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.

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.

Return from Replay 2011

Good grief… this time last week I was in Blackpool in the process of getting set up for Replay 2011!

I was there under the Oldschool Gaming flag and had a C64 with a 1541 Ultimate running Jason Tinkler’s Out-Space, a VIC 20 (which was loading from the C64’s 1541U) which usually either had The Keep or my unreleased 16K version of Lunar Blitz (which i really must get around to cleaning up and releasing) on the go, a Spectrum +2 with a painfully wobbly DivIDE that just about loaded Dingo or Reaxion if you spoke to it nicely, an Atari 800XL equipped with an SIO2SD that spent most of day one running Space Harrier from cartridge and day two showing off my sadly still work-in-progress shooter Callisto with a burst of Mighty Jill Off here and there. And at the end was my partially converted C64GS, running cartridges of Edge Grinder and Blok Copy for pretty much the entire event.

Those were joined by Antiriad’s Oric Atmos which spent some time showing off the nearly complete conversion of Skool Daze, Kenz’s Specadore 64 which had an Easyflash and Prince of Persia for some of the event and Mark Ball’s Atari 7800, which had what was one of only two XM expansion modules connected and was running quite a few games that utilised the shiny new hardware!

OSG was set up in the entrance hall before the doors to the event itself and in the long run that worked out pretty well; the main hall was, as with last year, reminiscent of 1980s gaming events, in other words a cacophony of excited chatter, 8- and 16-bit sounds with PA announcements overlaid. Had we been in there or even the second hall where we were originally pencilled in to be, the odds are I’d not have been able to talk to anybody… and I did a quite frankly scary amount of talking! During the course of the weekend I chatted to all manner of people including James Monkman, Frank Gasking, Sean Connolly, Jason Tinkler, Colin Davies, Jason “Kenz” Mackenzie, Dan Gillgrass, Mark R. Jones, Soren “Sokurah” Borgquist, Jens Schönfeld, Darran Jones, Andrew Fisher, Gasman… the list continues well past the capacity of my memory and I’m surprised my voice didn’t give out completely!

I’d just like to thank the organisers Dave, Gordon and Matt for putting in so much effort to get this event off the ground again, all the volunteers who put time, effort and hardware into making those grand plans possible, everybody who wandered past the Oldschool Gaming stand and stopped to play or chat and Spencer Guest for driving me and the computers there and back. Finally, I didn’t take many pictures because my eyesight was a bit crap during the weekend but here’s the entire Replay 2011 gallery along with all the preamble images from posts prior to the event: