Diary of a Game
Alien Breed 2 Part 1
Alien Breed 2 has to be the most eagerly-awaited sequel in development. Last month Martyn Brown, Team 17's project coordinator, told you all about his hopes and dreams for the game and now he's your host for this, the first part of the diary itself. Over the coming months you'll share the Team's trials and tribulations as the story slowly evolves of how a super-sequel is born. We don't want to hammer it home but remember - you'll only find this diary EXCLUSIVELY in The One. Anyway, take it away Martyn...
The Month in Brief
It's been a very strange month. The whole project kicked off approximately four to five weeks behind schedule due to Superfrog running late and this has meant that there haven't been any stunning advances so far. We've been developing the game for about four weeks now, We 'storyboarded' the game at the European Computer Trade Show in early April [see last month's issue of The One] and since then it's been a case of progressing with the initial (and rather boring) parts of the game. As to what everyone is doing, it's this...
Rico Holmes (Graphics)
Rico is doing lots of sketches and try-outs, checking to see the best colour ranges to use bearing in mind that the game should (if at all possible) look very similar on the A500/600. This is proving easier than we first thought because of careful colour selection - check the mock 32-colour graphics examples if you don't believe us!
The easiest way to work has been to take the old graphics and draw over them, gradually improving them and creating a more futuristic look. We decided quite a long time ago that we wanted AB2 to retain the look and feel of the old game because we felt that as so many people liked the original it would be crazy to make too many drastic changes. Or rather that's what Rico would have been doing all month if his A4000 hadn't died... Anyway, you can all look forward to many more graphics next month as it's all working fine and dandy now.
Andreas Tadic (Code)
Besides, his continual alcohol abuse, Andreas has been busy writing his new mapping program which will be used for creating the game's maps (some surprise, huh?). He's had to do a compete rewrite, coding the editor on his A1200 so that it will accept the new AA graphics modes - rather important for the A1200 version of the maps.
This has been going slower than anticipated as his shiny new 5Mb A1230 Turbo card has also gone down. The A1230 Turbo card makes the A1200 go a rather splendid 7mips (million instructions per second) which is a pleasing 12x the speed of a standard A500 or 1.5x the speed of the A3000.
I asked Andreas to send us a piccy of the new map editor but unfortunately it was so mind-bandingly uninteresting that we don't feel it's worth showing. Maybe next time we can show it in action, manipulating some lovely AA graphics.
As soon as the editor is finished, basic mapping will begin and Andreas will work on his 'sprite playfield' idea for the A1200. The majority of the routines/code for the A500 version already exist and won't take too long to get running. He will also play with the zooming/scaling ideas and see how far that gets before we decide to implement it.
Allister Brimble (Sound)
At such an early stage there has been nothing for Allister to do except admire his lovely local Devonshire sheep and ride about in his shiny new Porsche 924 - flash git! At this point, myself, Rico and Andreas wonder how the hell the sound guy ends up with a flash car while we still use the bus...
Martyn Brown (Project co-ordination)
I've had the job of correlating the 'storyboard' we decided upon at the ECTS and producing some sort of script and mission ideas to use in the finished game. I'm still in the process of producing this text but after I've done that I'll write a sort of short novella which will tell the whole story from start to end, then it'll be as if we are converting a film onto the Amiga, trying to recreate the unfolding story in the game.
Actually, I'm quite pleased with the ideas so far and I think the game will play much better with a cohesive and constructed plot, with set goals along the way. The atmosphere of the game is everything and we want to create a believable place, where you can visualise all the storylines and really get into it, much more than people did with the original.
We've settled on the players being able to select two characters from four. Two will be the original Johnson and Stone (you wouldn't believe the affinity people have for these characters) and the others are an advanced robot bio-form and an alien lizard-type creature. Obviously we want each of the characters to behave differently and be able to do different things, much akin to the old Gauntlet game. I've also had the joyous task of informing all the press about our AB2 activities and getting this diary thing together.
Back at H.Q. (Packaging, marketing, etc.)
It's been all quiet on this front, too. It's far too early to start making noises about the game on the sales front and a little bit too early to start package design. We've had a few thoughts about how we will do things on the packaging but as soon as we have any preliminary sketches you'll see them first!
