ZKJ was not asked to write Super Hang On for the Amiga. He had collaborated with Chris Wood on the Amstrad and Spectrum conversions of the Sega arcade game and then went on to write the Atari version for Electric Dreams.
But he had been trained as a chip designer and wanted to get his hands on an Amiga, so when the Atari version was finished he embarked upon an Amiga port to produce a game which looked as though it belonged in the arcade.
When he had a running demo, ZZ - whose real name is Zareh - took the disc to Electric Dreams and it agreed to commission enhanced graphics and sound to suit the Amiga's superior hardware.
You race a motorbike through four continents - Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Each is divided into timed stages. Fail to complete a stage in the allotted time and the game is over.
Any extra time is added to the 32 seconds you get for the next stage. You must average more than 280 Km/h to do this. Every second left at the end of the game is worth a million points. This leads to two aims - finish as many stages as possible and score as many points as you can.
This is the best racing game on the Amiga, putting Buggy Boy in the shade. You can play with the keyboard or joystick but the pros will take to the mouse. This lets you control how much the bike leans and keep a tighter rein on turn in - this is the path the rival bikes take so be careful not to hit them. Clipping the side of another bike takes a third off your speed, while a 100 per cent collision will halve your speed. They won't drive into the back of you, so you shouldn't do it to them.
The speed controls can be used to position your bike. You have nitro, accelerate and brake. The nitro boost can be called upon at 280 Km/h to take you up to the maximum speed of 324 Km/h. This delivers a lot of thrust and is accompanied by flames from the back of the bike.
The standard acceleration control can be held down for most of the race, but for really tricky bends you will have to resort to the brake. This defies credibility. Stopping a bike from over 200 mph takes some time doing and the SHO bike stops very quickly.
Zareh tried putting realistic figures into the game but it wrecked the gameplay. While the brakes are super powerful they work progressively, gripping harder the longer you apply them. The change in speed affects the radius of your turn. If you decelerate as you turn, the bike moves closer to the inside bend. Whack a bit on a bit of power and the bike slides out. Use this to steer and you will get through corners very quickly.
You must learn the courses. As you speed over a hill you have no way of knowing what is on the other side. There are signs indicating sharp turns, but these are not always reliable - one or two point in the wrong direction. ZZ says this is based on the roads signs near Eastcote.
The routes are not the same as on the arcade game, for two reasons. Firstly Zareh did not get a video tape of the Africa section until the Atari version was finished, and secondly there are different versions in the arcades. Knowing that the third bend among the cacti is a really sharp one makes the difference between cruising around at a leisurely 130 Km/h and coming to a prickly end.
If you do crash, the accident is spectacular. Depending on what you hit, and how fast you hit it, the game plays one of two different sequences. The arcade offered more, but memory and disc space are limited on the Amiga. The result is that you can end up sprawled out, yet hovering in mid-air.
Still you are too busy worrying about finishing the leg to notice the most minor of graphics aberrations. Finish the course and you are rewarded with an animation as the crowds welcome the triumphant rider. Finish the last one for a clue as to who he is.
For an experienced Amiga programmer Super Hang On is an impressive bit of coding. For a first program on the Amiga it is incredible. Zareh went out of his way to really use the Amiga, although the basic gameplay is the same as that on the arcade machine - the Amiga version is very much better.
The whole game is very much smoother. The road drawing module is the biggest part of the program, only the Amiga version has wide road bars and a track which is in the correct proportion to the rest of the graphics.
This is thanks to the blitter, which is so fast that there is no flicker or slowing of the graphics in tight corners - the hardware can deal with the horizontal pixel scroll the game needs. This makes the movement of the signs around the track super slick.
The copper looks after the colours, which coming from a wide palette can be really subtle. The greys in the road are gentle to give an impressive of speed without it looking as though you are driving along a 20 mile long zebra crossing. The subtle colours have resulted in dramatic skies with extra clouds blitted on.
Having used the blitter and copper there is one more graphics aid to be exploited. Sprites. When I first wrote about the Amiga five years ago I though that hardware sprites would be important. I was wrong, few games use them, blitter objects being more flexible although not as quick.
SHO uses sprites for the nitro flares, dust clouds and the extended time details which need to flash at regular intervals, but the need to do other things overrides the flashing on inferior machines. Only the Amiga makes it possible.
If there is a flaw in the scheme of things it is the sound. Unusual since many of the games which are a simple port have beefed-up audio effects, but while the Amiga sounds are better than those on the ST they are not all they could be.
Perhaps in a game which so clearly demonstrates how good the Amiga is when programmed with finesse, I expected too much from the speakers.