MAY 2017

Chapter 01 - Brainstorming an idea

Buoyed by the encouraging sales and healthy response by the CoCo community of my game Pop*Star Pilot,  I embarked on the search for another game idea to create on my favorite 8-bit computer. Something  challenging,  ground breaking and that will make me lots of money!

Ok. I'll settle for the first two out of the three... but it doesn't hurt to dream right?  :)

I began by giving some serious consideration in recreating my past CoCo 1&2 game Donut Dilemma with enhanced CoCo3 graphics, even coming up with some great ideas for some ground breaking graphics. But having already created Donut Dilemma three times, over three different platforms - TRS-80 Model 1 (1984), Color Computer 1&2 (1986) and the Australian produced Maximite (2013) -  a fourth iteration was less appealing to me.

I then turned my attention to another of my early creations, Rupert Rythym. This was my first CoCo3 specific game which I created in 1988. I remember having high expectations for this game, but in the end I felt it fell short in several areas. By this time, Tandy Electronics in Australia had taken an interest in selling my games so it was a matter of pumping the new games out while the interest was there. The disadvantage of this work ethic is that the emphasis shifts to quantity instead of quality. While people said it was a great game, for me personally it was a disappointment and I had often thought about a remake to remedy the short falls.  But I was weary of another rehash and decided that I wanted to pursue something fresh.

I began thinking of game genres I’ve yet to explore and I gave strong consideration in doing a version of Pipe Mania. This was an arcade style puzzle game which became very popular on other systems. This is also a game that may appeal more to people who may not be into fast arcade type games ... although Pipe Mania can get very testing especially in the higher levels.

But puzzle games don't appeal to me so much and I felt that if I was to devote so much time to the development of a commercial grade game that I should at least choose something that I enjoyed and would be motivated to accomplish to the best of my abilities.

I decided that I wanted to do a game that stimulated the natural beast within
A game with fast flowing explosive visuals accompanied by the sounds of orchestral chaos. Something with a shoot-first-think-later experience.  :)

Not another arcade shooter!

I grew up in the 80's and was exposed to many of the great video game classics of that era. In particular, I loved the wave of scrolling vertical shoot-em-ups (SHMUPS) that appeared. I use to watch others play these games at the local video arcade, watching on mesmerized like a connoisseur at an art gallery.

In reviewing the vertical scrolling SHMUPS on the CoCo3, I find that there were very few. There was really only Xenion and my incomplete game from 1992, Cosmic Ambush. They were the only vertical scrolling SHMUPS I'm aware of.

Xenion (1988) by Michael Duncan

Cosmic Ambush (1992) by Nickolas Marentes

There have been several other vertical shooters on the CoCo3 such as Marauder by Craig Stewart and Zenix by Jeremy Spiller but these were not vertical scrolling (Marauder had a scrolling starscape, not landscape). The CoCo3 was devoid of this style of shooter whereas on other systems such as the MSX and Commodore 64, there were several well done SHMUPs of this kind created.

Cosmic Ambush was my first attempt at creating a vertical scrolling SHMUP for the CoCo.

Prior to this back in 1984 I had created a SHMUP for the TRS-80 Model 1 called Escape Zone. It was my last game for this system before jumping across to the CoCo1. It was a reasonable attempt at a SHMUP for this computer although by 1984, the TRS-80 Z-80 based range was starting to lose it's market share and people weren't buying games for them so much.

Escape Zone (1984) for the TRS-80 Model 1 was my first vertical shoot-em-up.

Escape Zone carried the hallmarks of many SHMUP's of the time, fast graphics, lots of sound and a few novel special effects such as the disintegrating laser fire from arcade Defender and some neat "sprite" overlay effects.

As you can see, I was (and still am) quite fanatical about vertical shoot-em-ups.  :)

Enough of the history lesson already!

I've been  turning ideas around in my head, run several code tests to determine what I can and can't do to see  if it can all be put together the way I envision.

The CoCo lacks some of the hardware features available on several of the other micros. Features such as hardware based sprites,  sound chips for non-CPU intensive  sound effects and a tile based graphics system. Some of these other systems only contained a mediocre 8-bit CPU  such as the 6502 but in their favor, one could not under estimate the additional power that these hardware assisted extras provided.

In our favor, we did have the second best 8-bit CPU made. The Motorola 6809 is a very powerful and efficient CPU and offers the inventive programmer many short cuts compared to the competition.

Wait a minute! Did you say second best?

I'm afraid the 6809 has been toppled from it's throne and made way for it's genetically enhanced twin... the Hitachi 6309!

I've had a 6309 installed in my CoCo3 for some time now but apart from  a handful of standout programs such as John Kowalski's brilliant Donkey Kong conversion and also his MOD music player, there isn't too many other reasons to upgrade... unless you're an OS-9 enthusiast.

The 6309 is better known for it's ability to run NitrOS9 which is an improved version of OS-9 operating system that takes advantage of the 6309.

Unfortunately the fact that Radio Shack soldered the 6809 onto the CoCo3 motherboard meant that removal of the original 6809 requires the desoldering of this 40 pin chip. An exercise that risks damage to the PCB if you're not skilled in the procedure.

I have never programmed for the extra power capable of the 6309 because I've always created software designed to work on the most common hardware configuration with the exception of requiring the 512K RAM upgrade.

L. Curtis Boyle has been hounding me for some time to try it. So, to shut him up and get him off my case, I did.  :)

I'm a convert!

The 6309 is a marvelous upgrade to an already marvelous chip! The extra registers, extra functionality and lower instruction cycle count when used in native mode leaves me to ponder why such a gem never made it's way into an updated CoCo3 by Radio Shack before it was discontinued.

This could have been a "CoCo3 Plus" and it would not have cost any more to manufacture.

It's important to note that both the VCC and MAME emulators support the 6309 so anyone could run the 6309 version of software and then decide if it's worth attempting the upgrade for their real CoCo3. Mark Marlette of Cloud 9 will do the upgrade if you ship him the CoCo. Hopefully others with the skills will also provide such a service.

Drum roll....

So, as you can see by the title of this blog, my new game is to be called Gunstar. It will be a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up and hopefully feature some fast,  explosive graphics and the best sound that I have attempted thus far. In essence, it will be the continuation and improvement of my game Cosmic Ambush complete with scrolling background and more graphic effects.

It will be designed to run on a standard 6809 based CoCo3 with 512K of RAM and support the 6309 if found to achieve some extra speed and added functionality.

I'm not putting a completion date at this very early stage of development but I would like it to be ready in time for the next CoCoFest. Of course, life has a way of changing one's plans so don't stamp that last comment in stone just yet.   :)

I have begun developing some of the demanding components and hopefully will be able to divulge more details in the next chapter installment.

For now, I'll leave you with a few screenshots of some of my favorite vertical SHMUP's which I am using for direction and incentive. I'm aiming high with these images but if I can even come close, it would be a great outcome.

May the force be with me.   :)

Star Force (NES)

Hybris (Amiga)

Battle Squadron (Amiga)

Copyright 2017 by Nickolas Marentes