Diary of a Game
Birth of a Paradroid Part 4
Here is the final part of Andrew Braybrook's diary of events leading up to the completion of his new game Paradroid, as the pace hots up to get it out in time...
Monday July 15
Finally discovered why the controlled robot doesn't bounce off the other robots. Seems I was a victim of my own brilliant idea. Anyway it's working now for the first time and makes the game a lot easier.
Had to get rid of the blue title screen colour scheme because I couldn't find another colour to write on it with. White was the only colour I could use, and that's not allowed because at one point I change the background to white. Put the program name at the top of the screen in fancy writing. Spelt that wrong in my haste.
Made up the first rough version for Andrew Hewson to look at. There's still a lot of data to be put right, mainly relating to the robot enquiries, and two important routines are still not in. One is the sound routine. This I shall swipe from Gribbly's at the appropriate time. The other is the firing of lasers, by the meanie robots.
Tuesday July 16
Corrected known errors in the patrol table and deck plans, and distributed some more 'decorative blocks' around some of the decks. On compiling the deck plans, I had only 2 bytes to spare out of 38/40 reserved. Close shave that.
Noted all the errors in the current version ready for update and then got down to organising the robot data. Printed off some more forms to assimilate all the data and filled some in with data on the 12 robots currently existing. Will have to extend the dictionary of words in the system for some new descriptions to go in.
Wednesday July 17
Designed some more sprites for the robot pictures, including messenger robots, a maintenance robot and the big meanie cyborg, the king of them all. Now have 17 of the 24 robots done. Had to think up descriptions for them all, and added another hundred new words into the bank of words. Keyed in the appropriate data for the descriptions and sprite displays, then fired up the game with the new data. Only 3 minor mistakes to correct, then everything looks great.
All the robot data is written on paper because it's the safest storage medium in the house, bar none!
Thursday July 18
Test pilots got their grubby mitts on a safe version of the game yesterday. The Verdict: quite unplayable. Getting the hang of it slowly but don't like it much.
The control mode has got quite complex and this is mainly due to the lack of a second fire button. Don't want to use the keyboard because it's inconvenient. Can't use 2 joysticks because not many people have 2 serviceable joysticks.
Large headache ensues from trying to think of a new easier control mode. Instead of pressing the button to choose which of the robot or the gunsight to move, they must each move independently but at the same time, and from the same input. Then just pressing fire will shoot the guns, activate transfer, log onto consoles and activate lifts! Can it be done?
One other problem of the control mode was that if you wanted to fire at an approaching robot, getting into fire mode was via transfer mode, so we tended to it by accident. I can prevent that by insisting that contact occurs for more consecutive cycles with the button down. Then you can move away or release the button if you don't want to transfer. Difficult problem to sort out, causes late night thinking session.
Friday July 19
Put in the new trial control mode. Only has 2 modes, mobile and transfer. The gunsight is supposed to behave intelligently and try to be where you want it all the time. Turned out to behave like a well-known flying hamburger: got a mind of its own, does what it wants, better success when you don't try to control it, and generally useless!
Ripped all that out and had a rethink. Simplicity being the order of the day, tried putting the gunsight on the screen in a position proportional to the speed that the robot is travelling at. Unfortunately the gunsight seemed to want to leave the screen instead of heading for the centre when stopped. Turned out to be because the robot doesn't really ever move, but the deck layout moves in the opposite direction to create the illusion of movement. Hacked about some more. Control mode still doesn't work.
Monday July 22
Got the new control mode working yesterday. Don't like it. Test pilots don't like it. Thought about it some more. Decided to design the last 7 robots instead. The last 7 are mainly the big meaty battle and security droids. Experimented with a couple more new-type appearances. Got some very nice-looking beasties out of the sprite editor.
Still don't know what to do with the control mode.
Tuesday July 23
Noticed that the last deck had an extra wall tacked on to it. Realised how it had got there and set about shortening the deck data. Had to remove 4 bytes. Managed to shave off a couple here and a couple there. Carried out what should be the penultimate graphics update, tidying up any loose ends and adding the final words into the text dictionary. Also put in data to display the last 7 robots correctly. Had to adjust the appearance of 2 robots slightly. One of them appeared to have long black hair in curlers. Looked like the archetypal Mother-in-Law!
