Saturday, 13 February 2021

Making of Monstro Giganto (Commodore 64)

Following hot on the heels of last year's BoxyMoxy, the Pirates of Zanzibar are back again with a new game; 'Monstro Giganto', a furiously-paced PETSCII party-puncher! Coder and long-time RGCD member Antonio Savona started work on the project (with his fellow sea-dogs Lobo and Aldo Chiummo) during the 2020 Christmas holidays, aiming to knock out a fun little proof of concept based on some PETSCII art by Lobo. And now, just over a month later, Monstro Giganto is a near complete game that already takes up 480KB of ROM space on a GMOD2 cartridge.

But what is Monstro Giganto? Lobo came up with the idea of a PETSCII based brawler last summer inspired by a series of monster drawings he penned over 20 years ago based on Godzilla, King Kong and other giant beasts. It was initially planned as a comic book in which an army of monsters duke it out, but one thing led to another and the project ended up becoming a game instead.

"I made the first PETSCII tests of Gorgo and Jojo back in May/June 2020. Since I wanted to make a brawler with the largest characters possible the PETSCII approach seemed to be the most reasonably practical method to pull it off".

Indeed, that seems a sensible starting point when making a monstrous sized beat-em-up, but Antonio ended up with quite a few challenges to overcome as a result.

"The greatest challenge was nailing the game mechanics, given the constraints of working with large PETSCII based characters with a limited set of moves in a claustrophobic arena. On the technical side the only really complex part was keeping a steady frame rate and snappy controls. Those big monstros might be made up of PETSCII but that doesn't make them any easier to animate than other types of heavy, non-sprite based graphics. There's a good reason why the VIC-II offers sprites as a hardware capability, which becomes evident as soon as you choose to develop a game without using them!"

By the time I joined the project, Monstro Giganto was already a fully playable game with four playable characters and both a single player and two player modes. The music was in, as well as a load of cool sounding digital samples ripped from Mortal Combat. "You should hire a voice actor for this. Have a look to see if there's anyone suitable on Fiverr", I suggested. This was no more than a week ago - and now Monstro Giganto has grown to enormous size, with over 250 professionally spoken words of dialogue(!)

"Roughly 250KB are now used by samples. It could have been much less than that, but the good thing about variable rate speech compression is that you can adjust the rate and trade quality for memory footprint. There was a lot of cartridge space available and there was no reason to not use it, so I turned the knob up to 'maximum quality'. Overall, it's over 250 words accounting for around three minutes of speech (and roars). Most of the speech is contained within the unlockable origin stories for each of the four monstros, and there's a few words spoken in the intro. As much as I like talking in games, I think that speech should not be invasive or prominent, but rather something to complement the action."

Of course, it's worth mentioning at this point that to truly appreciate the game you really need to have a real SID chip in your Commodore, or at least a really good clone like that in the MEGA65 and of course the VICE emulator.

Monstro Giganto has evolved considerably from its humble beginnings, but Tony's to-do list now mainly consists of bug-fixes, polish and 'easy' code rewrites. It's exciting to see it all come together so quickly, and there's even been tentative talk of a sequel addressing some of the suggestions and ideas that came too late to shoe-horn them into the current framework. However, the journey from prototype to near finished game has seen many progressive refinements to the design, as Antonio explains;

"In the beginning I had only three attack moves per character (plus one defensive block) and a single screen arena that was barely large enough to contain the two monstros. Tremendous artwork and a decent concept, but very basic in the gameplay department. The first change to be made was to add the endless scrolling of the arena to break free of the limitations of the single screen; it's important to note that the arena has no end or invisible walls like most fighters - the players do not have an absolute position in space, just a relative one. Each monstro exists in a space relative to their opponent - you don't move left or right around an arena, but rather just move away or towards your enemy."

"Then came the hit detection; a punch only connects if you hit a specific point on your opponent, and each monstro and attack has a different reach, so the challenge is not about getting closer to your opponent but rather positioning yourself at the right distance for a specific move. I guess this is no different to what games like Exploding Fist have been doing egregiously for the last 35 years, so there was no point in not doing it in Monstro Giganto."

"Finally, I wanted to avoid the common problem that plagues many fighting games of having a one-move-kills-them-all, like the low-kick in Exploding Fist. So, a tiredness meter was added to address this issue by forcing the player to adopt a strategy instead of mindlessly bashing the fire button. The more you fight or block, the more your tiredness increases until you are eventually exhausted and your opponent gets an opportunity to strike you while you are defenceless. So it's important to time your attacks and rest accordingly if you want to win the fight."

"With these mechanics in place the game became really fun to play. It was even fun just watching my AI driven monstros skilfully beat the crap out each other in the attract mode! I've also given each of the characters specific skills and stats to add further variety to the game. For example, Eyeye is the fastest monstro and he doesn't tire easily, but his main attacks have a shorter reach and he is somewhat weaker. On the other hand, Mojo is a heavy hitter with an impressive reach and can stand a few more punches than your average puny lizard, but no matter how fashionable, the fez-sporting oversized gorilla is the slowest of the lot!"



Although there is no real end to the game (you continue to fight the four main opponents over and over until you lose) your stats are recorded in the hall of fame and there are unlockable rewards in the form of origin stories for each character - and there's even a couple of secrets thrown in there for good measure. But all that aside, the real test of a fighting game is how it plays when facing off against a human opponent - and if the reaction of my two gaming addicted kids is anything to go by then Monstro Giganto deserves to go platinum.

With development now in the final stages and print material in the process of being ordered, Monstro Giganto should be available for your Commodore home computer in late March/Early April.

3 comments:

  1. Nice to see not ONLY a New Fighting Game, but a TWIST to the Well known Format ! Good Luck to all involved with this Wonderful Project ! :->

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