Sunday, 13 March 2016

NGOTM & TWOFER: The New Dimension Special!


Concept based on "Crazy Balloon" arcade game by TAITO from 1980. Programming and music by Richard Bayliss. Graphics by Richard Bayliss and Hiram Kumper. Loading screen by Marq Watkin. Originally released as freeware for the Commodore 64 in 2001 by the New Dimension, and published by Cronosoft in 2003. Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Kevin Thacker, and published by Cronosoft in 2007.

Sub Hunter

Concept based on a Commodore VIC-20 game "Sub Hunt" by Mastertronic from 1984. Programming by Richard Bayliss. Graphics by Frank Gasking. Music by Thomas "Drax" Mogensen and Richard Bayliss. Originally released for the Commodore 64 in 2008 through Psytronik Software.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Paul "Axelay" Kooistra, with music by Herve Monchatre. Released in 2011 through Psytronik Software.



All right, so we have a curious little twofer here this time: it's simultaneously a New Game Of The Month special entry, although neither of these games are particularly new anymore, only released well after the two machines' commercial demises. Also, neither of these games are particularly original - rather remakes of over 20 year old titles, so I shall be taking a quick look at the original games the two remakes are based on, as well.

Balloonacy has a fairly mediocre score of 5.9 with 8 votes at Lemon64, while its review at CPC Game Reviews has a more impressive score with 7 out of 10. For some reason, CPC-Softs has no rating for the game yet. As for Sub Hunter, it curiously has an even less impressive score of 5.7 from 9 Lemon64 voters, although Retro Gamer and Micro Mart magazines gave it some well deserved praise. The reviewer at CPC Game Reviews has given it a whopping 9 out of 10, and even at CPC-Softs, the current rating is 17 out of 20, which is a bit bizarre. Perhaps the Amstrad gamers appreciate these games more than C64 gamers? Let's see what's the deal here.



Variations of Crazy Balloon have been made for possibly every old computer out there, but the concept of merely moving a balloon around a screen while avoiding obstacles got a bit old by the mid-80's, so apart from ERE Informatique's heavily modified rendition of the idea by the name of Bubble Ghost, originally released in 1987, there hasn't been too many interesting commercial releases of the genre. Therefore, it is interesting, that someone would choose to write a game based on this concept 20 years later.

Screenshots from the original Crazy Balloon arcade game by Taito, 1980.

Richard Bayliss' early C64 input was mostly made on the ever-so handy Shoot'em-up Construction Kit by Sensible Software, which is still used heavily by the C64 community, but Balloonacy was his first quality game, made with Turbo Assembler and the Action Replay screen editor. Balloonacy differs from Crazy Balloon in that your balloon is filled with helium, so it moves upwards on its own volition, and it features a switch you need to turn in order to open up an exit in the levels. The obstacles are a bit different from the original game, too, but not in any particularly spectacular way.

Screenshots of the original VIC-20 version of Mastertronic's "Sub Hunt" (top row),
Mastertronic's C64 conversion (bottom left) and The New Dimension's straight C64 port of the original (bottom mid/right)

The story behind the conception of Sub Hunter is well documented at Richard Bayliss' development log at the New Dimension website, but here's a short version of it: Frank Gasking (the webmaster and primary researcher at Games That Weren't) asked Richard if he would be able to do a proper C64 conversion of the Vic-20 game Sub Hunt. Mastertronic had actually released a C64 version of it, which had apparently been made using a games creator, so for the fans of the original game, there was certainly some grudge against the original C64 conversion, if you could indeed call it that. The thing is, the original Sub Hunt was a simple game: very basic shooting, avoiding getting hit by other subs and fish, and picking up swimmers in a static underwater area. As such, completely recreating a C64 version of it over 20 years later would be a bit silly, with so much talent and capable hands to work with in the community - so, Sub Hunter became something much more than just a remake of Sub Hunt. Calling it an extension would be more to the point, but TND's Sub Hunter features so many other ideas implemented around the original idea, that it should be considered as an entirely different game. Of course, the complete Sub Hunter experience wouldn't be complete without a proper straight port of the original VIC-20 game, so TND's Sub Hunt 20 was included for the Psytronik disk release.

