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Recreate Tiger-Heli’s bomb mechanic | Wireframe #45

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Code an explosive homage to Toaplan’s classic blaster. Mark Vanstone has the details

Tiger-Heli was developed by Toaplan and published in Japan by Taito and by Romstar in North America.

Released in 1985, Tiger-Heli was one of the earliest games from Japanese developer Toaplan: a top-down shoot-’em-up that pitted a lone helicopter against relentless waves of enemy tanks and military installations. Toaplan would go on to refine and evolve the genre through the eighties and nineties with such titles as Truxton and Fire Shark, so Tiger-Heli served as a kind of blueprint for the studio’s legendary blasters.

Tiger-Heli featured a powerful secondary weapon, too: as well as a regular shot, the game’s attack helicopter could also drop a deadly bomb capable of destroying everything within its blast radius. The mechanic was one that first appeared as far back as Atari’s Defender in 1981, but Toaplan quickly made it its own, with variations on the bomb becoming one of the signatures in the studio’s later games.

For our Tiger-Heli-style Pygame Zero code, we’ll concentrate on the unique bomb aspect, but first, we need to get the basic scrolling background and helicopter on the screen. In a game like this, we’d normally make the background out of tiles that can be used to create a varied but continuous scrolling image. For this example, though, we’ll keep things simple and have one long image that we scroll down the screen and then display a copy above it. When the first image goes off the screen, we just reset the co-ordinates to display it above the second image copy. In this way, we can have an infinitely scrolling background.

Our Tiger-Heli homage in Python. Fly over the military targets, firing missiles and dropping bombs.

The helicopter can be set up as an Actor with just two frames for the movement of the rotors. This should look like it’s hovering above the ground, so we blit a shadow bitmap to the bottom right of the helicopter. We can set up keyboard events to move the Actor left, right, up, and down, making sure we don’t allow it to go off the screen.

Now we can go ahead and set up the bombs. We can predefine a list of bomb Actors but only display them while the bombs are active. We’ll trigger a bomb drop with the SPACE bar and set all the bombs to the co-ordinates of the helicopter. Then, frame by frame, we move each bomb outwards in different directions so that they spread out in a pattern. You could try adjusting the number of bombs or their pattern to see what effects can be achieved. When the bombs get to frame 30, we start changing the image so that we get a flashing, expanding circle for each bomb.

Here’s Mark’s code for a Tiger-Heli-style shooter. To get it working on your system, you’ll need to install Pygame Zero. And to download the full code and assets, head here.

It’s all very well having bombs to fire, but we could really do with something to drop them on, so let’s make some tank Actors waiting on the ground for us to destroy. We can move them with the scrolling background so that they look like they’re static on the ground. Then if one of our bombs has a collision detected with one of the tanks, we can set an animation going by cycling through a set of explosion frames, ending with the tank disappearing.

We can also add in some sound effects as the bombs are dropped, and explosion sounds if the tanks are hit. And with that, there you have it: the beginnings of a Tiger-Heli-style blaster.

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