Archives For Games

Introducing the ArgData API

February 22, 2017 — 1 Comment

I have already written about my love for Microprose Formula One Grand Prix, so I won’t go into that again. But today is special, because it marks the 25th anniversary of me purchasing the game for the Amiga. Ah yes, on 22nd February 1992, a gawky twelve-year-old bought a game that would forever change his life! Good times!

To celebrate that momentous occasion, I figured that I should try to release some of the stuff I’m working on related to F1GP, and so here it is: ArgData!

The ArgData API allows you to edit a lot of things related to F1GP, such as car colors, driver performance, player horsepower levels and various settings. The full list of features is available both at ArgData’s own site, and at its¬†GitHub page. What the API does for you is provide a class library with helpful classes and methods for updating all sorts of data, so that you don’t have to know the exact byte location of stuff inside F1GP’s GP.EXE file.

As an example, this is how you would update the player’s (i.e., your) horsepower level, “cheating” to make you faster in a straight line than any of the AI cars ūüôā

var exeFile = GpExeFile.At(@"C:\Games\GPRIX\GP.EXE");
var writer = PlayerHorsepowerWriter.For(exeFile);
writer.WritePlayerHorsepower(999);   // default is 716, LOL

Surely you can agree with me that this¬†is easier than knowing that you should write the value 22,610 at byte position 19,848? Well, that’s one example, and I won’t go into too many details here regarding how the API is used, the other sites provide that information. There is even a reference section at the ArgData site. Lots of stuff in the documentation needs improving, but it’s a start… And this is just version 0.14 of the API, there’s still a bit of stuff that can and will be added.

On another note, there may (or may not) be some stuff related to the ArgData project that is worthy of future blog posts, so if I get around to it, maybe I will fill in some details here and there in due time. Build server setup, automated tests, publishing to NuGet, etc.

But until then, go ahead and grab ArgData from NuGet if you feel like it, and start messing around. To get started, you can follow the Quick Start guide and change the top of the color at the top of the sidepods to make the 1991 Jordan go from the one on the left to the one on the right. Fancy stuff, eh?

jordan-editing

Links

ArgData’s website:¬†http://manicomio.se/argdata/
NuGet package: https://www.nuget.org/packages/ArgData/
GitHub source: https://github.com/codemeyer/ArgData

 

Only Sixty Percent Finished

October 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

In the days before the Internet, computer game reviews were written in dead-tree magazines. Naturally, magazines had to go to press a few weeks or so before they would appear in shops. So if a game was to be released for Christmas to cash in on season sales, the game had to be reviewed in magazines that were in the shops earlier in December. This may very well have meant that the game had to be sent to magazines to be reviewed as early as October or November. Game development, like most other sorts of software development, tends to go on until the very last moment. So what happened if a game wasn’t quite finished when it was time for reviews? Simple, hand the magazines an incomplete version!

Amiga Power reviewed Super Stardust in October 1994, long before any other magazines got to try it. Four yellow headers appear throughout the review. When rearranged, they spell out:

only-sixty-percent-finished

Quite why they left such an obvious clue to the fact that the reviewed game only contained three of five levels is a good question, perhaps to tease other magazines since they beat them to a review by several months.

Sensible World of Soccer fared similarly. Amiga Magazine Rack Рa website dedicated to scans of old Amiga magazines, and general keeper of knowledge Рtells the story:

The biggest reader backlash in Amiga Power’s history was due to reviewing the unfinished game Sensible World Of Soccer in AP44. It was awarded 95% and declared “The best Amiga game ever.”

A flood of complaints rolled in regarding bugs in the game. AP came clean regarding the review and invited Sensible Software to address the complaints. Chris Chapman and Jon Hare answered the criticisms, which Stuart Campbell in his role as Sensible’s Development manager assembled into an amusing column called “Swiz” in AP48 on pages 24-26.

It was unfortunate that the answers were made funny as they left Sensible Software looking arrogant, with a majority of the responses along the lines of “we had to rush it out to cash in on the Christmas market” or abusing the original reader.

Working on a project related to the early 90’s racing game Formula One Grand Prix made me read a few old reviews of the Amiga version on Amiga Magazine Rack¬†for nostalgia’s sake. However, looking at the screenshots featured in the reviews, I noticed something out of place. When released, the game featured cars and tracks from the 1991 F1 season, but it was obvious from some screenshots that the version of the game that they had reviewed actually included cars from the 1990 season. Also, some reviews featured images with a cockpit that was quite different from the one in the released version.

Since the dates of the reviews vary from October 1991 to March 1992, and the game was released in January 1992, it seems obvious to draw the conclusion that most magazines received versions that were somewhat less complete than others.

I looked at nine different reviews (the ones that had scanned pages on Amiga Magazine Rack). One review was from October 1991, four of them from November, one from December, two from January 1992 and one from March. Of these nine reviews, only one featured the cars from the version that was actually released. Not surprisingly, it’s the March review in Amiga Action, appearing two months later than any other review.