Many of Richard Bayliss' games are fairly simple arcade affairs, particularly his early output. Balloonacy and Sub Hunter offer a nice look into how he developed his programming skills after having mostly experimented with SEUCK thus far, and offer a glimpse into how things would come to be later on.



It appears there are certain advantages of being an independent game developer for an old machine. In the olden days, you had a short period of time to write a game from start to finish, and once it was released, that was it. With no internet and a fairly non-existent customer support, you wouldn't be able to get updated versions of a game you purchased, if the game turned out to be buggy. Only after the MS-DOS based PC's started getting more popular, and internet came along, game developers started releasing updated versions of their games - I remember John Romero's Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM being two of the earliest ones to get numerous updates. So, where I'm getting at is, that I think it's only natural that this sort of possibility got extended backwards to old machines like C64, Spectrum, Amstrad and all these other classic machines. Richard Bayliss is one of those modern C64 game developers, who tend to update their games plenty, and I guess Balloonacy was the first semi-commercial example of this.

Although it wasn't my intention originally, I took a look at one of the earlier versions (v1.2, I think) of C64 Balloonacy, and compared it to the Final version, numbered v1.9, if I recall correctly. The only gameplay differences I noticed were some slight speed-related things - most of the differences seemed to be audiovisual in addition to some bugfixes. But while programmers might be interested in reading tidbits about the evolution of Balloonacy, I'm only really going to focus on comparing the Final C64 version to the Amstrad conversion, because the Amstrad conversion was released after the Final C64 version, so it makes more sense to compare those two.

In the C64 version, you maneouvre the constantly rising balloon through a series of laser gates that appear and disappear in a certain rhythmic manner, and there is only a very small time gap, in which you must get through a gate, else you will blow up. You will also need to avoid walls and getting hit by weird-looking enemy sprites moving back and forth in their own designated courses. The only real goals in each level are to flick a switch to open a doorway, and then get to the opened doorway. There is also a score counter, but it does nothing worth noting, as the game has no hi-score indicator or a table. The game was coded so that when it has loaded in completely, there are basically two packed versions in the memory, and the second bunch of levels is only openable by completely reloading the game, and entering the passcode you get at the end of the first eight levels.

Apart from the level design and the basic idea, the AMSTRAD conversion is surprisingly different. I wouldn't necessarily call it better, but there's definitely lower possibility for frustration, because the balloon and the meanies move notably slower, and the laser gates turn on and off for a longer time, so it's easier to pass through them when they're not turned on. Also, mostly due to the slower movement of the balloon, some enemies have been either readjusted to move in a different manner, or taken out entirely. In other words, it's an easier and slower version of the same game. The Amstrad conversion does have one thing that could be considered an advantage: it loads in all at once, so there is no need to reset the computer once you have passed the first eight levels. Then again, this means that you have no option to start from the middle of the game. Since the game saves no high scores, there is no other purpose than to beat the game.

If these were all the arguments I would have to deal with here, I couldn't say either to be better than the other. However, there is one rather big difference in the two versions, which settles it for me. In the original, if your balloon blows up after the switch has been pulled, the switch stays pulled once a new balloon spawns. The AMSTRAD version resets the level when you die, no matter how far you have gotten in it. This adds a surprising element of strategy into the C64 version, which gives you freedom to blow yourself up when it looks like such action could be considered advantageous, if you're confident enough about surviving the rest of the game with the number of lives you currently have. Although this means that it's a win for the original, in the tradition of the New Game Of The Month series, I will only be giving the full scores in the Overall section, and that goes for every other section, too.



Unfortunately, the two versions of Balloonacy look quite a lot alike, so apart from the most visible differences, there's not much to tell. Had there been a Spectrum version to go with the other two, this would have been more interesting, but no such luck. Anyway, let's start with the loading screens. NOTE: Since the game was easy enough to complete on both machines, I will be including screens of the ending segments at the end of this section. If you wish to keep them as a surprise, well... tough luck.

Balloonacy loading screens. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

The loading screen was drawn by Marq Watkin for both versions, so it's no wonder they look exactly the same, apart from the obvious differences in palette. From what I can tell, the picture shows a green medusa with red/pink tentacles hugging the unfortunate purple balloon. Depends on whether you like more contrasting colours or smoothly combining ones, you will appreciate either picture based on your preferences, but in my opinion, the C64 palette works mostly better for this picture.

