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Thanks Andy, for Laser Hawk - The Atari Times

Thanks Andy, for Laser Hawk

Remembering an exceptional person and programmer
by Harvey A. Kong Tin

September 30, 2001
The main purpose of this text is to give due credit to Andrew Bradfield who passed away of Leukemia on the 21st September 2001, at age 35.

Laser Hawk was originally named 'Hot Copter' (Andrew's choice of name) and was sent out to, what were then prospective, companies including Red Rat Software - who wanted it re-titled to "Laser Hawk", which Andrew duly done. This required a major change to the title screen.

The completion date of Laser Hawk was in 1986, which took a year to complete. So it was started sometime in 1985. Andrew wrote about 2-3 routines before this, in the way of very simple machine code programmes to learn to program in 6502 assembler. Previously he did try some BASIC programming but soon learnt that the type of games he wanted to program, couldn't be done in BASIC - ie. the fast-action, graphics intensive videogames. He probably started learning 6502 assembler around 1984, taking around a year to start from scratch - out of a Compute! learning to program in 6502 assembler book. Prior to that he was an avid computer arcade games player enjoying Defender, Star Raiders and others.

Andrew was responsible for the program design of Laser Hawk, which was his version/clone of "Tail of Beta Lyrae" which was a Scramble clone. I merely designed the graphics he required. I can't recall how we ended up with bombing the headquarters of the rival computer companies of the time, as being the game's premise. The companies, being Apple, Amstrad, BBC, Commodore and Spectrum. We always had a discussion about how the game might be played and what elements were present, discussing the graphics details precisely. I would design the graphics precisely to his specification and have them ready, when he wanted them by. We definitely wanted to reward the player for beating the game, so there is a nice graphic animation at the very end before you advance to the next harder level.

When we started work on HawkQuest we had no idea how long it would take to complete it. The work was done on a spare time / part-time basis. I'm to be credited with the overall game design, insisting upon a 2 game, multi-layered scenario. Basically we went all out, knowing this would be a last chance to do something worthy for the aging Atari 800/etc computers of that time. It took 3 years work, and the game took up 4 disk sides of 90K each, which at that time was huge, for an arcade game. The game was started sometime in 1986 and completed in 1989. Sound effects was not Andrew's forte, so he took sounds from BASIC routines in magazines or using a sound editor tried creating his own by trial and error, converting them over to machine code. There was a player-missile animator that proved useful. Also the BASIC utility Fontbyter was very useful, which allowed me to design landscapes with. I did put together a demo game landscape using Fontbyter, which Todd Gramstrup scrolled via a BASIC / machine code program, in which the landscapes were inspired by Xevious, Espial and Time Pilot 2001. What Todd did especially of note in the demo program, was that different redefined character sets were scrolled down the screen, and the join was invisible.

The use of Graphics 9 and 10 screens in HawkQuest was possible using Paul Lay's utilities which allowed me to use this graphics mode. Paul Lay lives in England - I decided that maybe I could work with him on some games - designing graphics for him? Paul Lay had many games published in the English Atari user magazine - Page 6. The main game of HawkQuest was very demanding technically because of the limitation of the Atari 8-bit computers limited player-missile graphics. You cannot have enough of them available to use - this was seen to be overcome via the technique that Stewart Lees used in his unfinished game program. It was fortunate that I had contact with Stewart at that appropriate time - I never met or talked with Stewart, who lived in Wellington, New Zealand and only had written correspondence with him. Once Andrew knew how it was done, he could write his code to achieve the same result - make one player into many (which cannot overlap each other). (Because the vertical blank timing was critical - this meant that this technique could only work in the PAL computers, and couldn't work for NTSC machines. Sorry guys, you lucked out. USA machines have less of a vertical blank time period available for such routines.) Once Andrew knew something was possible he could work on his routine to do the same thing. eg. Have a loading screen while Laser Hawk loads, have a countdown loading counter in HawkQuest.

Another person being very helpful in the development of these games was Graeme Wheeler - at which place we met regularly on a Friday evening - Andrew would take his work-in-progress along to an informal gathering of Atari User Group members, and the development of his game in progress could be seen - as we discussed and looked at different games and routines.

3 years is an awful long time to work on a single game - but there was a lot of graphics and routines used in HawkQuest, and essentially we were working on 2 games here - doing it on a part-time basis.

I was not aware of anyone else in New Zealand, who were able to complete and to have marketed their computer game, at this time - 1986-1989, so I like to think that we achieved a definite, but obscure place in history. The financial return wasn't all that much, because the Atari 8-bit computers were in their decline in terms of market share and popularity. We would have received a much, much bigger financial return, had we been able to have written/developed a C64 game instead --- but that was never an option. The limited colour palette of the C64 would have looked very drab in comparison, and it was never an option for us to work on the C64 computer. Mainly because at that time, in comparing the two computers, the Atari Computers generally had the better version/games - though with the decline of the Atari, the C64 games were getting better and better, eventually eclipsing them.

