H.A.T.E., ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s final game on the ZX Spectrum was published by Gremlin Graphics in 1989. It is an isometric shoot ’em up in the mould of Zaxxon, and it is technically very impressive.

Generally, games at the end of a machine’s life are usually technically accomplished, predominantly because programmers tend to have a good understanding of the hardware at that point, and H.A.T.E. (Hostile All-Terrain Encounter) is a good example of a modest home computer being pushed to its limits by video game coding.

Developer Panayi uses various techniques to squeeze as much variety into H.A.T.E. as possible, such as providing the player with both an aircraft and a ground assault vehicle to play with. There are narrow ravines, landing strips, undulating hills, and (of course) waves of oncoming aliens to blast. The basic idea is to collect plasma cells (the remains of nuclear generators) as you go, and how many you have at the end of a level determines how many lives you have in the next.

H.A.T.E. has a number of great touches that elevate it above much of the competition. The shadow underneath the ship is superb. It follows the contours of the landscape very convincingly and really puts the ship in 3D space (even though these are 2D graphics pretending to be 3D). The diagonal scrolling is silky smooth and full-screen (instead of contained within a tiny window), and is very impressive for a Spectrum game. There is some slowdown – when there are lots of sprites on-screen at once – but it doesn’t mar the game at all.

Hostile All-Terrain Encounter remains playable and enjoyable to this day and comes highly recommended as a Speccy retro classic. Amiga and Atari ST versions were also published, although I prefer this original version because it suits the machine better.

More: H.A.T.E. on Wikipedia

Alien Highway, ZX Spectrum

The direct sequel to Highway Encounter, Alien Highway is an isometric, third-person shoot ’em up with you taking control of a robot trying to push a bomb up a road, in order to destroy an invading alien base.

Of course it’s not quite as simple as pushing the bomb up the road – you must clear any obstacles and shoot any aliens as you go, because the obstacles will hamper your progress, and the aliens will rob you of your lives if they touch or shoot you. So Alien Highway is part shooter; part puzzle game – just like its predecessor. In fact: the gameplay in both is very similar, but that is not a bad thing because the feel of the game (and the rudimentary physics that drive it) are exceptional.

Unlike the previous game, Alien Highway was not programmed by Costa Panayi, but by the late Mark Haigh-Hutchinson, who it has to be said did a marvellous job. Haigh-Hutchinson later went on to work on such illustrious titles as: Sam & Max hit the Road, Metroid Prime, and Zombies Ate My Neighbors.

Alien Highway was first published in 1986 by Vortex Software.

More: Alien Highway on Wikipedia

Highway Encounter, ZX Spectrum

Highway Encounter is another classic ZX Spectrum game created by the talented and prolific Costa Panayi of Vortex Software. It was first published in 1985.

You control a robot called a ‘Vorton’ (which looks a bit like Dalek), and who must push a bomb through a thirty-screen length of road towards an alien base in order to destroy it. The Vorton can move in eight directions and can fire a ball of plasma from its head. The weapon can be used for shooting alien defenders who attack you, and also for moving barrels and other obstacles that block the way.

Some obstacles require that the robot leave the bomb behind to clear the way ahead, although this can lead to an early death if not careful.

Highway Encounter is simple to play and very challenging. Graphically it is appealing too and seems to have stood the test of time rather well. It’s still worth playing today, along with its 1986 sequel, Alien Highway.

More: Highway Encounter on Wikipedia

Tornado Low Level, ZX Spectrum

Tornado Low Level (aka TLL) was written by Costa Panayi and published for the Spectrum by Vortex Software in 1984.

It is a classic action flight game whereby you control a ‘swing-wing’ Tornado jet and must ‘hug’ the terrain in order to wipe out enemy targets. You don’t ‘shoot’ anything per se, you simply have to fly over them at the required height (ie. dangerously low to the ground), without crashing into anything. Much easier said than done, because most of your targets are located in tricky places to reach. You can judge the height of your craft by keeping an eye on both the altimeter, and also the shadow the plane casts (which was quite revolutionary in 1984).

Thankfully the landscape wraps around and doesn’t change, so at least you can learn the terrain to beat the game. Opening your Tornado’s wings up slows the craft down, while closing them speeds it up. Fuel can be replenished by landing on the available runway.

Tornado Low Level is a brilliant early Spectrum title that showed that shooting wasn’t necessarily required to make a great game. And TLL remains a great game to this day.

