Chapter 28 - June 3rd, 2016

Game Tuning

What a month! So much has happened and so much has been achieved. It's been a lot of work but it was fun at the same time. This is what the Color Computer is all about!  Retro Computing Nirvana!

Level design

The level design is done and it's looking good. Unfortunately, I fell short of my estimated 80 screens but as it turns out, there is good news to outweigh the bad.

80 screens was quite possible if I kept the detail level low. But I was seduced by the look of what I could achieve if I let my creativity get the better of me. I spent a lot of time adjusting and refining each level to get an asthetic that was more like an Amiga than a Color Computer. The added detail meant the compression was less efficient with memory space but the resulting look was hard to ignore!

In an earlier chapter from this blog site, I explained my initial plans to design a vector based background system. This was to provide speed because I was worried I would not have enough CPU time left over for the remainder of the game.

I programmed the vector system and found I had ample time left over and I started to ponder whether I could create a more detailed tile based system that could still be scrolled at smooth one byte increments. I got to work and refined my code and in the end, found the speed penalty was only minor.

The tile based system looked a lot better. Compare the old vector based images with the current tile based images below.






Difficulty Tuning

In the last chapter, I mentioned how I use an Atari type arcade joystick, modified for use on a CoCo. I knew this gave me an unfair advantage over the standard CoCo analog joysticks.

I held a poll on the Color Computer facebook page to see what is the most popular joystick used by most Color Computer users and found that the Tandy Deluxe Joystick was the clear winner.

Darn it! I'm crap with that joystick!

So I tuned the level design so that it was easier for me to play with my arcade joystick, with the notion that it would be more suitable for the Tandy Deluxe joystick in the hands of someone better accustomed to it. In general, I widened some of the passage ways and made sure there wasn't anything that was too taxing that needed very precise and fast joystick control. I tried to ensure that there were no impossible areas and that all crashes that occurred were due to player error.

But I was becoming concerned that I was making the game too easy. The issue rolled around in my head until I realized that I was ignoring two important details.

Firstly, I've had a cheat mode put in so that I could start the game at the beginning of any of the four zones with a full tank of plane fuel and lives. This was for testing purposes.

Secondly, I was familiar with the level design so I knew what was coming up. I knew the best path to ensure I collected enough fuel and I knew where and when the extra life objects would appear.

Anyone new to the game would have to play the game over and over until they familiarized themselves with each zone. Eventually, they too would be able to navigate to the end of the 65 or so screens.

But wait! There's more!

Now that my mind was at ease with the level design difficulty, I began to think about the person who does work it all out and therefore will know what areas to avoid and what areas to pursue that will offer optimal mileage. This may render the game to the top shelf gathering dust when it is challenging no more.

Steve Strowbridge, The Original Gamer had a solution that I have now implemented.

He suggested adding some sort of end goal which you cannot achieve unless you not only make it to the end but also obtained enough of something along the way so as to earn you access to the end-of-game prize.

I settled on the idea of collecting Tokens during your journey and that you must collect at least 25 by the end of the game. I'll also add the requirement to accumulate beyond a minimal score meaning that there is a greater need to pop balloons and target those than earn you more points.

Luckily, I had left space to add an additional graphic object (for possible future expansion) so I designed an extra object that looked like a jewel and replaced the not-so-useful zone indicator at the bottom right of the status display with a Token  graph. This graph will display full when you have obtained 25 Tokens.

If you were to lose a life and your next life is restarted to the last Checkpoint obtained, your Tokens are deducted to the amount you had acquired up to that last Checkpoint

I am now satisfied that I have created a balanced difficulty curve for the game. Even once one familiarizes themselves with the level progression, it's still no guarantee that one will always make the end of the game due to the randomness of the balloon launches.

Promo Video!

At long last the promotional video is up on YouTube showing the development state so far. The actual game was played and captured on a PC using the MAME emulator. MAME runs the game perfectly but I did have a few challenges.

The game definately cannot be played via keyboard or mouse! I found that it was more entertaining to beat my head on a brick wall than attempt to play it this way!

I got hold of a good quality PC joystick and this made things a lot easier but still not as good as my Atari arcade joystick that I was using on the Color Computer. Many of these PC joysticks are tailored as flight joysticks and I wanted the old fashioned arcade joystick feel... fast and tight.

I decided I had to get the Atari arcade joystick to work on the PC and for this I found a company that was selling a small Atari-to-USB joystick adapter cable/interface. I ordered it ($30US) and it arrived a week later. This made a world of difference!

I then attempted to screen record a video of MAME as I played but found the game was running a bit slower than on my real Color Computer. There was also a degree of latency in the control system and this was all due to the speed of my PC.

My PC is an older 3.2Ghz Pentium with multi-threading capability. Fast enough for most things but not fast enough for 100% speed accuracy through MAME.

I ended up using a friends i7 processor PC with a 64bit version of Windows 7 and 8Gb RAM. Even then, when doing a screen capture, it would occasionally drop frames and stutter but it was close enough.

With all the video footage captured, I edited it together to fit into a 1 minute time frame and overlaid an instrumental karaoke version of the song 99 Red Balloons.

This song is not in the game itself !

It only serves as part of the Promo Video presentation. This was/is common place for promo videos.


This month's motivational music

It was a busy month and I needed to keep my mind in the right frame-of-mind to keep the creativity flowing. This month was a mixture of the song used in the Promo Video as well as a song only recently released (2014) by my favourite 80's Australian synth-pop band, Pseudo Echo titled Ultraviolet.


Till next chapter...



Copyright 2013 by Nickolas Marentes