Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Downfall (Amiga)

When your other half avails herself of your laptop and starts playing the hell out of the game you've been assigned to review it can only be a sign that a game is something special. When you finally get it back and they wistfully look over your shoulder as you play and beg to be let back on- likewise. Thank the Rock Lobster god, then, for Downfall's two-player mode!

Downfall, an endearing and frustratingly addictive Amiga reverse-platformer based on falling rather than jumping, is based on a recent homebrew for the Atari Jaguar and as demonstrated above it's laptop-stealingly good.

The game on which it is based is in turn based on the Atari 2600 game Man Goes Down, but don't write this off as a lazy rehash of old material because Downfall stands up proud alongside some of the real gems of the Amiga's public domain scene and harkens back to those heady days when I was knocking on my teens and pretty much everything was awesome (nostalgia-vision may be in effect at this point).

One-player mode puts the player in charge of an adorable little mouse-like thing, while player two takes control of some kind of two-legged cat, and while the readme file included in the download doesn't mince its words when it tells you how you're destined to die in this game keeping them alive for as long as possible is staggeringly fun and has "is that all you can do, you massive girl?" replay value.

The aim of the game is keeping on the screen; both falling off the bottom and having the top of the screen catch up with you equals Game Over, and the difficulty curve is entertainingly pitched enough for the game to not keep slapping you to death at a certain fixed point.

Downfall comes in two flavours, there's a version for bog-standard Amigas and an AGA version which is still in somewhat of a beta stage and boasts beefed up graphics. While I was excited to run the AGA version on the fancy chipset of an emulated AGA-chipped Amiga, but I couldn't get past the loading screen.

It's not an unknown problem - I spoke to the game designer (and former RGCD writer) Graham Humphrey who told me that other people have had this glitch crop up, and I resigned myself to just writing about the standard edition of the game, until a bootable .adf copy of the work-in-progress AGA build (previously I, and any others running the AGA version, were having to mount the uncompiled archive on a virtual Amiga hard drive) appeared in my inbox!

AGA Downfall ups the ante on the background visuals, replacing the graduated block colours of the standard version with a crisply drawn field of cracked, weathered bricks rendered in shades of a single colour (which I think is randomly determined at the start of each game)and gives the AGA chipset a chance to strut its multicoloured stuff. It gives the game almost a sense of identity, setting it apart from both its non-AGA brother and also placing it in a middle-ground between that and the 64-Bit, perspective-tastic graphics of its Atari Jaguar cousin.

Across the board the soundtrack is a pleasing, pulsing tune that is very much Amiga, very 90s in all the right ways, and is paced neatly with the speed of the gameplay.

Downfall is a game based on a simple idea, pulled off with style and skill by a talented production team. Now, if you would excuse me I can hear someone shouting "croissant!" which can only mean my other half has fired up Downfall again.

Download the game for free here.
Play the game using the Universal Amiga Emulator, available here (freeware).

4 out of 5

Developer Interview

Is Downfall your first project as a games designer?

Downfall is not my first game, although it's the first one I have written for six years. My first project was a game called Blobz which was released early in 2004 when I was 17. It's a pretty simple overhead-viewed maze thingy where you need to collect a set number of gems and reach the exit. To tell the truth, it's rubbish, but for obvious reasons I was proud of it at the time although my A-Levels probably suffered as a result – as they did when I wrote my next game, a platformer named Diamond Kingdoms, where you explore various flip-screen kingdoms gathering various – no! But yes! - diamonds. I completed this one in early 2005 but I never got around to releasing a full version, mainly because it's not up to much at all. However I might go back and re-write it one day so it's vaguely presentable.

My other completed project prior to Downfall was Tank Wars, which was written in the space of three weeks in May 2006. It's a simple combat game for two to five players doing battle over single-screen maps basically attempting to blow each other to bits. This one is good fun and was generally well-received, with Retro Gamer magazine giving it a rating of 85% which I was really pleased with at the time.

I also have a couple of efforts that fell by the wayside – Annihilation, an AGA side-scrolling shooter which was developed, on and off, between 2005 and 2008 before I finally conceded I had bitten off more than I could chew, and Tank Wars Deluxe which I might go back to one day as it's very nearly finished but I just kind of lost my enthusiasm for the whole coding thing at that point.

Which language did you code Downfall in?

Blitz Basic 2.1. Well, that was an easy question wasn't it? It's a more powerful Basic variant than AMOS although probably not quite as easy to learn initially. There is a lot of scope to do some impressive things (most famously, the original Worms was written in it) but of course it can never match the raw power and speed of assembly language. If learning machine code is too much for you and you're still keen to get into Amiga programming you could do a lot worse than Blitz.

How long did Downfall take to produce?

It took exactly three months from start to finish. The game came about after I started a thread on the English Amiga Board asking what sort of thing people would like to see on the Amiga. Somebody mentioned Downfall, pointing me towards a YouTube video of the Jaguar version (which is great, by the way) and it all snowballed from there. It's funny what a throwaway forum post can do – without that I wouldn't be talking about this now.

By far the best part of the development process, though, was the sheer amount of interest it generated. I was never short of help and advice on even the most minor detail – throughout its development I always kept people up-to-date with new versions and the latest source code which, I suppose, meant people took it more seriously as they could see tangible progress was being made.

How did the production team come together? Did you all know each other to begin with, or did you team up especially to make Downfall?

I was already familiar with some of the team members as we moderate the same forum and others I have had contact with in the past anyway so that definitely helped. Having said that, they all volunteered out of their own free will to help out and they all did an amazing job. The enthusiasm and commitment they showed in wanting to get the game done to a high standard was incredible and, in turn, that gave me a big incentive to keep working on the game almost every evening or weekend I had going spare. It's no exaggeration to say that without them, Downfall would have taken twice as long to make and would only have been half as good – if that. I am immensely grateful to them all and I very much hope we can do it all again in the future.

In addition, the people who offered me bits of advice and code here and there also played a big part in how it eventually turned out. I learnt a heck of a lot from everybody who contributed in some way and it's made me a better programmer without any doubt.

What are your plans for the future? Are any more Amiga games, or games for other formats, in the pipeline?

I've been well and truly bitten by the coding bug again now, so I am looking to start a new project in the near future – I haven't decided what, though, so ideas are welcome. I will be sticking with the Amiga as that's what I know and it's my favourite platform so I am committed to producing more games for it as compared to other retro machines (most notably the Spectrum and C64), I think the Amiga has been somewhat lacking when it comes to new releases in the last few years. Hopefully it will encourage other people to get involved too and if they want to be part of our team in any capacity (be it programming, graphics, music... whatever) just drop me a line.

Long-term, I'd like Remainder Software to be big enough to have two or three games being worked on by different people at any one time and to be finishing and releasing projects on a reasonably regular basis. If that doesn't materialise then we'll carry on the same as we are now. Either way hopefully we'll be making and releasing games that people will enjoy playing. Fingers crossed, eh?