Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom (1982)
By: Sega Genre: Shooting Players: Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 23,297 (one credit)
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, PC, MSX, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, TI-99/4A, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari XE, ColecoVision, Coleco Adam, Intellivision
Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

It may have taken a few years but it still wasn’t long before the first few licensed video games started to appear. One of the first such games to grace an amusement arcade was this example, by my beloved Sega no less, and was based on the (mis)adventures of Captain Rogers. Well, I say ‘based’ but this is a game that, name aside, has pretty much nothing to do with the source material – something that would become a familiar story in the years to come – but as we all know, that doesn’t necessarily make it a sucky game, just an unfaithful one. Planet of Zoom, for example, takes the form of an into-the-screen shooter. Nothing unusual there for a 70’s sci-fi show, I’ll grant you – plenty of shooting done in most of those. However, as long as it might have been since I’ve immersed myself in the gallant exploits of Buck, Wilma, and Twiki, nothing else from the game seems familiar.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t even be sure that we’re playing the game as Buck! Oh well, whoever may be at the controls, it’s your job to guide their ship through a tonne of dangerous stuff, and the best means of doing this is by blasting the crap out of it all. To this end, the ship offers unlimited use of its cannon, and you can also move it around the screen freely and increase or decrease its speed as you see fit. Each round is divided into eight stages (or sectors) of which there are three types – trench (as seen in the screenshot to the right), open space (next shot down), and planet (bottom shot) – but the object of each is the same; namely, to either fulfill an enemy quota or to finish within the time limit. If you can take down the required number of enemies before the time expires, you’ll move on to the next stage with any remaining time awarded as bonus points. If the timer runs down before you do this, you’ll still progress but with no bonus.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

Most of the stages merely pit you against various kinds of oncoming enemies which include many flying saucers, hopping ground-based buffoons, red/purple versions of your own ship (almost), fast winged vessels, and angry-looking grey/red craft. As well as being mighty dangerous by themselves, most of them can also fire missiles and stuff at you, and there are also a few other hazards too. One of the trench stages features a series of barriers with gaps on the left, right, or middle, one of the planetary stages has a load of weird slalom-style gates (which offer only your continued existence as a reward for passing though them), and there is also a stage featuring a much larger boss ship which, for some reason, attacks with its back to you allowing you to simply blast all four of its engines to see it off. Defeating this befuddled clot isn’t too hard and each time you do it’s on to the next round where the stages are in a different order.

Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom

This process goes on forever as far as I can tell, which means things could potentially get more than a little repetitive. Fortunately, the action is fast and involving enough to keep this from setting in too much. The stages all look the same each time they’re repeated but they work well – the scrolling is pretty fast and the enemies move quickly via some superb scaling. The colouring is also impressive with lovely pixelly explosions, nice shaded skies, and even some occasional eye-melting psychedelic effects on some spacey stages. The sound is a little more basic, consisting only of a constant blooping sound (the ship’s engine?), as well as shooting and explosion effects. They’re loud though, and do contribute to the enjoyment of Buck’s adventure which is a pretty decent one. I think it’s clear Sega’s inspiration for Space Harrier lies here, and the later game is understandably the one that’s more fondly remembered, but I was pleasantly surprised by its spiritual predecessor which is more playable in some ways as well as being slightly easier. Buck and friends may have a pretty limited involvement but they can still be fairly proud of this.

RKS Score: 7/10

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

Tomas Danko at studio
Tomas Danko Studio

Interview – Tomas Danko (VO Producer at DICE)

What do you do for your job, where do you work, and what do you like the most about it?

My official title is VO Producer and I work in-house at Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) in Stockholm where we do the Battlefield and Mirror’s Edge franchises. I am part of the audio team (which makes us all Sound Designers according to the EA matrix), and my primary focus is everything that has to do with dialogue (VO means Voice Over).

Among other things I work with writers and game designers to develop a script/story, cast actors, record and direct dialogue, post edit and design/sound effect all dialogue not to mention all the work needed to implement it in the game (i.e. scripting, logic triggers, mixing and more).

