Wednesday 22 May 2019

Moonspire II (Commodore 64)

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything about Dusan Milivojevic’s Moonspire II project, and for good reason. Originally planned as a free DLC-style set of extra levels, then re-styled as a stand-alone sequel, an early preview was uploaded to CSDB in which unfortunately 75% of the rest of the game levels we’re hidden in the cartridge image - and of course, when it was ‘cracked’, those half-finished, broken levels were found and unlocked.

This was hugely demotivating for Dusan in particular, and the project was almost binned. However, I suggested that instead of refitting an set of extra levels as a sequel, perhaps this would actually give us the opportunity to start the project again from scratch.

And that is what we’ve been doing for the past year.

Working together with Harris ‘rexbeng’ Kladis and Ari ‘Agemixer’ Yliaho, our plan for the sequel was to tear-up the rulebook and start with a fresh design; instead of crow-barring a plot into a game, this time we’ve been working on a properly structured story with cut scenes and mission briefings that fit the levels. In addition to this we’ve completely revised the control method and even included a huge, scrollable in-game map.

Where the original saw the player infiltrating an alien moon base, in Moonspire II they take the fight to the Draxx, stealthily boarding their leviathan space craft, and uncovering the alien's plans for the human race via a series of intelligence-gathering missions. This has required a huge amount of graphics reworking, and Harris has delivered a unique visual style unlike anything I’ve seen in a C64 game before, with detailed animations and mechanical, futuristic sprites and tiles.

Agemixer’s original acid track from the sequel has been further extended, with additional music being programmed for the intro sequence and outro. In fact, the only thing really holding back the demo release is a missing intro track (which we hope will arrive soon).

The upcoming single-level demo will showcase some of the new features - your mission involving hacking a number of surface mounted computer terminals in order to gain access to the inside of a Draxx fleet ship. There are now switches that unlock sections of the craft, teleporters that take you to otherwise impossible to reach locations, defensive gun turrets and tiles that restrict movement or inflict damage to the player. On the positive side, you now have a cloaking device that renders you temporarily invulnerable added to your arsenal - and the other weapons have been linked to the F-keys for faster selection (rather than using the spacebar-driven menu from the original).

rexbeng has bold plans for the rest of the game, and although development of the six remaining levels will no doubt be a slow process (fitting it in around family commitments and work), if the detail he has put into the demo is anything to go by then it will be worth it.

Moonspire II will hopefully be available in early 2020. In order to document the development and maintain motivation I intend to post regular updates as progress is made, so make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the game is released!

Note: the original Moonspire can be purchased as a *.crt image for download here, or as an actual physical game cartridge from our online shop!

Friday 17 May 2019

Grid Pix (Commodore 64)

Nonogram puzzle games on the Commodore 64 are like buses, huh? You wait 30 years for one, then two arrive at once! Hot on the heels of Carl-Henrik's 'Nono Pixie' (released as an entry in our 16KB game development compo), follows our own commercial release of Carleton Handley's 'Grid Pix', featuring puzzles designed by Ilija 'iLKke' Melentijevic and music from Merman, TDM and Cyborgjeff!

(Of course I know there are other nonogram games out there for the C64 - Oziphantom released his 4KB 'Picross' game back in 2016, and there's an unfinished C64 port of CEZ's 'Illogical' out there somewhere too!)

We first showed Grid Pix back in February at the GAME>PLAY festival in Exeter, and since then we've been busy preparing the game for release, adding two additional soundtrack options, commissioning a fantastic piece of cover art by Ste Pickford and further tweaking and refining the game. Progress has been slow yet steady, but I'm pleased to announce we are (finally) nearing the finish line :)

Interestingly, the trickiest part of putting together a nonogram puzzle (or 'picross', as they are commonly known) is ensuring that they are logically solvable. For each puzzle, following the numerical clues, there must be only one correct answer, and when it comes to drawing the puzzles this can be a real headache. Ilija must have submitted at least another 30 puzzles that didn't pass Carleton's testing program - add this to the fact you really want to keep puzzles from being too easy to 'guess' and avoid excessive symmetry in such a tiny 1-bit frame, and... well, you get the picture! (pun intended)

An interesting bit of trivia is that when Carelton was originally designing the game, he used the puzzles from Mario's Picross on the GameBoy as test data, and as a result, Grid Pix saves it's data in exactly the same format! In fact, this week Carleton has been introducing a system allowing the cartridge version of the game to upload 'expansion pack' disks into RAM, and guess what has been doing the rounds internally to test that the system works?

(check out the image below - these of course are NOT available with the game!)

