Urbanoids: History

After having completed Warp 1.5 I felt I had to try something a little more innovative. You don't become famous by playing it safe, and Warp 1.5 had been a very safe game. It was just an elegant mixture of old techniques. Now the time had come for a bigger and more daring project.

Urbanoids is a combination of two games originally appearing on the Commodore 64 (three if you count the music). Most veteran game players should recognize the first -- Paradroid, written by Andrew Braybrook for Hewson, 1985. The other is a lot more esoteric -- Siren City, by Ian Gray for Interceptor Software, 1983.

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The basic gameplay comes from Paradroid, but the scenery (at least above ground) is inspired purely by Siren City. I found both games interesting for their time. Of course, game standards completely skyrocketed during their two-year gap. Paradroid is vastly superior in almost every sense, but somehow lacked the eerie feeling of moving around in a (relatively) big city with no people. I wanted both. You've seen the result.

Since Urbanoids would not take place on a spaceship hundreds of years from now, but rather in a city only a few months into the next millennium, the robots would have to look a bit more down-to-earth than the space-age contraptions Andrew Braybrook had put into his game. Thinking about it, I recalled a BASIC programming book I had read some 15 years ago. It had contained several illustrations of "robots" that looked almost as if they could work.

A bowler robot. One of many late '70s creations by Georg Beker
The book was long out of print, in all languages, but fortunately one of the city libraries keeps a copy of everything that's published in this country. I couldn't take it home with me, but photocopying was allowed. (The copy clerk seemed a bit confused when I told him which pages I wanted.)

The illustrations were a great source of inspiration, except that those robots looked a little too much like something that had been put together in a lab by some geeky engineering students. I needed robots that you'd guess had been bought in the nearest hardware store. I think I managed that part reasonably well. (At the time of writing I still have several more robots planned. Luckily the game is easily expandable.)

A few assorted robots from the original Paradroid, designed by Andrew Braybrook himself.
In case you are wondering about the cartoony look of the game, with black contours around just about everything, I decided very early during the planning stage on a unified design that would make it clear that the game didn't take itself too seriously. The graphics would have to fit the somewhat ridiculous context.

One of my own robots.
Quite a few of the special features in this game, like the little statistics pages (or scorecards if you prefer), seemed a lot more convenient to keep outside of the Java applet and leave them to the browser itself. The game would simply be too big to fit snugly into an applet. That's why I decided on a separate page with a combination of frames for holding everything. The ideal solution would have been dynamic HTML, but since Netscape and Explorer can't seem to agree on a common standard and not everyone is using version 4 browsers anyway, that wasn't an option.

I still wanted to contain the game in some sort of control panel. This required finding a way of getting around some annoying Netscape bugs. (See the Layout page for details.)