Thanks to Dave Moore at Retro Software, I received a very exciting package in the post last week:
If you want to get hold of your own copy of Repton: The Lost Realms, it is available here.
The visitors to the show had the poster I designed inflicted on them as they were queuing to get in:
The Retro Software team were ready and waiting to sell millions of copies:
Needless to say, the game completely sold out. And no wonder, the finished article looked gorgeous – in spite of the fact that I did all the artwork:
We were honoured that Repton took time out from running his HSE-free diamond mining conglomerate to attend in person:
The Beeb performed masterfully:
And so did its half brother by the milkman, the Acorn Electron:
Contributing to a real Repton release was a childhood ambition of mine – and one that, somehow, I’ve now managed to fulfil.
Paras Sidapara, Tom Walker, Michael S. Repton, Jonathan Parkin, Richard Barnard, Dave Moore, Peter Edwards, Andrew Weston, Richard Hanson, Matthew Atkinson, John Chesney and of course the durian munching genius polymath that is Tim Tyler all put a huge amount of work but most of all love into Repton: The Lost Realms and I think that really shows.
I’m really honoured I got to be a part of the team.
If you’ve been here before, you’ll probably already know that this year is Repton‘s 25th anniversary. And, as part of the celebrations, Retro Software is releasing Repton: The Lost Realms for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron.
I’ve already blogged about creating the cover artwork and the loading screen for the game. However today is the 6th November and Repton: The Lost Realms is being officially launched at R3PLAY in Blackpool. That means I can at last talk about creating the graphics for the game itself.
I was first approached by Dave Moore about contributing to Repton: The Lost Realms in mid 2008. Peter Edwards had just recovered a load of my old Repton 3 and Repton Infinity screens from some of my 5.25″ floppies and the graphics in them had impressed Peter and Dave enough for them to ask if I would be interested in creating some screens and graphics for Repton: The Lost Realms.
Like Repton 3 before it, Repton: The Lost Realms is a game that allows you to not only edit its levels, but also redefine its graphics. That means that it’s possible to provide a selection of different screens and graphics for players to load into the game.
At this stage, the Repton: The Lost Realms came with only one set of screens. As you can see above, it used the Repton 3 graphics with a few additional graphics for the game’s new elements designed by the game’s original programmer Paras Sidapara.
As there were to be four sets of six screens included in the game, my first idea was to theme each set of graphics around the existing Repton releases. In other words, have a Repton 1 set…
…a Repton 2 set…
…a Repton 3 set…
…and a new set for the final set of screens.
I quickly hacked about and transferred the graphics from these games into Repton: The Lost Realms. At this stage I was designing new characters in the Repton Infinity graphics editor (Film Strip) and then transferring them over to Repton: The Lost Realms by transferring blocks of data between files using the BBC BASIC command line.
The reason why I preferred Film Strip was that it was designed for use with a keyboard. I didn’t have a real BBC Micro to use so I was using these programs via the excellent emulator BeebEm. In fact, as at that stage there wasn’t a native GNU/Linux emulator for the BBC Micro at the time, I was using BeebEm via WINE.
The Repton 3 and Repton: The Lost Realms editors had adopted the then very fashionable WIMP paradigm. However, using a WIMP interface with a keyboard is very hard going and I found the AMX Mouse option tricky to get working in BeebEm. That meant I couldn’t use these editors with my mouse.
Another problem I had with Repton: The Lost Realms’ editor was the awful yellow and black colour scheme used for the editor’s pointer. It was probably the worst colour scheme you could have picked if you want to design graphics precisely – the outline of the pointer gets lost against black, but most of the graphics have black backgrounds or outlines!
After I had designed Repton 1 and Repton 2 themed graphics it soon became obvious that this approach would not work. There were various new elements in Repton: The Lost Realms that were not present in previous Repton games. I wanted to redesign these in each set to match the style of previous Repton releases. However Dave wanted to keep the new game elements that Paras had designed looking the way Paras had designed them. However this would have looked out of place, particularly in Repton 1 which is quite abstract and geometrical in design.
Therefore, after talking it over with Dave and Paras we decided it would be best if I design four completely new sets of graphics for the game, bearing in mind the need to keep the original design of Paras’ new game elements in each set. We would also only vary the game characters that varied in the sets of screens supplied with Repton 3: namely the walls, eggs, monsters and crowns.
