Friday, 10 August 2012

Behind the Iron Gate (Amiga) - Guest Post

Why, it's been over six months since I've played an Amiga first person shooter! Way back in January, I played the high-tech, body-swapping sci-fi adventure Genetic Species.

Maybe you're thinking I've given up, or that I've ran out of Amiga FPS games? If so, you're dead wrong!

It's Behind the Iron Gate!

Behind the Iron Gate title screen
Also enigmatically known in its native Polish as Za Żelazną Bramą!

Za Żelazną Bramą translates to Behind The Iron Gate, just to ruin that mystery.

This interface looks more complicated than you usually get on Amiga FPS games. It's a bit like the Amiga first person RPG Captive (external link), but with fewer icons.

I've set it up so that I move and turn the character with the joystick, and use the mouse to select icons in the interface. I've got three inventory pages and an equipment screen. It's all sort of... System Shocky. And that's a good thing.

No ingame music, just a kind of sinister pulsing humming noise. Annoying, but sinister. I quickly hit 'M' and all the F-keys to see if there's secret music I can turn on. Escape kills me immediately. Hooray.

Where am I supposed to be going anyway?

Bingo. I've found some ammo crates. Lucky I went down this particular indistinguishable puce-coloured corridor!

Now I just need to absorb this thing into myself. First, select an empty hand. Then click the item. Then click an inventory slot to move the item from the hand to the pocket.

There's no pausing while you're messing around with the interface, just like System Shock 2, so I'm glad I'm good with a mouse.

I've found a loaded pistol and shotgun and a spare case of pistol bullets. I'm ready for anything!

What is it exactly I'm supposed to be ready for? There's absolutely nothing in the game nearing exposition. The title screen had a big robot on it, so maybe I'm going to be fighting robots! Who doesn't like a robot?

According to the manual, I'm a one-man army troubleshooter type infiltrating a prison for deranged robots. Or as the manual puts it: 'rouge machines'. Hmm.

What could possibly be behind this iron gate?

Hang on a sec, just let me put the pistol in the other hand. No... pick up the pistol. Put it in the inventory. Select the empty hand and... there we go.

Man, the hot-spots of these in-world items are really tiny. I have to shove my nose right into them to have a chance at using them.

This must be one of those 'rouge machines'! It's not rouge at all! I've been lied to!

Eat bullets, you pre-rendered iron beast!

"BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG. Shboooooooooaaaaammmm, woshawoshawosha."

Now that was a slick screen-lighting-up explosion! The naff frame rate from the rest of the game made the explosion even slicker by comparison.

I feel like I'm getting somewhere. Even though everywhere is the exact same shape and the exact same colour, I've got a compass, which is enough. For now.

I've found a giant key! I just need to find the giant door that goes with it.

Wah! Out of ammo! Quick, click an ammo case to reload!

Why aren't there keys for this kind of thing? If each pistol is identical, why not have a pistol button, or a reload button?

In the System Shock-like control scheme I'm using, they don't even use the bloody right mouse button at all!

I'm out of pistol ammo. Shotgun time.

Like the pistol, it makes a wonderful sound and has a unique muzzle flash! We're already light-years beyond Gloom's chin cannon.

This robot can shoot me through the gate! What a swizz! I bet the bloody game won't let me shoot back.

Huh, I can shoot back. Niiice.

A room full of deadly robots and here I am not being able to walk sideways. Perfect, let's fight!

I'm surprised at how well I'm doing at this. Walking, shooting and managing the inventory is like driving a tank and solving a Rubik's cube simultaneously. Yet it works.

Two people playing together could probably do this even better. Just pretend you're piloting the Megazord or something!

Is this the gargoyle room? No, it's the exit room.

And I can't use the exit door. Not enough robots have been exploderised, I bet.

I know what that is! It's... a techno-mushroom. Let's activate it!

It's beeping.

-3 seconds later.-

Behind the Iron Gate amiga game over screen
OH. It was a BOMB. Of course it was a BOMB. Why wouldn't it be an INSTANT DEATH BOMB?

Hell, it even looks like the instant-death-...maybe machines from Nonterraqueous.

Try the level again. I think I'll make myself a cup of tea while the game loads all over again.

So here we are at the mushroom. Again.

There's the exit door and the gargoyle poster right next to it.

Can I use the exit without using the mushroom? No. I need to activate the bomb and run to the door and activate it within three seconds. Gee, this takes me back. Back to bloody Donk.

I'm glad I picked this control mode because doing this any other way would be dangerously inaccurate.

