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Zarch (also known under its ported name of Virus) is a computer game written by David Braben (better known as the co-author of Elite) in three months in 1987, for the release of the Acorn Archimedes computer. Zarch started off as a demo called Lander which was bundled with almost all releases of the Acorn Archimedes.

Zarch was released as Virus and in 1988 ported to the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga (coded by Jez San and his Argonaut team), and IBM PC (coded by Chris Sawyer). It was later ported to the ZX Spectrum by Steven Dunn - an impressive feat considering the inferior processing power and poor graphics of the Spectrum when compared to the Archimedes, Amiga, Atari ST and PC. A few clones/games based on Zarch have also been created fairly recently, namely a version for Linux, also called Zarch, a remake for Windows (written in Blitz BASIC) called Z-Virus, and a version crossing Zarch with Pac-Man called ZarchMan.


The game was groundbreaking for the time, featuring a three-dimensional mouse-controlled craft (the "lander") flying over a tile-rendered landscape that dazzled reviewers in a primarily 2D-dominated game industry - ACE (Advanced Computer Entertainment) magazine led with the headline "SOLID 3D - the future of games?" when it reviewed Zarch with a score of 979, the highest rating ACE had given at that time, only bettered by the later Amiga port Virus at 981.

Virus was one of the first solid 3D games and was also the first to have 3D lighting effects and shadowing, although these are less sophisticated than those of Zarch.

The plot of the game is reminiscent of the arcade game Defender, in that the player, piloting a lone craft with limited firepower, must defend a finite landscape against ever increasing waves of enemy craft. In Zarch, the landscape is being invaded by aliens who are spreading a virus across the landscape. The seeder vessels are slow-moving, predictable, and easily destroyed, but as the game progresses they are supported by increasing numbers of flying support craft, which do not scatter virus but instead attack the player.


The seeder vessels scatter red virus particles across the landscape. As they land, they turn the green landscape to brown and red, and cause the trees to mutate. Some flying enemies shoot the mutated trees, to cause themselves to become much more aggressive and dangerous. To clear each attack wave, the player must destroy all enemy vessels.

At the conclusion of each attack wave the player is awarded bonus points for the amount of landscape which remains uninfected. After four attack waves have been successfully repelled, the player is awarded a new landscape; however, there is comparatively less land and more water, making complete infection more likely.

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