Paradroid (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Gribbly's Day Out proved to be quite a hit with the critics... which must have brought a certain amount of pressure. Once you've had one hit game, you're expected to have another. Possibly an even bigger hit. Possibly an even better game.

As if that wasn't enough pressure, Andrew Braybrook submitted to a request from ZZAP! 64 to diarise his latest project. You can read it here in HTML form, or go to the excellent Def Guide to ZZAP! 64 website, where scans of the magazine can be found. You'll need Issue 3 onwards...

Oi! Braybrook! Stop mucking about with your last game, and get on with making a new one!

So all of Andrew's ideas and processes were laid bare to the public. For me, as a thirteen-year-old lad, it made fascinating reading. This upcoming game about rogue robots in space sounded amazing. My teenage mind had fashioned 3D dreadnaught decks, bustling with vicious, colourful robots. I imagined peering around deck walls of spaceships, stealthily sneaking up on the robots or dashing from room to room, avoiding detection. And then it was reviewed and got a ZZAP! Gold Medal. It was called Paradroid, and I couldn't wait to play it...

Imagine, then, my initial disappointment when I first saw Paradroid in action. My vision was nowhere to be seen... instead, I had an overhead view of a grey spaceship deck, with little black and white numbers trundling about. What the hell was this? But then I finally got my hands on it...

What? I wasn't expecting "Fun with numbers"!

The idea behind Paradroid, for anyone that hasn't clicked on one of the links I posted or has never played the game, is that robots have gone rogue on a series of dreadnaught spaceships, and are out of control and very hostile. The player controls an Influence Device, which has been beamed aboard the first ship, and you're tasked with clearing out all these robots and taking back control of the ship.

Hold on a minute... you control a what, now?

The Influence Device is the most sophisticated robot of all. It may not be armed to the teeth, but it is able to patch into any other robot and take control of it for a brief time, and in doing so can utilise all its functions. This is, in fact, the most important aspect of Paradroid, and what sets it above the standard shoot 'em up. You're basically able to pick and choose your own upgrades at will, as long as you're good at the transfer subgame...

You must choose wisely.

This is how it works. As you roam the decks, you might spot another robot that you quite fancy. So you casually saunter up to it, initiate transfer mode and bump into it. You're then connected. If only it worked like that in a club or a bar.

Once you're connected, you enter a transfer game. At this stage, you get to choose which side of the game "board" you wish to use. It's vitally important that you pick well, because you only have a limited number of pulses to fire at the board. There are a number of connectors on each side of the transfer board, with the objective being to control more of the board when the time runs out than your opponent. If you do, you take control. If you don't... boom.

See, that's how you do it.

The transfer game is simple, but very sophisticated. Once you get the hang of it, or rather, become very good at it, you can take control of almost anything, given a suitable transfer board. The feeling of satisfaction gained from successfully capturing the 999 Command Cyborg using the 001 Influence Droid is like little else in gaming. That said, it's not wise to try it unless you want to see the Game Over sequence... I've only ever attempted it through sheer blind panic and desperation!

I've talked at length about the transfer game here, which is almost to overlook the main game itself. And I shouldn't, because Paradroid is a very solid and imaginitive shoot 'em up, even without the added bonus game. There are nine classes of robot to attack, avoid and control, and this is where the genius of the graphic display comes in. Had each robot been represented by its actual graphic, things would have looked messy and cluttered, and confusion would more than likely have reigned.

Looks like a firefight has broken out.

By using a numeric display, it's almost as though you're watching from on-ship cameras, from the safety of a command centre. And when you encounter enemies you immediately know what you're up against, as the first number denotes the class of droid, from 1-9. Number 326? Messenger robot, fast, useful for getting around in a hurry. Number 629? Sentinel droid, well-armed, be wary. Number 999? Erm... well, let's just keep out of that one's way...

As well as the obvious stuff, Paradroid is a very clever program, with lots of cute little stuff that you might not necessarily notice. I mentioned the basic droid graphics while you're playing, but if you happen to dock with a console on one of the ship's decks, you can pull up a dossier on each of the robots... but only for those at the level you're at or below. Each dossier contains information including robot type and class, a brief description of its function and a picture, so that you can fill in the visual gaps while you play.


Other features of note include the way you can only see other robots when they're in your line of sight... an awesome touch... and little things like the deck powering down when it's cleared of hostiles, or the ship's ever-changing Alert status being shown via coloured lights around the ship. I didn't notice that until I'd played the game for ages... it's a lovely, subtle touch.

With eight ships to clear, each with sixteen decks, Paradroid was always a massive challenge... and it remains so today. It was a stunning achievement in many ways, and has stood the test of time in that it remains great fun and very challenging to play. It's still a surprise to me that it hasn't been copied more... the actual game mechanics are sound, and the transfer element is something that surely has the scope to be used in today's games.

The inevitable reult when a class 2 robot confronts a class eight robot.

Maybe that's why it still feels quite fresh. There's not much like it out there, over twenty-five years later. There's still a genuine feel of tension as you trundle around the decks... and one of panic when you're on an empty deck with your energy running out! It could do with a save game function... once you get good at it, you can be on for a good while. Then again, it's an arcade game. You don't save arcade games, even sophisticated ones.

Paradroid is not just a Commodore 64 classic... it's an all-time videogame classic. No matter what Andrew Braybrook did after this, it was destined to be his legacy, and it's one for which he can be rightly proud. It's a game that's still loved to this day, and if Andrew ever fancies getting back into games programming, he could do a lot worse than starting off with a remake of Paradroid. In the likely even that that doesn't happen, we will always have this to fall back on, and for that we should be truly thankful.

