THE GENERATION GAME
Games creators aren't new exactly but they're still the best and quickest way for even the duffest programmer to knock out some ace arcade action. And talking of duffers, we've asked Tony Samuels to create a couple of classics while Peter Shaw looked over his shoulder and took notes.
What's all this then? An in-depth review of two programs that have been around long enough to qualify as golden oldies? That's true but it's really only now that everyone's caught up with what the programs were originally trying to do. New computers like the Macintosh have shown that you don't have to be a machine code whizz to use a computer to the full and this attitude is filtering through to the Spectrum. Look at The program we reviewed a couple of issues ago - simple to use but producing some spectacular visual results. Well, these two games creators really set the trend and it's worth taking a look at how they've stood the test of time and whether they'll help you transfer all your brilliant ideas into code.
So, what do they have to offer? Well, that's easily answered - they both allow you to create machine code style games without having to learn a programming language first. But let's not pretend, the games you write won't be as good as the ones you could write in machine code. But they will be quicker to bash out and they'll be a whole lot better than anything you could knock up in Basic - and a whole lot simpler too.
If this sounds like just what you've been looking for, the big question is will you be able to create the sort of games you've always dreamed of writing? Well, life isn't all a bed of ROM chips and it's unlikely that you'll get precisely what you're after.
Of the two programs, Games Designer is the less flexible as it only allows you to create shoot 'em ups. But on the plus side, you can produce games more quickly and easily with this package. With HURG you can also have a go at platform and pacman type games but its animation and sprite handling trip it up when it comes to final presentation.
The most appealing aspect of both programs - is that they're menu-driven. This is what sets them apart from other games designers like White Lightning.
Brilliant as that program undoubtedly is, you still have to become proficient at a programming language - Forth in this case - and that can require the skills of a brain surgeon. No, with Games Designer and HURG the menus guide you as you create your sprites, move them and animate them. The program then puts this information into a game buffer that's looked at by the executive routines when your game's running.
One area where White Lightning, say, scores heavily over these two, is its ability to save a game off independently of the main program. This could be done by having an editor in the low part of memory that would affect the game database in the top of memory. Then the sprite routines and so on would come somewhere in the middle and look at info in the database. This way it would be a doddle to save off the middle to top parts of memory as a stand alone game with a short bit of code to tie it all together.
As often happens in a comparative review like this, my choice falls somewhere between the two programs. If only the smoothness and slickness of Games Designer could be combined with the flexibility of HURG. As you can only plump for one, you must decide what sort of games you're after. If it's just shoot 'em ups then go for Quicksilva's but if you're willing to sacrifice a certain amount of smoothness in favour of a wider range of games, go for HURG. One word of advice if you're veering towards Games Designer - it might be worth your while looking out for the version that Marks and Spencer brought out at the end of last year.
Finally, let's do a bit of dreaming - what would the perfect games creator package look like? Well , it's going to have to incorporate all the wham-bam-pow features of the new software. Alien 8-type 3 D graphics would obviously be a plus as would a larger range of game formats to choose from. Also a graphics editor such as the one on The Artist would be a big help - even better if it were completely icon-driven. It's going to take a lot of work to come up with something with all those features, so it'll be interesting to see if any software house takes up the challenge. Of course, if you've written a program like that or you reckon you could, we'd love to talk to you at YS. Now there's something to think about!
There's no way of disguising that Games Designer's pretty limited in what it can achieve - the four types of games you can bash out are all rather old hat. But the way it does it is excellent. The animation of the sprites is superbly smooth and there are tons of useful options for you to play around with. All in all, a lot of fun if you accept the limitations.
Overall rating: 8/10. Completion time: 2.5 hours.
MAX BURGERS FROM OUTER SPACE
Not now available on Tony 'Slim' Software, this is a game that's gonna really knock your Thicko Shakes for six. Feast your eyes on the format, gorge yourself on the graphics. You play the part of an unsatisfied fast foodie who's after his grub - first the burgers, then fries. Big Max and turbo-charged apple pies. Just shoot em up and count the calories.Take a look at the main menu. You'll find here all the options you'll need to take you further into the editing menus, and on the way to producing your very own monster megahit.There are eight different flightpaths for your aliens to follow. Choose them with the Movement Editor and use them in combination or on their own to get those enemies zig-zagging.This option takes you on to the Attack Wave editor, Here you can define the scoring system, the speed and the next screen the program'll look to after the current level is completed.Use the Configuration Menu to tell Games Designer how your game will operate. You can choose from four types of game format - Space Invader, Scramble, Berserk and Asteroids. You're also asked what colour back- and foreground you require and what type of special FX (Groan! Ed) you want - stars, for instance.The Sprite Menu will take you on to a further set of menu options that allow you to change the shape of the sprites for the player, aliens, explosions and so on.The Play Game option allows you to play the game you're currently editing. That way you can - judge whether an alteration works or not.
You've got up to 32 sprites to play around with on each game. Use this chart to set them up, but a word of warning - don't lose the manual or you're in big trouble. Games Designer loses one point for lack of menu-driving!
Defining sprites is pretty odd to say the least. You create half the sprite at a time and then use a binary-style control to set or reset each pixel.If you want to end with a bang, not a Wimpy, then you'll need to use the explosion sprite that's kept in the last four stages of animation. You can define exactly what the explosion looks like which is an improvement on HURG - that only lets you define its size.These sprites, 00 and 01, are the two-stage animation sprites for the first screen. You can have anything up to four stages of animation.Your sprites can only be 12 pixels deep by 12 wide. That's considerably smaller than the ones you can create with HURG but they are 'real' sprites. By that, I mean they're smooth scrolling and fast.
Study this carefully - you'll find it the most useful menu in the game. Its function is to define what the aliens get up to on each level, how many you'll have to face and the consequences of being zapped by one.
Here you can control the speed of your aliens and whether or not the nasty critters drop bombs on you. You're offered a choice of seven variants that cover slow speeds, fast speeds, turbo speeds and bomb-droppin', death-dealin' nastiness.Each game has a basic eight levels but, of course, you can repeat any level to give the impression that you've created a megagame. This column lets Games Designer know where to go after the current screen's been completed.Max controls (any relation to Max Headroom? Ed) the number of aliens that have to be annihilated before you pass onto the next level. You can choose any number between zero (which is pretty pointless) and 99 (which is pretty impossible).Pat here stands for pattern and defines the movement paths of each alien. You can create up to eight different movement patterns.Use the Anim column to define the alien animation. Just like the sprite designer, you'll need to have the manual close to hand if you re going to make head or tail Of these numbers.
So, this is it - the end of all the hard work, the heartache and the sleepless nights. And in the true Tony 'Slim' Samuels style it's about food - Maxburgers from Outer Space. Need we say more?
At last, here are our two-stage fully animated sprites - the world famous YS bouncing burgers. What d'you mean you can't see 'em moving? Well, you'll just have to take our word for it! And for the fact that they're following the patterns that were laid down earlier.The background stars were added with the Special FX function. They can be moved in one of four directions - up, down, left and right but they don't affect the playing of the game. They're just there to add another element of interest and let's face it, Tony's game needs something to stop you nodding off!