DX-Ball 2

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DX-Ball 2
DX-Ball 2 box cover
Boxart from the boxed CD version of the game
Developer(s) Longbow Digital Arts
Publisher(s) Longbow Digital Arts
Designer(s) Seumas McNally
Composer(s) Eric "SideWinder" Gieseke
Platform(s) Windows 9x, NT, 2K, XP, Vista, 7 and 8
Release date(s) December 16, 1998
Genre(s) Brick buster
Mode(s) Single-player, hotseat
Distribution Digital distribution, CD-ROM

DX-Ball 2 is a Breakout-style game for Microsoft Windows, developed by Longbow Digital Arts. As a follow up to DX-Ball by Michael P. Welch, the sequel is foremost remarked by the introduction of its 16-bit high-colour engine, presenting textured brick and background graphics in vivid colours. The game also features two new Power-Ups, an easy to play "Kid Mode", and a hotseat multiplayer mode, alongside an original soundtrack by SideWinder. DX-Ball 2 also introduces the feature of board-set selection, allowing the player to select between different sets of boards to play. The free demo thereby comes packed with a total of 24 boards divided into 6 board-sets of 4 boards search. Additional board packs can then be installed for more boards, whereas Board Pack 1 will expand the demo board-sets to 24 boards each, for a total of 150 boards. While a total of five board packs were released for the game, DX-Ball 2 was eventually succeeded by Rival Ball in 2001.

Gameplay[edit]

As a common brick-buster, the object of the game is to clear the screen of all bricks, in order to advance to the next board. The player controls a paddle at the bottom of the screen by using the mouse, keeping one or more balls in play by bouncing them up into the field of bricks to clear them. Some bricks will take multiple hits before they clear, while others will appear unbreakable. As bricks are being cleared, random Power-Ups will occasionally be launched from the impact (see List of Power-Ups). The player may choose to catch these with the paddle, or avoid them, depending on the specific Power-Up and its effect. For instance, some Power-Ups may speed up the brick breaking process by enhancing the paddle with laser guns or splitting the ball into multiple balls, while other Power-Ups may increase the difficulty by speeding up the ball or shrinking the paddle. If the player fails to catch the last or only ball in play, a paddle will be lost. The game will end once all paddles have been lost, or the board-set has been completed.

Kid-Mode and Rehab Mode[edit]

The difficulty level of the game can be switched between Normal and Kid-Mode. This is done by pressing F4 on the title screen, which allows the player to toggle between the two modes. Kid-Mode makes the game easier to play by excluding certain Power-Ups; reducing the maximum ball speed; and letting the player start each board with an expanded paddle and big ball. The excluded Power-Ups include Kill Paddle, Super Shrink and Shrink Ball. Hence the ball will always remain big, while the paddle may still be narrowed down by the regular Shrink Paddle Power-Up.

Rehab Mode is a more recent addition to the game, and followed the update to version 1.3.2. While this feature is considered an advanced option, it's only accessible from the game's advanced configurations file. This file is located in DX-Ball 2's main directory as config.cfg, and can safely be opened and edited in Notepad or any text editor. When Rehab Mode is enabled, the player will have infinite paddles, and also be able to change the speed of the ball by pressing the number keys on the keyboard, going from 1 (slowest) to 0 (the highest speed in Kid-Mode). On that note, the ball speed will not be affected by speed-related Power-Ups. Furthermore, the player will not be able to submit a high score when Rehab Mode is enabled.

Hotseat multiplayer[edit]

The multiplayer mode is activated from the game's title screen. The player simply presses F3 to toggle between the number of players to include, ranging from 1 to 4. A desired board-set is then selected for play, and Player 1 will occupy the game until a paddle has been lost or the board-set has been completed. Whichever comes first, Player 2 takes turn subsequently, and so on, until the cycle starts over. If one player loses all their paddles, the game is left to the remaining player(s). At the end of the game, only the player(s) who made it through the board-set will be allowed to submit their score on the High Score screen. Notably, Kid-Mode has its own high score table, which is separate from the high score table in Normal mode.

