The Home of Parallaxian
Parallaxian: Good Morning Aviators!!!
Posted on 09-March-2023 by Kodiak
In the video clip below, I demonstrate some flight combat engagements in
Parallaxian with increasingly aggressive Hunter-Killers in a test environment I am
presently calling “Drone Alley”.
I make it look easier than it is, given that I have been playing this endlessly for days with infinite lives to get the skills to take them on (besides the point that I should actually be half decent at playing my own game!)
With each drone killed, the aggression is increased, and for testing purposes they also change colour from green ("easy" mode) right up to black ("psycho" mode).
Some minor bugs have crept in with the collision-detection but I'm on top of that ;-)
Previously, the HKs would try to manoeuvre to get into a firing solution behind the plane, where they would trail it and fire into its tail, but now they want to also slam into the plane.
Your plane can absorb a glancing strike, thanks to its shields, but central, head-on or tail-on collisions are fatal.
Due to parameter changes as the HKs become more aggressive, tactics that work when engaging easier modes of the HK will not automatically work for the more aggressive modes, so the player has to "adapt or die".
I have personally found this dogfighting to be some of the most addictive gameplay I have ever experienced on the C64 (or anything else!), so naturally I hope the players of Parallaxian would feel the same; the only downside is, your joystick would really be put through its paces with this "turn n' burn" gameplay and might be at risk of breaking under the strain.
As ever, enjoy the update and please feel free to let me know your thoughts by email or in comments on YouTube!
Parallaxian Update February 2023
Posted on 10-February-2023 by Kodiak
Time for another Parallaxian WIP update!
I this blog post, I cover the following snippets of progress:
- Ground object collision detection
- Take-off and landing sequencers
- Nozzle theory + rotation sequencer
- Airbrakes theory + sequencer
- Pilot actions out-of-cockpit
- Colonist rescue sequencer
- RAM issues
- WIP clip (YouTube video)
- Next steps
Ground Object Collision Detection
This was one of the easiest things to code in this project, purely because I just cut-and-pasted the fundamental detection routines for the airborne objects,
made a few bespoke tweaks, and now the plane erupts in a fireball if it smashes into any solid metal ground object.
I still need to make the same thing happen if the player flies into the ground, but for now I want to hold off on that while I develop other low level features, as it could become very annoying to lack invincibility when testing and debugging those features.
We also have a nice earth-shaker effect - in full parallax, of course - for when the plane slams into any solid objects on the ground; prior to that feature, the sudden stop in acrolling was too jarring on the eyes, but now it's perfect.
Take-off and Landing Sequencers
I optimised and cleaned up the auto take-off sequencer and added a 100% new VTOL automatic landing service that kills the lift jets when it detects the ground
(or the landing platform of the home base beneath the plane), so that the plane drops in freefall under gavity for the last few "metres" and relies on its brand new suspension effect to
absorb the kinetic energy of the fall.
It works very well and allows the pilot to deplane with ease once he opens the canopy, but... I have decided I want a more manual feel to the landing and take-off processes, slightly more like the inertia-centric take-off in the hangar scene in Raid Over Moscow, but without the nightmare sense of losing control.
So, I intend to rework it again to bring it closer to the Choplifter feel when taking off and landing.
The suspension effect, meanwhile, is a personal favourite of mine and adds a real sense of physics to proceedings when the plane touches down.
Nozzle Theory + Rotation Sequencer
Hitherto in every WIP video of Parallaxian, I have shown the nozzle in a fixed lateral alignment but given that so much of the gameplay involves VTOL actions,
it would have been remiss of me to just settle for showing the lift jets without showcasing the nozzle's variable geometry.
With that in mind, I have introduced rotating nozzles (as the YouTube clip below shows), controlled by the Figment's automated systems.
The gfx data is streamed-in on-the-fly via the game's main loop (no need to burden the interrupts with that work!) and modifies only a small region of the tail-end of the plane, as the schematic below depicts.
(The same principle applies to the airbrakes, landing gear (or "undercarriage" as we Brits prefer to term it) and canopy animations, allowing all of these systems to operate freely and independently of one another at minimal RAM overhead).
Airbrakes Theory + Sequencer
Following the same reasoning as that which applies to showing the nozzle rotations, I thought it imperative that the Figment's yaw-based agility should be underlined by drawing
attention to its airbraking system.
And so for tail-sliding, when it pulls a 180 degree rotation around its yaw axis so that it can fire backwards while still moving forwards, it should have powerful double dorsal airbrakes (on the upper and lower surfaces of the fuselage), as the illustration below shows.
Likewise, for the slow-down in normal forward flight, it should also have a ventral airbrake more akin to that found on conventional aircraft.
However, note for now that the ventral airbrake is the only one shown on the video clip, but I do intend to add the double dorsal shortly.
PS: If RAM permits, I would really like an engine failure mode as well, in which acrid smoke would be emitted by the engines as the player struggles to maintain control of his damaged plane.