We still get calls every day about when the game will be coming out and even received a threat from a guy in Leeds - he had the impression that the game will not be coming out on the A500. This is definitely NOT the case and all Breed fans with A500s and 600s can rest assured that they will be fighting off bugs alongside the A1200 owners. We aim to release both versions of the game at the same time.
And now... The Diary!
Sunday April 4th
First day of the ECTS at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Absolutely rushed off our feet attending to press demands, business meetings and fending off the rather splendid (if pricey) bar.
Andreas and Rico arrived in the evening and along with the Team 17 guys at the show (Steve, Andy, Junior and myself) have a few beers and an Indian meal in Hampstead. I got a bowl of rice dropped down my back and the restaurant paid for all the beers as an apology. Mighty cheers ring around Hampstead that evening even though I have to spend the following days finding rice in my underwear.
Myself, Andreas, Rico and Junior spent about six hours rolling around laughing into the early hours after drinking half a bottle of potent Swedish vodka, laughing mostly at the expense of Allister (who hadn't arrived yet;: we discovered that his hotel room had woolly blankets which gave us excellent value for money with the Allister/sheep jokes.
Despite Andreas and Junior nearly having heart attacks due to incessant laughing and Andy having his photo taken clutching a teapot whilst asleep and at the mercy of the rest of us, we had a good evening. Prior to all this we storyboarded Alien Breed 2 and settled on what we were doing, so we did get some work done.
Monday April 5th
Spend the day gathering recruits for our own Team 17 bash to be held around Islington in the evening. We bumped into The One's Dave and Simon in a flash restaurant (the Islington Kentucky), with Dave seemingly disappointed with Rico's appearances, "I just thought he'd have black hair and be taller," says a disillusioned Dave Upchurch. It's a sad day.
This day, the middle ECTS day, had been hailed as 'the mother of all piss-ups' and the next morning we enjoyed its sequel; 'the mother of all hang-overs'. We had always planned to visit the Swedish development team Digital Illusions [Pinball Dreams and Fantasies] when I was in Sweden and it was to some surprise that we bumped into them in The Steam Passage pub in Islington.
The rest of the night is history and Olaf (DI's sound guy) stayed with us and helped us drink the hotel dry, We nearly got thrown out and generally acted like hooligans - oh, how our mothers would be ashamed of us if only they knew...
Tuesday April 6th
Spend most of the day wandering around clutching our heads, swearing never to drink again. All the Team 17 guys leave and head back to their homes. We fondly remember that this was the first time that every member of the Team 17 development crew had been together.
Wednesday April 7th
The Swedish department arrive back home and development continues at more of a crawl than a walk.., Andreas fits his new A1230 Turbo accelerator card to his A1200. Wow! Speed...
Thursday April 8th
Rico's Opalvision arrives for his A4000. This means that he can draw absolutely fantastic 24-bit graphics and not use them on the A500 version! This should really speed up development of the 256-colour graphics and it also means he can do some mind-blowing EHAM screens. Andreas's A1230 card starts playing up, GURUing after about an hour. Repeated calls to GVP from the frustrated Swede result in the synopsis that the turbo card is faulty and has to be returned. Gloom drifts upon the land...
Friday April 9th
Having experimented, Rico considers that the best way of working is to do the graphics in 32-colour mode, so guaranteeing that the A500 version will look excellent, then retouching and modifying them for the A1200 version, using Opalvision for perfect shading and smoothing,
Saturday April 10th
Rico's A4000 starts to operate at a slower speed and gradually slows down to such an extent that it's impossible to use. A few calls to Commodore Sweden later and he discovers that it's a design fault in a batch of A4000s. The machine has to go back, Rico is Amiga-less. Doom and gloom drifts upon the land..,
Sunday April 11th
Rico and Andreas have to use old machines and use the only AA machine out there (an unaccelerated, 2Mb A1200) on a rota basis. This is a far from perfect solution.
(Nothing much really happened for a while because of machine problems. The machine rota thingy kept in operation and Andreas kept on with the map editor, which should be finished in a few weeks.)
Monday April 19th
Decided enough was enough and that it was about time we got the official AA specs from Commodore. The specifications cover all the new modifications to the Amiga chipset and, more importantly, all the new graphic and sprite modes.
