Why was Salamander (c64) missing levels?

I had a question posted through GTW the other day from a chap called Bruce who wanted to know what happened to the missing levels from the C64 conversion of Salamander. The conversion itself was superb, but it was missing a number of levels overall – which posed the question from Bruce to find out what happened to them.

Salamander screenshot

Luckily I have been in the past in touch with the converter himself, Pete Baron, who helped us the other year to resurrect his “Devious Designs” project on the C64, and now the up and coming “Starglider 2“. So I fired the question off to him, and a few hours later we had the reason why. As its always interesting to hear stories behind some of the games we grew up with, I thought i’d share it here…

The original plan was to convert the entire game, however after I fed £10 into a Salamander machine in a horrible cafe opposite Kings X Station in London, I realised that it was going to be a really big job. I made a ton of notes (which earned me some funny looks from the paying customers and staff…) and went home to write up a schedule.

Turned out that the time allocated for the game wasn’t going to be enough to do the whole six levels, so I picked what I thought were the four most interesting levels and put a big warning at the start of the job estimate saying (in effect) “if you want the other levels, I need another four weeks”. The company (Nemesis at that point) decided they didn’t care and told me to go ahead with it as scheduled.

So there we have it… Had Pete been given more time on the conversion project as a whole, then we could have potentially (well, no doubt actually) had a more awesome and complete conversion to savour. You can just see from the love and craft put into the conversion that Pete and Bob were more than capable of doing just that.

Pete also gave an interesting side-note about the game’s development which is a testament to the skill of the team…

Slightly interesting side-note: the big brain at the end of level one was considered technically impossible by at least 3 other programmers before the job was offered to me. It’s 4 sprites wide, 3 sprites high (so a plexer was needed to even draw the brain) and it has a 6 (or is it 8?) segment arm and claw which can project horizontally in front of it, plus you have the ship itself and the ‘multiples’ it tows behind it — all potentially on one sprite line.

I solved the problem by writing ‘software sprites’ using the user generated character set and dynamically masking the graphics into characters overlapping each segment with the one behind it. Even so, the frame-rate in that section drops to half the usual (I doubled the movement offsets to compensate) and the ‘multiple’ shooting globes are drawn on alternate frames making them flicker like a NES game. I think that’s the most heavy duty hack I’ve ever used in my career… 2 weeks of work to draw an arm!

And if you haven’t by chance seen the conversion, you can check it out by downloading a copy from Gamebase 64.

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