Paul Johnson takes over at the helm....then vents plasma from his warp nascelles.
All is quiet. Out of nowhere there is a groan, a shot, a thud. Suddenly, you are being advanced on by something out of a horror movie... yup, Gamesworld has a new editor!
It has not gone unnoticed that at Wakefield we had the triumphant launch of Tek - the long awaited Command and Conquer "style" game from those masters of wizardry, Artex. Such a monumental achievement to finally see this, Aaron has decided to give the game it's own review. Suffice to say, it's one of the main reasons for the delay in this article being written...
Given that not much has happened recently on the games front, RISC World (in association with RiscStation Ltd) have decided that it may be fun to design and write two very different types of game from the ground up - showing along the way the key stages in design and implementation.
Okay, if you're not technical or are not really interested in how a game it put together, then what follows is not really for you. What I will be showing is the construction of two different types of games, which, in true "dodgy build up magazine" fashion, will culminate in two games; Football Manager and Adventurer.
For many years, I've enjoyed writing adventures (again, this started on the Spectrum when for a laugh I wrote a simple adventure called Miss Murple - a rather perverse look at the Miss Marple stories). There are three adventure creation systems available for the mass population.
Inform, Hugo and TADS.
Inform is a very well established adventure compiler, roughly based around the C programming language. Hugo is not used as much as Inform, but is still rather good and TADS I've no real experience of.
The problem with these is that every platform requires it's own run-time application to make sense of the output from base compiler. Adventurer takes a different approach.
Unlike Inform, Hugo and TADS, the creator part generates a series of text files with the links, descriptions, verbs, nouns, objects and character specials for the run-time to make sense of. With this approach, a common run-time is all that is required. The big advantage here is that by transferring the files created, it can be run on anything. It's aimed to have this running under Linux, DOS, RISC OS and MacOS (and anything else if people want to compile it).
I will get onto developing this after my current project...
Way back in 1982, Kevin Toms released a management simulator for the ZX Spectrum. It was written in BASIC, had really quite terrible graphics, a complete lack of gameplay and useless beepy sound effects, yet has gone on to become one of the most converted and played games in computer gaming history.
It has been seen on just about every home micro platform in the 1980s (including the short lived ones such as the Aquarius and the MSX clone machines) and now with emulators, you find people playing it for hours on end .I've clocked up quite a few myself, its quite gratifying to get a team from Division 4 to Division 1 with the same players and win the FA cup each season. (Or you could play as Ipswich and go the other way - ED).
Though there was a sequel (cunningly entitled Football Manager 2) for the Spectrum, Amstrad and Commodore 64 machines which was infinitely better in terms of graphics, game play and speed, but it was no-where near as successful. There have been a number of other versions as well (titles included FM World Cup and FM III).
Football Manager still lives as well. Having fully embraced the internet, Kevin is producing an internet playable version.
No one is really sure what made it so addictive either. When I asked on comp.sys.sinclair, those that answered said that it was because you were instantly Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan or Cloughy. You could get six or seven mates around the TV, open a few beers and have a damned good laugh at the "tactics" (the way you picked your squad) and feel the tension build up as lowly 4th division (as was, it would now be division 3) Liverpool would be up against top of the 1st division (premier league) Everton in the FA cup final and then scream with joy when Liverpool beat Everton. Okay, no one said that it was based on reality (I mean, it's been years since Everton beat the almighty 'pool at Wembley!), but it did have that affect on people.
While I will be writing the code for this and designing the templates, I cannot draw for toffee. In this months edition, you'll see the very(!) rough templates needed for the windows. The players should be Mode 28 and roughly 80 x 40 pixels in size. A goal keeper stooping and diving is needed. The players will need a couple of positions for animation. Oh, don't forget the ball!
I'll make a start on Football Manager next issue. In the meantime, a BASIC version for RISC OS is in the gaming section of the CD.
Don't forget to get involved folks.
Enough of what is to come, how about looking at what's out there now?
As with all things RISC OS, we don't have very much of anything - however, what we do have knocks the b'jesus out of the other versions of the same games. This edition, I'll be looking at those fun little monkeys - 1st person shoot-em-ups.
These games have actually been around since about 1972 when the first maze game came out. You know the sort of thing, go around a maze until you either find the treasure, find the exit or die of boredom. Invariably, the graphics would be lines with no shaded filling and usually a randomly generated monster which most of the time would never appear. The Spectrum, BBC B, C64 and other home micros had plenty of these games. To sum them up, they were deadly BORING!
As always, Acorn lead the way with shading and soon we had the BBC Master maze game (now on disc) which was a lot larger, had filled walls and real monsters. It took the PC another 7 years (or so) to catch up. The maths to do the shading and skill to code the fills was amazing.
