THE SEUCK VAULT
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Hands up all who've bought the Shoot 'em Up Construction Kit, but don't quite know what to do with it. Sensible Software's Jonathan 'Jops' Hare is here to explain how to get to grips with the program, and have fun with a little Slap 'n' Tickle in the process.
The Shoot 'em Up Construction Kit is like a game of chess: it doesn't take long to grasp the fundamentals of what to do and how to do it, but it could take a lifetime to master the infinite subtleties of its machinery.
It's for this reason that I've decided to put together an extensive document of tasty SEUCK hints, tips and info to help everyone, including ourselves, to fully understand just how unbelievably fantastic the latest Sensigame really is.
It's possible that your first reaction to SEUCK is: 'Good God! Where the Hell do I start?'. However, after a soothing rub-down from a Swedish masseur and a refreshing cup of piping hot water, it's advisable that you sit down and re-adjust your perception of the whole Cosmos. SEUCK is not the sort of creature that is laid into straight away. Don't sharpen your knives and prepare for the kill - you'd be best off taking at least three picoseconds of your precious time to think out, at least roughly, what you're trying to achieve. What are you trying to prove, you filthy, ugly nobody in the world of software (not yet, anyway). Ha! Ha!
Enough of that, now for the sensible stuff (double Ha! Ha!). OK, as you know, SEUCK is a very versatile tool - it can offer you still-screen games such as Robotron 2084 (remember that) and Gauntlet, or classic arcade scrolling games like Slap Fight, 1942, Astro Wars and that perennial classic, Kill the Evil Alien Bar Stewards.
If required, game types can skilfully be combined: a bit of scrolling, a bit of pushing and a bit of still-screen, to give you a truly awesome genius of a gem - the software of the 90's perhaps.
It's advisable to master each of SEUCK's separate utilities - Edit Sprites, Edit Background, Edit SFX, Edit Objects and so on - before you embark upon your first chart-busting wonder. For this reason I suggest that you start your induction course by loading one of the four free games in the module and then breaking into the editing menu. By pressing the space bar, you can proceed to destroy all my hard work. For instance, load Slap 'n' Tickle, and from the main menu, select EDIT SPRITES and find the main ship's sprite. Now the fun begins. Press 'E' to erase the sprite - of course you're sure - and deface the empty sprite with a portrait of your favourite Page 3 Pin-up!
When you're quite happy with your artwork, return to the main menu and TEST GAME. Bingo, by jingo! Now you've got your favourite shoot 'em up starring your favourite foxy chick. What's that you're saying? When you turn sideways it goes all funny? That's because your player/ship is a directional object, and when you bank sideways, the sprite tilts through the air, just like a real alien spaceship does.
To alter this horrendous ugly mess, simply EDIT OBJECTS and select Player 1 ship. Press F7 and find your lovely lady in the top right hand box by running through the sprite stock. When she appears, press fire and you can plonk her down until she fills all 18 places in the OBJECT. Just keep on pushing fire and moving the joystick - you'll get the hang of it.
Now go back to the game and you will see that Miss Big 'Uns is a perfect specimen, as flawless on the screen as she is in the flesh. Change the SFX for Player 1 Fire and you can make her howl with pleasure every time she fires.
There, wasn't that just too fast and simple for words...
Obviously I could go on forever talking about little alterations you could make to the games included, but it seems to me that the easiest and most informative way to cram these pages full of hints and tips is to give you a detailed rundown on exactly how I went about creating all of the fab free games that come with SEUCK. So, here we go with a utility-by-utility account of the creation and manipulation of...
The basic idea of Slap 'n' Tickle is to show that SEUCK is capable of creating a straightforward scrolling shoot 'em up, well up to and above the standard of the average C64 blasters available at present. I wanted the game to be free flowing and easy to get into, so it's done in the classic 'full-screen scrolling with a mothership at the end of each level' style.
Although every game is constructed by constantly changing from utility to utility in order to make the whole thing fully operative, I've decided to divide this piece up into separate utilities in order that I may explain myself a bit more clearly. If you know what I mean, Harold.