Our plan for the release is to ship Grid Pix with 100 puzzles, and then to provide free, future puzzle packs as .D64 images to add to the longetivity of the game. If you'd like to get involved and submit some puzzles for a future pack, please drop us a line! Puzzles can be any size up to 15x15 pixels, but obviously have to pass the testing algorithms before inclusion ;)

Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the game is released!

Thursday 16 May 2019

Retaliate DX (Commodore 64)

Way back in early 2018 I came across a preview of Marcelo Cabral's Retaliate on CSDB - a simple looking shmup that on first glance appeared to be no more than a generic Space Invaders or Galaga clone. However, upon closer examination my interest was piqued - the production notes described it as a demake of a Android/Roku game of the same name, and the summary page highlighted a novel mechanic whereby you have to collect bullets with your shield in order to fire them back at the enemies - similar to the system Nicolas and I devised for r0x Zer0 on the Atari STE.

After playing the game a few times I could see the potential - in fact, after familiarising myself with the Android version I realised that with a little polish the C64 version could potentially surpass the original - which is quite an uncommon feat for a demake!

At it's core, Retaliate is a high-score chaser, and an unusual one at that. In order to achieve a high score, you can't just camp out and use your shield to survive the waves of enemies - instead you must catch the bullets and take the fight back to your aggressors - hence the title of the game.

After introducing myself to Marcelo, I reached out to Trevor ‘Smila’ Storey, Richard Bayliss, Antonio Savona and Jon Eggleton, and as a team we’ve been assisting Marcelo to further refine the game - Trev redid all the in game art and helped redesign the GUI, Richard composed a new title track, Antonio assisted with the cartridge code and Jon Egg delivered an amazing title screen. Retaliate DX was born. I, on the other hand, simply pestered Marcelo again and again with tweaks and amendments - something that anyone who has worked with me before can probably relate to!

My initial concern involved the player hitbox - in fact the player has two hitboxes - a large one for when the shield is activated (by pulling down on the joystick) and the other for detecting death-collisions with bullets and enemies. No doubt to Marcelo's annoyance, this second hitbox caused me to request revision after revision; the game features several unlockable craft, all with slightly different spite shapes and sizes, yet we needed to find a one-size-fits-all solution. Personally I’ve always been a fan of smaller hitboxes (I love the feeling in shoot em ups when you fluke a near miss), but the original game features full-sprite-width collision detection, so whilst the C64 conversion does now differ, this has involved a lot of conversations about not deviating too much from the source material.

Talking of source, some of you may be interested to know that Marcelo has actually branched off the code for Retaliate and the source code for the game (minus the revised artwork, etc) will remain freely available on github as a ‘community edition’ for people to view and learn from for their own projects.

One of the nicest bonus features that made the transition from the original Roku game is the ability to customise the appearance of the player ship; using sliders you can repaint the hull of your ship and the colour of the shield. From this 'hangar' screen you can also select from the available craft, unlocked by achieving score targets in different difficulty modes, and each complete with slightly different stats.

As it stands, the game is now nearing completion and will hopefully be ready for release within the next couple of months. Marcelo has been frequently sending over new test builds for Antonio and I to play, and already the game seems very far removed from that original beta I played over a year ago. With its refined game play, smoother controls and a wider variety of enemies and attack patterns, we're hoping that you'll soon be enjoying Retaliate DX as much as we have been :)

Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the game is released!

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Kickstarter: SID Chip Club: Vinyl album & C64 Cartridge

Those of you who are into modern SID music (and Commodore 64 cartridges) should check out this Kickstarter project by Markus 'LMan' Klein. LMan has been blowing the scene away with his unique club style SID tracks over the past few years, and with this project he not only proposes putting together a six-track vinyl album, but also making it available on cartridge so you can play the tracks on a real Commodore 64! Alternatively, for those of you who prefer records, "SID Chip Club" will be released on a high quality, 160g yellow vinyl record with a special black splatter effect. The pressing will be performed carbon neutrally by an experienced manufacturer.

I've been a fan of LMan's work for quite a while - after all, music productions by people like him, Jason Page and Linus are the reason why I have a C64 set up and plugged into a sound system on my everyday work desk. So it should come as no real surprise that RGCD have offered to help him with the cartridge side of things. You can rest assured that the final result will be a quality physical release that will have you dancing around your C64, lights off and volume up to the max, jacking like its 1988...

The Kickstarter is currently sitting at about 2/3 of the way to it's much-needed target, so if this is something that remotely interests you, please consider giving it your support by clicking here. Records are available for £22-24, and the cartridge is only £30!