Mushroom first, then exit. Click, scoot, click. I can do that. Ready... GO!

Click click click click click.

It didn't work. Boom. Try again.

Oh, you need BOTH hands free to activate the exit door. Right. Of course. I mean, duh.

Hey, it's a shop screen! Mega cool! Grid inventories and shop screens always win mecha-neko prizes.

I'm so relieved that there's some music to listen to in here. It even sounds like it's right out of Deus Ex, complete with the low-bitrate samples! (YouTube link)

The shop sells every item I've found in the game so far. They only have a single case of ammo for sale for each gun though. I've got plenty of money and two pages of weapon space, so I'll take everything they have.

I can also sell my own stuff for full price, so it's no problem if I accidentally sell my guns while trying to figure out how the interface works. I can also use the shop space to sort out my inventory pages.

There's no indication of how many bullets are within a slot of ammo. I wonder if I sell a box of ammo and then re-buy it it gets filled up? I can sell my empty pistol and buy a new one... does that fill it up? A tiny ammo gauge on the side of the icon (like Syndicate) would be nice. Even though the laser ammo looks like a gauge, it doesn't tell how how full it is unless you place it in your hand.

OKAY, WHAT. The 'Menu' button on the shop screen takes you back to the main menu... by restarting the game. The game hadn't given me a password for Level 2 yet so now I have to play Level 1 all over again. AGAIN.

So the game gives me the level 2 password AFTER showing me the 'click this button to lose all your progress' button. Why not show the password on the shop screen? Why is it not filled in for you automatically if you click on 'Menu'?

I don't like it when they use a fancy font for passwords. The 5 and the S, and the U and the V look almost identical!

Level 2 is pink and black instead of pink and blue. I think we're going to be seeing a lot of blue/pink/black combinations in this game.

I've found a sniper rifle! I can't use its scope though. It's just another click-as-fast-as-you-can-to-win gun to add to my collection of identical guns.

What the hell is THAT?

Oh, it's another kind of robot. The game's not re-using its enemies yet! I think I've managed to sneak up on this guy...

Bang bang, robot! You're dead!

This shotgun is fully automatic and reloads instantly. You wouldn't think that by looking at the picture.

I think these twisty walls look like marshmallow Flumps. "Ah mah gawd! An impenetrable wall!" (external link)

That pyramid thing is either an instant death spike, a fantastic mega-gun for me to use, or a leftover GERALD that nobody's using. I can't seem to pick it up, so let's leave it alone.

I'm half-dead! Let's go to the cafeteria!

And here's the cafeteria at long last. An empty room with some packages on the floor.

It's... a can of sodapop and a load of bread. How do I invoke this bread then? Do I equip it onto my dude screen like it's tasty, freshly baked armour or what? Yes, I do. 10% HP up.

And of course I have to hold it in my hand, then pick an inventory page with space and all that if I want to store it for later. GREAT.

These posters are here to try to make the rooms look different to each other. The jury's out on whether it works or not. (They're back now. It doesn't work.)

I think they might've been able to put those few extra spare colours to better use.

Hey, I've found a big sign telling me where the mushroom bomb is! Things must be pretty bad at this base if there's more directions to the self-destruct button than there are to the cafeteria. Let's go... left!

Here we are at 'left'.

I'm not gonna touch this thing before I figure out how to open the exit. I've already had to restart a few times from accidentally shooting the bomb instead of activating it.

To open the exit, I need one of those identical keys.


The switch to open this door was miles and miles and miles away, near the radioactive girl posters. There was absolutely no clue that these two things were related. Unbelieveable. Why would they do that?

After hitting the mushroom, I'm desperately running through the dark corridors like a madman... ticking off the crossroads and posters along the route to the exit door.

I don't think they've been refilling my health between levels, you know. I've only found two health pickups in the game so far. I think I lose health steadily through the game, so how is that supposed to work?

All the items in the game are scaled sprites from rendered 3D models, just like Stardust.

I was feeling suicidal (if you'd heard this awful droning sound you'd understand) so I walked into the spinning spiky balls to see if they hurt.

They didn't!

It's a robot, man.

All these prerendered enemies have not much in the way of walking frames, but loads of different angles to see them from. I don't think any of them have readied any kind of weapon to shoot me; if they face me they make a weak "meup" noise and I lose 1% health.

I've lost far more health from the steady decay than from combat with the rouge machines. That's right, I'm dying of old age in here.

This entire level is blue on blue. I really wish I had a map, even a tiny little map. Maybe it could take up a 2x1 inventory space. Or replace the compass in that ridged area at the top of the screen.

