A Gamer Forever Voyaging Presents - Andrew Braybrook

by PaulEMoz in , ,

Hey, it's me!

Yeah, I know... I said my book and its related blog wouldn't take up all my time... and they have.  Sorry about that.  It's a very exciting project for me, though, and it'll be great if I can achieve most of what I want with it.

Can you remember, back in 2011, that I did a retrospective on Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games?  It went down fairly well, but I suppose you'd expect that because they're great games.  Anyway, one of my readers is a big Braybrook fan, and he took it upon himself to take what I'd written, combine it with ZZAP! 64's reviews of Braybrook games, and put them all together in a PDF, available for download as a published work for free!

Now, why didn't I mention this before, you might wonder?  Well, the truth is, it's my fault.  I'd planned to write more... stuff about Andrew Braybrook's enhanced re-releases of his C64 games, and also about his Amiga games.  They were going to be added to the PDF as exclusive material, making it something worth downloading for regular readers of the blog.  And I just never got around to it.  Sorry.

An exclusive look at the cover! Get it downloaded!
For all that time, it's sat there, unloved by the masses, albeit not forgotten about.  But in the latest issue of Retro Gamer magazine, there's a look at Braybrook's Uridium, with a small retrospective on his other games.  And it struck me that it might be nice to "release" the A Gamer Forever Voyaging PDF at this time, to kind of capitalise on that.

So, here it is, or rather, the link to the page where you can download it: A Gamer Forever Voyaging Presents - The GFV Guide to Andrew Braybrook

It's a little bit rough around the edges, which again is my fault.  Basically, Tony (the splendid fellow who put it together) knocked this up for me to look at, and I said, "Great!  Don't do anything else just yet, I'll give you more stuff to put in it".  And then I didn't.  So it's a bit warts-and-all... it hasn't been edited for spelling mistakes, for instance.

If you can get past the fact it's not a final draft, though, I'm quite chuffed with it.  My first printed work, so to speak!  And it just goes to show that there really are people who like what I do.  Many thanks to Tony for putting in the time and effort to produce this... hopefully, with my book in the works, it's just a taste of things to come...

Oh, alternatively, you can visit my original articles:

Andrew Braybrook - a quick C64 history
Gribbly's Day Out

R.I.P. Jack Tramiel

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

When I was a teenager, nothing in this world mattered more to me than my Commodore 64. School became something that just got in the way of my game time. My heroes were not rock stars, or film stars... they were the reviewers at ZZAP! 64, still the best computer magazine of all time. Or the programmers who made such awesome games: Andrew Braybrook; Jeff Minter; Archer MacLean; the guys at Sensible Software; even musician Rob Hubbard. The Commodore 64 has meant more to me than any other possession I have owned. It's part of my soul.

I didn't spare a thought as to how that Commodore 64 ended up in my possession, save for the fact my parents had bought me it for Christmas (which, whether they knew it or not, made them the most awesome people on the planet that Christmas Day). I certainly didn't think for a moment about the people who had designed and manufactured the thing. Why would I? I didn't want a job with them. I just wanted to play games.

I never had any interest in programming, as such. I think that's always been beyond me. Still, the Commodore 64 was the first machine that inspired me to so much as dabble. The first such instance was probably much the same as yours. I'd go into Boots with my mates, and there's be a few computers running in their display. We'd sidle up to the Commodore 64 and type:

20 GOTO 10 

And once we hit the Enter key, the message would infinitely scroll down the screen, and we'd run out of the shop laughing, hoping to avoid a clip from the security guard.

Later, inspired by the ZZAP! lads, I actually programmed, using much the same instructions as the infamous Boots message, an entire catalogue of reviews of the games I owned. I separated them by genre and wrote reviews in the ZZAP! style, with the same categories of ratings and my own personal comments. Somewhere, in a north-east landfill, lies a Boots C15 cassette with that program on it.

Since those days, I've always fancied being a games writer. It's why I love writing for Way of the Rodent, and it's why I've got this blog. I even have thoughts of writing a book about computer games. And it all stems from owning the Commodore 64.