List of Power-Ups[edit]

Categorised by colour, the game features twenty Power-Ups in groups of ten blue, five red, and five grey. Basically, the blue Power-Ups are considered good, while red increase the difficulty, and grey may vary depending on the situation.

Blue Power-Ups[edit]

Thru Brick 
Transforms the matter of the ball, allowing it to penetrate any type of bricks on its path. Will also affect Shooting Paddle, and may be combined with FireBall.
Set-Off Exploding 
Detonates all explosive bricks on the board.
FireBall 
Transforms the ball into a fire ball, allowing it to blow up any type of bricks, including adjacent pieces. Will also affect Shooting Paddle, and may be combined with Thru Brick.
Shooting Paddle 
Enhances the paddle with two laser guns, allowing the player to fire at bricks. May be enhanced by FireBall and Thru Brick, separately and combined.
Grab Paddle 
Allows the paddle to grab and hold any number of balls.
Extra Life 
Gives the player a spare paddle, increasing the number of attempts to play by one. Will also revert the effects from Grab Paddle and Shooting Paddle.
Level Warp 
The player will instantly advance to the next board, or finish the board-set if already at the last board.
Zap Bricks 
Zaps all persistent, unbreakable and hidden bricks, allowing them to be cleared by one hit.
Slow Ball 
Slows the ball down to its lowest speed. Will also revert the effects from FireBall and Thru Brick.
Expand Exploding 
Expands all explosive bricks to the most adjacent field.

Red Power-Ups[edit]

Kill Paddle 
Destroys the paddle upon impact, reducing the number of attempts to play by one.
Shrink Ball 
Shrinks the ball, making it harder to spot.
Fast Ball 
Speeds the ball up to full speed.
Super Shrink 
Contracts the paddle to its most narrow width.
Falling Bricks 
Every time the ball hits the paddle, all bricks will descend by one unit, clustering at the bottom of the brick field.

Grey Power-Ups[edit]

Expand Paddle 
Expands the paddle width by one size.
Shrink Paddle 
Contracts the paddle width by one size.
Split Ball 
Multiplies the number of balls in play by two.
Mega Ball 
Increases the size of all balls in play.
Eight Ball 
Splits one ball into eight balls, launching them out in all directions at full speed.

Development[edit]

Written by Seumas McNally, DX-Ball 2 was first released on December 16, 1998.[1] The game was an updated version of the classic DX-Ball by Michael P. Welch, on which Seumas had contributed with graphic design.[i] It retained the basic gameplay of the original, while also recycling the sound effects and the graphics for the paddle and Power-Ups. However, with the advantage of running in high colour mode, DX-Ball 2 presented a significant upgrade from its prequel in the visual aspect, delivering colourful board designs with textured brick and background graphics; additive blended explosions; ray traced balls; and screens of fiery plasma effects. Gameplay was also enhanced with the ability to select between separate board-sets to play, which in turn would enhance the game's replay value, as each boar-set presents its own unique direction. In addition, the concept was taken one step further with the use of different graphical themes between the board-sets, giving them a further distinctive look from each other. Among other new features, the game also introduced two new Power-Ups: Mega Ball and Eight Ball; an easy-to-play Kid-Mode; and a euro-techno soundtrack by SideWinder, accompanying the addition of an integrated module player.

