Sunday, November 18, 2018

Jason C. Brooke

Many of us enjoy the gorgeous chipmusic from games like Out Run, Flying Shark, Vixen, Starquake and Overlander. These and others were all created by Jason C. Brooke and are also some of my most favourite tunes from the 80s.

I found Jason lurking on twitter so it wasn't long before I began stalking him for a mini-interview. Well, you know me!! Back in the day, I didn't realise that the same guy created each of these tunes so our chat was fascinating to discover he made the humble YM2149 perform far better than Atari had ever imagined.

I'd like to thank Jason for taking the time out of his busy schedule to travel back in time 30+ years. Bless him for racking his brain when trying to remember old stories and the various jobs he worked on. He's a cracking fella and one I found to be extremely modest about his achievements. However, I fear he doesn't fully appreciate just how memorable he helped make certain games like Ikari Warriors as a belting example. I hope you guys enjoy this interview and if you wanna hear some of his works then head over to SNDH Records [an awesome digital recording of the SNDH Archive].



Jas C. Brooke - The Interview


How did you get started with computers?

As a kid, I was blown away by seeing a ZX81 obey a list of instructions: I'd encountered another 'computer' so began frantically saving up my paper round money to buy a ZX Spectrum. At the paper shop, there were magazines about these computers and I was hooked on the whole idea of programming.

I imagined that games programmers actually lived in a "software house" and spent their lives making machines do clever things. But before I met 'computers', I used to spend my teenage years writing music. So, when I was asked by a careers officer what I saw myself doing for a living, I naively replied that I wanted to be a music composer.

In response, I was informed that there were only probably two people in the whole country who earned a living from writing music and one of them was Andrew Lloyd Webber. OK - think again!



What 8-bit software did you create?

I knew of a lad at school who was called "Boffy" and he did weird stuff and it turns out that what he did was 'computing'. I ended up teaming up with him to write some Music Composing software for the Spectrum in 1984. He sent it to Melbourne House and they gave us £300 in advance because they wanted to market it. So that was my first encounter of the Games Industry, just around the time I was starting my A' Levels.

Melbourne House stepped back from the deal a few months later, but Boffy and I had spent our sixth form days on various projects and, by the end of my A' Levels, I'd started on my own - a Spectrum game called Plum Duff.

  
Plum Duff is not only a game I'd never played but I had never heard of it until this interview!! O_o

It was time to get a job, and my parents were suggesting things that sounded really boring. On the other hand, I'd heard there was a company in Manchester called Binary Design that were looking for Games Programmers - so I moved to Manchester in 1986 and started writing games, eventually selling Plum Duff to Bug-Byte. That was my first 8-bit game and my last was Feud. I asked Jason for more information because Feud was a favourite of mine:
[Feud] I was the sole programmer for the Amstrad version. We used to program all versions at the same time (I was working at Binary Design) and there was no organised sharing of code even though the CPC and Spectrum were both Z80. However, the Spectrum programmer adopted some of my code but only parts of the AI would have been the same, so I doubt they played very similarly.
  
I remember buying Feud which a couple of my mates and I loved - we played it to death, almost!!



Jason and Dave Whittaker join forces!

Binary Design's musician was David Whittaker and I loved hearing his music while games were being developed. Max Headroom was being written when I started there but people complained about how much processing time the music driver ate up. In 1987, Dave (who preferred 'David' I seem to recall, but we all called him Dave anyway!) had a conversation with me about writing a new driver. I'd done that sort of thing myself years before but somehow hadn't connected my experience with what I was currently doing. So I wrote a new, more optimised - shorter and faster - driver, with a few extra features. I think the first music to benefit from this was Dave's Glider Rider.

Then, Dave decided he was leaving Binary and I was offered his old job. But it wasn't long until I was also offered a joint Directorship by Dave who'd set up Musicon Design alongside the games company Icon Design - which was Binary's rival. Around this time, the Atari ST and Amiga were steadily joining the 8-bits as target machines for games development. In my own time, I wrote the driver which Dave used, then wrote conversions for Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, MSX, Atari 800, Atari ST, Amiga and PC. At one point, I recall noting that we'd written the music for 8 of the top 10 games. (I think days had more hours in them back in the 80's?)

