From SMS Power!

Articles: Zero - Issue 07 - Stay A While...

See the scans: Zero-Magazine-Issue07?gallerypage=82

Two absolutely stunning Sega games are currently being developed by Birmingham-based US Gold. Richard Monteiro went to investigate and stayed forever.

From left to right are Gary 'ordained' Priest, Tony Potter and Bob 'suit of' Armour. Gary is writing the Sega version of Impossible Mission while Tony and Bob are worklng on Gauntlet for the Sega and Atari 7B00 respectively.

If you played it on a Commodore 64 you will never forget the game's opening phrase: 'Stay a while... stay forever!' If you've got a Sega you'll soon be hearing the very same words. Yes, US Gold are in the thick of producing Impossible Mission. But that's not all - the monster arcade hit Gauntlet is also being converted to the Sega.

The Impossible Mission code will be about 16K in length, the graphics a further 60 or 70K and the sampled sound another 20K. Sega cartridges hold 128K of information.

Like the C64 version, you've got a limited time to search for pieces of puzzle and put them in the correct order in the Sega version of Impossible Mission.

Impossible Mission sports some of the finest graphics you're likely to see on the Sega.

Gary Priest, former Gremlin programmer and creator of games such as Basil The Great Mouse Detective, Hot Shots, Technocop and Footballer Of The Year II, is doing Impossible Mission.

"I've had the C64 version alongside me and am trying to get the Sega version to be as similar to it as possible," admitted Gary. "Most of the graphics and animation have been ported across from the C64 to the Sega. I don't want to change the game too much as the original was liked by everyone. Of course, the graphics have been touched up, there's more colour and the gameplay has also been improved. But apart from that little is different. I'll even get the same digitised speech in the game."

The game is due for release in three or four months time; Gary has been working on it for four and a half months. It already looks very impressive. The main character is beautifully animated and control is exceptionally smooth.

"It's a great feeling writing a game for a machine that no one outside Japan has used before," enthused Gary. "Programming the machine isn't too bad. But it's impossible to access screen memory directly; it's like programming through a keyhole which can be time consuming. The Sega has got hardware sprites and 32 colours can be used from two palettes, so it's possible to have ST-like graphics on the machine albeit in a slightly lower resolution."

Gauntlet on the Sega. A great coin-op conversion featuring one or simultaneous two player action, over 100 levels and digitised sound.

No matter what's on the screen in Gauntlet, the characters don't flicker and the game doesn't slow down.

Gauntlet, currently being programmed by Tony Porter, looks equally impressive. Even when the action gets hectic and there are screenfuls of ghosts or other characters, there is no flicker or slowdown. The game is going to be a huge hit. It's a more accurate conversion than any of the other 8-bit versions. Even the ST version's scroll looks sick against the Sega's.

Why do many Sega games suffer so badly from flicker when there are several sprites on the screen? According to Gary it's due to poor programming techniques: "It's only possible to have eight sprites on a line which can be eight pixels wide (so essentially you can only have 64 pixels worth of sprites on a line). Rather than cutting down the game, programmers will make the game as similar to other versions as possible regardless of how it finally looks or plays. Plotting another sprite after the eighth will make the first one disappear. As sprites are plotted and unplotted on screen quickly, there aren't long gaps between a sprite disappearing and reappearing. However, it's noticeable enough to get the flicker effect." Gauntlet gets round flicker by using character graphics rather than sprites.

The often dubious quality of some of the Sega games is down to the strange programming habits of the Japanese. Generally there are around six people working on a game for a year. It's the way developers recruit programmers that is bizarre; they put an ad in the local rag asking for anyone interested in computing to contact them. The developers then train the new recruits and get them to join a team of novices to start work on a game. Established programmers aren't even considered.

Development takes place on an ordinary PC running a Z80 assembler. Z80 Probe - which takes the place of a Z80 chip - plugs into the Sega's Z80 socket and gives the coder complete and constant control over the chip. A RAM cartridge is used for storing the game rather than a ROM card. Downloading code to the cartridge is fine but not as fast as PDS. There's nothing flash about the kit; it's functional and easy to use.

Astonishingly US Gold are working on Atari 7800 games. Bob Armour has already produced one, Tower Toppler, and is currently working Gauntlet. Although Tower Toppler hasn't appeared in the UK - presumably due to the fact that the 7800 hasn't been marketed particularly well here. There are around two million consoles in the States. The 7800 development kit comprises the following: a Mega ST running Atari's proprietary combination 6502/68000 assembler, lead from ST to 7800 RAM cartridge and downloading software.

Developer Interview

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