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Space Cactus Canyon - beta


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#1 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:38 AM

Hello everyone,

 

I’m happy to present the beta release of my first bB game, Space Cactus Canyon.  I’ll post the full story of the game below, but here’s the short version:  You are the last cactus on Earth.  You need to collect water.  Avoid the enemies and their bullets.  Save your needles (bullets) until you really need them.  Travel through thirty canyons and make it to your spaceship to take you to Mars!  The game rewards reflexes as well as strategy.

 

The thing I’m most excited about is the procedurally generated playfield—something I haven’t seen in many other Atari games.  From a programming perspective, I’m also pleased I crammed four screens into the title screen kernel (with RevEng's help).  The game also has an expert difficulty that makes the game markedly harder while still being playable.

 

I’d love any and all feedback.  I’ve played the game so much and know how it works, its optimal strategies, etc., that it’s hard to be objective.  Is the balance of rules effective?  Are there things that could make the gameplay more compelling?

 

Most importantly, I just wanted to thank everyone in the community for helping me to get here.  I’ve really appreciated all the responses I’ve gotten to questions I’ve posted in the forums.  (Searching the forums is also a treasure trove.)  And of course, Random Terrain’s bB guide is indispensable.

 

Hope you enjoy.  Good luck, Space Cactus!

 

Title Screen
Levels 1-5
A strange dream
Levels 6-10

Attached Files


Edited by bjbest60, Sun Mar 19, 2017 8:59 AM.


#2 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:42 AM

The year is 2583, and you are the last cactus on Earth.

 

You live in the scorching deserts of the Rocky Mountains in what used to be Alberta, Canada.  The rest of your fellow cacti have moved to a more temperate climate on Mars.  They have sent a final spaceship to take you home.

 

Reaching it won’t be easy.  Water has become Earth’s most precious resource, and although you are a cactus, you need every drop.  Collect the water as you move through the canyons.  Every so often, you’ll even find a bucket of it, and you’ll be able rest for the night.

 

But watch out for the humans—the few that are left after World War XII.  They think they need the water even more than you, and they’ll do anything to protect it.

 

The shredders carry hidden machetes, and if they get close to you, they’ll cut you to pieces.  The shooters don’t move, but take careful aim with their fully automatic plasma rifles.  And the shredder-shooters are the most dangerous of all.  Armed with their ion revolvers, they’ll track you and shoot you where you stand.

 

As a cactus, you have only your needles for your defense.  But life has been brutal, and you have few that remain.  Aim carefully and only shoot when you must.

 

Every so often, you’ll enter a dead-end canyon that has no clear path between you and the water.  If that happens, you’ll automatically back up and find a new canyon with a better trail.  You reckon there are about thirty canyons between you and your spaceship. 

 

Good luck.  It will be a hard fight, but we know you’ll be home soon, Space Cactus!

 

And if you find the first journey is too easy, why not move the left difficulty switch to Expert, pardner.



#3 TrekMD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 5:50 PM

Cool.  Downloaded so I can test it. 



#4 KevinMos3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 8:48 PM

Very very cool.  I like the concept, graphics, and gameplay.  There is one thing -- well two things -- er, three things that I'd recommend.

 

1) The enemy shots are too fast to dodge in many circumstances.  I'd like to see them slowed down so my cactus has more of a fighting chance.

 

2) The enemy shots are very difficult to see.  I think it's a combination of color and speed.  If they were black (which I understand you probably can't do if they're missiles), or at least moved a bit slower they'd be easier to see.  The combination of them being too fast and blending in too much with the background makes it seem very unfair IMO.

 

3) There are a lot of impossible situations with the kneeling gunners.  Too many times, I've found myself with a gunner either in a narrow vertical path or with not enough room to dodge their shot and no way to get by without dying.

 

Anyway, with some difficulty tweaking, I think you have a real winner here.  There are seldom games I want to get on a cartridge, but I think this will be one of them.