Pilot Actions Out-of-Cockpit
It was always the plan that the pilot should be able to dismount from the Figment's cockpit and interact with the terrain, with a view to collecting items related to the mission.
I am tempted to say what those things might be, but I want to retain some mystery for the game's release so I'll say no more on that for now.
The pilot can presently disembark and roam about the surface of the planet, with a detection routine for ground objects and he has his own walking and leaping physics, based on the idea that he has a powerful exoskeleton suit enabling high leaps.
Should the piot be killed on one of his walkabouts, the player loses a "life", just as would be the case with a plane crash.
Colonist Rescue Sequencer
I mentioned Choplifter earlier and for good reason: a major aspect of Parallaxian's gameplay is Choplifter-style search-and-rescue but with some subtle differences:
- In Parallaxian, you can only airlift one passenger at a time as the Figment is a two-seat aircraft, not a transport helicopter.
- Some of the passengers are stranded colonists out in the open, hiding in the foliage or trapped and awaiting rescue.
- If RAM permits, there should also be special forces operatives that you ferry around to guard important installations.
The sequencers for these things are pretty much complete and the video clip below demonstrates their typical functionality.
Speaking of RAM issues, I have had to spend some time compressing everything down with a view to leaving more memory for additional features.
Whereas in the past I was fixated on saving CPU time, especially in the interrupts, now I have to find RAM-saving trade-offs, leading to the following considerations (among many):
- I experimented with VSP for the foreground scroller to save RAM and CPU time in one fell swoop; however, maintaining a stable display there with all the cycle-stealing sprite interactions and the FLD for the vertical component of the parallax effect has made this an impractical solution, even with cycle-correction measures for the presence of sprites.... It's one of those "whack-a-mole" affairs, where you get one part right but it fouls up the rest.
- Parallaxian has 4 different explosion sequencers: 1. The mega effect for the Figment, 2. The ground-burst effect when bombing tanks, etc., 3. The normal mid-air explosion and 4. The Hunter-Killer's own unique explosion. Sadly, the latter will have to be replaced with #3, at least on the C64 version, but can be retained for the C128 version.
- The gauges in the panel zone at the foot of the screen are needlessly convoluted and could be redesigned to consume less RAM.
- I need to stop being silly about the distant landscape and just make it a series of blocks instead of the current bloated mega-memory hog that it is; admittedly, I should have done that from the start, long ago!
WIP Clip (YouTube Video)
The YouTube video below showcases progress made in the past few weeks, albeit still in the form of a technical testbed rather than depciting the real-game world layout.
The "display circuit" in this clip features:
- Nozzle rotation effect.
- Seeking a colonist on the ground.
- Rescuing colonist & returning to base.
- A brief bombing run.
- A dogfight with a Hunter-Killer drone.
- Rescue of a second colonist & returning to base.
- Deliberate crash into large transformer, to show ground collision detection is working.
What Comes Next
The next near-term items on my to-do list are:
- Rework the controls as described to improve VTOL transitions and manoeuvring responses.
- Refine and improve inertia effects.
- Rework camera shifts / drift-back to make it feel more natural.
- Rework the Hunter-Killer sequencer and add the homing missile capacity to it, as the same basic game logic applies to both.
Anyway, enjoy the update and feel free to let me know your thoughts by email or in the comments on the YouTube clip!
Quick Updates Early Dec 2022
Posted on 08-December-2022 by Kodiak
New Major Article: Game Development Options
was written largely in response to a thread on Lemon concerning the scene's reactions to an Alf Yngwe SEUCK game being given a commercial release (not the first such case, by the way).
In the article, I cover alternatives to SEUCK and state my own position on the rectitude of using SEUCK to make commercial releases.
I continue to close in on finishing Seawolves, which I mentioned in my previous blog post.
I am posting occasional snippets of gfx work for that game over on my Ko-Fi page but I also wanted to give some more development notes here:
- The game is being developed for 1-2 player modes; the multiple player modes would all entail simultaneous gameplay, rather than annoyingly taking successive turns to play. I am also hoping to expand this to 4 players before release, assuming we have the raster time available. The coedbase for that is all in place, including collision-detection and scores.
- Speaking of raster time, in its present state the game cannot be ported to NTSC (which lacks enough scanlines to get all the time-sensitive stuff done each frame). A gracefully degraded workaround might resolve that issue, however.
- While I have produced most of the gfx work, the brilliant artist that is John Henderson has also contributed with some pretty sensational sealife designs and a few other items.
- Gameplay is much more expansive than the simple fare of the clunky old Seawolf game which inspired Seawolves, now with kinetic threats posed to the players' submarines, but I want to keep details of that classified for another little while...
- Most of the in-game visual effects are genuine real-time effects; I am aware there has been a bit of a discussion in recent times about real-time versus pre-calc / pre-drawn effects in the C64 demo scene, but none of that has coloured my decision to use a lot of real-time effects in the game; rather, it was the only way I could achieve the various water warping / ripples and other game-critical visual effects, and the methods used should also make their way into Parallaxian's water levels.