Andrew Braybrook - a quick C64 history.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , ,

A while ago (a good while... sorry!), I ran a poll to decide what I should write about next, in series form. I've left it up... it's to the right there. As you'll see, the reading public decided that I should write about Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games. Now, I've had a fair few distractions since then, but I'm moving on with that right now, so buckle up and get ready for a classic Commodore ride.

As is the case with a lot of my articles, I did some research on Andrew Braybrook before I started writing this. I knew a fair bit already... of course I did, he was one of the Commodore 64's biggest celebrities back in the day. I thought he'd written more Commodore 64 games than he actually had... although some of them were rewrites and upgrades. I still haven't decided whether or not to include those yet...

It turns out that I've never played Andrew's first or last Commodore 64 games. That gives me something extra to look forward to over the coming days... for while it's nice to revisit well-loved classics, it's embarking on a voyage of discovery that really makes this exciting for me.

The man himself! Responsible for about 30% of my worst homework assignments...

There was almost always an air of excitement around a new Braybrook game. The first one I followed excitedly was Paradroid, courtesy of ZZAP! 64's "Diary of a Game - The Birth of a Paradroid". You can read that here, at the rather splendid 'Def Guide to ZZAP! 64' website. I didn't even have a Commodore 64 at the time, although friends did, and I would often be found at one of their houses, marvelling at this amazing machine.

Little did I know at the time, but I'd already played an Andrew Braybrook game while I was reading this diary - his Gribbly's Day Out was a favourite from those snatched afternoons. The strange infant-collecting platformer was already renowned as something of a minor classic, and was an indicator of things to come from the programmer...

Paradroid, of course, blazed onto the scene with a fanfare and a shower of awards, and accusations of favouritism in certain quarters... but it really set out Braybrook's stall as a top-notch programmer, not just technically but as someone who could write amazing games. This was reiterated with the release of Uridium, one of the finest arcade shoot 'em ups on the 8-bits not just on its release, but in their entire lifespan.

Andrew released just three more original games on the C64... once its natural life was reaching an end, he started moving toward the more powerful machines. Alleykat was a space racer with guns... which was probably only partially successful. The massive, sprawling space epic Morpheus followed, and then his time on the 64 ended with something of a whimper, with the puzzle game, Intensity.

There's lots to look forward to there, especially if I include any of the Special Edition updates. But first it's back to the beginning, with a game I suspect few of us have played before... Lunattack.

Advent Calendar - December 14th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

Spacewrecked: 14 Billion Light Years From Earth (PC)

I'm willing to bet that most people haven't heard of this game... at least, not under this title. In the U.K., it was released as B.S.S. Jane Seymour. So I've cheated a bit here, because obviously it wouldn't have fit the theme if I'd used that title. Hey, I'll try anything to avoid playing a flight simulator!

Yeah, sorry Guv, you're missing your energy flux decoupler. It'll be weeks till we've got one of those in.

Needless to say, I had no idea what this one was about myself. So it was with no little intrigue that I loaded it up... and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was obviously on a spaceship, and the basic controls were simple enough to figure out, but beyond that... clueless.

After some exploring and trial and error, I can say that Spacewrecked appears to be some kind of cross between Dungeon Master and Paradroid. Wait a minute - that sounds about as good as gaming can possibly get! But just hold on a minute before you go getting too excited and spending fortunes on eBay to play it.

Aaaaarrgh! Jesus! Why would you keep one of them on board? Hope I don't find one...

As the story goes, you're among a fleet of twenty spaceships heading back to Earth when the voyage is stalled by radiation damage to the ships. Unfortunately, your ship hasn't got enough fuel to complete the trip even if it gets repaired, and due to the complicated nature of the fleet you can't just transfer everybody to another one and whizz off home. Besides, all have sustained an amount of damage and will need to be patched up. You have to work through them in order, starting with the B.S.S. Jane Seymour, and once all twenty ships are repaired to at least eighty per cent efficiency, you're in business.

That would be a tall order at the best of times, but the computer estimates that only five per cent of the crew are fully fit across all twenty ships. The rest are liable to be either physically or mentally incapacitated. To make things more difficult still, alien lifeforms are liable to be roaming the ship...

Now, where was it we needed this again...?

If you've ever played a game like this, the layout will be familiar. The ship's corridors are displayed in a small part of the screen, with icons and status messages taking up the rest. As you wander around, you'll find a number of items lying around. These are likely to prove useful, and luckily your inventory, although limited, is sizeable. The main thing you're looking for is liquid coolant, as a deficiency in the stuff is causing the majority of malfunctions. Oh, and you'll need things to carry the liquid...

An interesting aspect of the game is the ability to use the ship's robots to your advantage. You don't have to, but doing so will make your task a fair bit easier. There's a variety of useful droids, including combat droids, repair droids and computer droids. The droids can also perform life-saving healing duties, if properly equipped.

The Rolling Stones' Tour had gone to more places than ever this year.

Spacewrecked/B.S.S. Jane Seymour is obviously a massive game... twenty ships to repair, each with three decks, will take a long, long time to play through. It'll take even longer if you're as rubbish at it as I am. Despite my inadequacies, though, I found this game really intriguing. I'd love to make the time to have a proper crack at it... having a PC version (it's also available on the Amiga and ST) and not needing to swap disks every five minutes means I'm more inclined to have a go. It's been a good find, this one.