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Spire of the Ancients (WIP)


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4 hours ago, gambler172 said:

Hi Smitty

any news???

Hi, sorry it's been so long since I last posted. I figured I should get enough done to have something to show for it before posting again and most of what I've been doing is background stuff.

It's been long enough that I can't really remember all of the changes since the last build I posted but from memory I've:


Improved the password entry screen so that the title screen animation stays in the background. Also added arrow icons to enter the password or back out to the menu where previously for testing reset was to back out and any button press entered the password.


Added a (currently rough draft) horse graphic to the title screen to complete my original idea of the title screen showing the player riding into the mountains from their perspective.


Added an arrow to both the start and end game text crawls to make it a bit more obvious there's more to read. I intend to adjust the controls to allow scrolling back should the player accidentally press a button.


Added a brief ending animation before the end text crawl to set the mood and hopefully feel a bit more rewarding than the "Conglaturation. Game over" that some games have.


Finalised the list of in game items / magic abilities to about 20, only a handful of which should be necessary to beat the game but hopefully there aren't too many that people will think of as useless. One of them will be a well hidden secret as it can definitely skew things in the player's favour when equipped even if it initially seems pointless, and another will be to help players track down anything they might be missing.

I don't have one at the moment but I hope to add a screen showing the percentage of items collected ala Metroid to give a reason for replaying (besides something in place the less said about the better).


Improved and added animations when using items and abilities, including having a delay during the animation before the effect of that action happens. An example of this being when using the hammer the animation will show the attack coming from the left or right side depending on which hand it's assigned to, but it won't actually hit until it hits the ground.

Normally I'd think any delay when pressing a button in a game is a bad idea but I think here it adds another level of balance and strategy as weaker weapons can hit sooner.


Finalised the list of enemies and gotten their drawing routines in place, or at least placeholders. There are 7 main types of enemies and a few palette swaps, but taking into account unique enemies like bosses there are 16 'unique' designs (with graphical elements shared between them to make the most of the graphics I've got) so I'm feeling pretty good about that.



I also realised that I keep making maps that are small and boring with no real goal to them, so that they're really just a linear path from room to room with a couple of obstacles in between.

To get over this and actually try to make something fun to play I've mapped out all the areas I want to make and how they relate to each other, then I've been making each of those areas several maps in size with things to do in each part. I intend to have the section up to and including the first boss fight be more linear before the map opens up and for that to be the demo to buy me enough time to finish up everything else.

I've also been rewriting AtariVox editor 'Voxolotl!' to use a pair of keyboard controllers and that should certainly help me get the amount of speech I want in this game.

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  • 1 month later...

It's been so long now since I've uploaded a new build I thought I'd best just post what I've got. It's not as much as I wanted the next posted build to contain but at least it's something.

There's still plenty of things I'm working on in the background and this demo doesn't really show off much at all of what's been implemented as I don't want too much to be on show, but there's a few items to collect, a few enemies to fight, and a goal to reach if you get far enough.


It's also been long enough that I've included some notes below to help:


You have only 10 hp and the monsters you fight will be very evenly matched so it's not a good idea to just stand there trading blows. You can run past them if you need to or step away to dodge their attacks. I've not balanced anything so good luck, it is possible to fight everything and live.


There are 2 save-points marked by spinning orbs. Standing in the middle will update your password and save it to a HSC or Savekey. You can press pause and reset to quit back to the titlescreen, then go to continue to see what your password is. Reloading it will put you next to the savepoint.


Flailing your arms around uses up strength which will quickly replenish, but when it's 0 you can't attack.


In order to get something put together to show the guardhouse interior is fairly bugged and doesn't play as it should as some of the portcullises that should be down are up, others just don't work, and a few of the enemies don't react at all. The few maps past that point (movement between them is seamless) don't have any enemies or items populated so you just need to find your way around.

I'd be interested to see how people find this bit as it all makes sense when designing the maps, but I'll admit I've gotten lost playing through so if people think I need to streamline them I will.