Here we are talking about graphics and graphic techniques. The first thing one must decide when designing is from which angle the action is being viewed - in Slap's case, from above. After that comes the direction of the light source (if there is one). This is essential to determine which direction shadows might fall, and in bas-relief graphics to determine which edges of an object are highlighted - that is defined, with a light colour - and which edges are lowlighted or defined with a darker colour. This technique is used in order to give a more 3D look to graphic images. For Slap 'n' Tickle, I've imagined the light source coming from the top left hand corner of the screen - hence all shadows fall towards the bottom right.
Once these things are sorted out, you then have a minor dilemma on your hands. You see, Commodore multicolour sprites - the format of all SEUCK sprites - are created from three basic colours (the background colour is transparent). Two of the sprite colours, once selected, have to be used in every single sprite in the entire game, so you have to be damn sure where you want them! Choose wisely, or you could regret it later.
With Slap 'n' Tickle, I plumped for black and white as they're nicely contrasting for a sharp light/shadow effect, and they're also the strongest colour on the C64, really bringing the sprites to life and making them stand out from the relatively pastel background.
This is basically straightforward, being a rounded triangular shape with a dome in the middle. Note the shading and light source I was prattling on about. Once I was happy with the design, I proceeded to copy the ship into the next vacant sprite using Chris Yates' 'Oh such bliss to use' sprite copier and proceeded to tilt the ship slightly on its side and adjust the shading accordingly.
This is really a process of trial and error as to what looks best. To give yourself an idea of how you're doing, press F1 to select the sprite and go back and forth between the two sprites you're animating. If it looks good enough, thumbs up - if not, try again. This process isn't as hard as it first seems with a bit of practice.
Anyway, I took my titled ship and copied it to the next vacant sprite, mirrored it so that the ship was tilting the other way and adjusted the shading accordingly. Simple eh! The next task was to select EDIT OBJECTS and put the Player 1 'ship on an even keel' into the forward, backward and neutral directional slots. I then put the 'ship banks to the left' in the left, and the 'ship banks to the right' in the right - it's easy when you know how.
More blasting chuckles with Slap 'n Tickle
The turrets are custom designed to sit on top of the towers - it's not just a fluke. The main thing with these was to create a long, smooth animation sequence that didn't use up too many sprites. The closing frames are the opening frames running backwards, and the spinning crossguns are merely three frames of a cross at different angles to give an appearance of rotation when animated. The turret is also held closed for a few frames to make the object seem more solid.
Incidentally, the Copta aliens use a similar technique of a sequence of frames repeated to give the impression of rotation, but the Copta has a four frame sequence.
The Dragon and other Motherships are literally pieced together using JOIN ENEMIES. Each sprite was designed with careful attention to create a clean join between neighbouring sprites in the finished alien. Again, for the Dragon's wings I simply copied and mirrored the sprites and adjusted the shading. Take note - this is a very useful time-saving technique.
The Strobes are just a circle made from different sized rings of the sprite colours, with colours switching positions to different rings, and animated to give the impression of rings constantly appearing, expanding and disappearing.
The Chessboard bullets use another simple technique of shrinking a shape accordingly. Also note the way the shadow animates with the bullet.
All the sprites except the Player Ship have shadows, and they're there in order to lift the sprite from the background. Obviously, the Player Ship is that much further from the ground, and the shadow would normally be cast that much further away from the vessel. This isn't possible to show with SEUCK, so a shadow was omitted.
For a game with many geometrically based enemies like SEUCK, a simple, logical mathematical approach is often the best way to produce good animation sequences, but don't let an obsession for geometric accuracy overshadow your artistic eye.
And now - yes, yes, yes. It's...
The background has three colours that must be used in every block, and one that may be varied. I wanted the For Slap 'n' Tickle background to be quite soft, but still have some pronounced shading, and also some space scenes - so I chose black for space, and yellow and dark grey to create a soft, but still contrasting solid backdrop.
I constructed bits of the map with pathways, so that the tanks could run up and down them. To save tediously piecing together each block, I used COPY BLOCK mode and just edited the minor changes for pathways to each block afterwards. This technique is used a lot when defining blocks for a specific area of the map, such as the Chessboard.
Running out of blocks can be a problem, but things like outer space and the motorway are real savers - repetition can work with a little imagination.
