HOMM2 music diaries – June-July 2014

So last may i posted on EAB forum proposing myself as MOD musician. Got two gigs: one from the gut who create downfall for its dizzy-like game and little later was asked by Philippe “Meynaf” Guichardon to port the music of Heroes of Might and Magic II in MOD files for its Amiga Port of the game.

And is on the second task that i want to focus on this article and possibly some future ones.

Tough nut to crack! The soundtrack is composed of over 20 tracks, the music is done on pc either via Midi with custom instruments or via CD tracks, in some cases in the “price of destiny” expansion pack there are singed parts (in german) so i know will never be the same as the original PC one, but who am i to defuse an impossible challenge?

Analysis

Looking at the context and some of the music, plus the fact that the porter do not want to mix channels (processor intensive), i realized i can build some of the mods in a way that three channels carry the main melody and the fourth is of support and can be overridden by speech or sound effects.

As reference i took this youtube playlist of the CD tracks, and that is mostly the kind of feeling I want the mod files to have.

As mentioned in other articles, i actually have no real Amiga handy where to compose the score, however my actual favourite weapon, MilkyTracker on Win XP, has been put to the test for writing .mod files and feedback has been positive.

Another thing is that since there are some songs (i.e.combat 1) that have a recurring background, i could sample it and use it on the mod file. the “Combat” scream on combat 1 could be replaced with a generic crowd cheer (whoah) .

June

Before to leave i started to port lurking enemy (the enemy turn song) and had some problems both for its basses and for the motion of the song; i repromised to give it a second look or to rewrite as mixed version.

The day earlier instead i tried to port the grassland theme; so all possible problems with Milky showed up – which from the other side is good so i have an idea of the workflow i could employ; first the four version sound kinda flat (midi can rely on being projected in two channels) plus the lack of faithful instrument brought me to look on my mod bank for similar sounds. Redo a tune is harder than come out with your own: especially in a limited environment as Paula might be, plus memory contraints and the fourth voice as wildcard. But that is what makes it so compelling: being able to reach good results in a limited environment 🙂

 

July

I tried several combinations of instruments for Grassland, mostly coming from digging through instrument free data banks; a decent cello in the background is hard to find and for clavicembalo sounds I resorted taking it from a tune of The Weasel, however the high tune clavicembalo sound kinda weird;

[WIP] H.O.M.M. grassland tune Test G from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

That made me look for better clavicembalo (harpsichord) samples; the ones i found comes from collections around the net: very good this Harpsichord sample bank  from a 1720 Blanchet and this Oboe sound from freeloops.com; those two instruments helped me in give a more realistic sound;

[WIP] H.O.M.M. grassland tune Test I from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Result is pretty impressive: might not have all the sounds of the original but has its own depth 🙂

The research for more realistic sounds brought me quite around on the net, looking mostly for .wav files until i started stumble in more professional sites that provided soundfonts; this format is used for most professional tools and usually provide a good instrument quality, however is not directly “consumable” by milky or other trackers: a tool to export in .wav file format is needed.

Looking more around i found an open source .sf2 to wav converter for Windows at this address: http://sanfransys.com/main_downloads.htm; what it does is to split all audio files composing the soundfont and exporting them in .wav file on a folder.

Then the sample is passed through Audacity, where is flattened to Mono and saved in .wav 8-bit (save -> other uncompressed format -> .Wav (microsoft) 8-bit) then loaded in milky and “resampled” to match the protracker range of sound going in the Sample Editor [smp ed.] and choosing ‘advanced->resample’ from the right click menu.

milky_resample

Once in the option requester, setr the “relative tone” and “fine tune” values to 0, select “Precise sinc” on the Interpolation dropdown option and click OK.

milky_resample_params

 

At this point i usually save the instrument in .xi format from the [save] button on the top of the instruments list. Range used by protracker mods is between C-3 to B-5 according to milky scale. If higher or lower octaves are needed i usually load a copy of the instrument in another slot, go in the instrument editor [Ins. Ed.], press octave up or octave down at need then go in the sample editor and again use resample putting to 0 the values to render the sample.

milky_octaves

Plus since, unlike the good old protracker, there is no chord and no merge samples feature, sometimes i need to “render” in .wav using an empty mod the chords and composed samples and do on the rendered track the flat/8-bit/resample loop again.

The Powder Diaries – appendix – Archeological Digs

Not enough developed to be a full chapter, here i introduce a better insight on the 1991 demo.

