April 30th, 2005
After the great success of "Heli Attack 2" squarecircleco. has been working hard on the new chapter of this addictive arcade game.
We're honored to show you some exclusive screenshots of the forthcoming "Heli Attack 3" together with a in-depth interview with their authors!

Q: What are the new features introduced with this third chapter of the game?

Heli Attack 3 is a completely new game and uses none of the underlying code from HA2, so it has allowed me to do lots of things that I couldn’t do before, the world map system is extremely flexible now, and each tile in the map has the ability to take on a number of properties. For the maps alone we can have one way walls, destroyable blocks, climbable walls, angled floors, angles that make you slide around, and best of all, any combination of them, such as climbable destructible walls. Additionally the weapons system has been simplified a little, so adding new weapons was quite easy. Level progression was a big problem with HA2, even though it was possible to do, I hadn’t thought it necessary at the time.

Q: There are a lot of crazy weapons in this game. Can you describe the most interesting?

The most interesting gun in the game is still a secret, I think it will be a while until anyone gets it, it will only be unlocked after the whole game has been beaten, so instead I will mention a couple of other guns to be fair. The Bladerang is one of the harder guns to use, its a disk that fires out of the gun, but also travels back the way it came, so instead of aiming to hit once, you can maximise your damage by judging where it will come back, allowing you to do twice the damage. There’s also a new upgraded Railgun called “Anytime“, as a homage to the great movie Predator. It’s a super fast firing shot that explodes as it hits enemies, leaving a trail of purple explosions in its wake, one of my favourites.

Q: Let's talk about the game play. What elements were added?

Not much has been added to the core game play. Mostly things have been elaborated on, allowing greater air control of the player and new movements such as crouching and climbing. The game is still fundamentally an arcade survival game; however we have added basic level progression to change the scenery and the difficulty of the enemies. Eventually the game ends on an infinitely long level for those hardcore gamers, but people who played to beat it will be rewarded with an awesome new gun. Additionally the bullet time effects from HA2 have been built upon to add some new modes that I have personally never seen in other games. New enemies have been added on the ground, such as little robots and snipers. These enemies are there as more of a distraction to the real threat, but offer a further challenge for players.

Q: All the game graphics are incredibly detailed. What are the steps you usually follow to obtain such amount of detail?
Before even putting down a single pixel I look for inspiration – anything from a Google image search to a quick skim through my national geographic magazines as well as frequent trips to the library and bookstore. For a game like HA3 it helps to see pictures of the real thing in order to add the right details to sprites and backgrounds.

When creating a new sprite I usually start out with a rough shape instead an outline. I find outlines very restrictive and final. I prefer a “blob” that’s easy to shape. After that I add a first layer of colour. Working with layers helps to make changes such as adjustments to HUE and contrast easier. I apply the colours in a “painting” way using shaped brushes, auto aliasing and opacity. Once I like this “sketch” I reduce the colours and clean up the sprite. Afterwards the details, highlights and contrast are added pixel by pixel.

Q: What's your favourite graphics software(s)?

It’s an unlikely choice but I am working with CorelDraw Version 11. It’s more a habit than anything else. Being used to a program and knowing all the tools, shortcuts and limitations speeds up the workflow dramatically. Corel Draw and Corel Paint offer heaps of tools on both the vector and bitmap side to create sprites, tiles as well as GUI-elements and cutscene illustrations.
I have been using it since version 3 and lack time and motivation to change to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop or Macromedia’s Freehand.

click thumbnails to
enlarge them.

click thumbnails to
enlarge them.

Q: What would you suggest to aspiring bitmap artists in order to learn creating effective characters and tiles?

Play some of the classics – or if you are like me and can’t get past the first level of a game find some screenshots. Looking at the way others took on a task and came up with a good creation helps improve your own style.
Take a good look around - see your world with open eyes. Make your images believable. Do they fit our ideas of how things work in the real world?
Most of all - create, create and then create even more. Bitmap art has a lot to do with practice and experience. Try out different aspects ( tiles, backgrounds, sprites and animation ) as well as different techniques ( “purist” pixelart, rough concepts and digital illustrations ). The better you know the techniques the easier you can apply them to a task at hand.

