The Powder Diaries – 6 – Commodore is dead – Long Live Commodore!

I’ll fix it tonight, Raila

One day we were having one of our meetings about what to do for powder; this time looked like was Tomas itself the one behind with the schedule. So Filippo and Nicola teased him about when he was going to finish some part of the game and he was invariably answering “I’ll fix it tonight”: that become a bit of a gag for a while, also added to unrelated stuff. Tomas has been more on the playful side rather than Filppo, that usually has a more serious – almost germanic – look  even if got its own share of sarcasm; however, talking about Tomas cannot avoid to remember how he used to call the dog of Maltese Raila (was called Karen, by the way and was a mix cocker) – Rail-A is one of the first enemies of City – the orange rail vehicle with the turret on; instead, Rail- B is the grey one and Rail-C is the vehicle that takes off. The wagons for Rail-A are called Rail-D.

REAL arcade sound effects – literally

In begin of 1993 Thomas started to meddle with sound routines inspired by the seven voice routines used in Turrican and Apydia; since most of Amiga games at the time were using mostly the same sample bank for sounds, i wanted something a bit different so one day i went to the local arcade in Marotta with my stereo and started recording arcade sounds; was lucky to be there in a moment there was no people so i recorder the sound effects of the demos of three-four arcade machines including the then pretty new Konami Shooter Xexex. Don’t ask me how a hardcore shooter like Xexex came in a small town arcade, dunno.

Xexex

The stage start sound of  Xexex became then the transformation sound of the M1. For the voice announcing weapon names, was provided by Sara, the sister of Thomas.

Commodore is Dead: Long Live Commodore!

Spring 1994;  Parking lot of the then called Joyland (now Auchan) in Fano. A Saturday Morning.

I remember i did just bought the latest Commodore Gazette and Amiga Magazine computer mags and was sitting in my car reading it, enjoying especially the articles and tutorials about Lightwave 3D. Then i seen the article about Commodore asset liquidation.

Was like being struck by a lightning: all of the sudden all plans for my future seemed to shatter and my know-how apparently doomed to fall in obsolescence shortly;  not only: was since long time planning to invest on a more powerful Amiga or in an AGA machine and, knowing th eeffect of the supply  and demand law, might have brought prices of the remaining available machines to raise.

Had been hard to digest.

At the moment i also hoped for Powder to be finished soon so that at least we would have seen some return.

And, to add insult to injury, the Amiga Club in pesaro was one of those targeted by a sting from the local IRS police force due to changes in the italian software piracy law; since me and the other Powder devs were not active members they did not come at our door knocking and seizing all our Amigas, but for a while i had a strong stomach ache.

The Multimedia carreer takes off

In the meanwhile, i was trying to pursue my other childhood dream: do animated shorts. The presence of the Bit.Movie and of a prize in money was a good motivator, but nothing beats the being able to do the work you dreamed of when you were a kid! In the last two years, as already told, me and Maltese participated to the 2d and 3d real-time contests with our animations; plus i did the soundtrack for several Maltese 3d animations, like Virtual Battle:

Virtual Battle – 1993 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

i also had occasion to do music for the opening of a local TV show and for a couple of local commercials made by Maltese with mixed techniques – one of them was also presented in Pixel Art Expo in 1995.

After my Powder animation, i got some confidence and so tried to do a full short too; to save memory I worked with an eight color palette; the story I told was called “Mobile Suit Danko” (Danko was my nickname as Graphic Artist for Quazar, while my musician nick was J.M.D. that means Jovanotti MUST Die) – with a reinterpretation of Gundam Zaku as more cartoonized figures; a friend with Hard Disk helped me assemble it from the eight disk of anim files i prepared at home, and sent it to Bit.movie the same year as virtual battle: placed eighth beside problems with the MOD player both in my animation and Maltese one (that at the end sounded better).

Mobile Suit Danko from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Beside that, the existence of the lighttable tool on Dpaint allowed me to experiment and started to use cel-animation;  my first work to use that was a video clip cover of a popular Vasco Rossi song at the time – called Delusa – in its Disco remix; inspired by the lyrics (talking about the girls of a then popular TV show full of girls) and the work of an artist called Cavezzali, that used to portrait naive women as geeses  (well that is the italian equivalent to the Blonde stereotype), i made my own version of the videoclip, assembled synced and recorded on U-matic tape and sent it to the contest; expecting at least to place in the first three positions (and the contest involved prizes in money, so i was hoping to get at least an AGA machine with that cash).

