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Old 13 May 2008, 12:03   #1
Rebel-CD32
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Make your own games with Backbone: Reviewing a forgotten gem.

Here is a review I have written about Backbone, a wonderful, yet sadly abandoned piece of software that many people missed out on. So if you're interested, grab a cuppa, start downloading this package ( http://www.spin.net.au/~amiga/BackboneGames.lha )(example games made in Backbone), and read on!


Backbone Review

Have you ever wanted to design your own video games? I'm sure many of us, at some stage in our lives, wanted to give it a shot, but just didn't know where to begin. Sure, you could learn a programming language and code your own games, (which I fully encourage if you have the time) but a lot of us just don't have the time or patience to learn. In the past we've been treated with such programs as SEUCK and the various Adventure game creators, but there's never been much choice if you wanted to make fast-paced platform games or multi-directional overhead shooters. That was until a great little Shareware program called Backbone popped up on Aminet over ten years ago. Unfortunately it went largely unnoticed, which is a shame as with more support, the author would have continued development on the program, adding extra features and enhancements. However, despite the program being abandoned, it still works great, and is free to download on Aminet.

Now for the review. Backbone is an easy to use, Intuition friendly game creation program. It was coded by Alastair Murray. With it, you can design your own platform games and overhead shooters without any programming knowledge. All you need to make your own games are some graphics, sound and music, and a bit of creativity. You can design your own graphics in a paint program like Deluxe Paint, or download or rip graphics from thousands of other arcade or console games out there if you don't feel like pixelling them yourself. Backbone uses standard Amiga IFF files for graphics and sound effects, and can use any Protracker mod for the music.

The program unfortunately only makes use of the OCS/ECS chipset, so games can only use a maximum of 64 colours (in Extra Half-Bright mode), however the less colours you use, the faster the game will run. The same goes for the screen resolution, the smaller the faster. A faster CPU definitely helps speed games along, so owners of a 030 or higher should find their games run much smoother. Screen resolutions can be set from low-res PAL or NTSC up to high-res interlace.

Backbone allows you to create two different types of games using the one interface. Differences between platform and overhead games are obvious, one is side-scrolling and the other is viewed from above (Alien Breed/Chaos Engine style). You can choose for your game to contain weapons, or just use the traditional jump-on-their-head method to kill your enemies. Several different collectable items can be used in your games, including extra lives, health, points, and weapons. Weapons fire can be adjusted for intensity, duration and killing power. Two different types of enemies can be used; Chasing enemies and patroling enemies. Enemies can walk, jump, fall, fly, shoot, chase, stand still, or just walk around. When an enemy is killed, they can stay on screen, disappear, or turn into another object (for example, you can make it so when an enemy dies, a coin is left behind). Unfortunately this is the only way to gain points through killing enemies, as they don't add to your score just by killing them.

Using the level editor, you design the map for your game levels using a set of blocks. Blocks can be solid, platforms, ladders, dangerous (spikes/lava), destroyable or foreground. Destroyable blocks can only be destroyed with the Power Head powerup by jumping up and smashing them from below (like Mario). They can also be shot to be destroyed, but only in overhead shooter mode.

Platform games can have a plain static background or a simple copper gradient from a small selection of basic colours. Each level can have its own background music by selecting a Protracker mod. An interesting and useful feature in the level editor is the Event editor. From here, you can add events to areas of the map that can be accessed either automatically when the player passes them, or at the push of a button or key. Events include teleporting the player around the map (like to a hidden room or inside a building), it can change a block (removing a solid block at the flick of a switch to allow the player to progress), add objects, and play scenes.

Scenes can be added all throughout a game in Backbone. Scenes can be title screens, intro animations, menus, or cut scenes between levels. Each level can have its own "level complete" or "level failed" scenes. Scenes can contain still pictures, music or anims.

One great feature in Backbone is the ability to select different controls. This means you can make your game have the option to use a joystick, keyboard or control pad, utilising different directions, buttons or keys for each control method. Backbone has 2-button control as well as full 7-button CD32 controller support.

With so many options, it's never hard to shape the game you want to make. Sure, there are many limitations too, and had the program been better supported it would have had more options (such as collectable/limited ammo, money, score board, 2-player support...) it could have been even better, but it's still the best option for making these sorts of games on the Amiga without having to learn a programming language or one of the more limited commercial game creators.

If you've ever wanted to have another try at making a game, give Backbone a go. Games can be compiled and uploaded to Aminet or anywhere online for thousands of other Amiga users to enjoy. Download the program and the update, (and the tutorial packs as well if you want), find a keyfile, and get started on those new games today!


So, still with me? Hopefully by now, that package has finished downloading, and should be ready for you to extract to a directory on your Amiga's (or UAE PC's) hard drive. Inside you'll find a bunch of example games made by various people with Backbone. Four of the games (Tutorial, Micro Fighters, Reality, and Monkey) were made by Alastair Murray, the author of Backbone, as simple examples to show various features of Backbone. The rest of the games were made by other users, some of the games having several people working on various aspects of the game. One of the games (Halloween Nightmare) was made by my girlfriend and I, and is only a demo of a much larger game we're still working on. Another game (Tuesday) was made by me almost ten years ago, but was never finished and only has a couple of playable levels.

Thanks for reading, and I hope more people will give this program a go and make their own games.

Backbone can be downloaded here - http://aminet.net/package/dev/misc/Backbone_Full
Install this update once Backbone is installed - http://aminet.net/package/dev/misc/Backbone_Upd
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Old 13 May 2008, 14:55   #2
Zetr0
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@Reble CD32

Awesome Review, indeed a great low down, so much so i want to down load it and have a play... it looks like a great dev tool indeed, especially in the prototying area and proof of concept.

