COMPETITION ENTRY #50: DOGSPAWN
"Not sure what I'm playing at here. Some old that was never going to become good. The score should reset on restart, but doesn't for some reason. Short of fixing that there's nothing I can do. We'll get you over 60!"
- Dave Hughes
Twinkle Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you were thinking.
I've been concerned about Dave going a bit mad recently. Maybe it's the stress of having to get the latest WOOT! ready in time for a Christmas that, for the same reason as last year, might not happen.
At least, despite Dave's pre-emptive apologies, this game has been sent with the specific intention of helping to break a further barrier: the first ever CSSCGC in 1996 had 60 entries, and it's been a tricky barrier to overcome since then - only six competitions have ever had that many or more. I might have been further concerned that it had been bashed out in two minutes just for the sake of making a new entry. So what do we have?
Other than its loading screen - joy of all joys, it's the first one of those I've had since Herman Tissies 1D Golf at the end of September - and the excessive use of cyan, it looks like a 1982-83 type-in; so far, so acceptable. But something's amiss. The title screen, accompanied by the same kind of chromatic BEEP scale that was so common in Spectrum type-ins of the time gives us the instructions... in haphazard English that isn't Dave's usual style.
Press any key to start, and the game itself is written in 5.1K of machine code. That's more like the Dave I know. The instructions didn't make much sense on reading them, but playing the game, it all falls into place. You control a frog and a fish, one at a time, defaulting to the frog. You don't have a lot of control over the frog - it'll move automatically, dropping a trail of spawn-dots. You must rotate it with O and P to prevent it crashing into the spawn trail or getting stuck between the trail and a brick wall. If the frog hits the wall and there's a way out, it'll automatically turn and take it, but if not, it's game over - so keep an eye on where it's going. To actually increase your score - the maximum of which on the scoreboard is a wildly optimistic 99,999,999 - press SPACE and switch to the fish. Move the fish around with Q/A/O/P and eat the spawn for... puntos? Er... Dave? No hablo español, and I don't think you do either.
The game looks quite easy to begin with - switch to the fish, start munching the spawn-dots, Pac-Man style, no trouble - but, as the dodgy instructions told us, "blocks of rak" are continuously deposited on the playing area. "Rak" means the same brick-wall UDGs that surround the playing area. These might drop on top of the trail and you'll have to go round them to carry on eating spawn, or they might drop in front of the frog, which means it will take a sudden turn and might be on an immediate collision course with the trail. And at this point, given that I'm no good at multi-tasking (see my attempts to play Battle From Below by myself on the RZX page), it'll be game over before I know it.
I would really like to know how well I'm doing, but as Dave has already pointed out, the score doesn't reset at the end of each game. This is probably a quick fix - if I know where to look - but with 5.1K of machine code to disassemble and then pore over for long enough to understand it, it's not something I can do in the timeframe in which I have to write this review.
As has been the case with similarly finnicky games, I can't blame my uncoordinated fingers on the programmer. Had this been a type-in circa 1983, it'd have been up there near the Program Of The Month! awards (though not quite reaching those heights), even though trying to type in 5,248 bytes of machine code and UDGs held in seemingly-endless DATA statements, on a rubber-key Spectrum, without making a mistake, would test the patience of even the most dedicated programmer.
It's a three-and-three, this game - an outright three masks for attainment as it's one I'd enjoy playing more than typing in, back in the day. And while it would only be two Ricks for effort, I had to give it a third for the welcome return of a loading screen. (Yes, I know, I've had a lot of ZX81 entries recently, and I won't complain about that). It needs a fix, though - there has to be a way of finding a POKE that'll reset the score, or it may need an extra line of code inserting. I have a sense of cold dread that, even though Dave knows his way around Z80 assembler, this is compiled BASIC and could be the most tangled web of code since Shelob, Ariadne and the spiders from Minecraft took up programming. I'll put an edit at the end of the review if there's a fix.
EDIT (13 December 2021): since the highly undesirable events of the day I'm making this edit, restrospectively, this is now the 50th entry that has secured the release of the Bullseye Bonus Game - three days after I'd originally intended the competition to close. It's a good job I allowed that extension, isn't it?