As alert viewers will have noticed, one of the things Emu Zone loves most of all about emulation is the way that as well as giving coders a place to demonstrate their technical skills, it also provides a platform for people to showcase their creative sides. Enthusiasts using emulators to develop new software for “obsolete” systems – many of which were never originally accessible to independent programmers, unless they bought official development kits costing thousands and thousands of pounds – have brought us a tantalising glimpse of an alternative past/future where games machines were allowed to flower to their full potential instead of being rushed into an early grave by lazy developers who couldn’t be bothered learning how to use them properly.

This month, Emu Zone would like to shine a light on some of the most impressive work done by such people, tackling the challenge of producing playable, fun games with the barest minimum of resources, and nowhere will you find those skills better illustrated than with the MiniGame Competitions.

Staring in 2002, the compo challenged coders to come up with games, for any format, which took up just 1K of code or less (for reference, the text of this Emu Zone column up to this point, including this bit in brackets, is 1.39K in Notepad. To get it down to 1K, we’d have to cut it off after “those skills better” in the previous paragraph.) In 2003 the compo added a category for games in an elephantine 4K, but both years came up with stunning results, running on platforms from the Atari VCS, ZX81 and Commodore Pet up to the Spectrum, NES and Game Boy Color.

Arcade games, driving games, shooting games, puzzle games, typing games, platformers, even RPGs made a showing. Quite a few of the games are pretty rubbish, of course, being made strictly for the novelty of getting something running in a handful of bytes, but a surprising number are genuinely enjoyable and stand up to repeated play.

Emu Zone’s personal favourite is Maziacs1, a remake of the Spectrum classic Maziacs (which Free Play brought you a splendid PC update of in PCZ141, back issue fans), which manages to cram all of the original’s features and gameplay – and a pretty close rendition of its graphics and sound – into the tiny 1K space. But with over 100 games across the two compos, there are literally hours of entertainment to be found browsing through these miniature marvels.


Even in 1K, the Maziacs look menacing.

Minima Reloaded, the 2003 winner.

Genuine 3D maze action on the Atari VCS.



Thrust (Atari VCS, 2004)

In keeping with this month’s theme, here’s another feat of TARDIS programming, in which the legendary BBC Micro/C64/Spectrum game Thrust has been crushed down to squeeze into the tiny memory and primitive functions of the Atari VCS. It’s a phenomenally impressive feat, retaining all of the original gameplay and looking almost exactly like its parent, and possibly even exceeds the standards of Space Instigators, the VCS Space Invaders remake alert readers will recall from PCZ133.

Perhaps most heroic of all though, is the fact that like most new VCS games premiered at the Atari Age website, you can not only download the ROM legally for free, but you can actually buy a real cartridge copy of the game, complete with label and box and instruction manual, and play it on the real VCS buried up in your loft. (If you go the whole hog and buy the $45 edition (about £25), you even get a special VCS foot controller thrown in, which gets round the tricky problem of having to use “up” on the VCS joystick to thrust and “down” to use your shield or tractor beam, which can necessitate some extremely quick and delicate juggling with the standard controller.)

There’s nothing Emu Zone likes better than to see emulation being used not only to bring old console games to your PC, but also to give something back in the other direction. Nothing that doesn’t involve being fed wine gums by Halle Berry, anyway. And let’s face it, only one of those two things is ever going to happen.



(Left) The highest resolution ever seen on the VCS.


Emulation Zone is brought to you in association with the International World Of Stuart Foundation.