Balloonacy title screens. Left: Commodore 64 (final version). Right: Amstrad CPC.
The exclusive instructions screen from Amstrad.

In the Final C64 version's title screen, the credits have a colour-scrolling effect going on, while the AMSTRAD version has a menu in a simpler set of red, blue, yellow, green and white in static colours. Also, the game logo itself has two balloons in the middle on the C64 version, breaking the actual logo in two, while the title logo in the AMSTRAD version is more constant and logical.

The AMSTRAD version also has an exclusive instructions screen, which shows us the four main elements in the game - the balloon, the switch, a random enemy sprite and the exit. While this doesn't bring anything new to the graphics as such, it is a nice extra thing to have, particularly if you're not that much into figuring out the game's simple-enough concept on your own.

Screenshots from levels 1, 2 and 3. Top row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC.

Here are the first three levels of the game, which don't look so interesting here. In action, though, you are better able to see all the places, where the laser gates are, how the enemy sprites move around, and how everything animated is animated. But, as you can see quite clearly here, the basic style of the graphics is very similar in both versions, and the screen resolution looks to be very much the same, although I haven't bothered to find out if it is indeed so. The C64 version has, from what I could count, at least five differently coloured themes for the levels, while the AMSTRAD version has only one. I could have picked a better word to describe this, but by "themes", I mean that every sprite wears a different colour in each five themes - even the gates and the switches. And as you already know, the sprites move around quicker on the C64. Whether or not this is actually a good thing, comes to each player's own preferences, but quicker movement does look more impressive.

Screenshots from levels 12, 13 and 14. Top row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC.

Some more levels, now from the latter half of the game. The lack of variation in colours gets a bit irritating on the AMSTRAD in the 13th level, since one of the switches there is correct, and the other two blow you up - you just have to know or guess which one it is, and colour gives no indication for the correct one. Nor does it actually do so in the C64 version, but at least you can remember the correct switch by its colour as well as its placing. One more thing that I can think of that could be mentioned, is the structural element graphics, which have more colour on the C64, but are less messy on the AMSTRAD, and there are actually more details there as well, which is nice. Too bad the lack of colour variation eats up the novelty of having nicer details.

Text bits from different parts of Balloonacy. Due to the colour scrollers used in the C64 version, I had to take two
screenshots of both the "Get Ready" text and the "Level Complete" text. The blue ones are from the Amstrad version.

Between each level, you get a "Get Ready" message of sorts in both versions, but the C64 version also congratulates you on solving the previous level. While neither version has any actual graphics in these screens, the C64 version at least features some nice effects - the AMSTRAD version only shows a very simple "Get Ready" text with no effects, other than two shades of blue. The "Game Over" screen is just as marvellous on the AMSTRAD, but for some reason, the C64 version of the "Game Over" screen has just plain white text. I guess it's supposed to be that way for greater effect, but I'm not sure about that.

Screenshots of the ending screens of Balloonacy. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

As I warned you earlier, here are the ending bits from both versions. Once again, the C64 version has more colours, and even more text, which is more visually pleasingly placed at the center. Also, the AMSTRAD version has a typo, which are always fun to pick out, but do make the final product feel less professional. Sorry, but that's the way it goes.

But since I have to actually give some "proper" scores for these newer games, there are a few questions that need to be answered: do either version's graphics feel impressive in any way; could they be compared to other games of similar status from any particular time apart from the time this game's two versions were actually released; and do the graphics serve their purpose well enough for the game's concept and... dare I say it... spirit? For the first question, I'm going to have to say "barely", because although there are a few nice little details - particularly the animations are nice to look at - there is nothing spectacular about the graphics in either version. At best, they're just above average, but then, average in 2006-2007 on C64 and Amstrad can be anything you conceive "average" to be - the definition changes from year to year. That's not saying the graphics are bad, they're just average, and they could be just as average in 1986-87. For a game concept that is already 36 years old, Balloonacy still looks a few good years ahead of the original.



