All the initial discussions about the project (a name won’t be thought up for another month) have been made. The contracts have been signed — I’m now on my own. Even after three years of programming games I still get stage fright at the outset of a new project.
I set about preparing fresh disks for the various micros that are to be used; as usual there are no spare ST disks about. (I don my phantom disk stealer guise and visit a programmer friend of mine — ha, ha, ha!)
After every procrastination tactic I can think of, I sit down with a huge wad of paper and size up the minimum technical specification (supplied by Hewson) that the program must adhere to:
‘Two directional, full colour, horizontal scrolling at 25 frames a second, with constant music sound track.’
Blimey! Why didn’t they ask me to do something easy like walk on water?
As with any reasonably sized programming task, I always set about writing down in plain English exactly what the program is to do. I find this makes the actual coding a lot easier. I never bother with silly old flow charts — all they do is remind me of ‘O’ level computer studies.
The most time-critical part of scrolling on the Spectrum is the actual printing up of the moving background. The next few days will be spent developing and speeding up this piece of code to ensure that the final program really will be as fast as possible.
It’s show time folks! with bated breath I set up the Spectrum ready to receive the program. Hey presto! a number of black blobs are printed on the screen. Overwhelmed by ecstatic joy I leap about the household trying to convince sceptical friends that what I’ve done really is an achievement. Needless to say, any delusions I had of myself actually being q good programmer are soon dispelled with cries of:
‘Well that doesn’t look very impressive for three days’ work does it!’ (ignorant morons).
After the ‘black blobs’ episode, I decide that a few temporary graphics, arranged in a temporary game map will do more justice to the scrolling. Unfortunately the incorporation of the temporary graphics has also highlighted a few bugs that slipped through. Luckily they’re only minor problems.
This has absolutely nothing to do with the program but here goes. I’m 21 today and not only that, I’ve also managed to pass my driving test. Andrew Hewson promises to buy my Ferrari Testarossa as a ‘coming of age’ present. (This is of course totally untrue but one lives in hope).
At last the scrolling looks like, meeting Hewson’s rigorous standards. Everything moves about the screen quickly and smoothly and I am (at last) encouraged by the positive reaction of fellow programmers. All that needs to be done to the scrolling now is add the colour.
Andrew Hewson contacts me with his splendid car phone that sounds like there’s a vacuum cleaner constantly droning in the background. The reason for this honour is to arrange a meeting where we can discuss the latest developments in the program.
Yet another phone call from Andrew (will this ever end?). He proposes the development of a Cybernoid II project, the idea being to extend the original Cybernoid concept even further with new gameplay, graphics and sound. Good idea methinks, my only reservation being where am I going to find the time (I do actually lead a life outside of programming games you know!). Andrew reassures me that I am in fact super-human and will cope admirably (yes, Andrew — and for my next trick I shall make London disappear).
Getting the colour working has been a proverbial piece of cake. As long as I arrange the graphics carefully, there won’t be any unsightly colour clash.
I’m expecting Andrew Hewson to visit at three o’clock but as usual he is one hour late — Andrew’s punctuality at being one hour late is impeccable. When he finally arrives, like the man from Del Monte he silently scrutinises my work (and ignores the lavish spread of yummy biscuits that I’ve laid out for him). The sweat of tension rolls from my forehead. Luckily my fears of not satisfying ‘the firm’ are unfounded and I’m given a hearty slap on the back for being such a good lad.
Seeing as yesterday went so well I decided to have the day off. I occupy myself by doing my infamous David Bailey impression — taking photos of anything that moves. I especially like taking photos of people who don’t like having their photo taken — judging by their alarmed reaction you’d think I was pointing an Uzi at their faces.
I start programming the main character’s movement controller. This is always one of the first bits of code to be completed. I have decided that the main character will be very dynamic in its running and jumping capabilities.
The main character is the one graphic that people will be looking at most of the time as they play the game. It is therefore important that its animation and overall look are immaculate. A good graphic artist will be employed for this task — probably Nigel Brownjohn who designed the superb Exolon character.
In order to get the scrolling working as fast as it is, I am using every nifty little trick I can think of such as storing all the graphics in a pre-rotated form. This eats away at available memory like there’s no tomorrow. 128 individual background graphic blocks will use a whopping 16K of ram. I’m having to think very carefully about what elements in the game are to be allocated the most memory — do people want huge maps they can explore or perhaps smaller maps and large, beautiful graphics instead? It’s definitely a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul where memory is concerned. I am also trying to develop a universal data compressor that will enable me to cram as much into the Spectrum as possible.
Hey guys, I’ve just found out the name of the game, it’s going to be called... wait for it... Stormlord. Repeat after me in exceedingly loud voices — ‘STORMLORD!’. Apparently I was the last person to be told. Oh well, I’m only programming the thing after all. Whilst I’m here I may as well take the opportunity to plug the game beyond all reason...
‘Buy or die ‘cos Stormlord is gonna be the most rootin’ tootin’, big hot mama of a game you’ve ever laid your eyes on!’
(Woah! Now that’s what I call aggressive marketing — Saatchi & Saatchi eat your hearts out).
I shall have to terminate this months’ log a few days prematurely — publication deadlines apparently.