- In addition to joystick, keys and maybe the Protopad, I am thinking of making the game controllable via paddles, as a nod to the original Seawolf, so kindly get in touch if that is something you think should be included.
- As with Parallaxian, Seawolves has more than just one type of explosion when enemies are hit... As of the last count, there are 4 unique types, not for the sake of being "different", but because the game needs it.
Anyway... I must get back to finishing this game and hopefully I will have a preview video uploaded in the next few weeks.
And like I said, check on my ultra tiny blog over on Ko-Fi, such as this iceberg design post for Seawolves.
Since my previous
Parallaxian WIP update,
I have devoted most of my coding time to Seawolves (although some of that work is also to be transplanted into Parallaxian).
I have, however, added ground object collision detection in an efficient, fast way, which was one of the to-do list items.
I won't deny that I prefer working on Parallaxian to any other project, but I just want the Seawolves game wrapped up ASAP and since it's close to completion, I thought I should just push on with it first.
Posted on 11-November-2022 by Kodiak
I recently mentioned a new Commodore 64 game I have been quietly developing concurrently with Parallaxian, the idea (proposed to me by someone else) initially being to knock it out fast and, among other things, I thought I should use it to test the market and to serve as a "dry run" for the subsequent release of Parallaxian.
That new game is called Seawolves and is being designed as a multiplayer shoot-em-up based around the original premise of the old CBM release Seawolf, which was designed to be controlled by paddles, of all things (yes, the horror!)
As usual with me, however, some mission creep set in and now Seawolves has acquired a heavy dose of Parallaxian tech, including extensive use of the NMI... It even features some warping effects originally concocted for Parallaxian's water landscapes, so it should hopefully give the player a feel for the quality they can expect in Parallaxian.
Seawolves, however, also introduces some very special new tech of its own in the form of the trick used to render the torpedo sprites, but you'll have to wait until the first preview video is released to see that in action.
In the meantime, I can reveal the prototype logo (below, obviously!) for the title screen which should, I hope, provide a foretaste of the vibe I am going for with this game.
Stay tuned for more updates on this game in the coming weeks!
7x5 Charset Design Theory
Posted on 10-November-2022 by Kodiak
I have heard it said that all charset designs on the Commodore 64 that could possibly exist have already been created and I would guess that, as far as the standard 6x7 pixel or 7x7 format goes, it might be close to being true.
However, I would also speculate that other less common matrices have not yet been exhausted and with that notion in mind, I set about tinkering with a baseline model of 7x5 pixels instead of the standard 7x7.
The theory behind it is that it offers natural symmetry around the horizontal axis, since 5 is an odd number and we could have 2 pixels of reach or "stroke"
above the centreline, and 2 more below it, perfect for forming the perennially awkward letters "B", "E", "S", etc.
So now let's check out some of the results of my experimentation and marvel at the pretentious "fonty" names I assigned each new typeface (I suspect the names took more creative thinking time than the actual fonts did - how's that for pretentiousness?)
Font Swatch A
Some commentary on each design in turn, and please note that the names were also chosen to include critical letters of each font, just to see how they would perform
"in the wild":
- Cyber Samurai Scriptography: This one started out as a standard 7x5 but then some little embellishing strokes were added to give it a futuristic Japanese vibe. This is a trend, by the way, I found in developing these designs: use 7x5 as baseline and then work from that foundation.
- Tech Noir Typographical: This, of course, is a scaled down version of the font in the Tech Noir logo I designed for branding all my games, and that in turn was a C64-ified take on the Terminator 2 font.
- New Mnemonic Monotype Retropolis: A nice mouthful to pronounce, this design was meant as a squared ultra-retro 8-bit font, which would go well in a space shooter type of game or something designed to look pre-1985 in the C64 scene.
- Seawolves Light: Actually, this should have been #1 on this list as it was the first one I designed under this methodology and was, I am going to reveal now, meant for the other game I am working on (concurrently with Parallaxian) which, strange as this may seem, is actually called Seawolves (look out for a preview clip of that on this blog in the near future, all being well).
- Seawolves Heavy: As above, but with thicker strokes. I still can't decide which version I prefer.
- Tesla Retroactive: Obviously, this one was inspired by / modelled on the font used in those impractical electric cars made by that dude that thinks he's Iron Man. I find it legible, but it's probably my least favourite of this batch.
- Delorean Dystopian: All that Tesla stuff got me thinking about cars, the future, Back to the Future and my homeland of Northern Ireland where the car used by Marty McFly in said movie was manufactured. That car being, of course, the utterly awful Delorean. It did have one redeeming feature, though. It had a nice logo and so I based this font on someone else's idea of what that logo turned into a font should look like.
- Chunky Blox Gamer Font: Changing direction somewhat, I thought I should round the first batch off (or should that be "square it off?") with an upbeat, less sci-fi, less 1980s tech noir, more silly, more playful kind of font suitable for deployment in a platform game. It's not the most legible on this list, but it still works.