Delusion! the videoclip from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Problem was, to use the song i needed a waiver from the recording company. So i got in touch with them to get one but the manager, Mr.MoneyMaker, said that was not going to do any exception and should request for a permit with the standard fare, that was like $5,000. Considered that the first prize of the contest was just not even $1,000 i decided to re-record the animation with a soundtrack made by me using protracker. It placed tenth if i remember.

However better times were in sight.

At the Bit.movie i also had occasion to befriend some of the volunteers that were providing access to the Amigas in showcase –  some also involved in the Rimini Amiga Club – and also professionals that were using Amiga for broadcast and computer graphics work; that later included contacts with other programmer including some MatrixSoft coders that made several sports games at the time.

The Bosses that weren’t

The idea of having a separate sublevel for each boss seemed to me a good one; that meant more room for creativity and for boss graphics.

Pity that at the end, those boss levels were scrapped for time constraints: in my opinion they would have added more appeal and athmosphere to the final game.

The graphic palette between the main level and the boss level was the same, same for the player ships, keeping continuity; just the boss level was usually no more than ten screens long and with one screen only of graphic blocks.

FACTORYBOSS.BG

The factory boss sublevel was supposed to have the ship enter in a giant elevator; a huge door close behind, a counter showing the elevator going down (unrealistic, I know, but pretty coreographic) then the ship go further in a huge underground hangar, crossed occasionally by electric lightning until the ship
is surrounded from a huge assembly crane.

powder_factory_boss_mockup

A composite of the Factory boss

The music I create for that was quite dark and syncopate: by chance i ended using the same samples as for the Factory theme.

Music – Powder – Factory Boss Music -1992 (unreleased) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

The ruins boss was supposed to start with a tunnel in the temple while mines are sitting on the top; at some point the mines explodes and the ceiling is falling down: so the ship needs to avoid debris.After a while the ship reach a junkyard, where the real boss resides. The boss is a mole-like robot tower structure.

RUINSBOSS.BG

Blocks to compose the Ruins Boss level

RUINS ALTERNBOSS.DEMO

An animation test of the tower-like mole coming out

And this was the music: to remember that the boss music as intended is made of an introductory part – while reaching the final fight – and the the boss loop; there were two exception: one is city level and the other one was clouds.

Music: Powder – Ruins Boss level (1993) [unreleased] from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Finally, the boss sub-level in space involved a long tunnel where several armored ships need to be destroyed and a spheric core protected by two lasers and an energy shield.

SPACEBOSS.DEMOPIC

MASTERCLIPPER SPACEBOSS1

The music for the space boss came out almost techno-style, fit the environment and put in the mood; am pretty satisfied of this one.

Music – Powder – space Boss level (1993) [unreleased] from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Foreground Sprites

Even if they were implemented as early as 1991, the most of the foreground sprites (those elements that go in parallax in front of the ships) were mostly designed now. We were using it, possibly sparingly not to clutter too much the field of view and were sometimes made of one or two 32 X any-height three colors sprite. The most notable example of those are in the city, especially the huge dish, but also several trees in ruins;  also many of enemy bullets were sprites with their own three colors palette. Together with the lower score panel the display of those brings the contrmporary colors on screen to around 50.

RUINS.FG-SPRITES2B NEWCITYFGSPRITES2.1

FACTORYFGSPRITES2 FACTORYFGSPRITES1B SPACEFGSPRITES2 SPACEFGSPRITES1

 

Some of the sprites work files for City, Ruins and unused for Factory and Space – the katakana in the last picture was a joke in italian (done while being bored) about how Nicola would have said that sprite “Got Balls”

 

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The Powder Diaries – 5 – Road to somewhere

Looking for an Identity

Maltese proposed the name and logo of our team; since nobody had better ideas the name stuck. i later put the logo in the city level as billboard, cannot remember if is still there though. The name was Five Stars VG Studio; the logo was composed of five stars on the top, a big VG in the middle and below the remaining STUDIO text.