If you have the possibility to go the old-fashioned way, and load the game on real hardware and from tape, the C64 version has a nice loading tune that has a sort of 70's disco feel to it, with the 16th note-based drum pattern and the octave bass-line, but otherwise it's very much based on old C64 melodies, somewhat reminiscent of Matt Gray tunes. The main title tune is similarly simplistic as a composition, but features a bass line, which alternates turns with the "boom-kah" drum pattern, along with a main melody and a sort of signature SID-arpeggio thing playing the chords. The single in-game tune is very up-tempo and makes you feel more under pressure than perhaps is necessary, but although it features only four chords, at least it makes progression into some direction throughout its duration. It all sounds very 1988'ish in the overall quality, which can be considered a good thing, but the soundtrack gets a little repetitive on the long run. With no optional sound effects, the game feels a bit like something's missing, but then again, what kinds of sound effects would you even put into a game like this?

As expected, the AMSTRAD version is missing the loading tune, but the other two tunes are featured as they should. With no filters of the SID chip at hand, the AY version of the soundtrack sounds a bit unfinished and awkward, as if everything was played through a few PC speakers simultaneously. There clearly is no real contest here, which is a bit unfortunate. I was hoping for a completely different soundtrack, more befitting the AY-chip's capabilities, not to mention the more sedate pacing of the Amstrad version, but if this is what had to be done, then it had to be done.

Now, the full results and the words of conclusion shall have to wait until I have dealt with the second game in today's two-for-one deal, so if you're impatient, then just scroll down and ruin yourself the excitement of reading about how the scores for Sub Hunter came about.



I wasn't exaggerating earlier, when I said that Sub Hunter has so much other ideas added around the original idea that Sub Hunt on the VIC-20 was, that it should be considered an entirely different game, because that's how it is. Admittedly, there are levels in Sub Hunter, that are clearly evolved from Sub Hunt, but that's just it - they're evolved, not completely copied. Similarly to Richard's earlier Balloonacy, an element of gravity plays an important role here, which is something that the source of inspiration didn't have. Aside from the Sub Hunt style levels, there are those in which you must drop underwater mines to kill fishes and other mutated marine lifeforms, as well as other submarines (in these, you just stay at the surface and drop bombs); levels, in which you have to drop down to the sea floor and pick up lost divers and get them back on the surface while dodging fishes and other obstacles like in Frogger; bonus levels, in which you need to pick up diamonds from amidst a neverending flow of underwater mines, and shark attack levels, which are basically avoid'em-ups in which you need to survive the allotted time. The documentation says there is even an end-game boss fight, but I haven't been able to get that far, and to be honest, I have no wish to get that far yet, because the game has enough appeal to me that I want to finish it on my own time without any relation to the blog.

Your otherwise handy little Sub Hunter has an oxygen meter, which acts as a timer, and you must get your job done within the given time. There is a nasty little trick in the game, though - since you have to be shooting a lot of underwater nasties, you often accidentally shoot one of the swimmers, which doesn't disqualify you from progressing further straight away, but drops your oxygen level a bigger chunk, so you need to be careful while shooting. There is also a score counter, and unlike Balloonacy, Sub Hunter features a hi-score indicator, so you have something to compete against in addition to the game's increasingly difficult levels. Probably due to screen size restrictions, the AMSTRAD version was left without a hi-score indicator. This doesn't render the Amstrad version's score counter completely useless, though, since you will be getting extra lives at certain amonts of score.

As it turns out, there is little to compare here, because along with the CPC team, Frank Gasking, Jason Mackenzie and Richard Bayliss have also been heavily involved in the playtesting for the AMSTRAD conversion, so the finished product is as close to the original C64 version as humanly possible. The only little thing that I can mention in this regard has to do with the graphics - more precisely, the screen size, which is narrower on the Amstrad. Although it isn't much, it still gives you slightly less time to react to anything, and of course, less movement space. For such a small inconvenience, I cannot possibly give the Amstrad version any less than is its due.

Both versions can be played with a joystick, but only the AMSTRAD version supports keyboard controls as well - QAOP and Space, or the cursor keys, if you prefer. The controls are sharp and very responsive, and for some very good reasons, the Sub has no inertia. The whole thing is overall very arcade-like, but has a good amount of longevity due to the different kinds of levels, so it can easily be called one of the best examples of newer arcade-style retro games on the C64 and Amstrad, still long after its release.