Version 1.2[edit]

Five months after the game's initial release, the first update for DX-Ball 2 was released on May 12, 1999, upgrading it to version 1.2.[2] The new version introduced several new features, including in-game music; hotseat multiplayer mode; improved fire effects; white sparks from impact with invisible bricks; updated graphics for the High Scores screen; textured fireball; half-bright background mode; easier-to-avoid Kill Paddle Power-Ups; less time to wait before unbreakable bricks are zapped when the ball is stuck; listing of which board was reached on high score tables; a configuration file for advanced options; and overall increased performance.[ii]

Prior to the release of version 1.2, there were also plans of releasing a board editor for the game, allowing players to create and play their own board-sets. An unofficial board editor had already been in the works since the initial release of DX-Ball 2, and with permission from Longbow Digital Arts, it was eventually made available during the second half of 1999.[iii] However, with this in mind, DX-Ball 2 version 1.2 had also been programmed to restrict custom board-sets, allowing only the first four boards to be played.[5] While this was initiated to secure the sales of the game, the company had subsequently been working on an update to version 1.3, which was planned to lift the limits of custom board-sets for owners of Board Pack 1.[6] However, with the passing of Seumas McNally on March 21, 2000, the future of DX-Ball 2 took a slightly different turn.[7]

Version 1.25[edit]

With no significant public announcement, DX-Ball 2 version 1.25 was released in July 2000.[ii] As Longbow Digital Arts was at loss by the passing of its founder, president and lead programmer,[7] the company decided to discontinue support for the board editor, to prioritise the sales of board packs. DX-Ball 2 version 1.25 would thus dismiss custom board-sets, and replace the game's board-set file format.[iv] Version 1.25 also fixed a bug with delayed sound on newer versions of Windows, and introduced minor cosmetic changes, removing the most prominent references to Michael P. Welch, and adding memorial notes in commemoration of Seumas.[ii]

Compatibility updates[edit]

As of June 2012, two versions have succeeded the update from July 2000. The first update, version 1.3.2, was released in April 2007. It was foremost written to ensure compatibility with Windows Vista, and also installs MCEWrapper.exe for support under Windows XP Media Center Edition. Regardless, a number of other changes were also made, including the addition of a splash screen upon exiting the game; an integration of the previously separate Music Pack, which adds 11 in-game songs; and a new icon for the executable, replacing the original white ball with an image of the Boing Ball, as seen on the game's title screen. Inconspicuously, it also incorporated a new game mode called Rehab Mode, while the software installer had been changed to NSIS. Unexpectedly, however, this update was later discovered to cause a compatibility issue with Windows 9x systems. Hence a second update, version 1.3.3, was provided in December 2007, which solved the problem by installing ShFolder.dll with the game.[ii]

Playmachine.net[edit]

Following the opening of a website called Playmachine.net, a special version of DX-Ball 2 was made for the service, announced on August 27, 1999.[8] The service offered a classic video arcade experience online, utilizing ActiveX to download and run games via Internet Explorer or Netscape. Players would then have the option of exchanging purchased tokens in order to play, or try the game for free in a 60 seconds trial. The arcade version of DX-Ball 2 thereby featured an exclusive board-set of 100 boards, and the service would automatically upload and host high scores, with listings for top 30 of the week and top 30 of all time.[9][10]

Board Packs[edit]

First board from the board-set "Stingers, Legs and Backs", illustrating a coiled serpent in a colourful design by Wendy McNally".[v]

When DX-Ball 2 was initially released, it came as a free demo with 24 boards divided into six board-sets of 4 boards each. Its complementary was then known as the DX-Ball 2 Board Pack, or Board Pack 1, which expands the demo board-sets into their entirety of 25 boards each, for a total of 150 boards.[11] More boards were eventually also made available, as the additions of Board Pack 2 and Classic Pack were released on June 13, 1999.[12]

Board Pack 2 featured 150 new boards by lead board designer Wendy McNally, presented in four board-sets of 25 boards, and one board-set of 50 boards. As in line with the style presented in Board Pack 1, Wendy's designs express different themes per board-set, featuring artistic illustrations of various ideas and concepts. Furthermore, the board pack also featured new backgrounds to go with the new board-sets.[vi]

The Classic Pack featured another 150 boards, designed by Michael and Sarah Welch, including the 50 original boards from DX-Ball, and two new board-sets containing 50 boards each – all in the classic DX-Ball style. In tribute to the original game, the graphics for the Classic Pack is presented in a renovated style of the original, with a softer look to the bricks, and a slightly textured black background.[vi]

