Review and Interview for MindRec's Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition (NEC Turbo Duo (Super CD), 2006)

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Bill Loguidice's picture

System: NEC Turbo Duo (Super CD)

Release Date: 2006

Developer: MindRec

Rating: Good

 

NEC Turbo DuoMeteor Blaster DX Signature Edition is the latest and most elaborate version of the long-running series of homebrew games in NEC's Super CD format from author Bt Garner and his company, MindRecSignature Edition is essentially the same Asteroids-inspired product as the other DX games, save for some slight graphical tweaks, a hidden extra ship, a hidden extra demo, an upgrade to the Loop bonus game, and personalization options.

 

 NEC Turbo Duo - Modified for RGB and No Region Lock

 

With the game disc inserted, it takes the main menu about five seconds to load after pushing the RUN button on the control pad.  Once loaded, Meteor Blaster DX is presented as the default option, with Implode Caravan Version and Loop v2 as the other two possibilities.  The directional pad swaps out each game's logo for the other, with the I button used to select the featured title.

 

 Turbo Duo Gamepad - Standard

 

After selecting Meteor Blaster DX, a brief credit screen appears, followed by a quick animation of a ship flying back and forth in front of a scrolling "Meteor Blaster DX" and starfield, with an excellent soundtrack as accompaniment.  Once this sequence finishes, the main title screen appears, which showcases the personalization, in this case the copy number 26 of 100 and my name, the latter of which was my particular request.  This personalized customization takes limited run homebrew titles in a great new direction on a scale previously unattempted.  While Garner would have preferred to create the game discs using the now lost original NEC glass mastering techniques, using standard CD's has the obvious advantage with in-game customization of this type.  It will be interesting to see if future homebrew titles will be able to expand on this idea, which even now appeals to the narcissist, collector or gift giver in all of us.

 

 Meteor Blaster DX Title Screen with Personalization

 

Pressing SELECT adjusts the number of starting lives, while pressing RUN begins the game, starting with the ship selection screen, providing a choice of four visually different craft with various speed, handling and shield characteristics.  After highlighting the ship of choice and pressing the I button, the screen goes blank in a somewhat jarring manner for about four seconds until the opening cinema loads.

 

In the cinema, you're depicted as a sarcastic space patrol pilot named Stryker who is ordered by headquarters to intercept a series of objects headed towards Earth.  Unfortunately, while there is limited animation and nice music, the cinemas do not feature speech or sound effects, so all conversations must be read by the player and scrolled through on-screen.  Despite these deficiencies and somewhat crude writing, it's nevertheless refreshing to see a cinema such as this implemented in a homebrew title.

 

 Meteor Blaster DX Opening Cinema - Cut Scene

 

After finishing the debriefing or skipping it with the RUN button, "Stage 01" of 99 begins.  The initial background features a picture of the Earth - with a somewhat distracting and poorly dithered sun bloom - in the lower right against a starfield, with the score, stage, number of ships left, number of warps left and number of enemy objects left in the upper right.  As is typical of an Asteroids clone, the player's ship starts in the center with enemy objects - initially three blue meteors - spinning in from off-screen. 

 

Button II fires and button I randomly warps the ship.  Pushing up on the directional pad accelerates, pushing left and right turns in the respective direction, and pushing down activates the shield.  These controls are well mapped and suitably responsive with the standard gamepad, though accelerating and turning at the same time can be tricky. 

 

As expected, shooting a meteor breaks it into smaller meteors that fly off in random directions, which themselves must be shot.  Enemy flying saucers that fire back appear at various times and must also be dealt with or avoided.  Occasionally, floating power-ups that need to be caught to activate inject some variety into the gameplay and feature Barrier (quicker shield recharge), Speed (faster ship), Power (more powerful shots), Warp (extra warp), Invincible (brief invincibility) or 1-up (extra life) bonuses depending upon type.

 

 Meteor Blaster DX Play Screen

 

While unremarkable on their own, the graphics are well rendered and effective for the needs of the game.  In addition, in spite of all of the on-screen activity, the graphics remain flicker-free and move smoothly.  The single screen does not scroll, instead having objects appear on the opposite side of the end it passed through.

 

While the non-stop in-game music is just as entertaining and well-orchestrated as the earlier usages, the sound effects lack the kind of bass one would expect from something inspired by Asteroids.  In short, the music overpowers the weak and somewhat quiet sound effects, lessening the impact of the gameplay.