#5 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:07 PM

Cool.  Thanks so much for the feedback!  I'm glad you think it's going well so far.

 

For #1, currently the cactus needle moves at 2 px / frame, and the enemy bullet moves at about 2 1/2 px / frame.  (It's a random choice between 2 and 3.)  I wanted their shots to be slightly faster than yours, at least where if the player and the gunman shot at the same time, the player would lose.  But I'll play with those speeds a bit.  They do shoot awfully fast.

 

For #2, yes.  The shots should be a bit wider (they're currently 1 px), but I was having trouble successfully changing the size of missile1.  I'll figure it out and make it work.

 

For #3, I agree--it's where I die the most when I'm playing--and for me it's kind of an unsolvable problem, unfortunately.  There's a ton of code to make sure each canyon has enough paths.  The placement of the shooters within those paths is more or less random (they need to have a small amount of space in front and behind them).  Sometimes the water is literally straight across from you, and you just march across the screen.  Sometimes you're just dealt an unsolvable maze.  Slowing down their shots will give a bit more leeway, so I'll keep this in mind when changing that speed.  The real issue is that I'm full at 32k, but I might be able to move some code around to at least guarantee slightly more space to the left of the shooters.

 

Thanks again!  I'll work on this and put up a revised version when I get one, perhaps this weekend.



#6 TrekMD OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:23 PM

After testing the game, I agree with Kevin's assessment.  I'm getting killed mighty fast! 



#7 Arenafoot OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:30 PM

Really cool concept BJ!

What is the purpose of the black and white level with the gifts?

I agree with KevinMos3's three suggestions above. Way too quick to start off the game! Slow down the walking and slow down the shooting, somewhat.

 

Why is the human allowed to shoot the walls out and the cactus can't shoot them?

 

BTW - does not work on the AFP..............

 

This was my best game so far: (after 3 tries)

Attached Thumbnails

  • Space cactus high score.JPG

Edited by Arenafoot, Mon Feb 6, 2017 9:30 PM.


#8 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 7, 2017 9:48 AM

The black and white levels are basically a bonus round.  The most important thing is to collect the needle so you have a few more.  Beyond that, with the whole game but especially those bonus levels, I was trying to go for the surreal feel of early video games.  We kind of take Pac-Man for granted, but the whole premise--eat dots while being chased by ghosts and then sometimes eating fruit--is bizarre.  I think Megamania is a great example of this (Shoot tires!  Shoot hamburgers!).  So I've got cats and shoes and whatnot.

 

Interesting thought about the cactus being able to shoot out the wall.  My concept is that a needle wouldn't be able to destroy a canyon while a 26th-century weapon might, but I'll experiment with that mechanic.  Right now the main reason the shooters can destroy the walls in later levels is that I wanted to give each set of levels a slightly different feel, even when the enemies and their general behaviors get recycled.

 

Bummer about the AFP.  I don't have one, so I wasn't able to test there.  (I fought with screen jitters with a Harmony cart, but I think those are all solved now.) Thanks for the comments!  I'm looking forward to digging back in.



#9 KevinMos3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Feb 7, 2017 6:25 PM

The black and white levels are basically a bonus round.  The most important thing is to collect the needle so you have a few more.  Beyond that, with the whole game but especially those bonus levels, I was trying to go for the surreal feel of early video games.  We kind of take Pac-Man for granted, but the whole premise--eat dots while being chased by ghosts and then sometimes eating fruit--is bizarre.  I think Megamania is a great example of this (Shoot tires!  Shoot hamburgers!).  So I've got cats and shoes and whatnot.

 

I really like this.  I think it gives an interesting vibe.

 

 

Interesting thought about the cactus being able to shoot out the wall.  My concept is that a needle wouldn't be able to destroy a canyon while a 26th-century weapon might, but I'll experiment with that mechanic...

 
That's what I gathered from playing it.  It made sense to me that a cactus needle wouldn't destroy rock.  :)
 
 

Bummer about the AFP.  I don't have one, so I wasn't able to test there...

