an*
Shine...
Sparkle...
homepage

<-Original sprites transported forward in time at enormous expense...

   
* Still can't figure this,"an" ant, or "a" 3d ant?

Long, long ago
in the lost and fabled desert city of Antescher, a tiny hero and heroine, each a mere 14 pixels high, struggled valiantly against a small army of relatively giant Ants...

In the early eighties of the last century, a bloke by the name of Clive Sinclair was busy selling bucket-loads of rubbery keyed home computers called ZX Spectrums (should that be spectra?), here in the UK. Somewhere on this page, at some point in the future, the story of "the making of" a game called "Ant Attack", which was written for the above-mentioned, most venerable machine, shall unfold... Oh yes it shall... Oh yes indeedy...


Well, I know I'm probably a bit of a sad git, putting together a page about a game I wrote myself! But I don't care! Who better to do it? Plus, I thought I'd better get on with it before some other sad git did it... come to think of it... I wouldn't at all mind if they did...

an obvious place to start...

...pack shot

August(ish) 1983

The worlds first isometric 3D game!

Or was it?
Certainly at the time I was writing it, I had seen nothing else like it (like the proverbial ostrich perhaps), and it was a year before anything else isometric appeared on the Spectrum. The three quarter view 3D shooter, "Zaxxon", was around in US arcades from 1982. Alhough isometric in projection, I suggest that it was really a sideways scroller (cleverly!) slanted upwards, and would have worked equally well with a non-isometric orthogonal projection. (ahem...) So... I propose that Ant Attack was the first true isometric 3D game, followed in US arcades in 1984 by "Marble Madness", and the classic "Knight Lore" in (Dec?) 1984 on the Spectrum. But it's a big world, and you may know different.. if so
let me know!


... screen shot

"He" and "She" exchange words.

 

... have a shot

 

Switch on your browser's Java option to play!
Action
Key
  Action Key
Move forwards
V
 
change views
0, P, ENTER, SPACE
Jump
C
 
throw grenades
S, D, F, G
Turn Left
M
 
return to gate
1
Turn Right
,
 
reboot Spectrum
"Refresh"

If you can see the Ant Attack logo, and the words "QUICKSILVA present..." (why oh why did I not put presents?) in the box left.. you're all set to play the original game! Click on your new "virtual" Spectrum with your mouse, then when prompted, press G or B on your keyboard to choose whether to be "She" or "He". (AA received much attention for being the first equal opportunities game!) Controls are listed below left, or on the original inlay below. I always felt that the instructions in the box were very sparse, but in keeping with the spirit of the original, I shall say no more, exept that when the "scan" box is showing green, you're on the right track... There is no sound with this, though there would be on a non-virtual Spectrum. You'll have to imagine tiny clicking footsteps, and the hiss of the ants when they bite! What do you mean? Of course ants hiss! Oh.. and there's no need to be on-line to play. Once the game has loaded, you can disconnect and it will still be running!
Happy rescuing!

 

If Ant Attack seems to run very SLOWLY ("TIME" should count down approx twice per second), ensure that your browser's JIT compiler option, if it has one, is enabled. You also need a processor equivilent to a P166 or faster. If you would like to find out more about the fab technology that lets this web page pretend to be a Sinclair Spectrum, visit credits at the bottom of this page!

the cassette inlay

The story on the inlay was written by Quicksilva's Mark Eyles, who may well have invented the idea of writing 'blurb' to go with games - starting with the blurb for ZX 81 Defenda (this was years before the likes of Firebird and Rainbird started including novellas with games). Someone can't spell 'forwards' though! Mark may well have come up with the name "Ant Attack"; someone at Quicksilva certainly did. Mark says he can't remember though! I do remember that QS had to buy the name (for a few hundred quid apparently) from someone else who had written a game called Ant Attack! I particulary like the instructions to set maximum treble and minimum bass; it reminds me of hours spent fiddling with WHSmith data recorders...
Click to enlarge
click on photo to enlarge
Click to enlarge
click on photo to enlarge