When I worked alongside Dave at Musicon, if we got an arcade conversion come through, it was often me who ended up doing it. Dave preferred to do originals. Conversions like Outrun were done by the company sending an audio cassette tape with the music on, often taped from the arcade machine actually in an arcade. So there'd be lots of muffle, lots of background noise and lots of chance of the tape playing at the wrong speed so that the tempo I ended up with was not at all the same as the arcade original. Unfortunately, I didn't realise this at the time!

My job was to play a short part of the music and listen for the bass, the backing and the main tune. I might also have to make decisions about what to miss out because the arcade machine's hardware was far more sophisticated than the 3-channels of square waves and the white noise produced by the Atari ST's AY chip. But for games like Buggy Boy and Pacland, the original sound wasn't overly complex.






How was multi-platform music created?

All programmers at both Binary and Icon Design used a Tatung Einstein as a development system which had links to output the compiled code to Spectrum, C64, Amstrad and Atari 800. The ST and Amiga were different so, if I was writing music on the ST that I'd already composed for other AY-sound-chip-based systems, then I would port the musical data over to the Atari ST and work on it directly on there.

We didn't have MIDI or any fancy musical hardware or software. My drivers were written in the relevant assembler language for each target machine and the code was compiled and tested time and time again with music being typed in as "defined bytes". I simply gave each musical note a label like "c3" for 'c' on the third octave and "fs2" for 'f#' an octave down. Then there'd be labels for extra features to create chords and different 'instruments'.

I would then send the music to the programmers to help them implement the music. I've just found the instructions for Atari ST game Savage which is typical of the information I'd have sent for other games. The only thing I've changed in the following text is to * out the phone numbers because I don't know who'd own them now. [download].



Which Atari ST tunes are you most fond of?

It was interesting to take a peep back at what I've done on Atari ST. Outrun was an arcade classic and a relatively early conversion for me (from one of those audio tapes!). So I'm fairly fond of that one, though it is basically a port from Spectrum 128k. By the time I was asked to write some music for Overlander on the Atari ST, I had noticed that companies seemed to be asking me to do the music for games in the racing genre. I think this probably had something to do with Outrun so Overlander is one of my 'Outrun'-esque pieces.

Doing the bulk of the arcade conversions in the early days meant I had little chance to create my own tunes. Vixen was an early exception and so I'm fond of that, though I do think it's overly twee in the middle! And Savage was one I was fond of because it was all original music and I was given it over a number of platforms so I was able to spend more time on it than usual. When I look back at much of the music, it's with a knowledge that they could have been better: if I'd had two days instead of one or one full day instead of a half!

As for Resolution 101, that was just a basic "12 bar blues". We hardly ever knew what the style of a game was, merely guessing from the title. I'm not convinced that the music here fit the game and I don't think it was what the developers were quite after - but they went with it!






Any free time left to play?

At Binary Design in 1987, we had some arcade machines in the office, mainly because was being asked to convert them to home computers. I played Pacland quite a lot but at that point, I wasn't being asked to write the music, but the game (though that didn't happen). If a game looked like you had to spend time on it, I'd avoid it because I didn't have the time. I guess there were some puzzle games too but in short, I don't think I ever did much gaming!



Are there any long-lost unreleased tunes?

Yes, there was one piece I wrote called Dreadnaught but I haven't seen of that since. Also, I have this other note of a game "Chainsaw Warrior" which I must have written music for it as the two pieces both have how long they last - and NO music would last 0s! Sadly, these ST tunes are now long lost.
;Chainsaw
;Title tune "The chain"    1m 19s
;Game tune  "With Caution" 2m 08s


Do you listen to chip/music?

I rarely listen to music. I don't find it particularly restful, which may well be because I find myself listening out for the bass line, the main tune and whatever might be appropriate for that third channel!






