Chapter 27 - May 4th, 2016

Creating Worlds

So much has been going on at this point of the development cycle that I have decided to document my progress at this point with another development blog... before my gray matter completly forgets the details!

Last chapter I said I was going to have some video of the game with the new level design installed but the level design is taking longer than anticipated so I will postpone the video for next chapter.

I've been building the landscape which will span about 80 screens when finished. Currently, I have created half which  amounts to 40 screens of two themed zones. It takes a fair amount of time and work to get the design right with many decisions needing to be made to determine the flow of the player's journey. I've needed to come up with situations that the player needs to discover that allows him/her to collect points by capturing balloons, trigger the necessary Checkpoints to progress through the levels, utilize the Teleport feature to weave your path through the maze and obtain the needed fuel to keep the plane flying.

I've been playing the two currently designed zones repeatedly, modifying the level design where needed as I aim for a smooth flow of navigation through the levels. There have been a few factors I have needed to contend with to achieve a balance between frustration and challenge.

Joysticks are not created equal!

I have a Wico Command Control joystick. This is a digital joystick as used on Atari's, C64's and Amiga's. I have modded it by building a digital to analogue converter within the base of the joystick that leads via the cable to a CoCo style joystick DIN jack for direct connection to a CoCo.

This joystick has a metal handle, industrial switch contacts and user selectable fire button position (top of stick OR on the base) and the stick movement is short and tight. For me this is the ideal joystick for playing fast action arcade type games that require rapid and accurate response. I have a second one of these joysticks that I also use on my Commodore Amiga. A brilliant stick that I am very accustomed to.

It is this stick that I have based the control structure in PopStar Pilot... and that's the problem.

With this stick, I could manoeuvre very flexibly and rapidly through some of the tighter cavernous areas of my Zone 2 level design but when I swapped this stick for a standard Tandy Deluxe Joystick, my scores and progress through the zone plummetted!

I found the looseness of the stick (with self centering on) and  the fact I couldn't grab the entire handle with my fist to allow my wrist muscles do the movement to be completly alien! The Tandy Deluxe Joystick was more delicate and needed more of my finger muscles rather than the butch andrenalin driven finesse of the Wico joystick.

I ran a poll on the CoCo Facebook page to determine which joystick most CoCo3 users owned and preferred and the Tandy Deluxe Joystick was the clear winner. With this knowledge, I knew I had to ease the difficulty that my current level design demanded.

I have now widened and simplified some of the passageways and made it less critical in the positioning of certain objects. I have made the current first two zones easier for me to navigate using my Wico strick with the hope that people who are better accustomed to the Tandy Deluxe Joystick will find it just right.

Level design using my MAPEDIT program I wrote in RS-Basic.

I'm also aware that I have the benefit of familiarity with the level design and this gives me the foresight to take the best path to avoid the more difficult areas. This is something that someone new to the game will need to spend time to discover for themselves.

In the end, I'm hoping the level adjustments will end up being the right balance and mixture.  This will be discovered closer to the end when I enter end-user game testing.

Another batch of bugs quashed

I had a few annoying bugs, nothing that really affected the game itself but little glitches here and there. Most have been fixed but I still have a problem in where occassionally a balloon does not pop when fired upon.

There are two ways to resolve this. Firstly, as a lie... I can just say that the bullet didn't strike the balloon hard enough (it's sounds plausible, doesn't it?!) or simply try and debug the routine to work out why.

I'll attempt the latter but it's good to know that the former option exists!   :)

Getting everything working

Now that I have been able to explore a real part of the landscape design and learn what works and what doesn't, it was time to get those last few objects operating.

  • I activated the Checkpoint Flags. Hitting one of these flags sets a new restart point so when you lose a plane, the new one doesn't have to start from the beginning of the 80 screens. This works for the game currently being played. When you start another game, it's back to the start.
  • The Teleport Tunnels (originally called Warp Tunnels) are now functioning. The purpose of these is to teleport you from one place to another. My original scope was that you appear in a different part of the 80 screen design. I had coded this and had it running but found it disorienting. I recoded it to remove the disorientation and simplify the code itself. Now, if you fire upon a Teleport Tunnel that is positioned in the top half of the screen, you appear in the bottom and likewise, if you're in the bottom you are teleported to the top. The scrolling background remains the same. By designing my levels to work with this operation, some interesting situations can be created.

  • A Low Fuel Warning indication was added when your fuel drops below a certain point. I found that it was easy to forget to monitor your fuel requirements when you are focused on the immediate action before you. Now, the border of the screen glows red and immediately grabs your attention.
  • I extended the number of Balloon Pop effects that could occur at once. I found that it was possible to hit three balloons in close succession when one fired at a cluster of rising balloons with the multifire option activated.  Originally, the balloon pop routine would handle up to two pop effects at a time and a third would merely turn the oldest effect off to begin the new one. Now such frantic mayhem can be appreciated in its full chaotic glory!
  • I added a simple graphic effect for the Teleport function by utilizing the existing balloon pop effect. The balloon pop routine is made to do a pop effect at the players last position before the teleport. Very easy to add and it hardly used up any extra code.

Coming up next

For the next chapter, I should have all 80 screens designed. It will take some play testing to get it right but this is a necessary part of the game design. I should also have a video to play which will give you a good idea of how the final game will look and play like.

And to keep with my trend to feature an 80's pop video to tie in with the current chapter's theme, I present a song inspired by the theme of level construction.



Copyright 2013 by Nickolas Marentes