Diary of a Game
Creature Feature Part 3
Congratulations - you have found the feature that ZZAP! was made for! Yes, we're back, to thrill and excite you with our diary-of-an-entertainment-software-product (well, a game anyway). This month's instalment has been brought to you with help from the following: a selection of junk food (including Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King - at least once a week); a selection of nightclubs (including Holywoods in Romford); a selection of music (Snap - cool remix, Tony Scott, Mr Lee, Mantronix and Tyree Cooper); and a selection of woman (too many to mention).
Monday May 14th
JOHN: Spent most of the day typing up the second instalment of this diary. This meant that not a lot of work got done to the game. I've nearly finished the first torture screen with only some little bits on the Level Complete sequence to do. This includes a 'creature count' feature. As Clyde has saved his fluffy friend from a rather messy death, his mate offers Clyde his collection of 'magic potion creatures' as reward - Clyde obviously accepts. Therefore there must be an on-screen count showing your collection increasing.
STEVE: I've been working on the latest level and been trying to get a demo ready to give the guys a ZZAP! on Wednesday. This level sees Clyde travelling through water, as in another level, but instead of being underwater we will have to come up with some other mode of transport. There are half a dozen ideas floating around (sorry about the pun) and the favourites are Clyde standing on a raft, rowing a boat or the most probable mode, swimming with his arm-bands.
Yet again the normal day-before-a-demo routine is back, with the early morning start of work and the late finish at night, usually followed by a few hours sleep the up bright (?) and early to start the four-hour journey, first to Thalamus (Aldermaston) and then to Newsfield (Ludlow).
Wednesday May 16th
JOHN: After travelling half way across the country we finally reached the ZZAP! offices. We showed the lads the torture screen - which they seemed to like (can ya blame 'em?). We also picked up half a dozen copies of ZZAP! containing our Retrograde tips, our music select system and our diary-of-a-game, with a little space left in the magazine for game reviews etc. We visited 'ZZAP! HQ' with the programmer of Venom Wing (another Thalamus game which just happens to be a shoot-'em-up) . Thank Pieter for the Dutch lager and the scrummy (?) sweets (which I don't think we'll be eating in a hurry).
STEVE: We are so lucky and privileged. The thing I look forward to most about travelling to ZZAP! is the part of the journey that we get to witness Dave 'SLGETHGPT' Birch's brilliant handling of the 'not quite black but it looks good anyway' 16v GTE Vauxhall Astra. (If you believe that then you believe anything - like Burger King are good for you, there's life on Mars, Dave's good looking and John's got more than one brain cell). After eventually arriving at ZZAP! we got settled down and showed (off) our demos of the game. We came up with the idea of giving away bugs with the game (not the computer sort) which look like Clyde (Newsfield had them a couple of years ago at the PCW show). The bugs may even be given away at this year's computer show.
The old Retrograde team, with Rob Ellis on the right. Sadly Rob, AKA Transmission Software, has now given up programming.
Friday May 18th
JOHN: As the 'alien sequencer' nears completion, I realise that there is an awful lot of information needed to set up an enemy sprite. All the little options such as expansion, sprite/background priority, explosive types, start delays etc are crammed into 17 bytes per alien. This means that when we come to map aliens over the levels, there's going to be a lot of messing about with binary numbers - switching within each 17-byte range. You'll never guess what all this is leading to... that's right, an EDITOR.
This is going to have to be in memory at the time as the game code and level data. As it happens I've got 8K under ROM from $E000 to $FFFF. But this does means that I'm going to have to write my own input/output routines as any in ROM will be banked out so I can access my code underneath. By the end of the night (we actually worked on a Friday night instead of going to a club), my PC was overheating - causing all sorts of errors during assembly. For a short while I thought some of them were my fault (how sill can you get?).
STEVE: Today sees me halting production on Creatures for a few weeks to work on another Thalamus project, The Search For Sharla. The game is near completion so my added bit of graphics will be in the form of graphics for the 'game complete' sequence. Without giving too much away, there will be a bitmap screen with a 4x3 sprite grid on top with loads of animations.
Monday May 21st
JOHN: We finished off the weekend last night in Burger King (what a surprise). It had been ages since we had one (well, a week anyway). I think Steve's burger was infected with BSE and consequently he's picked up 'mad cow disease'. Mind you, it's a tough job to tell the difference in his behaviour.
The alien editor is taking shape, with a good looking menu screen. I think I'll chuck in the current alien being Retouched at the top of the screen. This means any alterations made to it will be instantly visible (eg animation and colour patterns, multi/hi-res modes etc).
STEVE: I'm continuing with the Sharla graphics but instead of doing the bitmap screen I've started on the sprites. This is a difficult task as I haven't got any editors that let me edit 4x3 sprite, so I have to design the image in two parts. To make a break from doing graphics I loaded up John's real cool music editor and spent a few hours adding some vibes to the title music. I soon got bored of that too, so come 8.30pm we all went for a drink down at Dukes.
In the graveyard - the final level currently lacking parallax scrolling.
Thursday May 24th
JOHN: The last few days have been extremely long ones. The editor is nearly complete, with just one more option to do. It's relatively easy to set up an alien, and map him/her/it onto the level. Received a phone call today from a certain Andrew Roberts (there you go Andy immortal fame!). He got our number off Robin 'the phone book Hogg. We had a (very) long chat about the game, with loads of ideas for the torture chambers being thrown at me. It's hard to draw a screen which is being described to you over the phone, so I've convinced Andy to post the ideas.