Are you proud of your achievements?

I don't look back with pride at what I did because I was fortunate to be able to encounter those early days of Computer Games, especially from the mid to late 80's. From around '89, I was back into programming and did little music as I had moved into writing 3D games: F29 Retaliator (PC - DID/Ocean - and I wrote my own music for that one) and Darker (PC, Psygnosis/Sony). Then I joined Perfect Entertainment. I wrote some sound and video compression code for the Discworld games but otherwise, I moved away from music.

When I look back at my music-writing days, I smile at how the careers officers had told me I couldn't write music for a living and yet, by heading in the direction of Computer Games Programming, I ended up doing just that without even seeking it out. By 21 I had achieved my childhood dreams and got bored of it so the challenge of writing 3D games on a 12MHz 286 PC was my next goal.



Jason "at work" with Brian Beuken during the development of Ken Griffey's Slugfest in the late 90s.



So what's Jas up to these days?

As the games industry developed, it became less creative and less technically challenging. By the 2000's, programmers had become 'coders' just making the computer do what somebody ELSE said it should do. I'd moved on to Gameboy in '98 but when I ended up on XBox/Playstation II in 2002, there was little left that interested me.

I'd become a Christian in the 90's and my evaluation of life had changed. I knew that one day 'soon' I would step away from the industry, but it wasn't until 2003 that the day arrived. Personal circumstances, coupled with the unethical direction of the company in which I was working caused me to jump into something new.

I'd been studying Biblical texts from a 'programmers' perspective, noting how they interrelate, and observing certain structures which are part of ancient orality. Some of these structures are very like ones found in musical forms. I'd started to dig into this, effectively reverse-engineering the texts and working out how they developed. One thing has led to another, with new languages to deal with - Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic instead of Z80, 6502, 68000 etc.

The end result will be a piece of software that enables people to explore Scripture from a structural and developmental viewpoint rather than just linear words. The research has been immense, but I've never been involved in a project which has so great a potential for a valuable and longterm impact. Life has not just been an experience, but a development - to something that would have been off the radar and impossible for me to aim towards when I mentioned being a "music composer" back in my teenage years. It seems to me that God's plans were not my plans, just as my plans were not the plans of that careers officer.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Robotz


Once again, we find ourselves in deep space onboard a ship which has been invaded - by robots. However, they are the most sluggish robots I've ever known so how these brutes managed this is anyone's guess. Anyhow, as the last surviving crew member, we must eliminate them before they take over. This won't be easy because each room has electrified walls for instant death! (Hey, let's find some rubber gloves before we begin! No? ...sigh...)

  
Each level has a unique design so will demand lots of precious time to master the tighter areas.

Developed by P Fox of ProjectX, Robotz is kinda like a tactical remake of the Berzerk genre. Each of the rooms is different and populated by a number of randomly placed robots which follow your movements in their own specific order (use that to your own advantage). We are armed with a one-shot gun which is my only gripe because it's rather restricting! Especially as each robot is protected by a shield so your shots cannot destroy them but will stun for a few seconds. Ultimately, blast each generator into smithereens to leave the invading robots helpless!

  
Some levels have more freedom to move but some don't and thus are extremely tricky.

For a homebrew release, I must say that I adore the visuals which personally remind me of a cross between Xenon and Leavin' Teramis. The palette is gorgeously metallic and I love those shadows which add so much depth to the scenario. All sprites are simple but nicely detailed with good animation and I giggle at our protagonist's legs as he walks. Yeah, it's funny but nowhere near as entertaining as his "ouch" scream when losing a life (Grrr!!)

  
Sometimes it's easier to walk around... Oh no, the next level features TWO generators!

Thanks to ST Format, I think many have played Robotz but how long did you last before hitting the reset button? Personally, I think this is a cracking example of 16-bit Marmite but whether you will enjoy the stress and tension as much as I did is debatable. Yeah, Robotz is cruel yet tremendously addictive and highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Manic Miner

There are now 3 videos of ST Manic Miner which you can find on our YouTube Channel.

