Sorry for the delay in replying here - as I've only revisited this page now... Thanks for giving it a good go - and for your comments, etc.
Of course we extensively played this, back in the day, as we were working to our own deadline - but no doubt getting tired of it, as well...
We can only vouch for the original copy - that we encountered no noticeable problems/crashing/etc - I (as Andrew is no longer with us) can't vouch for the copy you have - which may not be identical to the original as such...
For those who can't get to the secondary game at all - we did provide a way to sample one or two? My memory is hazy - but I think if you booted off the 2nd disk or side 2 of Disk 1 - you can load some default saves which'll take you there. I think this bypassed the overall game interface/etc. If you are fortunate - maybe you'll find some game saves there (made by someone else) which will do that for you - start in the secondary game?
Of course the game is hard - if you played Laser Hawk - you'd expect that. Also because this was Xevious inspired - and if you know how hard that game is ---- then expect something similar here.
It is by getting to know the game well - that you'd eventually make it to the end of it, and gain access to the secondary game.
And if you need some help - I provided that at the game's official website at http://hawkquest.tripod.com
I hope all it's pages/etc are intact - as this was set up some years ago.
I would be surprised if this is not rated as one of the (if not best?) vertical scroller shooter for the Atari 800 series computers. Once you've visited all of the secondary games - you might agree? Level 2 - is of course much much harder - so getting to any of it's secondary games is a real challenge - but that is why there are game saves available for you to make - so that you can use your game save - to revisit the secondary game again and again, without having to replay the main game again, to get there.
It is vitally important to have as many extra helicopters remaining, so that in the secondary you have as many men as possible to start off with. That is why it is so important to find and use as many of the extras you find in the main game - most of are hidden/invisible as such, though some are visible on certain planets/etc.
I did not confer with Andrew with the playtesting - he did what he could with the scrolling attack waves, while I put together all of the level maps as such. We did not go through extensive playtesting - so there'll be some rough edges present for sure - such as being shot at, by something close to you.
But for the most part - it should be better than the other shooters out there.
I have been reusing the graphics in Hawkquest - for AtariBLAST! Mainly because I did not wish to start from scratch again - with totally new graphics. But also doing it this way - can show the difference between then and now? You should be able to sense the differences? Though I do feel Paul has been able to add a new level of complexity - via programming techniques/etc to this game format (vertical scroller shooter). Also AB! was not planned in detail right from the start - but developed/changed in it's own haphazard way - which has proved beneficial (and not detrimental) to it's development. There is not expected to be/have any ground car present, nor likely to be any ground based guns too. AB! was not expected to be a huge extensive project which it has become. And 5200 gamers should be especially grateful - because they were not even considered at it's very start.
I did dutifully copy out the secondary game maps - so that one day it could be available for anyone wanting to see them? But I don't have them with me any longer - as I passed them onto an archiving resource (which I hope they arrived there?) - they were to be scanned en route - via someone who said he'll do that for me. Along with other such material...
But seeing them, would take the surprise element away - as I did try being somewhat devilish in design in hiding stuff - as it is the same scavenger hunt being done in all these secondary games - except that for some levels - things are different. I just hope players will enjoy the differences when they encounter them?
To experience something truly different from all the rest - I hope NTSC users will bite the bullet and accept the challenge - by using Altirra (if they don't have the PAL hardware) - since I don't have my old Atari hardware anymore... I think it's more than equal to the original hardware, and that really you can't tell the difference - can you? Except that now, you can enjoy playing it on a larger screen (40" or larger) TV - and it doesn't look too clunky? does it? Unlike 2600 graphics.