I like almost all of it, although working for a week trying to beat a 500,000 cell Excel sheet into submission is not the most fun I can think of, even though it has to be done at times. I figure I love my job because it makes me do totally different things every month or so. Some examples: One week I record and direct actors in a studio in London, or outdoors in Stockholm. The next week I edit wave files. Third week I design radio filter effects, and then I create Boolean logic tree structures to do automatic triggering of sounds in the game. It never gets boring.

What was your first computer and how did you get it?

My first computer was a Casio PB-100. I used it to program a lot of small games and demos with it, and my math teacher in school had her son (he studied computers at the University) provide me with code problems to solve. My second computer was the Commodore Vic 20, and I guess the rest is history since it steered me onto the glorious path of Commodore computing.

What was the first video game you played?

My memory eludes me, but probably Pong if you exclude all the games I programmed myself on the PB-100 and Vic 20.

What is your favorite video game platform of all time?

It has to be the Commodore 64, of course!

What’s your favorite video game?

There were too many games taking too much time out of my youth to pick just one. However, I spent an awful lot of time playing Paradroid, Pirates, Kickstart, Bruce Lee, Exploding Fist and Rally Speedway among other games.

What’s your favorite story of the computer or video game industry? (could be yours or somebody else’s)

It has to be the little bug in Kickstart on the Commodore 64 where the head of the motor cycle driver sometimes flickered one line or two into the upper border if you managed to jump high enough. Someone (1001 Crew, IIRC) took a deeper look into it and the rest is demo scene history (fully opening the borders).

What do you prefer, the present or past, considering the state of the computer scene?

The past, obviously, as far as the scene. It will never be the same again. The present and future when it comes to making computer games. It is a lot more fun nowadays as opposed to when I did games on the Sega Megadrive and Sony Playstation.

What’s the most influential video game you have ever played, that changed your life?

Tomas Danko playing tabletop games.
Tomas Danko Dice

Kung-Fu Master.

When you were younger, who were the people you considered to be legends in the computer and video game field?

There are too many to mention them all. I’ll just say Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway and call it a day.

What is your favorite old school gaming studio/developer?

It probably needs to be Andrew Braybrook (Hewson Consultants Ltd, Renegade Software).

What music inspired you to follow your career?

Jean-Michel Jarre besides all the ancient heroes making music on the Commodore 64. On the whole, I figure computer music had a more profound impression on my aural aesthetics than anything else.

What do you think the future for gaming will be?

It seems to take a couple of parrallel paths at the moment.
More platforms are moving towards as well as further developing movement based gaming such as the precursor Wii console.
A lot of gamers want to be entertained in a dumbed down way, halfway point and click and get through the experiences of a game without having to work too hard or think too much about it. Hence a lot of “shooting gallery” single player campaigns where everything runs in a linear and tubular fashion.

Finally, and this is the nice part as far as I’m concerned, some people are working hard to push the narrative aspects of gaming further in order to get on par with the Hollywood movie industry in regards to telling a story and giving the player an emotional experience as well. Merging the knowledge and methodologies created and perfected by Hollywood with the non-linear and interactive core mechanics found in games, to give the player a brand new experience in the future. This is where the frontier lies in gaming, as far as I’m concerned.

Do you prefer games that are personalized single player experience or games with a lot of interaction with other people?

I like both, to be honest. From a developer’s point of view, I find the single player campaign to be the most fun and challenging to work on. But some of the most rewarding gaming moments in recent time for me tend to be the in-house multi play tests when working on various Battlefield titles.

What projects are you involved with that you are willing to share with us? (not top secret ones!)

We just released Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and I did some VO and sound design on it. At the moment I’m working as VO Producer on the multi player component of Medal of Honor, other than that I’m working on another Battlefield franchise title and that’s all I can share at the moment.

What advice do you have for somebody that wants to be involved in the video game industry?

Start working with some friends on a small game and release it for free or work with making mods for Unreal engine games. Look into the iPhone platform and business model, and make your own career. Try and get an intern position at a studio.

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I thank Tomas for taking the time to answer us and help us get to know better his gaming and computing past, as well as his contribution to the computer and gaming industry.