The 1991 demo was called “M1 Prototype” on the title screen. Due to the disk error i mentioned on chapted 2, Maltese decided to redo the title screen at its own liking. The demo is using a homebrew trackloader and is known to not work on machines with os older than 2.0.

I found the disk at home when i went to Italy last may and made a DMS of it;  later last week i installed WinUAE in my laptop and tried to make it run, with little hopes being that disk already picky on my old A500 and never worked on my 1200.

Meddling a bit with settings i made it work finally!

loading_screen

The Prototype Demo loading screen

powder_demo_credits

And the splash screen once loaded

So in this demo we have the first half of the later scrapped Sea Level and a first version of the City level. There are some playability differences with the final version such as the fact that is possible to collect energy pods to restore the ship energy (very little) and that the credit system is using thousands of units, like 500 credits for a change.

Sea has a pretty nice palette and shows the skills of  Marco Maltese at its finest as much as in Clouds; the enemy placement and strategy is interesting too.

sea_laser

A screenshot from Sea

Even the already known City level is different from the final one: first of all the sea flyby part is longer, then there is traffic roaming the city – as private vehicles and trucks – and some police roadblocks; plus the end of level boss is not a robot like in the final version – rather is another big helicopter. Also there were some kinda funny behaviour, liks some kamikaze Rail-A falling down the rails.

Download and Use

The demo is available as zipped DMS (DiskMasher) file; to use it in Amiga you need to unpack it using the DMS tool to create a physical disk; to use it in WinUAE or other emulators or even Minimig i guess you just transfer the .dms in the card and that’s it – don’t know about further settings.

For WinUAE i found out the settings in the following picture work for me:

winuae_settings

I used A600 basic, with the slider compatibility set to Best Compatibility.

The demo can be downloaded from Aminet at this link.

Still in Aminet, is also the 1997 demo previewed in Amiga Format;  it contains the final version of  City and City Boss. This other one can be installed on Hard disk and can instead be downloaded at this link.

The Powder Diaries – 8 – Verkosoft to the rescue!

Verkosoft to the rescue!

It is the fall of 1997 and, for most of us, Amiga and powder are things of the past. Still Nicola and Thomas liked to tweak with the Eneditor in order to make the levels a bit tougher  – actually A LOT tougher, and sometimes taking enemies out of the original context – but i did not touch its work files since long time.

Then, all of the sudden, Filippo calls us. Thanks to the city demo We found a publisher, they say; at this point revenue and fame were no more a priority: as long as the game finally could be published everything was good.

And since we wanted to make it come out fast, we had to cut a LOT. No more space level and boss, no more factory boss, no more ruins boss, no more intro pictures – beside the Game Over and the End Game ones.
Since I did sever contact with Maltese sone times earlier , had to provide some of the missing assets like more decorations in the final level and the end graphic. Actually, I had to prepare the package box graphic and had to re-create the logo in vector graphics using freehand. The 3d image in the game package was done by me using lightwave 5 on my 1200 and rendered at 150 dpi, with extra touches in photoshop for the laser ray and little extras; I am mainly a 2d person while Maltese was the one with most experience on 3d, but this one imo came out decent enough. Some extra touch with Photoshop enhanced things better.

At the time of the final rush, however, was  providing my services as contractor to an advertising and web agency in Fano, so my exposure time was reduced. For the game testing and enemy placement remember Nicola Filippo and Thomas took the lead: due to that, they started to tweak the game difficulty to match their own skills and in some cases to misplace or change enemies destination -such as, in example, the big Fuel tank in Factory that was supposed to have an engine in front and instead became a fat ship to destroy; that also increased the difficulty level to pretty hard.

Powder_-_Box_scan_n°1
The final package of Powder, as shown in Hall of Light: more “real looking” than my pristine hi-res Jpeg 😛

The package wrap was put together in Freehand and the only text we had from the company was the payoff in the back of the box. There was also space for any copyrights and disclaimers that i left available for the publishers – that however did not noticed, thats why those two lines with the filler text “all copyrights goes here” in italian language appears in the bottom of the wrap.

The irony was that, during the nineties, i was looking at the game boxes of export Megadrive games with a deep envy for the plastic box and the colorful detailed artwork, while at the end, with time and budget contraints we ended up with a pretty crappy anonymous cardboard box too.

Published, at last!

And so in 1998 Powder came out under the Verkosoft brand, Epic Marketing in the UK.

