and then taken off as if snapping your fingers.

Only the two unofficial versions have a different looking effect for the warp. The ATARI 2600 version goes with two small circular warps, which are so quick in appearing and disappearing, that it's almost impossible to take a screenshot of them. But as you can see, they are both at least of a different colour. The VECTREX warps look like they've been taken from Activision's Master of the Lamps, with their diamond-rectangular shapes zooming off to the next planet.

Countdown and explosion, left to right:
Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST, Atari 8-bit.
If you choose to destroy the planet's power plant before taking off to the next planet, shooting at the power plant for a good number of times will set off a timer for imminent destruction. Most versions have a clear number countdown at the top of the screen in the info panel, but the ATARI ST version is rigged with a completely new visual effect, which makes the entire sky turn into a gradually brighter red. In the VECTREX version, the timer is set to appear in the middle of the screen with a funky little animation to it. I chose not to include too many screens of the timer, since there's not that much to see.

If you fail to reach the warp zone before the timer is out, the entire planet will explode, you along with it. The explosion itself is not that much more interesting than any of the other graphics in the game, although some versions look a bit different. Most of the versions just do a quick flash of a few colours, mainly shades of red, and your ship and the pod will turn to dust. However, the SPECTRUM version flashes yellow and black with violently slashed tears on the screen while at it, and the ATARI ST version goes through a few oddly unrelated colours in a quick series of flashes, and your ship and the pod turn to circular puffs of pixelated smoke.

Further levels screens from Acorn BBC Micro (top row) and Acorn Electron (bottom row).

Now, if we look at screens from the next few levels, not only do the terrain graphics come in different colours, but so do all the objects. Even the info panel texts and line ornaments change colours according to the levels. Your spaceship stays yellow in the BBC MICRO version, and the ELECTRON version keeps itself fully monochromed.

Further levels screens from Commodore 64 (top row) and Amstrad CPC (bottom row).

The C64 and AMSTRAD versions follow suit, although they don't use the same exact colours. And of course, the C64 palette is notably different from the BBC MICRO and AMSTRAD ones, but it also seems like the C64 version has a little more terrain colours in use.

Further levels screens from Sinclair ZX Spectrum (top row) and Commodore 16 (bottom row).

For the SPECTRUM and C16 versions, I couldn't be bothered to try to reach level 5, because they both felt like they showed enough of what they are capable of within the first four levels. The SPECTRUM version shows some attribute clashing while scrolling, but the scrolling is done in such a different way than in most versions, that you can barely see it. In the first screenshot, however, it is visible, as it was grabbed just as the screen was scrolling, because otherwise the defence system at the top and the fuel and pod platforms wouldn't have fitted in simultaneously. You can also see, that the spaceship changes colour along with each level's terrain. In the C16 version, all the objects that are not terrain are constantly white.

Further levels screens from Atari ST (top row) and Atari 400/800 (bottom row).

Like for most of the previous versions, here I have included screenshots of exactly the next four levels for the ATARI ST version, and three for the ATARI 400/800. If you have played Thrust more than a couple of times, it is instantly noticable, that levels 3 and 5 are different from all the other versions in the ST version. Here, the interactive objects all bear the same colours throughout the game, and the pod platform is redesigned to be a little bit prettier than the original.

The ATARI 400/800 version continues to be plain ugly with its wide multicolour style, particularly when you see the first doorway, which feels completely out of place. The terrain graphics, which you have to look at more after completing the first level, are extremely unpleasant to look at due to their copy/paste style of patterning something that's either supposed to be plain vector lines or completely garbled ground formations. From the interactive objects, half of the objects keep their colour throughout the game, and the other half changes for each level. It's just a big mess, really.

Further levels screens from Atari 2600.
The A2600 version continues to be surprisingly nice-looking, compared to the A400/800 version. Like the A400/800 version, though, the pod and defence system colour change according to the levels, while all the other things keep their colours throughout the game.

Further levels screens from Vectrex (rightmost with overlay).

Well, the VECTREX version doesn't really do much else than what you have seen already. I'm not sure how the overlay thing actually works, since I don't have a real Vectrex, but on some emulators, you can use a virtual overlay, which looks very nice, and explains all four buttons, as well as the info panel numbers. But it's still very nice, despite its lack of colour and terrain fillings.

For the most part, then, the usual method of giving scores for this section doesn't entirely apply in the case of Thrust, since most of the versions look similar enough to each other in principal. What we're looking for here in addition to the usual colours and graphical quality are fluidity of movement, the visible area and the points and methods of scrolling.

4. ATARI 2600
7. ATARI 400/800



In the original two ACORN versions, there is no music at all, and the sound effects are, while effective and blissfully exact in their execution, rather bulky and commonplace as far as space-themed games go. There are sound effects for thrusting, shooting, tractor beaming, exiting the level, picking up the pod, emptying the fuel deposits and explosions, which can be played simultaneously whenever such a possibility occurs. Of course, the BBC MICRO version has more sophisticated sounds compared to the ELECTRON's beeper sounds, which only consists of melodically built sound clusters - similar to early 1990's DOS platforming games by Apogee, if you know what I'm talking about.

From the official conversions, the SPECTRUM, C16 and AMSTRAD versions share the original design by featuring no music. The sound effects are more or less what you would and should expect, although there are some differences. For one, the SPECTRUM version has only three sound effects: one weird descending screech for entering level, another weird noise for exiting level, and an weirder series of super-quick seemingly randomly chosen notes that are repeated four times, which plays upon Game Over and entering the title screen after having first selected the controls. As there is only a 48k soundtrack, that's all you can expect. Certainly memorable sounds, and odd ones even for the Speccy. The AMSTRAD version has no sound effect for warping out of a level, but everything else is there, and sounds close enough to the BBC MICRO original. The C16 version has the exact same amount of sound content as the AMSTRAD version, but the sounds feel a bit more primitive in some ways.

