Acorn BBC micro, highscores
Quite often I read that people say they are too old to play computer game or that their ability decreased and that they are getting too slow. Often people already say this when they are 30 or 40. But when does it really happen? I think in reality people just aren't interested any more to play a game obsessively as is needed to get to some of the known high scores. It wouldn't surprise me if actual ability doesn't degrade until you are perhaps 70 or so. Perhaps even older, a lot depends on your mental agility. But I understand the feeling in that I feel with some games that I just cannot be bothered to play pixel perfect games any more... It's not that I can't, I just don't want to, they are annoying and thus I don't do effort and don't get high scores. I presume for many people the fun just isn't there in the same way as it was long ago...
This year I tried some games and found that I'm at least as good now as in 1996, with some big score improvements with some games, a big improvement with one of my favourite games, i.e. Planetoid, and getting really close to my high scores with some other games such as Meteors.
Below you will find some information on achieved high scores, and some analysis on whether scores are real or not, or at least not made on a BBC micro (but instead on the slower Electron), and using the BBC micro version of the game (see further on Meteors, where running the Electron version on the BBC micro gives a big advantage of slower bullets by the UFOs).
Where I got high score lists: the web, old magazines, and my own scores
I collected highscores from some magazines and websites and I discuss some scores of some games that interest me, esp. on whether they are real and possibly made on a (slower) Electron rather than BBC micro.
I collected the highscores listed further, and some related information, from:
- My own scores.
- Old hi-scores in magazines. Here are some useful links:
- Hi-scores on the web:
http://www.beebgames.com (no longer updated since 2009)
http://stardot.org.uk/forums/viewforum.php?f=46 (high score competitions)
Are there high scores in other magazines?
I will perhaps go through a few other magazines than Acorn user/Micro user/Beebug, to see if they list high scores.
Any suggestions? Better would be references of which issues contain score lists, and better still would be scans/pictures of such pages!
Are the listed scores real? And really made on a BBC micro (not Acorn Electron!)?
I will discuss here the scores of some games that interest me on how likely it is that the scores are real, and/or whether some scores were likely done on an Acorn Electron or even an Electron version on a BBC micro.
To know if a score is real is difficult, as there could be tactics that will give a higher score. Developing tactics is essential for some games, such as Planetoid (a.k.a. Defender). For games such as Fortress, the only thing required is practice and learning the course by heart. The score is clearly limited by fuel running out faster on each trip through the course.
- Planetoid: The game: It is just as playable now as it was in 1984. The difficulty curve is perfect (well, at least up to about 800k, after that it gets too hard in that the maximum score is limited too much by too fast movement of aliens), there are many types of enemies that you need to deal with in different ways, you can get further by developing the right strategy, it's not just about reflexes. Elite is one of the best games as a total package, but Planetoid/Defender remains the game that for me is the most fun to play after all these years, and that is still a challenge, and gives an adrenaline rush when playing it. [ But I guess since the score is limited as described below, once you reach about 1M points, there may not be much point in continuing to play, at least for getting a high score ]
Tactics: See my Planetoid page.
Scores: I have a big doubt about the Planetoid scores of 2.8M and 3.1M: suddenly from the highest score known in 1985 of 653k it jumped 2 months later to 2.8M by another guy, and 5 months later to 3.1M by the guy who had scored 653k. There is an Electron version of Planetoid, did both use that and use the fact that scores were not differentiated between machines at the time? Or are these scores just made up? It's hard to be definite but perhaps I will be able to tell more on whether such high scores are possible, in a while, after playing more Planetoid... At the moment I would say: Such scores are not possible, unless the movement speed of the landers wraps around somewhere close to where I've got to, at about 1M or less points (as I feel 1M is possible even with increasing speed of landers) which means in one of the waves ca. 54-60.
2017-10-30: From my testing, I am now sure that those 2 scores are bogus. I was already almost sure about this in the early 2000s, when I first saw these scores mentioned, from how hard the game is at high scores (my experiences in 800k+ games in 1996) and because I made a complete disassembly with analysis of just about all variables and workspace in 1996, in which only a few things remained unclear. In the early 2000s I wrote in an email that I was sure that these scores were bogus unless they found some sort of tactic that I hadn't thought of, but I didn't write about it on my site. In 1996 I had experimented a little bit with modifying the starting wave number, but this time in 2017 I did more tests to be absolutely sure of whether or not there is a wrap around in speed of the landers and mutants. And so I tested by systematically changing the starting wave up to the wave number that one would get to for a 3.1M score. This means up to ca. wave no. 195 (taking into account that the score per wave on higher waves is lower than the score per wave at waves 1-10 as you can't save many men at higher waves, and mutant fests also decrease points per wave due to fewer swarmers). After doing that I have no doubts as to what is possible and what is not possible. There is no wrap around in speed for landers and mutants, they only get faster due to more sprite updates per update of the Defender ship... I made a patch with which you can see how fast the game is and how sluggishly you can move your ship if there are multiple alien sprites still alive, at already wave 50. Try keeping a man alive on the green waves with a starting wave of 70 or higher, it is hard! It's almost impossible at say 100+. Waves around 70-80 are just playable but only with enough smart bombs by using 2 at the start of a wave to get rid of the pods and most of the bombers which means the sluggishness is then gone as there are not many sprites left... From my testing my rough estimate of the maximum achievable score is about 1.2M. Here is the patch so you can see for yourself how fast the game gets.
