Posts Tagged ‘bbc micro’

“How do you make it play games, sir?” – Daredevil Dennis

21 May, 2012
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“They shouldn’t have put Dennis in the water if they didn’t want him to make waves”

Daredevil Dennis. If there was ever a name that someone who works as a stuntman for a living shouldn’t have it’s Dennis. Max would work, or Butch, or even Mark. But not Dennis. Never mind the Beano character in the Franz Ferdinand jumper, Dennis just isn’t a very “hard” name, it’s a name for people who work shop floors or in banks. It’s not designed for people who look the world in the eye. Has there ever been a monarch or dictator called Dennis? Exactly.

I’m drifting. Daredevil Dennis is a brilliantly simple game for the BBC Micro and, after an awful lot of humming and hawing (Exile, which for a long time was intended to be the final game in this series, is just too damn complicated and I really can’t be arsed with complicated games most of the time, Dragon Rider which was briefly going to be its replacement is utter shit), it’s the game I’m going to be talking about today.

There’s not an awful lot to say, and I mean that in the best possibly way. DD (as I’m now going to annoyingly call it) has only three control keys – accelerate, break and jump. Taking control of the titular stuntman astride a motorbike, the player must complete a series of levels in which Dennis needs to perform a number of stunts (such as leaping a house or, erm, dodging under a massive bouncing policeman) in order to proceed to the next scene in which he will do much the same, often with different vehicles (speedboat, skis). The player earns money (ie score points) for performing these stunts and can obtain a little more by collecting yellow packages dropped by a helicopter although these sometimes knock Dennis for six instead, as does the chopper itself if Dennis happens to be doing one of his leaps around the same time as its flying overhead. If it looks like such a collision is on the cards and Dennis needs to leap an obstacle then the player can hit the “brake” key and he’ll stop, although he only seems to be able to do this once per level. The player has three “takes” (each one delivered with a nice little clapperboard animation) to get things right before being fired and, presumably, Daredevil Butch finishing Furious Man Jumps The Lighthouse And Bouncy Ball in 3D instead.

DD is addictive and fun for two simple reasons: it’s very easy to play and its very tricky. Even when you do master it there are several skill levels to test your mettle. Straightforward, easy to play, difficult to master, completely daft and above all fun. What videogames ought to be, in short.

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“How do you make it play games, sir?” – Free Fall

17 April, 2012

"And, with me... punch! punch! punch! aaand... kick! kick! kick! Come on, mums!"

Free Fall isn’t a terribly well-known game, even by BBC Micro standards which comes as a surprise when you learn that it was programmed by Ian Bell, one half of the duo who gave the world the famous, not to mention ground-breaking, space-sim-cum-trade-em-up Elite.

Free Fall is nothing like Elite, let’s make that clear from the off. If you’re hoping to see the germ of that well-known title you’ll be disappointed, although this game does show an imagination and experimental approach to video-gaming that makes it stand-out from the various coin-op clones that were being published on the Acorn machine at the time. Free Fall is an action game, but not quite, in the sense that action games are usually straightforward to play and to learn to play and Free Fall feels like the player needs some kind of certificate of competence before they can take to the keyboard.

I’ll try and explain things as best I can. The player controls a wee man in a spacesuit who floats through some kind of gravity-free chamber (a look at a page dedicated to this game on Ian Bell’s website tells me it’s supposed to be a Coriolis space station – an Elite link?). This chamber is shortly invaded by various alien beasties who float and spin throughout the room and make a nuisance of themselves; the aliens are also joined by bombs which also worryingly float around the play area. The whole thing, unusually for a BBC Micro game, has been rendered in high-res black and white rather than the usual chunky 8-colour mode.

The player character can (deep breath) punch with his right arm, punch with his left arm, kick with his right leg, kick with his left leg, fire his left propulsion, fire his left propulsion, fire rear propulsion and grab a bomb. Each of these controls has a separate key (although, to be fair, they’re at least intelligently arranged); somehow a separate joystick mode has also been implemented.

Firing the spaceman’s propulsion makes him spin depending on what side is used whilst both at the same time makes him fly straight down (although since he’s in a gravity-free environment, down is entirely relative) and using the rear propulsion makes him fly “up”; the punch and kick buttons do what you’d expect. If he hits the sides he often grabs ahold of them and “punching” with the relevant arm will make him drift free. When the player drifts near aliens he can punch or kick them or, if he’s managed to grab one of the bombs, can try throwing (by pressing punch) it at them and hoping for the best. Touching the enemy drains energy and if they take it all then, as you’ve probably guessing, it’s Game Over time.

