Tempest 3000 was a launch title for one of the most curious games consoles ever released. The Nuon introduced itself to the world by hiding out inside a bunch of mid-range DVD players, hoping to catch buyers unaware with the temptation of video games and special Nuon-only features. Sadly, for creators VM Labs, the only people excited by this were the dedicated gaming few, already anticipating not only the spiritual successor to the Atari Jaguar, but also the latest work by what the slip case describes here as 'world-renowned digital artist' Jeff Minter.
You have to wonder what US buyers of Tempest 3000 made of level names like Albert Square, and Flossie the sheep's excited bleating. Tempest 3000 is full of great level names like the 'U' shaped 'Hey Ewe', the descriptive 'Almost Like Hell', and the disarmingly honest 'You Hate Me'. Leftfield samples are scattered all over, including a disinterested 'Oops - Loooser' or the Speak and Spell inspired 'You... are... dead. Try again.' upon death.Now that's a pretty daunting reputation to live up to right there, but you'd be hard pressed to dispute it. To romanticise, Jeff Minter is the last of the lone coders, the few revered low-level metal workers who single-handedly captured our first gaming machines and made them perform other worldly feats by unworldly means. Most contemporaries of those by gone days now head up development teams trying to recapture that pioneering spark, most often getting a 'your name here' presents above the title for their trouble, and little else. Jeff however, patron saint of doomed consoles, has stuck to his laser guns and...well, done his own thing really.
So what we have here is, to say the least, an unusual game; a game against the odds. Born of the 1981 arcade original, Tempest 3000 takes the heart of its gameplay from the white hot furnace of the original video game explosion, where most things were in space, and most things had guns. A feat for it's time, Tempest takes place across a series of three dimensional wireframe Webs, around the Rim of which your Claw scrabbles in circular fashion. Each Web is made from a series of flat Lanes, which are joined together to create different shapes for each level. Webs can be looped or form a single expanse, and some of the more malevolent designs even fold in on themselves. Opposing you at the far end of the Web, a distant red swarm counts your enemies arrival, as each red dot peels off ready for attack. Level by level you fight a war of attrition, as you spin around the Rim lobbing shots down each lane at the approaching marauders, keeping the enemy at bay until their numbers dwindle and the next Web is upon you.
Ultimate survival rests with racking up points and extra lives, the more risks you take the more points you can score. Collect every power up on a level and you receive an end of level bonus taking you closer to the next extra life. Complete the power up sequence (auto shooting, homing missile, remote destroyer, warp up, bonus up) and the end of level bonus increases.So far, so so-so. Whats the deal? What makes this game so damned exciting? Well, at its core you have a reflex arcade shooter in one of its purest forms, distilled and refined by one of the most talented arcade coders around. Nothing in this game is a result of lazy coincidence, Tempest 3000 takes all of the original game's basic ideas, more so than Tempest 2000 does in fact, and develops them, understanding each one perfectly and deliberately. There are many subtle strategies to be aware of when playing this game, but think about them too hard and you will suffer. Tempest 3000 is a game that lives and breathes on adrenaline-driven instinct above all else. You want all those game-plans and strategies just at the edge of your consciousness in order to survive, leaving you to devote as much concentration as you can to the Web itself.
Video A - Interstellar Overdraft
Download a 6meg videoTaking this instinct driven methodology to great conclusion, Tempest 3000 does all it can to amaze and confuse you. Developing ideas first seen in Jeff Minter's early work, and most directly from Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar, the screen is awash with swirling colours and particle effects that repeat and fade and combine into one another. Video feeds back when warping between levels, or when spitting out trailing particles after an unobserved missile stops you in your tracks. The Web itself is now alive, expanding and contracting as the camera slowly follows your claw around it, with mesmerising sheets of colour wiped across each Lane. Neon wireframes are drawn with playful homage to the vector displays of Atari's arcade past, when we believed that in the year 2000 all games would look like this. How I wish that were true; Tempest 3000 is a uniquely beautiful game, a paean to the time when visual creativity was limited only by how much heavy wizardry the programmer could wring out of a machine.
[inline:smt3k-5.jpg]These wonderful visual organics force the player to develop their instinct to rely only on what sensory information is needed to survive. Specific audio and visual cues signal the arrival (or timely departure) of certain enemy types, and are more pronounced depending on the level of danger each enemy represents. One of the most damaging enemies is the Pulsar, a zigzag yellow bastard that can electrify any lane it sits in, arriving with the announcement 'Warning! Pulsar landing' as it descends in embryonic form, bright and sparkling, at the far edge of the Web. These cues give the player a few vital extra moment's notice to scan the web and avoid which lane the Pulsar is about to land in, or lay down some pre-emptive laser fire. Get a few shots in then scarper out of the way, and a yellow strobe flash across the screen will still inform you that the Pulsar did indeed eat laser pie.
Each power up adds to a Hover fuel level, which begins at zero, allowing you to leap from the rim of the web and out of harm’s way (sometimes). Collect three warp ups and you are rewarded with a relaxing bonus game, sailing through hoops in space between levels. Avoid using the superzapper for up to eight levels and you add small chunks of time to it the next time it's unleashed.As you journey through Tempest 3000 levels are delivered in cycles of eight, with each group giving you a different flavour of enemy combination, and it's own superb dance track. After a gentle start, the player is soon thrown some furious Pulsar-infested Webs, and upon reaching level 32 - Occam's Mirror - the utter deviousness of the Web design will astound you. This is the reason some will have it that Tempest 2000 is the better game, because its difficulty curve is gentler and more linear, but those claimants have it wrong. Tempest 3000 demands of you skill and ability closer to the arcade original, and rewards that skill with fantastic intensity and opulent innovation.
The most breathtaking games of Tempest 3000 occur when you are no longer aware of the controller in your hands, when the game is all there is and extra lives are racking up, and up, and up. This is one of the most thrilling experiences video games can ever give, and so few games even attempt to evoke this level of meditative involvement. You become part of each game that you play, and feel your way around it. The more experience you gain, the more heightened is the sense of omnipresent awareness over the ever changing world you inhabit. Later enemies distort this world itself by folding it, spinning it and even breaking at apart. A circular Web can fold in half and break in two, and you adapt, survive and remain aware of the two Spikers that landed just a few seconds ago.
Video B - North Circular
Download another 6meg videoIn Tempest 3000 Jeff Minter has created the best example of arcade shooting there is. A game to spend time with, to accumulate experience in and know more of. This is no short dalliance, but a path to enlightened arcade unity. Tempest 3000 is an incredible, beautiful, and intoxicating game that invites you to engage with and then become part of completely.
- Platform: Nuon
- Region: US
- Developer: Jeff Minter
- Publisher: Hasbro Interactive
- Released: 27th November 2000