It gives me the greatest of pleasure to present Manic Miner for the Atari ST which has been InDev throughout much of the year by Peter Jørgensen. It's a brand new remake with redesigned graphics and funky music (sound effects still to be completed). Each and every one of the twenty screens is included but there will also be a few surprising extras which I'm very excited about. However, we’re keeping these under wraps for the time being.

Please do note, this a WIP and thus unfinished. As you will soon see, each level faithfully follows the same design mechanics of the original but don't for a second think this means we have a boring carbon copy ripoff. Willy's adventure has received a cool 16-Bit makeover with beautiful YMT audio and each screen has been designed with a painstaking attention to detail. Before you ask, yes the gameplay will remain authentic to the old 8-Bit days.

Keeping this project quiet from my friends was very tough but beta testing each release over the last few months has been a joy. It's so impressive to see how it has transformed from a (cruel) joke into a fully playable game. The final version is only weeks away so you know where to go when the download is released - watch this space :-)

Update - the latest *beta* is now available to download via the Demozoo website!!

  
Wacky Amoebatrons and The Endorian Forest not only have cool names but are favourites of mine.

  
Can you complete all twenty screens without cheating? Luckily, beta testers have extra lives!!


A few words from Peter...

I wrote Manic Miner because I have a friend that was very sad that this platformer didn’t exist for the ST. So I thought that I would make him happy and began drawing the title picture which soon lead me onto designing the intro screen - but I only wanted to make a prank for April 1st. Sadly, I did not finish in time. Then the idea started to continue on with the programming and see what happens. However, I’ve not made a game in decades because life always got in the way but I wanted to do this remake just to stop my friend from crying. So you could say that this is a Manic Miner AtariCrypt Edition!

My goal was to make the gameplay feel as close to the original as I possibly could but still take advanced of the Atari ST's hardware. Thus, this is a remake rather than a conversion because I have not used a single piece of the original code. I have spent many hours analysing each level, and I’ve used the original sprites and recoloured them but some needed minor changes to work. The map graphics were changed in a big way, to what I think was the idea was behind each level. I played the MSX version so I could see how the game acts and I also think this is close to the Speccy original.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the results and I hope people enjoy playing Manic Miner again :-)

  
The Vat has a change of colour and the Kong Beast looks like he's blowing kisses! (sorry Peter) ;p

  
Kong Beast returns for a tougher battle... but... Argghhh, I hate those annoying freaky telephones!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Dungeon


Dungeon is a role-player released in 1993 by TC Basset for legends, Budgie UK. It uses the Talespin adventure game creator engine which is something I've personally never experienced before. Upon loading, we are greeted by a creepy dude (with an obvious blood pressure problem) who has an incredible sense of humour. He warns of the adventure ahead and offers us the choice of character but listen carefully and heed his warnings...

Ultimately we must battle the evil necromancer, Malik Abdul Aziz, and recover something called The Great Orb Of Thoth. Who thinks of these names? Anyhow, the dungeons are pretty simple but also infested with a wide-range of hideous creatures so tread carefully. Choose your character wisely but newcomers are best picking the Warrior or a Fighter as they come ready equipped to tackle most beasts. And who doesn't love a free weapon?

  
No sooner had I begun and the first nasty creature is a blood-dripping zombie. YEAH!!

  
A couple of steps deeper into the dungeon and these two ghoulish monsters fancy a piece of me.

Yep, you are not alone down inside the dark corridors, so stay frosty and be ready for anything freaky that's waiting to jump out: decaying zombies, barbarians, venomous snakes, gnarly bats, and many more hideous creatures are all lurking in the shadows. Fighting is crudely entertaining and far more frequent than you initially realise.

The metallic chinks of your weapons are great but battles can also be fought magically using potions and victory ensures a deathly scream - before hearing their bodies crump to the ground. Each defeated enemy (even a bat) will reveal a hidden treasure chest filled with random goodies so collect your loot and leggit!! Those that cluck like a cowardly chicken may wanna run away? Your choice but beware, there could be a price to pay...