 

After the player uses up all of their lives, they're presented with the score, number of meteors destroyed, total shots fired and shooting accuracy.  If the score and percentage are high enough, they get saved to a permanent high score table with the player's name, which is a great motivator beyond making it to a new level for a game of this type.  If the player decides to go again, the choice to continue, if one is still available, or to start a new game, is given after pressing RUN.  If instead Implode Caravan Version or Loop v2 is desired for play, the system must be reset, with the player then returning to the main menu.

 

Implode Caravan Version is a time-limited color matching puzzle game featuring reverse falling blocks.  Implode borrows elements from games like Tetris, Columns and Bejeweled, but still manages to be interesting on its own merits.  As with Meteor Blaster DX, loud music constantly plays on top of the much quieter sound effects.  Certain text and graphic areas were also cut off on the review television, as if they were designed for a slightly different resolution or scale.  These scaling issues were also present on the main game and menus, though not to the same degree as with Implode.  Configurable options include starting speed, speedup value, starting rows, special frequency, flash speed and game minutes, the latter topping out at nine.  As with Meteor Blaster DX, high scores are permanently retained, along with player name and level.  Despite the display quirks, for puzzle game fans this is a great inclusion, particularly since the original untimed Implode is available for purchase as its own Super CD.

 

Implode Caravan Version Play Screen 

 

Loop v2 is another puzzle game, this time requiring the player to move a cursor around a playing field of an increasing number of differently shaped pipes.  These pipes need to be rotated in place to connect to adjacent pieces, forming loops.  When a loop is created, it will be removed from the screen.  The game finishes when no more pieces can be placed on the screen.  As with the other two games, high scores are permanently retained.  Despite minimal sound effects and no in-game music, Loop v2 is a very original, straightforward and challenging addition to the puzzle genre and another great bonus.

 

Loop v2 Play Screen 

 

The CD insert manual for the games is short and to the point, going over the major screen areas and controls with minimal fluff.  The overall packaging is also simple, utilizing a standard jewel case, but the paper stock and printing throughout is the same high quality as that found in a typical commercial product.  The packaging's artwork retains the in-game silliness, from the hanging fuzzy dice, the "I heart Mars" mug, and half eaten donut in the cockpit drawing on the front of the cover to the meteor with the silly face on front of the CD.  Finally, while the game was reviewed on a US Turbo Duo with stock gamepad, Signature Edition works on any Super CD capable system from any region, including the PC Engine, and even emulators.

 

Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition Front and Back Jewel Case

Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition Inside Jewel Case with CDA

 

In the end, Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition is mainly an average Asteroids clone that nevertheless exhibits a surprising degree of polish at times, with plenty of thoughtful extras.  Despite the lack of innovation in gameplay, with the unlockables, customization and additional games included, this software package provides great value and is well worth a purchase for the NEC enthusiast.

Interview with author Bt Garner:

(Questions from reporter Bill Loguidice in BLACK; Answers from programmer Bt Garner in BLUE)

1 - Can you tell us the release history and major differences between the Meteor Blaster games from the first edition right up to the Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition?  Do you expect the Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition to be the last version of the game?  Is Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition only available through Turbo Zone Direct (www.tzd.com)?  Once the Meteor Blaster DX Signature Edition is sold out, will the regular Meteor Blaster DX be the only version available?

 

In October 2003, a ROM-only release of Meteor Blaster was made available—actually there were about 7 different versions.  Various PCE related sites were all given different ROM's (each one had different backgrounds) and I have no idea if anyone actually tried to collect them all.  Not all of the "DX" features were in there, and the gameplay was a tad limited (20 levels or so).

 

In early 2004, the official release of Meteor Blaster DX was ready to be pressed.  Unfortunately there was a problem.  The software used to make glass masters for CD pressing had been updated and the odd PCE CD format could no longer be made.  We did a rather exhaustive worldwide search to find any facility that could make a glass master, but after four months had to give up as none were found.  Moving the release to CD gave me the initial idea of "customized" CD's for all buyers, however, it quickly became obvious that doing this had several issues, the most notable being that it cut out the ability to wholesale copies to those retail markets that had supported MindRec through the Implode release.  So, a slight deviation to this plan had to be implemented.  Most people do not realize this, but there are actually six different versions of "DX" that got released.  The only real difference is the color of the waving "DX" on the title screen, but it is something that few people know about.

 

For the Signature Edition, there were several changes made ...

·         Some game graphics were improved

·         The DX on the title screen is now multi-colored

·         An extra ship was added to the game (and is hidden)

·         An extra demo is hidden on the CD somewhere

·         The bonus game Loop was upgraded to Version 2

·         Every version has the number on the title screen along with the customization for each user

 

2 - How much time do you devote to MindRec (http://mindrec.com/) and specifically NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Super CD development?