3755_screen6

The Five Stars VG studio logo in a billboard on the city level

We also already started tests for the logo: beside the already shown Prototype logo, i started to design some alternate Powder logotypes. Keep in mind that at the time Psygnosis logotypes were quite trendy so i tried to create some following that style:

POWDER_LOGO9.13 POWDER_LOGO9.14

a first test for a Powder logotype in two colors 

POWDERLOGO.AL POWDERLOGO7.21 NOTE

 

Another test for a Powder logotype: the second screenshot has guidelines for the coders in italian language in case they decided to animate it.

 However those two early test were rejected, so back to the drawing board.

WolfSoft

So at the end of 1992 as explained in part 4 me and Maltese proposed Powder to with Mr.CornFlakes but he said was not interested in the game. In a latter time I tried to work with him in a recreation of the graphics for a clne of the World Rally arcade game by Gaelco; however, i underestimated the complexity of the map layout – that probably needed to be laid out in more than one layer.

I think have no surviving graphic files to show also because the work diskette malfunctioned at some point.

However, since at that time we were already in 1994, most of the computer gaming interest was starting shifting on PC; i remember Mr.CornFlakes showing me a preview of a 3D game based on a similar-robotech environment, also using timelapse animation of models for the introduction: indeed having a media like an Hard disk or even a CD-ROM was making a difference…

Consoles and Japanese Influence

The father of Maltese was used to go in eastern asia for business; once he came back with a good bunch of japanese computer mags; one was called Technopolis and was computer oriented; then there were a couple of PC-Engine related magazines.

Technopolis

Covers of the japanese computer mag Technopolis, courtesy of this page


Despite the language problems – at the time my japanese language knowledge was far lesser – those magazines gave us a deeper insight on japanese console games trendy at the time than my monthly purchase of local and british game magazines – especially CU Amiga and C+VG – could. So that showed me the most trendy shoot’em up in the console, like Rayxanber III, insight of Rayxanber II and other games.

There is also another friend of mine that is a diehard game collector and focused mainly on Amiga, megadrive and Super Nintendo, either the export machines or the official ones; therefore, not only via pictures in magazines but also live i was able to see lot of games in console, sometimes still in the japanese box with japanese handbooks and writings. The boxes and the writings, especially the japanese Megadrive game boxes, had for me – coming from art studies – their personality: the plastic case, the full color handbooks were giving me the feeling of a complete and solid product.

Plus the undeniable culture shock that manga culture provided on the western: albeit undercover during the eighties, it exploded as subculture in the early nineties and found me with my arms opened both as aspiring comic and animation designer, as video game graphic designer and as video game musician: the different (sometimes cheesy or plain weird for a western small town guy standards) tastes in graphic and music were opening me a new world, albeit not completely unknown for me: i knew a bit to use katakana since the eighties and extended that to learning more japanese language later on; now i can still use kanas and read some kanjis but am afraid is fading away (not good)…

An overview of the tools

The Map Editor is pretty simple. It is needed to load the MED source then write in the source code the path for the block files and the screens length of the map then use A to run the tool. There are two main screens: the first is the proper map screen and the secondis the seleciton screen. In the bottom there are twelve empty blocks. The user clock on several blocks of the map and then in the empty slot to “load” the block, then switches in the map screen and starts to “draw” clicking in one of the blocks in the palette below to draw that block. Through a button is possible to save the map and if i remember clearly pressing Escape to be quit back to the DOS.

The Enemy Editor – or eneditor – was also the main engine of the game. Modifying some flags was possible to compile either the editor version or the final version of the game, and using the parameters we were pointing the files to be loaded.

But, before of that, we needed to prepare the enemies with another tool, found by Tomas and Filippo, likely coming from the demoscene: seems to me to remember it was called RawEdit; however, we had to align all sprites animationone next to the other in a single picture to be then highlighted and saved in .bmap; i used to call those files MasterClipper.

RUINS_MCP-MISSLES

An example of Masterclipper file for Ruins.

To insert an enemy in the eneditor was needed to scroll to the desired point then go to the selection screen. There was possible to choose one of the loaded enemies, define animations, behavior and other parameters. There was the possibility to create also nullObjects, mean empty sprites that were used to refer an enemy or an event. Through a number of selectors was possible to add counters for transformation either in raster cycles or in number of hits, plus there was the way to define parent-child relationships between enemy elements so that, in example of a boss we could have a nullObject that, in 300 raster lines transform in the boss – that have three linked objects shooting homing missiles and that transforms in explosions after 100 hits providing 20 credits. [need to find pictures for it] – other special events involved the passage of Sprites (for parallax effect) ,stopping the scroll and ending the level.