then apply the following patch, after saving it as "p04" (I omitted line numbers, you can copy and save as a text file then *EXEC on the BBC micro or type it in on the BBC micro)
*RENAME PLANET2 O.PLANET2
REM Planetoid wave patch for testing
IF PAGE<&4000 PAGE=&4000:CHAIN"p04"
BEQ P%+9 \ lp_quit
JSR &23A6 \ next wave ?&8E times extra compared to normal. so make it 49 to start at wave 50.
LDA #&50 \ 50 lives and smart bombs, to have enough to experience for a while how fast the game is.
*SAVE PLANET2 1100+2300
I use JSR &23A6 repeatedly to make sure it would not be an issue if I overlooked anything in my analysis from 1996 (I could have updated all speed variables directly, but I wasn't sure about a few things). This means the game flickers a while at the start, while it goes through each 'next wave' routine that also updates the screen, so just wait a bit and then you can play...
I put the extra value to be added to the starting wave number in ?&8E, so to go to wave 70:
Then press BREAK and put a different value in ?&8E and CHAIN"PLANET" again, to experiment.
At waves of scores of 800k+ (say wave 45+) the slow-down when there are many sprites is already quite noticeable but at wave 70 it is worse, the game is really sluggish with multiple sprites alive, and landers and mutants are insanely fast. You can barely move your ship, except by using 2 smart bombs at the start to wipe out the pods and a few of the bombers. In that way even wave 80 is playable but the real problem is the green waves and keeping the last man alive...
Note that the game will only display and store wave numbers in 2 digits so e.g. wave 171 is shown as 71, but the sprite update number is updated per wave and is not BCD, so that can go up to 255...
At high waves (say 70 and up) you can see the ship's white colour slowly cycling between red-white when the ship is hit, from the sprite updates taking up so much CPU time. Well, actually that can be seen much earlier but it seems more clear, it looks as if the fact that the sprite updates take so much time, that the colour cycling updates get delayed.
My conclusion is that the 2,896,500 and 3,186,450 scores as printed in Acorn user are bogus, which I wrote already many years ago (early 2000s), in an email to Dave M, that I found again when looking in my archive for emails on the topic of high scores. My theory: Possibly the 2,896,500 score was a misprint, possibly the real score was 896,500, and AU mistakenly added the 2. Then the other guy who had scored 653k not long before that, tried it for a few months, felt that that 2.89M score was impossible and either just made up a score or possibly used the Electron version (which is quite different, and uses software scrolling).
I did a few tests running the Electron version on the BBC micro. This plays quite differently from the BBC version. I played 1 longish game up to a 200K score, and it does get pretty quick but the issue is, how fast does it get at higher waves?
- Fortress: The game: Too bad there is no randomness in it. For me this reduced playability to 0 after achieving my high scores in 1986. It was graphically cool, and a challenge to get perfect but there is no fun in playing it again. I played it briefly in 1996, noting just 1 score (79250). Clearly I wasn't interested in trying harder. This year I tried it briefly again, and on the first day after a few games I got to the exact same score. Then the next day a bit more but I'm just not interested in playing it more.
Tips: You can get used to any key combination, but really you should change the keys! The combination that I used may seem quite strange but is natural. I will leave this as an exercise to find out, email me if you think you know! (perhaps I should award a prize, I will think about it!)
