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Walker's Way Logo

Diary of a Game - Citadel

Many, many thanks to Philippe Lesire for scanning and OCRing the Walker's Ways from issue 36 to 40.

Issue 36 - April 1988

Flushed with the success of Hunter's Moon, Martin Walker has launched into his latest 64 project. Over the next few months, he'll be revealing all the trials and tribulations of creative programming in this, his diary...

Sunday 24th January The first major breakthrough. My projects always seem to start with the main character of the 'story', unlike Andrew Braybrook's, whose first step always seems to be the background character set. I find that if there's a hero to work with, more things suggest themselves. Anyway, less of this waffle. let's hear about the breakthrough! Well, I've designed a new craft that looks almost as if it escaped from an Atari ST. Using only two sprites (the Hunter of Hunter's Moon fame used four hi-res sprites superimposed) I've managed to get a four colour craft that looks as if it has been designed in 320x200 mode. Most of the realism comes from all the time I put in on Hunter's playing with the light. No, not swinging from the ceiling, but gently playing across the harsh metallic hull of the Hunter, as she swung to meet the renewed onslaught from the crystalline forces. With lasers hurling twin blinding beams of destruction through the starkness of space, spinning showers of debris spun out into the void... Now, where was I?
Monday 25th January Must make a note not to get carried away today, otherwise I will get carried away forcibly, kicking and screaming! You've probably already noticed that Sunday still counts as a working day in my book, but my weekends tend to be in convenient gaps towards the middle of the week - you can't take a day off if there's an idea struggling to get out, can you? Back to the light and shade. If you look at the majority of games that used highlights and shadows to add depth and realism, they all tend to place the imagined light source at top left. The, highlights are all top left on each object, and the darkest parts are bottom right. It was a long time before I realised why. but Hunter's Moon is lit from the top right. Hmmm! The answer is that I'm left handed! If you are right handed. to draw easily you normally position the light at the top left to avoid shadows of your arm falling across the picture. Subconsciously I always place the 'sun' at the other side for the same reason! Pretty heavy huh?
Wednesday 27th January Hmmm! What to write about today? Got up. Went shopping. Re-read the current issue of ZZAP! I know it must be a Walker 'weekend'. What can I reveal to the world (at least a select selection of ZZAP! readers) that would grab them before they skip ahead to infinitely poke their way into another Galactic Mega-Score table? What is it anyway that drags us back to a game even when we've got infinite lives and can start at any level? Is it the atmosphere generated in Paradroid, the feeling after completing a wave of licker ships in Iridis Alpha, or the swirling beauty of the alien formations in Delta? Can I think of any more sentences to end with a question mark?

Some games seem to always merit 'just one more blast' before the 64 has its juice cut. I'm pleased with the way Hunter's turned out in this respect - I still enjoy playing it after sitting in front of it for nearly 8 months. I suspect it's something to do with getting the difficulty set right. Some games feel as if nobody ever wanted you to get very far! I set my games to be tricky for me. This should mean that king-zappers find it a challenge and the rest of us can still get there. My best so far at Hunter's Moon is system 14.

It's always tricky to set the difficulty of any game after a few months of your own playtesting. You're an experienced player (and often the only one at first). and there's nothing worse than a starting level that seems too difficult for a beginner, or too easy for that matter. Ideally it must be tried out on unsuspecting friends and colleagues - here, grab a joystick and give me a gut reaction. It could be messy, couldn't it?

Everyone likes different sorts of control - that's why there are three engines to choose from in Hunter's. Take your bog standard progressive shoot'em up. You start like a snail and always have to get through at least two screens worth of mayhem before collecting enough tokens to get what in any 'normal' game is standard equipment! I like the approach of Delta - at least when you've got it you keep it for a bit. or in Morpheus where there's a real feeling of having earned your new bolt-on goodie (even if it gets blown off 10 seconds later).
Thursday 28th January Spent some time thinking about a new control method for the next game. Scribble. Eight way scrolling again, I think. Although it commits me to animating my craft through 16 directions as it rotates, it seems worth it. I've already done a flick screen and parallax horizontal scroller now, but prefer the freedom of being able to go anywhere at all (backgrounds permitting). Scribbled furiously for some time - all these pieces of paper will be condensed later to become the 'New Gameplan'!
Friday 29th January Though it might be a useful chance in this diary to publish a complete star system guide to Hunter's Moon for all those players who might find it helpful. A couple of exclusive tips for ZZAP readers - to start the game at any one of the first four systems, simply hold down keys 1,2,3, or 4 as you press the fire button to begin. And for all those who need a little encouragement - there's a graphic sequence at the end of the game for anyone who gets as far as the Ludo system (starmap 11) or further before running out of craft. 'The Hunter returns to Hunter's Moon' after the high score table disappears.
Saturday 30th January Went into town today. Thought it would be interesting to see what was on the software shelves of the high street shops. Boots as always had a good selection and seem to get most things fairly quickly once released. They also have a nice clearout occasionally and a few bargains. Not today I fear. I think one software house must have overdone the hype, as the bargains seemed to be composed mostly of one huge heap of the same game reduced to £2.99. Whoops!