The main man behind the Commodore 64 was Jack Tramiel, and he died this weekend. The videogaming world owes him an awful lot, as do I.

Intensity (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

Morpheus scraped its way to a ZZAP! Sizzler award... decent, but probably not what was hoped for. But depending on who had reviewed it, it might have not even garnered that... some would suggest a Sizzler was overly generous, and that maybe it was awarded out of a sense of duty, with the game having been subject of a Diary of a Game. I would counter that such a suggestion was harsh... Morpheus is an epic game that takes a long, long time to get into and appreciate, and ZZAP!'s review pointed out that it would not hold universal appeal.

It would be interesting to know how Andrew Braybrook felt about it when all was said and done. Perhaps it burnt him out on the space shooter genre, because his next (and ultimately his last) game on the Commodore 64 turned out to be nothing like that. It was, instead, a single-screen collect 'em up, and it was called Intensity.

Doesn't look all that intense...

There's still a spacey element to the game, as you might expect. Colonists are stranded on their, um, colonies, and with no course of action remaining other than evacuation, you're tasked with piloting the rescue mission. A drone ship is placed on the exterior of each space station. The colonists will emerge from doors and run towards this... hurray, safety beckons!

Once you have saved the requisite number, the exit portal will be activated. You must use your skimmer to guide the now-heaving-with-colonists drone to that exit. This task is simple enough... if you press the fire button, the drone will move to the point at which you summoned it. There's a bit of a problem, though. If the drone hits your skimmer, both will explode. So once you've pressed that button, you'd best leg it, sharpish.

The exit has been activated. Save them!

You don't have to go directly to the exit, and indeed, there are times when you can't, such is the layout of some of the colonies. Why they litter the exteriors of space stations with obstacles is beyond me. You'll also find yourself skimming backwards and forwards between points, picking up a colonist here then heading over to get one from there. It's reminiscent of Choplifter in a way, albeit from a different viewpoint.

Naturally there's a little more to it than that. The colonists are evacuating for a reason, and that reason manifests itself in the skies above each space station. Alien critters meander about, causing bother wherever they may roam. In a nod back to Gribbly's Day Out, the alien critters mutate into stronger, more dangerous forms, if left to their own devices. Luckily you can turn them into space roadkill by just flattening them with your skimmer.

Things are getting a little more complicated now...

That's the game, in a rather large nutshell. There are other bells and whistles... saving colonists releases resources which you can pick up and spend between levels, for instance. But after the sprawling epic that was Morpheus, it comes as a huge surprise to find such a small-scale, tight and focused game. There's no shooting (another surprise), and the single-screen action, whilst initially a little confusing, doesn't take long to click. Once it does, it's very enjoyable indeed, and it gets quite frantic just a few levels in. Considering I'd never played it before, I picked it up in no time, played it for ages and had loads of fun with it.

You're dying to fly a Manta over that and blast everything, aren't you?

Intensity proved to be the last game Andrew Braybrook would write on the Commodore 64. It's a bit of an underrated gem in my opinion, and as such it unfortunately provided something of a low-key swansong. He certainly deserved to leave the scene with a very large bang, having provided some of the greatest gaming moments of its history. Gribblets, Paradroids and Dreadnaughts will forever be remembered fondly by a public that bought in on gaming to a massive degree at the time, and Andrew Braybrook will be remembered as one of the brightest stars of the era.

That's not the end of my look back at Andrew Braybrook, though. I've got a few other things I want to get out there, and then I'm going to come back and round up his Special Editions, and there just might be a sneaky look at something on the Amiga...

Morpheus (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Ambition. It's what drives so many people on. Ambition to be bigger, better, faster stronger. The ambition to do what has never been done before. The ambition to create what has never been created before. Or, perhaps, to refine something into the best it's ever been.

Andrew Braybrook's ambition led him back to the cold black of space for his next game - a game more epic than anything he'd attempted before. A game called Morpheus.

And we're off!

