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Time to go retro!!!

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February 1, 2013 by jonmillymiles


Player Ship 1

Concept art for a player ship

Well this is going to be fun the first blog post for the Interactivity for Games module and it’s all to do with side scrolling shooters!!!

Being one of the older students on the course seems to have a distinct advantage – I have a wealth of knowledge about the more vintage computer games. Take Uridium for example a classic side scroller from Andrew Braybrook:

In Uridium the idea is to fly along the length of a huge spacehulk, each named after a different metal, for a set length of time, during which the player comes under attack from several waves of hostile ships. The game features a bi-directional scroll enabling the player to travel the full length of the hulk at will: this gives the player added manoeuvrability with which to avoid enemies and navigate the level. Uridium also features an alternative method of evasion: the player can fly under the spacehulk. This renders the player invulnerable to enemy fire but makes navigation much harder as the player cannot see any obstacles.

Another side scroller was Project X by Team 17 (of Worms fame) on the Commodore Amiga 500. Project X was hailed as a classic shooter that had tough gameplay and good graphics and sound for the time. The player had a wide range of power-ups that they could build up to but there was one problem with this, in order to activate the power-up the player either had to wiggle the joystick left and right for two seconds, or they had to remove a hand and hit the space bar. Either way the player often ended up losing control of their ship and dying.

Compared to the more beautiful Project X,  Uridium seems like a poor contender. However Project X is a pure side scroller with a forced scroll and limited room for player tactics, Uridium was designed for fun and gameplay and for me it was the better out of the two. Project X was always too frustrating, too finicky and always trying to be flash over playable – for me a game must have fun at the heart of it.

So where now??? How about R-Type by IREM, another classic game that broke moulds, first in the arcades and then on the home computers. It is classed as one of the seminal conversions from arcade to home, but it also helped launch the console era – the best version was on the TurboGrafx-16 (also called the PC-Engine in Japan).

R-Type featured a number of advancements in-game design over previous games, the power-up system was a simple matter of choice, you either picked up the power up you wanted, or you didn’t. There was also an element of build-up within the system as the more power-ups of a particular type that you collected the better that weapon was.The game was also one of the first to feature a chargeable main weapon, the damage dealt was increased by the player holding down the fire button – a mechanic that is still seen in many games today.

And then there was the “Force” – the detachable drone that fitted to the front of the players ship. The Force introduced strategy into the game by giving the player a choice when to release it. When attached to the ship, the player was granted with a super weapon and  were impervious to frontal attacks and all enemy collisions. But when released, the “Force” could do massive damage to tough enemies without risking the players ship, but left the player exposed to enemy fire and with only a minimal main weapon.

R-Type was good, but it was unforgiving at times. It’s success launched a copy-cat game called Katakis (by Rainbow Arts – who also made the brilliant Great Giana Sisters, a banned Super Mario Bros. clone) which was banned in the UK for breach of copyright. Rainbow Arts made a few minor changes and re-released it as Denaris on the Commodore 64.

The gameplay was almost identical between the two games, Denaris had a “force” and similar weapons but a more rounded power-up system. But for me, on the Commodore 64, Denaris was the better game. While Denaris had some strikingly similar levels (the second level is almost identical to R-Types first) the game is littered with cultural references to the 1980’s. From the electronic level 4 though to the Terminator inspired landscapes of level five the game kept me engaged with frenetic well-balanced gameplay and inspiring moments. There was the music to Delta Force (starring Chuck Norris and written by Alan Silvestri) in levels 5 and 12, there was the Hunter Killer at the end of level 5, and the Alien from Alien at the end of level 12. There was even a nod to the Last Star Fighter on level 6 when the player flies through a grid of “sensors”.

But the thing that I loved about Denaris was that I was never left feeling that the game was too hard, just that I wasn’t good enough… yet.

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