After much nocturnal thinking about the control mode, I've decided that the gunsight will have to go. The concept was rather elegant, but it's just not practical in a battle situation. You not only have to get firing direction right, but range as well. I think I'll have to revert to the old-fashioned, tried, trusted and medically proved eight directional dual laser. Thus Andi (second test pilot) will be able to fire a shot behind him as he runs away, as well as fire forwards to clear the escape route. This is because the gun will fire in the direction indicated by the joystick, and NOT by the direction of movement of the robot. The robot is slower to respond to the joystick because it has acceleration and momentum. This system should speed up the pace of the game considerably. I'll have to put my gunsight in another game sometime. Stay tuned!
Wednesday July 24
Improved the transfer game to display who is who. Since you can pick sides, it's easy to get confused. It now displays the appropriate robot sprites on each side. People who have played the transfer game don't like the tossing the coin situation if the transfer is a draw. They'd actually rather lose every time than leave it to a 50/50 chance. Strange! I'd rather have the chance myself. I could have a game option to alter the transfer draw-game situation. No. Think I'll give you a replay in this case, another chance to transfer.
Started work on the new laser firing routines. The only sticky bit is working out which sprite to display for lasers, which depends on which way you point them. I have 4 sets of 2 sprites of reversible twin lasers to pick from. Perhaps a random choice will be more likely to be correct than if I sit and think about it!
Discussed the possibility of making 'The film of the diary'. Decided that Harrison Ford would be ideal to play myself, with perhaps Woody Alien playing ST. Decided to abandon the scheme. They'd probably want more than a free copy of the game!
Thursday July 25
Put in the firing laser routine. Fired the correct images in all directions first time. It got a bit confused when no direction was set, and the laser bolts just sat on top of my robot.
ST then had the brilliant idea that any robot under control could fire its own weapons system. That presents the problem that many don't have weapons. Since the Influence Device that you ultimately control has a small laser turret on top, this could be used as a backup low-power weapon only. Upon transfer to an armed robot, that robot's weapon system takes over, and is more powerful. There will be 4 grades of weapons then, lower-power, twin laser, high power single laser, high power twin laser, and disrupter. The disrupter just hammers all robots in visual range that are not disrupter proof. Since other robots carry them too, they will be used against you.
The game has more speed now, as intended, so I'm feeling a lot happier about it.
Friday July 26
Tuned up the destructive powers of the different weapons. Cured the error that meant that shooting big robots with the 'Pea shooter' lasers actually gave them energy! Put in the enemy firing routine. Haven't worked out how to deduce the correct laser sprite for the right direction but it should at least fire something.
Instead it looked pretty similar to the previous version. They didn't fire anything at all. Increased their chance of firing, but nothing. Not interested. Must be pacifist robots.
Monday July 29
Found out why the robots weren't firing much. Double use of a variable. Fixed that. Also fixed the code that would have made them fire in exactly the opposite direction. Realised also that the clever-clogs routine to determine which angle lasers to display didn't work because when ST thought of it, he assumed that the 6510 chip would be the same as the Z80 when setting the carry flag after a subtract. Wrong! Totally the opposite.
Immediately the old robots really let fly, lasers, distributors, everything. All of a sudden, the ship becomes a battlefield.
You get everything your own way on the easy decks, the little robots can't fire, but as soon as you meet the big boys, whoomph. Needs plenty of tuning up, but it's looking good.
Tuesday July 30
Second pre-production copy sent off to Hewsons today. Just the sound routine and tuning up to go. Spend much of the day playtesting the game, looking for any faults. Found a couple of subtle errors and fixed them. Everything seems to be working as designed now. It's much tougher than before and still haven't managed to clear the whole ship of robots, although I've come fairly close. I'm beginning to form ideas about how to play it.
Gordon Hewson phoned to check on progress and suggested that instead of just being blown up when out of energy, if you're controlling another robot, it should be destroyed. Thus the Influence Device escapes to possibly fight on. This was such a good idea, and ties in with a similar result of transfer failure, that I put it in straight away. Your current robot explodes, leaving the Influence Device beneath, but with low energy. Thus, provided you avoid any remaining incoming shots life goes on.
