Archive for the ‘Random Stuff’ Category

Another day off… with MP3

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Today’s new toy is an MP3 player shaped like an audio cassette that can be popped into an old car stereo to play music… except it’s being loaded with MP3s of games and fed to an Amstrad CPC464:

The results are surprisingly good considering the thing cost under a tenner including shipping! Amstrad CDT files are converted with TZX2WAV and then MP3 encoded with Audacity before they’re dumped onto the player’s SD card. The only problem I’ve found so far is that if there are a lot of files on the “cassette” it becomes difficult to locate the correct one; my plan to get around this is to add speech before each file which says what it is so that I can plug in headphones and skip through to the right program.

The two questions I have to answer next are if this machine will play nicely with an GBS-8220 VGA upscaler and where did I leave the MP1 modulator because it’ll make a great PSU for taking the CPC464 to events!

The game being loaded and played is Relentless by Paul Kooistra, the winner of the recent Amstrad CPC 16K competition over at CPC Wiki.

A day off… with VGA

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Today I’m having a “day off” so, because this is what I assume everybody does when they have a little free time, it was spent fixing my Amiga 600HD after an “incident” where it’s previous CF card reader was damaged (a long story involving a CD32, an SX-1 and a dodgy HDD cable), failing to breathe some life back into a Cumana external Amiga floppy drive and playing with a few bits purchased for my Raspberry Pi. The result of the latter is this…

…which is Chameleon Pi running off my old 256Mb model B Pi, a Playstation 2 DualShock pad connected through a USB converter and VGA out. Although I wasn’t entirely happy with the Atari 8-bit or C64 emulation, the Apple 2 seems reasonable and the plan was, amongst other things, to have something compact and friendly to use at events for games on hardware I don’t own. It also has a new case which cost about six quid, but no audio at the moment but that’s being worked on.

And for an encore, half an hour was then used to persuade the GBS-8220 VGA upscaler I purchased a few months ago that working with the Spectrum +2 would be a fun thing to do; this process mostly revolved around poking wires from the upscaler into the Spectrum’s video port.

At some point I’ll get around to actually soldering a plug onto those wires, although considering my lack of ability with a soldering iron that might take a bit of practise and building up to. The actual video output from the GBS-8220 is pretty decent, I noticed that there’s some smearing but it doesn’t look to be any more pronounced than what was coming out of the SCART cable and television used previously.

Shoot ‘em up accessibility

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

There’s been a comment on my last post about Battle Eagle from another 8-bit developer which I felt needs a more expansive response than just the “no” I basically gave. Here’s what he said…

I think [Battle Eagle's] basic game design is too hard, with the one crash, you lose a ship. Hopefully you’ll use shields so that your ship can take 5 crashes before you lose a ship. That the ship will flash when it has no shielding left.. This makes it less frustrating to play, and makes it more accessible/easier for all ages and all abilities. Hard difficulty can be playing it with no shields. I think Thrust should have adopted this kind of system too – although it makes the levels easier – this can be made up for – with longer more difficult levels in later levels.

With game development these days – you should make them less frustrating and more interesting – if you can…

…and I’m in disagreement with pretty much all of it. But for the purposes of this post we’ll put aside personal opinion as to why modern game design holding the player’s hand is a Bad Thing (although that might become a post in it’s own right) and lightly skip over the obvious point about it not being possible to judge the difficulty level of a game without first playing it.

Adding shields to shoot ‘em ups has been tried quite a few times over the years and the results have almost always been less than stellar; in the majority of cases the shields appear to have been added to paper over cracks in other parts of the design, so games like Xenon 2 had massive collision areas on the craft and enemies with exceptional aim that presumably lead to the test players being turned to mush but, rather than tuning that back or taking proper notes about how the Japanese coin-ops they were trying to copy dealt with things (in Xenon 2‘s case I’ve assumed for a long time that the muse was the coin-op Armed Formation), the designers instead took it upon themselves to water down some of the essence of the genre. It didn’t help of course that liberties were usually taken elsewhere whilst they were at it, so we “gained” game-stopping shops or inertial control schemes, with the latter making the process of dodging accurately-aimed bullets even harder.

Even the games that don’t go too far along that “we can make things better” route of grafting in elements from other genres aren’t any less frustrating in the long run. Warhawk has shields and still works reasonably well as a shoot ‘em up because some proper thought has obviously gone into the implementation; that said, it takes a almost conscious effort to die on the early stages but there’s a tipping point after the first loop (on the C64 version, it comes earlier on Atari 8-bit and Amstrad CPC versions since they’re harder) where it just smashes even the most skilled player into the ground and this shift in balance is more frustrating than a three-lives-you’re-dead scheme; it hands the player a false sense of security, then yanks it away through no fault of their own.

As I see it, the games that I write are aimed at a specific audience; they’re for people who already have at least a passing interest in the genre and, as a by-product of that interest, previously developed the required hand to eye co-ordination. Difficulty levels are, as far as possible, geared to match that assumed market through a mixture of experience, sheer bloody luck and trusted test pilots. So don’t I want to encourage new players? Well yes, but there aren’t exactly going to be thousands or even hundreds of people lining up to play new 8-bit computer games anyway, so if the concession for that handful of new players is to potentially lose existing fans of the genre by messing with a long-serving and successful formula, then I’m going to pass.