Compared to Balloonacy, Sub Hunter is a few miles ahead in terms of graphics, but it might have something to do with Frank Gasking, who made the graphics here. And to be fair, it's all for the better that, at least for the more commercial titles, Richard has given the job of making graphics and sounds for other people, so he can concentrate on coding better games, and the overall quality comes higher from a concentrated effort from a small group of talented people. That said, I think it's remarkable how well Paul Kooistra has been able to convert the original graphics by Gasking for the Amstrad... although the CPC credits are a bit iffy, so I can't say whether or not Frank Gasking converted the graphics himself, or did Paul Kooistra do the work. Whatever the case, we'll have to start again with the loading screens.

Sub Hunter disk menus and loading screens. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

The advantage of hindsight is to be able to add some nice little extra things to a conversion finished a relatively long time after the original game. But while the AMSTRAD version has a nice additional Psytronik logo displayed before the loading screen, as well as a customized disk catalogue screen, they cannot possibly compete with all the additional content on the original C64 disk. Graphically, though, the (then) new Psytronik logo looks pretty damn cool, and a custom cat screen is always a nice surprise which is something I've rarely seen on a C64 disk, even though it's made in basic character blocks.

Screens from the intro sequence. Top row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC.

Hindsight must have also allowed the originally greyscale wide-pixeled pictures from the intro sequence to be turned into hi-res pictures. In content, nothing has changed, but the AMSTRAD pictures do look notably better, as the different screen mode allows more attention to put into details. But, I'm not entirely sure what to think of the animation bit, where your submarine comes from the right and dives at the left end of the screen - both versions look good enough with some parallax scrolling and nice colours. The AMSTRAD version makes better use of hi-res elements, but at the same time, the textures look strangely Nintendo'esque. The animated sequence in the C64 version with that particular colouring looks more like something by Epyx from 1984-85, and the blending of colours looks more gradual than it does in the AMSTRAD version. The horizon, though, looks a bit unnecessarily empty and linear in both versions.

Sub Hunter title screens. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

The title screens are where the AMSTRAD version doesn't keep up with the C64 anymore. Although the basic look is very similar with the title logo and its immediate surroundings having the same stuff - the web-like watery background and the waving reflection under the actual title, and even the text bits and the bottom looks very similar apart from the missing sound option icons, the mid-section has no background graphics. The background on the C64's mid-section features an immense amount of animated differently coloured bubbles or stars, whatever you think they are. This makes the C64 title screen feel almost like a tech demo, rather than just another title screen.

Screenshots from levels 1, 4 and 6. Top row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC.

What I've come to like about Richard Bayliss' work is that there are no unnecessary extra bits where they aren't needed. From the title screen, you cannot get anywhere else than straight into the game. I shall be taking a look at the "Get Ready" and all that other text stuff later on, but now, let's focus on the levels.

Level 1 represents the point of origin, which is a tribute to the original VIC-20 game, Sub Hunt. From the 25 levels of the game, the biggest percentage of other levels are variations on this idea, but even as such, the amount of different sorts of levels is nicely balanced. In these Sub Hunt-styled levels, though, the screen scrolls from left to right, and you move your sub around freely enough under the water. Graphically, the most interesting part must be the parallax scrolling effect, for which we get three layers that move in different speeds. On top of the background scrolling bits, there are also the enemy sprites that behave in their own particular manner, and of course, the information panels on top and bottom. As I've mentioned previously, and you will have noticed by now, the AMSTRAD version features no hi-score indicator in the top panel, not that it makes a lot of difference, graphically.

On AMSTRAD, the backgrounds have less varying details in the bottom half compared to the C64 original, and at least in level 1, the swimmer can sometimes get lost in the background due to the colours of the sea floor and the swimmer being much closer to each other. They aren't exactly the same, so more sharp-eyed gamers should have no problems, but when everything is moving around you wildly, and you need to focus more on the enemy sprites and your sub than the swimmers, taking notice of the swimmers can be sometimes quite difficult on the Amstrad version. That said, the colours in the Amstrad version are mostly better than they are on the C64. But what isn't better, is the screen size, which is almost a quarter narrower than on the C64, and if you take the time observing, the scrolling isn't quite as good as on the C64. But it's very close, and having seen much worse on the Amstrad, I think Kooistra did a brilliant job here.

Screenshots from levels 2 and 8. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

Since I have yet to pass level 12, I have chosen to combine the screenshots from levels 2 and 8 to demonstrate another angle to the screen size differences - the AMSTRAD version uses more space horizontally than the C64 version, and basically only for what are unnecessary embellishments - for example, the boxes around the score and level indicators at the top, but I suspect these alterations were just something to fill the extra space to get the most suitable screen mode for the game utilised as much as possible.