Q: How did you manage game assets? Did you try to externalize them? If so, how?

At first I wanted to externalize all the assets, however I always come back to a flat file in the end, the advantages in my mind outweigh the disadvantages. It’s much easier to take care of, and much easier to avoid synchronisation issues, I feel that it will eventually be loaded anyway, so do it at runtime. I understand this is a little spoilt, but it’s the way I do it.

Q: Did you use a level editor for designing the various game maps?

I find that without using a level editor, your fighting a losing battle. A level editor is fundamental in allowing fast creation of maps. During the first few months of production I made a very raw editor to make maps with, while we awaited a snazzier editor which was being created. The developer sadly had too much on his hands and we never got to use it, it was a shame, but we managed to deal with it. The editor we use now is very rough, with basic map editing, its very tricky to use, but as I made the game, and the editor, it works perfectly for me.

Q: What format do you use for exporting/importing maps?

Originally I had planed to use an XML based system, but as time progressed, I still prefer to stick with a flat file with the maps embedded in code, it goes a small way to stop client side map modification for cheating, and also speeds up loading times and prevents synchronisation problems.

Q: How many levels are there?

We are currently aiming for 3-4 levels per tile set, so probably around 16 in the end. (plus a training level). Each level will get harder and offer some hidden bonuses for the power players.

Q: The game is filled with nice eye candies: parallax scrolling, realistic physics,
explosions, smoke, flames etc... How did you manage to keep all those effects on screen without affecting the frame rate?

A lot of it is just real simple code designed to look like its doing a ton, but many things go on behind the scenes to make sure that only what is on the screen is being displayed. A lot of optimisations are being used to reduce the amount of code the Flash Player has to trigger itself, all the code is triggered manually, so we reduce the amount of onEnterFrame functions, by stepping through arrays of objects. Additionally, I spent a fair amount of time allowing all aspects to be toggleable, so if you feel the parallax is slowing down the game, you can turn it off.

Q: Is the game compiled for Flash Player 7 ?

Yes, the game will require Flash Player 7 and will not run on Flash Player 6.

Q: Do you think it's the right time to start exporting for fp7?

I personally moved to FP7 immediately, I was one of the slower movers from Flash 4 -> 5, and suffered because of it. FP7 will eventually become the standard, so I feel moving to it faster will help in the long run. Additionally 8Ball will be coming soon, and I feel that having a good grasp on AS2 now, will make it a little easier than some of those who didn’t make the move.

Q: Did you use Actionscript 2.0? If so what advantages (and disadvantages) did you find using it?

HA3 was coded with the naming conventions and type declaration of AS2, however it does not use classes for speed issues. To be completely honest, coding this way has no real advantages except keeping all variables locked to their primary function; this keeps speed up to a degree, as it stops runtime type swapping. The major disadvantage however is that it doubles the amount of code you have to write, as variable declarations become longer etc.

Q: How many people worked on it?

As in HA2, the code and graphics were all done by me and DayDream. For sound we have asked for a little bit of help, its always the last thing on my mind, Squize has lent a hand for that portion. A good friend of mine from Soundhog has kindly donated the music score for the game.

Q: How much time did it take?

This is the worst part in retrospect; it’s been a year in production this February. However it must be known that HA3 is a labour of love, in that, we don’t actually get payed to make it, so it’s always playing second fiddle to our actual work. This is the main reason in the slow development time of this project.

Q: When are you going to release it?

Ah! The question! We are trying ever so hard to get the game done, we hope with all honesty to have it done before June, but we can’t promise anything, it’s terrible for those fans who loved HA2, but sadly we can’t work on it while we have other things in the way.

Q: One problem many developers have to face one day or another is versioning. How do you approach this problem?

Versioning is very important I feel, however I never follow a strict scheme. For HA3 the versioning has been going on as major systems are integrated. Each new system gets its own letter added to the end of the file, so the new tile sets added ts to the end of the filename, it’s a terrible way to do it, as the filename is incredibly long, but keeping archives is important in case you break something, or something is lost. Future projects will be strictly versioned with a tool such as SVN, to keep art in line etc.

Q: Another problem is finding a decent Actionscript editor... any advices?

