|★ AMSTRAD CPC ★ SOFTOGRAPHIE ★ ANDREW GLAISTER ★|
|Andrew Glaister||Games - Auteurs|
Andrew Glaister (1988)
Salamander is the latest program from Andrew John Glaister. He spoke to Simon Rockman about his life and programming projects
THE Salamander coin-op machine has been drawing the crowds in the arcades since its first appearance. In essence it is a beefed up Nemesis, a scrolly shoot 'em up with a host of additional weapons. One of the main attractions is that Salamander is a two player game. Two friends can pilot ships through the alien territory together. Unfortunately this has been dropped from the home computer versions.
The arcade machine has megabytes of memory and a 32 bit 68000 processor - you can't really expect a 64k, 8 bit, Z80 machine to be able to mimic that. Still, the CPC version does a pretty good job.
Andrew Glaister was the archetype whizz kid programmer of a few years back. Now 21, he lives in Crawley, Surrey with his mother and a cat Bill. "There used to be a Ben", he says, "but he got into one cat fight too many. Bill is a clever cat, he'll nip out to the hall when the phone rings so he can sit on your lap as you take the call". Andrew"s first computer only had eight switches, he designed and built it
From there he progressed to a computer built from a kit, that had a hexadecimal keypad, but the first machine he had which anyone would really recognise was a ZX81. He wrote a few games for this, including Invaders and Meteor. Then when the Spectrum was announced he decided that it would be his next machine.
Unfortunately there were long delays in Spectrum deliveries. Andrew spent the months writing a Defender type game on paper. He called it Orbiter. When the black beastie turned up, Andrew keyed the hex in and stole a march on the programmers who only started when the computer arrived. But there were problems with working like this. "I didn't know how to produce sound from machine code, so every time you shoot an alien the program jumps into Basic, does a BEEP and returns", he admits.
Orbiter was sold by Silversoft and was a huge success. Perhaps this shows the roots of Salamander. There were other games in between, of course, mainly on the Spectrum. Andrew wrote the first two sections of The Fourth Protocol: "It had some great windowing routines -1 may well use them again", Empire for Firebird - "They might release it on the Amstrad one day - they keep on threatening to put it out on Silver" - and Comet, of which he says: "It was either a couple of months late or 76 years too early".
As I doubt that the CPC will be around then, I think they missed the boat. He has a number of other programming projects to his credit. If you have an RAC card it will have been printed by Andrew's program.
Salamander is a Konami game, and Andrew has worked for Konami before - he converted Jailbreak to the Spectrum. Salam may be Arabic for Peace but Salamander is nothing like peaceful. It's named after the reptile owned by such dignitaries as Labour's Red Ken.
The first attack wave consists of strings of aliens. They don't fire at you, but you have to kill whole formations if you want to pick up bonus weapons. See the weapons chart for details.
Then you start to encounter the planet. It's one of those places which has land both above and below you. Nasty creepy crawlies run along the surface, the missiles come in extra useful for zapping them. Large arms grope at you. With some heavy cannon fire they can be made to disintegrate - but it's not the last you'll see of them.
Next comes a wave of horns. These puncture the air and look like whale bones. Timing is very important here, make sure you dodge them since you won't get an opportunity to top up on special weapons for a while. In a minute a standard ship is gonna look mighty puny.
But that was the easy bit. Later comes a fusillade of missiles from surface-based cannon, all looking more biological than mechanical. Once again it is the surface-hugging missiles which cause the necessary wipeout.
In front of you is a solid wall. A quick blast reveals that it is not quite so solid, a sort of soft spongy rock. Oh, watch out, those arms are back. Fly between and shoot your way through the blancmange. But the rock grows behind you, keep moving and firing in a straight line.
Then it's into an area of calm. Agh! What's that? The lump to the right is turning into a brain. You need to shoot it in the eye while you dodge the arm. An arm which was particularly difficult to program. If you destroy the brain your ship rotates and the game turns into a vertically scrolling shoot 'em up.
When he has recovered from the shock of writing Salamander Andrew will return to his major project. This is an assembler, monitor and editing package called PDS (Programmers Development System). PDS is the professional programmers assembler. It runs on an Apricot or IBM-type PC but produces programs for 6502 and Z80-based computers.
Andrew started writing PDS for his own use -'There just weren't any commercial assemblers which were good enough" - but soon realised that he had a saleable product. He enlisted the help of Fouad Katan, a programmer he had first worked with at Silversoft.
PDS is continuing to grow. Soon there will be a communications module which will allow programmers who work apart to send programs and source code over the telephone at very high speeds. That will be followed by a 68000 assembler which will enable programmers who buy the system to write programs for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. There will also be a version of PDS to run on the Atari ST.
The system has caused something of a stir among the programming community. The greatest fans of the system are Realtime, who take every opportunity to tell other programmers how much time it has saved them.
Andrew wrote Salamander using PDS, and it is because he is a professional programmer that he knows what other professional programmers want:
"The most important thing is speed. When you are deeply into a project like Salamander you don't want to wait half an hour for the program to assemble and link. Using PDS you can go from changing an op-code to having a Salamander running inside a CPC in less than four seconds.
"It has all the things which games programmers really want. Timing is important. When you have a lot of sprites to move you must take care to miss the screen refresh. This happens every 50th of a second, so loops must take less than this. PDS will automatically measure how long a routine will take to run".
PDS is to a programmer what a word processor is to a journalist, but it's not cheap. The software starts at £500, you need an interface for each of the computers you want to program at £50 a piece, and a twin drive PC at the very least. Fouad and Andrew recommend a hard disc, but then' they have been spoiled by using a Compaq 386 -the most powerful PC around. With this system to help him develop games like Salamander, it won't be long before you hear of Andrew Glaister again.