Title           Archon
Game Type       Action Strategy
Company         FreeFall Associates/Electronic Arts, 1985
Players         1 or 2
Compatibility   All (with WHDLoad Patch, *1)
HD Installable  Yes (with Patch)
Submission      Hidehiko Ogata Profiled Reviewer (

(Come on, it's Archon. If you haven't heard of it, fire up your favourite
8-bit emulator (or pick up a cheap Atari XEGS with an Archon cart, even)
and see for yourself... it's worth it. The Amiga version can handicap
either player, and has a "cyborg" option (the strategic half played by
a human, the action half by computer). Also, the action part is slowed
down somewhat, much to the chagrin of a mighty dragon when defeated by a
nimble knight... that's about it. Okay, now I will waste the rest of this
pseudo-review in retrospection of the embryonic Amiga scene from one
user's point of view - that is, me.)

...Anyways, Electronic Arts (EOA) was at first not the mega-corporation we
have come to loathe today. Founded in '82, when the 8bit market was still
full of amateurish upstart companies and their drecks, they rapidly
distinguished themselves by their style, quality and professionalism. And
they were, almost uniquely, personal - they dared to put their programmers
in the spotlight, in magazine ads as slick as Rolling Stones articles, or
in the actual packages as neat as vinyl gatefold sleeves that even carried
their mugshots and biographies. And they certainly delivered - the
formidable lineup of star programmers such as Bill Budge, Will Harvey,
Ozark Softscape et al continued to put out quality titles like Pinball
Construction Set ('82, *2), Music Construction Set ('83), M.U.L.E. ('83),
Seven Cities of Gold ('84) etc., many of which are considered great
classics today. It was no wonder that, by the mid 80's when the migration
to the 16/32bit platforms started, EOA had successfully established
themselves as a force to be reckoned with, and news of their future
developments were eagerly awaited, respectfully, or even with a touch of
awe - in other words, they had managed to live up to their admittedly
lofty name.

So it was a real blessing that EOA stood firmly by the Amiga at its shaky
and uncertain launch in '85. Not only their very presence was essential
for the latecomer's credibility that was desperately needed, they provided
significant trailblazers like Deluxe Paint and Arcticfox to tap the vast
potential of the new wonder box. They also helped to establish a crucial
software-base in the earliest days with ports of their popular 8-bit
titles such as Adventure Construction Set, One-on-One, 7CoG and Skyfox;
those were often criticized for underachievement (as per usual on a new
platform), but many new owners of the shiny white keyboard garage risked
a last extra squeeze of their wallet anyway - so short was the software
catalog of the time, so eager and proud were they to show off their new

In that mixed bag of game releases was Archon ('85), designed and ported
by yet another member of stellar EOA gangs, FreeFall Associates. Inspired
by living chess (using humans as the pieces), and improved further by
the monster-chess scene in Star Wars (which mercifully remained untouched
in the '97 special edition), it was essentially a fantasy chess with a
novel twist: when two pieces met, they leapt into action so that you could
challenge the opposition with your joystick. It was one of those perfect
games - it had the familiarity of chess, the delight of Harryhausen
movies, and the unpredictability of the computerized board (whose ebb and
flow affected the tide of a match), and a killer 2-player option (*3).

While Archon became an instant classic on many 8-bits (including Japanese
micros) after its release in '83, it really was a title cut out for an
earlier favorite platform of EOA's: the Atari 8-bits, with its variable
color luminance (still a rare gift today) and Player-Missile Graphics
(simple sprites).  So it seemed apt that its Amiga incarnation helped to
showcase yet another unique feature of Jay Miner's heritage: digital
sounds in stereo. Your initial disappointment in the simple rendition of
pieces by modest Amiga sprites (an echo of Atari lineage?) faded away as
soon as they started to move - their footfalls (when they had feet)
magically transformed the blank background into wooden floor in your mind,
and you couldn't help but cower as the deadly whoosh of your opponent's
projectile whizzed across the room toward you.  It was a simple
application of a new technology, yet was stunningly effective in '85 -
when nobody expected "real" sound to come out of a home computer, let alone
in stereo. Indeed, the opening crack of thunder and the powerful remix of
the familiar FreeFall tune that followed sounded like a declaration of an
new era to a computer geek like me.

Sadly, this aspect of Amiga games was to be the first to get the axe (with
some notable exceptions e.g. Dungeon Master) as the excitement of new
potential was gradually taken over by the practicality of the hardware -
memory and storage space were too precious, and so were the four sound
channels of the Amiga audio system. Most games eventually used sound
effects flatly in mono, and even that took a little backseat with the
advent of SoundTracker and its variants which propelled the popularity and
quality of in-game music.  By the time the progress in hardware and
benefit of mass-production caught up to provide alternate solutions such
as CD-ROM and software sound overlays, the Amiga had already started to
slip off of the leading edge.  Not without some high notes though;
despite the limitations, the early experimental era had heard some of the
neatest use of stereo sounds like that of Archon or Mind Walker (*4) -
both of them ran fine with 256K of RAM actually - such was the time of low
expectation and high spirit, when one innovation was cool enough and
people were very happy.

While EOA's fruitful relation with the Amiga continued well into the 90's,
FreeFall for some reason had faded into oblivion - their next new title
had to wait until Swords of Twilight ('89), a conversation-driven
multiplayer RPG that was perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good.
Probably better known would be the highly popular Star Control series by
the Archon 1 & 2 co-designer Paul Reiche III, the first version of which
did make it to the Amiga in '90 (*5).  Is it too sentimental to see the
same innocent charm of their predecessor in both of them, the joy of
watching inanimate icons come to life?  We take so much for granted today,
in the sea of polygons, textures and alpha-maps...

In short: Lively stereo sounds more than make up for the modest graphics
of this port of an 8-bit masterpiece. Brilliant in simplicity and perfect
in execution, the Amiga was fortunate to have such a catchy title in her
earliest days... and now it runs under most configurations, thanks to the
hard work of the WHDLoad patcher, Jean-François Fabre.

(Extra: FreeFall made an official second sequel "Archon Ultra" in '94, but
it being a PC-exclusive title, I can't comment.)


*1. Perhaps because of EOA's early involvement in the Amiga's development
(when the OS specs were still in motion), or because of their deep
knowledge of the machine, or perhaps a bit of both?... for whatever
reason, early EOA titles have proved to be the least cooperative patients
to modern Amigas, and Archon was by far the worst (I haven't quite figured
out the magic formula yet, and I still do own an A1000!).  But
Jean-Franois Fabre of JST HD-installers fame has finally tamed the beast
in the spring of 2002, and now it runs under most Amigas under the sun,
right from HD.  Hurrah!

*2. A tantalizing screenshot of the Amiga PCS (probably mocked up with
DPaint?) was featured in EOA's teaser disk which came with early A1000's.
Alas, it was the only title in the slideshow that was to fade away into
vaporware- land.

*3. Half of these ingredients were somehow missing in the '84 sequel
"Archon 2: Adept" which was also ported over in '86.

*4. Also reviewed for the AGDB by yours truly.

*5. But alas, not the second one: Star Control 2 ('92, PC).

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