I had a few ideas for the graphics having got used to playing the game. I didn’t think that the inverted cage colour scheme for the anti-clockwise spirits worked at all. I needed to find a way to make these cages look a little less incongruous. I wanted to make the graphics look 1988-ish – so I used the style of later BBC games like Richochet and Star Port as inspiration. And I wanted to use stippled colours as much as possible to make the apparent colour palette seem more than the four colours that the game was limited to.
I designed the set of graphics for the final set of levels (PRESTO) first. My inspiration for these were the full-page adverts for Repton 2 and Repton 3 that Superior Software used to run in Acorn magazines at the time. In particular, I wanted to design a set with light mortar between distressed bricks. I’m very proud of this set and I think it’s actually my favourite.
I got a bit carried away, and I also redesigned Repton to look like he did in Superior’s adverts – this was very quickly and firmly rejected, and rightly so!
I had one set down, three more in front of me and even using FilmStrip on a BBC Micro emulator seemed like very hard going. I really wanted to use The GIMP to design the graphics and suddenly it dawned on me that I could.
I could design the graphics in The GIMP and then transfer them to the BBC Micro emulator using the BBC Micro Image Convertor by Francis G Loch. This is an application written in PureBasic that takes image files (bmp, jpg, etc.) and downconverts them into the native screen display formats of the BBC Micro.
The process has a few stages. First I design all the graphics as separate files in The GIMP:
Then I use the GIMP to slice them up and put them in rows:
And finally I convert the graphic into BBC Micro format using the BBC Micro Image Convertor:
So, I fired up The GIMP and the next set I designed was for the LARGO set. This is the default set that loads when the game or editor loads, and the levels in this set were the original six levels designed by Paras Sidapara back in 1988.
Because I knew Paras was a huge fan of the game Exile, I decided to base the design of the walls on the walls found in Exile. This set looked very nice and thanks to The GIMP I was able to design them very quickly.
The third set I designed was a set for the ADAGIO screens. This set was a kind of cross between the walls found in Exile and the walls found in Repton 2 (my favourite Repton release). It didn’t work as well as I would have liked and I wish I’d done something a bit different.
The final set I designed was the ALLEGRO set. It was loosely based on the graphics for the game XOR, which my children were madly into playing at the time. This set has been described as looking “juicy”, whatever that means! Dave Moore accused me of taking a little more care over these graphics than some of the others because I knew I was designing all six levels to go with them. How very dare he!
The work on the graphics Repton: The Lost Realms was very straightforward. I did very little rework once we decided on what we were doing and there were only two real debates about the game characters. The first concerned earth, the second concerned fungus.
As far as the earth is concerned, I wanted to experiment with some dense Ravenskull style earth, whereas Dave Moore preferred the very sparse earth used in the Toccata level set of Repton 3. Dave got his way on that one!
The fungus debate concerned my preference for fungus that looked like a toadstool rather than the amorphous mould that was presented in Repton 3. In the end, I redesigned the fungus to look slimy rather than mouldy but it’s probably the graphic I am least happy with.
We also had a discussion about the “freeze pill”. This was a green pill that froze monsters temporarily. What with absorbalene pills and time pills I thought Repton’s drug habit had gone far enough.
I wanted to replace it with a Citadel style snowflake. Everyone agreed, and that also involved making changes to the editor and game map graphics which I did by hacking the code about. But, although my snowflake was a good idea, I think the graphic I designed was horrible.
Once I’d designed all four sets, I thought that that was that – only it wasn’t. By this stage Tom Walker (someone for whom the word genius seems utterly inadequate) had joined the project, and had started work coding an Acorn Electron version.
The Acorn Electron is cruelly afflicted in many ways, but one of the worst is that it has no hardware scrolling. That is terrible news for a game like Repton which relies on scrolling. Acorn Electron scrolling has to be done in software, which eats up the memory available for the game – and its graphics. The graphics in Acorn Electron Repton: The Lost Realms are 12 x 24 instead of 16 x 32 for the BBC Micro version.
This meant I had to create cut down versions of all of the games’ graphics for the Acorn Electron version, and doing this took as long as it took to create the original graphics. In fact, I put in so much effort I actually prefer some of the Acorn Electron graphics.
Probably the most interesting thing about doing this was the lack of an Acorn Electron editor – or indeed an Acorn Electron version of the game itself! I had actually finished the graphics and put them in game files before Tom had finished coding the Acorn Electron version of the game.
