Originally released in late 1986, The Sentinel was a game that immediately divided game players right down the middle. Some people didn’t see the appeal at all. They thought it was too slow and boring to play. Then there were the others, who saw a tactical game akin to Chess. A game that required a great deal of thought and planning. A game that had very little in terms of music or sound effects, and yet when the Sentinel’s gaze fell on them, panic could set in.
It might be a cliche, but The Sentinel really is a unique game. Nothing else has really been tried since (with the exception of the re-imagined ‘The Sentinel Returns’ in the late 1990s).
The man behind the game was Geoff Crammond, who today is well known for his racing sims (Revs, Stunt Car Racer and the PC-based F1 Grand Prix series).
I only ever tested the final conversion of the game for the IBM PC. By then it had already been released for C64, BBC, Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. The latter 16-bit versions had the ability to call up the aerial view map of the current landscape during the game rather than just at the start, but otherwise the gameplay was the same.
Geoff Crammond coded the C64 original and the BBC conversion (both 6502 based machines). The Amstrad CPC version was created using a cross-compiler that Geoff had written himself to convert from the 6502 source to Z80. The Spectrum conversion was handled by Mike Follin, with the title music and spot sound effects written by his brother, Tim. It was Mike’s first project for Software Creations, and the Spectrum conversion offered a number of technical challenges. All of the other versions of the game used a 320 pixel wide display, so the Spectrum conversion ended up looking a little squashed in comparison thanks to its 256 x 192 screen resolution. The Spectrum display was also in monochrome, with Mike using a stippling effect to create different shaded patterns to compensate for the lack of extra colours in the 3D landscapes. Mike finally added a scrolling message in the top border of the title screen, an effect that was hardly ever utilised on the Spectrum.
The 16-bit conversions for Amiga and Atari ST were coded by Steve Bak, with the title music written by David Whittaker. The Amiga version was actually closer to the ST than most people realised. In fact, the Atari ST code (bar a few minor tweaks here and there) was re-used for the Amiga version. When the code finished drawing a frame, a subroutine would kick in and convert the frame into a data format that the Amiga understood. The subroutine executed fast enough to not have any noticable affect on the general speed of the game. The final PC conversion was done by Mark Roll and from what I can recall, testing it was a very straight-forward process.
The Memorabilia section includes an unofficial Sentinel badge, one of a batch sent to TelecomSoft in 1988.
The game was released in the US under the name The Sentry because there already was a game available in the states called “Sentinel” (published in the UK by US Gold under the ‘Americana’ label).