WH Smith seem to have their software delivered by the local museum. I spotted titles that have since become collectors items sitting on the shelves next to the 'Top 20 Chart Games' It's great for a quick delve and reminisce. You can spot the trends in cassette covers, and even find the full price games next to their budget reincarnations. Not much of a contest, really, is it?
Sunday 31st January Played a few games today. It's all research really! vertically scrolling shoot'em ups never seem to give you enough warning of what's coming, because the TV screen is tilted on its side compared to the arcade equivalents. In Salamander the scrolling alternates between horizontal and vertical, but you do have to change the gameplay to suit when your ship changes direction. I recently watched in admration as a friend of mine played through the entire game on one coin and then grumbled because he'd lost a ship. I think I'll ask him to playtest my next project!
Wednesday 3rd February The last few days have been spent rewriting my sound effects editor. So many games seem to have the sound effects 'hung on' at the last moment, just before release, but I like to live with mine for a while first. It's rather like watching a silent film at early stages in the design of a game. Sometimes you get a shock when your aliens first open their mouths! I'm lucky in that I can produce my own, so much tweaking will go on as I finish the other parts of the game.

I tried to make the cells in Hunter's have pseudo-speech; not actually talking but making voice-like sounds. Really. the only way to perfect these is by continually changing different aspects of the sound in real time as you perfect the effect you're after. Most commercial editors have to be designed to be easy to learn by anyone, and often you spend more time looking at the keyboard than at the screen. Mine is approached more as a games player who wants to 'play' with the sound as I edit. It becomes another game to play when you want a change from coding - but the best sounds you store to be used in the game later!

A new front end has now been completed. Nearly all joystick controlled for the busy bits, and a few keys to leap on for switching channels and sounds. Sometimes it seems to work in games to use the odd key press during the action, but I can never cope with anything other than the space bar or RUN/STOP to pause. There seems to be a mini convention for shoot'em up about which keys to use; Fire button to start, RUN/STOP to pause, 'Q' to quit. Hands up all those who load up an old favourite, and then panic when RUN/STOP doesn't pause the game when the 'phone rings!
Thursday 4th February Picture of martinVisited ZZAP! offices to be serious. spread jollity and discuss life, the universe and everything. Julian and Steve gave me a great welcome (and a black coffee to bring me back to life after setting the alarm clock excruciatingly early - we programmers normally keep quite odd hours). Much talk about the industry ensued - if anyone's ears were burning during the afternoon they now know why! I also got a great chance to scrutinise the latest software offerings, shortly before they appear in the shops. I certainly know what I'll be buying next for my Atari ST (Oh, whoops what a giveaway!). I also had a long chat with Lloyd about ROM cartridges - apparently he thought the initials stood for Rip Off Merchants; probably due to their price. Thanks for an enjoyable day, guys!
Saturday 6th February I'm still investigating the possibility of using a cross assembler on my ST (I can't afford to buy an OPUS). My last project on the 64 (I won't mention its name again!) ended up in six chunks of source code, and even with a turbo loading disk system it took over five minutes to assemble. This doesn't sound very long until you get a 'branch out of range' error after 4 minutes and 50 seconds and have to start all over again! If you read through your old issues you'll find that both previous 'diarists' have decided to go down the same road, and many software houses are now joining them. Ocean have installed an ST-based cross development system for their in-house team which even allows graphics and music to be produced for a range of machines on the ST - if they would consider selling it to outside parties I'd be very interested to hear from them!