The cuts, the difficulty problems and the age at the end shown its effect, so much that Amiga Format killed it with a 23%; other magazines were more forgiving, however is sure that when Powder came out the Amiga scene was no longer the good shooter starving market that we embraced in 1990, rather the inflaction-ridden mediocre shooter wasteland of 1998.

033

The Unforgiving review of Powder on Amiga Format

Other magazines were not that hard with it, like the Italian The Games Machine, that gave it an indulgent 79%, but AF review indeed marked the kiss of death for our beloved project.

tgm_powder_review

The review of Powder in the italian version of The Games Machine:
thanks to Mauro Corbetta of RetroEdicola for the scan.

 

The Aftermath

In summer 2005, just a couple of months prior of my departure for the States, all former members of five stars met again in a restaurant in Fano,for what we called the “Powder Dinner” – at the end the earnings in the already meager end-of-nineties agonizing Amiga market were so tight that we were barely able to pay a dinner for it. Also was my last time I seen Maltese in person, with its first czech blond wife.

NOJALTRI

There we are: the Five Stars VG studio in 2005!
From the top left: Simone Bernacchia , Nicola Valentini, Filippo Carletti;
bottom: Thomas Paoloni, Marco Maltese – sorry for the bad quality of the scan.

I met the programmers again this year, in occasion of my trip to Italy; Maltese – now living in Sicily, was not present but was nice to see each other after long time! So they also had occasion to meet my wife and had a pleasant time; the main reason however was to get a leftover copy of Powder from Carletti to deliver at the president of SCCAN here in southern california, that was looking for it after i told him about my experience in doing graphics and music for the game.

Some Satisfactions, at last!

In 2009 Amiworx published a donationware CD called “Amiga Meets Piano” where, among the other popular Amiga game tracks the main theme of Powder -to my great surprise -is also featured, albeit incomplete, but this means somebody considered it good enough to be performed, and for me that is a big compliment!

In 2012 the Amiga Longplays channel featured a Powder longplay; found mostly favourable comments, especially about the soundtrack;

also on LemonAmiga the rating of 4.2 is pretty decent; plus the user the user frikilokooo Wrote:

In my opinion one of the three funniest Amiga shmups,its best feature is the addiction and its gameplay is different of the others shmups,highly recommended.The game is very underrated maybe because it came too late to the market.The graphics are unbalanced,some graphics are very good and others graphics are average,maybe by the fact that one of the two graphicians of the game is much better than the other one.The game has the best ingame music of any Amiga shmup(the best outgame music is for ProjectX though).Only a couple of glitches:no autofire,no two players mode and very unbalanced weapon system that ends using homing missiles at the end because the other weapons are worse,becoming very monotonous always the same weapon.

In 2011 I started to meditate on write down my memories on this experience, but lacked the time to do so: it was supposed to be just an episode on my blog (still in ilcannocchiale.it at the time); then a discussion about Amiga vs c64 and games design and working appeared on the forum nonsoloamiga.com, had occasion ot talk about my experience with Powder and the interest generated gave me the spark to start to write about Powder in a more expanded way.

I already started to put my songs in the AMP site and as videos on Vimeo, and the Diaries are giving me the occasion to work harder in showcasing most of my work that in my opinion need some exposure.

I would have also liked to recover the sources and try to make some kind of  “director’s cut” or maybe some other game based on the same engine; however, when i tested the work disks in my 1200 most of the floppies were giving me read error; i gave them to a friend of mine that has a catweasel-like device in the hope to recover something.

I asked Maltese about some material to show here, but he said he lost it all, since he moved several times during the last fifteen years; plus stated in a chat that he is not that affectionated to those past events and forgot most of the things happened then; however, if he or the other members of the team decides to add more particulars they can get in touch with me.

Gathering the Memories

Honestly,  most of the material i had it with me the whole time, since i tried to show it on some demo CD that i made when looking for work in Italy and abroad after got laid off by my employer in 2003, but so far never received any feedback on it;

At the end the real triggers that pushed me to publish the powder diaries were two: The nonsoloamiga discussion helped me gather in my mind most of the technical data, but the real one is likely more ego-related; having all my tests, work files, animations, unused musics rotting on the floppys in boxes on the basement at home and in some demo CD-ROMs and folders in my laptop here on the states; i treasured this material for years even in cases holding it to show on interviews due to the fact that was a project in progress; then, when the game finally was out, all the material due to technology advancement became outdated, but i always hoped that if i shown all my stuff and attempts probably the consideration of people towards me could have shifted to a different level: at the time, at least until i started to win contests, had the perception that people thought was wasting my time: even a here withheld Five Stars team member thought the same of my animations, then awards proved i was right.

