Re: [stella] Star Fire Release Candidate

Subject: Re: [stella] Star Fire Release Candidate
From: Manuel Polik <cybergoth@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 05 Jun 2003 09:23:08 +0200
Hi Glenn!

> Manuel, I got the chance to play SF a bit over the 
> weekend (sans sound for the time being, I don't have a 
> great setup right now) and I wanted to talk a bit 
> about the gameplay.

Finally. Cool, thanks! ;-)

> Before I get into this, I should say that I think the 
> game looks great and your engine being able to have 
> that many objects on screen at once has a lot of raw 
> potential.

Thanks again!

Please, when reading the following, keep in mind that if 
I'm rejecting any of your ideas I'm not doing so because 
I don't like them, but mainly because of limitations the 
VCS or the current set of compromises I have to live 
with now. Anything I might add on the one side might 
force me to sacrifice others.

I love the genre too and I'd be the first to turn this 
into "X-Wing Alliance", if it was possible ;-)

> That being said, the first thing I noticed is that the 
> ships seem to follow fairly linear paths across the 
> screen.  Is there any way to get them moving in more 
> unpredictable ways, like changing speed and/or 
> direction?

The main problem here is the engine being on the very 
edge of what the VCS can compute. And RAM.

Well, RAM is easier to explain. Since the engine 
computes 9 objects at once, anything like an additional 
AI byte or individual speeds would cost 9 additional 
bytes. (I'm talking fractional speeds here. Just making 
some ships move at double speed doesn't make sense, 
since then they'd be as fast as the crosshair.)

Now for the computing. Just imagine I get some AI done 
for the ships without any additional RAM for some 20 
cycles. Now with the engine supporting 5 ships at once 
that is 100 cycles.

There's certainly tricks like AI computing only one ship 
per frame, but even such a test will cost 5*5 additional 
cycles. And by now I played enough of these tricks to be 
on the total edge of the system anyway. I already had to 
reduce the computed objects from 10 to 9 to add other 

There's now 5 ships, 1 laser, 1 special and 1-2 shots 
onscreen. Before I could do 3 shots. Next step would be 
reducing the maximum ships by one.

I can do little things though. Have you noticed, that 
the Tie Advance fighters change direction every time 
they fire a shot?

That was doable, because I already had a "Trigger": the 
firing of the shot. And I already knew the ship firing 
was the same to move and ultimately, there is only one 
ship firing per frame. So this worked.

Basically I can seek for more such loopholes. The 
motherships are other good candidates for extra behavior 
for example. I'll try to teach them little evasive 
actions and maybe I get them travelling 1.5 pixels per 
frame ;-)

> One of the best parts about Star Raiders for the 
> 400/800, and one that translated pretty well to the 
> 2600 (unlike the other parts of the game) were the 
> actual movements of the enemy ships.  Star Voyager 
> also did a pretty good job with zig-zagging enemies 
> that really avoided the cross-hairs.  Starmaster's 
> lumbering ships are pretty boring in comparison.

See, that's what I mean with set of compromise. The  
brainless kill-o-zap shooter I turned Star Fire into can 
look this brilliant ;-)

And I think they all never have to compute more than 3 
objects at once. 1-2 enemy ships plus a shot.

> Without making the individual ships more unpredictable 
> in their movements, the game can't help but feel more 
> like an old-school shooting gallery where the ships 
> are on predetermined rails and you are just moving a 
> static crosshair through a field of view.  The ships 
> also don't seem to move much in the Z-axis when they 
> trace across the screen either so it feels pretty 2-
> dimensional aside from the starfield.  (In Star 
> Raiders you always had a sense that you were truly 
> following ships that were moving in 3D angles and 
> affected by your movement and speed.)

I know. See all written above. <helpless smile>

In defence of what I did so far, I can only say that 
even the Star Fire Arcade pales a little in comparision 
to Star Raiders. Basically it is a shoot'em up with 
great visuals. Focused on the 3D-Action part. No map, no 
real strategy. Great visuals though. So I think my work 
can still be considered faithfull in a way...

> If the movements have to be that way due to technical 
> restrictions, then I think the game needs to bring 
> over more of the other elements of the Star Fire 
> arcade game.  I didn't notice a temperature meter on 
> the cannons.  So there is no way to overheat your 
> guns, right?

Not yet. I'm thinking of an advanced mode with that 
feature though - I feel limiting the laser on waves 
above 4 will really make the game extremely difficult.

> There also is no way to control variable speed on the 
> ship. No 2600 space sim has ever offered variable 
> speeds, even 2600 Star Raiders.

And I fear Star Fire won'tbe the first either.

> There is also little resource management. No energy 
> meter. The only thing you have to watch out for is 
> your shield indicator.

Which sort of qualifies for an energy meter I hope? ;-)

> You also can't get hit from the rear, right?

Well I can do that easily. In fact, there's code in the 
programm preventing just that to happen. I just fear 
most people won't appreciate that *feature* of getting 
shot in the back.

It probably was something different if the shields would 
regenerate by themselves, or if the game principle was 
more dogfight orientated, but as is, I'd think this 
would be just extremly unfair to the player.

> And Star Fire arcade had a timer that was your main 
> enemy. No timer here. I'm not a big fan of timers 
> however...

On the arcade it made sense I think.

> Also, when the stargate appears, you can just walk 
> away from the game.  Nothing happens unless you line 
> it up and shoot, unlike Star Voyager where there is an 
> urgency to line it up before you miss it.

True. I'll try to put some pressure on the player, one 
way or the other.

> If the attempt is simply to port Star Fire then there 
> are still missing elements that I think might be able 
> to be added to some degree, and might be worth it even 
> if you have to go to 16K or superchip.
> If you aren't, then you still have to judge the game 
> against all the others out there (Starmaster, Star 
> Voyager, Phaser Patrol, Star Wars: TAG, and 2600 Star 
> Raiders), each of which with their strengths and 
> weaknesses.

Hehe and: Star Ship ;-)

Well, I told others before. I don't think the gameplay 
can stand against strategy monsters like Starmaster or 
8-Bit Star Raiders. It won't stand a chance against 
Solaris. Well, I never set out to compete in the 
strategy-sim field. This is obviously already covered 
good enough with those brilliant titles.

I always wanted to provide more action onscreen than 
that one small ship in Star Voyager or them Starmaster 
enemies who stand in line to fight you one after another 

I wanted to have lots of the really big Tie Ships 
attacking the player.

> If you aren't going to have the galactic map and the 
> resource management aspects of SR then you have to 
> really beef up the action quotient otherwise it might 
> feel a bit minimalistic compared to the others.

That's the way to go!

> If it seems like I'm being overcritical it's just 
> because I'm such a strong fan of the genre so I'm 
> probably pickier than most.

That's excellent. I appreciate that and such feedback 
really helps. (Hehe, I'm getting half a dozen mails like 
that a week from Thomas ;-))

It's also my favourite hm... *action* genre. I recently 
started to play the whole "X-Wing" series start to 
finish - again. 
This time inclusive all bonus missions and extra 
campaigns ;-)


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