Alleykat hadn't really gone down as well as Braybrook's prior games... it was well-received, certainly, but not spectacularly so. It might have been nice to just be allowed to plug away at the next game, but that wasn't to happen... Morpheus became the feature of ZZAP! 64's Diary of a Game. I don't know how that came about... maybe both parties harkened back to Birth of a Paradroid and hoped that lightning would strike twice. It was certainly possible with such an undoubtedly talented programmer...

You can read the Diary of a Game in HTML format here, via the excellent DEF Guide to ZZAP! 64 site. It's also available in scanned format from the site's front page.

Get it! Get it! Oh, hang on... that's the wrong one.

The diary ambled along for eight months... that's a long time for the development of a Commodore 64 game. It makes for tortured reading at times... there were long periods where AB wasn't sure what he wanted in the game, couldn't come up with enemy designs, had to break from the game foran eye operation, had to break from the game to work on new versions of old games... it's almost a wonder that Morpheus was released at all. And maybe it wasn't... throughout the length of the diary, this was going to be a Hewson game, but it ended up being released by Rainbird.

So, it was hardly a smooth path that Morpheus trod. In such cases, the end product can often be a disappointment. It's difficult to say whether that was the case with Morpheus... I suppose it depends on what you wanted from the game.

Haha, yeah, you wish. It'll take ages before you've earned enough to buy this bad boy.

Morpheus is a space shoot 'em up. But just hold it right there before you go rushing in willy-nilly to wipe out wave after wave of attacking space craft. This game isn't like that at all.

It's a knocking bet that your first game of Morpheus will end in confusion and death. Your ship exits the docking station, which fades away as you enter the vastness of space. Then you blunder around, bumping into creatures indigenous to the area, which will bump into you and shoot you. Then you encounter a pulsing star, which will bombard you with bullets. If you're lucky, you will "de-mat" back to the docking station. There, you will see that you don't have enough money to buy anything, so you'll exit the docking station, and this time you will die.

Red scanner at night - space pilot's delight. That means you've shut down the nucleus.

Then you'll notice that you don't lose the credits you've accumulated. Morpheus is not quite the cruel mistress she appears to be... in storing your credits after you die, you can at least give yourself a sporting chance of getting somewhere. It might take a few games and a bit of time, but eventually you'll have the funds to commission yourself a new unit of some description.

Customisation of your ship is one of Morpheus' strong suits... to a degree. There's a large number of upgrades to choose from... if you have the cash, you can treat yourself to a new, bigger hull (essential if you want to get anywhere, as it can carry more upgrades), and other goodies such as weapons, energy supplies, radar, shields, etc. You might need to experiment a little to find the upgrades that work best for you. It's a very deep system, and it's handled in a very interesting way.

There you go, your first upgrade. Now your path will be clearer...

The upgrades don't work the way of most games, where you might find them floating around and pick them up, or you might go to a shop and buy them. In Morpheus, you must commission a new system (this, of course, is dependent on funds and the availability of a space on your ship for installation). Once a part is commissioned, you'll have to wait for it to be ready. You'll have to fly back into space and do battle for a while, and hope the mechanics will have finished working when you get back.

I like this aspect of the game. In this world of instant gratification, it's refreshing to play something where you have to really earn every upgrade. On the other hand, it doesn't make the game any more accessible, and in my time with it this time around, I never did manage to get a hull upgrade. But this isn't a straightforward arcade shoot 'em up, as the programmer takes great pains to point out.

Oh, bollocks. That didn't last long. What a waste of a grand!

Morpheus has fifty levels, or "timeslices". Getting through them all would be a real challenge... or maybe a chore, depending on your viewpoint. Each timeslice has a positive and negative phase, which you can alternate between depending on how much positive charge you're carrying. It kind of reminds me of the Entropy system in Jeff Minter's Iridis Alpha, but I don't think it's implemented as successfully. Unlike that game, in Morpheus, I never quite knew where I was or how the positive and negative was really working.

