Wednesday 24 October 2012

Tau Ceti - Amstrad CPC - 1986

Tau Ceti is a game I spent a lot of time playing in my youth when it was published in 1985 for the Sinclair Spectrum.  It was later converted to the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and Atari ST for release in 1986.  I knew this game would appear on the blog so played them to pick the one to feature. As with Elite, the ST had a weak conversion and has gameplay issues that ruled it out of the running.  I had heard the Commodore 64 version was the pick of the 8-bits so tried that next.  After clearing the the threats from the first city, I warped to the next one only to be annihilated by three suicidal flying saucers without killing a single one.  I tried again with the same result – I didn’t remember the game being this hard!  On the third attempt I took down one saucer with a missile at point blank range just before I died.  So, while it had the best graphics and sound the C64 is way too hard to be enjoyable.  Next up was the Spectrum version which played much as I remembered.  It didn't have the puny laser of the Commodore 64 so you could actually destroy things.  Lastly I loaded up the game for the Amstrad CPC.  This turned out to be the definitive version – it played pretty much the same as on the Spectrum but had colour (instead of monochrome shaded) graphics in the viewing window.

The game is set on the planet of Tau Ceti III which was colonised in 2050.  In 2150 a plague swept through the colony which was then abandoned and left to the devices of the robot maintenance systems.  After a couple of years a cure for the disease was found.  About the same time radio contact was lost with the automatic systems when the planet was hit by a massive meteor.  In 2164 it was decided to recolonise Tau Ceti III but minutes after landing a mayday message was received followed by silence.  It was decided that the robots had run amok after the meteor impact and the only way to stop them without destroying the buildings is to shut down the fusion reactor in the capital city.   This is where you come in….

Your mission is to explore the planet in a Gal-Corp Skimmer, searching the reactor substations in each city for a total of 40 pieces of reactor cooling rods.  These need to be assembled into 20 complete rods and inserted into the main reactor in the capital city of Centralis.  This will shut down the reactor and disable the planet defences allowing the colonists to return.

37 more rod pieces to find

You start the game aboard a skimmer that is docked in a lander.  The skimmer is armed with lasers, 8 heat seeking and 8 anti-missile missiles. It additionally comes equipped with a defensive shield, flares and infra-red night sights.  The display is largely made up of a viewing window, a communications screen and a radar map.  You are also provided with displays showing the skimmers status and navigational aids (direction finders and compass).

Once launched the viewing window displays the view from your ship (it can be changed to view from the rear or either side).  The buildings and hostile ships are viewed in solid 3D and, ground-breaking for the time, are shaded in accordance to the position of the sun.  As the day progresses Tau Ceti moves across the sky and the shadows deepen.  When the sun sets it is completely dark which is when your flares and nights sights come into play.  One day/night cycle on Tau Ceti III lasts approximately one hour.

Using Infra-Red is essential at night but things get a bit blurry.

The quickest way to navigate between cities is to utilise jump pads.  Jump pads can be located in the North, South, East and/or West of a city and each one has a particular destination.  One ADF will point to the nearest pad.  When landed you can call up a map which displays the jump network.

Just like Google Maps.

The cities have several types of defences including fortress buildings, robot hunter-killers (the flying saucers), guardian crawlers and proximity mines.  Your main armament is a fairly powerful laser (or a useless one in the case of the Commodore 64).  It does overheat if used constantly so you need to keep an eye on the temperature gauge.  To back this up you are armed with eight fire and forget missiles.  Defensive armament comprises a shield and eight anti-missile missiles (your communications display shows when an enemy launches a missile).  If you are still being hit when your shields are low then your systems start to fail.

The city of Hame contained a lot of hostiles.  It was 'Game Over' soon after this  screenshot.

As well as the reactor substations you can also dock at supply centres and with your landerThe civilian supply centres allow you to repair the skimmer.  Docking with the lander or at military supply centres allow you to re-arm as well as carrying out repairs.  Typing EQUIP in the communications window displays the available facilities.

Re-arming the skimmer can only be achieved at your lander or a military supply centre.

In its day, the graphics in Tau Ceti were unique and way ahead of its time.  Nowadays they look a bit dated and the sound isn't up to much, however the playability is still there.  There is also a lot of strategy involved - do you go in with all guns blazing or try to pick off enemies one at a time?  Do you use your missiles now or save them in case there is nowhere to rearm?  It doesn't take long to get immersed in the game and I enjoyed revisiting it.  

There was a sequel to Tau Ceti called Academy which on paper looked like it should have been better, but I didn't get on with the mission based structure.

 Docking at a sub-station where cooling rod pieces are found.


  1. What a nice read just before bedtime. Somewhere, reading about software developers associations, my eyes caught a company name containig "Tau" -switch to a new tab, google "old game tau ceti" and there is your blog. So nice, and thank you for the effort of conveying the atmosphere of the game.
    Back in the day I didn't play it much, my time was already spent on Elite, Starglider, Green Beret, some other more silly titles (Lightforce, what can i say :P) but also Arnhem and Tobruk.
    I think bed time will be slightli postponed, let's look up some more...

  2. Great game. I remember it fondly.