Indeed, i think i will look into this... and also we should all try and hunt down this Alastair Murray (whoms name sounds VERY familiar)
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Old 13 May 2008, 18:31   #3
Graham Humphrey
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Good work there Rebel. If we could somehow track the author down, maybe (just maybe) we could get him to release the source code and perhaps some bright spark could update it (i.e. fix the bugs, AGA support etc)...
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Old 13 May 2008, 20:20   #4
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It would be very interesting to contact with the author ,in fact I tried it recently time but its email doesn't exist no more.I have some requests not mentioned yet

Last edited by frikilokooo; 13 May 2008 at 20:29.
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Old 13 May 2008, 23:12   #5
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This little proggie has potential, and I was really, really, *REALLY* excited with creating something with the use of it, but the games from AmiNet I've seen had cut my wings... they're... just... sooo... ... ... slow... or is it my 030/50Mhz's fault?
Anyone managed to create a decent (close to: fast ) level/map/preview/demo/game?
I'd like to see how it goes on my specs to get the overall feeling and, maybe, who knows... start the creating process all over?
Can I only create levels with center-on-the-character screen scrolling (like, SuperFrog) or static non-scrolling-screens that change when you "enter" the right/left side (like, Dizzy games)?
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Old 13 May 2008, 23:29   #6
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AFAIK you can create no scroll games like Jet Set Willy.You can create conditions:

Eliminate all enemies to change screen like in Snow Bros
Reach the right or left edge to change screen like Jet Set Willy
...
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Old 13 May 2008, 23:44   #7
Rebel-CD32
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The games I have worked on have been on my A1200 030/50, so I try to get them running at a decent speed on that. It all depends on the amount of colours, the size and amount of sprites on screen, and the size of the screen you use. Reducing the size of the screen increases the speed quite a bit, but still, Backbone is still pretty slow, due to being partially coded in Amos I guess.

The platform games always have to be push-scroll or auto-scroll. There's no flip screen option, although you can simulate this effect by setting your levels up in separate screen-size sections and placing a teleport event at each side of the screen, then making the player teleport to the start of the next screen. Just make sure all your rooms are above each other in the map editor or they will scroll sideways as you walk through them.

You can also make over-head viewed games like Chaos Engine and Alien Breed, although you have to be at the edge of the screen to push-scroll it, which means you hardly see the enemies coming.

If you download the package I've uploaded, you'll find a couple of games that weren't available on Aminet, as well as the standard example ones.

If anyone can hunt down Alastair Murray, I'd be happy to still pay for registration, but it would be even better if we can get the source code and continue development on the program.

Another thing I should have mentioned before, Backbone is great for making fan-games. Simply download a sprite and tile set from your favourite games (there are heaps of sites online with game graphic rips), remap them if need be, and load them into Backbone. Years ago, using AmiMasterGear to rip the sprites, I made a quick Sonic the Hedgehog game, just to see if it would work. The downside was the attack method, he couldn't spin around and kill enemies from any angle, only if he jumped on their heads. But it was still fun and simple to make. Other games, like Mario or Metal Slug might be easier to remake.
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Old 13 May 2008, 23:58   #8
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Thanks guys. Damn, my enthusiasm is returning, but still, the speed is what worries me the most...
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Old 14 May 2008, 16:41   #9
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Hi Rebel, Good stuff mate!
Most impressive indeed.

-----

Graham, et al.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Graham Humphrey View Post
. If we could somehow track the author down, maybe (just maybe) we could get him to release the source code and perhaps some bright spark could update it (i.e. fix the bugs, AGA support etc)...
Most of the code in the executable looks like AMOS stuff to me.

Not being that familiar with AMOS, I'm not sure if the non-standard loader that the "backbone" executable uses is created by AMOS, or whether it has been crunched/ciphered by something else.
The XFD programs don't see any recognisable crunch signatures.

(might add, made it a bugger to crack )

Source for AMOS, including the compiler is available from:
http://www.clickteam.com/eng/downloadcenter.php?i=58

If all else fails, we could always reverse engineer all/part of it to modify/add modules, or at least make it AGA compatible.

Non-trivial excercise, but would be fun!

Cheers,
Red
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Old 14 May 2008, 16:54   #10
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Could there be a walk through tutorial on createing a game?
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Old 15 May 2008, 02:27   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RedskullDC View Post
Most of the code in the executable looks like AMOS stuff to me.
Definitely entirely AMOS. Not only are there large chunks of AMOS sourcecode left in the main executable (what's that all about?), all of the data files have the typical AMOS 4-byte headers ("AmBk", "AmSp", etc). Plus there's this embedded in the game executables themselves:

Quote:
AMOSPro_EditorAMOSPro_Editor_Config
BB_Res.Bnk4AMOSPro_Productivity1:Equates/AMOSPro_System_EquatesAMOSPro_MonitorAMOSPro_Monitor_Resource.Abk-AMOSPro_Accessories:AMOSPro_Help/AMOSPro_Help+AMOSPro_Accessories:AMOSPro_Help/LatestNews
Bit of a giveaway, that.
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Old 15 May 2008, 06:38   #12
Rebel-CD32
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I remember reading years ago that while Backbone was coded in Amos Pro originally, but the author either started to re-code parts of it or add non-Amos code, if that's possible. I've heard that ASM code can be added to Blitz games, perhaps the same can be done with Amos Pro? I don't really know the first thing about coding, sorry.

I do have a feeling that reverse engineering Backbone may be more of a headache than coding a new game maker from scratch, and using a more powerful language to start with, having AGA support from the start.

As for a tutorial, I'm pretty sure one is provided with the Backbone package, however if I have some free time this weekend, I might see what I can do.
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