Tag Archives: retrogaming

Jetboard Joust Devlog #79 – Space Invaders

In my last post I wrote about maybe recycling the old ‘Evil Mother’ enemy into something based on the classic ‘Space Invaders‘ aliens, and that’s exactly what I’ve ended up doing!

I like the idea of including a few homages to the classic arcade shooters of yesteryear in Jetboard Joust, and as ‘Space Invaders’ was really the granddaddy of them all it’s an obvious choice. I wasn’t sure whether the formation/movement of the invaders would work within the horizontal/scrolling format of Jetboard Joust but, with a few tweaks, it actually seemed to work out pretty well.

It wasn’t too tricky to code either. I was worried that get the whole batch of invaders to move together around buildings and stuff would be a pain but it was pretty straightforward in the end.

What I do is move all the invaders as a batch rather than treating them as individual sprites. Collision detections are still handled individually and, when an invader collides with a building, it sends a message back to the batch telling it to change direction. When the batch is initiated I make sure it doesn’t take up more vertical space than the space between the highest building and the top of the screen so I know it’s never going to get stuck.

Probably the trickiest thing was deciding how to treat a batch of invaders when attacked by the ‘Gravity Hammer‘ weapon. Moving the whole batch at once would just look dumb so I needed a way of having individual enemies break formation when hammered and then return to the appropriate position once they recover.

To achieve this I have a property for each invader that stores its location within the batch separate from its position on screen. If the invader is forced to break formation it is relatively simple for it to return to its batch position. Though it wasn’t strictly necessary I also decided to have individual invaders track horizontally with the batch even when hammered (so only their vertical position is displaced). It just seemed to look better this way.

In keeping with the original I have the invader’s speed and rate of fire increase as individual invaders are destroyed.

Dev Time: 1 day
Total Dev Time: approx 160 days

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Admit It – You’ve Always Wanted To Play ‘Space Invaders’ With A Flamethrower!

Using The Plasma Rifle To Dispense With A Batch Of Invaders


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Jetboard Joust Devlog #75 – A Farewell To Arms

At last – weapons are done!

This past few days has been 50% pushing pixels and 50% working on shaders for the weapon effects I decided I wasn’t really happy with.

For the grenade launcher I designed a new grenade as I felt the old one was really pretty shite in the cold light of day. Instead of a more ‘traditional’ type of grenade I went for something that looked a bit more sci-fi and this seemed to work better right off the bat. I probably only spent about half an hour doing it (if that) which is ridiculous compared to the amount of time I spent tweaking the previous version. You can see the original here.

For the plasma rifle I felt the old effect was too overblown so went for something rather simpler using a shader rather than particles. The new effect is just one sprite drawn with a custom shader that renders a fade with a low ‘bit depth’ to look pixelated. It also draws small gaps between the (imaginary) pixels. I much prefer the result and it’s considerably more akin to the player’s weapon in Defender which is what I was going for. You can see the original here.

The particle storm (originally ‘spreader’) is a weapon that’s caused me much pain and grief. The original effect (which you can see here) wasn’t bad at all but I felt it seemed a bit clunky compared to the other weapons, too pixelated or something. The new version adds a new sprite at each frame which is drawn with a custom shader to give a blend effect, there’s also some particles that decay very fast at the front of the ‘beam’. To be honest I’m still not 100% satisfied with this but I think it’s much better than the original. I’ll probably come back to this (yet again) at a later date but for now I’m parking it. It’s in the right ballpark now at least.

The pixel-pushing I had to do was drawing version of all the ‘futuristic’ weapons for the upgrade screens. I really don’t have clue what I’m doing with this type of pixel art and the process often feels akin to a monkey trying to write Hamlet by bashing out random keys on a typewriter. It might have been easier if I’d have sketched the weapons out by hand first, the fact that I had no real point of reference for what they should look like made things even harder!

I’m pleased with the end results though I think. The particle storm is maybe still a bit weird (that weapon’s been a bastard to get right all round). I’m also a bit undecided about the pulse cannon – it looks fairly badass in most respects but there’s something about it that reminds me of whale(!) which I don’t really like.

I’m particularly pleased with the gamma ray and sonic boom but in some respects these were the easiest as I was referencing common retro sci-fi tropes.

