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The Game-Maker Archive – Part 11: Mark A. Janelle

bcudasubAlthough he only produced one game of which I have empirical evidence, Mark A. Janelle is one of the more significant figures in the Game-Maker story. A very serious fellow, Janelle was one of RSD’s first customers to make a shot at a professional exploitation of the Game-Maker software. He also managed the dial-up Night Owl BBS, which served as the semi-official Game-Maker community hub. Every copy of Game-Maker included a leaflet for the BBS.

After some recent discussions, I seem to recall some widespread connection issues. Either the BBS was only up during evening hours (as the name would suggest) or the number on the leaflet was incorrect. Either way, many people had trouble logging in. When one did log in, the place was a bit stiff and, again, serious. And being hosted in Kennebunkport, Maine, it was a hefty long-distance charge for almost anyone — even those who lived in-state, as I did. Still, it was a good place to make connections and branch off to other sub-communities and smaller BBSes.

My memory is a bit hazy; I think the Night Owl BBS may have changed names, or the Game-Maker section may have moved over to other boards. On that list of 1990s Maine BBSes, I recognize a couple of other boards associated with Janelle’s name.

As important as his BBS was to the Game-Maker culture, what even more people probably recognize is his game.

Barracuda: Secret Mission 1

bcudamapFrom experience, Janelle was all business. It looks like he reached some sort of exclusive distribution deal with RSD, as I believe my first copy of Barracuda came as a stand-alone sample diskette with my original copy of Game-Maker. Later on the CD release of Game-Maker included a stripped-down version of Barracuda as a sample game.

The reason Barracuda had to be stripped down, I suppose, is that the official version is an unusual hack job. Long before Game-Maker supported interstitial .FLI files, Janelle designed custom Deluxe Paint intro animations and a text-mode wrapper to strongly insist that the player register the game. One wonders who these many hard-working individuals are who form the Gamelynk corporation. If I fail to register, will they each send a sternly-worded note to my mother?

bcudatextSomething else kind of neat is that Janelle archived all of the component Game-Maker files, I believe using LHarc compression. So instead of a directory full of .MAP and .CHR files, you had a small number of mysterious data files, an executable, and some supplementary text files. Much tidier, and a capability that I always wished Game-Maker provided on its own. I’m not so sure that Janelle was as concerned with presentation as he was with preventing other Game-Maker users from tinkering with his files. Still, it’s cool to see this level of ambition.

As for the game itself, again it feels weirdly stiff and serious. The premise involves… well, here’s Janelle’s description:

Barracuda V1 Brand new Game Supports VGA, 286 and up with Animation. Action Role Play Game that will let you Save The World From A Nuke Atack. Navigate Submarines and Explore Underwater Wrecks…

It’s not an RPG, at least not in the sense that you or I understand. It’s more of an adventure-sim… something. Basically, nuclear warheads that threaten to blow up the Western world. You need to seek them out on the sea floor, then dive to retrieve them. It’s a hugely ambitious game by Game-Maker standards, and involves huge environments and several different play modes.

You start off as a blip on a map screen. You move with agonizing slowness in any of the four cardinal directions, half a grid square at a time. All the while, waterspouts randomly swirl around the map. If they hit your ship, well, too bad for you. There’s no avoiding them, because once you hit the arrow key the game moves you at the rate it feels like moving you. Still, it all looks clean and professional. And it’s certainly unusual.

Once you reach an “X” on the map, the game switches to a side-scrolling procedural submarine section. You dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, dive, and dive, and then scour the sea floor for a wreck to enter. Along the way your sub can shoot torpedoes, though I’m unsure at what. Maybe the game presents some hazards later on; I don’t remember encountering any. This section is more of a slow-paced bit of exploration. Again, there’s no faulting the presentation; if you ignore the tedium, it looks and feels great.

bcudadive Finally you arrive at a wreck, and the view shifts again. Now the game involves searching the wreck with a too-fragile diver. Health equates with air. If you get snagged on barbed wire and start to bleed out, you can find replacement air tanks to heal yourself. Makes as much sense as pork chops in a trash can, I guess.

Again the diver moves so, so slowly. And the areas inside the ships are enormous mazes. They don’t seem to follow any particular engineering logic; they’re just one murky corridor after another, everything looking pretty much the same. And then once you find what you’re looking for, you need to make your way all the way back to the entrance. Which is… realistic.

I notice that I’m being sarcastic all throughout this entry. It’s hard for me to avoid, as this game is so astoundingly dull. Yet it is one of the most important games in the Game-Maker library, and it’s such an oddity that it’s worth discussing.

Apparently the shareware episode of Barracuda has at least one sequel, Secret Mission 2. I’ve never seen it, and if it’s more of the same then I think I’m set. The registration form also suggests a future Mission 3, though I’m unsure if that came to pass.

From my own experience, I know that I often promised sequels and expanded games, then usually failed to follow through because nobody ever registered. In the few cases where I did bother with the registered games, they were often weaker more-of-the-same dumps rather like the later Doom episodes. Somehow, though, I suspect that Janelle had everything prepared and waiting from day one. And good for him. If there’s one thing lacking in most Game-Maker developers, me included, it’s professionalism. And Mark A. Janelle makes up for us all.

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