The intro, the screens and the ending that never were – almost

Is well known that Amiga did create the trend for fancy game intros thanks to psygnosis; might be less known that japanese games had text intros first and that the Neo Geo created the trend for cutboard lightweight intros.

Since powder was trying to retain an arcade or at least a console feel, I thought the cutboard style of intro was ideal. There are at least two attempts for me to create an intro for powder: the first one was supposed to have several vignettes in the foreground with cutscenes like the bay door opening, the ship igniting boosters and so on;

however, since was my own initiative was scrapped at the end, also because Maltese realized that i misinterpreted the M1 design (the dual tails are parallel, not slanted).

INTRO ANIMWINDOWS1

The second one was inspired by an animation work of Maltese that he presented at the 1992 edition of Bit.Movie, called 500 TL vs Ferrari, made with Deluxe Paint. It used 8 colors to use less memory but colors were good and so people not even noticed it. It placed at eight place.

That gave me some ideas that maybe using a similar approach i could create a small size anim file for the intro a la Psygnosis, and also helped me in do the jump towards making animated shorts.

Later in 1993 i made that animation participate to the Pixel Art Expo in Rome, where it placed – if i remember clearly – eighth too.

Powder from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Why at the end the animation did not come out despite the CD format? One of the reason is that we should need to split all sprites to be put into the eneditor and use that to animate, the second -and most important – one was that at the end we forgot of it.

Among the countless open trenches that Powder – but not only – was leaving around, there were also other plans to embellish the game.  Later in 1992 Agony came out and sported beautiful introductory screens for each level. Nobody asked me to, but i thought we could show those too in the game. So i started to work on Dpaint using half brite modes to create some of the introductory screens. The first to be created was the game over screen:

 

vlcsnap-2014-04-24-22h14m23s110The Game Over screen – sorry for the low quality since is taken from a video

Then i started also to work on the several levels, with mixed media, like in example Factory, was started from a screen grab of the opening sequence of “Blade Runner”; i worked on it a bit, pity the tape quality was bad…

FACLOSCR.FIN

 

And then the City Screen, done by hand, where i tried to use some daring perspective and reflections done by hand (was however later used in the game handbook  cover)

city

Then the ruins main screen:

ruins

and the Clouds screen, unfinished, despite being probably the best one…

clouds

 

Also there was an attempt to do a game map, even this unfinished, but at just 32 colors:

 

SELECT2.1.32C

 

I also was trying to find a good way to do the ending; one of my ideas was make the ship land in a carrier on the sea; i also made an ending song for it:

 

Music: Powder – End Game music (1992) [unreleased] from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

At the end the final song has been replaced with the actual one, lightweight and included as different song in the main MOD file.

One thing that so far i forgot to mention is that at the time i did not had a monitor: all the graphics was made on my 1982 15″ Grundig Color TV plugged through RF modulator. Indeed was looking much better there (for gamers) than on a monitor screen, but instead Filippo, Nicola and Maltese had one so they were able to pinpoint when sometimes inaccuracies happened.

And other parts of the game started to take life. I was able to Factory, Space and Ruins soundtracks:

Music – Powder – Factory level music- 1992 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Music: Powder – Ruins (1993) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Music – Powder Space in-game soundtrack -v2 – 1992 (unreleased) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

 

And also the bosses idea started to take their place. First boss levels to be conceived were City and Space. For city the first idea was a giant armored ship that, however, due to color reduction did not looked too well:

CITY MASTERCLIPPER.BOSS1

 

So one day i decided to redesign it using the juxtaposed coloring and also giving a wink to Thunderforce: the result is a badass red flying carrier mothership shooting lasers from the front, with two openings where a red version of the city winged ships comes out and that needs to be destroyed in two phases.

NEWCITYBOSS.DEMO

Test rendering of the city boss

The background was then designed to be coherent with the game progress too, located in the huge hangar of the winged wtite ships, neatly stacked in floors.

wpid-9be822500123b33882b11ee4c2f8cd0ebe24d704.png

A screen capture of an actual boss fight

Things were finally starting to make sense together and i was optimistic for Powder to see the light of day and for us to have a niche of work using our machines; unaware of the tragedy that was slowly unfolding in the other side of the ocean and that would at the end alter our lives…

…in WestChester,Pennsilvanya.