Taking home the sound routine tonight to scribble some modifications, ready for keying in tomorrow.
Wednesday July 31
Altered 'ye-olde-faithfulle' sound routine to incorporate some new processing for more varied sound. Built a small test-bed program so as not to have to the whole game up just to invent some sounds.
Played about with some variables. Got it to sound like Ancipital then Elite. Cured a few bugs in the sound routine and started again. Got a sound that should be good for background noise, just left running when there aren't any other sounds to do.
It's quite difficult to listen to a sound that you like, say on TV, and then try to figure out how to get SIDney to mimic it. Cards on the table, I really can't cope with sound sometimes. It's just a case of trial and error, play with the variables until you hear something you like, then assign it to a particular event in the game.
Thursday August 1
Penultimate day today. Must finish by tomorrow evening. Got to grips with the sound routine today. Produced 27 sounds, including 2 that I hadn't intended to put in. Assigned all the sounds to their appropriate places in the program, and remove all the development calls, like the exit to the monitor. I need the last 1K memory which was for the monitor's benefit. Re-assembled the program with great anticipation. What a time to get another disk write error. Now it won't assemble. Had to transfer all the source files to another new disk.
Finally got the new supersonic version fired up. Many sounds seem slightly different from what I created. Upon inspection it appears that the sound routine has an error on it which didn't show up earlier. Fix that. Now it sounds almost as intended. Great!
Friday August 2
The final day. Decided to ditch the idea of music while the title screens are running. It seems that you need rather a lot of music to make it interesting. I haven't much space for a tune, no more than 150 notes on each of 3 voices, perhaps 20 seconds worth. Most people that I know switch the music off after a short time anyway, whatever game they're playing.
Decided to opt for a random sound generation system, as accidentally discovered yesterday. It's obvious that the sound chip knows much more about sound than I do, so I'll just let it use its own random numbers to generate sounds.
Having set that up, it sounds like robots conversing, in robot language of course, like R2D2 with a lot to say for himself.
Played the game looking for errors and cleared the whole ship with no fiddles for the first time. Spotted 1 or 2 items worthy of alteration, but nothing major.
Putting a version on cassette to send to Hewsons. Hopefully it will require no further alterations, and is thus complete for my pay, although much still needs to be done before it goes on sale.
Some notes and observations from Andrew Braybrook
At this point, the following items have been used in development:
- 2 Pads of A4 square paper
- 1 Pad of A4 lined paper (Mostly for this diary!)
- 15 Floppy disks (4 retired due to errors)
- 9 C15 cassettes
- 3 pencils (type H)
- 1 shatterproof ruler, (1 piece still not found)
- 1 quickshot II joystick (couldn't stand the strain)
- 300 sheets of print out paper (approx)
- 5 man-months of effort (850 man hours)
Also purchased for development:
- 1 hex calculator (invaluable)
- 1 monitor cartridge (useful)
At this point it is interesting to read the original scrawled notes on a small piece of writing paper that I wrote one evening all those months ago. Some ideas were curtailed for one reason or another, other ideas were amplified, but the overall direction of the game was there, although very little graphical detail had been thought of. Much of the game's look today occurred by trial and error and a certain amount of good fortune along the way.
Here is the original specification in full:
- Cute and hi-tech don't go together. Instead of robots, just use the digital specification numbers as per fighters in Lunattack.
- Player has access to detailed data specifications of robot.
- Player controls an 'influence' which may be transferred from robot to robot at a cost to the source robot's energy of a 'takeover' or 'dominate' cost of the robot to be taken over.
- The reverse process will be possible, provided sufficient robot energy is available.
- The new robot's energy value will not be known, of course, until transfer is complete.
- The weak robots cannot, say, take over the strongest, but have to climb a flexible ladder in stages.
- Build a picture of robot with data from bolt-together pieces.
Each robot has:
- Internal energy for all functions.
- Dominate value, based on robot's intelligence and power.
- Security class (Privilege) - allows access to computer data, security areas, etc.
- Armaments, or none.
- Mobility, maximum, but degraded by damage.
- Armour, protection from shots, not usually able to withstand 1 direct hit.
- Other miscellaneous background data. eg year of manufacture, model no.