Rob Hubbard's title music written originally for the C64 version is solid Rob Hubbard -styled funky stuff, which starts off with a mind-shattering vibrated alien screech and gradually builds up to a fantastic spacey tune that has some similar harmonics to it as Ben Daglish and Anthony Lees' soundtrack for The Last Ninja has occasionally. It's surprisingly heavy, actually, but in a good way. The same theme tune was ported by Rob himself to the ATARI ST version, but there he made it less experimental, and a bit faster as well, making it perhaps less disruptive for gaming. You see, the ST version gives you the possibility to listen to the music even while you're playing, or go with the sound effects instead - or go completely quiet.

The C64 version's sound effects are neatly made, and they utilise different filters of the SID chip to make the game feel even spacier than it already is. Apart from the level exiting effect, everything is in, and sounds very sophisticated indeed. Even the ATARI ST version's sound effects feel a bit clunky when compared to the C64 version, but it's definitely better than basically all the other versions.

The odd one out from the original conversions is the ATARI 400/800 version, which uses a different, yet a similar enough theme tune. The song starts off a few seconds after the title screen has been introduced, so if you're a quick gamer, you might miss the title tune entirely. It's an otherwise nice little tune, but pales by comparison to Rob Hubbard's SID-piece by having no percussive elements whatsoever, nor anything like spacey as the famous screech in the beginning. All the noise-type sound elements have been saved for the in-game sound effects, most of which are exactly that. Only picking up the pod makes a clear "ping" sound, but all the others are some form of noise, some uglier than others. Again, no sound effects for warping in or out of a level.

Amazingly, the ATARI 2600 conversion features a surprisingly good rendition of the Rob Hubbard tune, as it appeared on the C64, with A2600's limitations obviously. Still, it sounds better than the ATARI 400/800 version, and the sound effects are all solid A2600 stuff that we all know and love, and there are even more sound effects than there are in the original. Even more wonderfully, there is a new spacey interlude ditty that plays after completing each level, which really brings some new energy into the game. My only problem with the A2600 soundtrack is, that the A2600 sound chip itself brings it down a bit, because the whole thing is superbly noisy and mechanical-sounding, which tends to ruin the deviously quiet atmosphere of Thrust. Therefore, I'm going to give it a shared spot with the ST version.

Finally, there's the VECTREX version. After having played all these versions so much in the past month, I have come to realize it's an ingenious piece of work in certain aspects. For instance, while the A2600 version used the original C64 Rob Hubbard tune, the VECTREX version was "upgraded" to use the ATARI ST version of the Hubbard tune. It even one-ups the A2600 in its sound effects, by laying down all the possible sound effects into the game and making them all less grating on your ears. However, while this is all fun and impressive, it also cuts down the eerieness of the original game soundtrack and particularly the C64 version's sophisticated sounds. So while more is definitely more in some ways, I'm forced to give the VECTREX version a shared spot with the C64 version, and similarly, the A2600 version shares a spot with the ST. The rest of them follow logic.

2. ATARI 2600 / ATARI ST
3. ATARI 400/800



All right, it's time to count the first overall scores of the year 2023, and see how much of a mess we're into now. As ever, the most important score should be the Playability score, but if you put more importance on graphics and sounds, this should give you some idea as to what version would be more recommendable over some others. Because of the fact that I gave the C16 two different scores for the Playability section, thanks to its official 2019 update by the author, you will also see two C16 scores in the Overall scores.

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 19
2. ACORN BBC MICRO: Playability 7, Graphics 7, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 18
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 6, Graphics 6, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 15
3. ATARI ST: Playability 2, Graphics 7, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 15
4. ATARI 2600: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 14
4. VECTREX: Playability 1, Graphics 6, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 14
5. ACORN ELECTRON: Playability 7, Graphics 5, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 13
6. ATARI 400/800: Playability 3, Graphics 1, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 9
7. COMMODORE 16 (2019): Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
8. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
8. COMMODORE 16 (1987): Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5

Perhaps not wholly accurate, but that train has passed long ago with FRGCB's scoring method. But it's not too far off the truth, really. I couldn't really put them in a very different order based on my personal preferences, either, but I would give some extra recommendations for the ELECTRON version for its larger view area, as well as the ATARI ST version, which has some extra levels in it. Overall, I do think the C64 version is the most balanced one, and has the best atmosphere in it, largely thanks to Rob Hubbard.

If you can't be bothered to go through all 10 or 11 versions of Thrust on your own to properly determine if you think these scores are bollocks or not, here's a video accompaniment, prepared by yours truly.

Several websites, including Plus/4 World and Indie Retro News have mentioned a few different remakes of Thrust, at least one of which I have played many years ago - that one being Thrust Deluxe, which I might still have somewhere in my archives. However, only one of the websites containing these remakes seem to work anymore, which is a barely functional javascript version by Jon Combe, who wrote it in 2010. So, for the moment, your best bet is still playing one of the original versions. Someday in the unforeseeable future, I might dig out my archives and see if I still have Thrust Deluxe somewhere.

That's it for today, hope that started off this year well enough! Thanks for reading, and hope you'll stick around for more Firebird material for the rest of February!

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