Pioneer Plague logo Amiga Computing Excellence Award

AMIGA 1000 owners may well remember Mindwalker, a game from Commodore which was one of the first things to show off the machine, the first game to use the custom chips. Now the same programmer, Bill Williams, has produced Pioneer Plague, the first big game to use HAM. Eat pixels lesser computers!

The human race is overpopulating earth - nothing new in that - so some bright spark has invented the Pioneer Probes. These incredible pieces of human ingenuity have been created to terraform lifeless hunks of space flotsam - asteroids for instance - into habitable planets.

As each new world is completed, the probes build copies of themselves and send them to search out new asteroids to build on. Now here's the snag, with all genetically reproduced systems there's always a chance of random mutation, as Darwin demonstrated in The Origin of Species.

Mutants were something the designers of Pioneer forgot, so now there's a whole bunch of self-replicating mutants drifting around in space, bent on terraforming anything in their ken, inhabited or not, and Earth is next on the list.
The designers would just like to say they're very, very sorry. Cheers fellas, you're off my Christmas card list.

The game is split into three sections - ground attack, navigation and drone programming, all selected from the main screen which doubles as the interior view of the ship.

At first glance those with long memories might well murmur SDI, especially if you are clued up enough to know that Mr Williams' previous work was Sinbad and the Eye of the Falcon, before collapsing like a heap of cold jelly - I did. Fear not though, while SDI was Cinemaware's (one and only) howler, Mandarin's Pioneer Plague is a veritable feast of arcade delights.

At the start of the game your ship is positioned in geostationary orbit high above the surface of an infected planet. Clicking the navigation window shows the level of infection to be low at this stage.
Click on the launch window and it's down to business. An interim screen shows the planet approach before switching to a ground display, with the LifeStar - you - drifting around. Another click launches the attack ship.

Another little something the designers forgot to mention was the probes have an in-built defence mechanism, provided just in face something got in their way. The mutations have evolved the defence system even further - nobody's quite sure how far. This makes it necessary to shoot and bomb everything that moves until you find out what's what.

Once you clear or retreat from a planet, you have to navigate through sub-Euclidian - attack of the jargon psueds - space to get to the next one. This is used as a poor excuse for a stunning sequence, reminiscent of Star Trek The Motion Picture, where you fly through a worm hole while trying to shoot the image of the planet as it whistles around the hole. Tricky stuff, because the long you spend in space the more the probes spread.

Pioneer Plague is an unusual and well thought out game that refuses to take itself too seriously. HAM mode graphics are used throughout, not just on the loading screens, which adds a touch of class. In play it's fast and challenging, but never too hard.

Definitely one for the Christmas shopping list - every Amiga should have one.

Pioneer Plague logo


When you can see more colours on the top of a Shredded Wheat packet than in a computer game then you know there must be something amiss. Given that it took Hollywood thirty years to make use of the magic of colour then it's hardly surprising that your average game is still confined to blue skies or black space. Pioneer Plague is making a pilgrimage to the colour palette, proudly claiming to be the first ever 4096 colour game.


The Pioneer Probe Mk IV was created to solve Earth's over-population problems. It runs around finding uninhabited planets and terra-forming them so that they're ready to be colonised. Sounds like a great idea? It might have been. A genetic defect in the Mk IV meant that it no longer creates environmental variety - which is a way of explaining the fact that all the game's planet surfaces look identical - turning everything into a large paving slab. Nicholas Ridley would certainly approve.

With the Mk IV now out of control, it just nukes all planet life without testing to see if it's inhabited. This causes untold problems for the poor little chaps who've just hung a 'No Place Like Home' picture over the hearth.

It's up to you to prevent the spread of the Probes. The Lifestar will take you around the Universe but the airship is your attack vehicle. By selecting a planet with Pioneer Probes in the vicinity, the Lifestar will whisk you away to a sub-Euclidean space zone. The quicker you cruise through here the fewer probes you'll need to total when you get to your clobbered planet.