The biggest advantage of a well-written system is that you can debug your 64 program while it's running - normally you either see the graphics screen or the debugger, but not both at once. By using the ST with a second monitor you can examine what is going on in your 64 on one screen whilst continuing to run the game graphics on the 64. Invaluable! I'll let you know how I get on.
Sunday 7th February Knocked my piles of scribbles into one great heap today. Sorted through all the ideas and started a 'master' sheet to include all the compatible and best ideas for the next project. I now have a gameplan. a craft designed and plenty of ideas which may evolve or be discarded as everything progresses. I don't want to give everything away yet, but expect another shoot' em up with smarter-than-average 'baddies'. I intend to give them the same fire power as the player, so you'll have to think a bit more before you go in, guns blazing. I've also come up with a new level design system that allows a level of 16 screens in size to be defined in 32 bytes. Imagine the possibilities!
Monday 8th February Mulled over tactics for new aliens. I like the feel of using the multiplexer but simply having 32 sprites whizzing about does not a game make. Intelligence is the order of the day, and team-work will also figure in their attacks and tactics. It sounds a bit hazy, but I'd like to try out some ideas that seem very promising. More about them another time. Played a certain vertically scrolling shoot 'em up this afternoon, with an infinite lives poke. It didn't seem to have been playtested at all. The graphics were great, and it had all the ingredients of a classic but was almost impossible to play! If the bog standard ship speed had been slightly faster it wouldhave played oh-so-much better. And in the furious action I more often than not shot my own approaching super weapons; if only they had been invulnerable I swear I could enjoy it a lot. But the most evil of all crimes happened - unfair collision detection. Is there anything worse than losing a ship when you're convinced that the approaching alien missed you by at least 2 pixels? Answers on a postcard please.
Tuesday 9th February This will be the final entry for this month, as tomorrow I'm off to Exeter to visit Cyberdyne Systems, who helped with the mastering of HM. They want me to design the sound effects for their forthcoming game Armalite. So far it looks extremely polished and impressive, and if they can cram in all the features they intend to, it will certainly be on my list of essential purchases.

I've been stretching the SID chip in different ways today, in anticipation, and have now amassed a bank of percussive effects like metal blocks, milk bottles and elastic band twangs. These all help to refine the constant search for new and refined in-game sounds. It's fun, rewarding and doesn't damage your health. All in all a harmless pastime suitable for all the family and friends.

How many games are there in your collection that have the same old 'boing' and 'splats' that we've all heard so many times before. The first time I heard Paradroid I was sucked in. I was down there in the corridors with them - and due in no small part to the intelligent use of sound effects. Where would karate games be without the digitised grunt! And that Floyd-like backing track for Delta by Jabba the Hubbard was awesome, as a colleague of mine might say. Funny that. Last week I wandered into a shop and bought a woolly jumper with sheep on it. Just liked it I suppose.

Issue 37 - May 1988

The second instalment of Martin Walker's programme of a diary - or diary of a program.

Thursday 11th February Produced some more sound effects this morning; some new weapons that have real oomph! They incorporate dull thud, whine and recoil elements, and make a good start to my 'weapons' library. Some will no doubt be used in Armalite and others will be more appropriate to my new project.

One intention in the new game is to allow the player to have a shield energy which drops every time you are hit, or collide with the background, and my 'knock' library will allow me to simulate crashing into different materials (metal, glass, wood etc.) The big advantage with this style of play is that it allows the aliens to be more trigger happy without making the game frustratingly difficult, and also allows you to take a few chances in a tight situation without necessarily losing a ship.
Friday 12th February A Walker weekend again! I find that if you relax twice as much as normal you can cram a whole weekend into one day, thus allowing more time for work the rest of the week. Seriously though folks, I sometimes have to force myself to stop and lead a normal existence for an odd day or two. otherwise I get stale and ideas start to dry up. Incidentally, aren't milkmen amazing! Ours arrives whistling fit to bust at about 5 am every morning - I wondered what was going on the first time I had a super-late programming session.
Saturday 13th February Watched Moonraker last night (again!). I like the laser sounds used. so this morning saw a new addition to the Weapons file. Producing a copy of an existing sound is perfectly possible with SID. but lasers are fairly easy to get anyway. More problems come with 'natural' sounds. but running water, raging fires and ticking clocks are all feasible (just listen to Chameleon!). The rest of the day produced the start of a new graphic style for backgrounds. As my games evolve, the 'story' also takes shape around the proposed gameplay. This time the action takes place in claustrophobic metal cities where death may be only a corridor away. It's nice to be down on the ground once more!
Sunday 14th February The 'city' look gradually took more shape today. The feel is hi-tech. but with an oppressive feel like that used in Alien and Blade Runner. Although I intend to evolve 'plasteel', 'glasteel' and other colour-based building materials later (the 'Chris Foss look'), so far I've come up with pleasing looks in Steel. Chrome, Bronze, Copper and that means black anodised sheen. What a shame the 64 only easily gives four colours at one time - all these on screen at once would look stunning. Instead I'll have to rely on the enemy lasers to stun you!
Monday 15th February A novel start to the day. The postman delivered a package of ten blank disks from Trilogic in Bradford. The novel part is that I didn't order them! I wouldn't have minded but my Access card had been charged for at least three months! One 'phone call sorted it all out, along with a refund and a trip to the post office to return the package to them. and then hopefully to the correct purchaser.

