Playing Armourdillo (C64)

The planet of Mobanti was a peaceful world without words for “war” or “destruction” in their language before the human race came visiting. Now it’s peoples have to learn at least some of the ways of war in a hurry and, after sending mostly unsuccessful spies into the enemy camp, a few secrets to creating weapons were discovered that could be merged with the more organic Mobantian science to form the Armourdillo, a hybrid of mutated animal and advanced machine which potentially has the firepower to protect itself from humanity’s onslaught. Think Dalek, but significantly larger and more friendly.

The first live combat sortie for this new armoured vehicle is primarily a rescue mission where, within a given time limit, a quota of life pods containing survivors of the ongoing war must be collected from behind an energy shield at the left side of each play area and ferried across the hostile scrolling environment to the safety of an escape tunnel to the right. Horizontal controls on the joystick tell the Armourdillo which way to move while up and down rotate the gun turret between four positions, allowing it to take out ground- and air-based enemies which drain the vehicle’s shield on contact. Learning the controls and how to aim the weapon accurately are both vital survival skills on Mobanti and will take some practise to master.

Released exclusively on the C64 by the recently formed budget publishers Codemasters, this was a one person project from Giulio Zicchi – his name even appears front and centre on the cassette inlay’s artwork – who wrote the code, drew the graphics, composed the theme tune, sung the… you get the idea. It’s nothing to write home about on a technical level -scrolling a small window of that size is relatively easy and the static starfield isn’t well implemented despite Uridium having done it better the previous year – but the music is great especially the in-game tune activated by pressing F1 during play, the graphics are pretty reasonable too and the gameplay itself proves fun if challenging in part due to the way the Armourdillo itself has to be steered.

In fact I remember this being quite a contentious title within my circle of friends back in the day; I liked the unusual control scheme at the time but not everybody agreed, feeling it was clunky and unresponsive especially when changing direction. Looking at it again now it’s pretty easy to see where those opinions were coming from – despite playing it for a few days for this post I’m still getting my arse handed to me near the end of level 3 – but I still feel that the system is flawed but workable overall and makes sense in context even if I don’t feel comfortable recommending this game to shoot ’em up fans without a few caveats because of it.

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…!

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…