I finally decided that it was time to
leave the TRS-80 Model 1 and move into the world of high resolution color
graphics. I had to update to a new market but a sense of fear and uncertainty
fell upon me. I was quite comfortable with the TRS-80 with its easy to use
blocky monochrome graphics and powerful Z-80 CPU but all good things must
end so I began to look around at what was available.
The Commodore 64 and Atari 800 computers appealed to me with their graphics
and sound capabilities but I knew it would be some time before I could create
games that could compete with what was becoming available. I had to find
a computer that was still in its infancy yet had the potential to become
a big seller.
The new MSX standard was coming out and I liked the hardware architecture.
I looked closely at two early MSX systems, the Spectravideo and Sega machines
and I was impressed but something inside of me said no. As time now has shown,
my "gut feeling" proved right and MSX didn't catch on very well outside of
Ironically, in the end, I went for a machine with lesser graphic and audio
capability than most of the newer systems that I had evaluated. I chose the
Tandy Color Computer. The Color Computer lasted till about 1991, outlasting
many of the competing systems. I guess I was destined to be a Tandy man !
There were two things that attracted me to the Tandy Color Computer. One
was that it had the most powerful 8-bit CPU, the brilliant Motorola 6809.
The other was that it had a large distribution channel via the Tandy/Radio
Shack company stores worldwide. Here in Australia there were over 700 stores
country wide. I had always dreamed of tapping into that marketing. I figured
that a game sold to Tandy Australia would guarantee 700 copies sold!
Original Story Pretext
"For centuries, man has strived for the ultimate power source. As fossil
fuels become scarce, the need for a new, inexhaustible source of energy grows
more and more.
In a dimly lit laboratory, a professor is experimenting on a newly
discovered sub-atomic particle. This particle has been named, NEUTROID and
is causing great controversy in 'The Neutroid Project'.
A prototype power generator has been constructed. Inside this generator
is housed a number of small lead/titanium boxes called Particle Vaults. Within
each vault is a grid network along which Neutroid and Antitroid particles
travel. Protroid particles and special maintenance units called Grid Chargers
are adjacent. Monitoring of the particle vault is performed by external scanners
creating a color coded image onto a standard color television screen.
In order to release the stored energy from within the vault, the Neutroid
particle must be guided via electromagnetic fields into a collision with
each Protroid particle at the same time avoiding the Antitroid particles
which are attracted to the Neutroid's magnetic field. As the energy output
of the generator increases, each successive grid becomes more difficult to
complete. Therefore, lighting fast reflexes and rapid strategic thinking
are a key element to the success of this experiment!
Science is counting on you professor! Complete each grid quickly before
the particle vaults reach the meltdown state, else all is lost!"
Phew! I thought I'd never end! :)
The Tandy Color Computer was quite limited in its graphic capabilities. In
it's highest graphic resolution of 256 x 192 pixels it could only display
2 colors. The choice was limited also, black and white with only a white
border OR black and green with only a green border.
The next resolution down was 128 x 192 in 4 colors. Again, a limited choice
of colors - green, red, yellow and blue with only a green border OR white,
magenta, cyan and orange with only a white border.
You can understand that many of the games all had a similar look. In the
US, a technique called artifacting was used to push a few extra colors in
the black and white high resolution mode. The technique relied on the
NTSC video standard being particularly poor at color accuracy when alternating
high and low contrast pixels are placed next to each other. This technique
managed to coax a few shades of red, blue and yellow along with the standard
black and white.
The problem with this technique was that it didn't work for the PAL video
system as used in Australia. All we saw was an ugly striping effect of olive
and purple that made the games look dreadful. I wanted to crack this limitation
and I found it in the form of the Semi-Graphic modes. These modes allowed
all 8 available colors with a black border. The problem was that the horizontal
resolution was dropped to 64 pixels and there was a color limitation that
required each pair of odd/even pixels (byte boundary) to have the same
color (or black).
I created Neutroid 2 to used this mode and designed the graphics to make
best use of this limitation.
Sound was another area I wanted to improve on over other games available
for the TRS-80 Color Computer at the time. The Color Computer generated sound
by the same method as the TRS-80 Model 1 by toggling a voltage via CPU
intervention on/off to create sound waves. But it was a bit more advanced
in that it could vary that voltage in up to 64 steps instead of the 2 (on & off) that
the Model 1 had. In other words, it had 6 bits available instead of 2 for
sound generation. I could actually make a sound fade off and create effects
with more realistic sounds.
Unlike many of the other color systems on the market, the Color Computer
didn't have a dedicated sound chip to do this and required the CPU to feed
the audio data to the output port. This ate into the time required for graphics
but this was a challenge that I had largely overcome in the TRS-80 Model
1 and I included the same techniques on the Color Computer but using it's
6 bit capability. Neutroid 2 had colorful graphics and better sound than most
of the Color Computer games at the time.
I felt that this game couldn't fail and I began dreaming of that luxury Porsche
in my garage...
Marketing and Sales
Well guess what..... it was a
I got daring with Neutroid 2, taking out a half page ad in an Australian
Color Computer Journal. Nothing came of it, no sales. The only sales I made
were achieved by demo's at club meetings.
Neutroid 2 seemed to suffer the same fate as the original Neutroid, the game
was too abstract in concept.... people didn't get it.
I had to address this problem and get smart with my distribution means. It
was clear to me that the time had come to knock on Tandy's door but first
I needed a game that they couldn't refuse.
I was a game programmer on the edge and I was determined to succeed!