Monday, 13 June 2011

Sideways SEUCK Competition 2011 (C64)

It never ceases to impress me how talented designers can create an intricate product from something as simple as the iconic Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit-especially as my own youthful experiments with the program resulted in a couple of hideous SWIV clones that will thankfully never see the light of day!
  
The re-engineering of the Commodore 64 SEUCK engine to allow for sideways scrolling games allowed for even more fun with the simple to learn yet difficult to master development tool, and for the second year C64 scene perennial Richard Bayliss is hosting a contest for Sideways SEUCK game designers over at The New Dimension website. The prize for the winning game: a special edition re-release with added bonus features, music and a new front end.
  
With the submission window extended until the end of the month it seems as good an excuse as any to have a bash at the three games so far in the running.
 
Missile Madness
  
Alf Yngve’s Missile Madness is a sinister looking game. Taking obvious cues from the classic Missile Command it replaces the rather bright solid ground of its spiritual ancestor with subdued, cold lines of blues and purples, while the bombers that arrive to do their business all over you are framed in blinking red, white and purple squares. Opponents look more like threat icons on a sci-fi military scanner readout than anything else, and it adds a wonderfully edgy feel to the game.


With its clinical visuals and (thanks to the natural amount of lag the SEUCK engine goes through when a lot of bad guys are on the screen at once) sometimes sedate gameplay Missile Madness draws you in to a chilly and detached world where barely visible clouds of fallout can kill you just as easily as the bombers above your head, or the warheads plummeting earthwards.
  

Playing this game on the VICE C64 emulator I found my face getting closer and closer to the screen as I hunched over my keyboard. Missile Madness does that to you- it is truly a game whose heart lives in the nostalgic age of nerdly back-arching in darkened rooms over little beige computers.
  
Mechanically the game works within the expected limitations of the SEUCK engine. As with any game made with the Kit the player can only have three shots on the screen at a time, so non-stop barrages against the onslaught of nukes are not possible. Missile Madness does tend to flicker and jerk when the atomic hail is really coming down, and it is clear that the engine is being pushed to its limits. Still, it’s a (probably) unintended side effect that in a way adds to the atmosphere of the game. For bonus fun get a mate to throw brick dust over you, and pretend the ceiling is cracking as your bunker absorbs nuke after nuke!
  
Flawshow
  
Flawshow’s premise makes me smile. To the extent that I’m about to copy and paste the entire blurb into this article:
  
"The near future – One evening, while cruising the seedier regions of the World Wide Web, a lonely programming genius finds that his hard drive has been invaded by an swarm of sentient computer viruses. These mutated malware, having been created by cyber-terrorists, are now fleeing from a counter-attack by computer experts, and are looking for a computer on which to lie low and devise a devastating comeback.
  
In order to save the whole IT infrastructure of the free world from obliteration, not to mention his own personal collection of “gentlemen’s literature”, the programmer has engineered two anti-virus programs to infiltrate the infected hard drive and wipe out the viruses while they are still relatively weak."
  
See what I mean? Try reading that and not smiling.
  
Looking at the little screenshot illustrating the game on the competition’s website anyone could be forgiving for mistakenly assuming it was a nudge-nudge wink-wink fnarr-fnarr game of removing blocks or cards or whatever in order to reveal some boobies. This myth can be easily debunked by a picture of a skeleton telling a frostbitten Pacman to stop looking at his girlfriend.
  

Flawshow is a creative little shooter. Playing as either the Guard or Reaper anti-virus programs (choosing your player by using either of the joystick ports) you take on the evil porno-erasing viruses as the tiles separating the smut from the screen gradually disappear, decreasing the size of the playing field and making life just that little bit harder for a hard working porn-protector. The differences in speed and weapon range between the Guard and the Reaper add depth to the game, and the soundtrack is driving, insistent and just on the right side of shrill to add an additional sense of excitement to the game. By far the noisiest of the three games, Flawshow’s music and sound effects fit the game’s atmosphere perfectly. It’s a real up close and personal shooter akin to games like Smash TV with some frantic gameplay and gives the impression that it was a joy to make, as well as being a joy to play.
  
Heroes of Midgard
  
Making the contest so far officially a two horse race, Heroes of Midgard is produced by Anthony “Flawshow” Burns. Taking the well-used cinematic trope of using the progress of figures or lines over a moving map to suggest travel and making a game out of it in a “that’s just crazy enough to work” fashion, Burns has produced a game that is enthralling and manages to cram just enough of the epic sweep of fantasy art and gaming into a tiny C64 sized can.
  
The game even begins with an animated intro, although the limits of the SEUCK engine mean that the player’s unit is on screen while the intro plays. This makes for hilarious opportunities to ineffectually throw spears at fleeing peasants, which is probably something I shouldn’t find entertaining but do.
  
Once battle is commenced and the galloping across the map begins the game shows off more of its quirks. Enemies, when vanquished, leave a spinning crossed-swords symbol, the kind that marks the site of a battlefield on a map. Some of your foes, while also intent on killing you, also enjoy a bit of pyromania and rampage across the map putting villages and forests to the torch.
  
As this is a fantasy game, a bit of swordplay is to be expected, and the game manages to model in a degree of close combat ability to your warriors (either cavalry or infantry, chosen in the same fashion as in Flawshow) by altering the effect crashing into an enemy unit has. Charging face first into the big green Orc-looking axemen is certain death, but the firestarters can be smacked down with no risk to the player’s warriors. Banging into a squad of archers is mutually assured destruction.
  
Heroes of Midgard is an innovative piece of work- imaginative and very fun indeed. In fact, all three of the games in contention are cracking pieces of work, clearly made with care, attention to detail and a weather eye on playability.
  
The website for the 2011 contest can be found here, and the three competing games are available half way down the page.
  
(The deadline for submissions is 30 June 2011. Voting begins July 23 2011, and further information is available on the website).