 

It all depends where things are at in the process and how much free time I have.  Over the past six years or so, my day job has given me lots of time for traveling and I have used that "off time" very wisely—in fact Implode was coded almost entirely while I was in Ludvika, Sweden.  Lately, I have not been doing as much travel and my family commitments have kept me from spending hours on end working on new PCE projects, but once things get far enough along, then more time will be shifted to them (and probably taken away from my sleep schedule).

 

3 - What made you get into developing specifically for the NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Super CD systems rather than other systems that are more common outside of Japan?

 

I have been a PC Engine fan for quite some time.  I began with a TG-16 in

1990 and quickly upgraded to the CD system, then the Super system, and also

started collecting software from not only the US market, but also the Japanese

Market.  I currently have a copy of every commercial release for the PCE and Duo,

as well as a lot of weird stuff that was not available commercially.  In 1993

I started the Turbo Mailing list—an electronic mailing list for Duo and PCE

aficionados.  At its height, it had over 500 subscribers.  So, in all these dealings I ended up knowing a lot of folks who were tinkering with the hardware and development tools. 

 

A PCE Assembler first came out about eight years ago and I did a few demos with it, but it was shortly after that when the HuC (a C front end) to the Assembler came out that things really took off.  The C compiler made coding much easier and, over time, the compiled C code was running at a respectable rate compared to the corresponding Assembler code.  So it just made sense to work with C since development time was much faster and I could move to Assembler for parts of the games that needed it.

 

4 - What tools/development hardware do you use for NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Super CD development?  How did you figure out where to start?  Was there anywhere you could turn to for help with difficult system-specific coding issues?

 

The homegrown development tools for the PCE are very advanced right now.

They are so advanced that anyone with a decent PC and a good knowledge of

the C programming language can develop for the PCE these days.  My own

personal setup starts with the readily available HuC compiler, to which I add

some custom tools and add-ons that I have written.  I use an over-the-counter

graphics program, Paint Shop Pro 7, for all in-game graphics.  Sound creation is done with a variety of programs, including Audiology, Magix and Reason.

 

5 - Can you talk about some of the other team at MindRec and their involvement with the Meteor Blaster games?

 

MindRec is primarily me.  I have a person, Ian McPhearson, who was largely

responsible for the graphics in Meteor Blaster.  He is very talented and has mastered the 9-bit graphics that the PCE uses.  Besides the two of us, there are others who come and go as needed.  The guys at Vodkatron are helping out with audio tracks, and I have enough folks helping with beta testing and giving ideas for future direction that to list them all would take me from now until the end of next week.

 

6 - Can you describe your end product production process from cover design and manual to having the CD's pressed?

 

Once the game is "gold", I contact Mark Senger.  Mark has done the manual artwork for both of MindRec's releases.  About that same time, I also begin writing the manual, keeping in mind the layout and number of pages that I will have for the text.  Again, I try to let as many different people look at the manual text and layout before we actually get it printed.

 

7 - Have you been happy with the reaction to and support for MindRec's NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Super CD developments thus far?  Any notable negatives?  Anything in particular that stands out that makes you particularly proud?

 

Overall, I think I have been pleased with the results and feedback that I get.

Obviously the number of copies that have been sold has been pretty small, but

then again, I am dealing with a system that had its prime 15 years ago.  It was, of course, very disappointing to discover that the ability to have PCE CD's pressed is now a thing of the past.  Hopefully someone will re-add that back to the glass mastering software so that PCE CD's can again be pressed.

 

In terms of user reception, most have been very happy with the results.  Of course, there will always be some who will not be pleased by the efforts that we are putting forth and that is fine.  Making a game is hard work and takes a lot of time and I have made sure that the games that we put out are games that are fun to play and have replay value.

 

8 - Do you have any new original NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 Super CD games presently in development?  If so, are there any features or options that will have been made possible by what you learned in developing the various versions of Meteor Blaster?

 

There are quite a few things in development, but nothing is near a release condition yet.  Every PCE project that I have undertaken has been marked by pushing the PCE hardware a little bit further and in some cases a lot further.  Hopefully that will continue as PCE development continues.

 

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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Explanation of Feature

Please note that a version of this feature originally appeared in Issue #6 of Video Game Collector Magazine. I'm making this available to everyone now. Hope you enjoy it!



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Mark Vergeer
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Interesting read!



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Anonymous (not verified)
turbo duo

Would you post the physical dimensions of this console for me? Please :)

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