Workprint – April 2019

The work on pushing new graphics into the updated C64 version of Stercore is progressing slowly but surely; so far I’ve replaced pretty much all the original attribute-flavoured tiles with graphical versions – as in the screenshot from Char Pad below – but they’re still in need of tweaking to remove or rework some elements. It does look like there’s a reasonable amount of space left in the character set for some extra detail though and, although there’s a few ideas brewing for new graphics to add, I’ll need to sit down and check through the maps first to make sure everything is present and correct before assigning characters.

Apart from that there’s not much else going on at Chez Roundabout because I haven’t really had much time – a dodgy shoulder has been making typing very difficult for most of the last month, which is frustrating when you’ve got ideas but can’t do much with them – which goes at least some distance towards explaining the lack of blog posts – but there’s a few odds and ends on my “to do” list for when things hopefully settle down in a week or so. And at the same time there’s all of the regular urges to write yet another horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up that need be fought…!

Playing Voidrunner (C16)

One of Jeff Minter‘s early successes was Gridrunner, a Centipede-inspired spot of blasting which was originally written for the unexpanded VIC 20 and later ported to a cluster of other systems. It was followed by a second game in the “Droid Wars” series called Matrix which again originated on the VIC but required extra RAM that was used for improved visuals and to graft in new gameplay elements. The third game in the series was Voidrunner which this time originated on the C16; publishing was handled by Ariolasoft – Jeff had worked with them previously for Batalyx on the C64 – and it shipped as a double pack along with the C16 port of Hellgate. That pairing might seem an odd choice but Voidrunner doesn’t merely continue where the previous games left off and, whilst it takes many cues from the previous titles, this third instalment also pulls in some inspiration from the game bundled with it.

The player is handed control of a shiny fighter which is accompanied by three support drones that fly in formation, either directly mimicking or mirroring it’s movement depending on the current stage. Enemies materialise within the playfield sometimes in waves or, with some of the trickier attackers, in small clusters and reacting to and indeed avoiding all of those moving objects as they patrol around the screen is where Voidrunner‘s challenge lies. Patrolling at the bottom of the screen whilst concentrating on enemies above the ship doesn’t work this time around since nasties can rez up pretty much anywhere and there’s also The Zapper to worry about, a beam that travels slowly down the screen and occasionally pulses to leave a bright and deadly version of itself behind for a moment which will destroy the formation’s lead craft if it comes into contact.

I remember feeling back in the day that this release was an unusual step since Jeff Minter had long been developing larger and more intricate games like Batalyx or Iridis Alpha by the time Voidrunner came out in 1987. But going for a simpler, single screen game does make sense since this was him acclimatising to the new platform and the gameplay offered up is still as frantic and enjoyable as either Gridrunner or Matrix. There’s also a C64 port of Voidrunner which was produced by Jeff himself – it doesn’t splash anywhere near as much colour around but plays about the same and the sound effects are a teensy bit meatier – which was published on Mastertronic’s MAD label and that in turn led to a couple of conversions for the Spectrum and MSX built by Icon Design, but the C16 original still stands as the best of the bunch.

Workprint – March 2019

One of my “defining traits” is a quite frankly ridiculous lack of organisational skills, in fact it comes as something of a surprise to people who’ve known me for any length of time that I get blog posts up on what are, by my standards, a fairly regular basis. As a result of that there are a lot of projects hanging around my hard disks which have been put aside for one reason or another, sometimes either on the cusp of being completed or actually done and dusted (although in one case it’s a port and in need of an overhaul since the original version has subsequently been improved).

So with spring approaching I plan to apply the defibrillator a few and right now I have two in mind, both of which C64CD projects; I’m keeping one close to my chest until it starts to properly exist past a few sprite routines that need recoding anyway, but the other is a reworking of Stercore 64 which re-imagines it as a bespoke C64 game rather than a Spectrum port. That’s more difficult than it might sound because the game scrolls at a character per frame and the landscape has two layers with one passing over the sprites, so my “plan” is to rely on the way that one of the character multicolours always remains behind the sprites regardless of the priority register.

That’ll give me a black background with one other colour for the background layer and, if I can scroll the colour RAM, five or six foreground colours; the sprites can then pass between the two without needing any complicated sprite clipping code since the hardware will do the work for me. That said, actually drawing something half decent with those restrictions is difficult and, whilst games like Implosion and Shadow Skimmer carry it off well, I’m no John Cassells or Mat Sneap…