Another area I'm interested in getting an opinion on is the very last which is entirely dark. The area is actually quite small and the intention is to force the player to find their way around using sound, but the highlights of the walls should also be barely visible. If it's too dark then I'll raise the brightness a bit.



Left stick/pad to move and turn

Left button to use the item in the left hand as shown in the HUD

Right button to use the item in the right hand as shown in the HUD


Select for next left-hand item

Select for next right-hand item


U/D on the right stick/pad can be used to select left-hand items

L/R on the right stick/pad can be used to select right-hand items


Pause pauses and unpauses the game.

Pressing Reset while paused will quit to the titlescreen.


Power turns off the 7800 so don't press that.



Your hands are naturally always available and are the only thing you start with. You can light and extinguish torches, knock on walls to find your way around in the dark, or beat up monsters with your multi-digit meat-clubs.


Keys can be found lying around and mysteriously work on doors with a key symbol above them (except not all doors have the proper symbol because bugs). Only one key can be held at a time not that you'll need multiple, and the key must be in hand to unlock the door before trying to walk through it. Doors don't just unlock themselves if you faceplant into them with a key in your back pocket.


The revival potion is a vial of something blueish with an ominous skull on it. If you're holding it when you die you'll be revived with a temporary bonus of 10 health to get yourself out of trouble. It doesn't help if you walk into a fan because you'll be re-pulverised as soon as you revive.


There is a yellow stat-up potion hidden that increases your luck stat by 5 points. The idea being that to get strength-up potions you need to get through fights, focus-up through puzzles, and luck by stumbling across them in obscure places. There is a strength-up in the guardhouse interior but it's not accessible because bugs.


A knife can also be found in the guardhouse which can do a bit more damage over time than just your fists (but is basically useless in this demo unless you go back and fight the monsters you've already passed).

SotA NTSC.bin SotA NTSC.a78

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16 hours ago, SmittyB said:

Power turns off the 7800 so don't press that.

For f*cks sake, that's what I've been doing wrong all this time. ?


Thanks for the new release. I should be able to give it a proper run-through this weekend and give some feedback; this is one of those games that you need to give all of your attention to, to properly experience it. ?

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I finally downloaded and tried this - it's awesome!


I'll confess that when I was thinking about game genres I wanted to do, and what the 7800 needed, "First Person Dungeon Crawler" was high on the list.  After seeing a few screenshots of this game, though, I concluded the 7800 Dungeon Crawler is in good hands! :)


I might do something RPGish eventually, but it's nice to see this genre already being done so well on this platform!

Edited by Revontuli
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Thanks everyone.


@Revontuli there's always room for another, and there's plenty of room for improvement. There's a lot about SotA that I would definitely do differently if I started over such as how maps are limited to 16*16 (and to be honest I probably wouldn't attempt the realtime aspect of it again).


@PacManPlus thanks very much.

Funnily enough the original Dungeon Master wasn't high on my list of inspirations at the start, falling behind Catacomb 3D, Catacomb Abyss, Skeleton+, Pokemon (I was testing drawing using the 3 colour gen 1 graphics), and Dungeon Master 2 which had a bit more of an exploration element to it.


The general settings, enemies, and items have been floating between projects for ages so conceptually it's gone from a realtime roguelike on the SNES, to the same on the 2600, to turn based strategy, to a C64 first person dungeon crawler, to a C64 RPG, to what it is now.




When I started programming for the 7800 I wanted a simple thing to work on to get into the flow of it, and the basics of this sort of game are straightforward and something I've done before so that's what I did.

Turning it into a game has been pretty damned tricky though and it doesn't help that I thought "well, instead of going to a separate battle screen, why don't a just draw over the main area? If I'm doing that why don't I just draw them at different sizes so they're actually in the map? If I'm doing that why don't I just make it real time? Hey, if I change the colour palette then I can have lighting effects! Hmmm, this seems to be keeping up with what I'm throwing at it, why not add particles? Ooh, if I have particles I can have rain!" and so on.

