Melbourne House
1984
Utility: Game Editor
£14.95
Multiple languages (see individual downloads)
ZX Spectrum 48K
None

24,25,27
Tony Samuels
Chris Bourne

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!

HURG really does have all the goodies you could wish for - if only the rough edges had been tidied up in the rush to get it on the shelves. True, it's much more flexible than Games Designer and offers a greater range of possibilities but it's really not all it could have been.

Overall rating: 6/10
Completion Time: 4 hours including time on Melbourne Draw.

6/10

Screenshot Text

MANIC MAXBURGERS

Also known as Mortician Max, the second offering from the Tony Samuels school of second-rate software takes the platform game onto a whole new level. Here you have to wander round the Maxburger factory looking for the vital victuals. Scoff the lot but watch out for the heavies - there's Thicko Shake closely followed by Derek Dishcloth and Sid Sausage. So. get eating and get out'a there!

This little chap was brought to life using the editor option. By choosing the other options he can be mirrored, animated and so on, which makes it much simpler to create his brothers and sisters if they're all basically the same.

These characters have been designed for two-stage animation - our little Willy-clone walks to the left and to the right, but Tony was too laid-back (shouldn't that be lazy? Ed) to animate the up and down movements.

If you exit to the next stage, you can set the animation and movement speeds. You'll be shown your animated character running across the screen as you alter the parameters.

Take a look at the editing window. Here it's 16 By 16 pixels but it can be anything from 8 by 8 up to 16 by 32. HURG's based on character blocks so you can have bigger sprites but don't expect them to move as smoothly.

Your first task in Collision Mode is to pick an Ink colour for your own character. Your only restriction is that you can't colour him in, the same as anything else on the screen.

Here's the key to understanding the collision table. The 'no go' symbol tells you that when your little man touches a combination of Ink and Paper designated as a 'no go' area, he'll be able to stand on it but not pass through. The 'eat' and 'crash' symbols work in much the same way and the go symbol covers the rest

You can chop and change these symbols by choosing a character from the menu and then positioning it on the grid using control keys or joystick.

The collison table works by telling the games designer routines what to do when your character hits an object. It's all done with attributes so take care that you don't use the same colour for completely different objects.

The idea behind the collision table is quite simple - everything that appears on the playing area can be recognised as soon as your character comes into contact with it.

Scoring lets you define how quickly you'll amass the points when you eat or shoot objects. It'll also allow you to set a bonus once a new sheet's started - a bonus in itself over Games Designer.

HURG's been cleverly designed to run hand-in-hand with Melbourne Draw. Using the Load Background option, you can load in a previously designed Screen$ - without it the whole game's a bit pointless.

Game Variations is pretty self-explanatory -it just asks you which of the four possible games stored in memory you want to edit. It'll also takes you into the Player and Object Menus.

Use the Path Geneator to set the course for your on-screen objects. If you prefer, though, you can get them moving in completely random ways and cut out this option altogether.

This is the goods that Games Designer didn't come up with - a title page. Here you can write your instructions using the very crude word processor and then add a bit of life by including some of your whizzo animated objects.

The New Frame Conditions option lets you decide how hard a player's got to work before he can move on to the next screen. You can make it tough by having him shoot or eat all the objects or you can just set a fixed time delay or make it when he's reached the exit point.

Scoring lets you define how quickly you'll amass the points when you eat or shoot objects. It'll also allow you to set a bonus once a new sheet's started - a bonus in itself over Games Designer.

Tony created the background for Manic Maxburgers using Melbourne Draw - if you're a dab hand at pixel painting that means you can create some amazing levels to your games.

Now here's a nice touch. The platform looks as though it continues to the edge of the screen but the last two characters are coloured green on yellow rather than green on white. The Collision table has been set up so that if the man taps on it the whole platform just crumbles away. Nasty, eh?

The collision detector has been programmed to make anything that appears blue on yellow paper licensed to kill. So. all the nasties are this colour plus, for good measure, a few extra static objects that've been added with Melbourne Draw.

Meet Derek Dish Cloth who's on the tail of your silly Willy though there's an element of randomness thrown in to give him a chance to escape. Thicko Shake on the other hand moves completely at random but only in a limited area of the screen.