Playing Sirius 7 (Amiga)

Published on the Amiga by an arm of CRL called Actual Screenshots, Sirius 7 is a no-nonsense, horizontally scrolling shoot ’em up where the player’s small craft flies through some quite pretty backgrounds whilst turning smaller enemies into space dust and, at the end of each stage, taking on a boss which needs more of a kicking to defeat. But despite being released in 1990, there aren’t any power-ups to collect from downed nasties; instead there’s a choice from four fully armed ships at the start of each stage, with each having its own statistics for speed and firepower so figuring out which is best suited to both the player’s style and the current barrage of enemies is part of the challenge.

There are a lot of things waiting to be shot as well to the point where it might initially seem overwhelming, with the player being relentlessly peppered by attackers for the majority of the time and often having to weave through small gaps between enemies, their bullets and passing landscape features. And whilst it’s tempting to constantly strafe up and down to spray the entire playfield with bullets, there are times when it proves more sensible to stop moving almost entirely and let the guns do their job, merely nudging the controls occasionally to reposition when a stray bullet gets too close for comfort.

There are better looking shoot ’em ups than Sirius 7 on the Amiga – it isn’t ugly by any metric, but at the same time doesn’t stand out – and it certainly can’t be considered to be an innovative game by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s lots of thud and blunder to enjoy in there and, for me at least, it offers better difficulty balancing than some of the more popular Amiga shooters out there. Blair Zuppicich’s soundtrack is brilliant as well, I’ll occasionally leave a couple of Sirius 7 tunes and the titles music from Cybernetix playing in the background whilst working.

Oh, and that glitched chunk of background in the video is, I’m assuming, down to the cracked version used for the recording in some way;- I need to get WinUAE properly configured for WHDLoad again…

Playing Planet Search (C16)

Coded by Simon Pick – who is probably better known for various C64 outings such as Star Control, Nemesis – The Final Challenge or digital drum kit Microrhythm – and published in 1986 by Gremlin, Planet Search is a shoot ’em up for the C16. Despite that title the action is more about fighting for survival in hostile alien environments, although I suppose it could be said that the player is searching the planet for threats to destroy before being allowed to move onwards to the next.

The gameplay has, as might be apparent from the images and video, been inspired by Williams’ classic Defender but also heavily simplified; the only objective is destroying all instances of the level’s single enemy type and there aren’t humanoids to… well, defend. A scanner in the status area keeps an eye on active enemies – although it does fail if the ship’s shields are getting low – and there’s a twist, the nasties lay “eggs” either over time or when blown up that must also be dealt with by flying over them – presumably poaching them in the process with the ship’s engine – otherwise they hatch and release another nasty into the playfield.

There’s also a bonus stage where the scrolling changes to fixed speed and the craft needs to be guided through a warp tunnel to the next planet; breaking the warp field isn’t fatal despite what the manual might imply, but does send the player hurtling back to the last world which will need clearing again before the next attempt at leaving can be made. The tunnels appear to be randomly generated which means there’s no consistency in the difficulty level for this part of the game and, because the collision detection is overly sensitive and has accuracy issues, the first warp can repeatedly be brutally hard whilst the ride to the third or fourth level ends up being a piece of cake.

From what I can gather, Gremlin didn’t sell Planet Search as a stand-alone, instead shipping it with the solid C16 conversion of Bounder and that’s fair enough to my mind because, whilst it’d make a reasonable budget title, there simply there isn’t enough meat on this particular bone to warrant a solo, full price release. It’s still mindless blasting fun to hammer around the landscape whilst blowing things away with the ship’s cool-looking laser though, and repeatedly crashing out of warp and being stuck on one world doesn’t really get in the way of that.

Workprint – June 2018

One ongoing project that’s been vexing me a little is the new C64CD game; the problem I’m having is with the name, which is basically six consonants from the latter half of the alphabet slung together pretty much at random which make it, as far as I can tell, unpronounceable. That wouldn’t be a problem except there’s always a chance I’ll need to talk face to face about this thing down the line and having to refer to it as “Thingybob” because I can’t pronounce my own game title would be embarrassing if I had any shame… perhaps I’ll just tell everybody that it’s pronounced “Thingybob”?

Anyway… the weekend saw me prodding around Vallation with the intention being to migrate to the latest version of Char Pad; this was mainly because it supports direct editing of the character set again rather than painting to the tiles, something which kept me away from every version after the first release. This transition would also mean a begrudging upgrade to my cheap and incredibly cheerless map converter which was originally written because the levels are stored as source code with each screen being a converted block of Char Pad map data followed by colour, exit and enemy data.

But on yanking the existing CTM files into the new version of the editor I discovered that the mode Vallation used which assigned thirty two bytes per tile with half of them being attribute data wasn’t supported in this updated Char Pad! Instead there’s an attribute byte per character so, if the byte for character $14 is set to red, every instance will appear in that colour and there has to be a second copy of the character if you want one in purple. But after muttering darkly about this for about half an hour whilst and prodding grumpily at the data, I realised that the bullet had actually been dodged because, apart from the four teleporter characters which ended up getting their own code, the tiles weren’t using more than one colour per character so converting it was actually possible.

It still took a quite few hours of juggling to sort out the existing levels, followed by rewrites to the tile plotters which updated how they handled colour, then some new code allowing each tile set could have a unique attribute table as well but, after three days scratching my head and swearing, for the most part at least all of those changes are invisible because it looks the same as before! On the plus side, there’s over 5K of memory saved on colour data and I can work in a far more comfortable version of Char Pad now, although the map converter was more cheerless than I remembered it being and will need further surgery sooner rather than later.