 

I assumed you were using DPC+, and if so, it definitely wouldn't be compatible.  However, I did give it a go, just in case you weren't.  If you aren't using DPC+, and would like to make it compatible, perhaps you could get some pointers from a few other programmers who've tackled some of the issues.  If you are, then of course it's moot.  :)



#10 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 8, 2017 1:47 PM

 

I assumed you were using DPC+, and if so, it definitely wouldn't be compatible.  However, I did give it a go, just in case you weren't.  If you aren't using DPC+, and would like to make it compatible, perhaps you could get some pointers from a few other programmers who've tackled some of the issues.  If you are, then of course it's moot.   :)

 

Yes, it's DPC+, so it looks like that won't be a possibility.  That's too bad, but I likely wouldn't have room for more code anyway. ;-)

 

Hope to have a revised version up by Friday or Saturday.



#11 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Feb 8, 2017 4:15 PM

Well, I just sat down to start looking at things, and to everyone who thought the game started out way too fast:  you're right!  I inadvertently left a line in the code that starts you at level 21 rather than level 1.  I've uploaded the new version that properly starts on level 1 where things will hopefully be a lot less lethal.



#12 Arenafoot OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Feb 9, 2017 12:42 AM

Well, I just sat down to start looking at things, and to everyone who thought the game started out way too fast:  you're right!  I inadvertently left a line in the code that starts you at level 21 rather than level 1.  I've uploaded the new version that properly starts on level 1 where things will hopefully be a lot less lethal.

Oh WOW! Level 21.....talk about an easter egg!!

 

Yes, it is now much better!!!



#13 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Feb 9, 2017 10:40 AM

Yeah, the unwinnable levels are a problem, but I love the Maze Craze style level generation.  I'm also getting some levels being redrawn before they can start.  The level is drawn and as the sprites are being drawn, it scraps the whole shebang and redraws a new level.  This tends to happen after the boot dream sequence.

 

Great game, though.  Lots of fun and lots of potential.



#14 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Feb 9, 2017 11:08 AM

Wow!  Ok.  Made it to the rocket ship!  Love the win screen!  That walking and shooting bandit is brutal.  Had a bonus level generate with 2 treasures unreachable due to wall.  Would it be possible to start over again at level 1 once you make it home to keep the game going?



#15 neotokeo2001 ONLINE  

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Posted Thu Feb 9, 2017 12:51 PM

Shared with the Facebook group Atari 2600 Homebrew.

https://www.facebook...ari2600homebrew

Please join the group if you can.

 

Here is some play information from Ronnie in the group:

 

 

I love the Maze Craze style maze drawing, but it has lead me to several screens that were entirely unwinable. A couple of times I trapped in a part of the canyon with a gunman and a gap only one cactus wide. With no way to shoot the gunman without being shot first, the only option was to die and hope for a better layout. Contrarily, I have also had a few canyons where it was straight shot to the water entirely unopposed. I don't mind the occasional breather level, but "just run right" throws off the game balance. Finally, I am getting some canyons immediately redrawn before play can start. This tends to happen after the boot dream sequence. The canyon will generate and just as the sprites are draw, the entire screen is redrawn.
Seems like all of this is just part of the peril of a random level generator.

 

 

Wow! Ok. Made it to the rocket ship! Love the win screen! That walking and shooting bandit is brutal. Had a bonus level generate with 2 treasures unreachable due to wall. Would it be possible to start over again at level 1 once you make it home to keep the game going?

 



#16 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Feb 10, 2017 11:09 PM

I'm happy to release the second beta version of the game!  It's available in my first post.

 

I've really appreciated all of the feedback I've received; it's helped make the game much better.

 

Most importantly, I've changed the kneeling shooter levels so they're more satisfying.  I've ensured about four pfpixels of empty space on each side of them.  I've found through testing that's juuuust enough room to get off a shot and get out of the way if you're precise and/or lucky.  So no more getting dealt an immediately unwinnable canyon!  I decreased the speed of the shot a bit, too, to make things more fair (your shots and the enemies' are now the same speed).  I also increased the size of missile1 and darkened the shooter sprites a bit, so I think their bullets are a lot more visible.