Font Swatch B
This was the second tranche of experimental designs, and with these I took a few extra liberties.
- Ninja Neon Nightlife: I can't remember whether this was inspired by some 1980s sci-fi mental flashback or just some glimpse of a Chinese takeaway logo, but in any case, it is meant to be redolent of a neon sign for an oriental shop of some flavour.
- Art Deco Narrow Empire State: I have never mentioned this before (as far as I know), but I have been a huge fan of art deco style design for many years, and would like to make an art deco style game environment some day, but in the meantime am pleased to dabble with art deco fonts. Now to be clear, this is not a 7x5 font, but pretty much a 4x7, so it marks a major departure from the stated model. Nevertheless, it comes from the same kind of approach, i.e., "let's try something else".
- Art Deco Medium New York: You can tell I was struggling for inspiration for names here, as the half-educated among you will know that New York is also known as... The Empire State. This design is just a heavier set version of the previous one, with the same art deco notes.
- Art Deco Heavy Gotham City: Okay, I get it, I'm really milking the New York theme now (well, why not, it has some very iconic art deco architecture, such as the Empire State Building, which looks like it might belong in Jellyland in Mayhem in Monsterland). And as all Batman enthusiasts will know, Gotham is a longstanding nickname for New York. As for the font, it's probably the least legible of the three art deco variants, but I personally still find it quite iconic.
- Seawolves Light Squared Off: This is just as it says: the Seawolves Light font squared, and I really like it and feel it has potential for in-game use.
- Seawolves Heavy Squared Off: As above, but it doesn't gel for me as well as the light version does..
- Vintage Radio: I was looking for a 1950's vibe narrow font (and actually designed this before the art deco ones), somewhat based around the kind of lettering common on old radios, diner logos, maybe even cars and fridges back when the world was much, much saner than it is now. Sometimes I think this is a great design, other times... just okay.
- Rounded Broadstroke: I could pretend I knew what I was thinking with this one but I don't really know much more beyond the fact that it started as another squared-off design and somehow ended up nicely rounded. And, being another 7x5 design, it brings us back to where we started this little study.
In closing, I hope the above was interesting and helpful if you are into C64 gfx design, as I realise probably too many of my articles are coding-centric.
Anyway, enjoy and kindly share on the usual places if you think it's any good!
Special Afterthought #1
Over on the Reddit thread for this article,
someone rather sagely pointed out a traditional shortcoming of single pixel width vertical stroke char designs, namely,
that they tend to be not the most readable on the CRT displays typically used with real hardware back in the 1980s, so that has rather swayed my decision in favour of using the
heavier Seawolves font in the actual game.
Special Afterthought #2
While researching ideas for title screens, I noticed that
uses a 6x5 font in its "Arena Graphics" / copyright line just below the game's upper logo; as usual,
Archer Maclean was ahead of his time (okay, so it's not the 7x5 I like, but it's close!)
Parallaxian Update November 2022
Posted on 01-November-2022 by Kodiak
I realise I have been inexcusably neglectful in providing any substantial news on my "next gen" Commodore 64 game in development, Parallaxian for a very long time, so this blog post is an attempt at redressing that shortfall.
Let me begin by saying that, in addition to a host of issues behind the scenes unrelated to the game itself, I have also been absorbed in developing a smaller, less ambitious unrelated game which, among other objectives, should serve as a pathfinder for the release of Parallaxian.
So those are my reasons, rather than excuses for the lack of updates.
Now let's crack on with showing some real progress!
The video below shows me playing the latest Parallaxian technical testbed and includes the following highlights:
- Chasing down the Backfire.
- Dogfighting with some Hunter-Killer drones.
- Engaging the Groundhog (aka "Tarantula").
- The Figment's prototype main explosion, along with Shuttle-borne recovery sequence (in a nice little nod to IO).
Some features are disabled, for example, the landing sequencer and others have been removed, such as the enemy homing missiles, which require a ground-up rewrite to make the code more efficient and performant, but the key point I make concerning the testbeds is always the same: proof of concept, for later transplanting into the playable version of the game.
And, being a technical testbed, it also showcases some previously unseen items of special "next gen" tech developed specifically for this game, such as the totally unpretentiously (!) named "hyper sprite" concept and "compound sprites".
(I also realise I have somehow messed up / accidentally done away with some of the older SFX, such as the Hunter-Killer's laser sound, so apologies for that).
Hyper Sprite Concept
I wanted a hovering, belligerent adversary that is hard to dispatch and is armed with homing missiles, so that the player would have to perform
multiple swooping attacks on it to try to destroy it.
My original design called for a vertically expanded sprite with transparent flame effect beneath it, but I found the look too blocky for the overall game aesthetic, which meant I could either dispense with the y-expand altogether and run with a conventional MCM sprite, or use a hi-res overlay at the cost of an extra sprite for the enemy ship.
