Posted on March 28, 2007
By 1980, the
The trek started at our house on
At the top of the hill, we crossed the street over to Pennekamp, our elementary school. At the east playground entrance, we had to make a choice as to which way to go. Across the playground was quickest route, but it also had it perils. We were never sure who might be on the playground, and since it was at least 300 yards in length of blacktop and grass, we might be left in the open with no real option for escape if a problem might arise. Usually, those problems came from one source, and one source only: Curtis. He lived at the end of our block and was the bane of my existence. Curtis lived with his grandmother, and his lack of parental supervision was displayed in everything he did. My first introduction to Curtis was on my 5th birthday, when he came into our front yard and, for reasons known only to Curtis, threw a bicycle tire at my head, splitting open my right ear. Curtis tried to run down kids on his bike if they dared cross his path on the playground, pushed kids down in the street to prove his dominance, stole anything he could get his hands on, etc.. He was a complete clich’ of bully and would have been a joke if he was not such a real threat. If Curtis was around, going across the playground was not a good choice. However, finding him in the halls of the school was not a great option either. The best way to avoid a confrontation with Curtis was to take the back route, behind the school. There was an old cement path just south of the Pennekamp school library that led past the community garden then up over a steep hill. About 100 feet up the hill, the cracked asphalt the path ended at chained and locked fence. However, the lock and fence were so old and had been climbed through so many times, that any 10 year old could easily slip through the gap and be on their way. Once through the fence, we walked into a virtual wilderness, up past an overgrown volleyball court, and then past what looked like an abandoned corn field, before the path dipped down again into a steep incline. It ended at an ice plant hill that spilled out behind the school cafetorium. From there it was a short walk through the school parking lot to the street and relative safety on the other side. Since Curtis mainly confined his menace to the school grounds, we took a bit of cautious comfort as we turned south towards the high school.
Next we walked down a long hill towards a grown-over vacant lot that known in the neighborhood as ‘pollywog’ because of the small swamp in it created from neighborhood run-off rain water. When we got to the entrance to pollywog, we had to make another quick decision. The path through pollywog cut-off about 10 minutes of walking time, but it also held the possibility of more danger. Sometimes the pond overflowed, the rickety bridges were vandalized, homeless people were hiding out, or stoners were smoking fatties in the bushes. Curtis was rarely there, but that was another distinct possibility. The other direction was a few long blocks through suburban neighborhood: safe, but many blocks out of the way. Most days, we took our chances walking through pollywog. Yes, it was the dangerous choice, but there was an alternative reason for making the trek as long as possible through less-traveled areas: finding returnable bottles. We always kept our eyes peeled for 7-Up, Bubble-Up, or any other returnable bottles we could find. A couple bottles would equal enough money for one more play of a video game than the original contents of our pockets would allow.
The dirt path through ‘pollywog’ winded through some bushes, then took a turn towards the swamp. At that point, the first major Pollywog obstacle laid in-wait for us. The run-off stream from the street created a 5-foot, sludgy gap in the path. If the make-shift wood bridge was in-place, crossing was easy, but if not (and usually it was not) , a ‘leap of faith” was required. The area surrounding the gap was covered with fallen and dirty Eucalyptus leaves. It was not easy to tell where the leaves ended, and the water began. Even more distressing was the bed of mud that the leaves rested upon. A badly timed jump meant both our Vans shoes and striped-white tube-socks would be covered in toxic sludge from the sewer run-off.
A successful leap led back onto the dirt path that wound around another corner, and into the ‘exercise yard’ (a sand pit and old basketball hoop) of the local secondary school,
At the end of the pollywog path, we had to climb a 30′, 45-degree-angle dirt hill that deposited us on the pole vault training run of the
After exiting the baseball field onto the street on the other side of the school, we crossed through the
Just to the right as we entered through automatic door of the Safeway supermarket stood the jet-black arcade machine with a red, blue, white and yellow depiction of a space battle emblazoned on the side, with a top marquee that read ‘Asteroids’ in large letters, with the word ‘Atari’ in tiny type just below. If there was another kid playing the game at the time, a quick check of the marquee to see if there were any ‘quarters in waiting’ stuffed between the metal border and the glass backing gave some idea of just how long we might be watching and not playing. After waiting our turn (if indeed we had to wait), Jeff would slip the first quarter in the machine, as I fished out mine for a 2-player game. The red two-player button would start flashing, one of us pressed it, and we were off.
The menacing backing music started almost immediately. Its tempo slow, but still foreboding. It warned of danger to come, first in the form of asteroids, but later as faceless UFOs with one mission: wipe you out. Space rocks emerged from the sides of the screen, as the gods of this in-escapable black-hole gave some serious thought as to when to let your ship appear, and not have you die instantly. Your appearance was sudden, and if you were not born out of the womb of space warp firing immediately, you had little chance to survive.