  
The first dingy tunnel takes us into a medieval village and that Mr Muscles is actually me. Yes, me!

Exploration is never a bad idea, so take your time and turn over every stone. Why not chat to the locals as there are some interesting characters, even if conversations are a little shallow, but their personalities are superbly silly. Communication reveals more than you realise and perhaps you may earn a bob or two and make new friends?

Taverns are a safe place to rest and recuperate. Just as with Lure Of The Temptress, they are the perfect place for a chat and why not order yourself a beer and enjoy a flutter whilst here? Perhaps I had too many beers, but I loved this experience which entertains constantly with a wicked sense of humour. Those, outside this great island of ours, might not fully appreciate it but we Brits always had a daft sense of humour. Well, I had a great laugh!

  
Being a normal guy, I head straight for the tavern which opens up a world of new options.

  
I gambled with these likely lads but didn't do very well... Wait a moment, is that a trapdoor I see?

Graphically, we have a homebrew Dungeon Master wannabe. It's actually pretty good and I believe the funky images are taken from Deltronics' Fantasy Graphic Disk so are quite well-drawn and often humorous. However, I was gobsmacked when the zombie appeared to eat my brains because I think this is superb pixel art.

Sadly, there's no atmospheric background tune but at least the sound effects are all made from samples. These certainly help to enhance the games already humorous nature: footsteps, knocking doors, groans and the clang of metal are all pretty good. But it's those horrifying screams which are amazing and really make me chuckle.

  
Abandon hope all ye who enter here as each step reveals something hideous lurking in the shadows.

I've never played anything that was developed using Talespin and, although I wasn't expecting commercial quality, it's obvious this creator had its limits: the main problem being the agonising wait between each and (almost) every action. It might only be a couple of seconds but feels longer! Oddly, installing to hard drive improves things little...

Sadly, my Mega STe didn't really speed up gameplay. In fact, it made things slightly worse because a few screens suffered palette corruption and some sound effects didn't play correctly. So, (sigh) I find myself in new territory here and thus advice using an emulator like Hatari - I sped up those waits by hitting CMD X.

  
I should have spent more time in the tavern!! At least the great humour remains until the very end.

I enjoy finding something "new" and this was most certainly an interesting adventure with silly characters and lots of battles against many unearthly creatures. Sadly, it's let down by the Talespin engine which is pretty slow and clunky. However, if you can put up with that, then you have yourself something different to enjoy one quiet night in.

Dungeon offers as much fun as it does disk loading so grab yourself the downloaded right now. Be brave!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Goldrunner



It's been a while since I posted into our Music section so I went looking for something extra special and then I remembered about this gem. It's a Dark Rock remake of the Rob Hubbard original and it blew me away!! Okay, I'll award 100 points if you can tell me the game? Just don't look at the title... or the image... Pah, never mind then.

All credits for this remake to Yoshitaka Hojo who you should check out right now on Soundcloud :)

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Atari ST and The Creative People


 

It was only back in August when I posted just how impressed I was with volume 2 and, within the blink of an eye, Marco has the third instalment up on Indiegogo. The first two volumes are beauties and I'm expecting more of the same from the final part of this outstanding trilogy. It's currently shy of 70% funded and only days remain...

L E T' S   M A K E   T H I S   H A P P E N !!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Yomo


Yomo is an oldskool shoot 'em up by Aaron Fothergill for Mandarin Software and a runner-up in The 1989 Games Writer Of The Year Award competition. I've always liked its 8-bit look and finally got around to booting it up. Firstly, don't get your hopes up too high because this ain't no glamourous Bitmap Brothers product: the graphics are pretty much lame with titchy sprites and ugly scrolling that had my Atari STe crying out in agony. However, I must admit that the sounds aren't too bad and those crunchy samples are quite nice - the lightning is oddly my favourite.