But then I recalled that, whilst standing in the queue at an alternative medicine shop in eastern Europe not so long previously, I had the idea of alternating hi-res and MCM definitions in a single sprite to generate a dynamic smoothing effect.
(I'm sure you'll agree, there is nothing quite like shopping in a dodgy looking slum for triggering creative thought processes).
The concept is explained by the diagram below.
As a special bonus, you can
download a little hyper sprite demo (.prg file)
showing another hyper sprite designed for Parallaxian in action.
This is an enemy designed for later levels, and it goes by the name of Ironside; I won't tell you what it does yet, but there's a hint in its name ;-)
Compound Sprite Concept
Far less innovative than the hyper sprite idea is the compound sprite, which in one form or another has been around in the Commodore 64 gaming scene
since the mid 1980s, if not earlier.
However, the form of it that I am talking about does not use hi-res sprite overlays; rather, it uses hi-res char underlays, and as the video clip above showed, that's what the ground vehicles were refined with in the Parallaxian testbed.
Note that the tank is x-expanded, but the hi-res char underlay diverts from the unavoidable resolution loss entailed in the x-expansion.
And of course, there is no rule that says overlays / underlays can only be used with MCM sprites, as the hi-res satellite dish shows.
Sneak Peek at other In-Game Sprites
Since we've gone all spritey in this blog post, let's have a quick peek (not a poke!) at some other in-game adversaries
developed for Parallaxian.
- Bomblebee: This is an airborne enemy that can only be destroyed by bombing it from above as it bobbles about. This was one of those very rare examples of an idea that looked cool at the design stage and in my imagination, only to look far less impressive in actual deployment. I think it will be removed as I just found basic play-testing with it irritating rather than fun, plus the visuals just don't work (for me) in the game.
- Groundhog: An as-yet not superlatively designed ground-based foe that also can only be destroyed by bombing it; unlike the Bomblebee, this one fires back and is highly mobile. The version in the WIP video is more arachnid-like, hence the working nickname of "Tarantula" which may become its formal name in due course, unless I replace it with a different design in the interim. You have to destroy the Groundhog to make its adjoining Swarms vulnerable to your laser, an idea loosely based on / stolen from Creatures (on the occasions where Clyde has to kill enemy A to destroy enemy B)... or you could say it's the inversion of Space Invaders! Anyway, until the Groundhog is killed, the Swarms remain invulnerable (indicated by being in monochrome hues) and just suck your plane into their path and thrust it away from the Groundhog.
- Backfire: I have shown an early prototype of this enemy before, which you have to hunt down while avoiding its truly savage backfiring "sunbeam" laser. The present Backfire codebase has to be 100% rewritten as I am unhappy with how it feels during testing and would prefer that it would dive down low to skim at treetop level and thereby give an enhanced sensation of high speed chase to the player.
- Piranha: A shape-shifting liquid metal (yes, Terminator 2's T-1000 inspired this idea) stealthy attack aircraft that likes to sneak up behind you and drain your shields. This enemy was designed specifically for the Figment's tailslide action, so that you can turn and fire back at it while still sliding forwards. I was going to include this in the WIP video but went with the Groundhog prototype instead.
The Cutting Room Floor
Just as musicians make more material than they need when recording an album, or directors of a film record more scenes
and demand more takes of each scene than is required, so in the process of designing (and coding) a new game does a
developer produce more gfx and code than will ever make it into the final product.
Some of it ends up canned forever, whereas some gets put on hold until a better version can be cooked up.
Below I present a cameo of such "not good enough" designs, some of which will just be abandoned and others I hope will make it into the game.
So When will the Game be Finished?
The only reasonable answer to that question is "when I get all the components completed".
The project has been delayed because of external issues, yes, BUT... The game is much closer to completion than I had imagined up until I returned to working on it in recent times.
But, it is also important to take note of the following observations:
- I have almost zero support from within the scene to continue with the project (not a complaint, just an observation!), so I have tended to proceed cautiously, lest I go all-in with it at the expense of making a living!
- That said, I was ridiculously generously supported (privately off-platform - and thanks again to the person who did that) during the abortive and extensively sabotaged Kickstarter campaign, so that still drives me to see the project through.
- I have deliberately taken a step back from the game over the summer so that I can finish the other game I mentioned earlier, and see how the scene reacts to it; like Parallaxian, it is a very technical, ambitious project, but on a smaller scale.
- Parallaxian has been a labour of love for me and a pet project for a long time, so no matter what happens, I know that finishing Parallaxian would be a dream-come-true for me and the realisation of an ambition going back to my teenage years when I first started coding 6502 on the Commodore 64... As I have said before multiple times, Parallaxian is the C64 game I always wanted and now I have a chance to make that happen.
