I coulda been a game designer …

… Not much chance really, but working in isolation meant that if my favourite game was not available on my chosen platform, which as you may recall back to the genesis of this blog was the Acorn BBC Micro, then I had little choice but to write it myself. Back in the DIY days of personal computing that wasn’t as crazy as it sounds, and thankfully that ethos still survives if stuff like this is anything to go by.

So in collating material from the archive of my life, I came across a bunch of designs for my take on something that could only be described as an obsession (at the time; I’ve discovered other things since as I’ve grown older for better or worse): Bubble Bobble.

I won’t describe the game as you know it of course.

But did you know that Taito announced in 1996 that they had lost the source code to the original arcade game?  Pretty weak huh?  Thankfully we have the Cloud these days (although if Sony uploaded their source code to Beanstalk for example, what are the chances that they would then turn around and sue them for copyright infringement in 6 months time?).

Anyway, I dearly wanted to be able to play this at home (because no matter how much it cost to buy it would have been cheaper than playing it for hours on end at the arcade), and as no version existed for the Beeb, it seemed like a suitable use of my time to try and create one.

And this is what I came up with …

Bubble Bobble 1

A few power ups it would seem, including the classic ‘music note’ motif.

Bubble Bobble 2

A couple more sprite designs for Bubble Bobble, along with one third of an XOR map.  I must have been pretty pov at the time to be that tight on my graph paper. I guess my pocket money wasn’t very high.

Bubble Bobble 3

More characters, including the letter bubbles to get an extra life.  Not sure why I used those colours – it looks very MODE 5.

Bubble Bobble 4

Getting serious now – hopefully some of these are recognisable.

Bubble Bobble 5

My final lot of characters.  There were plenty of more to do to cover all that were in the actual game – and that was before any were actually animated. Phew.
Maybe by this time I started wondering how the hell I would animate and control a whole heap of bubbles on the screen, let alone the main protagonists and the monsters, and realised it was somewhat beyond my skills.

So there you have it – my attempt at bringing that masterpiece of arcadium to the home television screen.  I never got any further than the character designs but it was awesome fun.

I tried to keep the designs within the limitations of my chosen platform but I’m pretty sure a few extra colours crept in there.

But wait, there’s more …

Misc 1

Looking at these I’m very tempted to say these are meant to represent the rather awesome shoot ’em up Gemini Wing.
Besides the sweet music, this game stood out from the rest by the fact that the bad guys were things like insects, maggoty things with huge jaws and eye-balls on stalks coming out of the ground.
Oh yes, and the first level boss was a Giant Walrus that lived in a waterfall. Obviously a rare freshwater walrus …

Misc 2

Ok, that is definitely Gemini Wing, except for the skull. Not sure about that … could be useful one day though.

Misc 3

Ok, something else now.  Looks like a more traditional sideways scrolling shooter.  With a bi-plane.  Maybe that is a left over from Time Pilot (or Space Pilot as the rather excellent BBC clone by Superior Software was known).

Misc 4

Ok, so I was a bit of a Super Mario fan too – the fact that it had so many hidden areas was mega cool and kept you coming back.  Not to mention that playing something like this at the arcade and knowing where those areas were and having an audience of people who didn’t was very satisfying.
As ever I had an idea of doing my own version, but made numerous changes.  The thing that shot out the bomb remained, and maybe the original had a fish somewhere.
However I’m pretty certain the Mexican jumping bean is new but I’m not sure if it was meant to be a power-up or an enemy. Or maybe it is a black pudding with extra fresh blood?  It isn’t often I get to say OMGWTF (and actually mean it, as opposed to people who say it in every second sentence), but speaking of black pudding it seems there is documented evidence that someone actually died laughing at that particular episode of the Goodies.  I’d better be careful – it is one of my favourites and I’m not getting any younger.

In the interests of keeping page load times to something reasonable I’ll take a short break, but there is plenty more!  Stay tuned!


What’s in the Box?

After passing the first hurdle of having a working computer and a working floppy drive, it was time to rummage through the rest of the box and see what are goodies were in store.

Having sort of gotten over the loss of my books and magazines (whenever I say ‘books and magazines’ I’m reminded of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (or Mormons or whatever the blazing hell they were) visiting Bernard in Black Books), I figured let’s savour the moment and closely examine what is left.

Let’s begin …

Computer Concepts Wordwise Plus

Ok, so not the most exciting start – a word processor.  Near mint original box of Wordwise Plus.  I have no idea how I acquired this.  I don’t know if it works, but it is in such good condition that I assume it does.  I’d better send in that registration card perhaps, as Computer Concepts are still around (I think: the website doesn’t look like it has been updated for a while).  Note the function key strip at the bottom – you could insert this behind the clear plastic strip above the functions keys to get a reference for the shortcuts.  Someone’s thinking …

The Music System

From Island Logic (a division of Island Records strangely enough), I bought this new to try my hand at making some music but didn’t get very far.  As I didn’t read music and had no other experience in making music, it was too difficult to try and get my ideas down – I really needed the immediacy of being able to play around on a synthesizer keyboard and then edit the results into a song.  I haven’t tried it again yet, but flicking through the manual suggests that it is a pretty sophisticated bit of software.

Superior Software - Play it Again Sam 13

In the dying days of the BBC, Superior mostly released compilations of older games, with the occasional new game included that wasn’t ‘big enough’ for a standalone release, as well as games from other companies even.  Barbarian II by Peter Scott is the highlight here, being a hack ‘n’ slash fighting game.

