Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Return of Tom Baker to Doctor Who

No Tom's not going to appear in the TV show in some kind of Time Crash event as he told Doctor Who Magazine he would not want to do that. Instead he is starring in a new series of Doctor Who audios, called Hornet's Nest, featuring his doctor post-Invasion of Time, travelling to 2009 and renting a cottage on the south coast of England and getting into all sorts of whacky adventures.

These are made by the BBC, not Big Finish, which is a little bit of a kick in the teeth to that company, but sadly Tom Baker seems to do things his own way, rather than associating with anything involving the other doctors. His reason for doing these audios is (very Tom Bakerish) that he was sick of saying no to the various reprisal offers he gets, and because he wanted to work with Nicholas Courtney (or more likely go down the pub with him after recording).

Interestingly his companion is Mike Yates, a Pertwee-era companion. Sadly it was originally intended to be a very old Brigadier, but poor Nicholas Courtney is not very well. I hope he has a speedy recovery and gets involved in a 2nd series of Tom Baker audios. I also hope people's bank balance can afford all these radio plays from Big Finish and the BBC.

A dedicated website is being setup by the BBC and it looks like just the thing before the next season of McGann audios start up in December again!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Highlander Audios

Big Finish, the guys who make Doctor Who audios, Stargate audios, Sapphire and Steel audios, 2000 AD audios and even audios for the recently cancelled Robin Hood have started making Highlander audios. Yay!

I recently purchased the first one with a view to listening to it on holiday it looks very cool and is explicitly set during Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source, even explicitly referencing significant events in Endgame (no - not that one - they reference the villain!) It's narrated by Adrian Paul, who has a bit of an accent, but with a 2nd voice typically as the villain of the piece.

I've bought the other 2 audios as well and hope to have the last one when it is released. Sadly given the dismal activity on their forums and the other Highlander forums I don't imagine a 2nd season being commissioned - I never thought of Highlander the TV Series as that popular in the UK - which is Big Finish's main market. However if I'm wrong I'll be queueing up to buy more.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ultima: My New Project

For the last month or so I've been experimenting with XNA and C# to see how difficult it is to write a complex game. I've decided to remake Ultima 1 - the old RPG that launched my favourite series of games.

Ultima 1 was programmed by Lord British, the cool yet eccentric game-pioneer who is now so rich he is one of the first space-tourists and lives in a castle full of secret doors and medieval memorabilia. (Who wouldn't given the option?)

He had a bit of a kitchen sink approach to Ultima 1 - it was a learning exercise in programming rather than a commercial product. While ostensibly a fantasy game there are definite sci-fi elements. You can pick up a pistol or a laser gun, at one point you must enter a space-ship and shoot down 20 enemy craft and so on. I probably won't remake the space portion or include the 'sci-fi' elements - except as an easter egg - rather I will try to reconcile it with later Ultimas which became much more fantasy and less sci-fi.

I've stuck to using a 2D tile engine, even going so far as to use the original map bin files as a basis of recreating a detailed map of Sosaria.

This was relatively challenging as the information in the original map files was so crammed (2 tiles per byte) that the C# libraries were relatively poorly equipped to hanlde them. They can read bytes, but I found it difficult to read in a 4 bit number. I can't remember how I got round this, but I did.

Character generation is almost finished.

You can create a fighter, druid (who used to be clerics in Ultima 1 but changed as there are no clerics in later Ultimas but plenty of druids), thief (who'll be good at stealing things) and wizards (who'll be pretty powerful spellcasters but weak at everything). I won't include the option for changing races, except possibly as an easter egg. So there will be no playing elves, dwarves or bobbits (hmm!) as the protagonist in later Ultimas is revealed to be a human from Earth.

Currently you can wander around all of Sosaria (though I plan on doing a major inclusion of details to make it a little more interesting) and both towns and dungeons are awaiting placement.

Limited combat is possible, as is the inclusion of wandering monsters.

However this will not be a 1:1 remake - the plot will be different. In the original you had to collect 4 gems to use in a time machine. In this plot you will have to find the gems and summon a silver moongate. There will be subplots and the hero will initially be confined to Lord British's lands.

I still have to build towns from scratch, implement some sort of dialog system and ideally have guards patrolling 'civilized' areas. I also really need to find some way of getting my own tiles - the ones here are modified from Ultima 6 and really need replacing to take advantage of the higher resolution XNA offers. Sadly, not being an artist myself (obvious by some of the screenshots) that could be a while.