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Author Topic: Bloodwych Review by Scott Johnston (Author of Hired Guns)  (Read 2083 times)

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Bloodwych Review by Scott Johnston (Author of Hired Guns)
« on: January 23, 2011, 09:48:37 PM »

Bloodwych Review by Scott Johnston (Author of Hired Guns)

Title: Bloodwych
Game Type: RPG
Company: Mirrorsoft/Image works
Compatibility: All?
Players: 2
HD Installable: No
Submission: Scott Johnston (Celebrity Reviewer)

Review

The Amiga game I've chosen to talk a little about is the seemingly forgotten game Bloodwych. A simultaneous two player dungeon RPG that came out, I think, in the spring of 1991. This game is very important to me because, together with the indomitable Dungeon Master, it inspired me to create my own game. I'll ramble on a bit - if you can bear with me - about how, why and what led up to this.

The computer I first started playing around with was a Spectrum, mainlybecause it had a better BASIC than the C64. I played many games andstarted writing my own adventure games which were reviewed in Crashmagazine (Lightmare, Battle Axe). After the Spectrum I bought a Commodore Plus 4, which may seem a weird choice, but it had a decent keyboard, and again, it's BASIC was superior to the C64's. Then the A500 came out. My mate got one before me, I was really livid about that - especially when he started showing off Carrier Command! When I finally did get a 500 bundled with Photon Paint it didn't take me long to get to grips with 4096 colours. HAM mode drawing came easily after battling with the Spectrum's colour 'clashing' system! The results basically got me the job with DMA as a Graphics Artist. I drew these lovely big science fiction landscapes, well, I thought they were lovely then.


The first game I worked on properly was Walker, which was ultimately in development for 3 or 4 years. The only graphics of mine that ended up in the game were of the actual Walker itself. It was a bit like the ED-209 from Robocop, and it had this swivelling head which had 90 different angles. The Walker project went into limbo for a year or two, during which time someone came up with the idea for Lemmings. I did a lot of the graphics for Lemmings with Gary Timmons doing some animation, they were simple and naive, but maybe that's why they appealed to a lot of people that wouldn't normally have played computer games. Lemmings only took about a year to produce, and it's success allowed DMA, which was a 4 or 5 person team working in a 2 room office, to roughly treble in size. I taught myself Assembly during this time.

At about this time Dungeon Master finally appeared on the Amiga. What really struck me was the level design. With a few simple things, like switches and floor-pads they managed to produce a great variety of puzzles. Learning combat was great as well; using the controls properly you could dash round the monsters doing them damage without taking any hits yourself, if you got it right. You could also use the corners in the corridors to your advantage, as well as using the doors as weapons. I took the trouble to map Dungeon Master, but with the sequel Chaos Strikes Back the level design meant you were going all over the place without any clear idea of how much progress you were achieving. It wasn't as satisfying. Captive was just a bit too slow for my taste, I think Tony (Crowther) put a lot of polygons or graphics compression and other things in the game and it ended up being a bit too much ....and anyway I was more into the idea of a sword and sorcery type game rather than the science fiction approach; which is going to seem like a huge contradiction because of the approach I took with Hired Guns. Actually, Hired Guns started off as a sword and sorcery game, but the reason it changed was when I did an initial demo for it, during the production of Lemmings, I ended up putting this shotgun effect in, that enabled reloading by firing and then pulling back, like a pump-action. I was really happy with the result. I was also a big fan of the film Aliens, and in the special edition of the film you had these unmanned sentry guns, and they had to go into Hired Guns. Ah man, that's great, you could hear them blasting away in the background, BA-DA-DA-DA-DA-DA while you were running around wondering what the hell was going on. In the end my influences forced Hired Guns into being a science fiction game.

Bloodwych came out a bit after Dungeon master on the Amiga. The main innovation was it's split-screen, horizontal format allowing for two player games. As far as the multiplayer option goes, the really big thing was co-operative play. Much more fun than all this deathmatch stuff. Doom and Quake are fine but nothing beats working together. I used to play Bloodwych with a college friend every few nights for a couple of hours. The game gave me a lot of ideas.

Actually, the first hacking I did was on Bloodwych. We had some really good debugging tools at DMA but I used the Action Replay Cartridge which was gathering dust in a cupboard. It wasn't that I wanted to cheat, but there was a small bug in the game. I can see why it didn't appear in the play testing though. It was a really sneaky thing, There was this NPC (Non-Player Character) chap that you could barter with. He'd hold up various objects which you could accept or refuse. If one of your guys was a bit hungry, you'd wait for something like an apple to appear and accept that, etc, etc. Well, at one point you were offered a white key, and if you didn't accept it, there and then, it was never offered again! You couldn't complete the game and you'd have to start from scratch which was pretty lame. The Action Replay Cartridge let you go through the memory checking for any changes, when I found the variable corresponding to the white key, I reset it and was then able to continue.