- When I started coding Parallaxian, I was returning to 6502 after a 25 year absence so let's just say I was a little rusty. Essentially, I have been learning on the job ever since, acquiring new technical knowledge through the pain of many mistakes and a lot of research. That in turn has seen the codebase for the game undergo multiple refactoring processes to strip out bloat and make it do more with less code, and do it faster, so that as much as possible can be squeezed into the available CPU time and RAM. Needless to say, that has also been a methodical, but slow, process.
- Following on from my previous point, something like 95% of my development time is either debugging or trying to overcome hardware limitations; to do anything ambitious on the Commodore 64 requires a real fight with the hardware. I'm not talking about one or two fancy demo scene effects; I'm talking about an advanced game environment, with all the additional raster time overhead and RAM demands that come with that. It often boils down to a case of whack-a-mole, in which you get one feature fully functional, only to find you have degraded another in the process. And that takes time to resolve.
A Bonus Downloadable Effect: Large Explosion!
Okay... that last section was a little... heavy.
So let's lighten the mood with another download, showing the prototype of the Figment's explosion (.prg file) when it finally succumbs to enemy attack in the game.
When you run the program, hit the space bar to view the effect! (You can press it again to repeat, ad infinitum).
And kindly contact me if you have any questions about the project going forward. Encouragement, even if only a few words, means a lot!
To-Do List (Major Items)
- Radar functional on airspace indicator.
- Rescue / ferrying sequencers.
- Ground object & terrain collisions.
- Landing sequences (as current one is not good enough).
- Enhanced vertical parallax effect (mostly done, just needs some laborious GFX tweaking).
- Homing missile sequencer.
- 100% rewrite of the Backfire.
- Piranha sequencer.
- Add boats, water effects, terrain (for other levels).
- Add other in-game enemies not mentioned yet.
- Superlative SFX.
- Improved handling + scrolling mechanics, esp. @ low speeds; presently acceleration @ u-turns is too "snappy".
- May also revise the camera situation on turns.
- Redesign all other levels.
- Disk loader (not looking forward to that one!)
ECM: Breathing New Life into C64 Games
Posted on 22-September-2022 by Kodiak
In seeking to raise graphical standards for my own games on the Commodore 64, I have attempted to develop a definition of next generation graphics, built around the core principles of:
- Minimal use of multicolour mode graphics to minimise blockiness, with a preference instead for hi-res or Extended Color Mode (ECM or ECBM, with the "B" referencing the word background).
- Non-standard colours as an alternative to blocky dithering / stippling.
- Visibility, i.e. good contrast between sprites and backgrounds.
- A visual effects-driven gaming environment, entailing smoothing expedients on sprites, warping effects, parallax scrolling, etc.
- 80 column fonts to further distance the style from the legacy era look.
In this blog post, I want to focus on the first of those issues, specifically the impact ECM gfx is having on "the look" of new Commodore 64 games.
An Underused Graphics Mode
Until fairly recently, ECM has been largely neglected as a graphics mode on the C64.
Sure, there have been isolated exceptions, such as US Gold's 1983 release Tapper (which you can download here), but the 64 character limitation it imposes presumably led to its consignment to the C64's digital scrapheap during the golden age of the platform.
However, ECM has been been enjoying something of a modern revival, with C64 graphicians revisiting this forgotten mode in pursuit of fresh visual styles for the venerable platform.
The demo scene even had an ECM-only competition in late 2020 which, for me, underlined the Commodore 64 scene's renewed interest in this long-neglected graphical mode.
And it's not just the demo scene's interest that has been piqued by ECM of late; more relevantly to my own interests, it's also starting to be embraced by some within the C64 gaming scene.
ECM in Notable Recent C64 Games
I might be wrong in saying so, but I think the first recent era game to really grab everyone's attention for its use of ECM was Retream's
Quod Init Exit, a quirky platformer with a very non-C64, colourful look... courtesy of its liberal use of
The image below shows its sequel's work-in-progress playable demo (downloadable from Retream's itch.io page), which retains the same eye-catching ECM-based graphical style as the original game.
(As a side comment for coders reading this, the game's developer has come up with a jaw-droppingly smart "one read, two writes" technique for rapidly rendering both the chars and their
colours in what represents a feat of coding genius I have never seen the like of before in all my experience with 6502 assembly language programming on the C64 -
read about it in his notes and follow-up comments on this Lemon forum post).
The next extraordinarily skilful deployment of ECM in a Commodore 64 game is shown below in the form of the delightful Goblin by Vanja Utne (and you can also download a 9-level preview of the game from that link!)
I should point out that a similar or even superior effect might, if there are enough free char space definitions, be obtained by using 2 char rows to simulate a single row
through the sneaky expedient of using the bottom 4 lines of graphics on an upper row and the top 4 lines on a lower row to fake an 8 line deep char row.
This trick would get round the hardware limitation that prevents char colours from being altered mid-char.
Anyway... the final ECM-based game I would like to draw your attention to is the superbly designed Robot Jet Action, which has five different game worlds that further highlight the sheer freshness and versatility that the use of ECM graphics brings to the Commodore 64 gaming scene.
