THE SEUCK VAULT
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HOW TO BE A MEGASTAR
By Ian Osborne
This article first appeared in ZZAP! issue 87.
Every morning's the same here at ZZAP! Towers. The postman brings the mail in a huge, back-breaking sack packed with well-wild game tips, snazzy letters, crazy compo entries and requests for offers that finished years ago (don't laugh - we do get them!).
If we're really lucky we might get a reader's game submitted for the Megatape - or should that read 'unlucky'? As you've probably guessed, only rarely do reader games come up to Megatape standard, so to aid your careful coding we're doing a round-up on games that didn't quite make the grade - so pay attention... I might be asking questions!
Unsurprisingly most reader games are written on utilities such as the Shoot-'Em-Up Construction Kit. We're happy to assess utility games but remember, SEUCK sold by the sackload and if you can write a blaster on it, so can everyone else - to make your game stand out from the crowd you must do something original!
Most SEUCK games are vertical scrollers, but don't forget you can also do flick-screen or push scrolling. Even if you go for a straightforward auto-scroll, it needn't be limited to forward firing. Asif A Bhagwandin's The Absolute Beginning featured eight-way firing that put Forgotten Worlds to shame, and the result was one of the best SEUCK games we've ever seen! If we had more room on the Megatape he'd have probably found fame and fortune as a ZZAP! Megastar, but as it stands his game's just a little too samey for publication. Great stuff though!
T.A.B. - Atmospheric, playable, interesting... everything a SEUCK game should be!
One of the most original SEUCK games I've seen was Shaun Pearson's Fly Pig, which was played as a horizontal scroller by turning your TV on its side! (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!) Ten out of ten for free thinking, but it didn't really work as a game - because a TV screen is wider than it is tall, when on its side the playing area was just too narrow.
Up, up and... along? For all its originality, Fly Pig doesn't work as a game.
(What about as a bacon sarnie - Phil King).
Picture rotated 90 degrees to resemble original screenshot.
Klaboom by James Sweeney was another brave attempt. Played on a static screen dominated by an impenetrable backdrop, you had to move around it and blast away at 'computer sprite' baddies. Unfortunately the game as a whole was let down by blocky monochrome graphics and very dated presentation. Also worth a mention is Alf Yngve's Alienator 92, an Op-Wolf clone.
Klaboom - A potentially interesting game marred by dated presentation.
Alienator 92, Alf Yngve's brilliant Op-Wolf clone
Although blasters lend themselves most easily to starship-and-aliens or Rambo-esque games, it doesn't have to be like this. Michael Williams produced a great little cutesy platformer in Cyber Squidgies, but effectively slit his own throat by 'borrowing' his sprites from Creatures (more on this later). And if you want original, what about Insects in Space? That featured a busty angel as the main sprite, and bees for baddies! When writing a game you should resist the temptation to just load the utility and tap away - a few minutes' thinking time is time well spent!
Cyber Squidgies - Creatures revisited? Nice game, shame about the sprites...
Have a think about your favourite Commodore games. What is it that makes 'em so fabby? They'll all have one thing in common, I'll be bound - FLAVOUR. So make sure your game has it too! When you've chosen your game theme, STICK TO IT! If you've gone for a spaceships-and-aliens approach, don't throw in a backdrop that looks like the Chelsea Flower Show, or put vicious-looking enemy sprites in a cutesy game. They'll just look out of place and ruin the atmosphere.
Without apologising for stating the obvious, the most important element in any game is the gameplay. It's also the iceberg that has sunk many a good SEUCKer - take Richard Thompson's Zanatron: a competent if undistinguished blaster with blimmin' gorgeous explosion sequences. Trouble is the enemy bullet sprites look exactly the same as the explosions, making the whole thing hellishly confusing!
Zanatron - Great explosions, but they interfere with the game!
Brian Hughes' Toys was colourful and fast, but the enemies had the habit of appearing onscreen unannounced, usually on top of the player - can you imagine how annoying that is? If you want sprites that make sudden appearances on the playing area, 'fade' them in, giving the player time to shift before they become active.
Toys - fast, colourful, but basically flawed.
