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 – October 2018

I joked in the scroller for Demo Factory 2018 last week about my X entry ending up as just a couple of parts with loads of effect presets to pad it out, but the party is only a month away now and progress on my demo really hasn’t really been… well, progressing. Part of the problem is my damned shoulder, it’s been “frozen” since the end of 2017 so, whilst working at a computer isn’t an issue in the short term, the longer sessions required for larger projects are proving problematic, leaving me in need of painkillers. I’ll have to see how things go over the next week or so and, if it’s not going anywhere fast, perhaps consider a “plan B”.

In slightly happier news I have a new toy which is pictured above. It’s a Pi1541 and is essentially a Raspberry Pi model 3B+ wearing a magical hat that, with the right software installed, makes it pretend to be a Commodore 1541 floppy drive including emulating the electronics. I haven’t had much time to test things since the hat only arrived in the post this afternoon from Australia, but the Pi’s micro SD card has been set up and I’ve tried loading a couple of demos on the C64; from what I’ve seen so far at least, it knocks the SD2IEC into a cocked hat despite being not much more expensive. It’s intended for use on my VIC 20 but I’ve been keeping an eye out for a C16 or Plus/4 although that search hasn’t been particularly fruitful, one of the latter arrived a few weeks ago but won’t even power up so is going back – which will be able to utilise it as well.

Finally, something interesting which made me happy as it floated past in my Twitter feed this morning was a YouTube video posted by Adrian Black about the C64C he was given which had spent a decade braving the elements of Oregon to the point where a colony of ants had moved in. The video itself is a heartwarming tale of a little 8-bit that could but one thing that made me smile was Adrian’s demo of choice for testing the machine was SIDBurners 7; only the Nostalgia intro appears in his video but the main menu code on that one was mine!

Watching Logo Demo (Plus/4)

Logo Demo from 1990 prominently features, as the name suggests, a large logo which was actually won in competition by a previous release of the programmer! Plus/4 scene stalwarts Muffbusters ran a 20 blocks democompo a little earlier in that year where the prize on offer for the winner was a bespoke logo drawn by group member Jeva and it was developer CSM who took the top spot with his release 20 Blocks. Two of the other three entries appear to have been lost to the mists of time, but third place was taken by a demo also called 20 Blocks which was a rough around the edges port of Moz(IC)art’s Luminous from the C64.

Along with that large, golden logo taking pride of place at the top of the screen and an area below it occupied by some blue colour splits – that routine is important, so we’ll cover it in more detail soon – there’s also a long scrolling message and the visuals are accompanied by a fairly short but still jolly piece of converted music which burbles away to itself in the background. The original SID version of the tune is credited to the Maniacs Of Noise in the scroller, but isn’t a piece I recognise even after spending a fruitless but nonetheless entertaining hour trawling through the relevant folders of the High Voltage SID Collection.

The entry for Logo Demo at Plus/4 World reliably informs us that the colour splitting routine CSM created was actually a significant piece of demoscene history for the machine, being the first time that abybody had managed to vertically split the border colour register so that there’s a different set of colours on each side of the screen. There’s also some neat multicolour character use to handle the transition of colours on the screen itself, which allows the split to swing smoothly back and forth… although I can’t help thinking that the colour tables themselves could have taken greater advantage of the platform’s 121 colour palette. That niggle aside though, this is a fun release which features a decent tune, some tidy graphics and a groundbreaking effect on the Plus/4.