Fort Apocalypse cover art (U.K. edition, distributed by U.S. Gold)
Fort Apocalypse is a 2D multi-directional scroller where the player navigates an underground prison in a helicopter, destroying or avoiding enemies while rescuing the prisoners. A contemporary of Choplifter, it has similarities to that game as well as the arcade games Scramble and Super Cobra.
Synapse Softare's first success was 1981's Protector, and quickly followed by a number of games written by a small number of programmers. Most of the basic concepts were developed by Synapse's president, Ihor Wolosenko. Fort Apocalypse was one of the few that was not, and traces its origin to a dream Steve Hales had about the movie Blue Thunder. With Wolosenko's blessing, he began working on the project in 1982.
While the programming was getting started, another programmer decided to leave the company in the midst of completing one of Wolosenko's projects, Slime. Hales was pulled off the development of Fort Apocalypse to finish Slime, but found the code too difficult to continue and had to start over from scratch. The resulting delay meant Brøderbund's Choplifter reached the market first, and Fort Apocalypse was often considered a me-too effort. When Hales saw Choplifter, "my reaction was: why did I stop working on Fort?"
The game was publicly demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show[a] and the players complained that it was too hard. This led to changes in the map and a few other tweaks. The game was a relative success, ultimately selling about 75,000 copies on the Atari, and more than that on the Commodore.
Fort Apocalypse is played within a multi-directional scrolling "cave", viewed from the side. Similar to Choplifter, and as opposed to Scramble, the map does not automatically scroll, and the player is free to move in any direction.
The map is divided into four vertical sections, with the uppermost being at ground level, and the lowest containing the titular fortress. The two middle layers, Draconis and the Crystalline Caves, both contain a landing pad that saves the game's progress and allows the player to re-animate at that point if they are destroyed. Eight hostages can be picked up on both of these middle layers. The map is further divided into sections by special walls that can be broken open by firing or dropping bombs on them.
The player's chopper is destroyed if it runs into the cavern walls, is shot down by the numerous enemies, or caught in one of the many laser or moving wall traps. The player has two weapons, a gun and bombs, but only one button on the joystick. Most of the time the button fires the gun, but when the helicopter has turned so it's facing out of the screen, then the button drops bombs. Enemy missiles track the player's movements for a short time before running out of fuel and dropping back to earth, and the map is populated by a number of enemy helicopters similar to the player's own.
Softline praised Fort Apocalypse's "game complexity and difficulty of play—just enough to keep you coming back and progressing a little further each time". Antic was also pleased with the effort, saying "The game is fun to play and has lots of action and good sound effects" but criticized the sound of the helicopter itself, comparing it to the sound of "someone walking in wet shoes".
Electronic Fun is one of the few negative reviews of the era, giving it only 1.5 joysticks out of 5. It is also one of the most direct at calling it a mix of other designs; the review starts off with this complaint:
|“||What happens when you mix Defender, Scramble and Chopper Rescue together, and put them out as one game? About the same thing as mixing ice cream, spaghetti and steak. By themselves they're each terrific, but when mixed together they make something that you don't even want to think about. This is what happened in Fort Apocalypse.||”|
It goes on to complain that anyone playing it would have to be "deeply masochistic", especially after you "blow up after running into something you can't even see."
Retrogaming reviews are generally favorable, with the group score at Atari Mania being a very respectable 7.8 out of 10. It has also been noted that it is often quoted as the first, or one of the first, games played by many people in that era.
Relicensing and Source Code
In 2007 the game was relicensed to a Creative Commons license and released on IgorLabs, a site founded by Steve Hales and other game developers.
On April 23, 2015, Steve Hales released the assembler source code to Fort Apocalypse on GitHub for historical reasons. A Twitter account was created for the release, claiming if enough people followed a version for iOS and Android would be made.
- Hales says this was the 1983 show, which took place in January. This would appear to suggest the actual release was later, or that this led to a second version.
- Hague 1997, p. 50.
- "AGH Atari 8-Bit Computer Review: Fort Apocalypse". AGH.
- Christie, Andrew (Nov–Dec 1983). "Synapse Takes Off". Softline. p. 21. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- Wolford, Roy (August 1983). "Ft. Apocalypse". Antic.
- Backer, Paul (August 1983). "Fore Apocalypse". Electronic Fun with Computer Games: 65.
- Pöy, Skäpädi (29 August 2014). "Fort Apocalypse (Synapse Software, 1982)". FRGCB.
- Hague, James (1997). Halcyon Days.