Scores: All scores that I've seen are likely real, and it's really moot as none of them come even close to my 268,000 and 248,000 scores from 1986... The highest score I've seen is 160,000 by Mat Newman (the programmer of the game) in TMU 1990-12. At the time just after the release of the game (so 1984), I read in some magazine, not sure which one, bits from an interview with the author (I didn't buy the magazine, only read quickly the main bits in the magazine in the store), in which it was stated that author had scored, at the time of the interview of course, 144000. Well, in 1986 I set out to improve on that. I learned the entire course by heart, which is not easy as it's quite repetitive and only small details change. The biggest problem with that is restarting after dying, then I always think "Where am I, what do I need to do, where (left/right hand side of the course) to move to?", and as the course is so repetitive it means almost no clues as to where exactly you restart just from looking at the screen. This makes it harder to learn the course. I played until I was perfect and thus my score was limited simply by the fuel running out, which goes faster each time you go through the course. For the 248,000 and 268,000 scores I needed to get some fuel tanks that are very hard to get (close behind walls), so it will be extremely hard to improve on my score, you would need to shoot even more of the fuel tanks, and that means those that are even closer to walls (and possibly that have some enemy planes nearby, it's been a long time since I played it)... (and now that I played it a bit again in Oct. 2017, well, I didn't get round to examining the extra needed fuel barrels as I didn't play it enough)
- Meteors: The game: I played it first 1995, and I have to say that I don't like how it plays. In particular I dislike that you can't rotate accurately and the difficulty curve is quite poor, jumping from fair to very hard far too quickly. I played a far better DOS game in the 1990s, which was actually fun to play and try to get to a higher score. With Meteors it's just frustrating, how far I get seems almost random, and almost irrespective of how well I play, to somewhere in the region of 20k-35k. Often at higher levels when I die, the next ship gets hit by a fast flying asteroid so losing another or even 2 lives without being able to do anything, which is just stupid and frustrating. I suppose need to become a lot better before higher scores can be achieved and I'm not sure I want to try because playing it is not much fun...
Tips: The essence of high scores with Meteors is getting close to the big asteroids, and shoot a rally of bullets to wipe out all 3 sizes quickly, then on to the nex big one, otherwise you end up with too many small ones flying all over the place which take too much time to destroy which means the spaceships appear and when the small purple one appears you're toast. Also you should preferably shoot the 2 largest size asteroids from behind, not head on, to avoid the smaller ones flying into you at high speed.
Scores: the guy with the highest score (498,500) has a high score with Overdrive for the Electron, so presumably his Meteors score is made on an Electron, and possibly the score by the other player with a score of over 430k is also with the Electron version on an Electron. Is that slower? My own high score of 42900 from 1996 was not where I felt that I really mastered the game at all yet, and this means 2 things: 1) I am sure scores can be higher, and 2) I have no guess as to what is possible in scores when just extrapolating from my score, but it is a very hard game (esp. when the small purple spaceship appears), and 498k just seems impossible... It's not one of my favourite games, but perhaps I will try getting a higher score, and to try to beat the 73k score from AU 1984-10 which is likely real (by someone who posted a few achievable Planetoid scores, the issue of AU with his 73k score lists his score of 488k for Planetoid). Micro user list's Neil Raine's high score of Meteors as 52,000, so I think the 73k is also possible (with a lot of practice), any scores much higher than that I consider as bogus, or at least not made on a BBC micro.
Nov. 2017: I briefly tried the Electron version of Meteors on the BBC micro. Speed of the 'meteors' and your own movement and deceleration is slightly lower than the BBC version, but most noticeable is that the bullet speed of the UFOs is a lot lower, I can evade the bullets from the UFOs or use hyperspace in time... This game would run slower on the Electron so higher scores are definitely possible on that machine.
- Hopper: Some very high scores, up to 63k. This game goes from easy to need-to-be-pixel-perfect after about 30k points, and that is hard... But I would not say the scores listed are impossible. There is a 52k score on beebgames.com too... But are they all BBC micro scores or Electron too? Is the Electron version when running on an Electron, not a BBC micro, slower? What about a BBC micro version running on an Electron? That would definitely be slower! I actually tried it in the early 2000s and BBC hopper on an Electron is really slow... So would be easier to get a higher score there I suppose.
- Arcadians: Almost 100k is a very high score... But I never played it as much as e.g. Planetoid so it's hard to say what is possible... Also here it could be that scores are made on an Electron. And I think that at least 1 of these high scores of more than 30k was made on an Electron. From looking at e.g. the 48k score, the same guy has a high score at Overdrive for the Electron. Another guy with a 97k score has a score with Mr.EE which is a BBC micro only game, so perhaps 100k is possible just with more practice. Or did he play that game on (someone else's?) Electron? It's all possible :-)
- Killer Gorilla: Luck is involved in this in getting a high score esp. on screens 2 and 4 to get past the fireballs, but I should give it a go to try to beat that 836k score (and at the same time then I would see if it's a real score! It seems quite high (as seem 2 other scores, 496k and 672k) and would need a lot of luck for sure (to get past the fireballs all those levels)...
In general to see about playing speed differences, the question is: do BBC games on the BBC run the same as Electron versions of that game on the Electron? E.g. Arcadians (BBC) and Arcadians (Electron), do they have different playing speed or other differences?
Last modified: 2017-11-29