When you've finished your game, let your friends have a blast on it and listen to their constructive criticisms. There's nothing worse than a game that's too easy or ridiculously hard, so pay special attention to difficulty - I've seen so many games that are so damned tricky you'll be hard pressed to get off the first screen!
Letting your friends playtest your games will also help identify niggly strategic quirks too, such as the one in SEUCK game Tiger Hell. Superb graphics and outstanding backgrounds, but no gameplay --90% of the enemies fired forward at an incredible rate, making it impossible to nip between shots and fill 'em full of lead, but easy-peasy to fly round them and let them scroll off the screen. You could cruise through most of the game without ever firing a shot!
Tiger Hell - enhanced with a title screen, but let down by a lack of play-testing
If strategic quirks are annoying, programming bugs are bleedin' well inexcusable. If your game is bugged, don't release it until it's fixed! Equally annoying was the SEUCKed push-scrolling blaster set in a maze. The game lets you walk down a dead-end path that ended off the screen, and because the scrolling wouldn't let you retrace your steps you were trapped! This is a ridiculous, game-destroying bug that would've been exposed by the most rudimentary play-testing.
Less spectacular but all-too-common are those twin banes of shoot-'em-ups: bad sprite masking and the disappearing bullet syndrome. Just 'coz certain commercial releases think they can get away with this don't think you can - not if you want to make the Megatape anyway!
When you create a game, with or without a utility, it automatically becomes your copyright - which is why we ask you to fill in that Megatape form when sending it in. What some people fail to realise is that commercial games are also copyrighted! One individual (who shall remain nameless) sent in a game labelled 'Blow 'Em Away - the game they couldn't stop.' Sensible Software's lawyers could've stopped it - it was just a lightly tweaked rip-off of SEUCK demo Slap 'n' Tickle! (It wasn't the only one we've received either.)
Don't even THINK about ripping off SEUCK demos! (Especially 'Slap 'n' Tickle'...)
Not only is this sort of thing dishonest, it's also ILLEGAL. Coding your own 'tributes' to commercial games is also a no-no. A few months ago we received a great little game that we couldn't use 'coz it's gameplay was pinched from SWIV. If there's any hassles arising from this sort of thing it's the PROGRAMMER who's in trouble, not ZZAP!
Arguably less dishonest but equally illegal is 'borrowing' a registered trademark as a game theme. One such offender is Alf Yngve's A.M.N.T. (Adolescent Mutated Ninjitsu Terrapins) which he himself describes as 'one of the funniest Mutant Turtle rip-offs ever.' Maybe, but companies like Konami spent a fortune on Turtles licenses, and they certainly wouldn't be laughing! It's a pity really as Alf's games (like Tau Omega and Tau Zero) are some the best SEUCK blasters ever. With just a little more playability they'd be tailor-made for the covertape.
A.M.N.T. - What a game! Zzap! Towers were more impressed than the Turtles license holders would be.
(Alf changed the Terrapins to Blueberries for its PD release).
Tau Zero - I've seen commercial releases that aren't as fabby as this!
Tau Omega - Dig those crazy sprites!
There's nothing worse than a game that's ALMOST brilliant, as the faults that stand between it and perfection stick out like Phil King's gut. Like all utilities, SEUCK has its limitations, so to reach covertape standard a SEUCK game has to really stand out from the crowd.
- The graphics and animation must be first-rate, with crystal-clear sprites set against devastatingly
picturesque backgrounds.The game as a whole must have heaps of atmosphere really drawing
the player into the action.
- The gameplay must be well thought-out, not too tricky but not too easy.
It's up to you to decide how steep the difficulty curve is, but make sure it has one.
- If the gamer is to load it more than once, it'll have to ooze variety - the further you get the more you should
see, forcing you to have another go to see what comes next.
It's hard work I know, but well worth the effort in the end.
- The game as a whole needs that spark of originality to set it off against the other three million
reader games we get sent. This is especially true if a utility like SEUCK is used.
- Finally, the game must be bug-free.
We're not going to publish a game that doesn't work properly, so don't bother sending one in!
I know we're asking a lot, but it's your covertape too - do you really want to see it full of also-rans? Stick to these rules and you stand every chance of getting your game published! Cheerio, and happy SEUCKing.