It's also notable that in each of the three recent game examples highlighted above, the graphicians have gone to extra lengths to minimise (in the case of Robot Jet Action) or even entirely
avoid (in the case of the other examples) blockiness in their sprite designs, not just in the backgrounds.
There are hi-res overlays on the player sprites in each game, and in the first two games, even non-player sprites are overlaid to impart a much slicker and dare I say it, "next gen" vibe to the overall look.
So.. I trust you will agree with me that ECM offers the prospect of a whole new design methodology for Commodore 64 games and, if combined with other clever design choices and the kind of hyper innovative lateral coding thought evident in Quod Init Exit II, raises the tantalising prospect of a new generation of games that should keep the platform alive even longer.
The Use of ECM in Kodiak's Games?
Obviously, I cannot proffer such lavish praise of ECM as a design option and then say nothing about my own intentions for deploying it, so let's get to the point...
Yes, I do intend to use it and have already done so for the airspace indicator in Parallaxian, but I hope to make an entire game using it at some stage too.
In the meantime, I need to crack on and finish Parallaxian and its secret prequel that I can't tell anyone about just yet!
Oh, and before you go, kindly check out my latest technical article, The Future of VSP Scrolling on the C64 and if you want some further reading on advanced char-based gfx tricks for Commodore 64 game design, take a look at the char-based secrets of Andrew Braybrook's games (Paradroid, Uridium, et al) in his fascinating C64 Character Modes blog post... his revelations on the bullets used in Uridium are well worth studying.
So, that's a wrap on this blog post and as ever, if you like anything I am writing or doing, kindly share far and wide ;-)
New Branding Logo Reveal
Posted on 15-August-2022 by Kodiak
I have endured a cascade of setbacks over the summer months this year, but still have been able to continue progress with my Commodore 64 projects, including a new action game in development that I am hoping will prove a very useful "pathfinder" for the launch of Parallaxian.
I am not yet ready to publicly disclose details of that new game, other than to say it is designed for 1-4 simultaneous players and it uses a lot of the C64 demo-scene trickery that forms the coding bedrock of Parallaxian.
Meanwhile, I wanted a branding moniker for all of my games (and anyone else's games that end up being published by me), given how cool I think the Nintendo and Sega splash screens look, but for the past few years I just couldn't settle on a name from my shortlist:
- Closed Canon: The original idea behind this was a sideways glance at certain individuals in the coding scene who went out of their way to try to discredit Parallaxian's game tech, but really, who even cares any more? The logo would have featured some kind of "CC" motif but C is one of those letters that's hard to get right on a logo for the Commodore, especially in the form I had envisaged, so that may have also contributed to my loss of enthusiasm for the Closed Canon idea.
- Pixel Perfect Productions: Well, it's punchy and memorable and condenses nicely to PPP, but it's a bit too wordy and thus limits one's design options.
- Artisan Games: This one seemed to have legs for a while and I even went so far as to brainstorm out early font ideas with my very good mate, Mr John "Hend" Henderson, the Wild Wood guy (whom I incidentally had the pleasure of meeting at his splendid house in England back in June - thanks again for the steak dinner and the Zzapp annual, mate!) But Artisan Games wasn't clean cut enough for me so I dropped it like a hot potato wrapped in lava.
For a long time after that, I had lost my inspiration and resorted in desperation to trying to work animal names into it... daft stuff like Eagle Games or Warthog Wares (just kidding with that last one!)
Then I started to think about 8 sprites being used in the logo and what that constraint might dictate.
Nocturnal Ruminations, Diurnal Inspirations
I knew this was burrowing into my subconscious a little excessively when I would waken up at night for a leak and find myself thinking what combinations would fit into an 8 sprite schema.
As you do.
And then one day in July, YouTube recommended an old clip from The Terminator; the Tech Noir scene, which features an eponymous club where Sarah Connor is lying low when Kyle Reece rescues her at the last moment, just as the T-800 was about to attack.
(As an old friend of mine used to say, when in fact he meant Eureka).
From that moment, I knew Tech Noir was the name I was after, evoking so much 1980s nostalgia, which was the golden age of the C64 after all.
Next order of business: design the logo!
Retro Runway Overshoot
My first concept was the image shown below:
I sent it to Hend and our mutual friend, NM156, for some critical feedback, but their muted responses said more than any lengthy diatribe ever could (not that either man would stoop so low!)
This design was simply not up to snuff.
I mean, I am all for a retro, 1980s vibe, but seriously... this is too close to the beginnings of the C64's emergence rather than the sweet spot of the mid-to-late 1980s, which was when the machine reached its apotheosis.
And before you ask, "why not model it on the logo of the Tech Noir club from the film?", just Google said logo for yourself and tell me that's the edgy vibe I was looking for.
So, it was back to the drawing board.
Or rather, back to watching Terminator clips to nudge my inspiration a little further.
And then I saw it.