Types of robot:
- Menial droids.
- Personal servants.
- Ship maintenance.
- Security robots.
- Battle droids.
- Command robots.
From now on the story moves to Hewson Consultant's HQ in Abingdon, where Gordon Hewson takes it up.
Monday August 5
Paradroid arrives in the post as promised. Make mental note to thank Andrew and nip out the back to start playing it. Spend half an hour tracking down a free C64. We never seem to have enough machines.
Escape to a corner of the warehouse - noisy but away from the phone. Start playing. Oh yes, oh yes. It's really come together since I last saw it. Good old Andrew.
Start off shooting everything on sight. Then discover the transfer game. I use the lifts and wander all over the ship. Get a definite feeling of space.
Hmmmmm... An hour later and I decide I like the unique feel of arcade action and strategy but I'm unhappy about the joystick handling. Spend half an hour trying to pin point the problem for Andrew.
Right that's enough. I mustn't play this game all day there's work to do. Debbie says the roughs of the artwork (the picture to go on the cassette case and in the advertisement - Ed) arrived.
Oh disaster! Back at my next desk to study artwork and I hate it. Call in Debbie to discuss it in detail. We study the calendar and realise we have to act very rapidly if we are to change it.
Fix appointment with advertising agency for tomorrow. Tell Andrew (Hewson) the bad news. He isn't very pleased but it's too bad. If we are to fix this artwork we have to drop everything to get it done on time. End of day. Contemplate events. I hope we can fix this in time.
Tuesday August 6
To Brighton with Debbie to see advertising agency. What on earth made us choose an agency so far from our base in Oxford?
All day at agency struggling to describe to them what we need for Paradroid. Grab a pork pie for lunch - these business lunches are not all that they are cracked up to be!
Leave at 6:30 with a headache and a rumbling tummy. Stop to eat on the way home. Arrive at Andrew's house at 10pm to find him dozing in front of the television. He runs Debbie home and then we discuss the artwork problems over a cup of coffee. It's been a long day.
Wednesday August 7
Play Paradroid again. Tear myself away to phone Andy Braybrook and discuss handling problem. Many ideas thrown up and discarded. Decided it needs more thought.
Thursday August 8
Andrew (Hewson) is getting agitated. The press are enquiring about preview copies for Paradroid. We decide that we have to hold them off until the handling question is resolved. We've got a backlog of work to go through the word processor and Andrew's fidgeting about that too. Staff will insist on taking summer holidays! We decide that the Paradroid instructions must take precedence over other word processor work.
Friday August 9
Steve Turner rings to say that he and Andy Braybrook have been working hard on the handling. He sounds optimistic so maybe they've cracked it. I hope so.
Tuesday August 13
The new artwork roughs arrive. They're not too bad. Debbie and I spend hours pouring over them and then hours more on the phone to the agency.
Wednesday August 14
New version of Paradroid turns up but I have no time to play it. Today is the day when we are shipping the first commercial copies of Southern Bell (for the Spectrum). A month's worth of business all in one day because all the shops and distributors need stocking up. Everyone's working flat out.
We finish at about 7pm and I run up Paradroid. I get on really well and hit my highest ever score straight off. Yes, the handling is right. Perfect. Make it to the top robot - a 999 - and spend a violent 20 seconds blasting everything to kingdom come. Very satisfying.
Thursday August 15
Debbie orders the film master for the Paradroid bar code.
Friday August 16
The bar code master arrives. We're getting there. I look over our launch plans to get Paradroid into the shops on the 20th September. Andrew Hewson is busy organising screen shots, press releases, press copies and the like. We check out the print schedule. The stocks of cassettes, shells blank tape, library cases are checked by Bill, the Production Manager. One of our programmers, Mark Goodall, checks the mastering system and the security system.
Everything looks OK. We've got a lot of work to do by September 20th but it's under control. End of the day and we prepare to go home.
"Aaagh", Debbie wails from her office, "I've forgotten to order the side labels."
Gosh SHOCK HORROR!! Can the lack of side labels possibly hold up the release of Paradroid? Find out next month in Zzap! when we bring you not only the film of the diary but the REVIEW OF THE GAME!
If you have any idea what should go in this box, please let me know! :)