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OkändOnsdag 8-2/2017: More Legendaries


I posted the first part of this two-part cblog two weeks earlier. The main reason was that the blog was already well past 3200 words. To recap the first part, the theme this month was famous game programmers who aren't making games (that I have heard of) today. So let's get on with the last two titles in August.

Old games of August 2017, Part 2

Dropzone (Arena Graphics/U.S.Gold, 1984) - Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, Gameboy, Game Gear, Gameboy Color,  NES

 Image from a longplay at WorldOfLongplays on Game Gear. This port wasn't by Maclean, though, I think.

 Image from a longplay at DerSchmu's channel. This port was by Maclean.

Archer Maclean is probably best known for the Brits among you. His biggest claims to fame are International Karate (also known as Chop N' Drop) and International Karate+ from the 1980s and the snooker and pool games in the 1990s such as Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker. Even if I never played games in either series, I remember reading about those and stumbling upon snooker games on Eurosport.

In fact, the only game he might have been kind of involved with that I've played is Mercury Meltdown Revolution on Wii, a game series that started with Archer Maclean's Mercury (2005) for the PSP. MMR doesn't even have Maclean in the credits. His latest listed game on MobyGames was Wheelspin (2008) (or SpeedZone in NA) for Wii, which got... woefully bad reviews. While it was to me impressive that the game permitted eight-player racing on one Wii, I can only imagine how few pixels each viewport had. Actually, I can count it. If Wii's resolution was 854x480 (or lower) and the game display was in 3x3 tiles with the map in the middle, each player would've had at most 284x160 pixel area. For comparison, Commodore 64's max. resolution was 320x200.

Of all the people in a major role in my August OkändOnsdags, he's the latest to have done something related to videogames (as far as I know).

In Maclean's case, picking an old unknown game was a bit tougher than I expected. The games listed at MobyGames are either pool games, too new games, Dropzone, Super Dropzone or International Karate+/IK+/Chop N' Drop. So even if Dropzone was ported over 16 years for so many systems, it and Super Dropzone were the ones I hadn't somehow heard of before.

As it is, Dropzone can easily be called a clone of Defender. That makes it not much different from Woakes's Encounter in being an early if not terribly original step in their careers as game developers, but it obviously was still a very well-made game. As we will see next month, being the first to have a product with an idea didn't mean much if a late arrival does it better... unless I change the games roster again.

Simulcra (Graftgold/MicroStyle, 1990); Atari ST, Amiga

 Image from a longplay by eino for World of Longplays, but possibly/probably emulated running on a faster hardware than the base Amiga.

The problem with choosing Andrew Braybrook's game portfolio as the pool from which to pick a solid unknown game is... difficult.

Looking at the Mobygames credits list, the oldest games on the list are really unknown, probably too much so for me to be able to cover them. But then his next games are the likes of Uridium, Paradroid, Fire & Ice and the 16-bit microcomputer ports of Rainbow Islands. Of those Fire & Ice would be the closest thing to being unfamiliar to modern gamers, but even that has been covered by Lazy Game Reviews. You may have played a modern variant of Paradroid as Puppy Games' Droid Assault. Uridium has inspired games like Futuridium EP, obviously.

Instead, I chose Simulcra: a 16-bit 3D action game I remember reading a review of in 1991... and there's not much info about it floating around. If anything, getting to read the scans of magazines that reviewed Simulcra has been a fount of information. Then there's also this pretty extensive blog post on the game that calls the game hard, whereas I've seen other places call it easy.

Somehow, Simulcra was released the same year Paradroid '90 and Rainbow Islands, which were (by Mobygames credits), also coded by Braybrook. Mind you, Braybrook was "only" one of the four programmers who worked on Simulcra, so calling Simulcra "his" game would be wrong and you probably shouldn't consider this game representative of his production. The game credits don't mention who did the design, either. As such, I feel connecting this game to him in this blog is a stretch, but a highly convenient stretch nonetheless.

