December 9, 2004

Getting stressed by the season? Try Blob Wars

Author: Joe Barr

The holiday season is hard upon us. The stress of shopping for loved ones, making travel plans, or preparing for holiday guests is building. If you're starting to feel like you might need a gun to take and to hold a parking place, it might be time for a stress-buster. That's where Blob Wars comes in. No, it's not a new diet. It's a free, fun, frenzied chance to gun down the bad guys and rescue fair maidens. It's also an SDL-based game which runs well on Linux. And the 1.0 release might be here before the new year.

Here's the introduction from the site:

Since their world was invaded by an alien race, the Blobs have faced a lifetime of war. But now they have a chance to win the war once and for all.

In Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid, you take on the role of a fearless Blob agent, Bob. Bob's mission is to infiltrate the various enemy bases around the Blobs' homeworld and rescue as many MIAs as possible. But standing in his way are many vicious aliens, other Blobs who have been assimilated and the evil alien leader, Galdov.

But the best way to get a feel for the game is just to start it up and watch the intro movie. There you'll be introduced to the happy, peaceful world of Blobs. Happy and peaceful, that is, until "something went terribly wrong." They were invaded by aliens and forced to go to war to save their world.

Learning the basics

If you care to do so, you can spend a few minutes in training missions to learn how to move Bob around the screen. But if you're already comfortable using the arrow keys for movement, and using the Ctrl key to fire, it's not really necessary.

Click to enlarge

You can easily tweak game settings from the Options Screen. You can the volume of game sounds and music, the screen brightness, switch Blood and Gore on/off, configure the control keys or joystick, and so on.

When you're ready to save the world, select Start New Game and (ignoring Practice, you've already been there) choose your level of difficulty: Easy, Normal, Hard, or Extreme. Once you've made your choice, a Blob world map appears. As of this release, there are only two choices on the map to choose from: Grasslands or Flooded Tunnel. Using the mouse, place the bomb sight over one or the other of them and left-click on it.

At first blush, I thought Blob Wars was a clone of the popular Commander Keen series from years ago. A couple of minutes of game play later, I no longer harbored such misconceptions. Unlike Commander Keen, Bob carries quite a variety of weapons at different times. You can kill the evil aliens with grenades, pistol, laser gun, spray gun, or machine gun. Just remember, only the pistol works when you're under water. And when you shoot the bad guys in Blob Wars -- at least with Blood/Gore set to ON -- they explode into all sorts of goodies that you can pick up on your way to rescue the next MIA.

What itch was being scratched?

I asked software author Stephen Sweeney was his motivation was in writing Blob Wars. He replied:

My motivation for writing the game came partly from the positive response from
Project: Starfighter and also my own wish to increase my programming skills
and make another fun game. Blob Wars went through several incarnations before
it got to the stage it as at now. The first game was a top-down capture the
flag affair with teams of blobs fighting over multicolored flags. The second
was quite like the game we have now, except ammunition was limited and there
was the ability to carry multiple weapons. I decided in the end to make the
ammo unlimited and use weapon powerups instead, like in The New Zealand
Story. This approach fits the game well and judging by feedback and the score
on Happy Penguin, the players have really enjoyed it.

More about SDL

I was vaguely familiar with the SDL -- Simple DirectMedia Layer -- library from comments I've read by Bob Pendleton on a local Linux mailing list, and since I have a game project of my own in mind, I asked Sweeney if it were the best choice for cross-platform game development. He said:

Absolutely. One of the reasons for learning C was that an API like SDL was
available and so very easy to use. Before I had written games on the Amiga in
languages such as AMOS and Blitz Basic. After that I had been spoilt by Java,
so programming a game in C seemed very daunting. SDL convinced me otherwise.
When I started making Starfighter I had begun programming the game on
Windows. The ease of SDL meant that getting it up and running on Linux was
simply a case of installing the libraries and running make to build the game.
For Linux games development SDL and OpenGL are certainly the way to go.

Bob Pendleton -- one of the developers working on SDL 2.0 -- agrees with that. He wrote:

I'm not sure how big the SDL community is, but it seems to be huge.
There are 459 games listed on the SDL web page. Over 100 add on
libraries. If you look at a standard install of Linux you'll find SDL
because so many of the desktop tools, applications, and games require
it. SDL is being used in major commercial games such as Unreal
Tournament 2004.

SDL runs on just about everything that can run a program. Versions for
cell phones are being developed. There is a version for the PS2.

SDL is big and getting bigger. SDL is over 10 years old. There are
several things in SDL that reflect the realities of game development 10
years ago. The next generation of SDL is going to clean out, or at least
deprecate, those features and add features that reflect the current
state of hardware. We are also taking a strong look at the future and
trying harder to "future proof" SDL.

Another trend that is affecting SDL is that while it was developed for
game programming it is being used as a general applications development
platform and as an image processing platform. The demands of those parts
of the community are pushing SDL to be a more general while still trying
to maintain its game programming roots.

When it's Blob Wars soup

When Blob Wars is soup, it will have -- according to the Web site -- more than 25 missions. I've spent several hours playing already and haven't finished the second one yet. This is a fun game, old-school style. It'll take your mind off of just about anything, and you're saving the world to boot. Can't beat that! Thanks, Stephen!

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