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On 5/27/2020 at 6:58 PM, SmittyB said:

Power turns off the 7800 so don't press that.

Ever?  But doesn’t the owner’s manual say to turn it off before inserting or removing a cartridge?  So once I play this, I can never turn it off, or do I just pull the wall wart from now on?



But seriously, I can’t wait to try it this weekend. Your last demo was looking awesome.

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I just played through the demo.  Wow.

Amazing work.  I love everything about this.

I love when you fall to a new floor there's debris that's kicked up.  Such a nice touch of detail.

I love how the hand swipes when you interact with something like lighting a torch.

I love the music.

I love when you go outside you have thunder sound effects without music, to go along with the awesome lightning and rain effect.

I love that when you first go back inside, there's no music.  It's just creepy.

I do have a couple of very minor suggestions, but maybe later.  I'm still too blown away by this.


It's a short demo, but well worth a playthrough.  I can say that so far, this is looking like it will be in my top 3 favorites on the system.  I was going to say "favorite", but the other games I'm thinking of are in such a different genre that I don't know if I can say that.  I'm sure fleshing out a full game of something like this will still be quite daunting, but I can hardly wait for the finished product.


Again, AWESOME work.  Thank you for what you're doing and please do whatever it takes to not burn yourself out along the way.



Edit: BTW, I played on an emulator so I wouldn't have to leave my 7800 powered on.  :lol:

But seriously, I do love that line in your opening post description.  I hope it gets put in the manual.

Edited by KevinMos3
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Thanks very much!

I'm eager to hear any suggestions from you or others, after all I'm not just making this for myself. I know there are plenty of things I can do to improve the playability and I want to know what they are.

One such improvement is I've beefed up the thunder sounds as I thought the one in the demo was too quiet, even at full volume, because of the low frequency tone I used. Of course I might change it again but that's to be seen.


When it comes to writing a manual I expect the language used will be similar for the technical bits. First everyone's 7800s, and then... the world!

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Hi Smitty

really great demo,but the level in darkness is a little bit too dark....not easy for me,to find a way through the maze.And an orientation by sound is nothing 

for me....my ears are not the best ?.

Btw...a great demo for testing.The intro is absolutely top.For the next demo,a complete level

would be great.

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41 minutes ago, gambler172 said:

the level in darkness is a little bit too dark

Thanks, that's good to know. There is lantern item (not in the demo) that would help, but I want to have some areas in darkness before the player gets it so it becomes a solution to a problem. I could simplify the map further and increase the brightness of the wall's highlight to improve those areas.

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We'll be checking out Spire of the Ancients on tomorrow's (Sun May 31) ZeroPage Homebrew stream LIVE on Twitch at 11AM PT | 2PM ET | 6PM GMT! Hope everyone can watch!







Edited by ZeroPage Homebrew
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Really impressive work SmittyB, I am happy to see this level of quality in a dungeon role-playing video game for Atari 7800.


About twenty years ago, I loved Shining in the Darkness for Genesis, I remember while my brother was playing remembering the mazes instead I drew the maps and I would have liked to ask the developer of the game if I was cheating.


I am finally testing your game and I see that your progress is incredible, really thank you for all your efforts and your dedication to this ambitious project. I still need to deepen but what I am seeing is already very refined and inspired.


The only thing I would suggest is to consider replacing the white color of the menu, maybe with a dark gold / parchment color. I see that the white color of the menu literally illuminates the playing field at the expense of the dark atmosphere. In addition, the excessive contrast caused by the white color could become an eye discomfort during a long game session.







Edited by Defender_2600
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On a crt rf 7800 you can not see the top portion very well..letters are rainbow like and blurry.. 

The screens you show look awesome but on a classic setup it is unplayable. 

a color change may help for sure..


Also will you be able to use the video control pad aka star raiders pack in controller on this game instead of the console? 

Edited by Jinks
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@ZeroPage Homebrew You can bet I'll be watching, looking forward to it.


