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The First Cell

The First Cell is an upcoming overhead shooting game programmed entirely in 8086 assembly for the IBM PC/XT, its successors, and the many, many clones to follow. If you have played anything like Robotron: 2084 or Crystal Quest, this should be simple to pick up on.

The First Cell is about halfway done as of writing this (April 10th) and is slated for a release sometime in May. Check back later for more updates...


You are a simulation of a single cell residing in a primitive mainframe, one of many which have failed before you, all derived from a powerful multicellular organism elected for the cell template. Being a cell, your life is very simple - win against an endless onslaught of opposing cells. Even in such a seemingly benign virtual microscopic environment, you stand out with unusual abilities like producing piercing cell killers, great potential for reflexing out of otherwise futile situations, and generally a greater will that persists through you even as the odds end up becoming insurmountable.

The cell will inevitably die, but if it fulfills the required outstanding expectations, one day an unstoppable warrior will emerge out of the refined template based on the simulation results, or so some in charge of the project believe. Do you have what it takes to become alive?

Questions and Answers

What platforms are supported?

The First Cell is programmed exclusively for DOS. Due to its minimal dependence on the DOS API, I think it should run in PC-DOS 1.0, but I have yet to test it there. If you want to run it on a different operating system, some systems like Windows 95, 98, ME, and OS/2 should already have faithful support for DOS programs like The First Cell. Otherwise, you may be able to run this under NTVDM (in 32-bit versions of Windows NT only), or you can just run DOSBox anywhere else.

How much memory will The First Cell require?

Since everything is contained in a single 16-bit segment, you should only need around 64KB of conventional memory available.

Will this run too fast on a newer machine like something with a Pentium II?

No, because it has been programmed so that every "frame" is bound to each tick generated by the internal system timer. The PIT is sped up significantly to make for much faster gameplay, but a custom INT 8 routine has been written that works with the original one residing in the BIOS so that the 24 hour clock is not thrown way off after exiting the program. The game may actually run a bit slow on an XT due to the sheer number of objects being managed, but not by so much regardless.

Will this game compensate for snow on original IBM CGA adapters?

That is not planned, since doing so may force the game to run a lot slower. We'll have to see, though.

Will MDA be supported?

MDA support is planned, though I have yet to see if it will look exactly the way I want it in that mode.

What license will this game be released under?

I plan to release The First Cell and its source code under a public domain license for maximum freedom and flexibility without obligations. You'll be permitted to duplicate and redistribute the game as you please. Furthermore, you'll be able to use the code to learn how to write your own programs in 8086 assembly, enhance the program with your own twists, port it to other platforms by means of reverse engineering, and perhaps even employ it in an academic setting.

Will this game save my high scores?

No. While creating a high score data file would be trivial, I want this program to not leave anything new on any disk - the idea is that you fire it up, have your fix, put it away, and your system remains exactly the same as it was before. In the age of a high bandwidth internet, too, you may as well take a picture of your screen to brag about your score or record/stream your gameplay if you need to validate it.


Please note that these screenshots are from a prerelease build and may not accurately reflect the final release.

The First Cell: Wave 4

Watch out! Some enemies will dash at you if you cross them.

The First Cell: Gunners

Those devious little happy faces shoot back.

The First Cell: Time Out

If you dangle around too long, more enemies than needed will spawn.

The First Cell: Bomb Detonation

Kaboom! A useful weapon for helping you get out of a pinch.

The First Cell: The Serpents

Suddenly, the classic QBasic game has revolted against you!