Lyndon Sharp, WASP and Pogie!

To continue the tradition of bringing news of games in development for the Next, we asked Lyndon Sharp about his industry background, and how he finds the Next.

I got into the industry not by writing games, but Spectrum and Amstrad music for Codemasters. The 1-bit beeper engine I wrote was inspired by Wham! the Music Box / Fairlight. I used to compose music on Wham and then had a tool that would run the music back so I could add drum data.

The drum data was just random ROM data. When I heard something that sounded like a drum I’d store it off. The 128K AY music was done on an Amiga. I used Noise Tracker 2 to compose the music and then ran the MOD’s through a custom tool to convert them into much smaller Spectrum AY files. I’d then compose the voice data and drums inside the driver.

I would then transpose the channels into something that suited the Spectrum octave range. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes not so well.

Tim Miller or Mark Boldock (Producers) would come to me in my portacabin and ask for tunes for up and coming titles that were in the pipeline and I’d knock something up for them. That was the arrangement until Philip Oliver came to me with the Kwik Snax idea (Fast Food 2) which we fleshed out into a full product.

Chris Graham shared this portacabin with me and was my artist (although not exclusively, Chris worked on many products). It was here were we came up with the concept of the Dizzy Mob and the storyboard. I wrote the music and integrated Chris’s animation into the music driver.

The Dizzy Mob introduction screen included an animated band and AY music

From then on I just fitted music in where I could whilst making games. 750cc Grand Prix started off as an Afterburner style game but Tim thought that a bike game was more saleable. Paris to Dakar, I’m not sure what that was, it wasn’t my idea. Ironically it was one of my favourite AY tunes. Bubble Dizzy, that was a nice tune, then came Captain Dynamo. Somewhere in amongst that lot, Crash made me an offer on Zanthrax for one of their cover tapes.

I then went to work for the Oliver Twins where I did Robin Hood – Legend Quest, which was a conversion of the NES game. The music was a conversion of the NES original. Paul Griffiths and I then did the Game Gear and Master System version of Fantastic Dizzy and again I converted the NES music to the Sega 8-bit.

I then went to work for Attention to Detail (ATD) and from that point I never made music again, I was just a game coder and worked on The Incredible Hulk – Pantheon Saga, Rollcage, Rollcage Stage II, Lego Racers  and Lego Drome Racers. I then went to work in motorsport (engine management, looms and calibration maps) and I now work as a Senior Programmer at Games Warehouse Ltd, writing gambling software.

In the evenings, I’m also part of the resurrection of WASP which is myself, Phoebus Dokos, Lampros Potamianos and Allister Brimble. We are working on many things but our main task is getting Dreamworld Pogie developed for the Next as a launch title.

We Are Spectrum Programmers seemed quite appropriate 🙂

Dreamworld Pogie features pretty much every Next enhancement available and some very clever tricks which really push the platform

On the subject of the Next, Lyndon says that it is fun to code for and has lots of features and believes it is a worthy successor to the original. “It is just as difficult to extract impressive high performance games out of it. Nothing worth doing is easy and the Next is an ideal machine as it works my brain.”

Many of you will have seen the demonstrations of Pogie on Youtube. The graphics, colours, scrolling and digital audio. This is another example of developers extending the limits of what the Next could do. It goes to show that ideas are taken on board where possible, and the Next becomes a greater machine because of it.

The digital audio in Pogie only became possible in this manner. As Lyndon explains.

At the start I had to pester, beg, annoy Garry Lancaster to implement a streaming system which he has done an absolutely marvellous job on. I used a similar approach on Victor for him to increase the copper list size and also add sound drive as a register mirror so that the copper could write to it.

I wrote a PC tool to strip and encode the sample data from WAV format (covering both old and new WAV formats), then once you have a file (a .CPA extension in this case you are ready to code.

How it works.

  1. Configure and preload the sample buffer and preinject sample data into the Z80 side and DMA it to the copper list real
  2. Kick off the copper on the first frame data
  3. Stream 512 bytes into the sample buffer
  4. Using raster interrupts, wait for scan line x and begin sample injection of the next frame
  5. Using port DMA write the entire Z80 side copper list to the copper list real so it completes as the copper reads the last instruction
  6. Repeat from 3 until all sample data has been exhausted, then either loop or stop

Quite simple really but this uses DMA, raster interrupts, copper, SD streaming, sound drive and of course very efficient T state optimised Z80 code running at 14MHz. This is why it can work in game at 60Hz.

This screenshot demonstrates slices of processing taking place for different aspects of the game. The black border section is effectively showing how much additional resource is available.

Although lamenting the loss of some features mentioned in the early days, 28MHz mode, SID and FM audio, and struggles with the constant changes to the Next specification, Lyndon remains engaged and says “I would change nothing, as it makes it harder and more enjoyable when you pull off the impossible”.

Whilst there has been discussion around digital sound and wav file playback being an easy way out, this clearly demonstrates that there are still challenges and limitations to be faced in this area. To us the original Spectrum was a device which was tamed into the games machine that many of us grew up with. Each generation of software getting cleverer right up to the present day. I’m sure there is plenty of untapped potential also within the Next, and ways to achieve things on this platform which are yet to be explored.

And in other related news…

Thalamus is in discussion with WASP about bringing some of their classic titles to the Spectrum Next platform!