A Breed Apart
You've waited. Oh, how you've waited. And now it's coming. Bigger, better and blastier than ever before. Team 17's Alien Breed 2. The story starts here...
It's hard to believe now but there was a time when if you'd mentioned the name 'Team 17' people would've thought you were talking about some obscure indie pop band. But with their first major release in the May of 1991 the company established an immediate reputation for no-nonsense, arcade-quality games. Since those early days the Wakefield software developers have gone from strength to strength, with a string of games that were major hits with both critics and punters alike. And now, two years down the line, the same team are preparing to create a super-sequel to the game that started it all: Alien Breed.
You could argue that, in a sense, we've already had a sequel, Alien Breed '92: Special Edition, but that was essentially a rehash of the game, with new map layouts and a slightly tighter approach to the game design. Alien Breed 2, however, promises to be completely new in every way, with new gameplay, new graphics, new sound and even a new development machine, the A1200.
Once again Andreas Tadic, Rico Holmes and Allister Brimble, the original Alien Breed coder, graphic artist and music maestro respectively are in the driving seat, with the whole project being overseen by the irrepressible Martyn Brown. As from next month in The One, you can read the EXCLUSIVE Alien Breed 2 development diary which will, month by month and in the team's own slightly-garbled words, detail in full the sweat, tears and sheer hard work that goes into producing a major Amiga game.
This month, however, to kick things off we talked to Martyn about his hopes and - yes! - fears for Alien Breed 2...
The obvious questions (and a slightly stupid one at that, given Alien Breed's success) is: why Alien Breed 2? "Basically because doing Alien Breed 3 would be a silly idea..." Now come on, Martyn, play the game... "Actually we had always wanted to do a full (and by 'full' I mean a complete rewrite) sequel, not like what we did the the Special Edition.
"We've had a massive amount of feedback about the original game and the Special Edition and I suppose we're here to satisfy the demand of players and believe me there's a lot of demand! Also, we're completely sick of non-shoot-'em-ups after spending a year on 'that bloody frog'! Breed has always been one of our favourite projects and it also seems that a lot of people still value it as our best game, although I could disagree easily."
What are you hoping to achieve with Alien Breed 2? "We want the players to get involved and just enjoy it, more so than they did with the original, which - judging by the demand - is going to be tough but I think we have a number of features, particularly on the A1200 version, which will be enough to make people say 'Yes... this is good stuff.' The overall game will be about 500% bigger than the original Alien Breed and three times the size of the Special Edition, maybe bigger. Certainly it's going to be a real challenge to 'Breed vets!.
Is the plot different, or is it basically more of the same killing things in a space station? "I don't want to go too deeply into the plot just now but we're happy that it's a very good story and will work very well - it's certainly not a case of improving the original and just strapping on a plot," says Martyn. "Basically it revolves around a colonised planet and all sorts of weird happenings. This planet has one centre comprised of three buildings; a civilian unit, a military installation and a science installation.
"You have missions according to each and these must be completed before you can access other missions. The buildings are linked by a concourse and one of the buildings provides a bridge over a ravine in the planet's surface which ordinarily cannot be crossed. Once over the ravine you make your way across the planet and then into the actual planet's subterranea. Then a quite shocking part of the plot is revealed and all hell breaks loose!"
What do you feel were Alien Breed's weak points, and how are these going to be rectified in Alien Breed 2? "The original game was far too small and far too linear," admits Martyn. "It had major gameplay flaws, which is easy to say looking at a game which is two years old in design. I think we rectified a lot of the problems in the Special Edition, but we still think there's lots of room for improvement.
"The linear thing isn't an easy case to argue as we've found that a large percentage of players prefer to be 'pushed' through games and not have to think about where to go.
The maps in Alien Breed tend to do a bit of both so I think that's okay. In the original we had maps that had to be completed in order and although we will have similar in the second there will be parts of the game where you'll be able to go through a building's various levels in any order.
"Lack of variety was also a weak spot and this will be improved a lot in the sequel. The player sprites were quite weak and we will improve those too. From a technical viewpoint we can do a lot with the game, add much more action, better weapons and so on so it will look and feel much better and more action-packed than ever before.