It was quite some time after I had finished the graphics that I was actually able to play with the graphics in the game itself via Tom’s excellent Acorn Electron emulator Elkulator.
Keen eyed Repton fans will notice that Acorn Electron Repton: The Lost Realms reintroduces Tim Tyler‘s Repton sprite from Repton 2. I think this has much more personality than the one used in Repton 3.
I knew that there was a keen interest in the Repton: The Lost Realms from Acorn Electron enthusiasts so I put an enormous amount of effort in the graphics for the Electron version – I just hope they like them!
And finally – a word about the design of the crowns. I spent many years living in my wife’s home-town of Mélykút, the birthplace and home of the legendary restorer Szvetnik Joachim. He was famous for supervising the return of the Holy Crown of Hungary from the USA in 1977. I went to his workshop in Mélykút to translate for some tourists from New York State, and enjoyed my visit so much I decided to make the crown in ALLEGRO look like the Holy Crown.
The other crowns in Repton: The Lost Realms are also based upon real crowns – I wonder if you can work out which ones?
For over ten years now, one of my favourite web-sites has been “The Stairway To Hell“. This web-site has been an invaluable resource to anyone who ever had a BBC Microcomputer or Acorn Electron in their youth. As well as being a fascinating site in its own right, it was also bolstered by a lively and interesting forum.
At the end of March this year Dave Moore, the web-master, decided it was time for a change. His initial plan was to replace the site with a new one – BBCMicro.com – that would be less focused on gaming.
He asked if I could provide an image to close the site down, and thought something similar to the kind of screen you got when you completed one of the Repton games might be nice.
I loaded the BBC Micro version Repton 1 into the screen memory in B-Em so I could cut and paste from the Repton1/2 font:
Now I used the letters from the Repton 1 screen to edit the Repton 2 screen in The GIMP to say what Dave wanted:
However, this didn’t really look “retro” enough. The look I was going for was BBC B on badly tuned domestic telly with some interference.
So I ran this image through my own simulated PAL filter which I wrote in Python for The GIMP. Then I used some VHS noise that I extracted from a old recording of ATV Today using Grain Extract and then added it to the image using Grain Merge. I also added a Lens Distortion in The GIMP and desaturated the colours slightly.
I was delighted to find out that some people thought the image was actually a real screenshot.
A few months after this picture went up, Dave shelved his plans for BBCMicro.com. His work with the CGEU with organising shows such as R3PLAY and Acorn World meant that he no longer had the time to devote to creating a new site.
However, this wasn’t the end, as Peter Edwards stepped in to carry on the good work with a new site called stardot.org.uk. He asked me to amend my image accordingly:
Sadly I didn’t do such a good job on this image as I was in a hurry – it’s a bit dark. But the most important thing is that the on-line Acorn community is thriving and stardot.org.uk looks destined for great things.
Normally I use this blog to drone on about my own claptrap. However, today I’d like to use it to have a look at a friend’s.
To be more precise, a computer puzzle game called Claptraps, written by “testpilotmonkey“. It’s one of the most joyfully bonkers and imaginative games I’ve ever played – the sort of thing Oliver Postgate would have come up with if he’d have been given a book about scripting languages.
The game itself was written in the language Python with the help of the wonderful PyGame SDL library. If you’ve ever want to write a computer game for GNU/Linux, Windows, or Mac OS this combination is the place to start and indeed Claptraps will work beautifully on all three of these platforms and doubtless several more besides.
I think this game is really rather special for lots of reasons:
- it is released under the Free Software Foundation‘s General Public Licence or GPL. That in itself is a marvellous and selfless thing to do, particularly when you consider how much hard work has gone into the game.
- the quality of the music testpilotmonkey has composed to include in the game – I really enjoy listening to it.
- the graphics, which have a wonderful cut-out animation feel
- and, most of all, the standard of the puzzles. The game design is incredibly clever and the puzzles are fiendish but solvable with thought. That makes it one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played.
I could talk about the game at length here, but why not download it yourself from testpilotmonkey’s blog?
The game has come on in leaps and bounds since this video was made of an early demo version, but it’s worth a look:
The gameplay is loosely inspired by the games in the Repton Infinity suite with dashes of Bonecruncher and XOR. However it has a personality all of its own, something which you don’t get in modern games written by huge teams.