I think that Morpheus suffers from being too ambitious. Too ambitious for its time, and the technology of the day. Once you start adding stuff to your ship, especially hulls, everything starts to feel cramped. Even at its smallest, your ship takes up a lot of the screen, and it's easy to just blunder into everything willy-nilly. Of course, adding other units helps to compensate for this, but not entirely. I think that a remade version, taking advantage of today's widescreen tellies and higher resolutions, could really be something. As it was, Morpheus was a game for those with extremely high patience and the love of a stern challenge. It's more likely to appeal to the sort of person that liked Elite, Citadel or Hunter's Moon, which I think might have been the idea while the game was in production. But this one is very much an acquired taste.

Alleykat (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

Uridium was a huge success. Commodore 64 owners lapped up the slick blaster, and with good reason. It was as close to an arcade game as they had seen at that point, looking and sounding spectacular and offering a great and enjoyable challenge.

Talking of challenges... how was Andrew Braybrook going to follow up his latest mega-hit? It must have been tempting to go with another straight shooter, but that wasn't the Braybrook way. Instead, he went with a racing game... with a twist.

Free, you say? Loves a bargain, me.

The game was called Alleykat, and was again set way into the future. This time, though, there were no Dreadnoughts in sight. Alleykat is set squarely on terra firma... well, maybe not terra firma, as this game sees you playing the role of a pilot in an intergalactic racing league.

The league takes place over the course of a year, with each month hosting a number of events. You're able to enter just one of these events per month, and your ability to do so depends on how much cash you've got. When you start out you're skint, as you've spunked all your cash on your racer... luckily the first race of the season is free to enter.

Yeah, just drop me off here mate, I'll be alright.

If you scroll down the calendar, you'll notice that you can peruse each event ahead of time. This is handy, because it means you can pick and choose your career. And you'll want to, because you'll develop your own style and favourite types of races and tracks, and you'll also learn which tracks to avoid...

Different events might range from Time Trial to Demolition to Dodge'em, with more besides. Each title states the obvious, so from that you can work out what you fancy getting up to, and choose accordingly. That's not to say you'll necessarily have an easy time of it from cherry-picking your favourites, though...

Beware the Cater-Killer...

Each type of race has an objective, as specified by its race type. So, obviously, in a Demolition race you'll score more highly for destroying all the scenery; in a Time Trial you'll score more highly for finishing quickly, etc. You can add to your score though, by destroying the hostile craft that patrol the racetracks. They're really thrown in as a distraction from your main objective, though, because unless you're racing on a Demolition track, you're not going to want to break off from what you're concentrating on. And you especially won't want to do that on a Dodg'em course... very dangerous.

Finishing the race will earn you prize money, which is essential to the continuation of your career. As I mentioned earlier, you'll need funds to enter the later, more prestigious events. If you fail to complete a race, you'll get nowt. You can just about afford this early on, but later races cost more to enter, so if you crash, your season is pretty much finished. It does look amazing when you crash though. Small consolation. It might be worth keeping an eye on the track as you race... small amounts of credits are strewn around, waiting to be picked up... another distraction, but it can be worth the effort.

Save the rainforest! No, wait... destroy the rainforest!

This all sounds pretty great... so what's wrong with it? Sadly, the racing itself is flawed. In many of the races, you can simply move to the right, blast everything in your path for an entire lap, and then hightail it outta there at top speed for the rest of the race. This doesn't necessarily serve you for the best in a Demolition race, but it'll get you to the end intact, winning you the money you need to progress. There's not enough of a feeling of threat or danger. The Dodg'ems are more difficult and you'll need a good deal of skill to get through them, but you can just, erm, dodg'em if you want and choose easier races.

I have to say, though... for all Alleykat is a little less-well regarded than earlier Braybrook games, I really enjoyed re-acquainting myself with it. It's not as good a game as the three that came before it, of that there is no doubt. The flaws in this one are a bit bigger and slightly more damaging, but there's still some good fun to be had. The variety of choice as you play through the game and the high score potential combine to keep things relatively fresh, even if you have a session lasting a couple of hours.

Here I go, way too faa-a-aaast, don't slow down I'm gonna craa-a-aaash. Oh... I did.