Jeff was always the better player, and he started nearly every game the same way. He watched as the rocks moved slowly across the screen. He timed the shots from his little space-wedge just right so that the Asteroids would explode just after passing his ship. When he used the thrust button, it was careful, and deliberate. He’d apply a bit of thrust, and then turn to side to blast some rocks, apply a bit more and turn again. In this way, he cleared the screen down to a few small rocks, waiting for the UFOs to appear. The lumbering large UFOs were very easy to pick-off. A few well timed shots would take them out netting 100’s of points, and a good boost towards an extra ship at 10,000. The tough part came when the small UFOs appeared. The bounty on their lethal little heads was a staggering 1000 points. However, without a good strategy, their quick movements and killer marksman skills were hard to avoid. Most times, No matter how hard Jeff tried, he inevitably hit a rock, or was blasted into space debris by one the UFOs pinpoint shots.
My playing style was much simpler than Jeff’s: don’t move. Ever Turn, fire, turn, fire, turn, fire, turn. Movement meant the semi-realistic physics of 2D-space would take-over, making control almost impossible for me. However, movement was a much better choice than the button of last resort: Hyperspace. Hyperspace was an evil option, which sent you to a random place in the black void, with a very good chance you would simple blow-up in re-entry. When most of the rocks were destroyed, I might venture out a bit, applying thrust, but attempting to keep control of my ship. However, most times I simply lost control , smashing into an asteroid and losing my turn.
What Jeff and I longed to achieve entry into the ‘Asteroids Zone’, a place we had only seen in the eyes of master Asteroids players, but rarely visited it ourselves. In that zone, players could wrack-up huge scores by flying up the screen at a rapid pace, blasting small UFOs for 1000 points, earning droves of extra ships, and then ‘turn the game over’ at 100,000 points multiple times. The guys (and it was ALWAYS guys) who were able to achieve this were inevitably were much older than us. So much older it seemed, that we would never be able to make it on our own. However, after many trips to Safeway, and many quarters placed in anticipation up on the Asteroids marquee, we slowly gained the ability to play at a fair, if not respectable level.
The few times either of us did get into any type Asteroids zone, it was a wonder to behold. Personally, I can feel those moments as if they were happening right now. With one lonely rock moving (hopefully) vertically through space, and the ship traveling at blinding speed up the screen, leaving a satisfying phosphorescent glow in its wake, I hunted for any saucers that might make the mistake of entering my small area of closed-off space. The soundtrack pounded in the background, as the anticipation mounted. Periodically, slight adjustments to the horizontal position of the ship were made as to avoid a disastrous collision with the last space rock on the screen. All of a sudden, the pulsating soundtrack would be broken by the high-pitched squeal of a UFO that had entered the perimeter. Slightly moving the ship left-to-right I fired a few test shots and, then went for the prize. Hitting thrust, releasing, then turning the ship left or right (depending on the location of the UFO) and spitting out a few shots in its direction. If the UFO was close to one side or another, shooting shots that wrapped around to the other side of the screen were the most effective, but this was rarely the case. After firing, I had to adjust the speed and horizontal position of my ship a bit, lest the UFO could lock-in on my location and blast me from space. The exhilaration of hitting a small UFO and blasting it into component parts while still keeping control of my little ship to fight once more, was a feeling that, to this day, is still difficult to describe unless you have done it yourself. Of course, it was short-lived. When a UFO suddenly shot my ship out from under my control, it was like hitting a wall while driving 100 miles an hour. The sudden loss of adrenaline and control was shocking. Destroying your last rock was even worse. After ‘ship-hunting’ for such a long time, it was a very difficult transition to go back to merely shooting more Asteroids. Breaking out of the ‘zone’ like this was a very quick way to end my game. No matter how many ships I had left in your arsenal, getting back into the zone twice in one game was almost impossible.
When Jeff and got down to our last couple quarters, we knew this part of the trek was almost complete. Sometimes we shared a final game, with one of us playing the first ship, the next guy the second, and the person who fared the best getting to play the last. After that, we’d take whatever change we had left-over, and buy a couple $.08 store brand sodas at Safeway, and a handful of $.02 candy from the jars at The Guild Drug. We’d then pack our supplies, and start the long trek home. As we walked, our conversations would start with our exploits at Asteroids, but after a while drift to baseball, girls at school, or stuff we were going play in the driveway when we got back home. As we approached our destination, the Asteroids machine at the Safeway shopping center faded into distant memory. What seemed so important just an hour before, was almost inconsequential as the realities of home became clearer and clearer. Curtis could appear around any corner. A pitched yelling match could be taking place inside our house or something even more terrible could have occurred while we were away. After a few days, Jeff and I started talking about Asteroids again, and a few days later we would have enough money saved to make the trek to the Safeway shopping center again. With any luck, we’d soon be in the ‘Asteroids Zone’ once more and for a few drifting moments at least, nothing else in the world would matter except for a glowing rectangular piece of space, and our ability to defend it.