Technology moved on. Memory became cheaper, processors became faster, floating point maths units became the norm as well as video accelerators, sound cards and other bits of hardware which made game playing more advanced.
While this development was going on, a game called Wolfenstein 3D arrived on the scene. This broke new ground as it was a DOS based game, contained AI (albeit very primitive) and very good graphics. Okay, when a soldier was far away, it was far better defined than when it was near (it's like looking at a sprite. At the correct ratio, it's fine. Move in close, it gets blocky). The sound wasn't very good (but then until soundcards came out, all PC sound was rather dire!).
This game was ported to the Atari ST and Amiga machines. Eventually, it came out for RISC OS (with a subsequent fix for the StrongARM). For us, it showed what was possible on the (relatively) slow ARM processors. In the AU charts, it topped the poll for quite a while.
A while later, Doom was released, then DoomII. This moved Wolfenstein underground into a much more atmospheric environment. There was a wider range of weaponry and far more devious sub plots. The graphics and sound were greatly improved, new enemies introduced (some with special powers). The game was also incredibly large and well thought out. It could also be played over a network, enabling people to bladder the heck out of each other or team up and bladder the heck out of the nasties!
RCI (R-Comp Interactive, the gaming division of R-Comp) bought DoomII to RISC OS. Unlike Wolfenstein, this game was only for the ARM610 and above machines. Really, an ARM 710 was needed, but it was playable on the old RISC OS 3.5 machines. The genius that is Justin Fletcher did the donkey work and thus we had the makings of the new breed - the true first person shooter which could be linked via a network.
The only problem with DoomII was that after a while, it became very dull indeed. The puzzles were always the same, the graphics the same, the enemies the same - you get the idea. iD saw this and released the documents for creating your own PWAD (these contain graphics, maps, baddies etc). This breathed new life into the game and soon you could have Homer Simpson as "you" or a Dr. Who version where you battle Daleks, Cybermen and the such, different maps, different levels - as long as the PWAD file obeyed the rules, the game engine would obey. Probably the best example of this is the Aliens patch. This totally re-creates the ship on Aliens with you as Ripley. This sort of patching was to follow for subsequent games.
Quake followed. Quake posed a problem though. It required a very powerful processor to get any sort of speed out of the engine (remember, at the time of writing, PCs were on the P300 sort of speed. Doesn't sound much different to the SA 233, but remember, Pentiums (or the clones) have a built in maths co-processor and graphics were now usually handled on a graphics card). A StrongARM player for Quake appeared, but it was slow and hung frequently. The noise from a Wakefield show was that RCI was to team up with TBA to create a super Quake player. Time dragged on. And on. And on. People became restless. Eventually, TBA announced that due to ill health, they would not be able to do the engine, so RCI turned to Peter Teichmann (author of the freeware engine), the code was cleaned up and the game appeared. And what a game! Moody, dark with a sense of humour (but with a few places it would still hang) - Quake had it all.
RCI also released Heretic and Hexen - two Quake style games. I must admit that I have never managed to get Hexen to work on my RPC. (I have, its really rather good -ED)
A short while after Quake, Tau Press (the publishers of Acorn User) released Destiny. A nice idea, but it just didn't have the development budget needed, oh well.
Over in PC land, there have been a myriad of these games; Duke Nukem, Quake 2 and Quake3 to name some of the more fun ones. (And don't forget Killing Time on the 3DO - ED). Why have we not seen these games for RISC OS? Something to do with having a pathetically slow processor (sorry folks, the SA is slow by PC and Mac standards, and therefore, by programmers standards) is the main one. Not only do we have a "slow" processor, we have no graphics processor either, so the ARM CPU has to do all the work. Still I'm not going to go into that sorry subject.
So what are the games like?
Wolfenstein 3D is a fun game. The maze is large enough to keep you occupied on a dull Sunday. The game play is not exactly fast and the graphics are chunky to say the least. It is available from R-Comp on the "Nutshell" CD.
Doom II is wonderful and expandable. You can replace just about every facet of the game by loading in pre-made WAD files or creating your own with something like Doom-it-yourself. iD games's ftp site has hundreds of these WAD files. This is the sort of game which should be avoided when taking exams - you may not get around to revising! Again, available from R-Comp.
Quake/Heretic/Hexen is the next stage on. It is difficult to actually review this game as it is amazing. The graphics are smooth, the scrolling is smooth and even when there is a lot going on screen, the action does not slow that much. The sound is not up to much, but you can play a CD (controlled by the game!). RCI again if you're after this three pack.
Destiny. As a game, it's not bad. With it's original price, it was a rip. With it's current price, it's not as bad, but still does not offer the same game play, depth or "reality" of Doom II. This game has been reviewed in a previous RISC World.
Next time, I'll make a start of Football Manager and take a look at platform games.