Friday 7 December 2018

Powerglove Reloaded, Tiger Claw, Aviator Arcade II, r0x zer0 and more!

You know what? I really wish I had more hours in the day so I could post here more often. I love writing, but hardly ever get to do it anymore. With my limited time spent juggling RGCD, family life, my career and social stuff, there’s just no time left for updating this blog (or even Facebook and Twitter). So, yet again it has been months since my last post, but holy shit a lot of stuff been going on since then!

Remember that Hunter’s Moon Kickstarter? Well, in case you didn’t know, I personally flashed, packed and shipped all 300 of those cartridges in what was the most epic sized project I’ve faced to date. 300 games might not sound like a lot to ship, but every single package had a variety of different bolt-ons; postcards, stickers, t-shirts, CDs, posters, even mugs! Quite often they were in wacky combinations resulting in multiple packages going to the same address - but phew - the last one (a replacement) was posted a week ago, so that’s that finished. In total, I tallied up that it had taken me over 14 full (solid) 12-hour days to complete, spread over a couple of months.

In comparison, the more recent Zzap! 64 Annual Kickstarter perk I helped with was completed in less than a week, and the resulting 115 Sizzler cartridges will be personally delivered to Chris Wilkins this Sunday for him to distribute to his backers.

But what about our in-house projects?

Tiger Claw and Powerglove Reloaded

These two long-awaited Amiga releases, particularly Powerglove Reloaded, have been held back by pretty much every issue and road block that a physical game launch can possibly face. First up was the choice of packaging - initially I had this cool idea of using now-impossible to source CD jewel cases with a flip-out tray that could also house a floppy disk. I first came across these when I was working on the original r0x with Nicolas ‘Tomchi’ Flandin for the Atari STE about 10 years ago. In fact, this was how a limited number of physical copies of the game were distributed. So, decision made, I went out to source a new supply - and lo and behold! Someone on eBay was selling a huge box of of them!

After parting with what seemed like an obscene amount of cash, then paying import and customs fees from the USA, the cases finally arrived ... and every single one of them was completely fucked. They were clearly defective stock that someone had discovered in the back of a warehouse - the trays would not stay inside the cases and they simply fell apart when you opened them.

As I’d purchased the seller’s entire stock of 500 units from outside of the protection of eBay, after many emails I eventually had to go through PayPal’s tedious and dragged out complaint system to get a refund, which involved videos of me showing how every case was defective. In the end I got a fraction of my money back, and wow, I was feeling seriously burned and demotivated after that.

So after some time spent recuperating the lost money via other projects, I decided to try out another option as recommended by Christian Gleinser of Dr Wuro Industries - a simple clam-shell case for which I designed and ordered a foam insert to act as padding. 400 of these arrived in huge boxes that I kept stored in my shed whilst I worked on the print elements and other parts (whilst simultaneously shipping 300 Hunters Moon cartridges). A few months later, with help from Chis Mantil and Steve Day, the manuals and sleeve inserts arrived via courier. So, off I went to the shed, opened up the boxes of clam-shell cases and *SURPRISE* ... I’d inadvertently ordered a different model of case to what I had designed the insert for. So there we go, 500x A3 insert prints straight into the recycling and the project was held up by another couple of weeks whilst new ones were designed and ordered from the printers

On the more positive side, this comfort-zone-pushing project has resulted in some cool experiments and experiences. Unlike any other CD release I’ve been involved with before, Tiger Claw and Powerglove Reloaded are proper, glass-mastered CDs - or ‘duplicates’ as they are known in the industry (instead of CDR ‘replicants’). This was a super risky venture for two reasons; first, it’s expensive, and secondly, the CD32 has this bizarre copy protection method that involves a few bytes of ASCII copyright info being injected into the header of the CD. It’s not a file, but more like a the boot-sector you get on a floppy disk. So we had to lead our duplicating plant through the process in baby steps - with multiple test copies from different set-up arrangements arriving in the post for testing on my original childhood CD32 console. The good news is that the process worked, and I am now the proud owner of an epic stack of CD32 game discs (plus a dozen test coasters) :D

Similarly, for Tiger Claw Matthias and I discussed the wacky idea of including a rubber ‘practice’ throwing star (or shuriken) with the game. A sample pack of four of these arrived in the post, much to the delight of my two young boys, and wow - even though they are rubber, they are pretty damn lethal. I was initially concerned about how to package them without the sharp edges scratching up the rest of the physical package contents, but hey, wouldn’t you know that they fit perfectly in the anti-static bags I use for the floppy disks? Bonus!

So initially, throwing stars aside, Powerglove Reloaded and Tiger Claw were going to be presented in a package with the game box holding the following contents:

  • The game on auto-booting CD (complete with Windows, Mac, Linux, C64 and Amiga versions) inside a clear plastic wallet.
  • An A6 sized, professionally printed manual (designed by Chris Mantil).
  • An A3 poster with a game map on the reverse (supplied rolled but could potentially be folded and kept in the case by the customer).
  • A floppy disk of the game, with a spare label for ‘backup’.
  • A couple of postcards, badges and stickers.

