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Night Rescue 1941 - new A/W/A game release!


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The Anschuetz/Wesigerber/Anschuetz team proudly releases a new assembly language game for the Atari 8-bit computers called Night Rescue 1941.  As we promised with last month's Sokoban 2021 release, we are going through the process of updating many of the games that we wrote in the 1980's.  These updates keep the spirit of our original 1980's games, while at the same time refreshing them with better graphics, better sound and music, and must faster load times for a much better playing experience.   We envision that new A/W/A games will be rolled out monthly for the next 6 to 8 months.


The three of us wrote the original Night Rescue in 1984 in Atari BASIC.  We sold the game to Compute! (our second game sold) but it was never published in the magazine.   The original game was very good, but the reason why it wasn't published was that the BASIC game required almost a minute of initialization time, plus it had hundreds of DATA statements that would have been tedious and error prone for data entry before the days of CRC checks.  Here is a link to the original BASIC game on Atarimania.com



In Night Rescue 1941, you are a balloon pilot in WWII whose aim is to rescue as many allies as possible in the dark of night.   The object is to avoid crashing and get all the way to the landing platform.  Once you reach the landing platform, you start over and the enemy planes appear, and they get faster each level.  The joystick allows you to move up/down/left/right.   Another key to movement is by pressing the fire button, you can "fine tune" your movement left and right.  This allows you to sneak into areas from the left and right and rescue more humans.  You also need to "fine tune" your movement at the end of the level all the way to the right to land on the docking platform.  And be gentle with the landing our you will crash!


The updated Night Rescue 1941 game features horizontal fine scrolling, a customized character set, parallax helicopter movement, enemy planes, Antic mode 4 multicolor graphics, and RMT music and sound effects.  One thing we kept from the original version is a sense of momentum with the player movement.  You never can totally stop your vertical movement and you build up momentum the longer you hold the joystick up or down.   So the trick to moving successfully through the landscape is to just tap the joystick up or down when necessary to change vertical direction.   The "fine tune" movement is a remnant of the BASIC version where there was course scrolling and the fine movement of the balloon allowed you to reach areas that you couldn't otherwise reach.  Out of nostalgia, we decided to keep the fine tune movement in this version, although with fine scrolling it isn't absolutely necessary.


We hope that you enjoy this game!

Robert and Eric Anschuetz, and John Wesigerber




The following description of the gameplay was written by the A/W/A Team along with our submission of the game to Compute! magazine.


Game Overview

Night Rescue is a game in which you guide your balloon over enemy territory on a secret mission to rescue your country’s spies who have infiltrated the enemy’s city.  The journey, which begins over the mountains on the outskirts of the city, is extremely dangerous because any contact with enemy terrain or the enemy reconnaissance plane and helicopters results in the loss of one of only five balloons.  In addition to this, the enemy has planted double-agents who will destroy your balloon if you attempt to rescue them.  Upon reaching the outer edge of the city you must make a soft landing on the top of the headquarters of the resistance, at which point you will begin another run above the city.  The balloon is controlled by moving the joystick left, right, up, and down to move in the corresponding direction.  The balloon’s position may be “fine-tuned” by pressing the fire button while moving the joystick left and right.  Moving the balloon up and down is made treacherous by the forces of inertia acting upon it.  To land on the resistance’s headquarters you must be both scrolled and “fine-tuned” all the way to the right.  Scoring in Night Rescue consists of 100 points for each rescued agent plus a bonus for reaching the resistance’s headquarters which increases for each new set.   At the end of the game you may play again by simply pressing the START key.


Here are our recollections of developing the original Night Rescue game back in 1984:



Night Rescue was actually based on four different games.   The first two games were home computer games called Protector, by Synapse, and The Tail of Beta Lyrae, by Datamost.   Both of these games were clones themselves of the third game it was patterned after, Williams Defender.   Protector, The Tail of Beta Lyrae, and Defender were side-scrolling shoot-em-ups.  Night Rescue copied the city-scape environment of the home video games, while also incorporating the rescue objective of Defender where the main player had to land on top of the characters to be rescued at the bottom of the screen.   The fourth game that Night Rescue was patterned after was Choplifter, which was initially developed for the home computer scene and, in a very rare turn of events, was subsequently released as an arcade game.  Choplifter was also a side-scroller, featured a helicopter as a main player, and also had a mission where characters at the bottom of the screen had to be rescued.  Night Rescue, however, was not a shoot-em-up, but rather a game of skill and timing.


Night Rescue had a beautifully rendered city-scape of futuristic buildings and made use of the many-colored palette of the Atari 8-bit computers.   The game was rendered in an Atari Graphics mode that wasn’t available directly from BASIC, but could be accessed by writing various memory locations within the Display List with the correct values to enter the “hidden” mode.  This mode added additional colors to each character.   There was even a special trick that “borrowed” a color from Player/Missile graphics to be used as an additional color in each of the characters.   


Mapping out the city-scape on graph paper was a creative process.   Instead of black and white (1’s or 0’s) colors for the bit-mapped 8x8 characters, each character in this special graphics mode could have 4 or 5 colors.   The city-scape was several screens wide, and was rough-scrolled through 8-bits at a time.   Unlike many side-scrollers that force the player in one direction, usually left to right, the Night Rescue player could control the direction of horizontal scrolling with the joystick.  The player’s mission was to go from the left side of the city-scape to the right-side, through several screens of buildings and caves, but at any time the player could turn around and go back left to rescue more humans for points or avoid obstacles like the flying plane.


