Cross Section: History

Most computer game veterans will remember that in the late '80s, first appearing in 1987, there was a game called "Nebulus". Back then I used to do some freelance programming, playing a lot of games to keep myself up-to-date with what the rest of the hacker community was doing. I've got to admit that hardly any other computer game made me quite as envious of the programmer as Nebulus did. "Why the heck didn't I think of that idea first!?"

The concept was simple, yet brilliant, and the visual result was stunning by the standards of that time (when home computers were eqipped with processors that wouldn't be considered fit to operate a toaster these days, but still...). Basically, you controlled a cute/ugly little creature trying to climb to the top of a tower. It rotated as you walked, creating a perfect and beautiful 3D effect with relatively little computational effort.

(Click the screen shot image for a larger version. The game is presumably still copyrighted by the company Hewson and I'm using the graphics without their permission, but I doubt they'd mind.)

In many ways the home computer games situation back then was similar to that of Java today. Programming was easy and there was a huge and relatively inexpensive software supply. (Plenty of games sold for as little as £1.99 apiece in the UK.) It didn't take much to become a games programmer -- just some above-average gray matter, coupled with some artistic skill and geekiness. Tricks and tips could be found in any bookstore.

Every new idea used to spawn dozens of imitations (nourished by the competitive drives of people with no lives outside their hobby rooms -- "I can do that" or "I can do better than that"), but I don't recall seeing any Nebulus clones. Either I missed them, or the game was just so perfect that creating an improved version seemed hopeless. Me, I wanted to write my own Nebulus, but I never got around to finishing the project. College (and later on university) studies ate up too much of my spare time.

But I had it all figured out. My version would have the main character (a cyborg rubber duck I'd used before) climb the inside of the tower instead of the outside. There could be furniture and other stuff in there, and to give the whole thing an eye-catching gimmick, the edge of the cross-section would slice all objects and creatures that came close. "So you get to see the blood and guts inside the monsters. Huh-huh! That would be cool..."

(Ahem.) Anyway... now that there is Java, I figured I might as well finally do the implementation in that language instead. I let Pixel Pete be the star of the game and scrapped a lot of non-vital elements, like furniture, so the game would be quick enough to run OK on the average netsurfer's machine. I'm reasonably happy with the result. Could have been worse.