Runable file versions of Laser Hawk and HawkQuest can be downloaded. See the "Related Links" on the left sidebar.

Other Credits
Graeme Wheeler for being helpful and putting up with everyone, when 'we' used his place as a meeting place during development of these games. Todd Gramstrup for providing valuable knowledge about the Atari operating system and hardware. Paul Lay (UK) for letting 'us' use his Graphics 9 graphic editor to make use of graphics mode 9 in Hawk Quest. Stewart Lees (Wellington) for providing the technique which allowed Andrew to defeat a particularly tricky problem of how to use one single Atari Player graphic to appear like more than one.

Game Notes
The Laser Hawk and HawkQuest files can be downloaded. See the "Related Links" on the left sidebar.

I forget which files are the ones that will work with the emulators, but they are here. Note: There are cassette versions of HawkQuest which only has the main game. It is better to run the full disk version. The only Laser Hawk that I found worked - was the version which runs also with another Red Rat game - Escape from Doomworld.

To go directly to the Secondary Game in HawkQuest, without having to play the first game through properly, just insert HAW_D1S2 ATR into the D1:filename, via Alt D. You can load in a preset save, but choose any of the last three. HAW_D1S2 ATR is faulty, so choosing the first two won't work, and if you do reach the end of Mycea, in the first game - the secondary game reached, will not work. Somewhere on the net? There might be a version without errors?

If you see that either game is not smooth scrolling, you'll know it's not running 100% of the original speed of 50 frames/second.

Brief notes regarding gameplay / etc

Laser Hawk
You will get an extra helicopter upon destroying the target at the end of each zone. At the end of the last zone, you will be rewarded with an animation sequence.

Hawk Quest
While there are 5 different planets you can choose from to attack, for the first one to try, I recommend choosing the 2nd planet Mycea. Move the cursor onto this planet and press the fire button, if you don't get the planet's details, move the cursor onto it again, and press the fire button - until the info becomes available. The primary game is modeled along the lines of Xevious and like Xevious, there are hidden targets to bomb and find. They will always be in the same place, next time. Your aim in the game is reach the final target at the end and bomb it within a short time. Once you've done that, it is recommended that you choose to save your game. The more helicopters you have remaining, the more soldiers you will have for the secondary game. (Bombing is done, going forward or backward, with the fire button pressed.) The secondary game is kinda like a Gauntlet/Shamus exploring game.

There is an animation sequence for completing the last thing in the game - you can view this anytime though if you can find a secret spot on the map screen, that is rather easy to find.

About Andrew Bradfield
Andrew Bradfield, who passed away on September 21, 2001, was diagnosed with Leukemia 2 years ago. He would have passed away about a year ago were it not for the new drug treatment, that was being trialed - Gleevec. It did not cure him as hoped, but extended his life a little.

I met Andrew Bradfield sometime around December 1982 when I returned back to Dunedin, New Zealand from living about 10 months in England in October. I did see him again sometime around in February or thereabouts. At that time, I only knew that he was the brother of Gaynor Bradfield who attended the local Science Fiction club, that I supported. It's hard to recount or remember how we first met - I seem to recall that I was running some computer games at the science fiction club meeting, and Andrew was there, specifically for that.

I was receiving some computer games from England, and Andrew was keen to see and play those same games - these were copied games, and it was surprising the amazing quality and diversity of the Atari home computer games at that time.

It was in 1983 that I was flatting - and I got a hold of a program that allowed anyone to put together their own arcade game - via a complex and confusing program. It was called, The Arcade Machine. Anyway Andrew spent the better part of an afternoon trying to use this program on my computer (He did not have a disk drive then) and he was unsatisfied with the result, and the program.

Andrew went from an Atari 400, buying very expensive Atari game cartridges (courtesy of Dick Smith/Ozisoft) that cost well over $100 each - to buying an Atari 800 (with normal keyboard) and a 1050 disk drive.

Andrew played the home computer versions of Galaxian, Defender, etc and didn't play the coin-operated arcade games at all. He bought the cartridge versions for his Atari 400. Todd Gramstrup (of Dunedin) was of great help to Andrew because of his detailed knowledge about the Atari Operating System, having bought the manuals for it. 

Todd was also knowledgeable about 6502 assembler, and Andrew would be able to ask Todd almost any question - and get a reasonable answer in return. Unlike others, like me, who would have no idea of the complexity of programming involved - not only of how 6502 assembler worked but also of how the Atari 800 computer hardware worked? Although having an interest in computers - one gets to know in layman's terms about the various aspects of computers, as over time it slowly but surely sinks in.

Rest in peace, Andrew.

Harvey A. Kong Tin
30th September 2001


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