So as this day, i considered Powder history however worthy to be told also as part of my youth dream and work for hopes on a better future, despite its little to no influence in the Amiga market.

At the end, were those diaries just an ego trip? Very likely, but am glad to have done my work on it and don’t regret any minute spent!

Want to get the advantage of the last rows of text to thank all the people I worked with and those who in some ways supported me either logistically or morally or that, with their mere existence, gave me ideas and reasons to go on.

Music – Powder Final Credits (1997) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

 

The Powder Diaries – 7 – The long dark tea time of the soul

All’alba Vinceroooooooh

After my partial defeat with the Delusion! the videoclip, was particularly bitter on the shortsightness of the music business – something many others had to deal with in future as we know, but that did not discourage me to continue my career: at the time i already started another project – that was able to continue to work thanks to the purchase of a side 2 megabytes RAM expansion.

The animation “N.O.L.W. – The Night Of the Living Wrecks” was presented at Pixel Art Expo in Rome and placed second; with the money i was able to buy a second hand Amiga 1200 that replaced my 500; then came, in Easter Weekend, as usual, the Bit.Movie. I remember was there in the awarding ceremony and they already assigned the third and second prize; assigning the first they started talking about “how the author re-interpreted a cult movie and give it a new meaning “, pretty convinced it was a slow boring animation I seen in the same contest to win so, when instead they announced my name was pretty surprised.

N.O.L.W. – La notte dei rottami viventi – the night of the living wrecks from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

 

The prize also gave me way to expand further my machine, so I bought a hard disk (half gig, at the time pretty big), a Viper 030/42 mhz + FPU (later found out was a EC030 so no MMU drivers for me) and 16 megabytes, later brought to 32 and also a Microvitec monitor – meant that the times to draw animation on TV were over for me.

The long dark tea time of the soul

At some point money for studies ran out and I found myself working as ad spreader – those people who put junk mail in your mailboxes: was one of them, and did that job for little more than one year while looking for a job in my field.

That also lead me to take a country funded course in office automation so that I would have been able to work in a office. Thanks to shapeshifter, was able to do my homework on my Amiga on Word and Excel and, when had the time, was studying on my own how to do DTP and graphic design, trying to recover my high school know-how and a more traditional track; the fact that was working on Amiga rather than on P C or Mac (despite Mac emulation) was not helpful either: DTP people were almost exclusively a Mac shop and also pretty proud of it: for them my emulated mac was some kind of travesty.

Was working together occasionally with Maltese in doing soundtracks for commercials and some of its – if i can call it this way – failed experiments too; was also teaching myself HTML using some booklets bought in a local bookstore; at the time things were much simpler than now and having a Netscape install and a text editor was enough.

Music – Deimos (v3.2) – 1994 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

One of the themes for a never-finished project of Maltese – since there were no memory constraints those musics were more rich in audio samples and effects

As musician also worked with the main organizer of Pixel Art Expo in doing the soundtrack for its animation – made on imagine PC and VLab Motion – for Imagina, called DevilBalls; even if at the end was not qualified to participate i still consider it an interesting experience, with him sending me the tape of the animation and me creating the music and adapting it to the flow; normally in traditional animation the music comes first and animation adapts to its flows but CGI made the roles get reversed in this case.

Music – DevilBalls (1997) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Together with the same guy and an italian-british AMOS programmer i also worked on the static and animations for a soccer manager game;  the animations were supposed to be sprite driven (for more situations to show) and inspired by the then new isometric Fifa Soccer on the Megadrive to save memory, but ultimately we decided for small pre-rendered animations in a stadio-like megascreen; i also made a music for it that at the end was not used.

GIOCATORE-3_CLIP-16C Euro_League_Manager_2

Above: one of the work files, and below the final display how it looked for the soccer manager game.

Serious troubles and lockups between my accelerator and the surf squirrel i bought as second hand forced me for a pretty intensive (and money rewarding) gig to buy – for the huge (for me) amount of Five Millions of Italian lire of the time – a Power Mac Performa 6400; this however opened the door to a more steady flow of work for websites and multimedia work (mainly presentations, video animations and web sites) using Macromedia Director and the – then new Futuresplash Animator, in future known as Flash; for 3d i was still using Amiga though due to the fact that my performa was not powerful enough to work with Lightwave at a reasonable speed; so at the end had a mixed work environment, exchanging data in a rather painful slow way via serial connection and Term program.

