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Xenon: Bitmap Brothers' (mega)blast from the past

Classic Amiga and ST scroll-play gaming

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All your Bass are belong to us

Xenon was actually released in arcades as part of the ill-fated Arcadia game system – a subsidiary of Mastertronic games in the US. The Spectrum and Amstrad CPC received decent enough versions – while the Commodore 64 and DOS attempts were a bit ropey – yet it was, of course, the Amiga and Atari ST that would gather the loyal following needed to make a follow-up pretty much inevitable.

Speccy Xenon in all its glory

Speccy Xenon in all its glory

So just as with Speedball 2, The Bitmap Brothers’ other notorious sequel, Xenon the second followed in 1989 to rapturous applause. One gets the feeling that The Bitmap Brothers were keen to get this second title out there as soon as possible – striking while the iron was hot, as it were – for while game design was handled by themselves, programming duties were commissioned out to contacts at fellow British development house The Assembly Line.

The Megablast effect

Not only that, but a shrewd, mutually beneficial deal with up and coming samples and beats aficionado Tim Simenon – who has just begun releasing music under the moniker Bomb the Bass – meant that soundtrack duties could be sewn up pretty swiftly too. A faithful rendition of his hit single Megablast (Hip Hop on Precinct 13) accompanied the game’s opening credits, with a slimmed down loop section providing a background theme for the in-game action.

Xenon 2 Amiga, power-upped to the eyeballs

Xenon 2 on the Amiga: power-upped to the eyeballs

Simenon would go on to produce records for Neneh Cherry, Sinead O'Connor and Depeche Mode, among others. And while the publicity he gained from this game release probably shouldn’t be overstated, it would have circulated his music within a certain strata of British youth that might have been hard to reach otherwise, and certainly didn’t do his notoriety any harm.

For The Bitmap Brothers, on the other hand, the game was instantly given a layer of cool, not to mention hard to attain publicity. Xenon 2 was catapulted out of the geeks-only domain and into a more mainstream audience – it gave the title a buzz, a novelty, a selling point – with ‘Megablast’ proudly emblazoned all over its psychedelic cover.

Youtube Video

Thus, way before the MP3 format had blitzed music into all corners of the digital universe, here was the Amiga audio hardware doing a darn good impression of what was to come more than a decade later. The ‘Paula’ sound chip of the Amiga supported four PCM sample-based channels, and a clever trick allowed two of those channels to be combined, producing the equivalent of 14-bit audio.

Unfortunately, all this sample-based audio prowess did show up the inferior beeps and squeaks of the Atari ST’s sound chip, though of course that platform had musical strengths of its own with its in-built MIDI capabilities – don’t hate me, ST fans!

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