It's true the character graphics in Bloodwych were a bit spindly, but this was because the screen size was so small - this was another limitation I wanted to get round in Hired Guns. I made the characters fairly slim, but you need to do that in order to create sufficient contrast for when a monster appears. It's got to look huge in comparison to your guys. Also, because we used a small screen repeated four times, unlike Dungeon Master which used one big screen, we were left with more available memory. This allowed us to put in extra angles for all the wall graphics so you can see above and below.

Bloodwych tends to play faster than Dungeon Master. By this I mean that the puzzles are more combat based requiring less ponderous trial and error, and the screen redraw is just plain quicker. Obviously having four players in Hired Guns, each with their own 3D view, was going to mean pushing the old 500 quite a bit. Fortunately I had around me at DMA a number of experts on Amiga technology and we milked those custom chips for everything we could get!

A simple but effective speed up trick which I employed at a later date on the AGA versions of UFO: Enemy Unknown is worth a note at this point. The original PC code (in C) we got from Nick and Julian Gollop was a bit of a mess, and in the time available we couldn't do that much with it to speed it up without opening a whole new can of worms. I did make a major breakthrough at speeding up the AI though thanks to the Amiga. When the enemy took it's turn, instead of leaving you to look at a 256 colour screen, I found that replacing it with a simple 4 colour screen made things happen in about half the time. The problem was that the Amiga chips were hogging the bus bandwidth and slowing the processor right down.

Some other Amiga RPGs included some nice effects which really added to the atmosphere. Take Black Crypt for example which unlike Dungeon Master, which had been converted from the ST, was written for the Amiga, with some nice Amiga-ized effects. The teleport effect in Hired Guns which is a sort of rainbow-transparency thing, I 'borrowed' the idea from Black Crypt.

I've seen a few pirated versions of Hired Guns about, but none of those have actually cracked the game properly. One week I came up with a cunning plan, I figured anyone who cracked the game would take out the manual protection, play the game a bit and leave it at that. But I included a routine that detects if the game has been altered, it then does nothing until you make a certain amount of saves at which point it messes up your save files, just when you're getting into the game.

Bloodwych's level design wasn't very good, kind of a rabbit's warren maze with none of the themed levels you'd find in Dungeon Master. Bloodwych had huge, convoluted levels which you soon gave up mapping, but it didn't matter because you didn't have to do much back-tracking. You could just soldier on. It was a bit more arcadey than the problem-solving in Dungeon Master; both good games, but in different ways.

There weren't really major puzzles, they were a bit obscure, a lot of distant clicks when you triggered a switch etc. It concentrated more on the character progression, and the stats like Strength and Magic etc. I quite enjoyed the spell system. Dungeon Master was more realistic, in a way. You'd be introduced to new spells and given a series a runes (e.g. FUL BRO) to invoke it - the player would have no idea of how many more spells existed or what they had missed. Bloodwych was more arcadey, you had a colour code indicating type and strengh, and a spell book showing you all the spells that you could get. This colour system was basically used throughout the game. It was fairly simplistic but good fun.

Dungeon Master had a map of 22 x 22 x 10 levels, I think. In Hired Guns it was a proper 3D map, you couldn't escape a monster by just running up some stairs, they'd chase you up there. In Dungeon Master as soon as you left a level you were safe from anything on the previous level. This was another innovation from Bloodwych, you could literally see the monsters queuing up at the stairs to get at you. That could be quite a shock if you were used to Dungeon Master. Of course a couple of human players could easily use this to their advantage and lure monster to their grizzly deaths - frequently!

The sound in Bloodwych was - basically - shite. There was a "clink" that meant either you'd been hit, or you'd hit someone, and maybe the odd grunt. I was really into sound effects and music though. My brother, Brian Johnston, did the Hired Guns music which was excellent. They were huge tunes, probably 2-300k to get the best quality samples. I've always thought the sound is important, with the Colonization conversion we got Allister Brimble to do the music and it turned out really brilliant. In the AGA version of Hired guns which hasn't been released the monsters have multiple sound effects instead of just one, as in the released version.

Typically in Hired Guns there are quite a few contemporary weapons, although they tend to be the least effective ones. One of my favourite sounds (only in the AGA version) was from the film Where Eagles Dare, the German Schmeisser sub-machine gun, which makes a satisfying metallic clattering RAT-TAT-TAT.

I don't think it was intentional, but there's a definite feature and style progression through Dungeon Master to Bloodwych, to Hired Guns through to Doom that brought people to the point where they're playing multiplayer games. I never played Doom that much, but, in a way, I see Duke Nukem as a spiritual successor to Hired Guns. It had the in-humour, the fun, the neat little gameplay tricks and especially the level design that made Hired Guns what it is.

In the end, what I really enjoyed about Bloodwych, and made Hired Guns so much fun was the option to play co-operatively. There's too much concern with deathmatches now.

It was Bloodwych that sparked the drive to produce my own game.


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