The Lower Caverns

Play it once, SAM. For old times' sake.
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HEXdidnt
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The Lower Caverns

Post by HEXdidnt »

I see that @Quazar has announced the next couple of issues of SAM Revival magazine, including news that The Lower Caverns will appear on one of the cover disks... TLC is probably my most significant SAM Coupé project to date, and its release is coming after a little over five years' work, during which time the scope and goals of the project changed quite a bit. Originally spec'd as a simple remix of the SAM version of Manic Miner, switching out some of the additional levels for adaptations of those from Bob McFarlane's AppGameKit remix for Windows and a set of 20+ new and unique levels, some of which were left out of the original releases, we ended up both adding and changing much more than that. Initially, it was planned to run on 256K machines but, by the time I got finished, it had become 512K only. I take my role of "filling the computer's memory with beautiful graphics" very seriously ;)

Some of you may know that the SAM version of Manic Miner wasn't especially well-received by the computer press at the time. It reviewed well enough, all things considered, but it was pointed out that the game was already around 10 years old by that point, and Spectrum gaming had moved on considerably, so it wasn't exactly going to win over any SAM sceptics.

For my part, I jumped at the opportunity to get involved for several reasons:
  • It had been over 20 years since I'd done anything meaningful on the SAM, and I had only recently got my machine resurrected
  • I'd continued to dabble in pixel art using SimCoupe under Windows, and was keen to develop my skills while putting them to practical use, particularly given the restricted palette of the SAM game
  • I'd still only ever worked on one commercially-published game, and that was on the Spectrum
  • Every SAM game I'd been involved with back in the day ended up on the list of Games That Weren't for the machine
  • The coder was intending to bring back Eugene ("Eugene's Lair" had become "The Sugar Factory" in SAM Manic Miner), and agreed to bring back the 'Boot Crush' game over screen as well
  • I really, really hated the graphics in the SAM version of Manic Miner
We've been previewing the newest builds of TLC at RetCon every year since 2019, had a high score competition on a nearly-finished version back in June of this year, and I've since been driving the coder barmy with last-minute changes to sprites and scenery. (Well, hopefully not, but I'm sure some of it has been frustrating! I forced myself to stop and call it 'done' only around a month ago.)

Obviously I'm a bit biased, but I'm rather happy with the 'facelift' portion of TLC... It's interesting that, while Spectrum Next users apparently want to retain the look of the classic Speccy, just without the colour clash, SAM users (at least those in the Facebook group who responded to my poll!) seem to prefer MODE 4 to be used to its fullest.

Just to whet your appetites, Willy himself has gone from this... Image to this... Image
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Jbizzel »

What happened to Eugene in the Sam version?
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by spider »

Jbizzel wrote: Mon Apr 01, 2024 8:49 am What happened to Eugene in the Sam version?
Spoiler
Image
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Jbizzel »

why was it changed? Seems like that level is almost as iconic as the whole game.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by R-Tape »

Jbizzel wrote: Mon Apr 01, 2024 2:42 pm why was it changed? Seems like that level is almost as iconic as the whole game.
I'd like to know too. That rising and setting sun works well, but to miss out Eugene?

(I meant to post earlier, but I looked at the calendar and then the clock, and held back, just in case... :mrgreen: )
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by flatduckrecords »

In think it was covered in an interview in an issue of SAM Revival, I’ll have a look!
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Jbizzel »

I'd love to know the story as to why it was changed. Even the name of the level was changed.

This is not an April fools - Sam has no Eugene!
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by flatduckrecords »

Aha, it’s revealed in SAM Revival #22. Worth picking up a copy to read the full interview with Ledbury, but here’s a tiny snippet:
Press REVEAL on your FasText™ remote now
“Originally we hoped to include the original Eugene sprite in SAM Manic Miner. But to be truthful we couldn’t locate the image in the source and the graphic artists both forgot to draw Eugene!”
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by ParadigmShifter »

I just eyeballed the graphic and converted it to binary/hex for my remake lol.

I see it's not stored as a standard vertical guardian in the room data though (I just had a flag big for it instead though).

Although I just found out searching for the info that the skylabs shift themselves over to the right 8 cells when they explode... never knew that lol.

Hmm apparently I did lol

Code: Select all

.animateskylab
	ld a, (ix+4)
	inc a
	and 7
	jr z, .moveskylab
	jp .animupdate

.moveskylab
	ld a, (iy+4)	; min extent
	ld b, a
	and 7
	ld (ix+5), a
	ld a, b
	srl a
	srl a
	srl a
	ld (ix+3), a
	; add 8 to x coordinate
	ld a, (ix+2)
	add a, 8
	and #1f
	ld (ix+2), a
	xor a
	jp .animupdate
Completely forgotten about that it was many years ago though when I wrote that ;)
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by HEXdidnt »

Shall I do a cheeky Eugene reveal? Just between us?

I think I shall... I mean, to be fair, he's on the promo image I put together for RetCon last year, so it's not exactly letting the cat out of the bag.

So, the original Eugene sprite was a circle with stick arms and legs, square glasses, and a permanent smile. He floats up and down at the centre of his lair until you've collected the last treasure, and which point he starts glowing and slowly sinks down till he's sitting on top of the exit, blocking your way. I have to admit that, back when I played Manic Miner as a kid, I had no idea why he was called Eugene, or what he represented... The first few versions of the updated sprite I produced were therefore just recoloured versions of the noodly-limbed, bespectacled ball.

But, after I learned that Eugene's Lair was a (playful?) jab at Imagine's wunderkind 'coder', Eugene Evans, I wanted to make sure the SAM version had the best Eugene I could produce.

