Diary of a Game
Let's Make a Monster Part 9
It's getting there. All the vital routines have been written. All the levels have been started. Now it's a case of tweaking, refining, playtesting and squeezing in the last few ideas. John and Steve Rowlands are getting so excited about Mayhem in Monsterland now that we virtually had to force them at gun point to write this month's diary.
Some of you might be thinking by now, "I wish those Rowlands would get on with it!" But we have got an excuse for taking so long over Mayhem. Honest, Y'see because Mayhem In Monsterland is an original game we have no set guidelines to follow. The advantage of this is that we can use our imaginations to the full and add whatever we want (any way we want to). Having said that there are disadvantages; the game takes longer to develop as we have to come up with dozens of ideas, some of which will be discarded along the way (whether due to memory limitations, processor limitations or just because they were lame).
Another disadvantage is that whatever we do design is constantly being tweaked. The game is never finished until it's finished. MIM is approaching the stage where the essential routines and graphics are nearly finished, so now we're spending most of our time adding new ideas to enhance the gameplay and adjusting existing ones. But that's where the joy of creating games, as opposed to converting them, is to be found.
JOHN: All my attention is focused on the monster enemy sprites at the moment I've spent a lot of this week preventing them from wrapping around the screen (vanishing off one side and appearing on the other) while Mayhem walks left to right. Testing these routines involves a lot of running around and checking that the monsters don't reappear. So Mayhem has spent most of this week charging up and down dozens of slopes in Pipeland (but then that was what he was born to do).
All this action has given me an idea - as Mayhem charges up a slope and reaches the top he could take off for a short while (if he's going fast enough). So by the end of the week he could, and it looks well cool! If you time it right he doesn't even touch the top of some slopes, he just lands on the other side as he falls.
While I was tweaking Mayhem's movement routines (for what seemed like the millionth time) I thought I might as well carry on. The next thing to add were the 'springboard monsters'. These are beasts that won't kill Mayhem if he runs into them, but they will make him bounce to incredible heights. So I coded this routine and included a cute bouncy sound effect as well. The idea seems to have paid off as it looks really cute (you can even see Mayhem looking up as he gets flung into the air, then looking down as he falls back towards the platforms).
STEVE: The graphics for the levels in MIM seem to be in need of never-ending alteration. This week I decided to try and get Pipeland into a near-finished state so that I could put it into the new happy/sad editor (which takes the happy version of the level and turns them all gloomy). I've added some large blue and white chequers to go in the background of an enclosed part of the level (which looks a bit like a big I room). These rooms used the bricks that were already in the level to form the walls. I thought the whole lot looked quite cool (in a console-esque sort of way), but John thought otherwise. So what happens when I want to do one thing and John wants to do something else? No, we don't beat each other senseless (why not? That's what Trent and I do when we have a 'difference of opinion' - Clur) we just call on the expert (?) advice of Andy Roberts (Aww shucks - Andy).
In return for a lot of cash and a bit of flattery Andy gives us his invaluable opinion. In this case I've totally wasted my time doing those graphics because the majority decision was 'rip-'em-out'. However, I'm still messing around with the slopes of Pipeland, trying to superimpose them over something other than the background colour (which hopefully will be more to John's and Andy's tastes).
JOHN: I looked back at my monster sequencer on Monday (which I haven't touched in two weeks) and decided that I can do it an entirely different way. So, putting pen to paper, I designed a series of flow charts which will give us a better monster mapping system. Once I had sketched them down I had to test them (the fun part). I don't want to type in the new mapping system untested only to find that it has a major design fault, so another day was spent testing (and adjusting) the flow charts. The rest of the week was spent typing in the new system, then testing it for real. Yes, it did contain a few bugs, but it doesn't now. The only down-side is that, like most of my previous scroll-related systems, it only works one-way. So next week I've got to get it working when Mayhem walks left as well (snore).
STEVE: I thought that having all these different levels on-the-go at the same time was a good idea, but the simple fact that all the levels need finishing lines had slipped my mind. What this means is that I needed four characters in the same position in each character set, because there need to be two finishing lines on each level, one for Happy and one for Sad, both using two characters each. On the Sad version, when Mayhem reaches the finishing line he will fall through the platform to a chamber below to... ah but that would be telling. Consequently two of the characters also need to be the sort that Mayhem can't walk or fall through.
Y'see, Mayhem treats different characters in different ways - and we don't mean that he asks some of them out for a pint while turning his back on others and ignoring them. We're talking characters as in 'character sets' here.
There are three different types of characters: ones that stop Mayhem (used for walls and some platforms); ones that Mayhem can jump up through, but land on and walk along (used for other platforms); and ones that Mayhem can pass through (used for the backgrounds). We have two bytes per level to change the amount of characters in each of these sections for that particular level. So if we wanted 40 characters Mayhem can't go through, 13 characters he can jump through and the rest of the character set as background graphics, I would set the first byte to 40 and the second byte to 53. This gives us three sections in the character set: 00-39, 40-52 and 53-255.