We can start off with a major give-away: The Amiga Power review from November 1991 even features the¬†words “based on statistics from the 1990 season”. So that makes it pretty obvious that the game was originally supposed to contain the 1990 season, and that the reason they changed it was that the whole of 1991 had actually passed.

Let’s look at some oddities in detail…

First of all, the cockpits, shown below for comparison. The one on the right is the released version, containing much more information about speed, number of cars, laps, information about which driver aids are active, etc. The one on the left – which is featured in many of the reviews – seems barren by comparison, just lap times, oil and fuel lights – but it does include a gear lever!

f1gp-cockpits

Seeing as the one on the right is actually more useful, it’s good to know that when it came to cockpits they didn’t remove features as time wore on, but actually added them.

Moving on, the review in Amiga Action from December 1991 features a multitude of weirdness. It has the correct instruments, but the cars are from 1990. However, it has in-game screenshots featuring drivers Pierluige [sic] Martini and Eric van de poele [sic]. That Pierluigi Martini is spelled incorrectly is almost forgivable. However, Eric van de Poele did not even race in F1 in 1990. And more interestingly: the released version of the game did not feature the names of any real F1 drivers or teams. These were supplied on a piece of paper in the game box, for the user to enter on their own.

There are lots of other examples in the reviews of cars from 1990 instead of 1991.

f1gp-benettons

On the left is an in-game screenshot of a car from one of the reviews. In the middle is an actual Benetton car from 1990, and on the right is one from 1991. Which of these does the in-game car resemble the most?

The Amiga Power review also mentions a feature that didn’t make it into the game: “Sparks fly from the cars just like the ones you see in the racing on TV”. Eh, no, the released game had no such feature.

A couple of the reviews also mention a feature where there is a TV presenter who talks about your exploits after each race.

f1gp-commentator

Sounds like it could have been an interesting feature, a shame that it didn’t make it to the final game.

A final note of disorientation: The released game has the colours of at least three teams wrong. First of all, the Tyrrell cars were dark grey in real-life whereas the the game has them painted dark blue. A team that actually was dark blue, Lamborghini’s Modena Team, features the gray-blue-white colours of the single-car Coloni entry. The Coloni on the other hand is all-yellow with blue wings. No team in 1991 had this colour scheme, but Coloni ran an all-yellow car (with black wings) in – you guessed it – 1990.

There are other things – both in the reviews and in the finished game – that are a bit wacky, but there has to be a limit to the madness (and this blog post). All in all, much confusion, but all the more merriment.

Timeless games

April 24, 2013 — 1 Comment

I enjoy playing computer games, but I’m not a hardcore gamer by any means. I probably get a few hours in every week nowadays, and I am still fortunate (or unfortunate) to have the ability to get totally sucked into a game. There is a good bunch of games that I like to play every now and then, but at the end of the day, two games stand head-and-shoulders above others by my reckoning.

Sensible World of Soccer

Until the release of Sensible Soccer, the Kick Off series was pretty much considered the best football games for the Amiga. I remember playing it a lot with brother and enjoying it a great deal, but I also remember how difficult it was. It was very hard to have any sense of control over the ball, and the vastness of the football field meant that you had to use the radar/scanner in the corner of the screen to get a sense of where your players were.

sensi

In my mind, Sensible Soccer took the good parts from the Kick Off series and improved on pretty much everything. The graphics were more engaging – charming, even – and the fact that you always see either the penalty box or the center circle of the field means that you have a much better understanding of where your players are and what is going on.

And then there was Sensible World of Soccer which added a managerial side to the game and took it to another level. Having a 20 year career where you could choose pretty much any club team in the whole world, build that team over several seasons, move to another team or even become manager of your national side added a new dimension to the game.

I must confess I haven’t played Sensible World of Soccer much in the past few years, but I have written a program that lets you search for players based on different criteria. It has the incredibly clever name SwosPlayerFinder, and the source code is available on GitHub.

Formula One Grand Prix

Geoff Crammond is the creator of the legendary Grand Prix series of games. The first in the series was released in early 1992 and set the standard for racing games to come.

fogp

I can still remember the day in February 1992 when I was at the computer games shop. I was going to buy a game for my Amiga 500, and I had narrowed the choice down to two games: Formula One Grand Prix and Birds of Prey. I still praise my 12-year old self for going for a milestone in computer racing games instead of another bland flight simulator. Indeed, this is the game that aroused my passion for motorsports in general and Formula 1 in particular.

So where am I going with this?

First of all, it is a strange coincidence that both of these games were released in 1992. But that is of little relevance.

Yes, the graphics are dated of course. But to me, graphics are only a small part of makes a game worth playing. Playability trumps all, and these games have playability coming out of their metaphorical ears. And the conclusion to it all is that to me it doesn’t matter how good your game looks if the playability is missing. Some modern game creators should probably take note!