"Beware I Live!". These three simple words have been known to send a chill down the spine of even the most seasoned gaming veteran. For this is the battle cry of Sinistar, one of the most evil, challenging, original, and highly addictive games ever to grace the arcades.
For those of you who've never played Sinistar... Shame On You! Sinistar is one of the most beloved (and difficult) arcade games of all time, combining fast action, mind numbing speed, and evil sounding voice synthesis into one explosive package. The main object of the game is to destroy Sinistar, a giant metal creature bent on destroying the universe and whatever else that gets in its way. Of course to destroy Sinistar you're going to need some firepower, and in Sinistar firepower comes in the form of Sinibombs.
To manufacture Sinibombs, your ship needs to harvest Sinisite crystals out of the planetoids. To harvest the Sinisite simply move in close to a planetoid and start shooting away. After a few shots tiny Sinisite crystals will appear which you must quickly grab before they float away. Worker ships fly around the screen and harvest their own crystals to help build Sinistar, taking away valuable resources. Worker ships also have the bad habit of stealing your crystals as they float about, so make sure you blow as many up as you can while harvesting. As you attempt to mine crystals, Warrior ships will zip around the screen attempting to blow your ship to kingdom come.
If you can successfully manage to hold off the Warrior ships long enough to harvest some crystals, your ship will eventually fill up with Sinibombs. It's about this time Sinistar will usually start chasing your ship. As Sinistar is chasing you, you must press the fire button to release the Sinibombs. Sinibombs are the only thing that can harm Sinistar, so don't even bother trying to shoot him with your lasers. Each Sinibomb will blast off a segment of Sinistar until he is completely destroyed (which takes 18 direct hits). If you only manage to blow off a few segments the Workers will start repairing him, and he'll continue to chase you. If you manage to totally destroy Sinistar you will be transported to the next sector where the action resumes at a harder difficulty level.
It's simply amazing how Atari was able to capture the action and excitement of Sinistar and recreate it on the Atari 8-bit. The graphics are amazingly accurate, the controls are sharp and precise, and the digitized voice rings out loud and clear (for the 400/800 anyway). All the bells and whistles from the arcade were included in this version, including a very nice option screen where you can select your difficulty level and number of lives. The option screen also allows you to choose between manual and auto fire, but unless you're a masochist (or your fingers need a work out), stick with the auto fire option.
The digitized voice heard in the Atari 8-bit version was not the same one used in the arcade. The voice actually belongs to Atari manager Steve Calfee who volunteered to be the voice of the evil Sinistar (of course most of us already knew management was evil). Since he was unhappy with the original digitized voice sample provided him (which were taken from the arcade game), Jeff used a tool (created by Frank Hausman) to record his own voices and digitized them onto the Atari 8-bit (the device plugged into a joystick port). Unfortunately due to the constraints of the hardware, all action on the screen freezes while the voice is being played.
The Atari 8-bit version was just about finished, but there are a few minor issues and bugs that needed to be ironed out. The biggest issue is the computer AI, which needed some polishing. This is most obvious in the behavior of the Warrior ships, as they seem to have some issues trying to hit you (shooting either right above or below the player). The player can actually stand still, being swarmed by Warriors, and remain alive for several minutes. This is due to a bug the makes the Warriors shoot right through the player when he is at close range. The workers that build Sinistar also seem to have some AI issues, as they seem far less aggressive than they were in the arcade and take far too long to build Sinistar on the lower levels. Mining planetoids is also a bit too difficult, only seeming to give off crystals when it at just the right angle. There are also a few tiny bugs here and there (the text can become corrupted) and some coloring issues (the screen turns blue when the game starts, and red after the player dies).
So why wasn't Sinistar released? Around the time Sinistar was being completed (mid 1984), the video game market was crumbling fast and many games were canceled. Apparently marketing decided that the game wasn't going to make enough money and canceled. the project... without telling the programmers! Jeff and his team continued to work on the project for almost two months after it was canceled. due to lack of communication between marketing and the programming department. Incidents like this were not uncommon, and just goes to show how badly out of touch the managers were at the time of Atari's collapse.