I actually think that Alleykat was a game ahead of its time. It's a really good idea that was hampered by the limitations of technology. Being a vertical scroller is the obvious orientation for a racer, but with the tracks being so cluttered you're forced to play the game "wrong". As I write this, I'm envisioning a 3D, into-the-screen racer. It could even have the same graphic style, albeit fancied-up with today's technology, but you'd have a better chance of playing it properly on all stages, and it could be really good fun. As it was, Alleykat was a pretty decent game, although many would say it marked the beginning of a slippery slope...

Uridium (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , ,

I doubt that Andrew Braybrook had time to rest on his laurels, or even to really celebrate the success of Paradroid. In those days, time was most definitely money... although you didn't realise it as a thirteen-year-old, the Commodore 64 (and all comparable systems of the era) were saddled with a ticking time-bomb known as shelf-life, and as soon as the next generation of technology became available and affordable, the money to be made on current machines would dwindle dramatically. If you had a big hit, you had to strike while the iron was hot and write another one.

Breathe in... aaaaaand relax.

Braybrook had had a massive hit with Paradroid, so it would be imperative to capitalise on that and get a hot new game out there as soon as possible. He decided to mine a similar vein and set his next game around massive Dreadnought spaceships... but rather than being inside them, you were attacking them from the outside in an arcade space blaster. It was called Uridium.

The game sees our solar system under attack from a fleet of giant Dreadnoughts, and we can't have that. So off you go in your nimble little space fighter to go and bring the blighters down. Each ship is named after a metallic element, getting progressively more valuable (and difficult!) as you go on. The ships are long but narrow, with superstructures causing difficulty in navigating from one end to the other.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Also making things difficult are the enemy attack ships which fly in to defend each Dreadnought. These things are highly efficient and well-drilled, keeping tight formations in an attempt to bring your little mission to a swift end. This can be their downfall, too... you can obliterate entire formations with just a few blasts. But some of those buggers are really fast and nasty. Luckily your ship is very manouevrable, and a quick flip can see you dodging bullets and heading out of trouble.

As if these dangers weren't enough, there are little portals all over the Dreadnoughts, and if you hang around these for too long, they will release homing mines. Possibly even more dangerous than the craft that shoot at you, these things will chase you around meaning evasive action is imperative. That's all very well if you've got some open space, but if there are any structures nearby, you're in real trouble...

I love... goooooold. The look of it, the smell of it, the texture...

Reach the end of a Dreadnought and survive long enough, and a siren will blare, alerting you that you can "Land now!" If you manage this (not necessarily as easy as it sounds... I've often been blown to pieces before I could hit the runway), then you get to land and set off the destruct sequence. Awesome! All you do, though, is play a quick bonus game for extra points, and then you're outta there, completing a fly-by back to the front of the ship... and watching it dissolve underneath you. You'll then be whisked off to tackle the next, more difficult ship...

Uridium is another game that gave my Zipstik a severe working-over when I was younger. Unfortunately, once the game loads up and the excellent title tune starts, memories come flooding back... of my mate Neil Steadman, dancing stupidly to the music in his bedroom. Some things, once they are seen, can never be unseen...

Phew, it's boiling!

Childhood tortures aside, Uridium is quite literally a blast. You can fire more bullets in this game than almost any other Commodore 64 game, as long as you've got a trigger finger that's up to the task. It's hard to say you'll need them... attack waves are fairly small and well spread out. But there are some vicious bastards in there, so wiping them out as quickly as possible can be quite advantageous, seeing that it's probably the difference between life and death...

A large part of the game, though, does not involve shooting. The Dreadnoughts, you see, are very cleverly designed, getting more and more difficult to navigate the further you progress. It's really important that you memorise each ship's layout if you want to weave your way to the end at speed. When you reach a new one, for the first few goes you have to tiptoe your way through, which is a real problem when you're being assaulted by deadly attack ships. After a few games, though, you start to zip around with more confidence, and it's a real thrill to shoot through a tight gap and onto the runway, with a squadron of enemy fighters on your tail.

