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Shoot-'em-up Construction Kit
Review by Norman Doyle
Published in Commodore Disk User
volume 1 number 2, January/February 1988
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How to build a first class zapper the easy way. The Wizball boys bring professional joystick action within your grasp.

Wow! I don't often say it but like, wow! This is crucial stuff, man.

When they said they were doing a construction kit, I thought Chris Yates and Jon Hare were treading a well-trodden path to disaster but what a blast they've come up with. What Chris and Jon have done is to break the shoot-'em-up down into eight separate parts, creating sensible routines and screen layouts to help the user design the game elements which can then be combined to make games that look incredibly different.


All the little characters in the game are sprites. If it moves, sprite it. Any of 127 sprites can be used, abused and generally mangled or manipulated. The sprite design screen is one of the best and fastest to use that I've ever seen. A really slick multicolour display that can be designed, copied and then flipped, wrap scrolled in four directions, mirrored or modified for animated sequences.


This is where you breathe life into your creations. An object is any of the sprites that you've created and up to 58 objects can be chosen, each having up to 18 frames of animation. Obviously for all the sprites to have this number of animation frames you'd need over 1000 sprite definitions. A total of 18 frames is a bit luxurious and most times you won't need more than about six. Some of the objects have specific allocations such as Player 1 Sprite or Player 1 Bullet so care has to be taken to read the allocation at the top of the editing screen.

Even if you don't you can copy the information entered into the correct object page and this facility can also be used if two different objects have almost identical movement patterns. If the object moves it can have a direction-dependent animation instead of the continuously cycling one. That means if a spacecraft moves left, it will automatically select the sprite that tilts in that direction. Finally, the various parameters can be set for the score awarded for a kill, how many hits to make a kill, type of bullet, firing pattern, SFX (bullet and explosion), bullet speed, firing rate, and the result of a collision with the player. What more could you ask for?


This is the wallpaper that scrolls along as you advance through the game. 250 character blocks can be defined, each one consisting of a 5x5 matrix of character squares. Each character can be designed individually with three fixed colours and one that can be selected from the eight principal colours on the number keys of the computer. Once you've used the character editor - a smaller version of the sprite editor - you can build up each character block from these elements. Blocks and characters can be copied easily and the map can be built up block by block using the Edit Map option.


There are 24 different sound effects built into the program but this is not as limiting as it sounds. Each effect can be fine-tuned to your own requirements. Waveform, attack, decay, pitch, speed and time can be varied until you hit on the sound you like. If this sound happens to be linked to the wrong category, you can copy across from one definition to another.


Why let the players have it all their own way? Edit Enemy Bits is the meanie panel where you choose the restrictions that will keep them cursing all the way through. The menus for Player One and Two are the same. Whether the player can take part, the number of lives and bullets, speed of player and bullet, range of bullet and direction can be determined. The other consideration is - what happens if an impassable block is reached? The option is between death or just stop. Really mean operators will be pleased to note that the movement of the player can be restricted to a fixed area of the screen, as large or small as you choose. The more generous designer may show magnanimity by giving away extra lives for each 10,000 points scored.


This is where the going gets really tough! You select the rough area of the map for each enemy object, fine tune to the exact point and press fire to place it at its start position. The pattern of movement can then be 'drawn' on the screen with the joystick and stored in the game's memory. There is a limited space for these moves so keeping it simple is the key to the hairiest shoot-'em-ups with lots of aliens. Mega-monsters such as you find at the end of each level of Nemesis can be created by joining several sprites together. These can then be animated to follow a flight path. Some of the possible effects are absolutely stunning.


There is a maximum of 22 levels that you can define. These can be any number of screens long and can be held still for a selected time while the player is mauled by a mega-monster, scrolled at a chosen speed or push-scrolled when the player hits the top of the screen.


This is where the game plan really comes together and the temptation is to go off and blast a few objects...and why not? After all, the Test function has an infinite lives cheat mode so you can try the game from beginning to bitter end.


Saving can be directed to disk or tape despite the fact that you're using the disk version. There are two modes of saving. The first is saving the whole game in a form that can be loaded independently of the construction program - good enough to sell, in fact. The second save allows each design section to be saved individually for later fine-tuning after play testing, or simply to allow you to switch off in mid game design.

In later issues of Commodore Disk User we'll tell you how the sprites designed with the program can be manipulated for other projects.


The good news is that you can sell your games without having to pay royalties to Palace Software, the programmers or anyone else. This is not as silly as it may sound. All four of the free example games are worthy of consideration by the budget software houses and there's no reason why yours shouldn't be equally as good.

The bad news is that you can't have a loading screen or fantastic musical accompaniment. This may affect your chances with the budget people but surely your game IS just too good to ignore, isn't it?

The design of the screen can also take a little smoothing out. If too much is happening on the screen at the same time, the system can't cope and the movement slows down and judders. If you like you could argue that some of the best scenes of murder and mayhem at the cinema are performed in slow motion. I doubt if the potential buyers or your game would see it that way.

The three rules all programmers must remember are:

You can only scroll the screen vertically, horizontal is out.

Don't try to do too much on the screen at the same time.

Try to avoid having more than eight sprites in horizontal alignment on the screen or else the extra ones will become invisible enemies!

The Shoot-' em-up Construction Kit may be called SEUCK for short but suck it doesn't! It's a brilliantly constructed and executed utility. The whole package is self-explanatory and does not need a heavy tome full of instruction. All you need is printed on a neat, easy to consult poster that can be pinned on the wall behind or beside your computer.

Standard Slap Fight shoot-'em-ups are possible, but you can also produce Commando games, Gauntlet games and you may even break the mould and produce something that no one has thought of before.

As far as I'm concerned the only limitation to the Shoot-'em-up Construction Kit is the size of the gap between your ears. Are you big enough to take up the challenge?

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