The second type of level is a bombing level, in which you stay at the top of the screen, and drop bombs down on the passing fish, subs and other marine lifeforms. Now, I'm all for variety, so having drastically different colours for all enemy sprites on the AMSTRAD is fun to look at. Then again, I'm also a big fan of realistic colours, so very often the C64 version is the one that suits my preferences. And since judging any game's graphics is mostly about talking about your preferences, I cannot really say one way or the other in this case. But there is something that I forgot to mention earlier: the AMSTRAD version has a nice upgrade on the SAVED indicator, which basically tells you, how many are there left to save, in addition to the regular how many you have saved already. Hindsight again.

Screenshots from levels 3 and 9. Left: Commodore 64. Right: Amstrad CPC.

Having reached level 12, you will have noticed that half the levels so far have been based on Sub Hunt, and only two levels have been those bombing levels. Also, two other levels have been of a third kind, in which you need to cross the space between the surface and the sea floor in order to save a number of stranded divers. The first and third row of sea monsters flow to the right, and the second and the fourth rows of other sea monsters flow to the left. These levels, in particular, have been made slightly more risky on the AMSTRAD due to the limited horizontal space given for the action screen.

Screenshots from the Bonus level (left) and the Shark Attack level (right).
As you might have guessed at this point, the wider ones are from C64, and the narrower ones from CPC.

The Bonus levels and Shark Attack levels have something different going on for them. In the Bonus levels, you get to dodge sea mines, which cannot be seen in other levels, as well as collect diamonds for bonus points (1000 points each), which also cannot be found in any other level. In the Shark Attack levels, you have to dodge small and larger sharks, while going to the left in a faster scrolling tunnel. Although there isn't much of background graphics here, there are four different parallax-scrolling layers on top and bottom of the tunnel. Both versions look very much the same, apart from the obvious.

Notifications. Top row: Commodore 64. Bottom row: Amstrad CPC.

I'm guessing there's at least one other kind of exclamation in store here, but these are the four of the most basic notifications you will probably see in the game. All of these are animated to move up and down in the middle of the screen, and smoothly change direction as if they are riding a wave or something. Once again, apart from the colours, they're pretty much identical on the C64 and the AMSTRAD versions.

And that's as far as I will be taking you - not only because it would spoil the ending for you, but also because it would spoil the ending for me. While it doesn't offer anything new in any graphical sense, Sub Hunter is still a very good looking game by any C64 or Amstrad standards, and should be enjoyed while playing, not through screenshots.



Thomas Mogensen, likely better known as Drax from Maniacs of Noise, was hauled in to take care of the music in the original C64 version of Sub Hunter. So, it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is very high quality from the word go. According to the intro text scroller (shows up after the side-scrolling diving animation bit), the loader tune and the one used for the intro sequence were chosen by Frank Gasking from the "Unicorn" demo by Chorus, for which Drax wrote the whole soundtrack. The chosen tunes are called "Winter Bird" for the loader, and "Sinful" for the intro sequence. If you wish to view the original demo, you can either download it from its CSDb page, or view it on YouTube.

Even though I might as well have just counted them, the SID file gives a better certainty on the number of tunes in the actual game. In addition to the title tune, there are no more than two level tunes, as well as a short jingle for each of the "Get Ready!", "Well Done!" and "Game Over!" bits. A quick browsing at CSDb shows that there was supposed to be a tune for a high score list, but since the feature wasn't fully implemented, the tune was left out. Too bad, since it's one of the best Drax tunes ever.

If you feel like listening to some sound effects for a change, that can be arranged as well, by moving the joystick right and pressing the fire button in the title screen. The sound effects work well enough, and there are more of them than I would have imagined, considering the amount of code that must have been squeezed into the levels, the graphics and the music. Having dabbled quite a lot with Shoot'Em-Up Construction Kit in my youth, the sound effects somehow resemble quite a lot of those that could be easily done with the SEUCK sound editor, but then, I cannot imagine it being too easy creating sounds for an underwater shooter. The sound effects were made by Richard himself, and overall, I do think he did a pretty good job at it.