I personally have no problem with the FlashMX2004Pro Editor. I use it as it reduces the amount of alt+tabbing I have to do. On slower computers I understand it is an issue as it is a slow performer, but I run quite a fast computer, so this isn’t an issue for me. I understand that there are a lot of nice external AS editors, but I find no use for them as it stands.

Q: One growing problem seems to be the web games theft/hacking. This seems especially true for Flash based games since its not very difficult to reverse-engineer them. Did you develop some protection scheme?

The standard URL locking is in place, that is a must for most games, but with the current trend of actual modification to the games, it has become much harder to protect. We have some small bytecode hacks which seem to mess with most decompilers, and with the advent of some new technologies which only work with Flash Player 7, we feel that we are fairly well protected. However simple Memory Hacks are almost impossible to detect, so cheating will always be a problem, sadly its something we have to deal with at the moment.

Q: Do you think Macromedia could do something about it?

For sure, I would love to see ActionScript change to a compiled language, firstly this should increase the speed of it, and also make reverse engineering a lot harder. Without touching on this issue, they are scaring away a lot of developers who don’t see Flash as a viable platform to develop on, because time and energy spent on one project can be modified to look like it is another company’s product.

Q: After the famous flash player 8 demo, game developers are expecting great rendering speed improvements! Do you think this will help Flash to better assert its position as a game development tool?

Definitely, Flash is in the right position to be the number one platform for web based content, at the moment it isn’t seen as the right platform for 3d content or high action/fast paced games. 8Ball looks to change this, and make a lot of great looking things possible. With the crazy statistics of penetration for the Flash Player, its impossible to think that another product could eclipse it, but it all depends on Macromedia giving the developers what they need.

Q: How do you see the future for independent developers in the web-games market?

If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be making games! I believe that some of the most creative minds are independent game developers. The web market is ever growing, and the demand for easily accessible games is on the rise. Many companies are finding that putting games on their site is a great way of keeping people on the site, and many sites are springing up with the sole intention of giving people web games (and sadly some illegal sites which are distributing modified games). Finally, I also I feel that this is a good way to get your foot in the door to move to greater things.

Q: Mobile market seems also to be growing fast. Did you already think about a mobile version of HeliAttack or some other titles of yours?

We made a conversion of HA2 to mobile phones and the nGage system; we actually found that it didn’t work too well. The reason was that it doesn’t work for the type of game that it is. However, other titles we have created such as Little Soldiers, work much better on these portable platforms, and we expect them to do much better. The mobile platform is ready to explode, as is the online games. However I feel that they are separate entities, and games that work on phones won’t always work online, and visa-versa.

Q: What do you expect from the next Flash release?

It seems like speed is what we are getting. This is great because that’s what we have been clambering for, for the longest time. Additionally the addition of new graphic effects is extremely snazzy. I do hope they add some new countermeasures against code theft/modification. But being able to rely on the speed of Flash will be great.

Q: Can you unveil some of your future plans? Maybe an HeliAttack 4 ?

We had originally planned to make an actual single player ‘Metal Slug’ like adventure mode for HA3, however due to file size issues, more time constraints and the limitations of the Flash Player, we have been toying with the idea of doing a similar game on a stable independent platform coded in C++. The current name we are throwing around is “Heli Attack: Defensive Strike”, it will essentially be the same game, but without the survival element, and more of a standard platformer, with more enemies, guns and even more interaction with the environment. As said this is just an idea, and no plans have been made. Personally I love this series, and I have lots of ideas for progressing it further, I’ll try to continue it, and if the fans stick behind us like they have for HA2, then it will surely come.

back to SpotLight index

Have you played one of the best web games ever ?
Did you create the latest kick-ass flash game and would you like to seen it reviewed in these pages ?
Suggest us some high quality games to feature in our SpotLight!

Game suggestions HERE
| Homepage | News | Games | Articles | Multiplayer Central | Reviews | Spotlight | Forums | Info | Links | Contact us | Advertise | Credits |

| www.smartfoxserver.com | www.gotoandplay.biz | www.openspace-engine.com |

gotoAndPlay() v 3.0.0 -- (c)2003-2008 gotoAndPlay() Team -- P.IVA 03121770048