I’m hoping to do some work of my own on Claptraps if I get the chance over the coming weeks – in true GPL spirit I’ve been studying and modifying bits and bobs already which I hope to start sharing soon. The code is very, very clearly written and I’m looking forward to having a proper dabble with it enormously.
NB: As the game is still a work in progress, GNU/Linux users may find they need to append two lines to ClapTraps.py:
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
Also, don’t forget to right click on the Claptraps.py in the file browser, and go to Properties ➔ Permissions and check the Execute check box to Allow Executing File as Program. You’ll also need to make sure you have the pygame package installed on your computer – but if you’ve installed GNU/Linux in the first place I’m sure you can manage this.
Windows users can just click on the .exe. I know nothing at all about Apples apart from the fact that Granny Smiths are my favourite and my mother’s bramley crumble with custard is delicious.
A couple of days ago I rather glibly said that the PC versions of the computer game Repton ran fine with WINE on the GNU/Linux operating system. That’s not quite true, so I thought I’d take a closer look at running Superior Interactive‘s PC versions of Repton 1, Repton 2 and Repton 3 on GNU/Linux.
I have two computers here. They both run the GNU/Linux operating system with the GNOME desktop and have WINE installed. In case you didn’t know, WINE is the little bit of free software magic that lets you run programs written for Microsoft Windows on GNU/Linux, Mac OS, FreeBSD and Solaris. My wife’s computer runs the Fedora 12 distribution (or distro) of GNU/Linux and the free nouveau graphics driver. I’ve installed version 1.1.32 of Wine on my wife’s computer. My computer currently runs Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) distro of GNU/Linux with the non-free nVidia driver. It has version 1.1.35 of WINE installed.
WINE 1.1.32 is the version currently available for popular distros such as Ubuntu or Fedora, and will therefore be the version most users are running. WINE 1.1.35 is the very latest version, and instructions on how to obtain it are available here.
The PC Repton games can be run “full screen” or in “windowed” mode, in a window on your desktop. You can toggle between these modes by pressing F10.
On WINE 1.1.32 the game will not run properly in “full screen” mode. It will run in “windowed” mode but suffers from a couple of issues. The first is masking – the masking of sprites and the pointer does not work at all.
The second issue is digits missing from the screen selector boxes on the main menu screen.
On WINE 1.1.35 Repton 1 runs perfectly in “windowed” mode so if you have WINE 1.1.35 or above I can recommend Repton 1 to anyone running GNU/Linux provided you’re happy to have the game running in a window.
It also runs reasonably well in “full screen” mode. The sprites are stretched, as no compensation is made for the aspect ratio of my widescreen monitor when making the display full screen. The game also suffers from the masking problems that affected Repton in “windowed” mode on WINE 1.1.32. But it does not suffer from the missing digits on the screen selector boxes that affected WINE 1.1.32.
Apart from the masking issue and the stretched sprites the game plays very well “full screen”.
The Repton 1 level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.
On WINE 1.1.32 the game will not run properly in “full screen” mode. It will run in “windowed” mode but suffers from the same masking issue as Repton 1.
On WINE 1.1.35 Repton 2 runs perfectly in “windowed” mode so, again, if you have WINE 1.1.35 or above I can recommend Repton 2 to anyone running GNU/Linux provided you’re happy to have the game running in a window.
It also runs reasonably well in “full screen” mode. The sprites are stretched, as again no compensation is made for the aspect ratio of my widescreen monitor when making the display full screen. The game also suffers from the masking problems that affected Repton 1 in “windowed” mode on WINE 1.1.32.
However, unlike Repton 1, it crashes messily on exiting the program having been in full screen mode.
The level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.
The issues with Repton 3 are identical for both versions of WINE.
The game will not at all in “full screen” mode – in fact, selecting it will cause the game to crash messily. It leaves the screen at low resolution as it crashes so you have to either log out and in again.
It will run in “windowed” mode, with issues. The first is that selecting “Run game in high priority mode” will cause the game to crash, and you need to reinstall the game before you can use it again.
The second is selecting the map. If you try and select the map the game will crash. So, Repton 3 will run (and run very well) in Windowed mode provided you don’t try and look at the maps.
The level and sprite editor works with no issues on both versions of WINE.
