I've been trying to track down a 3D game from the late '80s/early '90s. It was on the Atari ST and featured simple polygonal (space)ships1 floating over flattish polygonal ground with the occasional berm that one could fly over. It was definitely not sprite-based. IIRC it was mouse controlled and the ships moved only in the plane (rise and fall but no tilting or banking). It used a third-person viewpoint, fixed relative to the ship (low/ground level and behind IIRC) and the gameplay was (to at least some extent) open world (i.e. not restricted like e.g. Zaxxon). The version I saw was a demo (probably off of a cover disk) and I believe it was a shooter (pretty sure it wasn't Elite or anything similar). I've looked through ST Format and ST Action and some of the online gaming sites but haven't found it. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

1 Simple as in under 10 vertices per ship, flat shaded but not texture mapped.

Rough drawing (from memory) of what it sort of looked like; the actual graphics were much nicer:

Mockup screenshot of craft over landscape

Update 2018-11-16:

It may have been an early preview of Starglider 2. Its graphics are the closest match for what I recall but there are still many major differences.

The following don't match what I recall (differences listed):

  • The Sentinel Landscape is rendered close to what I recall however the demo I played did not have any non-ship objects (trees, towers, etc.)
  • Zarch/Virus Landscape is totally different (not full screen, wrong POV, very varied terrain), ships can tilt, heavy use of particles, non-ship objects (trees, buildings, etc.)
  • Frontier Elite II Much more advanced graphics than what I recall. I had a (non-playable) demo of it and its style was quite different.

Update 2018-11-17:

I'm starting to think this was either a very early preview of a work-in-progress or, as LangLangC pointed out, possibly a game that never ended up being sold commercially.

One other obvious possibility is that I am completely misremembering the details. Memory is, after all, notoriously inaccurate.

  • Sure, it's your memory, not mine, but seeing that picture I'm even more convinced it's Zach/Virus. Especially since you have experianced it on the ST, where it looks way more rough due less resolution and less colours. Our memory often oversiplifies things - I was as well astonished about the details when seeing the pictures again, as I only remembered the ship and a colourshaped landscape with bombs as only details.
    – Raffzahn
    Nov 15, 2018 at 17:10
  • ... or perhaps another of Braben's games: Frontier Elite II? It was full screen, and although some of the ship designs were higher polygon count some of them were more similar to this (particularly the ones that were copied from the original Elite). And most of the planets had pretty simple landscapes (although most of the screen shots I find online are from the more complex ones, presumably because they look nicer so are more tempting to use as examples).
    – Jules
    Nov 16, 2018 at 2:02
  • One thing that seriously distorts my memory: I remember Starglider2 as being almost as realistic, colourful, detailed etc as a SciFi action movie from last year with a top budget. Only that I know that it was not so. For starters: the viewport was really small: much of the actual 3D content obscured by static cockpit graphics. Can you remember such a 'trick'? (+: SG2 was mostly FP perspective, & you emphasised erd person view.) Nov 17, 2018 at 21:30
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    I didn't suggest Interphase because it didn't seem to fit, but have you checked that out? Genuinely curious to find out what this is now!
    – Matt Lacey
    Dec 19, 2018 at 22:49
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    @MattLacey That looks really close but not quite. ... After looking around some more I'm pretty sure I've found it; see my answer below. Dec 20, 2018 at 1:35

5 Answers 5


I'd say Zarch or as it was way more popular Virus.

The game was originally conceived for the Acorn Archimedes, but soon ported to basically all platforms of the late 80s 16-bit era. There was a real hype.

In fact, it was first distributed as a demo called 'Lander' with every new Archimedes computer, Making a really good case for buying one:

enter image description here

Here are some screenshots of the Atari ST version, looking way less detailed, more 'flat' and rough. Still a great game.

enter image description here

  • That looks somewhat similar but not quite the same. What I recall didn't have buildings and trees and the playing field was full screen with a much larger grid size. The ships look very similar but as I recall they didn't tilt like in Zarch. Nov 15, 2018 at 0:43
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    Well, it might have had less features on other systems. After all, teh Archimedes was quite fast - and then there where ofc, a whole series of clones - like this: mobygames.com/game/amiga/zeewolf/screenshots
    – Raffzahn
    Nov 15, 2018 at 0:48
  • Good point; the ST was rather limited. Essentially no hardware graphics support beyond page flipping the framebuffer. Still pretty sure this isn't the game I'm remembering. Nov 15, 2018 at 0:53
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    If OP played a demo, it is also quite possible that it never made it into sold circulation? Nov 15, 2018 at 10:58
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    @LangLangC That's what I'm starting to think. Would explain why I can't find any mention of it. Nov 17, 2018 at 1:22

I'm virtually positive the game was Thunderstrike released in 1990 for the ST, Amiga, and DOS. The version I had was probably an early demo since I don't recall the various splash screens (besides the loading screen). The design of the loading screen, world and ships, the POV, as well as the gameplay are very close to what I recall and the ship selection screen (which I had forgotten) definitely rings a bell.

Here's a Youtube video showing the gameplay (rewind to see loader, config screens, etc.).

Ship selection screen In-game shot showing terrain and ships

Both screenshots from Moby Games.

Thanks to Matt Lacey for prompting me to take another look for this game.

  • I think it actually was Thunderstrike for the Amiga, ST, and some other platforms. It was a decent game, you can read about it over here: rawg.io/games/thunderstrike I guess the description somewhat matches. Apr 26, 2019 at 16:43

Your description make me think of Alpha Waves (a.k.a. "Continuum" outside of Europe) I had as a cover disk of a special issue of "ST Magazine" called "ST PC Disquette n°1" in France. Unfortunately I don't have the booklet anymore but I still have this floppy, which was playable on both ST and PC.

Here's a Youtube video of the gameplay.

Edit: the "ship" can be changed in different shapes with more vertices which isn't shown in the video, here is an example:

Alpha Waves ST "springy" ship

  • Given the very limited constraints at the time there's a surprising variety in the designs that the programmers came up with. Dec 21, 2018 at 5:38

Was it The Sentinel? Surprised I didn't think of this when I up voted your question yesterday! More info at Atari Mania.

Map screen Gameplay Title Screen

  • I still love that game!
    – Thomas
    Nov 17, 2019 at 19:13

Just for a comedy fifth option: The somewhat unsung but interesting little thing known as "Simulcra"? I can't even remember much of it but it did involve piloting a small ship with limited movement around a sparse 3D landscape a bit like what you describe.

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