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2003 Stan's Atari Excellence Awards
Homebrew of the Year
2003 Stan's Atari Excellence Awards

Homebrew of the Year

Star Fire

Star Fire

Created by Manuel Rotschkar (Programmer), Thomas Jentzsch (Programmer), and Paul Slocum (Music)
Produced by XYPE and released through AtariAge

What do you get when you put three of the hottest names in retro-programming together? Simple, a guaranteed hit. Star Fire is amazing. Based on the 1979 arcade game Star Fire, this homebrew is an exceptional port that actually improves on its classic predecessor. For those of you not familiar with Star Fire, the game is really rather simple. It's a first person space shooter that pits you and your Star Fire class attack vessel against the cunning and deadly EXIDY coalition with the survival of earth at stake! You'll face endless waves of EXIDY ships that desperately protect their armada of freighters just waiting for a chance to annihilate the planet! You'll have to stop the freighters or earth is doomed.

Star FireManuel Rotschkar does an exceptional of bringing this action packed space adventure to life on the 2600! There is more than enough challenge for even the most experienced gamer, yet the game is accessible to anyone who can point and shoot. The waves get progressively harder and the enemy ships get increasingly faster with their laser fire. The game is just flat out fun to play. The controls are smooth and easy to learn. There is a radar at the bottom of the screen to help you keep track of all the action (even as the game keeps track of 9 double-sized independent moving space objects!) Star Fire is the kind of game that is easy to get into, but difficult to master!

Graphically speaking the game looks pretty smooth. The EXIDY ships and freighters have a "familiar" look to them in that they resemble space vessels from popular sci-fi properties. All of the visual elements are well rendered and full of color. Your screen display changes color when you are hit to let you know that you are in trouble. The game is full of visual eye candy, including an animated title screen, courtesy of VCS programming powerhouse, Thomas Jentzsch. Not only does the game look good, it features some really great sound as well. Paul Slocum (2002 Stan Award Winner) designed an exceptional theme for the title screen, as well as lending a hand with the warp sequence in between waves. The title music is catchy and has a feel that is uniquely Slocum's work.

Star Fire Elite SquadronTo top it all off, Star Fire features some incredible peripherals! The game comes with a beautiful, full color manual designed and illustrated by David Exton. The manual is printed on high quality, glossy paper with easy to understand instructions and a fun little back-story. And is if the game didn't have enough replay value already, AtariAge offers special Star Fire Elite Squadron patches to the first 50 players who earn a score of 3500 or more! The patches are hand-made and look unbelievably good. They are the hard work of Lori Krueger (who produced the patches) and Dave Exton (who designed the patch artwork). So if you didn't have enough reason to play Star Fire non-stop, the quest for the patch will keep you going for some time! (as of the time of these awards only a handful of people have them!)

Star Fire excellently captures and embodies exactly what a game on the 2600 can and should be. Its fun, it has tons of replay value, its simple to play, but tough to master, it features high quality visuals and sound. There are a lot of space-themed games for the VCS, but Star Fire is at the top of the mountain.

Honorable Mention
Backfire Backfire

Programmed by Chad Lare
Produced and released through AtariAge

BackfireI wish I could give out two Homebrew of the Year Awards, because Backfire certainly deserves one (but doing so would, of course, compromise the whole award concept). Backfire was developed from the ashes of Chad Lare's other work in progress, Cyclostar, which was forced back to the drawing board in need of a complete rewrite. I first played the game on an emulator and realized immediately that it was good. However, I had no idea just how good until I bought the actual cart and played it on a real system. Backfire is fast, fun, and addictive.

The game concept is simple, you have two guns, one at the top of the screen and one at the bottom. Enemy ships are generated from the center of the screen and work their way to you. If they reach you, you are toast. Your only defense is to shoot the oncoming ships before they get to you. Simple, right? It would be except that if you miss, your shot might traverse the screen and hit your other gun, in effect you've killed yourself! Not enough? Well the ships are armed with projection fields which create reflective shields in empty space. If you hit the shield instead of the ship, your shot will ricochet right back at you, and you'll have to move fast to get clear of your own shot! But don't take too long to line up that perfect shot, because if the ships get too close to your guns, you'll be tugged on by their tractor beams and getting an accurate shot will become impossible! Your only chance is to destroy the command ships that control the shields, then blast away!

Backfire is a simple shooting gallery type game, but there is plenty here to keep even the most experienced gamer busy. The best thing about Backfire is how addictive it is. Your first couple of games you may only score a couple hundred points, but soon you get the itch. You know you can last longer, you know why you missed that ship and shot yourself, you know you can hit that blue transport ship, gain the extra life and keep going. Pretty soon you've played hours of Backfire and your score is now in the thousands! The game is fun, plain and simple.

Backfire features some very nice looking graphics. Although the screen is made up primarily of color bars, there is no flicker, and every sprite is clearly rendered and full of vibrant color. The game also features some fun sound. A space shooter of this variety needs blips and beeps and buzzes, and Backfire delivers. Overly complicated sound would clog the game up, luckily there is no clutter in Backfire, just crisp sound effects that go smoothly along with the fast paced gameplay.

Even better still, Backfire comes complete with a very well designed retro-manual done in the style of the classic Atari picture label manuals. The manual was designed by Dale Crum (who also has designed the last two years of Stan Award labels), features art by Earl Green (selected in the Backfire Label Contest) and was produced by AtariAge on high quality glossy paper in full color. This throwback manual is exceptionally well done and looks exactly like the old school manuals I grew up with. Very nice.

Backfire is an amazing game, especially for Chad Lare's first homebrew effort. The quality and care put into the production of this game promises great things from Chad Lare in the future! He is definitely a programmer to keep an eye on!

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