So there you have it. Other than no full screen mode Repton 1 and 2 work well on the latest version of WINE. Repton 3 has a serious fault (the lack of maps) and more minor niggles (no full screen mode, and the crasher upon selecting High Priority mode) but other than that is perfectly playable.
If you have tried to run one of these games with WINE I’d be interested to hear how you got on.
Recently I had another nice surprise – Michael S. Repton has uploaded a play-through of ROVERS, the Coronation Street theme I created for the BBC Micro version Superior‘s Repton 3 in the late 1980s, to his YouTube channel.
I’ve already described the “Rovers” Repton set here, but as always it’s fascinating to watch a player as good as Michael tackle my levels.
I’ve just turned 38, which means I’ve been a keen Repton fan for 24 years. It seems incredible, but next year is Repton’s Silver Jubilee.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, if you look through the Blog Archive you’ll see I’ve talked about the computer game Repton several times: both the cover art and graphics I’ve done recently for Retro Software and also some of the screens and graphics I designed on my BBC Micro back in the 80s.
This time of year – Christmas and my birthday – always makes me think of Repton. Waiting for Christmas 1986 was almost unbearable as it was then I was going to get a copy of the latest Repton release, Repton 3. I didn’t have a disc drive at the time, so my copy of Repton 3 would be on cassette tape for the BBC Micro.
The excitement was because, for the first time ever, I was going to be able to design my own levels and graphics for the game and I couldn’t wait. I only had a couple of C15 cassette tapes to store my levels at first, and I as I designed levels and graphics I’d save over my previous work again and again. And sometimes a quirk of the cassette recorder volume or tone control meant that the file wouldn’t save properly. I dread to think of the number of levels and character designs I lost.
However, one of the very first levels I designed that Christmas I was so pleased with it just seemed to hang around and hang around and I still have it to this day. The password for the level is “TIMOTHY” – named after my pet goat at the time and it was always screen G (for Goat).
I actually could only complete this level with great difficulty for many years – I used to be happy if only I died twice when completing it.
Eventually, using information I’d gleaned in a Hac-Man article in The Micro User I culled all the easy levels I’d created on various tapes and 5.25″ floppies into one set – Set1.
Set1 also featured a customised set of graphics. I was very disappointed with the graphics in Repton 3. This was because they didn’t look like the abandoned diamond mine on the cover art. They were all clean and clinical and didn’t have much character. So I sat in front of Repton 2 with coloured pencils and recorded every sprite faithfully on graph paper.
Then I entered all the character designs into the Repton 3 editor – a process that took a very long time and was rather difficult on a fuzzy Microvitec CUB CRT monitor.
Recently I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the Repton level play throughs posted onto YouTube by SentinelProxima, ReptonGeek and TestPilotMonkey. SentinelProxima is the YouTube channel name of Michael S. Repton, undoubtedly the world’s best Repton player.
I was curious to see how Michael would tackle Screen G, as I take an age to complete the level even now. Michael very kindly produced a long playthrough of all the screens.
The first four levels are completed here:
And the second four levels are completed here:
It was incredible to watch Michael complete my levels – all far more elegantly and with greater efficiency than I could ever manage. As I’ve said before, the effect of watching someone so good play Repton is as compulsive as watching a 147 break in snooker. It really was a pleasure to watch, and it was a truly fantastic birthday present.
Lovingly prepared new versions of Repton 1, Repton 2, Repton 3 and Repton Spectacular are available to buy for the Microsoft Windows operating system from Superior Interactive. And, for those lucky enough to use the GNU/Linux operating system, you’ll be pleased to hear all three games work reasonably well with WINE.
You can download my levels for Repton 3 for the PC version of Repton 3 from here.
When I was writing my blog post about doing the cover art for Repton: The Lost Realms, I wanted to refer to the font used for the “REPTON” namestyle.
Worringly my mind went a complete blank and I couldn’t remember the name of the face! My cheap supermarket CD-ROM version of it is called “Devendra”, which I could remember, but I couldn’t remember the typeface’s original name.
As usual, when I’m doing something else completely different there’s an article with information about the typeface and its the designer right in front of me – it’s called “Baby Teeth”, and it was designed by the American graphic designer Milton Glaser in 1968. Apparently the design is based on a hand painted sign he saw on a trip to Mexico.
The version I did for the Repton: The Lost Realms cover was traced from the advertisement for the original Repton game in Inkscape:
It is modified from the original font and I think it’s very pleasingly proportioned.