Dev Time: 3 days
Total Dev Time: approx 152 days

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The Newly Designed Grenade


The New, Simpler, Plasma Rifle Shader Effect


The New Particle Storm (Why Is This One Such A Bastard To Get Right)?


Pixel Art For All Weapon Upgrades

Jetboard Joust Devlog #1 – Overall Art Style

Looking back at my (frankly rather awful) ZX Spectrum title ‘Skateboard Joust‘ reminded me that there was always something pretty decent in the core gameplay concept of using your flying skateboard as a weapon when mid-jump.

As I need something else to work on whilst development on ‘Attack of Giant Jumping Man‘ slows down (hopefully temporarily) I thought about revisiting ‘Skateboard Joust‘ – almost as a penance for my sins in bringing such a dreadful game into the world into the first place! Maybe I can make a half-decent sequel and bring my gaming karma into alignment somehow?

I think I could get this mechanic to work as a simple two-button ‘endless scroller’ which might be nice for mobile and possibly even PC so I’ve been working on some visuals for the game with a view to making a prototype at least.

I’ve been going for a retro look in keeping with the game’s heritage, but rather than going for a full-on Spectrum emulation I’ve decided to keep to simple, restricted Gameboy-ish colour palette which I may change as the game progresses. The result is somewhere between Gameboy and Spectrum.

Game art is not my strongest suit and always takes me ages. I’d much rather be working with @PVBroadz but it this instance I need something I can crank out on my own. Pretty pleased with the result so far though – feel free to tell me what you think.

Dev Time: 2.5 days.

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Have I Got Any Better At Pixel Art In The Last 30 yrs?


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Test Animation For The Main Character


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Retro Revenge – Click For A Closer Look

Granny Bait – The Making Of “Skateboard Joust”

A while ago I wrote a post about ‘Subterranean Nightmare‘, my first commercial release for the ZX Spectrum. Whereas ‘Subterranean Nightmare‘ was something of a labour of love and represented a genuine attempt to create a decent game, my next title (I am somewhat ashamed to admit) was executed in a rather more mercenary manner. I can’t remember exactly what age I was when I started work on ‘Skateboard Joust’ but I was heading into my late teens. I was losing interest in videogames and starting to become far more interested in guitars, girls and beer. Guitars, girls and beer cost money though – and the best way I knew of to make a quick buck was to churn out another budget Spectrum title.

I never had the slightest interest in skateboarding but tying the game in with something that was relatively fashionable seemed like a good idea. I’d also never played ‘Joust‘, but I’d seen screenshots and knew it was made by the some people that made ‘Defender‘ so it was bound to be pretty cool.

The central mechanic of the game involves destroying enemies with your skateboard which you can only do if you are mid-jump (not actually riding the board) and I still think this is a pretty sound gameplay concept. It’s not executed very well however and is extremely difficult to get the hang of (‘totally unplayable’ might be a better description). Then there’s the fact that, aside from a few pretty unimaginative powerups, this central mechanic is pretty much all there is to the game making it a fairly tedious experience.

The worst thing about the game though is that what appear to be the level backgrounds are actually in the foreground and serve no purpose other than to obstruct your view of a game that’s hard enough to play as it is. Making gameplay harder by simply obscuring what’s going on must surely be one of the most laughably bad game design ideas ever!

I remember borrowing chunks of code from my brother Tim (of I-Ball fame) who was always a much better coder than me, and recycling some of the graphics from ‘Subterranean Nightmare‘. I also added some of the most embarrassingly ‘wrong’ skate slang between the levels. Not my finest hour but I was paid a £2.5k advance by Silverbird which paid for a lot of beer.

The game was justifiably slated by Crash Magazine at the time though in recent years some people have been rather kinder to it, notably the vg-junk blog. There’s also some drunk guy on YouTube who plays the game for around five minutes without realising that you can jump off your skateboard!

World Of Spectrum entry here.

See how the sequel ‘Jetboard Joust’ is coming along here.

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Recycled Graphics on Skateboards

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Yes, All That Shit Just Gets In The Way!

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Attack of The Roast Chickens


Read the instructions you fool!

Jet Set Willy Destroyed My Life

It’s 1984, and I am a spotty fourteen-year-old obsessed by Mathew Smith’s latest bizarre creation – Jet Set Willy. Jet Set Willy is the sequel to Manic Miner, at that point one of the most popular ZX Spectrum titles to date – and amazingly it’s a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor. There are something like 60 levels in the game, all of which can be explored in a nonlinear manner. It’s surreal, atmospheric, and feels absolutely vast.

