Anton Seedy gives some xtra tipz for uninspired programs
EVERY SINCLAIR USER must have read, again and again, articles on how to write a winning computer program and has waded through pages of useful tips on ideas and formatting. By now we all have our favourite machine code sub-routines together with the realisation that practically any game with a black background looks good. Just imagine how bilious and flat-looking games would be if space was cyan. Black has the illusion of depth, but not as much depth as the minds of those who write the blurbs and titles of the latest software.
As your average micro user, I have only realised recently what all my own programs have lacked. It is something that I have never read in any manual, book or magazine and now that I can see where I have been going wrong, I wish to share my new-found knowledge with others whose programs, like mine will now take on a new dimension. The fact is, it is all in the title.
Firstly, no matter how good or exciting your own programs are, if you have called them Plane Attack, Frog Hops or People from Space then forget it. Names that clearly indicate what is to be expected are a no-no. Friends will not be inspired if you bubble with excitement over your latest software masterpiece and then they sit in front of a TV screen displaying the title, Flower Identification. No matter how swift the code or how smooth the superb graphics may be, the title will have the player reaching for the exit key in no time.
Now, if you had called it Mutant Plants from Planet X then that title would contain three important factors which would have anyone hooked, even before they had pressed the start key.
Let us examine those three factors. To begin with, the word Mutant. That is a godsend. Not only does it fill the mind with dread and a natural desire to destroy, but because an object is mutant it does not have to look much like what it was supposed to resemble in the first place. Nothing is more soul destroying than to have someone point at your hours-to-design sprite and say with mirth, "What's that supposed to be?" The word mutant opens players' minds to expect and accept any blob of colour that zips across the screen is quite possibly a mutant manifestation of whatever was in the title.
The word From. Simple logic tells us that if something is from somewhere then it obviously does not belong where it is now. That too will make the player want to send it back or destroy it. The word plays on people's natural prejudices and fear of the unknown.
The letter X. Considering how few words in the English language start or contain the letter X, or Z for that matter, it is nice to see those two previously under-used letters enjoying a renaissance. The motor trade would be lost without them, as the inclusion of the letter X in the name seems to go hand-in-hand with any production car that has the addition of a couple of spot lights and a thousand pounds. Whatever happened to GT?
Z and X seem to have a mystery surrounding them. What is it about them that has a whole range of computers in their grip? Put X or Z in a title, or both, and even the most mundane software gets looked at. Why has no-one marketed a game called Mutant Zs from X? The title alone would sell thousands.
Another secret ingredient for a good title is bad spelling, or a name which seems so impossible to pronounce that anyone seeing it spends the rest of the day thinking about how to say it. That will result in the program being bought out of sheer curiosity.
If a game idea is a direct lift from somewhere else, then a change of name is essential, and the more devious the better. What is the Latin for frog? Why frogs, even? Surely newts, fieldmice and hedgehogs have a need to travel. Hedge-hoz ... now there is an idea.
After you have settled on the title, you must next set the scene. Do not boldly state "When the question mark flashes across the screen, press any key to stop it, and check your reaction speed". Say something imaginative such as: "As you peer hopelessly into the utter blackness of outer space your blood runs cold when you consider the almost certain fate that awaits you. Out there are the creatures which will show no mercy towards your mortal life if by chance they should stumble upon your crippled Z7 Starblaster XXX Space Ship. Those Mutant Insectoid aliens from the far distant unknown galaxy Z have pursued you through countless battles, and now, battle-scarred and weary of the fight, you prepare to face the last and decisive encounter.
"At your fingertips, on the vast weapons console set before you, are the controls which operate your Space Lasers, Photon Cannon, and Insectoidcide Spray Guns. Yet your heart is filled with dread as the controls fail to respond to your efforts to rekindle a spark of life in the flight navigation and weapons system computer.
"Suddenly you remember that your tractor beam facility still functions. You wait until an alien comes into view so you can stop it in its quest to extinguish your own life force.
"Can you do it in time?... When a Mutant Insectoid flashes across the screen, press any key to stop it and check your reaction speed."
The game is just as puerile as before, but a little expanding of the truth makes it sound a whole lot more exciting, and a bit of imagination never hurt anyone.
How to relate boring program graphics to spectacular fanciful cassette copiers without the use of mind-bending drugs, will be the subject of a future lesson.