Image

The original sprite doesn't change much beyond palette cycling once it starts its final descent, it just sort of hunches down 1 pixel closer to its feet, and the arms straighten out... What I've attempted to capture is the triumphant roar on Evans' face in that famous photo where he's behind the wheel of his (leased) Lotus... though that's pretty tricky with 12 colours and a 16x16 pixel sprite. His hands go from 'thumbs up' as he's floating up and down, to 'ready to grab onto the exit'.

Hopefully this change is not seen as some form of heresy... Eugene also turns up in the McFarlane remix cavern, The Toilet Block, and a wholly new cavern, The Return of Eugene, designed by Phil Wilson for (but omitted from) one of the old rereleases of SAM Manic Miner. This latter cavern has been given a unique style referencing one of Imagine's most notorious games.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Jbizzel »

I can't believe they just forgot. The game has 20 levels to prove Eugene wrong about what the spectrum was capable of, and that level is a symbolic flushing him down the toilet. It is CENTRAL to the games law.

nice work fixing it! the Sam has very impressive graphic chops for sure.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by HEXdidnt »

Jbizzel wrote: Wed Apr 03, 2024 10:28 pm I can't believe they just forgot. The game has 20 levels to prove Eugene wrong about what the spectrum was capable of, and that level is a symbolic flushing him down the toilet. It is CENTRAL to the games law.
Well, to be fair to the original developers, Manic Miner was already 10 years old by the time it was ported to the SAM, and thereby rather out of date. The reviews at the time even called Revelation out for it... Retro gaming really wasn't a thing at the time 16-bit systems were becoming ever more prevalent, and they didn't foresee Manic Miner being recognised as so iconic, and such a milestone in gaming.
Jbizzel wrote: nice work fixing it! the Sam has very impressive graphic chops for sure.
Thank you! Reinstating Eugene was the first priority, but it was fun to push the graphics a little further than they did back in '92.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Jbizzel »

"Retro gaming really wasn't a thing at the time 16-bit systems were becoming ever more prevalent"

Yes, this is a fair point. At the time I was busy rejecting anything remotely 8 bit. Chasing the dragon of ever better graphics.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Spud »

Will you be tarting up the level graphics at all also? The Cold Room is an abolute eye-sore - those melting platforms particularly.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by HEXdidnt »

Spud wrote: Fri Apr 05, 2024 1:43 pm Will you be tarting up the level graphics at all also? The Cold Room is an abolute eye-sore - those melting platforms particularly.
Yes - the whole game has had a facelift. Compare and contrast...
Image Image

For The Cold Room, I figured a cooler colourscheme was most appropriate.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Spud »

Brilliant!! Can't wait to see the finished article!
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by HEXdidnt »

Thank you, @Spud!

Aside from reinstating Eugene, improving Willy's animation and fixing the Game Over screen, I think my imperatives were replacing the system font - the use of unaltered system fonts in games is an absolute bête noire of mine - and the brick textures, most of which were no better than they would have been in MODE 1.

We ended up with two different fonts - one for the title screen scrolly message, and a separate one for the cavern names in-game, both of which feature an accent character so we could properly spell musician František Fuka's name in either one. Technically, it's three fonts, as the numbers that make up the in-game score are a simplified, monochrome version of the scrolly font. There are more variations on brick textures now, both in terms of colour and arrangement, and several colour variants on earth/rock textures, with up to eight components each. I did throw in a few unique earth/rock tiles, but I don't think they were used in the end.

Aside from that, I wanted to do away with the pillow shading on a lot of the sprites - a common feature in a lot of SAM games - and improve the colour usage and shading on those sprites that looked a bit too flat and Spectrum-like. It wasn't till much later that I realised we could improve things further by having multiple colour versions of some of the baddie sprites. On the Spectrum, that's just a case of using a different INK colour on the same graphic... for the SAM, it requires a whole new version of the sprite to be in memory, all making use of the same 12-colour palette (with occasional palette swaps in some caverns)... And it was this, more than any other change I made, that led to the game becoming 512K only.
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by dvduk »

Spud wrote: Fri Apr 05, 2024 1:43 pm Will you be tarting up the level graphics at all also? The Cold Room is an abolute eye-sore - those melting platforms particularly.
Most of the original sprites on SAM Manic Miner were designed by the two main artists, with a few unusual ones (such as the train) by Matthew Holt. I assisted Matthew with a few of the blocks - so that could have been one of mine. I think they did improve in later caves though.

But the new blocks are a lot better.... :-)
Last edited by dvduk on Mon Apr 08, 2024 10:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Can also be found at SamstersVideos - which does occasionally update when I have time...
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by dvduk »

HEXdidnt wrote: Fri Dec 08, 2023 9:34 pm [*]The coder was intending to bring back Eugene ("Eugene's Lair" had become "The Sugar Factory" in SAM Manic Miner), and agreed to bring back the 'Boot Crush' game over screen as well
Even that had quite a few updates in the end :)
We've been previewing the newest builds of TLC at RetCon every year since 2019, had a high score competition on a nearly-finished version back in June of this year, and I've since been driving the coder barmy with last-minute changes to sprites and scenery. (Well, hopefully not, but I'm sure some of it has been frustrating! I forced myself to stop and call it 'done' only around a month ago.)
Barmier, not Barmy :)
Can also be found at SamstersVideos - which does occasionally update when I have time...
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Re: The Lower Caverns

Post by Spud »

dvduk wrote: Mon Apr 08, 2024 9:27 pm Most of the original sprites on SAM Manic Miner were designed by the two main artists, with a few unusual ones (such as the train) by Matthew Holt. I assisted Matthew with a few of the blocks - so that could have been one of mine. I think they did improve in later caves though.

But the new blocks are a lot better.... :-)
One should always be mindful in our connected age that the original artist, developer or contributor might just be a member of our great community :)
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