Hey, don't go blowing that up, it's platinum! It's worth a fortune!

It's fair to say that Uridium is a mite repetitive, but you could say that about most arcade shooters. What's important is how well it plays, how it feels to play. And Uridium feels really good. There's not much to it... there are no extra weapons to discover, and little new from ship one to ship fifteen. It just gets harder, and challenges you to get better, and it remains enjoyable all the way. It's not perfect... it can be a touch annoying, for instance, having to hwait around for the "Land Now" signal (although this would be rectified a couple of years later...), but it is damn good, it looks fantastic and is certainly one of the best arcade-style shoot 'em ups on the Commodore 64.

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.

Gribbly's Day Out (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

With his toe dipped well and truly into the blue and cyan waters of the Commodore 64, Andrew Braybrook followed up the conversion of Steve Turner's Lunattack by coming up with his own creation, named Gribbly's Day Out. Great. But who or what the hell is Gribbly?

Gribbly (or Gribbly Grobbly, to give him/it his/its full name) is a Blabgorian. That is, a creature from Blabgor. Glad that's clear. Gribbly is a green creature, with no arms and one giant foot. He's not a handsome chap by our standards, but I'm sure on Blabgor he's something of a stunner.

Awww... look at de widdwe baby Gribblets...

Alright, enough of the silliness. Gribbly's Day Out sees you playing the titular monopod in babysitting mode, as eight baby Gribblets find themselves strewn about the Blabgorian landscape. That wouldn't be so bad, but Blabgor is a fairly hostile place, fraught with danger for the little Gribblets, and so Gribbly must collect them all and put them in a safe zone, so they can enjoy their day out without fear of death or kidnap.

Boing, boing... the web can't hurt you when you're in Bounce mode.

Kidnap? What kind of place is this? Well, it's a place of evolution. Although the creatures that inhabit each level start out as simple beings, they evolve into more complex (and dangerous) entities the longer you hang around. And to complete their cycle, they just happen to need Gribblets...

Come back with my baby!

It's very clever, the game's eco-system. If you're quick or observant enough, you can wipe out critters at certain stages of their development, which gives you more time to pick up the Gribblets and get them to safety. If you're not quick enough and a Flyer makes off with a Gribblet, you can still save it... if you're good enough.

Gribbly Grobbly fires bubbles, which (as mentioned before) can destroy certain creatures. One of those creatures is the Flyer, but if you drop it you'll have to catch the Gribblet in mid-air to save it! This will take some tricky manoeuvring on your part... the number of times I've frantically overshot a falling Gribblet, sometimes twice on the same fall, only to see it land safely on some flat ground can't be counted on the toes of one Gribbly Grobbly. Of course, if it doesn't land on flat ground, the consequences don't bear thinking about.

What a lovely place for Gribblets to play! As long as they don't fall in the pool...

This still sounds fairly easy, but you haven't got clear skies to idly roam around. For one, there is an electrified web on each level. This can be deactivated and reactivated easily, using the switches that are handily positioned around the area. But what the hell is an electrified web doing around a kiddies' play area? Well, it's there to contain Seon, the 6809 Beast...

Ah, he's just sitting there, I'll be alright...

I think that Seon is one of the most frightening bosses I've ever encountered. I would go so far as to say he's the Commodore 64 equivalent of Sinistar. He sits there, trapped, as you trundle about, happily collecting Gribblets and putting them into their playpen... until there's only one left, at which point the web completely deactivates. Seon is then free to come at you at speed, and he will. And if you're off-guard, then you're going to get a shock as he ploughs into you, crackling with anger, reducing your health to nothing at a stroke.

Aaaaargh! Ouch! Seon attacks, and Gribbly's precious energy is sapped.

What really makes Gribbly's Day Out work, and what makes it so good, is the control method. The game is a joy to play. There's a tricky inertia at work when Gribbly is flying, and if you're not careful you can find yourself ricocheting between obstacles in an energy-depleting rebound of doom. Once you get the hang of it, though, you can make seamless transitions from flying to bouncing, whizzing about the environment as though you've lived there your whole life. It's very satisfying indeed, never more so than pulling off a spectacular mid-air Gribblet rescue in the nick of time.

