The article below is reproduced from ZEBWEB.doc which accompanied an official demo of Zeb dated August 1996. Thanks to the Jess Bowers Archive and the Click Cafe Archive for helping to preserve this document.
Zeb - The story behind the game!
The following pages contain information published nowhere else on this planet about the great game Zeb created in The Games Factory, the brilliant new games creator from Europress. It took an artist and a programmer just a week of work to produce this game. Have a play of just one level and those of you who have tried to create games by crunching code will be amazed at the results achieved in such a short space of time!
What is it?
Zeb is a fast, 320x200 scrolling, platform shoot-em-up. You control Zeb, and guide him through 8 levels (in the full version) to a dramatic confrontation, avoiding poisonous pools of liquid, anti-personnel mines and a host of aggregious dudes armed with Tasers, Bazookas and various guns, all out to cut short Zeb’s tenuous grip on life. Only you can help him!
Nobody wanted a name that sounded contrived, so Nolan decided to call it after his cat, who was in turn named after his great-grandfather Zebulan! It was exactly what they were after, short and snappy. At first the game was called Zeb, but it seemed to suit the main character perfectly, not least because of the cat-like way he clings to the edge of cliffs! Once this was established, it characterised the rest of the game and the way the graphics were drawn.
We wanted to show off the capabilities of The Games Factory in making fast, smooth shoot-em-ups. Platformers seem to be in vogue at the moment, (when aren’t they?) so a platform shoot-em-up was deemed to be the way to go. Nolan and Lee were given a gentle push to start making a game (not so much ‘push’ as ‘release’, actually).
They were heavily inspired by the games ‘Rayman’ and ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ which have been known to grace the screens of their machines of a lunch-time or evening, even.
To start with, Nolan sketched his ideas down on paper, they both worked on ideas for level situations. There isn’t supposed to be any real storyline, just a dude running amok shooting things and hanging around. Lee then worked on the advanced techniques for the platform characters using Nolan’s scratch-drawn graphics.
Once they had the basics sorted and a size determined for the game, Nolan started drawing all the different animations, starting with walking, then moving on from there.
They found that as they progressed more and more ideas were thrown into the melting pot, like hanging from ledges, teetering on the edge of cliffs. It has to be said, though, that the idea for having Zeb blown into tiny man-pieces including bits of head and eye, lies entirely at Nolan’s door.
The rapid playability of the game is Lee’s efforts combined with superlative software, The Games Factory, of course!
Lee Bamber, ace programmer at Europress Software and part of The Games Factory team, heavily involved in the creation of The Games Factory (amongst many other projects). His partner in crime was Nolan Worthington, self confessed poseur extraordinaire and top graphic artist, also working on The Games Factory (also amongst many other things) at Europress.
The ideas came from Nolans cat and its usual, fairly odd cat / human behaviour, and from the platform game ‘Rayman’. Hours playing Duke Nukem and blowing things into component form, plus the obligatory alcohol and late nights undoubtedly helped distort otherwise healthy minds into such a state as to be able to create some of the more ‘biological’ animation sequences.
From start to finish it took about a month and a half.
Bear in mind, though, that Zeb was something to be done when there was a spare moment in between doing several other projects at work.
In terms of time spent working only on Zeb, it took about a weeks solid work. Sounds a lot, but the consensus among our experienced C programmers is that it would take them about month and a half of solid work to do it in C. That’s assuming that you were an expert C programmer already, of course!
The Games factory will allow you to create similar games with no programming knowledge in a fraction of the time. C programmers look out!
Techniques used (Written by Lee Bamber)
The standard, quantity and quality of the graphics in Zeb presents the game very well and some may argue graphics alone can make or break a game. Zeb, however, uses many techniques to achieve good playability. Something you will learn beats at the heart of every good game.
The very first thing created in Zeb was Zeb himself. This, as you might expect, came in handy for the rest of the game. Zeb needed to know about gravity, walls, ledges, roofing and any other obstacle it may encounter on the way through a diverse level. The most ambitious feature of Zeb’s environment was the slopes forming the majority of the ground, on which Zeb had to run perfectly over. At the very least, this required 3 sets of animations; Zeb on flat ground, Zeb on an incline and Zeb on a decline. Multiply this rule to apply to all Zeb’s animations and you have quite a task on your hands. So when you see Zeb run, shoot, land and stand, take note to appreciate the slope logic.
Because Zeb had so many animations, and there where many ways for Zeb to meet his end, a second active object was used to store all the death animations, and at the point of death. Zeb was made invisible and a fraction of a second later, the dead-zeb object was made visible at the same location. This technique allows you to trick the user into thinking an object has many animations when in fact they are quite separate active objects.
The scrolling logic is also worth mentioning in the archive of Zeb tricks. Rather than setting the scroll position of the screen to exactly where Zeb was standing, a much more in-depth technique was used. If the scroll was immediate, the screen would bounce around very fast as Zeb jumped up or fell to ground. Instructing another, invisible object to follow Zeb slowly around and have the screen centre on that object. This gives the familiar effect of a person, shifting their gaze to follow Zeb and produces a much smoother feel. Allow this object to speed up and slow down and the scroll is improved even more. The fact that this effect goes unnoticed by the player is a good sign, for direct scrolling would have the player distracted and attention would be focused on the speed of the scroll.
Artificial intelligence, the vast majority of times, is as false as the name is misleading. Game enemies tend to follow very narrow lanes of behaviour. Either erratically random, or perfectly replicated routines.
Invisible active objects stretch across the area an enemy can see. If both the enemy and Zeb overlap this area, the enemy will find on which side Zeb is located and begin to fire. A simple logic. To add a touch of personality, the enemies are drawn differently, given different guns, and some stop and look around when a random condition triggers them to do so. At the end of the day, as long as the balance of difficulty is maintained, the playability is not effected by simplistic enemies. As long as there are plenty of them to shoot, the technique of simple intelligence will save you a lot of time and aggravation in the long run.
And of course, the list of techniques large and small go on. The very best way to achieve Zeb standard games is first to question how it was done, and proceed to answer the questions that follow. With time, a touch of creativity and The Games Factory, you’ll soon have a collection of techniques of your very own.
Graphics packages used.
Nolan used ‘Deluxe-paint 3 Enhanced’ for the animation frames. The frames were then put together and animated in Autodesk animator. Lee used only The Games Factory, importing animation frames from Nolan.
For the sound effects samples were taken from a generic cartoon sound effects CD.
Lots more levels, lots more baddies.
In the final version of Zeb there are 7 more levels, 3 more in The Funky Jungle and 4 in The Atomic Zone. You can pit your wits against another 3 different types of bad guy, not to mention the obligatory end of game guardian.
Click & Create owners take note!
If you already possess Corels Click & Create, then you can load in Zeb and ‘take it to bits’, have a look around at how the mechanics of the game work. You’ll be able to see how once the basic structure of the game was created that most of the Events and Actions were simply cut and pasted into all the different levels, leaving the real creativity to thinking of new ideas for levels and bad guys.
To download the one level of the fabulous game Zeb, click here...
"Zeb is a freedom fighter on the road to excitement and adventure! Unfortunately, there are some nasty folk in his way. Guide him through deep, dark jungles...and through a technophobes worst nightmare, the Atomic Zone! There are all the usual power-ups and ammunition extras to help him on his way.
We are sure that you will enjoy playing the games as much as we did, and remember that you can have a tour around the workings of them if you purchase The Games Factory.
Look out for Zeb - the story behind the man - coming to the Europress web site shortly!"