The cover painting is by talented artist David Rowe, who has since done tons of stuff - like cover artwork for "Populous" and dungeon interiors for the ITV children's programme "Knightmare". I asked David how he came up with the Ant Attack cover. "There would have been a variety of roughs. I liked the Escher references and went for a surrealistic feel to the world and of course a giant ant. I bought a second-hand microscope for £100 (which I still have), captured an ant in a hollowed slide, and drew it from life. I was amazed to discover that they're not black and shiny, but brown, translucent and hairy. What a mad bastard I was!" Well, I say we should all be so mad... :) Being of curious nature I asked David about techniques and materials... so here your are: The original was 12 inches square and painted on CS10 hot pressed illustration board using mostly airbrushed liquid acrylics with a little coloured pencil and (brushed) gouache. He also used a scalpel and typewriter eraser to do some "scraping back"... and it took him about a week to do. That's done it... I want a go! I'm off to get my old box of art materials... sure I saw an ant somewhere... here anty anty....

further fetish objects

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
The very first copy of Ant Attack - produced at the CBS duplication plant at Aylesbury. Entitled simply "3D Ant".
An original tape as they appeared in the shops... though many had the alternative "copy from a friend" version... peh...

Hey.. look.. it's my site, and if I want to have a gratuitously large photo showing the sharp end of a casette tape, that's my business.. OK?


Click to enlarge

The green leader, specially made to match the label, was an early anti-piracy measure, designed to make life more difficult for counterfeiters.

meanwhile behind the scenes...

Click to enlarge

source code
was written on A4 paper in Z80 assembly language, and assembled by hand. Aaarg! This example is the code that paralyses an ant when you jump on it. Click on the image to see it enlarged and with a little explanation...


graphics
were designed on squared paper, each filled square taken as a binary 1, each empty square as 0, converted into hex and then typed in. These are original drawings for the boy (in striding pose). It's quite difficult to make anything recognisable with only 16 x 16 pixels - the grenade on his his belt is only one pixel!

things I will add as time permits:

  • More screen shots, with 'directors' commentary... ;)
  • A look at the hardware (left) that plugged into the back of my Speccy.
  • A look at the patent specification for Softsolid3D.
  • Anything else I can think of!
  • Ahh.. yes... and what's this (right) got to do with Ant Attack?
  • What's the big deal about isometric?

epilogue

I'd just like to say that I feel very privileged that many people have taken an interest in Ant Attack over the years. I even found the website once of someone who had done their thesis on it! I've lost that now... if anyone knows drop me a line! There is something about the Spectrum, and games for the Speccy that seems to lay bare the mysteries of game programming in a way that a PC or a Playstation simply doesn't. Perhaps it is important for us to hang on to these things so that future generations can get a handhold on it all. Eventually our PCs will be writing games for us by voice command... and no one will have a *** clue what's going on inside them. I mean.. that's fine... Get me the DevKit now!!! ...but I still want to know how a wind-up clock works... or a valve radio!

some Ant Attack related links...

Read a review of AA from "Crash" magazine, 1984
Visit Tyrone C's Hacking Ant Attack page to see AA reverse engineered or follow the progress of his 'get-the-hang-of-C' PC remake, Ant Attack PC.

Can't wait to see how these remakes turn out... until I get round to a policy statement regards remakes, check out my reply to Tyrone C in the visitors book.

Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith's "Digital Urban" blog features an article on Ant Attack in "Cities in Games".

where are they now?

Mark Eyles who wrote AA's inlay 'blurb' ;) has his own site.
David Rowe who painted AA's cover artwork is a director of Broadsword Interactive.

My friend and fellow Speccy programmer Jon Ritman, brought us many classic Speccy games, including the mega-famous "Match Day". Check 'em out at www.ritman.co.uk.

credits

"Hob" the amazing Java Spectrum Emulator that is running Ant Attack up above was written by Nigel Barford. If you're having trouble getting it to run, check out the FAQs and compatability table on Nigel's site.

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