There may be grey skies, but it's still pretty.

And yet, even though you're soon patrolling the skies with the grace of a Spitfire... well, maybe a Sopwith Camel... the game never becomes easy. The clever progression system (you advance between one and three levels once you complete the level you're on, depending on how well you did) ensures that you're always on your toes. And even though you may be good at it, it's still very easy for one mistake to cause you real problems.

Gribbly's Day Out is an excellent game. It's really well balanced, enjoyable and challenging even by today's standards. It's one of those games that I'll fire up every now and then for a quick blast, and I usually end up spending an hour or more on it, trying to get further than the last time. There are sixteen levels... I've never seen them all, and I probably never will. But I can't see the time coming when I'll stop trying.

Lunattack (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

And so it's on to Andrew Braybrook's Commodore 64 games, starting at the beginning (a very good place to start, so I hear) with Lunattack. Known as 3D Lunattack on the ZX Spectrum, it was the third in an ongoing series on that machine. When it came to the Commodore 64, it was the first and only entry.

It's been quite difficult to fill this post out. There's a severe lack of information on the internet regarding this game. There's not a single cover/box shot for the Commodore 64 version, and I can't find instructions anywhere. So I've pretty much had to wing it, which is fine... I do that quite often anyway, but I do like to do at least a bit of preparation before I start.

Ugh! What the hell is that? Blast it, quick!

Lunattack sees you piloting a craft above the surface of the moon, in an attempt to destroy the base of the evil Seiddab (if you're among the uninitiated, read that backwards...). It sounds easy enough, but as is always the way, they've had the evil sense to defend this base with an array of deadly weaponry. You're going to have to fight your way through that lot before getting to your main target.

Now, I didn't have a clue what I was doing, and I was probably doing it wrong anyway, so it's difficult to go into the game in any great detail. I read a couple of reviews of the Spectrum version that said it was like Battlezone. I don't think that's entirely accurate, although obviously there are elements of that game here. For instance, although you're flying, you always remain at the same height. This does open up the ability to attack both ground and air units, though. If you can find them, that is...

Tanks at two o'clock!

At times, Lunattack seems like a terribly barren game. You might strafe your way through a tank battalion, and then go for minutes without finding anything at all, other than the odd rock to avoid. Or rather, that's how it will seem until you discover the game's map screen...

Yes, by accidentally pressing the F1 key I found out that your game doesn't just randomly generate some stuff to throw at you if it can be bothered... there's a proper structure to things. Not only that, but the map is massive. And I didn't work out what all the symbols mean for ages, either...

Now, let's see... left at the purple skull... right at the mountain range... no, it's no use. We're lost.

There are plenty of different zones to fly through, with one nice touch being that you can see Earth in the distance if you're flying in the right direction. Some zones will set off a frightening alarm as they cause your hull to overheat... if you don't cool it down quickly, the ship will be destroyed. Others will be filled with tanks, rocks or flying "things", all of which must be either destroyed or avoided if you want to reach the Seiddab base.

If you've ever played an Andrew Braybrook game, you'll know that the presentation is usually excellent. And that's how it is with Lunattack, if you show a bit of patience. Rather than rushing straight into the game, if you let the opening sequence run for a while you'll get a bit of backstory and an explanation of the map's symbols and the game's scoring system. There's also an options screen where you can change your starting stage and level. If only I'd done that when I'd first loaded the game, rather than a couple of hours later...

Kapow! A missile finds its mark. There's lots more where that came from, too.

Lunattack appears to be much more epic than I'd originally thought. I should really have known better. I played it for about two hours and had a high score of 120... now I'm pushing forward and in danger of breaking 1,000. What's more, I want to. Discovering new games is cool... discovering hidden depths within those games is cooler still. I wouldn't say it's a stone cold classic... at least not yet. But it shows the promise that would be fulfilled in future games...

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.