The superb sprite designer, editor, animator...
Enter the EDIT OBJECTS menu, press 'E', and you can really get down to fine detailing the little nasties. There are many things of interest I could point out, but here are the juiciest bits of gossip I can think of.
By making the fire rate of an object equal to the animation speed, multiplied by the amount of frames in the animation sequence, it's possible to synchronise the firing of the object to the first frame of the animation sequence. What a mouthful! Examples of this are the turrets and the motorbike and armoured lorry on the motorway.
By giving the Mothership sections different firing directions and bullet objects, spectacular and hard-to-avoid firing effects are created painlessly. Try playing around with these.
Little touches can be added, such as the chess pieces requiring as many hits to kill as they are worth in pawns in a real game of chess, and creating turrets of different strengths so that the tough ones fire faster bullets more often and require more hits to kill. Oh - the list is endless...
This is the make or break of the game - but watch out in case you run out of units. Economy is the key word - there are sections of the map in Slap 'n' Tickle which aren't used, largely because we had no attack wave space left to put aliens in these areas.
The ATTACK WAVE EDITOR is unbelievably easy to use. Paths were created for the tanks, and using the Attack Wave Editor I easily got them to follow them like the stupid sprites they are.
The Coptas on later levels take off from one starport and land on another, and the chess pieces move just like real chess pieces do. God, it's so good.
One technique to note with the Attack Wave Editor is to start the enemy's movement pattern beyond the perimeters of the screen, so it actually appears to scroll on with the landscape. However, the Nemesis-like space spinners are sometimes deliberately made to appear in the middle of the screen for an added element of surprise.
The Motherships are joined aliens. Simply take the first part of the ship and move it in the desired path. Watch you don't run out of flight path - I did many times. You can now construct the rest of the Motherships using JOIN ENEMY, and there is no need to put in a flight path - SEUCK will work it out automatically. Simple eh!!!
Basically, the secret of good attack waves is a lot of selecting and re-entering until you get it just right. A lot of game testing is advised at this point, and you may need to play around with the alien's firing rates and what have you.
So now you've got a fantastic game with no noise! The only real sound of any note in Slap 'n' Tickle is the whirring at the beginning, which is in fact the continual sound of tanks firing. This sound effect has a very long decay, so it ends up looping into the next fire. The motorway noise is based on a similar principle, made up from the firing of all the vehicles plus the player start noise, which I am really proud of. When both players start at once you hear a chord. The same sound is used for both start sounds, but one note is five semitones higher than the other. Musical - that's what we are here at Sensisoft!
The start and finish of levels are quite straightforward, but when you've come to the end of a level and wish to have a still screen, you have to redraw in order for the aliens to appear. Note the way that pieces of the map can be missed out and other pieces, like the still screen with the freaky border and the Mothership, can be re-used without any hassle. Just slot it in wherever you fancy, and don't forget to loop at the end of your sequence of levels.
Also, check the timing of any still screen levels. I had to spend a little time adjusting the timing so that the screen moved onto the next level just after the Mothership had disappeared, as opposed to miles after it, or whilst it was still battling away.
Once you've finished your game, the final task is to decide how much help to give the player. How many bullets at one time, and how much of the screen can be navigated? I decided to be generous and give Players 1 and 2 loads of bullets and virtually the whole screen to play with. It's more fun that way after all.
Yes! The really fun bit. I knocked up a naff character set, cracked loads of personal jokes, and bingo - a wild 'n' wacky front end. Who needs a scrolling message?
Remember, you can approach the SEUCK utilities in any order you want (within reason). There are no rules as to the perfect method, but a modicum of planning is needed or you could have a fabbo attack wave on a section of background that you've forgotten to actually include in the game. Got my drift? What a laugh eh! What a ruddy laugh! Ha! Ha! Ha! What a SEUCKER you are mate! Ha! He! Ho! Ho! Cor Blimey Guv'nor - what a Corker!!
So that's Slap 'n' Tickle out of the way, but don't despair, Jops will be back from the psychiatrist in time for the next chilling installment of: The Sensible Guide to Construction. Stay there and scroll down - you know it makes Sense...
Jovial Jops as he was in 1987...