Superior Software - Play it Again Sam 8

Another great compilation spread across 3 (count ’em!) discs.  As yet I haven’t played them, but I’m itching to get back into Repton (the game, not the village, which of course I have never been to).

Superior Software - Play it Again Sam 7

Definitely one of the best in the series.  Firetrack was a pretty amazing technical achievement and great fun (go Orlando!), while Bonecruncher kept me tied to the screen for a while.
Snapper is as perfect a Pacman clone as you could expect without legal issues and Ghouls was a great little platformer.

Superior Software - Play it Again Sam 6

I love shoot ’em ups, and Galaforce 2 had plenty of that plus a fantastic Martin Galway soundtrack.
Yet another faithful arcade conversion by Acornsoft in the form of Hopper and I remember Hunchback being fun for a while.
Looking forward to giving Sentinel another go, and thankfully my Dad kept our list of level codes so I’ll take it as a personal challenge to fill in the rest.

The Fourth Dimension - White Magic

Coming later into the BBC scene, The Fourth Dimension produced some cracking games for the Beeb and the Archimedes later on.
I was always a fan of the arcade game ‘Gauntlet’ but it was so damn hard (and with the ability to top-up your health at any time simply by inserting more money it was more financially crippling than any poker machine), so I was keen to get my hands on this game.  Can’t remember much about it but looking forward to it again.

Superior Software - The Palace of Magic

Can’t remember much about this and I’m not sure if I’d have the patience to complete it without some sort of cheat sheet, but once again I’m looking forward to finding out.

Logotron - XOR Designer

I didn’t realise that BBC games manufacturers sold so many copies of anything that they felt able to release the game and the designer as two completely separate products and you really needed to buy them both.  The designer comes with a paltry 3 levels all taken from the original game and that’s it.
I used to own the original game too (taken from the cover of A&B Computing and then registered to unlock the rest of the levels) but I lent it to someone and never got it back. It was the first game I ever bought and it took about 5 months to arrive from England by swallow (obviously a heavily laden one).

The Fourth Dimension - Nevryon

Awesome shoot ’em up.  Much as I enjoyed this, when I saw screenshots of the Archimedes version I was absolutely blown away – I don’t think I had ever seen something as cool as that.  Still haven’t played it …

Superior Software - Exile

What can I say?  I may have completed this game, or at least got damn close.  Yes, I used a hint sheet but it wasn’t easy.  I don’t think I’ve ever played anything so atmospheric except maybe the original Quake game (with the Trent Reznor soundtrack and effects).
It was so tense, and you could feel it every time you got hit by something.  The physics was so realistic that it was hard not to feel like you were there, particularly on the surface of the planet with the wind.
Simply an amazing combination of gameplay and technical achievement.  I’m simply in awe of the people who have the skill to produce work like this (and sick to death of the idiots who somehow make all the money).

Superior Software - Exile (contents)

I’m so happy I own a copy of this.  All I need is a box set of Elite and anything else is just a bonus.  Note all the different keys that are in use.  In this game you can crouch, fly, pick up and throw things and change the angle at which you fire/throw.
I might sit down and read the novella …

Hmm … there was a kid at school with a copy of Elite which I borrowed for a while.  Might need to find out where he lives.

Acornsoft Logo

Early on I felt it was important that I learn another computer language, and clearly Logo was the language of choice.  I think it just came down to the fact that a local computer store had this in stock so I bought it. If only they had Acornsoft ISO Pascal instead things would have been a lot different.
This is a pretty hefty package and comes on two ROMs, along with a sternly worded copyright notice on the box that starts “You are reminded that the software …”.  Back in those days I didn’t always feel guilty until proven innocent when it came to copyright, and no fines were mentioned that totalled multiple year’s salary.

Like the average person could duplicate two ROMs anyway.

Finally, despite the mysterious disappearance of the actual user manual, I still had two versions of the disc interface manual.

Inside front cover

Interestingly, this manual claims to be modified for Australia and is presumably printed locally.  Not sure what the differences could be, and I didn’t see any places where ‘By Jove!’ was replaced by ‘Strewth!’

So folks, that is the sum total of my collection at the moment and it looks like I need to hit Ebay for some more choice pieces.

I’ve had some good news recently however – finance has been approved on the house so we’ll be moving in within a couple of weeks, and that means I can start setting up the garage out the back into some sort of retro pad.

First thing to get setup is my trusty Loewe Xelos 5270 television.

Loewe Xelos 5270 ZW

Pretty much as good as a CRT can get, and I held off buying a plasma/LCD TV for a long time because the picture quality wasn’t as smooth as this. Sure the resolution was better, and they were less bulky and with more screen area, but they all looked so ‘digital’ for a long time.
Still, once the Bravia arrived it got packed away, but I couldn’t bear to get rid of it.  Good thing too – it has something that fewer modern TVs have – SCART, and better still it supports RGB input signals.
And guess what the BBC supports besides shitty RF?  Oh, boy!

I just need to make me up a rewired SCART cable and I’ll have a beautiful display that will look better than the Bravia (which can only support RF).

At least I didn’t throw away the TV.  I discovered a few days ago that I did in fact give my magazines and books away many years ago to a fellow Beeb owner, and he moved out of home a year ago – and threw them out.