STEVE: Finally finished The Search For Sharla graphics, and the end result is pretty good, so it's back to work on the best game of all time, Creatures (Retrograde being the second best - bias, me!, never).
Went to Burger King last night (again) and surprisingly didn't see any Mad Cows, apart from Niki, out little sister (just kidding). Incidentally, if anyone is wondering why the Retrograde cheat is 'I hate Bros' here's why: in the many months of production on Retrograde we would very often awaken to the sounds of 'I Owe You Nothing', 'I Quit' and many other songs Bros were responsible for, not to mention the little 'brosette' that now lived with us. Eventually Niki grew out of this stage and we no longer have to be subjected to such torture. However, recently she has shown signs of another pop music following, which could arguably be as bad as Bros: they are 'And Why Not'. Can you guess what the cheat will be for Creatures?
Tuesday May 29th
JOHN: Looking at Steve's entry about us being tortured by Bros, gives me an idea for a torture screen. How about a Fuzzy tied to a wall, with a very large speaker in front of him, connected to a very powerful amplifier, connected to a record player which is playing music by Bros? what a NIGHTMARE! Not even I could subject a Fuzzy-Wuzzy to Bros music. (Actually, I can't recall any of Bros's records containing music!) .
On the subject of torture screens, we received a load of ideas from Andy Roberts this morning which were 'absolutely brilliant' (in his own words). All I've got to do now is find the time to put the ideas we've got into the game.
Also spoke to Dave 'OJLG' today about little Clydes in the margins of ZZAP! (like Rockford a year or so ago). Is this a good idea? That do you lot reckon? I think we have a right to know.
The map editor. If you squint you can see all the different graphics which will be used to create maps shown before each level.
STEVE: Today I carried on with work to the shop, the actual layout of which has been adjusted to perfection. The witch has been finished (make-up and all) and we may put a cauldron in with the cute little magic potion creatures splashing into it and being boiled alive (call the RSPCA!). This afternoon we had a visit from two of our friends Mark Palmer and Steve Packer, who were full of ideas for the torture screens. Since the first torture screen was done, anyone who has seen it has offered loads of ideas for more screens: what we will probably do is combine a lot of ideas for each of the torture screens.
Wednesday May 30th
JOHN: I've been adding some small options to the alien editor which make using it a little easier. However, I've discovered a problem with my keyboard debounce routine - it doesn't always work! This will need a little investigation. When I set up an alien this morning to test the editor was working, I noticed a bug in my 'AMOVE' routine. This is a subroutine which moves aliens around the screen. So far the next hour I'm rewriting code which was originally written a year ago.
We received more torture chamber designs from Andy Roberts today - he's working on the screens harder than we are! He also sent us a demo disk with some pretty nifty stuff on it. Thanks
Andy Smith (another Andy?) saw the torture screen a few days ago, and heard the music. He and I decided that Steve can't write cute music as it always has a funky bass and drums and that 'synth' instrument in. (Personally, I don't think he can write music at all, but don't tell him I said that).
STEVE: The shop graphics still aren't finished. I've adjusted the creatures that hold the status area at the top of the screen: inside this status box go the magic potion creatures you have collected. There is also a status area at the bottom of the screen which is for your weapon selection. We have allowed room on the screen for a speech box so the witch can talk to Clyde. She will also describe the potions you may want to have concocted; it's these potions that Clyde will drink and be given magical weapon powers.
I also have the task of doing the shop music, I would say that I'm going to make it cute music but no-one thinks I can do that, so it's normal synth music.
Friday June 1st
JOHN: I modified the alien movement routine today to allow looping back over a series of movements (and not just the current direction as it used to be). Started to get a tad bored during assembly. It takes about 7 seconds to assemble the game at the moment, including the 8K of editor code. This isn't too bad I suppose, especially compared to my mate Andy Smith's game. His assembly time is about 15 minutes.
Worked up to 7 o'clock tonight but I started getting hungry and unfortunately my stomach takes priority over work. Anyway, I had to stop some time around then so I could get ready to go clubbin' tonight.
STEVE: This morning I finished the shop music, and a very good but it is too. It's my favourite piece in the game so far, with the title music in second place (and they both have bass 'n' drums in).
I've been thinking about the fourth level graphics and aliens, John and I have decided on making it a graveyard scene which leads to a castle at the end of the game. In the castle will be where most of your fellow fuzzy-wuzzies are being held captive: your ultimate task is to rescue all of your villagers from certain death. You then return them back to your village and live in peace forever and ever, The End (what a happy ending)
Also today I thought of another weapon that Clyde could get drinking his magic potions. It's a grenade-type weapon which may look similar to the bombs you fire out in Vulcan Venture
Tuesday June 5th
JOHN: The editor is finally finished - give or take a few minor bugs. I'm now starting to add some alien movement patterns to the level data. I hate timing an enemy animation to a movement pattern, having to get it to animate at the correct points within the pattern. It always takes so long. Talked to Dave 'ITOTBABR' Birch today trying to persuade him to take us to Newsfield next week. Then we can get some feed back from the lads on any demos we have for them.
By the way, if you want to know what any of the abbreviations associated with Dave are, don't hesitate to phone Thalamus and ask! (hee, hee)
STEVE: It's time to design some more 'unfriendly, repulsive, earth-ridden slime' (well, some aliens). The extra few aliens I've added to the level 'alien sprite bank' have used up all the animations John's allowed, so next we will be working out some pretty decent patterns for these aliens to move around in (some will also shoot fireballs etc). Now all John has to do is type these patterns into PDS, which he says is boring and frustrating but I'm sure he likes it really!
If you have any idea what should go in this box, please let me know! :)