So for the finishing lines, two of the characters would be in the first section and two in the last. At the moment, however, most of the characters in all the sections have been used, which means I'll have to go through all the levels swapping characters around (to coin a phrase - snore!).
JOHN: Who's still working on a monster sequencer, then? Me, that's who. Who's bored senseless with his monster sequencer, then? Me, that's who. Looking back at the diary, I can't believe how long it's taking. It's definitely stormed to the top of my 'systems which take a ridiculously long time to code' list. Well, let's face it, the list itself is pretty ridiculous. I suppose I have been side-tracked, and done several other things since I started it. Anyway, moaning about it won't get the job done (there's a moral in there somewhere).
So back to my monster sequencer. As you'll remember, last week I finished it, but there was a slight hitch; Mayhem could only run to the right. Obviously he's going to need to run left as well, so I have to write another set of routines to cope with this (which, coincidentally, is what I spent the majority of this week doing).
First I created a few flow charts (like the one below), tested them, then typed them up. The rest of the week was spent testing, adjusting and retesting them. Now I have a rather sexy bi-directional monster sequencer which is only missing a few routines which will handle certain ideas we want to put into the game at a later date (more on those when we do them).
STEVE: It's about time I did some serious aliens, single and multi-sprite ones. The first thing to do is to get lots of ideas on paper, then convert them to pixels. I go about this by looking at the level graphics and the rough maps I've done, then deciding on what sort of aliens are needed for each particular terrain. For example, if we have a water section (which we're actually planning) we would need fish and other squidgy underwater adversaries.
The sketches I now have include a baby dinosaur called Dino, a monster with a spikey shell on his back (that will kill you if you touch it) and a giant mole-type monster (look out Chesney Hawkes). I then proceed to convert these few ideas to see how they will turn out. Pixel perfection plays a primary part for pretty predators in this program so a lot of our aliens are amazingly animated (© Alarming Alliteration). But having done the first few aliens, walking and all, I realize that the cast of bad guys will need to be in the twenties at least.
JOHN: The game is getting to the stage where we find ourselves playing it when we should be working on it, which is always a good sign. This not only means it's getting more and more playable, but gives us the opportunity to playtest it as we go along. The one thing we've noticed is that while each level is 25 screen long, it seems much less.
This is because of the sheer speed of the game. If it was possible for him to charge from one end of a level to another (which it won't be in the finished version) it would take about 20 seconds. For reference, Clyde Radcliffe (from Creatures and Creatures 2, obviously) would take about two minutes 40 seconds to run the same distance.
To combat the map length problem we've come up with a technique which allows us to produce massive maps. It effectively lets us re-use parts of each level to give a long enough map for Mayhem to traverse and is basically what I've spent all week doing. I thought it would only take a day, but due to the structure of the scroller, it turned out to be a lot more complicated than I first thought it was going to be - ah well, no change there then.
STEVE: So far the game has no underwater sections, mainly because we thought of the idea only recently. Most of the levels have now been started and their character sets almost completely used up... except Spottyland!
As well as water on Spottyland we can now include underwater slopes (oooh!). It goes without saying (no it doesn't, you're just about to say it - Ed) that Mayhem's control mode will change when he's underwater, slowing down his speed and making bubbles appear instead of smoke when he skids. Mayhem's sound effects change to bubbly ones too, to make the underwater atmosphere just that little bit more... er... underwatery.
The water is in a part of the level that has a chequered background - below the water surface everything gets darker (as it would). This section uses some nice new colours above and below the water which are mixed up using our special methods explained a few issues ago. A selection of platforms used in Spottyland (that also appear above the water sections) have been duplicated for underwater use.
To make them look submerged in water I used a manual colour addition technique - giving them a blue tint. This is quite effective and does actually make the whole lot look, sort of, underwaterish. In fact, the graphics came out looking so good, they even surprised me (modest isn't he? - Ed).
Once we've tweaked Mayhem's control mode for the underwater sequences and included the necessary colour splits, it should look pretty amazing (especially for the humble C64). Hold on a moment - maybe we should rename the game Super Mayhem in Monsterland? Ahem.
May is going to be a mega month for Mayhem. Not only will more monsters be created, but more monster features will be added. So tune in next month for another monster installment.
PIC: Coming in to land in Cherryland.
PIC: I reckon these'll be cherry trees, then.
PIC: One small step for Mayhem, one huge step for Monster-kind.
PIC: This is the kind of chart that John will draw up before he starts coding a routine.
PIC: Ah, spots. This'll be Spottyland, then, I reckon.
PIC: Someone really ought to attack this level with a fly-mo.
PIC: Stop standing there and admiring the view - we all know the game's going to look great.
The Story So Far...
Remember Cyberdyne Warrior? Creatures? Creatures 2? What's the link? There are two actually. They're all brilliant and they were all written by Apex. Now the Apex Boyz, John and Steve Rowlands, are writing a new games, Mayhem in Monsterland, and we can promise you - it's going to be a monster!
If you have any idea what should go in this box, please let me know! :)