February 8, 2007

Good old-fashioned shooting with Kobo Deluxe

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

If you still dig the old-style arcade games, you owe it to yourself to check out Kobo Deluxe, an improved version of XKobo with sound and better graphics. I ran across Kobo Deluxe when I was looking for a game similar to Namco's arcade classic Bosconian. Your mission? Blow up the fortresses and move on to the next level, to ... blow up more fortresses. OK, so it's not exactly Shakespearean story development, but what do you want from a retro arcade-style game anyway? Right -- fast-paced action and an ever-increasing high score, which Kobo Deluxe delivers in spades.

The nice thing about Kobo Deluxe is that its gameplay is really simple. After starting the game, you have five ships that can move in eight directions. The Space key pauses the game, and Ctrl fires your ship's weapons. The weapons fire forward and backward simultaneously, and you don't have to worry about running out of ammo -- that's unlimited.

The goal is to destroy the fortresses while dodging all the ships, rocks, projectiles, and assorted nastiness that is thrown at you. To destroy the fortress you have to clear out the grid that surrounds it by destroying the blue spheres at the ends of the grid, and then shoot the multicolored sphere in the middle of the screen. You also want to rack up as many points as possible, because you get replacement ships when you reach certain score plateaus. For example, you receive an additional ship at 2,000, 5,000, and 8,000 points. My high score so far is 8,156, so I'm not sure what the next stage is.

As you'd probably expect, the game starts off with a few relatively easy levels, and progresses to hard and insanely hard as time goes on. One nice thing about Kobo Deluxe is that it allows you to start a new game on the last level you were on, rather than having to survive from level 1, so you get a chance to try more levels rather than grinding away at the same levels over and over again, though you do have the option of returning to levels you'd finished previously if you prefer to start from an earlier level.

Kobo Deluxe runs on Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Mac OS X, Windows, and a slew of other operating systems. If you're using Ubuntu or Debian, you can install Kobo Deluxe using sudo apt-get install kobodeluxe. If it's not in your distro's repository, check its download page, which has packages for a number of platforms, and the source code as well.

Kobo Deluxe uses Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) and, optionally, OpenGL, so you'll want those installed as well, if they're not already.

Running Kobo Deluxe

Once you've installed Kobo Deluxe, you can start gaming by running kobodl. This will start Kobo at 320x240 without OpenGL. If you're running Kobo Deluxe on a laptop or a display with a 1024x768 (or smaller) resolution, this might be fine. However, on large screens -- like my 1650x1050 monitor -- it's downright minuscule. Luckily, you can adjust that.

When Kobo starts up, it will scroll through credits and high scores. Press Space to get to the main screen, where you can start games or configure Kobo Deluxe. First, though, you'll need to set up a username before you can proceed. After you've set up your username, it's time to find a resolution that works for you.

Use the arrow keys to navigate down to Options, and press Enter to see the options menu. Scroll down to Video and press Enter again. Now you'll see several options, including Display Size. Toggle that to a resolution that works for you and click Accept to return to the Options menu. Kobo Deluxe also has a full screen mode.

You can also adjust display depth, the maximum number of frames per second, and other video settings, but it's probably best to stick with the defaults unless you're having problems. According to Kobo Deluxe's man page, it may help conserve power on laptops by tweaking the frame rate down to 75, but I usually play on my desktop so I haven't messed with the frame rate.

If you want to tweak the sound settings, go to the Audio menu, also under Options. You can adjust the sound quality, enable or disable music and special effects, and tweak other sound parameters. Again, once you've got the settings you want, click Accept and you'll return to the Options menu.

Finally, Kobo Deluxe defaults to using the keyboard for controls, but you can control your ship with the mouse or a joystick if you prefer; I didn't try that.

Another useful feature under Control Options is Diagonals Emphasis Filter. Now, from the name, it's hard to discern what this option actually does, but it's really simple. In Kobo Deluxe you can move in eight directions: forward, back, right, left, and diagonally in four directions. You can control your ship with the number pad or the arrow keys, but to move diagonally with the arrow keys you have to depress and hold two arrow keys at a time, which may be a little awkward. However, if you set the Diagonals Emphasis Filter, you can move diagonally without having to hold two keys down at the same time. Switch this from off to "3 frames" and you'll be set. (You can choose anything in the range from one to five frames; I haven't noticed any difference between the different frame rates.)

Before tweaking your settings too much, you'll want to create a default configuration. Kobo Deluxe doesn't automatically save your video or audio settings after you exit, but you can create a configuration file that will allow you to keep settings between sessions, and Kobo Deluxe will save settings to it after you've created it, so you don't have to reconfigure Kobo Deluxe every time you restart it.

To get a default configuration file, run kobodl -showcfg > ~/.kobodlrc . You'll get an error when you run this, but don't worry about it -- it doesn't affect the config generation. Edit the configuration file and remove the following lines:

Configuration:
----------------------------------------

That's all there is to it. Now, fire up Kobo Deluxe and you'll be able to save your settings for future sessions.

Practice makes perfect. It takes a few sessions to really get the hang of Kobo Deluxe, but after a few games you'll be racking up the high scores like a champ.

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