Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Elite AGB/DS Update

A hectic few weeks in RL (I'm now a dad) have meant that I have not been able to dedicate much time to coding. However, I've ironed out the last few DS specific bugs in my port of Elite AGB and it is now playable. The only major issue left to resolve is the sound. The XM player that I wrote for the GBA version is incompatible with the DS by design, due to the hardware differences. I have integrated libntxm but it has a problem that causes notes to be cut short. The GBA sound effects use the GB sound hardware, which can be emulated on the DS using its PSG sound system. I got this working without too much hassle, but I get the feeling that it doesn't play nicely with libntxm either. The sound effects work when libntxm is not activated in the build, but adding it in causes the sounds to break.

I think the best option at this point is to remove XM playback - remove the crappy music ;-) - until I port my own XM player to the DS. This way I can make a release soon-ish before I get really sick of the whole thing.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blame Jeff for the delay...

There's a reason I've not released anything yet - POWDER. Jeff Lait's devilishly addictive Rogue-like has me hooked. I played it on the GBA a couple of years back, but I've recently rediscovered it in the DS version, with its bigger screen and slightly nicer controls (X+Y are more comfortable than the Start + Select)

Unlike Nethack and friends, Powder was designed for the GBA's d-pad controls - there are no diagonally moving monsters apart from the weak grid-bug - and this really helps the flow of the game. It is very fast. There's also a high wheat to chaff rate - interesting items are abound. On the first few levels you'll have loads of great wands of zapping, potions of damage or healing, and swords of slicing. To decrease the frustration factor, your inventory is huge and you aren't penalised for carrying lots of items. Not very realistic, but immensely gratifying. There's nothing worse that having your movements hampered because your Diogenes syndrome kicks in and you can't bare to throw any of your junk away in case it's useful later.

The dungeon layouts are good too, with the random generator spitting out some interesting set piece rooms every now and again. Woe betide the newbie adventurer who comes across an island of ghosts as shallow as the 4th level! The layout is optimised for the GBA's 512x512 tile mode and the wrap around is a cute idea that makes the levels seem bigger than they really are. The graphics are decent for a homebrew game, perhaps the only quibble is the contrast of the text on the items screen (white on grey) as it can be difficult to make out at times. The main character is novel in the way that your on screen player avatar shows what he is wearing and clutching in his mitts at all times. There's an air of Monty Python absurdity to it each time a new game starts off with the hero stood there, bright pink and in his Y-fronts.

The gods of the game - in all there are 7 - play a crucial part to the way you decide to explore the dungeon. I don't mean just praying for food when you feel a bit peckish either a la Nethack, it is a bit deeper than that. Each of the 7 gods expects a specific behaviour from its desciples and failure to fulfil a god's wishes can end in tears. For example the god of the barbarians, H'ruth, expects plenty of killing and no magic use. If you are a wizard in training then it is very likely you'll piss H'ruth off. Luckily the wizard leader Belweir will protect you, so while H'ruth may poison the player, Belweir will cure the poison and provide gifts of magical items.

The god system has a slight flaw in that the fighter god Klaskov is very easily pleased, so rampaging through the game casting a few damage spells is usually enough to get in his good books. I have no idea how to please the pacifist Pax - casting cure seems to work, but killing any innocent rodents usually ends up with a dead player. These aren't even defects really, indeed they could even be considered extra challenges - "easy" mode would be to play as a fighter, while "hard" would be trying to get through as a cleric. Though quite what the god ><0|V| expects is anyone's guess.

Food plays an interesting role too. There's a saying "you are what you eat" and Powder covers this pretty well. Eating a char grilled fire snake will give you the ability to avoid fire attacks, while eating grid bug bodies leaves you immune to spark attacks. Unlike other rogue-likes the enemy corpses tend not to go rotten, so unless a baddie is obviously poisonous it is usually safe to eat it after defeating it. But don't go overboard if you plan on being a cleric - killing innocent Kiwis and scoffing them down is not very nice. Despite the lower starvation rate than other similar games, lately I've been getting snuffed out because in my hungry state my health wasn't regenerating...

Some spoilers you say? OK, stop reading now if you want to discover these things for yourself!

There's a whole dressing up sub-game hidden within the game. I've so far discovered that to dress as a Wizard you require the pointed shoes, plain robe and floppy hat. In your hands you can carry either nothing (not recommended) or a staff. The advantages... I'm not sure yet. It obviously pleases the gods. To dress as a Ranger, you need a leather tunic or the studded variety, hiking boots, a leather cap and either a bow or a torch in your hands. This get up seems to give you better searching abilities and may also help your ranged weapon attack damage... but it's difficult to say. The powder web site also mentions dressing as a Fighter. I've not discovered this one yet though, but I bet it requires a hefty warhammer and some sturdy iron boots.

Anyway, let's hope I get over this addiction soon. And meanwhile, I really recommend you checking out the latest version. It's one of the unsung classics of the homebrew scene.