Most of the Game-Maker material I know, I’ve known about since high school. When the program was new, there was a thriving development community. When RSD stopped supporting Game-Maker, interest dwindled, the community dissipated, and it became difficult to find any mention of the program. Occasionally, though, I run into a developer who missed the wider loop and just kept on developing in private. The most productive of these isolated cases is also one of the more talented Game-Maker artists of all, Mike “Mazeguy” Perrucci.
Although Perrucci’s two finished games are an apparently simple overhead-view game and its sequel, there’s much more going on than you catch at a glance. For one, the guy never repeats himself. Never mind between games; within each game, no two levels are remotely similar. Typically each stage can boast not just distinct backgrounds and enemies but different mechanics and often a slightly different character sprite, with different animations and abilities to suit the level’s theme.
Where these games really excel are in their creative use of background animations and monster birthing — two of the most powerful, yet least exploited, Game-Maker traits. Between the two, there’s almost no end of effects that you can fake — as aptly demonstrated in Perrucci’s second game.
Invasion of the Blobs!
The first IotB is an overhead three-quarters view action adventure game; exactly the kind of thing that Game-Maker was designed for. And indeed, at a distance it feels like an advanced remix of RSD’s demo games.
It’s almost like someone handed Perrucci RSD’s Sample, and said “Fix this.” The early stages contain the same flower-crushing action from Sample, similar kinds of background and design elements, in particular forest mazes and water barriers. Some of the later levels also seem to show a Penguin Pete influence. Yet all the elements are original, and perhaps cleaner than RSD’s. The background tiles sport nice gradients and perspective; there’s a neat shadow effect under raised objects like bridges. The smaller character is better scaled to the environment, and the monsters are consistent throughout. Each color of blob has a distinct movement pattern and a unique, creative death animation.
Outside the Game-Maker realm, some of the interaction of items and background elements feels reminiscent of Zelda, different objects allow different kinds of background interaction, such as burning of bushes. There’s even a SkiFree stage.
Despite some really clever bits, like the complex boss battles, it’s the subtle things that impress me, like the game’s understanding of the touchy way that active tiles affect the player sprite, and the way that Integrator interprets level ending flags. The game isn’t very difficult, though it doesn’t feel like that’s the point; it’s more of an attempt to try out as many techniques as possible.
Invasion of the Blobs II: The Evolution Revolution
The sequel is a completely different game. Instead of a top-down action adventure, it’s a platformer (mostly). The player character is different; the game is set ten years later, and now you play as the girlfriend to the original protagonist. The game mechanics are different. The story is larger and more ambitious, as is the game design. Every level feels like a brand new experiment. The resulting game uses just about every advanced technique I’ve seen in a Game-Maker game, and makes about the best use of them that I’ve seen.
There’s an element of world-building in Invasion of the Blobs II. As I said, it expands the timeframe, the active cast of characters, and their relationships. Something that strikes me is that every stage seems to both lead logically to the next and from the previous stage. Often the previous stage is visible through an open doorway, and the tag leading to the next stage is hovering in the corner. For instance, after traversing a locker room you enter a behind-the-scenes area filled with leaky pipes. You plug the leaks with blob enemies, pass through, and climb to the roof. When you’ve reached the end of the roof, you leap off and grab the tongue of an enormous blob hovering in the sky. Startled, the blob begins to rocket backwards in space.
This leads us to one of the most technically interesting stages in a Game-Maker game, a sort of Space Harrier tribute which seems possibly inspired by some of Eclypse Games‘ work. If so, it uses the techniques in a totally new way.
Other clearer influences include RSD’s Pipemare (in the custom intro screen) and Nebula (in the elegant mode selection menu), rounding up the demo game circuit.
There’s a ton of neat stuff in here, from particle effects to background objects that you can kick around. Yet as with the first game, it’s the small things that impress me here. For instance, combat. The construction of Game-Maker makes melee attacks very difficult to realize. To harm a monster, a player sprite has to somehow birth a monster of a higher power level. Although it is technically possible to birth a monster that looks like an extension of the player sprite, it’s a pain in the neck to get right. And even when it’s almost perfect, it never quite works the way that it should. Through what must have been painstaking trial and error, though, this game gets it right. The protagonist attacks mostly through high and low kicks. I’m also struck by the amount of thought that went into the range and use of the attacks.
Also uncommonly for a Game-Maker game, the visuals are obviously imported from an external painting program — allowing more flexibility and consistently in the backgrounds and sprites. I’d use the then-industry standard Deluxe Paint; Perrucci used Neopaint. Same thing.
You can download Mike Perrucci’s games, and read a bit more on their background, at his website. I’m not sure what is more surprising about his games; their advanced design, or that they bypassed the development scene entirely and then presented themselves, fully formed, so long after the fact. If any other Game-Maker artists have fallen through the cracks, by all means get in touch.