I've been thinking. There's no visual confirmation when you turn the bomb on. It doesn't light up, flicker, animate or disappear. It just beeps very quietly.

And there's an option in the menu to turn the sound off.

This is some kind of bin thing. I think it controls those pillars over there but I can't use it. I've tried one empty hand and both empty hands. I've tried shooting it with pistols, shotguns, rifles and lasers, but nothing works.

Maybe I've missed something?

No way... there's another lock! You seriously can't be telling me that I used my ONLY KEY on the WRONG LOCK!? THERE'S THREE OF THEM, AND THEY'RE ALL IDENTICAL! YOU ARSEHOLES!

I'm going to try this ONE more time. At least the game has the decency to automatically enter in the last password for you. (Provided you didn't accidentally click 'Menu' in the shop screen and get thrown back a level instead.)

All my guns and ammo are gone! BASTARDS!

Oh, right. They've just sold everything I was carrying. I suppose the complete contents of my inventory is a lot to encode into a single password, so I'll accept the money. I can just buy back the stuff I want... but the shop only has a single case of ammo for each gun! My laser ammo collection, gone! Sons of bitches!

They had enough damned space to save the fact I was at half health, didn't they!

Right, that's enough of that.

I really want to like this game. I played the demo a lot back in 1995. It's the Amiga's very own System Shock! And it runs on an A500! That's gotta be worth something, right?

Not really. On paper, it's Resident Evil 4 crossed with System Shock 2... with robots! In reality, it's confusion, panic, frustration and sadness. Have a go. Every time you think you're getting into it, the game will hit you with some small bit of bonehead nonsense the brings the game to sudden halt and you'll want to chuck your Amiga down the stairs.

I hope the developers lay awake every night thinking about all the decisions they made in making this game, and how awesome Behind the Iron Gate could have been if they'd just used their noggin a bit more.

If you would leave a comment in the box below, you would make me a happy cat!


  1. The last three images aren't loading for me... are the links broken?

    1. All the images seem to be working for me, though I had to double check because the way mecha-neko has used those horizontal lines to break up the text at the end made me think something was missing.

  2. I've been replaying Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri, which uses mouse-within-screen targeting like this game and System Shock. It's fun to see that control scheme. Not having to look directly at a target works very smoothly and kind of reminds me of twin-stick shooters, but does mean keyboard buttons for looking up and down.

    Also: nowadays UIs try to be small and out-of-the-way, but Strike Force Centauri delights in the opposite. It's all instruments and bars and displays for the power armor the player character wears, complete with a thermometer. Instead of using a map screen that has nothing to do with what the character sees, the player brings up the map by swapping the view on the minimap display with the main HUD. The UI's deliberately noisy, with beeps and whirrs and clacks to remind the player that they're in a machine, and the ability to launch a camera drone and bring the view from that up on the main HUD helps bring a bit of that simulator feel.

    First-person games back then may have lost half the screen to the UI, but a game can work that space.

    1. Terra Nova's definitely on my list of games to sometime get around to, I've been curious about that one since finding its demo on a coverdisc.

      And you ain't wrong about the interface, the thing's more cluttered than Steel Battalion. They may have been there to mask the border used to get those coveted double-digit frame rates out of the 3D engine, but those game HUDs actually did help sell the fact that you were inside some kind of vehicle. In fact next time I see one show up in a classic RPG I'm going to go and assume that I'm in a four-seater fantasy mech with two swords at the front and the mages hanging out the back windows.

      Though I'm glad id decided to scrap the one they were planning to stick on Doom.

    2. Be sure to call it the party wagon.

  3. One of first games Skorpik soudtracked. These days he's top of the league doing audio for AAA titles like EVE or Witcher.

  4. What was pretty weird about this game were the gif-like posters (on higher levels, I believe) with sound, depicting this copulating couple

  5. I've been playing this on my A600 recently. On the actual unupgraded system, it runs like a dream! And on the level after that blue one you get a Handy Scanner which you can put into one of your hand slots and turns it into a map! From that point onwards the 3d screen becomes pretty irrelevant unfortunately. Flying by instruments is far easier than navigating the world because there's no landmarks there. From Level 5 onwards the Handy Scanner appears as a shop item so you can always pack a map if you want. The only problem I had with it is that I became so used to it that when I run to the exit I sometimes forget to unequip it. You don't have to drop it on the ground entirely but my inventory is usually totally full of junk, and you've got split seconds to leave the level.


Semi-Random Game Box