But – there’s a problem. The original release of the game is impossible to complete due to a number of bugs. One room in particular – The Banyan Tree – has what’s obviously supposed to be an exit blocked by an impassable block. My brother and I have some limited experience tinkering around with ZX Spectrum machine code so I make a fateful decision – if you can’t beat the game fairly, hack it!

Fortunately you don’t need to be Mathew Broderick in ‘War Games‘ to figure out the Jet Set Willy level format and even a certified numpty such as myself can manage it. I start by writing a BASIC program to PEEK at every address in RAM and print out the associated ASCII character (we’d done something similar in an unsuccessful attempt to win £25k for completing Domark’s text-based adventure ‘Eureka‘*).

Scanning through the memory it becomes clear where the level data is stored as you can read the names of the various rooms. From there it’s a matter of POKE-ing randomly in the nearby memory space – then launching the game, seeing how the level has changed, and trying to figure out what exactly you’ve just done. Wait five minutes for the game to reload from cassette tape, rinse and repeat.

I can’t remember exactly how the level data was formatted but it was pretty straightforward. Each byte (I think) described four ‘blocks’ (two bits for each), with each block being either solid, passable, deadly or empty. After this was a bunch of data containing the graphics for the various blocks, the level name, and parameters describing how the enemies moved. Once I’d figured this out the excitement of designing my own levels quickly overtook the desire to complete the original game – I forgot about The Banyan Tree and wrote a level editor in BASIC aiming to somehow publish my own version.

That project eventually became ‘Subterranean Nightmare‘ – an unashamed Jet Set Willy rip-off that was published by US Gold / Americana Software in 1986. It was written from the ground up but used pretty-much the same level format as Jet Set Willy with a few additions. It contained a few bugs, a lot of bad puns, half-decent graphics and terrible sound. Critical reception was mixed and I received the princely sum of £6,000.00 for it which was a fortune back then and still a significant chunk of change now (if I made that from Toss The Floppy Frog I’d be well chuffed). From then on, barring a brief flirtation with graphic design and digital marketing in the 90s, it’s been game dev all the way.

There were a couple of (at the time) innovative features in Subterranean Nightmare which I’m still pleased with in retrospect. Firstly, you could save your progress to cassette tape (a feature I’d never seen on any arcade/platform type game at the time), and secondly there were a series of barriers which blocked further progress until a percentage of the game had been completed. It seems ridiculous now but games at that time were usually either completely open (like Jet Set Willy) or completely linear (like Manic Miner) – I wasn’t aware of any title that utilised this combined approach.

One supposedly ‘original’ (i.e. not completely lifted from Jet Set Willy) feature that a few reviews picked up on was the fact that you can jump on some of the enemy’s heads in order to catch a lift to higher platforms. I’m ashamed (ok, not that ashamed) to say that this was actually a particularly pernicious bug that I couldn’t be bothered to fix – deeming it much easier to write it in as a ‘feature’ instead.

Looking on the map you’ll see a level that contains a bunch of large numbers. This was my home phone number at the time and was only supposed to be accessible after completing the entire game. Unfortunately a combination of two bugs made that room just about accessible form the first screen (with some fiddling about) so my parents were inundated with phone calls from geeky kids thinking they’d won some kind of prize. Most of the calls were from Scotland for some reason.

Now, if you’ll forgive, me I must go perform a quirkafleeg…

Subterranean Nightmare On World Of Spectrum
With reviews, maps, emulator images etc

Subterranean Nightmare Walkthrough On YouTube
I can’t believe someone actually did this!

You can read about the next Spectrum game I created, ‘Skateboard Joust’, here.

* The £25k Eureka prize was eventually won, legitimately, by Mathew Woodley – a kid in my year at school.

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Jet Set Willy’s Bathroom – Where It All Started

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The Banyan Tree – Bringer Of Much Pain & Sorrow

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Bad Puns And Adolescent Search For An Arty Signature

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The First Screen – The Barrier On The Left Disappears When You Collect Your First Object

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The Full Subterranean Nightmare Map


Not Even I Would Have The Patience For This…


Thirty Years Later – It All Led To this(!)