 

Another concern was that some of the shooter levels could be completed simply by going left.  The game now places the water a minimum of two rows above or below the player.  This makes it much, much more likely that you'll have to contend with at least one shooter along the way.  I think this change has made the other levels more interesting, too.

 

The canyons now draw much faster.  This is purely aesthetic; I didn't save any code space.  But it makes the player have to wait less in case a canyon needs to be redrawn.  One consequence of moving the water two or more rows away from the player is that sometimes there simply aren't two rows either above or below.  The game checks for this, and creates a new canyon if that's the case.  Originally, the game redrew a canyon if it couldn't find a clear path to the water; in worst-case scenarios there are two separate canyons, one above the other.  By forcing certain positions for the water, the game now redraws canyons more frequently.  The instruction text that I wrote tries to explain that in terms of the story: "Every so often, you’ll enter a dead-end canyon that has no clear path between you and the water.  If that happens, you’ll automatically back up and find a new canyon with a better trail."  Admittedly, it's not a strong explanation, but I think for the canyons to provide the most fun / challenge, a couple per game will have to be redrawn.  I wish I could avoid it, but unfortunately I think other solutions (such as putting the player at the beginning of the first path and the water at the end of the first path, thereby always guaranteeing the player can reach the water) make the game less fun.

 

I feel like I'm getting pretty close to completion.  But I'd love to hear more feedback.  I'm still interested in the balance of the rules--speed, needles, score, lives, etc.  I have <10 bytes free in each of my banks now, so adding new features is unlikely (though there's so much more I'd like to do!), but numbers that already exist can easily be changed.  I'd be especially interested in hearing from anyone who tries the Expert difficulty--I worry it makes the game unwinnable (I haven't beaten it yet), but I'm not sure what I should change.

 

Again, I'm really grateful for the comments so far.  The game feels much more complete to me now.



#17 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Feb 11, 2017 1:10 PM

Love the improvements!  Redrawing canyons is no issue, I just wasn't sure if it was intentional or a bug.  Thank you for no unwinable canyons!  The game is much more balanced as a result.

 

On the normal difficulty setting, I never seem to be in danger of running out of water.  On Expert, I'm almost always out of water before the second dream sequence and given the brutal difficulty, that pretty much means game over.  The Expert Diff level is absolutely crushing, but I'm not sure that means that it's too hard.  It certainly means the challenge is maxed, but I'm not ready to say it impossible.  I'll let you know if I ever get to past the second dream sequence.  I will say, there is only time during the dream sequence to get the water OR 1 maybe 2 treasures, before the time is up.  That kind of takes away from the idea of the bonus level being a reward.  Just an observation, no call for changing anything.

 

Really enjoying the game!  Thanks!

 

:spidey:



#18 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Feb 11, 2017 1:56 PM

Made it to the rocketship on the Normal difficulty.  The game is much better balanced now and much fun to play.  I do wish you could start back and Level 1 and go again building your score.  Otherwise, there is going to be a "perfect" score at some point where in you shoot the max number of bad guys your water will allow and collect the max # of treasures.  I can already see myself going for that pretty quickly.  Man, oh, man I love that ending screen, though.  Hooray!



#19 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Feb 11, 2017 2:05 PM

Ok, so I made it to the next to last set of canyons on Diff A, and I'm ready to say that no, that Diff level is not impossible, but sweet mother MaCree is it challenging.  The bandits move like lightning and shoot even faster.  Strategies from the easier difficulty still work just fine, but you have to add in some crazy reflexes.  I was able to actually get the water and 1 treasure during a dream sequence, so maybe those are ok too.  But you have to be ready when the canyon is drawn or you get nothing!!!