This all seemed good and well, but then I started getting requests for a jewel case for the CD. It seems that some CD32 fans really love their jewel cases. So, I decided to do what several of the publishers did back in the day - I’d provide a jewel case inside the clam-shell with the rest of the package. I’ll have to find another use for the plastic wallets!

Now, of course, with us already behind on the launch I was not going to complicate issues and incur further costs and delays by redesigning the manual as a CD booklet. Nope - the final jewel case simply has a single-sided front and rear insert. The manual and everything else will have to stay in the big box on your shelf, CD32 freaks! ;)

Finally, Matthias and I played email tennis trying to work out a price structure that would cover all the costs and be acceptable for the paying customer. It’s incredibly hard to gauge interest and potential sales without opening pre-orders months in advance; something I have never wanted to do. Normally I calculate a sale price based on breaking even after a estimated number of sales, but for this project - with so many unknowns and such a high production cost - this price was looking a little prohibitive. So, instead Matthias and I have opted for a different system whereby we’ll keep the game price as low as we can, but until the production costs are recouped, neither of us will take any profit.

So, the games will launch at £15/16 (with/without the floppy disk version) plus shipping. Please note that if you choose the CD only version at the lower price, a floppy label will still be included in the package so you can make your own from the disk image supplied on the CD. This launch price may increase in the future (especially if we need to run a second production batch), but for now it is what it is.

The digital Amiga disk version will be sold via for $2.99, but the Windows, Mac and Linux ports will be free - much like how we did with Powerglove for the C64. However, this is classed as a ‘pay-what-you-want’ model, so please, if you feel our efforts are worth more then we would be extremely grateful for a tip :)

Finally, I guess the last thing to cover is that although both games will be available to buy this weekend, the physical packages are unlikely to ship before Christmas. This is simply the worst time of the year to post anything - so unless it’s fully insured at extra cost, I’m not going to risk it. However, all orders will be prepared and shipped at the start of the new year. In the meantime, enjoy the digital version!

Aviator Arcade II

Another one that’s been waiting in the release pipeline for ages, and likewise has seen various problems during production - with one right at the final hurdle! Aviator Arcade II features some code in the start-up sequence that auto detects whether it is running on a C64GS - and if so it forces autofire mode so that the fire button can instead be used for bombs. However, with C64GS consoles being rather rare, this was untested until very recently.

We sent a copy of the game on cartridge over to Jason Kelk of Cosine Systems to test on his GS, and yep, you guessed right … it didn’t auto detect the console. So Mark and Jason discussed the possible reasons for this and thankfully it is now fixed - and we even added a ‘hold fire when booting’ feature that forces this mode just to make sure.

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that Aviator Arcade II is now complete and ready to ship, and will also be made available to purchase this weekend on cartridge, disk (from Psytronik) and as a download. Please note that as the cartridge version of the game is in GMOD2 format (which is currently not emulated on hardware), so for now the disk image will only be included in the download (but this may change in future).

Skill Grid

More Amiga news! Saimo of Retream has been working on his abstract AGA Amiga shmup project for some time now, but after assisting him with playtesting and sharing my thoughts and feedback, we have now agreed to release the game together in physical format.

Skill Grid is at heart a simple endless-high-score-chaser, with enemies to kill, bonuses and upgrades to collect (cyan cells) and maluses to avoid (yellow cells). Of course, being a Retream release you can expect many, many levels of depth to be found, from scoring mechanics to mini games and boss battles.

Coming on two floppy disks and a bootable CD32 compact disc - and no doubt with a hefty manual to explain the more detailed aspects of the game - Skill Grid should be complete by early 2019. Check the Retream YouTube channel for regular video updates!

r0x zer0

Here’s a blast from the past! r0x zer0 is an Atari STE game that I worked on together with Nicolas Flandin about 10 years ago, and was then subsequently put on hold due to a variety of real life reasons and a lack of motivation (on both sides). However, over the past few months Nicolas picked up the project again and released a ‘party version’ of the game at Silly Venture 2018, where it won first place!

Loosely based on Terry Cavanagh’s ‘Self Destruct’, r0x zer0 is an endless shmup with an interesting mechanic - you recharge your weapon power by catching bullets when your shield is up. Oh, and here’s a first - it’s a three-button game that requires an Atari Jaguar joypad to play(!)

In all, and largely thanks to Vierbit’s graphical contribution, it’s a solid little game that has found quite some popularity in the Atari scene. Check out the review on Atari Legend here.

I’ve made plans to visit Tomchi for a long weekend next year with a view to further tweaking and polishing the game for a commercial release (possibly just involving improving the enemy attack waves, sound effects and adding extra level maps), so watch this space.

Monster Buster & Kobo64

Unfortunately these two didn’t quite make it off of the RGCD assembly line in 2018, but you can expect more news on both games early next year. Kobo64 is in fact ready to release, with just the manual to finish, and ALeX of is still busy finalising Monster Buster and its online scoreboards. Regarding other projects, work on Grid Pix and Moonspire 2 is still also ongoing.

RGCD C64 16KB Cartridge Competition

Finally! Just a heads up to say this competition will be launched before Christmas! So many people have asked about it, but yes, I hereby confirm that there will be a new round of our popular game development competition launching before the year is out :)

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