Me - What I've done
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Spectrum animated cartoons
Adventure game graphics
Last Ninja 2
Microprose Misc (Pizza Tycoon/Navy Strike.
XCom - Terror from the deep
XCom - Apocalypse
XCom - Alliance
Citizens (Ghosts of games that never were)
Master of Orion 2
Flaklypa Grand prix
Blitz Pitches (Ghosts of games that never were)
XCOM Terror from the deep
After the success of the original XCom – enemy unknown Microprose wanted to bring out a sequel and make more of the franchise. The Gollops were already working on XCom Apocalypse, which was some way off being completed, but they wanted something to plug the gap so that players wouldn’t have to wait so long.
A decision was made to use the original engine, reskin the graphics and create a whole new story. By keeping changes to the absolute minimum a sequel could be created in just a few months. Also, by not inventing any new game features or game technology it would make the scheduling one largely led purely by asset creation – which makes it whole lot easier when it comes to estimating task durations and scheduling.
Steve Goss was the designer on this, and kept the whole thing on track by eliminating excess new features that would have extended the development. For example troopers use large ‘diving suits (rather than swim) …so they could just walk about on the seabed.
However, even keeping the technology largely the same it was still a push to get the game finished as the assets had to come from somewhere. Many people at the studio took on specific tasks outside their normal day to day work. I, for example, was an artist at the time and was working on creating tile sets for XCom apocalypse, but I did evening overtime on XCom Terror from the deep in the evenings (mainly for the fun of doing it - and the free Pizzas).
I didn’t do very much work on TFTD - but I did create 3 in-game aliens and their animations for it:
A jellyfish-like creature
Nautulus-like with guns
A dinosaur like creature (again with guns)
These were ‘boss’-like creatures that took up 2x2 squares each.
The palette for early XCom games was handled strangely (to modern developers anyway – it made sense back then). The palette was actually fixed for the whole game. The pallette was arranged in blocks of 16 colours, each block slightly darker than the previous one. One palette was set aside for the interface. Sub screens (such as ufoedia) always had their own palette – though even there I seem to remember some colours being reserved for interface use.
This meant that to make a tile or sprite darker all you needed to do was change the palette code assigned to it – far easier and quicker on the processors of the day than having to recolour 64 pixels on the fly. It was this darkening/recolouring system that was used for the fog of war effect, and you can see it in progress in th eimages above as each tile is progressivley darkened .
Other reasons for using 16 colours per sprite was that this took up only half the memory (you could have two 16 colour sprites in the same memory as a 256 colour one) and was faster to process as two pixels worth could be processed simultaneously.
From a sprite/tile creation perspective this did create problems and did compromise graphic quality, but that’s always a trade off in games (i.e. graphics vs other considerations) and in the case of XCom the emphasis (quite rightly) was on gameplay flexibility and performance.
Don’t forget this was in the old DOS days, before windows made an appearance and when all graphics were carried out on the main processor. Modern graphic cards (and the amount of memory available) mean that this simply isn’t an issue any more, but back then every ounce of performance and memory was crucial.
I wish I had an example palette example I could show – if I come across one I’ll stick it in and make this clearer.