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Programmer's profile

Digital Psychosis released its latest game, Oddball, a month or so ago. It's an interpretation of the familiar bat-and-ball games of the past, but the scale's been altered somewhat. Now the levels cover huge areas and you must chase the ball as it rolls over the dangerous landscape. Their original game, Asylum, followed the young hero Sigmund as he battled through his own brain, trying to shut down rogue cells in an attempt to restore his sanity.

If you've taken a look at the Acorn User CD-ROM, you'll have found the latese version of Gamesuite - a set of public domain modules that allow programmers to produce professional games quickly and easily. Oddball itself makes extensive use of these utilities, and its speed and complexity demonstrates the power of the modules. The man behind all of these projects is Andy Southgate, and I've taken the opportunity to ask him a few questions:

How did you get involved in writing games?

I first started writing games back in the 1980s. I got a ZX81 soon after they arrived, and learned to program it. I wrote a few games, but nothing happened to them, so I then moved on to a Memotech MTX500 which was a bit of a mistake as very few people bought them. Still, it had a built-in assembler so I could get to work on a few games.

How did you become involved with the Acorn?

The MTX faded into obscurity and I spent my savings on an A3000 soon after they came out. Back then, these were impressive machines, although moving from Z80 to ARM code took quite a while. I found it difficult to write games at first, because the RISC OS sprite plotters are a bit inaccessible when you're just starting out. Because of this, I armed myself with a couple of programming books and began to write the FastSpr module. I eventually got it working, and the first version formed the basis of Asylum.

Asylum needed sound, so I wrote a simple module, Stasis, to load and play samples. When the game had been completed, the first FastSpr and Stasis modules were released as PD - they were primitive by Gamesuite standards, but they did the job. The Amnesia module was created to provide routines I'd had to write over and over again in Asylum, such as object handlers and collision checking.

How do you put your games together and have you any ideas for the future?

I never plan my games before I write them! Asylum was developed from a program to test FastSpr, and Oddball grew from my first attempt to play with Amnesia. My next game will be some sort of shoot-'em-up, as you don't get to blow many things up in Oddball and I'm suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I think the emphasis had to be to total and gratuitous destruction - I'm tempted to recycle the Oddball scrolling code to give the player a view from above the ship, and go for a fast, dark and sinister atmosphere.

If you'd like to know more, you can write to Digital Psychosis at 14 Madingly Road, Cambridge CB3 0EE - if you fancy taking a look at a demonstration version of Oddball please enclose a blank disc and a self-addressed envelope (there was also one on the Acorn User CD-ROM).

Steve Mumford

This article is © 1995 Acorn User/IDG Media.

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