@Defender_2600 I completed Shining in the Darkness a few weeks ago actually. While I had some level of fun, but if I'm honest there was a lot of wasted opportunity with it. The whole game is built around grinding XP until you can get a little further on the linear path to grind more xp, and while the game supports large rooms there are only about 3 in total and everywhere else is corridors. I think I might have been especially disappointed with it having played it after Phantasy Star on the Master System which did a lot more with its first person dungeons and animated monsters.


The reason the HUD is white is because I originally had the colour disabled for the top part of the screen to reduce the distortion in the signal, and I needed a high contrast for it to really be visible through my blurry RF output. It's also now shared with the item animation, so I can't change it without then also changing the colour of the hands / weapon slashes / etc so I'm leaning towards leaving it as it is.


@Jinks / @RevEng As above I previously had the colourburst disabled for the top section but I found that it made the overall image much worse for me as I guess my TVs aren't sure how to handle an image that's half black and white. When paused the rainbow effect goes away for the whole screen as it's then all shades of grey and the image is spotless (besides all the other interference, yay RF).

I'll try disabling the colourburst again and seeing what happens as it was a long time ago that I changed that, but it's not unplayable on my setup so it's probably related to PAL/NTSC differences which I can't really test.


As for keypads there is support for a keypad in the second controller port. I didn't mention it because it's not finalised, but the 4 upper left buttons will select items, and the lower left will pause and unpause.



I tested the latest build on hardware and noticed a number of differences that don't show up in emulation so I'll work on those. The background colour flickers a bit, but is worse when moving around and stops when the timer to allow you to move again runs down, weird. Also the ending scene has a graphic that's off vertically by a couple of lines, but that could also be related to the colours.

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58 minutes ago, SmittyB said:

I'll try disabling the colourburst again and seeing what happens as it was a long time ago that I changed that, but it's not unplayable on my setup so it's probably related to PAL/NTSC differences which I can't really test.

If it does mess things up, maybe try varying the number of lines (it might be that disabling+enabling colorburst resets the PAL phase alternation) and/or starting with colorburst on for a few, and then off. (might be important with newer tech framebufferish TVs)

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What happens when you disable the colorburst mid-frame isn't going to be consistent across all sets.


I'd put this in the same category as the rapid flickering techniques to get more colors I see around here : not recommend, but if you want to do it - do it and put a warning in the manual that it might not work with certain setups.

Edited by TailChao
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I might make it a toggle on start up by holding in one of the buttons. I already have it so select and reset will erase the save data, it would be trivial to toggle disabling the colour by holding pause and then including that as part of the password / save (providing I can find a byte free in memory).


I'd do it like that because I have one of the difficulty switches for turning off music (that I also forgot about) and the other might be needed to toggle between the keypad and atarivox

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I've tested with the colourburst setting off for the HUD and it seems my CRT doesn't care and assumes it's colour unless the full image is black and white, while my main LCD has the most issues and seems as if it's having trouble stabilising the image as it wobbles slightly and the HUD rainbow effect is in overdrive.


@Jinks Would you mind testing my current work build to see if you get the same rainbow effect with the colourburst turned off in the HUD?


I'm certainly not going to change the HUD and text to 160A at this point so I guess it's a case of "If it looks bad, try holding pause (if I implement that), or try a different TV, or get your 7800 S-Video modded or something". 

SotA NTSC.bin

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I haven't tried that test rom on real hardware yet (might set up the 7800 today), but I did have this happen in the latest MAME.  I was about to go through the door with the key in my left hand.  That's a total lockup btw, not just graphic glitch.



Edit: The game looks much better in MAME than Prosystem IMO.  The background color lines line up better (I'm assuming more correctly), and the color just below the HUD lines up as well.  I think Prosystem is about 2 lines or so off.  Again, I have to assume that MAME is correct.

I would suggest tweaking the color of the debris particles though, as they are very hard to see with MAME's more accurate color palette.  Maybe a lighter color would make them stand out a bit more.

Edited by KevinMos3
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