I also had occasion to set up an exhibitions with other people living in the close city of Ostra, where we showed our works in paintings and in a slide show with pictures and animations made using Scala. It was called in italian language “Onde di luce e immagini photogeniche” – a pun using Lightwave, Imagine and Photogenics names; beside that i also held a small personal exhibition in Senigallia called “Scarabocchi Binari” – in english Binary Doodles, so now you know where the name of this blog came from.

The Fading of the Five Stars

For events not connected to Powder, however, me and Maltese had a bad discussion about a gig we were doing together and for a long while we hardly talked to each other.

Job roles, family changes (Tomas got married and had kids in example) and conflicting schedules brought Five stars to a de-facto split, not to mention Quazar disappearance.

For a better city Soundtrack and more bling – literally

Around 1995 had Thomas and Nicola complaining since a while that they were so tired of the City soundtrack that I provided them in 1990 that needed to turn off the volume when doing testing, I did try to create alternate tracks to no avail for a while, when i was not busy with other stuff: at least three different tracks were made before choosing the final one;

The alternate tracks can be found in the Powder Musics Album of my Vimeo profile once will have time to upload them.

the one with the guitar riff won – it also shows that Powder has a rock soul maybe?

Music – Powder City Level Soundtrack Definitive (1996) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

One of the songs rejected was instead used for the City boss.

Music – Powder City Boss soundtrack – 1996 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Nicola and Filippo thought that the city level was too flat and unappealing so asked me to add some animations, including the pulse of the crane lights and the glass glare in the buildings;  i also reworked some of the posters to have a more polished look. One of the rejected one was my tribute to the OAV Genmu Senki Leda, which I tried to portray in a hypothetical sequel promotional ad.

 

GO$CITY.MANIFESTO

The Rejected Genmu Senki Leda II Poster in the original workfile – using the same City 16 color palette and my now well-known justaxposition technique

Habemus Logo!

Even for the logo there has been progress: after the first phase, where i was looking for a more Psygnosis-style shape, a clearer font came out that seemed satisfying and also look good if filled. Several tests were done with different filling material, with a crater field as main candidate – also to recall the dust itself; filling on Amiga never been a problem thanks to Deluxe Paint Stencil feature.

LOGO.FOND3

The final font face, with the initial crater filling

Also another characteristic i wanted to add was an electric spark going through the logo: not a new idea, i did that in the past for a test Quazar logo, but now skills gave me more accuracy; i tried two blue tones,one on the navy blue the other on cobalt blue, that resulted more convincing For the inner pattern at the end we decided for a clod of dust, obtained with a furious and merciless application of the smear filter to the crater landscape and a change of palette. The logo and the initial screen graphics is at 32 colors.


LOGO.PROVA4A

The logo almost final, just with the electric spark in navy blue shades rather than cobalt blue 

The Final level, how you never heard it…

The actual incarnation of the final level has been mostly cobbled up in the latest month prior publishing, and is also using a music that was meant for the now lost Clouds mega-saucer Boss Fight, but it was meant differently, even this with an approach phase and then with the Boss fight following; at least the boss is the same, with a human size figure growing to a giant robot, Megaborg style  (that strangely has a deja-vu feeling…), but was not meant to come out from the destroyed ship, rather to wait for us and then transform, with a crescendo and then the fight.

Music – Powder – Final Theme – 1991 (Unreleased) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

The Approach theme

powder final boss 0004 from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

The final Boss fight theme

…and how you heard it

I had to finish the graphic for the final level at the end: we were unable to get in touch with Maltese and so had to cobble up the background graphics and the map. For the music at the end was decided to use the music meant for the discarded Clouds boss – made by me with samples of an electric guitar played by a friend of my brother as experiment and then loved by Maltese at the time.

Music – Powder – Clouds stage boss (1993) from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Pity that the replay routine messes it up a bit compared on how was supposed to play, but still makes the level pretty intense!

The Powder Diaries – Service Announcement

Last month have been in my home country for three weeks, where i also dug more into my disks to retrieve more powder data and files. Pity that, due to the lack of broadband, was unable to update my blog, but now that am back am slowly filling the gap and should be able to publish the final parts of my diaries soon.

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”

 

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.