Following the passing of Seumas, Board Pack 3 was released on May 19, 2000. Conforming to the style of the previous board pack by Wendy, Board Pack 3 contained 150 boards, also spanning four board-sets of 25 boards, and one board-set of 50 boards.[13]

As the final board pack released for the game, Memorial Pack was presented on July 19, 2000.[14] In commemoration of Seumas, the board pack contained a dedicated memorial set of 100 boards (formerly exclusive to Playmachine.net);[vii] two board-sets of 25 boards; and a bonus alphabet board-set of 26 boards, adding to a total of 176 boards. As a special feature exclusive to the board pack, three of the board-sets featured a special set of bricks, which combined the three different brick styles of the game, while also introducing a couple of new ones. The board pack also featured new backgrounds for one of the board-sets.[vi]

Although Board Pack 1 is considered the full version of DX-Ball 2, the board packs can be installed and played in any desired order, independent of each other. For instance, Board Pack 3 can safely be installed without any previous installation of Board Pack 1, in which case the demo board-sets of Board Pack 1 will remain intact, with the addition of the complete board-sets from Board Pack 3.[15]

Music[edit]

The music in DX-Ball 2 was written by Eric Gieseke, also known as SideWinder.[viii] The complete soundtrack contains 15 songs in a melodic euro-techno style, with various branches and influences ranging from hardcore, techno, breakbeat, jazz, house, and rock. Initially, the game came bundled with only 4 tracks, encompassing three title screen songs and a high score song. However, with the release of DX-Ball 2 version 1.2, support was added for in-game music. While this allowed for the three title screen songs to be played back in-game, a separate Music Pack was simultaneously made available for download, adding 11 new songs to the game.[2] Notably, though, the Music Pack was discontinued as of version 1.3.2, as the 11 in-game songs are now included with the basic installation.

The in-game songs are played in a random order per game, and the player can easily skip between tracks or turn the music off by pressing F5; the first press unloading the music, and the next press loading a new song. DX-Ball 2 also permits the in-game music to be customized, by adding or removing files from the InGameMods subdirectory. However, the game will only support module files of the .mod, .xm and .s3m formats. Also, the modules may use up to 24 channels, but the game will initially only allow up to 8 channels. In order to increase this value, it must be changed from the game's advanced configurations file (see Kid-Mode and Rehab Mode). Incidentally, as a related option under the advanced configurations, the playback rate of all sound is set to 22 kHz by default, and may be increased to 44,1 kHz for improved sound quality.

Boxed version[edit]

For a limited time, starting November 2000, DX-Ball 2 was made available as a boxed CD version in the U.S., being published by Tri Synergy and retailed through Babbage's, Software ETC and Game Stop. The choice of publishing a boxed version of the game was foremost in response to a public request for a gift option, while it also served as an experiment for Longbow Digital Arts to evaluate its ability to self-publish into regular retail channels. The boxed CD featured the main game, Board Pack 1, Music Pack, and the alphabet board-set from Memorial Pack as an added bonus, summing up to a total of 176 boards.[16][17]

Reception[edit]

DX-Ball 2 was met with an overall positive reception, from both editors and players. Games Domain reviewer Zack Schiel praised it for addictive gameplay, and noted it as the "best looking Breakout game ever made". However, he also noted that the "overall graphics [were] not up to today's retail standards".[18] Among other reviews, Shareware Viking gave the game "Warrior Status" with a score of 84/100,[19] while ZDNet rated it 5/5 stars.[20] Among consumer reviews, the game scored high at Epinions.com, with 4.5/5 stars out of twelve reviews, based on seven reviews of 5 stars and five reviews of 4 stars.[21] Public favour was also remarked at Software Informer, where editor Daniel Ángel Romero gave it 3/5 stars, while the game maintains a user rating of almost 4.5/5 stars, based on 28 votes as of June 2012.[22]

