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.

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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!