Hello, Homebrew: Thrust

This is the first in a series of articles about homebrew games. Quite simply, outside of the fanbase for a particular system, a number of these go clear under the radar. It’s a terrible shame, given that a lot of these homebrews end up being better than commercial releases. As such, I’m going to highlight some of my particular favorites for a variety of systems!

I had written previously on the subject of gravity in Spacewar, one of the earliest computer games ever made. The concept of gravity’s effect on games has extended beyond that, but only a few noteworthy games have ever stood out. One in particular, a BBC Acorn game (later ported, famously, to the Commodore 64, among others) entitled Thrust, became something of a cult classic.

Thrust was something of an evolution from Atari’s arcade game, Gravitar. In that game, you were flying from planet to planet, destroying guns and grabbing fuel before taking off to the next one. Ever present was the gravity each planet would ensnare you in, forcing you to make your moves carefully, lest you fall too far and crash.

Thrust took this a step further—instead of flying from planet to planet, now you were warping onto a planet, battling turrets and the forces of physics as you made your way deep into planetary chasms to grab a fuel cell. Once you had latched onto it with your tractor beam, you had to carefully maneuver your way back out, all the while fighting with the weight and inertia of your cargo.

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Spacewar: It’s just a trick of Velocity

Something I’ve noticed in a few puzzle games that came out last year, such as Strange Attractors 2 and Orbient, is the focus on gravity and velocity. In both games you are completely at the mercy of these two forces of nature, and you can only indirectly interact with objects around you.

Spacewar! In a sense these games, as well as a few other examples, owe a great deal to arguably the first major game, Spacewar. Spacewar was initially released in 1962 by a group of computer hackers at MIT who, upon getting access to the university’s fancy new PDP-1 computer, proceeded to pool their efforts and write one awesome head-to-head game. The premise is simple enough—each player controls a ship and tries to blow up the other guy while utilizing a limited supply of fuel and ammunition.

What makes the game interesting is the role of gravity. The ships are circling a star, and crashing into it will destroy you. The star’s gravity will pull you in or fling you out, depending on how well you can utilize it. Though you do have direct control over your ship, your thruster isn’t good for much more than maneuvering. Firing the rocket long enough to actually move independently of the star will drain your fuel in about 28 seconds. The winner is the person who can keep gravity from becoming an enemy.

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Lead: synesthesia homebrew for the 2600

I cannot wait for Lead to come out.

Granted, it’s already out. You can download the ROM (edit: no, no, download this one) and play it right now in a 2600 emulator like Stella. A warning: it’s tough.

Lead is a music shmup from programmer Simone Serra, designed for the Atari 2600. It boasts unforgiving gameplay and a catchy ‘glitch’ soundtrack.

As for the game’s music mechanics, freelancer/archivist/programming hobbyist Jess Ragan says, “Simone [Serra] has done what Tetsuya Mizuguchi could not: create a ‘synesthetic’ shooter that is not entirely dependent on pretty graphics and a pretentious art direction.” His review of an earlier build of Lead, below:

A little over a week ago, AtariAge announced the winner of the Lead Label Contest. The game will ship—with pretty labels on real Atari carts, as God intended!—this December.

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