Free Fall sounds pretty good as a concept but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work all that well. For a start, there are just too many controls and even though the player gets used to them after a short while it’s all too easy to punch when you wanted to rotate left and vice versa. It’s also the sort of game where you can obtain similar high scores by trying to play it properly or just pressing buttons at random as it’s difficult to be precise but quite easy to do things accidentally. Nice idea, fairly poor game. Thank goodness Elite was just around the corner.

“How do you make it play games, Sir?” – Citadel

14 March, 2012

"See-ta-dul, See-ta" OH SHUT UP!

“See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul, See-ta-dul. Soo-peerior Software pre-sents: See-ta-dul

With those words, mangled by the BBC’s malfunctioning-cyberman voice-sythesis, and a title screen which features a man with a triangular nose and David Coultard’s chin, Superior Software’s Citadel announced and indeed anounces itself to the world.

In this game, a mixture of platformer and adventure game originally published in 1986, the player has to collect several crystals scattered around the titular fortress and its immediate surroundings and take them to what Wikipedia describes as “their rightful place”.

Gameplay consists of controlling a wee man (or wee woman depending on what sex you choose at the beginning of the game) as he/she leaps and erm collects across dozens of rooms making-up the castle. Rather than lives the player has energy which is sapped on touching enemies. Personally, I have more than a bit of a bug bear with energy-sapping enemies because I think they encourage lazy screen design and take away the sense of danger from the player since they know that they can risk a certain amount of collisions with the enemy. Citadel, however, has a novel take on this since the player is only allowed to make contact with an enemy for a very short time before suddenly being hurled back to where (s)he entered that particular screen. This both means that the player can risk brushing against an enemy sprite but can’t, for example, just wander through a group of static monsters guarding a doorway. It’s a novel take on the energy-based platformer which deals very well with the usual problems and, to be honest, I’m surprised and disappointed that it wasn’t more influential.

No, that's not Pat Sharp, I'm playing a girl. Just because.

Whilst he (I can’t keep up the male/female thing, folks, sorry; let’s just assume we’re playing as a chap from now on) explores the rooms of the Citadel the player character will come across numerous items which can aid him in his quest. The uses for some of these (eg pink & white keys open pink & white doors) is obvious whilst other items have more obscure uses and it’ll take a little experimentation to find out what to do with them. I would guess that amongst these collectables is the crystals mentioned above but, to be honest, I’ve not managed to track any of them down yet. The “jump” key is used to collect items, only two of which can be held at once, and for this reason items can only be taken or dropped on certain marked places on the floor. You can also fire a rather dull looking, erm, line at the enemies although the only bad guys this actually works against are the ‘monks’ (large bad dudes whose faces are obscured by hoods and who wear horribly garish robes) encountered on some screens: shoot em in the face and they fall satisfyingly to their doom leaving you free to adventure forth.

Despite taking some obvious cues from games from other systems (castle full of rooms with names, Jet Set Willy anyone?) Citadel feels fairly unique and, to be honest, is hard to imagine on any system other than the BBC Micro; it’s like what happens when someone tries to do the games you played at home on the computer you used at school. None of this, incidentally, is meant in a negative way: Citadel is a playable game which encourages and rewards exploration and will probably take a while to master and beat. It has its flaws – the graphics are a bit rubbish and there are some irritating features such as the bulls heads on the walls which sap your energy despite looking like decorations – but it still holds up quite well in the cold light of the 21st century and it would be nice to see someone have a shot at remaking it with tarted-up graphics and sound, and maybe a few extra rooms. Not the greatest arcade-adventure of the 8-bit era but, y’know, quite good fun all the same.

And if you give Citadel a shot and quite like what you see/hear/feel why not seek-out the sequel, Citadel 2, which touched-down in 1993 and looks like being more of the same.

“How do you make it play games, sir?” – Snapper

23 February, 2012

At least they didn't call it Snap-Man

For a very long time I was certain that the monsters in Ms Pac-Man weren’t the same ghost-like creatures as the original game but instead weird spindly-armed and big-headed vaguely ET-looking dudes to the extent that when I actually got around to playing Ms Pac-Man for the what was the first time in many many years I was surprised to find that Blinky et al looked the same as they did in the original game. So where did the spindly pac-persuers come from? Did I eat lots of ’80s cheese and have an ’80s bad dream? Don’t be (’80s) ridiculous: I was confusing Ms Pac-Man with my memories of this here BBC Micro game: Snapper

As you may have guessed, Snapper was the Acorn machine’s, ahem, “inspired by” Pac-Man title. I suspect the main reason I confused it with Ms Pac-Man for so long was that the player character, whilst looking nothing like either Pac-Man or his other half, looks decidedly like a female (or, I suppose, effeminate) grapefruit in a wide-brimmed hat. Actually, given all I’ve said let’s just imagine that it’s a male grapefruit with the elegance and dress-sense of Quentin Crisp. I rather like that idea.