#20 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Feb 11, 2017 9:51 PM

Thanks for the feedback!  Glad to hear things feel more balanced, and that Difficulty A is maxed on challenge without necessarily being impossible.

 

I do wish you could start back and Level 1 and go again building your score.  Otherwise, there is going to be a "perfect" score at some point where in you shoot the max number of bad guys your water will allow and collect the max # of treasures.

 

The score is a little variable in the sense that you get additional points for finishing a level faster.  They're not much, but they do give a bit of distinction.  The ending screen throws some heavy bonuses in.  If you make it to the end, any lives you have remaining are +20000 each, and each needle is +10000.  So there isn't one perfect score, though ultimately the scores get a bit same-y, especially if you don't reach the end.

 

It probably wouldn't take too much to have the game start again, though.  It seems like it would be flipping a few variables and changing an if/then or two.  Space is extremely tight in the code, but I might be able to squeeze that in.  Do you think the game should restart at the same difficulty level, or should it automatically migrate to Expert?  Should you retain the same number of lives you finish with, or should it more or less be a reset of the game?  I'm inclined to move to Expert but keep whatever you finish with, but I'm definitely open to suggestions.

 

My other concern with continuing is the game flow.  There's a clear ending screen, so I wonder how a player should continue on.  Press the fire button?  And either hitting the reset switch or letting the end screen lapse back to the title screen completely resets everything?  I feel like both fire and reset completely reset everything in most other games, so I just would want the choices to be logical here.  This could also be explained in the instructions.

 

Thanks again for all of your comments!  Let me know what you think a good continue sequence would be, and I can see what's possible.



#21 Arenafoot OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Feb 11, 2017 10:17 PM

Played a round of the new update v.2 - much better game play now! Great Job!

 

I'd go for the "same difficulty level" for game restarts. Along with same number of lives. I haven't made it to the end ......yet.

 

Thanks for the feedback!  Glad to hear things feel more balanced, and that Difficulty A is maxed on challenge without necessarily being impossible.

 

 

The score is a little variable in the sense that you get additional points for finishing a level faster.  They're not much, but they do give a bit of distinction.  The ending screen throws some heavy bonuses in.  If you make it to the end, any lives you have remaining are +20000 each, and each needle is +10000.  So there isn't one perfect score, though ultimately the scores get a bit same-y, especially if you don't reach the end.

 

It probably wouldn't take too much to have the game start again, though.  It seems like it would be flipping a few variables and changing an if/then or two.  Space is extremely tight in the code, but I might be able to squeeze that in.  Do you think the game should restart at the same difficulty level, or should it automatically migrate to Expert?  Should you retain the same number of lives you finish with, or should it more or less be a reset of the game?  I'm inclined to move to Expert but keep whatever you finish with, but I'm definitely open to suggestions.

 

My other concern with continuing is the game flow.  There's a clear ending screen, so I wonder how a player should continue on.  Press the fire button?  And either hitting the reset switch or letting the end screen lapse back to the title screen completely resets everything?  I feel like both fire and reset completely reset everything in most other games, so I just would want the choices to be logical here.  This could also be explained in the instructions.

 

Thanks again for all of your comments!  Let me know what you think a good continue sequence would be, and I can see what's possible.



#22 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Feb 12, 2017 12:22 PM

Oooo.  I think it would be awesome to graduate to the Expert Difficulty level after finishing the game on Normal.  It think once you get really good at the normal level, even with the random canyons, you would be able to just keep looping the game.  But the Expert Diff is brutal and punishing.  I think being able to loop at that level of Difficulty demonstrates real mastery and lots of luck.  Plus, it would be rewarding to get to play the game again at a higher level and see how far you can push your score.  (thanks for the detail on the scoring structure).

 

I realize this is an unfriendly example, but E.T. has a clear ending and then you just hit the button to send ET back down to go again.  I don't see why that doesn't work here.  The RESET button could be the definitive start new game, and the fire button could either restart the game upon death or advance you to the next round of levels upon completion.  These are Atari games and as such they are rarely going to give you hours of continuous gameplay, but the ability to keep going through more canyons and improving your score gives this awesome game even greater replayability in my mind.