Posted on March 24, 2007
I have Have been busy fixing bugs and tweaking settings in retro Blaster. The most significant change I have made was suggested by my old pal, Ian Legler. He suggested that I add a user selectable setting to adjust the quality of the graphics. I have added this option now (shoe-horned into the main menu). It mainly affects the size and quality of the explosions and defaults to a lower setting than the original version (Medium). Thanks for the idea, Ian.
On that note, our garden variety PCs are now capable enough to import, edit and optimize some of the movies Steve, Ian, and Brandon Crist, and I made (with a whole slew of other various helpers) back in the late 80’s. When I get time, I plan to introduce the world to a little gem we made called The Ballad Of Buffalo Love Machine. The story of the movie is a little like SLC Punk, but not nearly as good. Both movies end with the same song, and a major character dying of an overdose, and some other general themes are shared in common too. Steve created animations and titles using an Atari ST computer hooked up to a TV. I think the software he used was called Cyber Paint. It was one of the first NON Mac key frame animation tools, and certainly it was one of the first to be under $100.
Also, while fixing Retro Blaster bugs, I have started work on a brand new game. It is called Pixel War II. It has nothing to do with the original Pixel War (in the Work in Progress Section of this site). It it closer to Phase Shifter (also in the WIP section). It will be a combo of Galaga and Demon Attack. I’ll have a WIP version up in a few weeks to test out.
Posted on March 16, 2007
I have finally had a chance to play my own game all the way through and beat IRATA without cheating. My top score is 973,441,870. I have also found that even though I have put optimization upon optimization into the animation sprite map caching, it still cannot compensate for the giant amount of logic needed for collision detection and bitMapData swapping when there are 100’s of animations (or very large ones) on the screen. In any case, I am satisfied with the game and will now move on to something else. I will continue to refine this engine and hopefully the next game will have even more performance improvements. The high score boards for 8bitrocket.com are not complete yet, so you cannot post your scores, but if you take a screen shot and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, I’ll post the highest so you can reap all the fame and fortune that is bestowed on reaching such a plateau.
Also, I am just now posting the final release of the game. I had made a mistake in the last release and left in the code that resets the high score table every time you play. That is fixed now. Thanks to all those who sent in the error.
Posted on March 13, 2007
Retro Blaster release candidate 1.0 is ready to play. All of my changes in the last few hours have had to do with speed and playability. The game still slows a little (a lot on some older machines) on the levels with the most objects moving, but it’s a HUGE improvement over Pixel War. The player can now only fire one mega bomb at a time. This helps the speed on the boss levels where firing multiple mega bombs was an easy way to send the game into “bullet time” for lack of a more derogatory term. It also makes the game a little more challenging. To even things out, the player now earns more bonus multiplier points for destroying a boss.
Try not to let the “system warps” screen wait time deter you from trying the game. I have heard that it is pretty slow on older PCs and MACs, but it runs in about 30 seconds on a newer PC. These routines allow me to cache all of the game animation loops in a set of relatively speedy bitmapData object arrays. Also, I am creating some math look up tables during this time that help speed up some of the calculations.
Posted on March 12, 2007
Thanks to everyone who helped me beta test .90.
It has taken me a full year to get to this point. When you work full time and have a wife and young son, it is very difficult to find time to make a game.
Anyway again, thanks to Steve Fulton, Chris Cutler, Ian Legler, Marc Manalli, and Alan Donnelly, as well as a couple folks at Gamerdad.com for looking at the last version. I have incorporated as much of your feed back as possible in this version.
Posted on March 1, 2007
The fine people at wiicade have created an API for Flash that will allow programmers to test for ANY button press on the Wiimote! The A,B,+,-,1,2, and the direction pad are all available, as well as the pointer from the Wiimote. To test this API, I took one of my unposted Work In Progress games (code named “Base Shooter”) and retrofitted it to test for all buttons (except the direction pad) to shoot a bullet. This is just a simple test, but it seems that it might be a very large step in the right direction for homebrew, indie, midnight, etc. developers who want to program simple games for Wii Consumption. Base Shooter is really rough, but playable.
The bad news about this is that, even though it uses the wiicade API, it can’t be played outside of Wiicade.com because their API has been specifically designed to work with their servers. However, they patterned their API after information found here: http://www.quasimondo.com/archives/000638.php#000638 which means, with little work, this could be used any where…