Successor[edit]

As a spiritual sequel to DX-Ball 2, Longbow Digital Arts released Rival Ball in 2001. While the new title recycled the engine of DX-Ball 2, it also introduced many new features, including a buttoned layout with cursor-based navigation; two new Power-Ups (replacing two older ones); new graphics for the Power-Ups; new square shaped bricks; 4 difficulty modes; new sound effects and music; and 1-on-1 split screen network play. In addition, it also featured the ability to set timers, randomise board order and repeat board sets, also including support for DX-Ball 2 boards.[23]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ For Seumas McNally's involvement with the original DX-Ball, see that game's opening credits.
  2. ^ a b c d See the game's readme file for change log.
  3. ^ While no sources have been found to pinpoint the date of the board editor's initial release, a note in the announcement of DX-Ball 2 version 1.2 suggests that it was subsequent to this update,[3] while an archived post on the company's previous bulletin board suggests that the last known update of the board editor was on September 26, 1999.[4]
  4. ^ Prior to version 1.25, the file type of the game's board-set files were of a .bds extension. As of version 1.25, the board-set files found in the Boards subdirectory of DX-Ball 2 are of a .bdz extension, and the game will dismiss any .bds files found here.
  5. ^ The board-set is featured in Board Pack 2.[11]
  6. ^ a b c For the visual features presented in the different board packs, see DX-Ball 2's website for related screenshots.[11]
  7. ^ The board-set file for "Seumas Memorial 100" is named playmachine.bdz, indicating that this is the same board-set that was used for the Playmachine.net version of the game.
  8. ^ For the author of the music in DX-Ball 2, see the game's opening credits.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Topic: DX-Ball 2 Available for Download!". December 16, 1998. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Topic: DX-Ball 2 Version 1.2". May 12, 1999. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  3. ^ "Topic: DX-Ball 2 Delay". March 7, 1999. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  4. ^ NOPeR (September 26, 1999). "NEW Version! DXBoard 0.80 - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  5. ^ NOPeR (May 12, 2000). "Questions and Kudos - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  6. ^ LDA Seumas (August 18, 1999). "More than four? - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  7. ^ a b "A Memorial to Seumas McNally". Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  8. ^ LDA Seumas (August 27, 1999). "A new way to play DX-Ball 2 - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  9. ^ "PLAYMACHINE.NET" (Archive). Quiet Giant Productions. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  10. ^ "Topic: New PlayMachine.net Version of DX-Ball 2". August 28, 1999. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c d e "DX-Ball 2". Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  12. ^ "Topic: More DX-Ball 2 Boards!". June 13, 1999. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  13. ^ "Topic: Announcing DX-Ball 2 Board Pack #3". May 19, 2000. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  14. ^ "Topic: Announcing DX-Ball 2 Memorial Pack and Particle Fire 2". July 19, 2012. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  15. ^ LDA Kusari (January 1, 2002). "Ordering DX-Ball 2 - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 28, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  16. ^ "Topic: Tread Marks and DX-Ball 2 on Store Shelves". November 24, 2000. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  17. ^ LDA (January 21, 2001). "purchasing - Longbow Digital Arts Discussion". Longbow Digital Arts. Archived from original on June 25, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  18. ^ Games Domain Review" (Archive). Zack Schiel. Games Domain. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  19. ^ "REVIEW" (Archive). Kim Strickland. Shareware Viking. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  20. ^ "ZDNet: DX-Ball 2" (Archive). January 17, 1999. ZDNet. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  21. ^ "DX-Ball 2 for Windows Reviews". Epinions.com. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  22. ^ "DX-Ball 2 - Software Informer". Daniel Ángel Romero. 2008. Software Informer. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  23. ^ "Topic: Announcing Rival Ball". March 19, 2001. Longbow Digital Arts. Retrieved June 28, 2012.

External links[edit]