So the game isn't going to be divided into levels like the first game? "Some of the missions are open in that you must search a number of levels/maps to complete the missions," explains Martyn, "whereas other quests will take you through set maps like the original. Some areas will be open planet areas where you have a set time to activate something or at least reach a departure zone."
What sorts of aliens can we expect? "There will be many different aliens, unlike the original - which was a weakness, I suppose," says Martyn. "Some will be big, some will be fast, some will have Predator-like stealth shields, some will morph from inanimate objects and some will be wall-mounted military hardware. Renegade humanoids, androids and other creatures may also play a large part. "Obviously how they attack will depend on their own characteristics - they certainly won't be as thick as those in Alien Breed! Those aliens were a bit of a hoot and deserved to be blasted! I prefer to play Alien Breed in the 'fast alien' mode because they're so unpredictable and move very creepily, a bit like spiders. It really sh*ts you up when you're playing and that's what I want for the sequel - I'd really like the players to not be able to relax. I'd love it if a player soiled his underwear while playing!"
So what sort of impressive technical jiggery-pokery can we hope to see? "On the A1200 (which is the first machine the game is being developed for) it will be incredible," enthuses Martyn. "Andreas is hoping to develop a Sprite Playfield which in layman's terms means that everything is going to move like lightning! It also means we might (and I mean might!) even consider doing parallax and stuff like that, which is odd because we never usually bother with it as it's only a flash effect after all.
"Background colour-wise its looking like we'll use just 128 colours on the Al200 because we simply don't need 256. Rico's style means that he usually does monochromatic work and there's only so many shades he needs. We might do a 262,000-colour HAM 8 screen just to show off. Using the sprite playfield idea we can use the maximum amount of colours in the background but that would slow things down and also take up lots of disk space and it's very important to get the game playable from disk - but it certainly should be considering the A1200 has 2Mb of RAM available.
"We're also planning a neat zoom option for the Al200 only which means you'll be able to zoom out of the surrounding area for mapping purposes and we'll also use this zoom routine for big nasties - you'll see the head of the nasty and then the whole thing will zoom out and your characters will be a fraction of their normal size but the alien will be full-screen or as near as dammit. The effect will be amazing if we can pull it off and we're very confident of doing so!
"You can expect to see everything move at 50Hz on the Al200 and have three or four times the amount of action on-screen. If you've played the original that means it's going to look amazing!" What about the cut-down version for the A500/600? "On a standard machine there will two times as much on-screen and it will be much more action packed. The code in Special Edition is basically two years old and there's so much more we can do these days."
So why the shift away from the A600 and onto the Al200? "Well, it's getting incredibly difficult to do much with the A500/600 that hasn't been seen before," explains Martyn. "Techy routines are all very well and good but the game should be (and has to be) more important. The Al200 allows us to improve EVERY aspect of the game, such as colours on-screen, action on-screen, enemies on-screen, amount of sound, music, samples etc.
"The Al200 is very exciting and we want to get ourselves a name for Al200 development. We wanted to hit the machine HARD right from the off and cannot wait to get into it. There are also other reasons why we've chosen to develop the game primarily for the Al200, but unfortunately I'm not allowed to explain why!"
We've seen your so-called 'story-board' (reproduced down at the bottom of this page) and, well, it's not really up to much is it? "You might scoff at it but it means a lot to us!" laughs Martyn. "It does show the idea of the three buildings, the linked concourses and the ravine with an open area leading to other twists in the plot. We don't like to do everything at once as regards to plot, but we have in mind what we're doing at the end. For the moment we have to be sure about the main segment of the game which our diagram kindly demonstrates.
"I came up with the plot (including the scary twist) after a few beers on April 3rd. I had to sit down and recover because I'd had a bit of a brainstorm and this story I'd come up with gave me goosebumps and stuff. I thought 'Yeah! This is cool, even Rico would go for this'. As for the storyboard we all (i.e. the Team 17 guys - me, Rico, Andreas and Junior, the guy who did the Body Blows code - who were at the ECTS [European Computer Trade Show, see the feature on page 56]) went out for an Indian and, despite getting a plate of rice thrown over me by mistake, it was very productive because the restaurant paid for all the beers - I was just lucky it was rice and not the Chicken Massala that went down my back.
