Playing Humanoid (Atari 8-bit)

December 8th, 2017 by Jason

Despite the house currently being in chaos and the room I use as an office having been dismantled there’s still been a little time for some gaming recently. So I’ve been playing Humanoid on the Atari 8-bit, a scrolling shoot ’em up released in the early 1990s. The gameplay doesn’t really offer much in the way of frills, just seeing the player guiding their craft through increasingly narrow spaces in the landscape whilst avoiding contact with enemies which drift across the screen, occasionally changing speed to make things more difficult.

There are also destructible walls to blast a path through and laser gates which need to be temporarily disabled by shooting the nearby control units, so the player has quite a bit to keep an eye on which can rob them of a precious life. At the end of each level is a boss stage where a static mothership sits on the right side of the screen and peppers the player with bullets; this repeats but doesn’t seem to change in difficulty as the game progresses, but dying doesn’t have an effect on the lives counter and it’s worth slogging through for the cool explosion and extra ship awarded at the end.

The backgrounds and player sprite might look familiar to C64 gamers because they were lifted wholesale from Hugh Binns’ budget blaster Subterranea – even the code for decompressing the backgrounds seems to have made it across – whilst Mirax Force on the Atari 8-bit seems to have donated its enemy sprites to the cause. This “borrowing” of assets for a commercial title has happened a few times on the Atari 8-bit and I’ve previously spotted graphics lifted from Lethal Zone, Task 3, Uridium, Tangent, Hawkeye and Stormlord (the latter two used by the same Atari game, Hawkmoon) amongst others. Here’s what Subterranea looks like for reference:

And, although there are other games like Astromeda which work in a similar way as regards in-game sprites, Humanoid presumably looks to Mirax Force for inspiration on that front too. In this case the player craft is using two players and all four missiles to build a twelve pixel wide object, leaving just the two remaining players for all of the nasties so only one of them can exist on a horizontal row with the player and everything just moves right to left without any changes to the vertical position to avoid conflicts. A few people these days seem to feel that the limitations make this technique somewhat “cheap” but it’s a good starting point for a newly-minted coder at least and can still make for a fun to play game.

The game is does have some issues though; there’s what appears to be either a bug – or potentially a fault in the cracked version online – which will occasionally cause the player’s gun to “jam” for short a while and the collision detection is stricter than Subterranea too so getting through some of the already tricky-to-negotiate gaps is more difficult. Enemy spawning also seems to be random as do the speed changes made whilst they travel across the screen and the sudden changes in speed; that’s not a bad thing in itself but makes avoiding obliteration even harder, especially since the exploded ships continue moving and explosions are also fatal.

Humanoid is an average shooter but one I’ve always had fun with personally, although I possibly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not looking for a challenge since it doesn’t take many prisoners on the difficulty front and some of the deaths can be pretty cheap, even more so than the game it lifts elements from. With a little tweaking it could’ve been less frustrating to play and some bespoke graphics probably wouldn’t have gone amiss as well, but what’s there is still worthy of at least some attention.

Workprint – December 2017

December 1st, 2017 by Jason

Keeping with my “schedule”, it’s the first Friday of the month and time for a quick update… and yes, I’m as surprised as everybody else that this turned up on time!

Rubidius is slowly taking shape, it completed its first proper loop – going titles page to game and back with or without passing through the completion screen with the presentation stuff mostly being placeholder code – yesterday and I’ve got the score counter in and a test version of the music Andy is working on playing in the background. There’s nothing new to show right now because it doesn’t look much different to the previous screenshot, but some proper level graphics have been started and, once I get a certain writing deadline out of the way, I hope to find a few days to draw and install some actual backgrounds.

There has also been some pondering over the idea of writing a C64 game for C64CD in part as a demonstration of how easy it actually is; since scrolling shoot ’em ups are my default state it’ll almost certainly be one of those, but trying to keep things as simple as possible to the point it’ll essentially be a more primitive but tile-based version of Warflame. I have a few interesting ideas about “features” and the thought of publishing it in some form is amusing (to parody a certain person’s suggestion of Kickstarting a book based on his blog) but most of those options still need feasibility tests and bespoke code. This might also end up as the final resting place for the tiles that’ll soon be pulled from Rubidius as well.

Watching: Day Of The Doctor

November 25th, 2017 by Jason

It was Doctor Who day on Thursday (this was meant to go up on Friday but is a little late) but I was somewhat busy all day and had to put off the festivities until Friday evening. Well okay, “festivities” is overselling it and “watching something and then blogging” is far more appropriate. Day Of The Doctor was the story I chose, it was originally broadcast to mark the show’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and is a personal favourite to the point I can quote bits of it!

The plot deals with the Doctor’s actions during the Time War; this war to end all wars between the Time Lords and Daleks is something that’s often been alluded to since the show’s return in 2005 but never actually seen on screen. But there are two other stories starting alongside all of that doom and gloom revolving around the twelfth Doctor and Clara being literally picked up to aid UNIT to help with an issue and Queen Elizabeth the first having a romantic picnic with the eleventh. Some people complain about Moffat’s stories being caught up in their own cleverness – I’m paraphrasing various arguments seen online over the last few years – but personally I’ve always enjoyed how that tends to work, starting with those seemingly unconnected and watching them come together.

Quite early in the story there’s a scene where the sonic screwdrivers are used to carry out a complex calculation over the four hundred years between the War and twelfth Doctors and, because Clara bursts in during their bout of self congratulation, that sort of gets “forgotten” until later on where the same trick is used to both find another solution which doesn’t involve destroying Gallifrey and performing the calculations needed to actually carry that plan out.

A metric tonne of fan service is included throughout too with references buried in there to the show’s history; some were obvious like the photo wall or props around the Black Archive, whilst others are more subtle such as the activation code to Captain Jack’s vortex manipulator – 1716231163 for those who missed it, or 17:16 on the 23rd of November 1963 – but this is a multi-Doctor anniversary story and wouldn’t be the same without touches like those. And the scene where all thirteen incarnations of the Doctor rock up to save their home planet is wonderfully done considering it’s mostly existing footage and dialogue; it gets all of the previous incarnations into the story without having to worry about the age of the actors or indeed keeping all of those characters busy for the duration of the story.

Day Of The Doctor has comedic touches and a surprisingly light tone considering the Time War being a major part of the overall story and, although there are few things that I feel could’ve been done differently, its all little details like making all the TARDISes different in the shots where they’re milling around to match how the physical prop changed over the years. Of course that doesn’t stop it being great fun to watch and I still cheer when the “camera” zooms through the Dalek fleet to show first Doctor’s TARDIS arriving.