Warp: History

I had completed my Blue Notes applet and I felt like I had done my share of "serious" Java applet development for a while. Now I wanted to sink my teeth into another game project. Iceblox had been an unexpected success -- so successful in fact that whatever fresh ideas I'd built into that game, like a proper arcade game feeling with an animated presentation, cute detailed graphics, were quickly becoming a standard.

The really talented developers out there wouldn't settle for creating anything less than Iceblox and I had already seen at least one clone on the web. (Check out, for example, Mr. Explosive by 4ward InternetSolutions. They even copied some of my source code.) I still lacked a fundamental understanding of the Java language and knew that there was no way I could compete with "real" programmers on even terms. Nor could I match the skills of "real" designers, with access to the latest illustration software and 3D-rendering tools. I was an amateur and now that I had made my contribution to the Pengo/Iceblox game type, it was time to leave that to the professionals and move on to the next unexplored* generation of computer games.

A major breakthrough in the '80s were the scrolling "shoot-em-up" games, with a single spaceship flying across a highly detailed terrain and blasting away at oncoming enemies. I'm not counting earlier games like Scramble and Defender into this group, because back when they were made, the strategy of completely overwhelming the player by exploiting every ounce of graphical capacity of the machine and filling out every square millimeter with skillfully crafted designs had not yet occurred to game developers.

Perhaps the best example of this was Xenon II, which sort of pushed the genre to its very limit. I had never seen that game up close, only photos of it in various computer gaming magazines. After coming up with an idea how to handle a scrolling background in Java, I set out to build a sort of "generic" shoot-em-up game. It was important to me that it mustn't feel like a Java applet. It should feel like a real arcade game, so I'd better give it a real control panel and a presentation that was a lot more impressive than that of Iceblox.

When I recently looked around on the WWW for information about classic games I noticed that my design ended up much more similar to that of the original Xenon, which wasn't such a bad game either.

The most difficult part, by far, turned out to be coming up with a completely new look and new enemies for each level. And after all that work, most people just saw the first one, thought "That's it?" and left. Ah well.

(*Yes, I'm aware that Susanto Kolim beat me to it with his shoot-em-up game Artemis, but despite dozens of attempts, I've only been able to get it to function once in the browsers I'm using -- long after I had finished Warp. And when it did, it was too slow to be enjoyable. I thought this genre deserved something a bit more platform-independent.)