Tag Archives: c64

Hunter’s Moon: Third Person Soother

“Relaxed” and “chilled out” aren’t words you would normally associate with 8-bit shoot ‘em ups, but that’s exactly what Thalamus Ltd achieved in 1987 when they released Hunter’s Moon on the Commodore 64.

Hunter’s Moon, programmed by Martin Walker, defied a number of expectations—the game not only stubbornly refused to sit comfortably within the existing shoot ‘em up paradigm, it challenged Thalamus Ltd’s own back catalog of shoot ‘em ups, delivering a more cerebral experience that wove increasingly complex layers of puzzle-solving around its frantic shooting.

Chillaxians

To ease the player through the transition from standard shoot ‘em up to unusual puzzle ‘em up, Hunter’s Moon made use of some interesting aesthetic trickery, starting with the game’s intro screen.

In stark contrast to most shoot ‘em ups, which blasted the player with frantic techno/metal music, flashing logos, and calls to action (“PRESS FIRE TO START!”), Hunter’s Moon opted for a more soothing, hypnotic approach.

Matt Gray’s music is built upon swirling, droning layers, its rhythmic components kept minimal and adante, deviating from his trademark upbeat style, perfectly complementing the whirling dervish of stars and orbs in the background. The use of color almost defies the capabilities of the C64′s hardware (which only had 16 colors), using a subtle contrast of grays and saturated colors to create an almost pastel-like palette. All this serves not so much to lull the player into a false sense of security but to suggest a more meditative, contemplative mindset for the game rather than the button-mashing norm.

Even hitting the fire button to commence playing doesn’t immediately launch the player into the action. Instead there exists a transitional moment as the player’s ship hangs in hyperspace between star systems, gently flipping and twirling to a soothing wash of pink noise. It’s another moment designed to slow the player down and promote a more chilled out state of gaming.

Hunting Starcells

Hunter’s Moon is a fairly simple game by modern standards. There are 128 levels divided into 16 clusters of varying sizes. All levels in a cluster must be completed before the player can move onto the next.

Progress is made by securing a number of “starcells” in each level. While the player may be lucky enough to encounter a gimme, most starcells are secured within a web-like structure that’s routinely patrolled by a spore-like enemy. Some of these structures can be destroyed by the player, allowing access to its interior, but such destruction can often be temporary as the patrolling enemy will attempt to repair any damage it encounters.

Hunter's Moon (C64): Grabbing a starcell!

A starcell’s there for the taking, but first the player needs to blast his way into the protective structure, timing his action so as not to collide with the patrolling enemy that will seek to repair it. (Image courtesy of A Gamer Forever Voyaging.)

Some structures are indestructible, requiring the player to explore its exterior to find alternative means of entry (hidden entrances, trip switches, etc.). Some enemies will be more likely to open fire on the player than others, while others may have unpredictable patrol routes. Thus any given level’s difficulty is determined by the complexity of the structures and the behavior of the enemies guarding them. Early levels are a walk in the park (blast in, grab the starcells, blast out), but later levels require significant study (and not a little trial and error) to determine optimal entry points and enemy states.

Pause for Thought

Even at its most frantic (and later levels will certainly get the adrenaline flowing), Hunter’s Moon never lost sight of its ability to bring the player back to a more relaxed state of mind. Hitting the pause button put the game in “off duty” mode, essentially functioning as a screensaver as the player’s ship temporarily entered an alternate state of existence and span around to the accompaniment of those familiar swirling patterns and soothing sounds from the intro screen. Fast-paced action was always but a single key press away, but so too was a chance to put everything on hold and chill out.

Hunter’s Moon met with a positive critical reception upon its original release but never seemed to find the larger audience it deserved. Martin Walker’s next game for Thalamus Ltd, Citadel, continued with the tradition of delivering a “thinking man’s shooter” and remains one of my favorite C64 games of all time—but that’s deserving of a whole article to itself another time.

If you’d like to give Hunter’s Moon a whirl but don’t have the patience for setting up a C64 emulator, check out Ovine by Design’s excellent retro remake for Windows that remains very faithful to the original. Take a look at the other retro makes they’ve made too.

Share your memories of Hunter’s Moon, the game of Thalamus Ltd, or any other “brainy” shooter in the comments below.

Header image: study – 30 minute (battle ship)” by J. Circle

How the Commodore 64 defined my taste in music

Something rather wonderful occurred in the early 1980s when home computers started to make noises.

Sophistication would come later, but having endured a year or so with the ZX-81 as the most sophisticated machine in my household, even the most raucous and tuneless of squawks to emanate from the ZX Spectrum or the BBC Micro were a welcome step in the right direction.

Ah, the joys of monophonic beeps!

Enter SID

But it wasn’t until the Commodore 64 came along that I started to looking at computers in a whole new way. They were no longer machines for playing games and perhaps doing a bit of word-processing or accounting on the side. They were now advanced artistic tools and, in the hands of the right people, a powerful gateway to a whole new world of creative expression.

I became fascinated by the possibilities offered by digital music production. It would be some years before I indulged in music production myself, but for most of the 80s I was content to explore the works of others, forever in awe of the sounds and melodies people were able to coax from the Commodore 64′s SID chip.

Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Ben Dalglish, Matt Gray and Jeroen Tel become huge names within the European C64 gaming scene, often being more recognizable than programmers and artists. A number of budget software publishers, particularly Firebird, Mastertronic and Codemasters even capitalized on the popularity of C64 musicians by commissioning them to provide loading/title/gameplay tunes for otherwise mediocre or terrible games. Grabbing a new Rob Hubbard track for only £1.99 was a no-brainer. If the game attached to it happened to be halfway decent, all the better.

Beyond the Commodore 64

My fascination with C64 music led to an equal fascination with Amiga music, which happened to coincide with the emergence of the techno, acid house and ambient music scene in the UK. I’d already become fascinated with the music of Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream around this time, but the UK electronic music scene soon gave birth to artists such as 808 State, Orbital and The Orb, all of whom took music in yet another fascinating direction for me. Once Warp Records rose to prominence, boasting the likes of LFO, Autechre and Aphex Twin on their roster, there was no looking back.

These days my taste in music is pretty varied, thanks in no small part to working in a record store during the mid-to-late 1990s and being surrounded by awesome co-workers with equally esoteric tastes. Now I’m just as comfortable with classic rock, indie and even alternative country, but electronic music still holds a special place in my heart and continues to be the one genre I can’t live without.

A Spotify Playlist

I’ll sign off by dropping in a Spotify playlist I knocked up containing some tracks from a few of my favorite artists in the electronic music genre. I present it mostly as a means of saying thank you to the Commodore 64 and those musicians who worked wonders with the machine. Most of the music I love today is because of the music they made some thirty years ago. Cheers, guys.

(For those of you without access to Spotify, here’s a YouTube playlist of mine containing some of my favorite music, albeit with various other genres thrown in.)