The main player controlled a hot air balloon.  The balloon was moved left/right/up/down with the joystick.  When the balloon moved left and right, the terrain scrolls in the opposite direction.   A really unique method of control was added to fine-tune movement.  This was accomplished by pushing the fire button while moving left and right.   If the fire button was pushed while moving, the balloon moved 1 pixel at a time left or right, and the background didn’t scroll.  This maneuver was essential to master in order to rescue some of the humans tucked away in very difficult to reach areas in the gamescape.  The balloon movement was also affected by very realistic vertical momentum.  The longer you held the joystick in a vertical direction, the more the momentum was built up and it takes a while to counteract this momentum to slow down and go in the opposite direction.   This momentum, and the need to sometimes fine-tune movement with the fire button, made maneuvering in tight quarters very difficult.


While the balloon mostly travelled from left to right, an out-of-control plane obstacle constantly got in the way of the player as the plane travelled from right-to-left.   The plane actually moves in a sine-wave pattern, and the A/W/A Team initially actually used a mathematical equation to control the plane.   The equation’s sinusoidal movement was taxing on BASIC and slowed it down, so another algorithm was used that moved the plane up or down a pixel as it travelled until it hit an upper or lower limit and reversed direction.  The plane stuck to the top-third of the screen as it moved from right-to-left.   When the plane departed the left side of the screen, another one soon followed from the right.   The plane was always in the way of the player, and constantly forced the player to adjust positions.


One interesting part of the game that gave the player an option was the cave section.   The player had the option to navigate through a tight cave which was loaded with lots of humans to rescue for points, or the player could take the somewhat easier route above the caves but always in the path of the plane.   This decision was really equally weighted one way or another, and the decision really depended on a risk/reward strategy and the skill of the player.    The gameplay of Night Rescue was very good – it was easy to get the hang of and very hard to master.  Once the player reached the base at the right-end of the city-scape, he was rewarded with bonus points and started all over.   The next time through, the plane flew a little faster and it was a little harder to complete the mission.




Night Rescue 1941.xex

night rescue 1941.jpg

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I'd be really interested to hear how you're developing these games now.


What software applications and processes are you using? What's your dev chain? How much quicker is the turn-around?


I recently watched the interview you gave about the old days on youtube (you're still getting hits on that!) and as a modern software dev myself, I'd love to hear about your now vs then and if you're finding you can do things now that wouldn't have been able to then.

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From here:


The new version of Sokoban was written in 6502 Assembly and is now released as a single 48K XEX executable with all of the levels stored within the executable.  Sokoban 2021 was developed a PC and cross-compiled to the Atari 8bit using the Eclipse IDE with the excellent WUDSN plugin with the MADS 6502 compiler.  It also uses RMT for music and sound effects and the AtariPlayerEditor to animate overlayed multicolor player/missile graphics.


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7 hours ago, fenrock said:

I'd be really interested to hear how you're developing these games now.

As Wrathchild mentioned, we are developing these games using a PC with the Eclipse IDE with the excellent WUDSN plugin with the MADS 6502 compiler.  It also uses RMT for music and sound effects.  We are testing and debugging using the Altirra emulator. 


The modern development environment makes it a lot easier to copy/paste and move code around.   Compiling and running the resultant code is pretty much instantaneous.  Also, the RMT track editor and runtime player allows for the great music backtracks that wouldn't have really been possible at that quality 40 years ago. 


When we were discussing converting our old games from BASIC to Assembly, we pointed out that more than half of the code in the old BASIC listings were redefining character sets and setting up screen memory.  Of course, this also led to 30-60 second initializations in most of our games.  The assembly versions load almost instantaneously.   


The good thing is that it was really easy to convert BASIC DATA statements to Assembly .BYTE statements and save all the time we used to spend redefining characters and setting up the screen maps.   We could have used the Madstudio character set and PM editor back then! Since we already had graphics from our previous work 40 years ago, within a day of starting any of these games we are able to see the screen map and place the player/missiles on the screen.   Then we look through the BASIC code to remind ourselves what the rules were for scoring and gameplay, and it really doesn't take too long to get a game up and running.   Then we look for things to enhance the gameplay and bring things up to more modern standards.   Adding things like multicolor animated players, fine scrolling instead of course scrolling, using redefined character fonts for scores, and adding game music and sound effects really make the games a lot better.  Of course, eliminating the 30-60 second initialization is the best enhancement of all!


Robert Anschuetz

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I can't thank Wrathchild enough for the help he provided in porting an upcoming release to the 5200!  Revisiting and refreshing these games that we wrote 35 years ago has been a labor of love!  Robert and I are splitting the effort in modernizing them in Asssembly language.  One other thing that really helps is having a cross compilation environment.  The code can have as many comments as you want without taking up memory.  A crash doesn't crash the actual system.  Assembly is almost instantaneous with no long saves to Disk or Cassette (most of the games we developed back in the day were on an Atari 400 computer with membrane keyboard and a cassette drive to save progress.  So many times we saved a game after hours of programming only to find that it wouldn't load.


Eric Anschuetz

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