More: Tornado Low Level on Wikipedia

Revolution, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s Revolution was published by U.S. Gold in 1986. It is an isometric puzzle/action game with well-designed, monochrome graphics and a bouncing ball that you control around a series of rooms, levels, and puzzles.

Holding down the fire button makes the ball bounce higher and you must manoeuvre it towards a series of black cubes in order to touch them. Touching these cubes turns them white temporarily, and you have to keep touching them until they turn white simultaneously. Each puzzle has two associated cubes and each level has a number of different puzzles. When you complete every puzzle on a level you ascend to the next level, and there are nine levels in total.

You start with five lives and lose one if you fall off the edge into the abyss, or hit a spiked ball, or any of the other nasties trying to thwart your progress. You’re also up against a time limit.

Revolution is typical Costa Panayi – beautifully-designed, simple, but interesting and playable. It won’t appeal to everyone, but if you like unusual puzzle/action games then there’s some mileage to be had with this classic ZX Spectrum game.

More: Revolution on Wikipedia

Deflektor, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s laser-bending puzzle game Deflektor was published by Gremlin Graphics in 1987.

In it you must direct a laser through various obstacles by redirecting mirrors, until eventually you can hit a target with it. Not as easy as it may sound, but trying to beat each new screen is a compelling and challenging task.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deflektor

H.A.T.E., Atari ST

H.A.T.E. is a pretty good conversion of a well-known ZX Spectrum shoot ’em up. It was published by Gremlin Graphics in 1989.

H.A.T.E. is subtitled “Hostile All-Terrain Encounter“, which it is, being a loose sequel to Vortex Software‘s classic Highway Encounter (H.A.T.E. was made by the same guy and uses the same viewpoint).

H.A.T.E. is an isometric scrolling shooter, very much in the mould of Zaxxon. In some levels you fly a fighter jet; in others you drive a tank; in others a hovercraft or a space ship. The same process unfolds in every level though: you move diagonally up the playfield and have to shoot your way to the end.

H.A.T.E. is a playable and attractive 16-bit conversion but lacks speed and excitement. It does have its fans though.

More: H.A.T.E. on Wikipedia

Highway Encounter, Atari ST

This 1990 Atari ST conversion of the ZX Spectrum classic Highway Encounter I don’t think was ever commercially released, even though it was co-created by Costa Panayi, the guy who made the original.

Costa created some wonderful games for the Spectrum, and Highway Encounter was one of them. And it has been brilliantly converted to the ST (by Mark Haigh-Hutchinson, with graphics by Costa). This is no farmed-out-to-a-third-party hack job. This is the real thing.

The extra colours really add to the graphics (which are a work of pixel artistry – the use of colour is top notch), and the gameplay has been made more difficult, with more enemies on-screen (or at least it seems to me). Gameplay is pretty much identical to the original: guide a set of robots through hostile alien terrain to reach their mothership to plant a bomb and blow it up.

The version I played said “Demo Version” on the title screen, but the full game was all there, including the ending.

Most likely Costa created this ST conversion as an exercise or pitch for Vortex Software; he then tried to sell it to publishers; no one bit, so he later gave it away free on the web. I’m guessing. It’s great that a version of Highway Encounter exists at all on 16-bit machines.

If you like Highway Encounter, or want to play the classic games of Costa Panayi, or just like shooty puzzle games, then this Speccy/ST conversion is well worth a look.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_Encounter

Android 2, ZX Spectrum

Android 2 is a great little maze shooter for the 48K Spectrum, designed and programmed by Salford University graduate Costa Panayi and published by Vortex Software in 1983.

It basically follows on from the first Android game (Android 1: The Reactor Run), although this time the viewpoint is isometric (instead of side-on), and in this game you have to hunt and kill five red-headed “millitoids” (read: robotic centipedes) to complete the level.

Which is not as easy as it sounds, because contact with either a patrolling robot (of which there are many) or a mine (or which there are even more), will result in the loss of a life. And, with only five lives at your disposal, finding and eliminating all the millitoids within the time limit is a serious challenge.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_2

Android 1: The Reactor Run, ZX Spectrum

Costa Panayi‘s 1983 release, Android 1: The Reactor Run, definitely showed the potential of the young games designer, even if the game overall is a little too short.

Panayi establishes the endearing Android character well in this game, which he takes much further in the sequel. But other than run, shoot walls and enemies, and run to the end – there’s not a great deal else to do.

Still: Android 1 is an interesting curiosity, in terms of early ZX Spectrum software releases, and publisher Vortex became a name to be reckoned with over the remainder of the Eighties.