Herve Monchatre's straight conversion of the SID soundtrack is meticulously done, and sounds a lot better than what you would expect from the AY chip. Although the music now has some of that bleepy quality that Amstrad games generally have, there are some light echoes and other effects used that make it all sound more C64'ish. As expected, though, the percussive instruments don't sound as powerful as they do when performed by a SID chip. The AMSTRAD version has no optional sound effects, which is a pity, but it does have more tunes than the C64 version, including new ones for the boss fight and the ending. It doesn't feature the "Winter Bird" loading tune, though, which is another pity.



Alright, it's time to finally give these two some scores, but first, let's do a quick recap on both games.

For Balloonacy, Bayliss took an over 20-year old concept, put some newer clothes on it and tweaked its basic functionality, so that it could be considered something worth having a go at. The C64 version is faster and sounds considerably better than the CPC conversion, but concerning graphics and playability, both versions feature some advantages over the other. Overall, the original beats the AMSTRAD version in playability, due to the halfway password and the fact that a single death doesn't result in resetting the level.

For Sub Hunter, Bayliss took another over 20-year old concept, put some much newer clothes on it, gave it a smart phone and enough money to obtain a driver's license and some swag on the side, and now all the finest ladies want to have their own Sub Hunter in their beds. In other words, it's still one of his finest efforts, undeniably with many thanks to his collaborators. Both versions of it are very much alike - astonishingly so, in fact, and the AMSTRAD version is really only hindered by its narrower screen, which doesn't bother the playability as much as you think it would; just enough to notice.

But, how to give scores to games that basically have their hearts in the early 1980's, but their style is more reminiscent to the later part of the decade, and still both are from the first decade of the new millennium? I suppose I'm going to have to compare these games to the modern average in C64 and Amstrad games, which I'm not completely sure about, but here's what I think:

There you go, then. Balloonacy, as you might well know, has a sequel, which was released in 2005. The original Cronosoft release of the C64 Balloonacy hasn't been seen in print in ages, but they have a double-feature tape with both Balloonacy games in one, which you can buy for a fair price. Cronosoft also sells the CPC tape version of Balloonacy for the same price. Sub Hunter was released by Psytronik, and they still sell the tape and the budget version (no jewel case) of the disk release at Binary Zone - the Amstrad version as well as the C64 one. It's also available through RGCD as a cartridge, if you're not fond of loading. If you're cheap enough, you can also find the games for download easily at, for example, TND website, CSDb, CPC-Power etc., but I heartily recommend you to purchase your own copies, if only for the sake of supporting the community.

Pity that there have been no other conversions made from the New Dimension catalogue - there are plenty enough of fine arcade games worth considering for other 8-bit machines as well. And why not 16-bits, too.



I thought I might as well end this article with some free advertising space for other games you can find from the New Dimension website, more particularly Richard's own material. Although a vast majority of the games at TND are SEUCK-based titles, there are some other kinds of games as well. That said, many of the SEUCK games are rather impressive as well, because many of them have been modified to have features impossible to do in the original Shoot'Em-Up Construction Kit, such as in-game music, proper title screens, high score lists and whatnot. Anyway, here are a few of my TND favourites in addition to the two above:

Blap 'n Bash (2015)

I'll start with the newest finished title on my list of chosen titles. Released just a few months ago, Blap 'n Bash is, from what I can recall, the first breakout variation that Richard has ever released. Judging by the screenshots, you could easily think that it's some sort of a Batty clone, but actually, the game only has a single-player mode - you control both bats simultaneously. The trick is, the one at the bottom moves accordingly to your controls, but the one at the top moves in mirrored motion.

Messing with your mind is all good fun, but if there's one bad thing about the game that needs to be said, it is that it has no proper breakout physics: the ball doesn't bounce off from the bats in any different angles. Then again, it's all the same, because you need to focus on moving the other bat into the opposite directions, which is difficult enough. There are various types of enemies and bonus items, which could be considered something you would expect from any Arkanoid clone. However, there is one other unique thing in Blap 'n Bash, that I haven't seen used in breakout games before: an energy meter. Instead of open floors from which the balls can escape, the whole game area is surrounded by walls - only the top and bottom have energy barriers, from which your ball takes damage. Overall, Blap 'n Bash is a very nice variation on the old breakout idea, although it could still do with some little adjustments.