Once through, you're into Legoland where you run around blasting away four types of robotic adversaries. These include 'Boxers' - nasty little creatures who trap you in a box with ever-decreasing sides until one of you gets destroyed. At any time you can dispatch a programmable drone to go out and destroy the devilish robots.

Once a planet has been cleared it's back to the map to select somewhere else to take your Sunday picnic. When all the planets have become infected your mission is over and it's better luck next time.


Pioneer Plague uses the Amiga's bizarrely named 'HAM' (hold and modify) graphics facility to exploit the entire spectrum of 4096 colours available. HAM graphics are nothing new - they've appeared in lots of painting and drawing packages, but their use in games is a revolution. HAM graphics require a great deal of processor time because of the range of colours used. This is bad news for games which are notorious for demanding a great deal of speed from the computer.

Although 4096 colours might sound like a great idea, they only appear on the host of title screens - the action scenes are forced to use more conventional graphics. Apart from that, there is the grand sounding Sub-Euclidean level, which really gives an effective impression of speed. With lots of true stereo sound effects cropping up all over the place as well as ditigised speech Pioneer Plague is a pretty impressive game.


The Amiga's assets have definitely been pushed to the limits here. 4096 colours and true stereo sound doesn't crop up on too many games in these hi-tech days, and an ST version would seem very likely. The gameplay doesn't really resemble the avowed plot too well but lots of good effects keep it interesting.

Whether it will stand the test of time is debatable - for all its flashy graphics it lacks the addictive qualities of its less colourful ancestors.

Pioneer Plague logo

Mandarin, £24.95 disk

A s the population of your home planet grew, so did a very significant problem. No one had any room to live. The solution that the scientists came up with seemed brilliant; a probe that would fly out to seemingly habitable worlds, build an environment that was suitable for population and then reproduce itself and fly off in search of more planets. However, something went wrong...

After hundreds of years of faultless service, the scanners monitoring the Pioneer Probes had mutated. By this time, it was too late to do anything, as another even worse strain had developed, which landed on already inhabited worlds and built the cities anyway, using the population as raw fuel to power them.

You, a particularly hard kind of hero, must fly off to the planets that have been detected as having this strain present and attempt to stop the probes from launching to other planets and approaching your home system. You control your mothership (the LifeStar) by flying it through 'Wormholes' between planets, navigating a strange dimension known as the 'Sub-Euclidian Plane'. When orbiting a planet you then transfer to an Air-Ship, which is used to destroy the Skyhatches that launch mutated and pretty nasty Probes towards other systems.

As you fly around, rough 'n' tough automatic defence systems launch enemy craft at you, trying to stop you from succeeding.

While you try and halt the plague, a group of daring colonists launch from your homeworld, their story being relayed to you as you progress through your mission. Right, you've read the info - get on with it!

Phil King After seeing how the HAM mode operates in the Photon Paint art utility, it shows how difficult it is at times to get a satisfying picture using this mode. Often strange colour fringes appear where you least expect them, making drawing a HAM picture a very long process. The HAM pictures used in Pioneer Plague on the other hand are very good. There is still a sign of the weird 'ghosting' effect, but you hardly notice this. The game itself is very playable, requiring methodical thought and fast responses to survive. The city scrolling in the blasting sections is a little odd, but you soon get used to it, particularly with all the other stuff going on (by the way the computer warnings sound brilliant - just alien enough to be effective). Good game, good graphics, good sound - what else do you want? Well, a £19.99 price tag would help...
Robin Hogg The main feature that Pioneer Plague boasted in all the press was its HAM graphics, allowing 4096 colours on screen. However, this isn't the first thing that struck me about the game. What I noticed was the powerhouse intro music, with orchestra strikes galore. Even so, the HAM title page that followed was still very impressive! My first plays were rather a daunting experience, but once I had the navigation sussed I thoroughly enjoyed zooming about blasting the Skyhatches to bits. The action in the shoot 'em up sections is incredibly frenetic, leaving you feeling quite drained after a long battle. Blasting fans should enjoy Pioneer Plague as it's much more than a few pretty pictures.