I've also found Trilogic helpful and informative. I know that most people buy products like the Expert Cartridge to back up (hack up?)games, but mine has proved invaluable during development. Being able to break into a game at any stage and examine things saves as much time when trying things out or tracing bugs. I only wish that more people used them constructively, but then perhaps if more games 'were fine-tuned' during playtesting people wouldn't need to hack a game about to get beyond level two!
Tuesday 16th February A couple of explosions started the day today, but only from the safety of the sound effects editor. I gave up after the first two - some days inspiration goes and and you spend more time making cups of coffee than coding. Finally got started again mid-afternoon. down in the bowels of the city.

Started rationalising the layout of corridors and walls - I don't want to store each entire level separately as then I'd need a multiload (and we all know what we think of multiloads!) Had a novel idea later to design a random level generator for some parts of the game. so that you never quite know what to expect. It might work well. but would never compete with its tweaked and cunningly thought out companions for gameplay.
Wednesday 17th February Continued with city design. I now have six floor gratings and many variations in feel and colour, from squeaky-clean brilliantly polished metallic areas to dark, oppressive corridors. lost for all eternity within the forgotten reach of the basement. Extra colours can be added in selected areas for special features. and I'm pleased with the overall look (not designer overalls but overall design!).
Thursday 18th February I studied the software charts today. Groan. Groan again. Why do people buy the rushed, undernourished licensed games that appear with depressing frequency? Some are really well done, but when 'a certain software house' admits in print that it wasn't happy with its own product, what are we to think? Licenses can be extremely expensive, but at the moment guarantee sales, almost in spite of the product itself. Many of the smaller software houses have 'gone under' despite having good product, and the saddest thing to me personally is that it is possible to make more money doing conversions than writing original games, especially if you can write them faster than anyone else. Enough said.
Friday 19th February Booted up the Sprites Editor today, for a session of enemy designing. By the afternoon I decided I must be suffering from 'Braybrook's disease' - some days alien designs can be decidedly elusive, and you can spend all day waiting and none appear! Although I have 10 sprites to save, none are up to scratch. Perhaps I should sell them as a job lot for use in a licensed game. Meeow! Oh for more horizontal resolution on 64 sprite's! Perhaps if I putmy fat pixels on low voltage for a few days they would oblige and thin out a bit, or maybe if I put 'ST' at the top of the editor they might take the hint.
Monday 22nd February Colour picture of MartinA great new idea for the game arrived in my head late last night, whilst eating a slice of toast. It involves a new way of viewing an overhead scrolling universe. using reflection and parallel worlds. Heavy huh? I should be able to design a single level of the game using two different city layouts simultaneously, but allowing the player to move fairly freely between both. It needs some refining before I start coding, but it feels good already. I've jotted down some possible ways to permit inter-landscape travel, and intend to let the 'baddies' pursue you between levels. What a profitable day!
Tuesday 23rd February Spent some time today with good ol' Electrosound. Probably the reason is the 'run-time' module that Orpheus subsequently released - at long last the programmer could include self-written music in a game without taking several months off to write a music utility. It may have a memory overhead of 10K and take as much raster time as an average game, but I still like it!

It must be admitted though that trying to write music using a computer keyboard seems to me like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon! When I can afford it, the ST sitting forlornly in the corner will have a MIDI keyboard attached for realtime music making, and then perhaps the 64 can receive its music down a suitable cable.
Thursday 25th February The latest few days have been spent doing what I term a 'mental bellyflop'. If you work within a development team or have a working partner then it does have the advantage of instant feedback. Any idea that comes to you can he bounced off another mind to get an instant reaction, and false trails, dead ends and diversions can be minimised.