 

Thanks for letting us all be a part of this process!  

 

:spidey:



#23 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Feb 12, 2017 4:29 PM

Couple of things I'm noticing upon further play:

 

Upon death in the Diff B version, I get the death screen displaying my score.  But upon death in the Diff A version, I got the title screen with my score and a horrible buzzing sound.  This happened only once, but it happened.  So I'm passing it along.

 

In Diff B version, the third set of canyons features chasing bandits and shooting bandits.  In Diff A version the third set of canyons only features the chasing bandits, the same as the first set of canyons, except bandit speed is absurdly fast.  Intentional?

 

In Diff A, in the dream sequences, if the water refill spawns at the far right side, and the player does not have an unobstructed path to the water refill, it is unreachable in the time allotted.

 

Diff B version score starts at 000000.  Diff A version, score starts at 000001.  I don't mind the extra point, for playing on hard, but thought I would pass along.

 

More as it comes to me.

 

And let me just say that I really love this game.  I love the visuals, the character design, I love that the levels ramp like the do in classic games, introducing a new kind of foe with each level and then having levels with different mixes of the foes, the bonus rounds, it's all just great.  I don't want it missed in all the other feedback that this is a really fun game.

 

I was TWO SCREENS away from victory on Diff A.  TWO SCREENS!!!!!


Edited by StanJr, Sun Feb 12, 2017 5:02 PM.


#24 StanJr OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Feb 12, 2017 7:35 PM

SUCCESS!!  Made it to the end on Diff A!!!  Lots of luck, good canyon layouts and lots of quick shooting!!!  But I did it!  Score 582926!!!!

 

I retract my previous assessment that there was insufficient time to obtain the water refill on the dream sequence. There is just enough time to get it with an obstructed path, but you better be perfect.

 

Wonderful game!

 

:spidey:



#25 bjbest60 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:15 PM

Oooo.  I think it would be awesome to graduate to the Expert Difficulty level after finishing the game on Normal.

 

After some very careful juggling, I think I've got this coded in now.  I'll need to do some more playtesting of various options just to make sure all the switches are correctly flipped, but I believe it's all in the code.  I've added the "press fire, pardner" to the winning screen (it appears after two seconds) to more clearly suggest how to keep playing.  I'll release a new version once I think everything is set.

 

Upon death in the Diff B version, I get the death screen displaying my score.  But upon death in the Diff A version, I got the title screen with my score and a horrible buzzing sound.  This happened only once, but it happened.  So I'm passing it along.

 

Hmm ... I wish I knew what caused that.  It sounds like it's calling a gosub without an appropriate bankswitch, but I can't replicate it.  I followed the game-over code and it looks like everything's okay.  I'll keep trying to hunt that down.

 

In Diff B version, the third set of canyons features chasing bandits and shooting bandits.  In Diff A version the third set of canyons only features the chasing bandits, the same as the first set of canyons, except bandit speed is absurdly fast.  Intentional?

 

Yes, it's intentional.  I wanted him to be really fast but the problem with having him super-fast and also having a shooter is that the screen would roll--not enough time to run the move routine and the shoot routine.  So I just cut out the shooter.

 

Diff B version score starts at 000000.  Diff A version, score starts at 000001.  I don't mind the extra point, for playing on hard, but thought I would pass along.

 

Yes, that one point is entirely a reward for starting on Expert.  I figured it'd make it easier for people to compare scores if they wished--Diff B scores always end in 0/5, Diff A scores end in 1/6.

 

SUCCESS!!  Made it to the end on Diff A!!!  Lots of luck, good canyon layouts and lots of quick shooting!!!  But I did it!  Score 582926!!!!

 

It's not impossible!  That makes me so happy.  I figured a +500000 bonus for completing it seemed fair.

 

I'm so glad you like how it's turning out, and thanks again the detailed comments.






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