The world is viewed two-dimensionally with a landscape populated by many destructible buildings and whacky vehicles which use the most frustrating mechanics. Our character is a tiny stickman who's on a mission to recover a dodgy nuke dropped behind enemy lines. However, this won't be easy because the baddies are constantly attacking so why not fire off a few heat-seeking missiles before jumping inside something probably stolen from the 1960s? On foot isn't fun, but if you see other stickmen wobbling across your screen then hit fire and gun 'em down!!

Yomo is complete pants but its also surprisingly fun and the ability to jump into any aircraft is genius. However, there isn't enough given ammo and collecting extra supplies is laborious and quite tricky during the heat of battle. Overall, Yomo is frustrating and quite difficult but if you enjoy blowing stuff up then it's possibly worth downloading.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Rubicon


I've enjoyed Rubicon on and off for many years. It's quite simply my kinda game because it's a stupid mix of both platformer and shoot 'em up genres. However, I admit that I'm rubbish and often failed to reach the third level - sometimes I cannot get by the first!! So, today I've whacked on the trainer and played through to the end.

The Fingerbobs had a grim view of the future and by 2011 there should have been a nuclear accident which transformed the local wildlife into vicious mutations. Apparently, it's so bad that Finland and Russia were evacuated. It's our mission to kill everything and disarm the weapons before these creatures find a way to blow us all up!!

  
Level one introduces us to the unfair mechanics so it's not long before infinite lives is enabled!!

  
I love level two with its enormous enemies and trapdoors which are host something silly.

The first thing that hits you is the tracker music which is stereo on the Atari STe and very nice. Why couldn't other developers go that extra mile? Anyhow, the aesthetics keep on getting better with superb in-game graphics: smooth scrolling across gorgeous landscapes with a wide variety of mutated monsters. The attention to details is outstanding but animations are hit and miss because some are great whilst others are oddly void of any extra frames.

Sadly, slowdown occurs when particular (and ginormous) enemies are on-screen so I'm a little disappointed they didn't also utilise the Blitter along with the DMA. Curiously, this framerate drop occurs mostly for unanimated sprites like the Ceratopia which is rather surprising after battling a screen-sized skeleton and a giant squid!

  
Level three continues the theme but in the snow! That tank driver should have ducked down...

  
We're Pitfall Harry in level four with sinking stepping stones, spikes and lots of monkeys!

There are seven levels and each is pretty much the same but with different graphics. However, I absolutely loved the last two levels which reminded me of Thunder Jaws and, of course, Aliens. Our hero has access to lots of weapons and the single-shot gun initially does the trick well but it's not long before you need to upgrade to something with a little more muscle because those bigger enemies are nigh on impossible to kill with your peashooter.

The laser sucks but there are many other great weapons to choose from like the "Scatter" and "Napalm" (my fave). However, we start with zero ammo for everything other than our basic gun so must instead collect ammo boxes which are periodically dropped in. This isn't too bad but is made awkward because you must first press the required Function Key to choose your desired weapon before making the pickup. I would have prefered random types of ammo dropped which would save us from fumbling for the right key before it frustratingly disappears!!

  
Level five is incredible with many obscure enemies so upgrade your weapons!

  
Level six takes us in deep waters and I dare anyone not to love every second of this.

Rubicon is great fun but doesn't break the mould and is also stupidly hard at times, especially on level two and three. Also, gameplay is pretty much the same regardless of the beautifully designed environments. Having said all that, I really love this quirky platformer with its freakish enemies and huge monsters - level six and seven are my favourites. Yup, Rubicon is far from perfect but it's still bucket loads of fun and is definitely worth your time.

If you fancy going shirtless and flexing those rippling muscles before bravely taking on the mutated hoard then you have a good choice: grab either the floppies or one of these versions for your hard drive: 8BitChip or D-Bug.

  
The final level has us battling Aliens, Facehuggers, giant eggs, and even the queen herself!!

  
The ending screens aren't exactly worth all the effort. Hmm, where have I heard that kipper line before? ;)