Tuesday April 20th
After much searching and probing at Commodore I end up approaching the American head of development and - hurrah! - they're in the post to us. It's a bit of a relief really, as Commodore don't intend to produce any hardware reference guides to the machine. It's laughable that it's taken so long to get hold of them, though.
Friday April 23rd
Jubilation! The full AA chipset specs arrive via air courier and much celebration ensues... particularly by our programmers. Much giddiness is caused by the fact that scrolling, for example, can be four times as smooth on the A1200 because the scroll pixels are four times smaller on the A1200. The whole weekend is spent drooling over the spec guide and it's saucy implications for the A1200 version of AB2.
Monday April 26th
Rico manages to lose all 32-colour work done to date due to the hard drive going down prior to its repair by Commodore. The 128-colour AA backdrops are intact so he had to retouch them all once more into 32-colour mode. This is a very boring job and Rico has to bore everyone else by endless calls to remind everyone just how boring it really is.
Tuesday April 27th
Andreas still plugs away on the new-fangled map editor beasty, saying it will have all manner of doozy features. For 'saying' read 'claiming'. Rico starts to rework the old graphics into a more modern, better version. It's much better to do it this way so that the graphic blocks fit onto the map clipscreens and therefore can be used much more quickly than before and also the old map editor can be used to produce mock maps for testing. The fact that this mock mapping will not be started for a few more weeks is neither here nor there.
Rico soon discovers that reworking the original graphics is much harder than he first imagined. He thinks it will take a fortnight just getting all the wall pieces together for the interiors of the buildings. Ho-hum...
Wednesday April 28th
Rico is completely sick of designing interior organic plastic-metal structures already and they're using up far too much graphic space on the clip screen so some sort of compromise will have to be met. You have to realise that you only have so much space reserved for background graphic blocks and with them all being 32 colours it soon gets eaten up. Rico begins to worry about enemies as he is fast running short of colours on the 32-colour version - yet another compromise will have to be made somewhere, The A1200 version, with its 256-colour palette, presents no such problems.
Thursday April 29th
I design the initial stages of the game based around our three-building structure in the main colony complex. Parts of the building are undergrounds and can only be reached via lifts and passageways. I don't want to reveal too much of the plot at this stage so I'll shut up now.
This scripting aids both Andreas and Rico in the design stages and helps us to know exactly what we are aiming for. Nothing is final though and all is subject to almost inevitable change at a later stage when we think of other ideas or if other ideas are suggested.
Rico's Opalvision replacement arrives and it works fine... Olofstrom's only pub does brief business (at a staggering Â£4 a pint, it can only be brief) as a result. The next problem arises from the fact that it's very sunny in Sweden and between the hours of 11am and 3pm Rico can't see his monitor because of it. The search for blinds starts... and is successful, so now Rico can work all day long.
The pub does yet more brief business, although Rico declines due to the fact that he has nothing much to celebrate now that he has no 11-3 break anymore.
Friday April 30th
Rico sketches up some ideas for the exterior of the complex. Andreas continues with the woefully unexciting map editor and I have a good idea. Yes, it's not that often that it happens but a new recipe for in-game terminals is born. Add spicy graphics, a dose of vector graphics (both line-drawn and filled), juicy sound effects and a sprinkling of vaguely-interesting text and we have a major improvement to the Intex system (now running a revised version of it's original DOS)!
To date: Wednesday May 5th
Myself and Mick prepare to leave for Sweden to spend four days discussing the project. Find out how the trip went and how we fared at the Golden Joystick Awards (we just got the invite today) in the next thrilling Diary instalment. Andreas just phoned and burbled Paradroid noises at me down the phone - the poor soul hadn't quite recovered from meeting his childhood idol (and previous Diary writer) Andrew Braybrook at the ECTS!
PIC: This early mock-up, reusing old Alien Breed 1 monster graphics overlaid on top of one of the new backgrounds gives you some idea of how the final game will look, except totally different.
PIC: As you can see, the differences at this stage between the A500/600 and A1200 versions are minimal thanks to careful palette choice.
PIC: This is one of Rico's early mock-ups of the planet's surface, complete with lunar rover type thing, It probably won't get used.
PIC: Same more of Rico's background graphics, all done in 32 colours. These have all been based on graphics from the original Alien Breed and enhanced for the sequel.
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