FIGHT! Commodore 64 vs. ZX Spectrum. Number 2: Uridium

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

After yesterday's less than successful effort, I felt like I wanted to play Uridium properly. And then I realised it was the ideal candidate for the next episode of FIGHT! This is particularly true when you compare them on the main platform-specific websites... on Lemon64, the Commodore 64 version (which is the original) only averages a user rating of 7.79, and doesn't manage to crack the top 100, whereas on World of Spectrum, their version does hit the top 100 and averages a user rating of 8.49. Intriguing. So who's right?

I'm very familiar with the Commodore 64 version. Programmed by Andrew Braybrook, one of the 64's premier coders, at the height of his powers, it's a slick arcade shoot 'em up that requires quick reflexes and a fast trigger finger. It's incredibly polished and a lot of fun, and I spent hours and hours with it in my younger days.

Five-to-one problem... need fast trigger finger to deal with!

For the uninitiated, Uridium is a two-way horizontally scrolling arcade shooter, which sees you piloting a spacecraft against fifteen massive enemy Dreadnaughts. Each of these must be destroyed, but it's not as simple as just flying up there and blowing them out of space... they'll send waves of fighter ships at you. They also have proximity mines on board, which are released if you fly over or even near their ports. And finally, just getting from beginning to end can be very difficult... the Dreadnaughts are littered with structures, which prove deadly if crashed into. And you do have to get from beginning to end... you have to land on the runway before you can destroy the Dreadnaught.

Sneaky... I fly down this narrow track and they swoop in behind me. Clever...

Slipping back into the pilot's seat of the C64's Manta felt very comfortable. It's a pretty fly ride, nice and responsive, able to accelerate quickly although braking is sluggish, capable of flipping in a 180 degree manoeuvre, and also of flipping onto its side, which is handy as there are some tight gaps to squeeze through. It also pumps out a more-than-passable amount of bullets, and even though enemy attack waves number no more than five or six, they're accurate, so you need those bullets to take out as many as possible as quickly as possible.

Mine! Mine! Hey, if you want it that much, you can have it!

The 64 version is a glorious arcade blast. Always was, and probably always will be. It's not perfect... the gameplay is by its very nature repetitive, but the different dreadnaught layouts help to make up for that, as you're always on edge, wondering where the next tiny gap or obtrusive structure will be. It's a bit of a pain having to wait around by the runway for the Land Now signal (if you get there too early... there's a very real danger that you'll be blown to bits before then. There's a sequel, though... Uridium+. And that game rectifies the Land Now issue, moving it one step closer to perfection.

The red square is a mine port... they're really fast, so I'd get out of there!

What of the Spectrum version, then? Is it better than the Commodore game? Is it even as good? My honest opinion is... no, it's not as good. It is a fine game, though, and a great acheivement for the Spectrum. The Dreadnaught layouts are different, which I appreciated as it effectively makes it another game to learn. Attack patterns are similar though, although the game is even more unforgiving and difficult. The Manta controls well, but the game is let down slightly by the scrolling, which although not exactly jerky, tended to give me a headache after any reasonable length of time.

Those enemy ships on the runway are sitting docks... blast them while you can!

There are a couple of things missing from the Speccy version, too... neither of which is gamebreaking, but worth a mention. When you end a level, you play a brief bonus game on the Commodore 64 to determine your bonus. That's gone on the Spectrum. Also gone is the cool fly-by at the end of the level, where the dreadnaught boils away and you get the chance to blast some of the ground features youDmay have missed before you landed. Like I said, not gamebreakers, but just little touches that add to the overall experience.

One down, fourteen to go. Spectrum owners are unlikely to have seen this bit.

I'm not entirely sure why the Spectrum version is rated that much more highly on the internet than the 64 version. When you play them back-to-back, Braybrook's original is clearly superior. Maybe it's because there aren't many great arcade shoot 'em ups on the Spectrum, whereas the 64 did them really well? I'm not sure, I can't vouch for that having not played many Spectrum games. What's clear is that both platforms had a really good game in Uridium, so everybody wins in that respect. As for this comparison:

RESULT: Commodore wins!