The 'mental bellyflop' is the way I gell my ideas - in the absence of feedback from elsewhere it is best to collate all the ideas hastily scribbled down as they pop into your head, hurl them all into the air and then do something completely different for several days. After this time away from the mundane business of designing another piece of background or tweaking the odd sound effect (and some of them are!), you can return refreshed and be far more objective about your own ideas. The bellyflop leaves the important ideas still 'in the pool' but discards the 'splashes' which tend to dilute the main idea. I now have a definitive gameplan.
Saturday 27th February I fully intended to get in a good day's work on my sprites today, but that was before the postman arrived with the latest demo of Armalite. At last the 'super-weapons' are in. and I can now see (hear?) how my weapon sound effects fit into the game. The graphics look excellent, and I'm looking forward to helping gametest when everything else is finished - it's very playable already and the aliens don't even shoot back yet!

Most of the day was eventually spent on more sound effects. The number of superweapons has dramatically increased, so I had great fun honing mean and moody audibles to suit, and was well pleased with all the results.
Sunday 28th February Worked with the dreaded sprite editor again today, but surprised myself by coming up with a new weapon look. By using software sprites (ie mapping objects across the character screen and replacing the 'underneath' characters afterwards) you can also at the same time add in spot colour. The new weapons can therefore have their own colours. as long as I'm careful how I design them. It's even possible to throb the colours (wow!) as they move.

I intend to use software sprites for player and enemy bullets, leaving as many sprites as possible for aliens. Perhaps the multiplexor will be used as well, but I may not need that many baddies on screen at once, This should make for a much more colourful overall screen look.
Monday 29th February This should be an excellent day, as it only happens once every four years! A giant leap for mankind! Groan, waffle, waffle etc. Down to business. Being suitably cryptic so as not to give everything away before release date, the new game could be described as a shoot'em up incorporating a board game (a what?), and mazes. I intend at the moment to have a new form of control that is a cross between horizontaI/vertical/eight-way scrolling, and plenty of mayhem (blasting to you). As with all projects. things may change subtly as time passes. Today saw the start of rationalising the backgrounds. Although I've got a disk with about 15 different screen designs, to get as many levels as possible into a single load needs much planning from this point on. Hunter's needed only 64 bytes for each eight-screen level, the trick being that each of the eight worker cells produced the backgrounds as they moved about, effectively plotting the level as you played. Only the type of movement and starting positions were needed for each new level.

The layout of this game should occupy about 32 screens for each level in two different parts, but I've come up with a method to define all 32 screens in the magic 64 bytes again. along with a few bytes to decide the colours, type of scenery and aliens. This is where the concept of the board game comes in. Stay tuned to this diary for more information as it develops!
Tuesday 1st March The postman arrived this morning with yet another diversion. namely my official production disk copy of Morpheus. Since everything I play must affect me to some extent (if I'm honest!), it must all be relevant to the diary n'est pas? The finished game (as opposed to the version I played at PCW last year) has a few tweaks in the graphics dept. (the docking station is more 'rugged') and I really like the restart facility.

So far I've got to level ten. but still can't get to grips with the control weapons systems - by the time I've switched from the main engines great damage to the ship has normally been sustained, and I currently find it easier to run away. What an admission! The booklet helps a great deal in choosing systems (let's hope the lack of it proves a useful deterrent to the pirates' understanding of the game!) Overall I really enjoyed it. Nice one, Andrew. It will be interesting to see how people respond to the price tag though, especially if they didn't follow the diary and know what to expect before they decide to buy.
Wednesday 2nd March My ears hurt! I've spend all day on the sound effects for Armalite and knocked them into shape ready for another visit to Cyberdyne Systems sometime in the next week or two for 'tweaking'. Since so many super-weapons have been designed there are now eight two-channel weapons sounds which can be intermixed - I got a total of 50 different variations which should be enough for anyone! The alien mothership and player's craft explosions have been designed as megablasts using all three sound channels simultaneously. This created a colossal sound (sad if it's your ship, but satisfying if it's the mothership!)

The only tricky bit of brainwork came in deciding priorities for the sounds so that I can ignore the odd alien going boom if I won't know if all the sounds 'fit' until I hear them in the game itself. Sometimes certain things don't sound right when you hear them 'on-screen' so to speak. This is a tricky part of writing sound effects, and the reason I like to gametest as well. The right atmosphere is so important, and is greatly helped if you can 'believe' that the sounds are actually being created by the objects on screen. So many games are let down in this area!

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