The game is a fast-paced third-person 3D shooter and can turn 360 degrees. The player controls a vehicle that has limited flight capability. There are generators to destroy to drop energy barriers, gun turrets that like to shoot at you... and I could keep describing a bunch of quite basic-sounding features. Many reviews agreed -- the difference was in how smoothly the game had been implemented in 3D and how well it played. Some reviews compared this to Battlezone and Tron -- neither of which are particularly apt comparisons in my mind. Though the game level is as flat as in Battlezone, the camera viewpoint and added level complexity make it very different to play. As for Tron, the game takes place inside cyberspace, but maybe in 1990, that was enough to make the comparison.  

Back in the 90s, I could have been called a fanthing of Graftgold, even if I had barely touched their Fire & Ice on Atari ST and Rainbow Islands on Amiga. That was the effect the glowing reviews had on me. Graftgold eventually went under in 1998. Together with the addition of the ZX Spectrum port of Flying Shark, those are still the only Graftgold games I have played in my life.

Onto a soapbox...

While we're on the subject of Braybrook and "legendary game coders", let me get on a soapbox. Back in the day, Braybrook wrote The One, an Amiga-centric magazine, a piece to appear under their "Backspace" heading.

That piece presented two interesting points.

One, the piece was at least in part written in response to the tendency for some Amiga users to deride "Atari port-overs", games ported from another 16-bit system with (initially) more or less the same CPU but lacking some other features. When porting the arcade original to two platforms, one of which lacked some features the other one had, it wasn't a bad thing as such to not use, say, better horizontal scrolling support when the game scrolled only vertically.

Two, the proportion of game code to other assets (in bytes) shrunk noticeably when going from 8-bit to 16-bit systems.

And continuing from the introduction of the preceding part... the actual executable game code has become only a small part of the total game. A few years back, Cliff Harris, the dev of Gratuitous Space Battles, commented on how populous games based on middleware were becoming (actual speech on YouTube). In fact, if you look at the situation today, it's more acceptable to use someone else's engine than someone else's art assets by the way of Unity asset store... if Jim Sterling's opinion mirrors the majority's in this instance. In the end, the game engine comes across more or less like plumbing: when it works, you don't really even care it's there. But when it doesn't, you're wading through shite.

Axiom Verge, Dust Elysian Tail, Stardew ValleyCave Story, Spelunky, Minecraft and Undertale are famous examples of a "single" developer creating an acclaimed game. Some of these didn't write their own game engine, and I believe we can say we're richer for those devs not having to reinvent the wheel in its various forms.

Personally -- I imagine it's better for gamers that the focus is now on the design rather than intricacies of coding. How much say should the hardware capabilities and limitations have in game design? In the 80s, I'd say they were inseparable. Today, I believe there's so much more room for experimenting without having to concern oneself with hardware constraints.

What may change next...

One problem I stumbled upon this month when choosing the videos to highlight the games was that there were gameplay videos that would've otherwise been just fine... if it weren't for the rest of the channel and such. It's easy to argue that I'm being hypocritical in posting what most likely is emulator footage but not linking to channels etc. that have download links to such games. But eh, I know perfectly well I'm not perfect.

Another thing I noticed, trying to find (valid) information on an obscure game without having played it myself means the game wasn't particularly obscure. I expect that to affect my choices for games, but I have already a theme chosen for September and most of the options available aren't games I've played either.

If I haven't played the games, I really don't have much new to say about them. There really isn't much I could say about Simulcra and Dropzone themselves without playing them. Last time, the part of the politicians being involved in Finland over Raid over Moscow was one thing, here mentioning Nintendo's Golf in comparison to Leader Board is another. That's still a pretty poor track record, and I'd like to be able to contribute some valid new information.

The theme for September 2017

September 2017 has only four Wednesdays, so I expect one cblog will be enough. The theme will be 1981. I've locked down three of the four games, and might actually include a fifth as a bonus... I just can't find anything interesting on it on the WWW.

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About Flegmaone of us since 11:34 PM on 01.17.2015

Very much unprofessional writer, don't take anything I write without a truckload of salt.

For the good of me and everyone else, I'm now voluntarily banned on Disqus, so I won't partake in conversation on the site.