Honey Bee Redux (2014)

Honey Bee was originally designed and developed by Wayne Womersley, but if I recall correctly, close to the end of his developing process, he had a hard drive crash and he lost all the data, so the original version of Honey Bee was very much lost. Wayne lost his interest in working on the project again, so Richard Bayliss took the project and developed a version of it for the RGCD 16k cartridge competition in 2014. The game still features some graphics by Wayne Womersley, and the basic idea and design is still very much his, but the new game code is Richard's.

The idea of Honey Bee is to collect pollen from flowers and drop them into your nest, one by one. The gameplay resembles Balloonacy in that the bee you control is slowly, but constantly moving downwards (sort of directly in relation to gravity), and that you cannot defend yourself against anything - the only thing you need to do is to avoid colliding with anything remotely dangerous, and do your given job as a honey bee. There is a new, more commercial version of Honey Bee coming up soon, which will be released through Psytronik, so I'm definitely looking forward to that.

Nuclear Strike Force (2015)

Is this game really SEUCK? Well, according to Richard's own words on his website, yes. Bulk of the design and creation was done with the original SEUCK, and then imported to the latest version of the SEUCK Redux engine. I haven't had much of a chance taking a look at the new modifications of SEUCK, mostly due to this blog, so I can't tell how the new SEUCK Redux differs from the old SEUCK. There was also a Sideways SEUCK made some years ago, if you're interested in easily creating your own shooters, but didn't want to do a vertically scrolling one. Nuclear Strike Force consists of an animated front end, enemy AI firing (as opposed to pre-determined directional firing, like you get in the regular SEUCK), in-game music, animated backgrounds, as well as power-ups. From the little I've played so far, it's really a big advancement from what you could do with the original SEUCK. Highly recommended for all you SEUCK opposers out there.

Sheepoid / Sheepoid DX (2011/2013) tape, disk, cart DX, tape DX, disk DX

Richard's obvious tribute to Jeff Minter combines elements from Sheep in Space, Matrix, Gridrunner and Laser Zone. You control two sheep, one at the bottom of the rectangular arena, and the other on the right edge. Your mission is to shoot as many enemies as possible, and save your fellow sheep by collecting them as they land on your sides of the arena. Accidentally shooting a sheep will cost you a 1000 points. To get the traditional Minteresque look to the game, Sheepoid features plenty of llamas, camels, sheep and other animals in the obscure setting, and the game plays fantastically well. You just need to have your focus entirely on the game in order to be successful.

The Deluxe version features new fancy graphics from Trevor "Smila" Storey and some little gameplay tweaks to make it even better than the original Sheepoid. The original Sheepoid is available to buy from Psytronik's Binary Zone retrostore on tape and disk, and the DX version can be bought as a double-feature with its sequel called Woolly Jumper (which is a side-scrolling platformer) on tape or disk, and RGCD sells this double-feature on cartridge.

Trance Sector / Trance Sector Ultimate (2012-2015) TSU cart, TS tape, TS disk

Based on the little known Transector by Stephen R. Kellett from 1984, Richard's remake is, as you can guess from the title, a little more techno. Having first appeared in 2012 as a playable demo with "only" 14 levels, the game has been given a lot of work since then. The first commercial release featured 32 levels and graphics by Johan Janssen, and the most recent version, Trance Sector Ultimate from 2015, features a whopping 64 levels and new, even more techno'd graphics by Saul Cross and Akira of Genesis Project.

While the original Transector feels more like one of those hyperactive Jeff Minter games, Trance Sector's pacing is more humane and enjoyable. In Transector, you need to collect all the white matter from a large gridded area, which is guarded by four laser-armed security droids or something - one on each of the four sides of the rectangular area. You have no way to defend yourself, you just need to get avoid getting hit and collect all the white matter. In Trance Sector, the four walls have missiles that take off when you are in their sight, and another missile gets armed only once the previous one either hits you or leaves the room, so the pacing is a bit more sedate on that part. Every now and then, a bonus bubble appears, which goes through a certain number of different bonuses, which include a few different amounts of points, and five separate EXTRA letters, which give you something... well, extra. I'd say, that's another old game made more interesting right there, just like what happened with Sub Hunter.


That's it for today, hope that wasn't too bad overall! Thanks for reading, see you next time with another regular comparison!

No comments:

Post a Comment