DO you find scrolling shoot-'em-ups are getting samey? Do you suspect that you could do better but know that to produce a game whould mean at least a year learning machine code and then another six months to write the game? Do you want a quick way to unleash your creative talents? You do? Then you want to rush out and buy Shoot-'Em-Up Construction Kit (Seuck to its friends), a program which lets you design your own shoot-'em-up games.
For the non-programmer it is not until you sit down to design a game that you realise how much goes into the simplest program. You have to design sprites for your player, enemies, bullets, missiles and backgrounds.
If you want to animate a sprite - so that your ship can roll for instance - you need to draw every frame. You need to sort out the movement patterns for a swooping flock of aliens, and if you want five minutes' worth of scrolling background you cannot just draw lots of screens and join them together unless you have megabytes of ram to spare. Screens have to built from standard blocks to save memory. Then there is collision detection to worry about, not to mention the scoring.
So writing a game means compiling a number of simple routines. Most programmers write special editors to automate the process. Being tools written by programmers for programmers, they are usually a bit rough. Outlaw - the Palace label used for titles written by programmers who work freelance - has produced a neat suite of programs which allows anyone to design a simple, scrolly, shooty game.
A sprite editor is used to design your ship, and if you are creating a two player game, your allies' ship, in a 24 by 24 pixel grid, using seven colours and one transparent colour so that the landscape can scroll by. The same limitations are imposed on enemy sprites all of which can have up to 18 frames of animation.
Any animated sprite is called an object, supposedly to make things simpler. You can have a total of 100 sprites stored with up to 60 of them on the screen at any one time.
You can tweak the performance of your ship by adjusting the number of bullets in the air at any one time, the bullet direction, speed and rate of fire. Traditionalists will probably want to start with three lives, but can choose a different number or use the option to win a bonus ship at 10,000 points.
The blocks for the background use eight colours - which can be different to the palette chosen for the ships - on a 32 x 32 grid. You can have up to 140 blocks, which means there is plenty of scope for interesting backgrounds.
Up to 22 levels can be designed and they don't have to smooth scroll, you can flick scroll or have a static screen. You can even switch the type of scroll in mid-flight so as to tackle a particularly nasty alien at the end of a level, like Xenon.
The game can be tested with infinite lives and then the finished result saved to a disc to form a stand-
Starting from scratch is difficult, it is far easier to modify an existing game, so the programmers have put together three sample ones. Since they are the same men who wrote Amiga Wizball for Ocean it is no surprise that the graphics are great.
But you will soon progress to writing your own games. Pete Stone from Palace says the most clever idea he saw for the Commodore 64 version was a game where a boy had to win the affection of girlfriends by throwing hearts at them. There is certainly plenty of scope.
Seuck uses its own windowing routines and will not multi-task - a necessary restraint to make the game run fast enough to be playable. You can load IFF sounds and an IFF title screen, but you cannot use brushes saved from Amiga art programs, and I see this as a major shortcoming. It would be great to be able to use something like a video digitiser to grab screens off a video recorder and pipe them into the game. There might even be a market for an IFF-to-
The Amiga is, in the words of its designers, "a killer games machine", it is also the computer which has proved to be an unprecedented creative tool for the masses. Shoot-'Em-Up Construction Kit is the program which unites those abilities.