"We went back to the hotel and continued the ale-spree before retiring back to my room at about 2a.m. to discuss the Alien Breed plot. We like to get together and throw ideas in and work it out. I'd talked to Rico earlier about my ideas for a story and he was well impressed, which is odd because me and Rico hardly ever
agree... Anyway, the piece of paper is the result of about four hours thrashing out the major plot of the game. It may not look much but to us it's as near as we're going to get to a storyboard."
Hmmm, yes. What can The One's readers expect from the forthcoming Diary, due to start in next month's issue? "Well, judging by our performance in London [at the ECTS] and knowing what we are all like I feel sorry for the readers! But I'm sure we'll manage to keep away from the bars and the Swedish homebrew long enough to get some work done each month. The diary will cover all aspects of game development, from graphics to music, packaging design, you name it... If anyone ever wondered how a game is put together from nothing to the packaged article then this is it!"
Just to give you an idea of what you can expect from Team 17's Alien Breed 2: Diary Of A Game, Martyn provided us with this example. It's all about the boys' adventures leading up to the first day at the European Computer Trade Show. We would like to remind readers that getting drunk and unruly is neither big, hard or clever, though it can be funny to read about...
Saturday April 3rd 1993, 7:45am
Team 17 set off from Wakefield in one car (a Ford Granada) and a big olive-coloured van full of all the techy bits for the show. We arrange to meet at Woolley Services on the M1 so that we don't lose each other on the way down and therefore not arrive at the ECTS at different times.
At Woolley Services. We have arrived but the van hasn't. Plan A already down the pan. Unfortunately we thought it was fool-proof and we never made a Plan B. Everyone says "Soddit!" loudly and gets in the car. We head off down to London preparing for unorganised chaos.
After passing the Sheffield area on the Ml, I don my Leeds Utd top and practice my hand signals to the many coaches and cars from Sheffield heading towards the Sheffield Wednesday-Sheffield United FA Cup Semi-final. This proves to be sufficiently amusing for the rest of the journey. Stopped for a rip-off £5 breakfast and didn't get any toast. Practised even more vulgar hand signals to the woman serving breakfasts on the way out.
Arrived at loading bay for the show, our van full of equipment is nowhere to be seen. We watched Tom Watson of Renegade unload his van (erm, Fiesta).
Our van arrives.
Our van manages to park near the loading bay.
Watch the Grand National debacle on our stand, surrounded by lots of other software houses who hadn't thought of bringing a TV to watch the National. Swear and chunter for a few hours about the waste of time it was bringing a TV all the way down.
Stand is complete, we head back to the hotel... but not for long. We hit the George pub in Hampstead and enjoy its wares. Discover the delights of a local Kentucky then hit the hotel bar...
Sunday April 4th 1993 1:30am
Ernie, the ace 90-year-old barman from Bradford (who works in the hotel), decides to say "Time!' and we have to retire to our rooms.
Run around the hotel in boxer-shorts making silly noises and ordering £5 breakfasts for unlucky people in random rooms. Attempt to climb onto the hotel roof. Fall. Turn TV volume full up in order to receive a complaint from the people next door. Attempt to use the room's trouser press to straighten my trousers whilst still wearing them. Fail miserably.
Fall asleep at last.
Alarm goes. Time to get ready for the first day of the ECTS show...
PIC: Well, here it is then - the first screenshot from Alien Breed 2 in development. Where are the aliens, though?
PIC: It's Rico Holmes, AB2 graphic artist, trying to strike a cool pose at the European Computer Trade Show last April.
PIC: Hello gorgeous! It's Andreas Tadic, AB2 programmer.
(Above) It might not look like much, but this scrawled-on scrap of paper is where the basic game design for Alien Breed 2 was thrashed out.
(Left) Here's a view of the alien planet's surface, showing the corner of one of the installations and the ravine. You'll only be able to cross this late into the game, when certain missions have been completed.
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