Other than a few changes in the graphics department, this is basically your standard Pac-Man clone complete with collectable fruit and a scoring system that gives more points for each monster chomped. Given the theme I’ve decided to apply perhaps the monsters are goons chasing our poor floppy-hat wearing hero around for being a “jessie”? Who knows.

I like Pac-Man and I like Snapper. The Beeb’s chunky graphics and bright palette suit this game well and it’s fast and fun to play. I have a few issues, such as the scores for fruits and chomped monsters not being displayed in the playfield like they are in Pac-Man and the “personalities” of the different monsters seemingly not being there but hey ho, if you had a BBC Micro you had a jolly good game of Pac-Man to play, just not officially. Now, when’s “Snapper” going to move to New York and have Sting write a song about him?

“How do you make it play games, sir?” – Stryker’s Run

12 February, 2012

Honestly, you spend all that time learning sculpture in Art School, finally get to carve that macho statue and then they plonk it down in a war zone where only the foolhardy can get a proper look at it!

The Acorn BBC Micro fills an unusual niche in the computing history of most British people aged around 30 or over since it must be the most-used home computer that people didn’t actually have in their homes. For those who don’t know, in the early ’80s the venerable British public broadcaster the BBC went looking for an official BBC computer to be used on television programming designed to teach the land of tea and crumpets how to work these newfangled silicon marvels. The BBC endorsement meant it also ended-up in the nation’s schools and it’s by this route that so many kids learned their first BASIC programming, had a shot of Granny’s Garden (that’s an educational game, you dirty wrong ‘uns) and, if they managed to get their hands on the inevitable floppy disk full of them, got to play some proper games (which always seemed to be Chuckie Egg).

Despite it being the computer of choice of both schools and dear old Auntie Beeb few people actually had one in the home, though, for the simple reasons that 1) they were more expensive than some other home computers on the market and 2) they were bloody enormous, arguably the only home computer at the time which would also have made an effective weapon.

And yet there was a small, predictably-devoted, number of home users of Acorn’s massive BBC-endorsed desk-hogger and this meant that, inevitably, a number of games were produced for it. Since it’s largely remembered as an educational computer and for appearing alongside men with huge glasses and horrible early ’80s clothes on Micro Time or whatever it was called the gaming side doesn’t get much of a look-in. So I’m going to change that by doing a few articles about BBC Micro games that really need to be taken out of the cupboard of history, have the metaphorical dust blown off them, and exposed to the world, or at least the small fraction of it that read these here meanderings.

And to start we have Stryker’s Run, which recently appeared in Retro Gamer and which I am happy to admit is the main reason I’ve heard of it. Like the majority of BBC Micro games of note, this appeared on the Superior Software label and is a run-and-gun title, unusual for the Beeb. The player controls a little chubby bloke by the name of Commander John Stryker who has been given the unenviable task of hand-delivering (what is this, the 19th century?) information to his headquarters on the other side of hostile territory. To get there, he runs (hence the name) from left to right, armed with a gun and a supply of chuckable grenades and taking-on enemies both on the ground (hostile chaps with guns) and sky (various vehicles including helicopters and things that look a little like the speeders from Return of the Jedi). Although the flying vehicles can’t be hit from the ground (at least not as far as I can see) Stryker can commandeer flying vehicles along the way which are left lying around for any old tom dick & harry to steal. Hopping-into one of these allows out hero to take to the skies and start shooting and bombing his way through the enemy, that is until he takes a hit, the vehicle explodes and he tumbles to ground level to run run run again. Unlike the vehicles, Strkyer is pretty hardy and can take a number of hits from bullets and bombs before it’s Game Over.

Stryker’s Run is nothing special in the overall scheme of things but it’s a fun wee game with some nice touches such as enemies turning into skellingtons when you shoot them and the aforementioned vehicles. It might be a little slow and jerky for some tastes but as a ZX Spectrum fan I’m more than happy to endure a little technical limitation and concentrate on the game underneath. It also comes in two separate flavours: a standard BBC Micro version and an enhanced  version for the BBC Plus/128 with music and lots of extra graphics including a manly statue.

I’m sure in the coming weeks I’ll find better, more distinctive stuff but this isn’t a bad start at all. Simple, addictive and fun. Just one thing: why on earth is there no in-game score meaning you have to wait until Game Over to find out how well you did?