Right at the tail-end of a fandom fake trailer for a new Terminator movie was an incredible modern remodelling of the classic Terminator logo, with a font so cool it could freeze dry a rhinoceros at forty paces.
So I did what any right thinking gfx designer would do in such instances and totally plagiarised it, albeit with a few minor adjustments here and there to pander to the foibles of the C64's high resolution display capabilities.
Sci-Fi High Five
So what we have here is the logo, in all its resplendent, erm, splendidness and splendour:
Of course, this is so much more than a logo... This has to form the basis of a slick splash screen on all of my games and, well, how shall I put this... The code for that has pretty much been
completed, at least to a foundational degree, with a special demo-level effect that still wows me away every time I see it.
But, I don't want to ruin the impact of you seeing it in a deployed game for the first time, so at this point I shall have to cease and desist in the hope that you'll trust me when I say it is a fresh, or dare I even suggest new effect on the Commodore 64.
And with that, I wrap this article, other than to say if you like anything I am writing or doing, kindly share on Twitbook and wherever else you can ;-)
This is Kodiak signing off.
Website Update April 2022
Posted on 28-April-2022 by Kodiak
By now I presume most of you still checking this blog out from time to time have probably given up on Parallaxian due to my prolonged radio silence.
However, the truth is, the game's development has been ongoing since last autumn.
The incommunicado issue has been the result of the following factors:
- The catastrophic loss of my main laptop in early October 2021, resulting in very limited ability to update my website (and the loss of many months' worth of Parallaxian backups).
- A torrent of behind-the-scenes difficulties related to my efforts to return to my native UK after a long period of living on the continent.
- A succession of extremely frustrating technical problems caused by my webhosting provider.
Thankfully, I have been able to review and update the website in the past few weeks, removing some old articles, adding new content and replacing lost or damaged images, and am now at the point where I can resume posting on it.
So, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, let's summarise and then review the major changes:
- The newsletter has been terminated.
- The pathetic t-shirt experiment has been cancelled.
- The "Hot in the C64 scene" section has been replaced with direct links to my YouTube channel's videos.
No more Newsletter?
Yes. Because, to be frank, it was a monumental waste of time.
Did it expand my mailing list? Sure, but 10 new subscribers for a week or two of hard graft in writing each newsletter is not exactly worth the bother.
It also was proving too much of a diversion from actually coding Parallaxian, so it had to go.
Online shop gone too?
Everyone and their mama is trying to sell print-on-demand t-shirts these days, so my "online shop" was somewhat doomed to failure from the start.
When you consider all the hours entailed in putting designs together, designing the shop interface, etc., and all for just a single sale (if I am remembering correctly!), then again it's another diversionary / fruitless dead-end.
And C64 scene news axed?
Well, the idea of having scene news in the first place was to make an effort at generating daily traffic to my home page.
However, it didn't quite work out that way, as analytics revealed traffic only went up with each new blog post and then trailed off again to a pitiful low.
The proverbial "spike of hope" followed by the "flatline of nope"!!!
So once more, I had to wield the axe and use the screen real estate allocated to that feature to promote my YouTube channel, which to date is the most effective means of generating interest in the project.
I have to say, the results from the site's relaunch in late 2020 surprised me; sure, my expectation levels were low from the outset, but the indifference to it
from the scene was even worse than my projected worst case scenario had predicted!
For example, almost nobody used the Amazon affiliation feature, but in fairness, it's an overdone thing anyway and people are presumably tired of seeing it on websites and so just ignore it.
On the positive side, the PayPal donate feature fared slightly better and is being retained for now.
In any case, my focus now is on finishing Parallaxian, with or without support from the scene.
As for Deep Winter, it's unlikely to proceed unless Parallaxian does well, so its fate hangs in the balance.
In closing then, I hope you might have learned something about what not to do in terms of promoting / trying to monetise what is, let's face it, a website for a small niche.
And, of course, I would ask you to consider donating via Paypal using the PayPal button at the bottom of this page (in the orange "box-out"). towards Parallaxian's continuing development - see the orange box below for special perks for those who do so.
On YouTube: Parallaxian WIP Nov 2022
On YouTube: Non Standard Colors C64
On YouTube: Deep Winter
On YouTube: Parallaxian GFX
On YouTube: Parallaxian WIP
Help Make Parallaxian Happen!
...and get special perks!
Progress on Parallaxian has slowed down since summer 2021 for several reasons, one of which has been the very low level of support from
the C64 scene which has made it difficult to continue justifying to my family the long hours of hard work a project as complex as this requires.
Now, I understand these are difficult times and I admit I am not entitled to any support at all, but it really does encourage me to continue developing this sensational game when you make a regular Paypal donation.
And as a special thank you, all who do this can enjoy the following perks:
- Your name credited in the game (unless you opt out of it if you have the same kind of incognito hermit tendencies I do).
- Access to the ongoing beta-testing of the game (unless you would prefer not to see it before its release date).
- The finished game on media (e.g. cartridge) for FREE one week before its release.