PART THREE OF...
MISSION 13 - NEW GUYS IN TOWN
Phase 1 - MEAN STREETS
Title: The gangster flick of the same name.
Mission info: A nice simple mission to start off with. Wander around the grid-patterned streets, taking in the atmosphere and shooting anyone who shows their face.
Background: And with that, a welcome farewell to the medieval levels. To me personally they were the poorest of CF2's five settings - bland-looking, one-dimensional and the most awkward of the five hosts to the modern vehicles and weaponry. By comparison, I think the much-criticised alien planet levels are bright, stylish and evocative. The nature of the CF engine meant that settings couldn't be spread evenly across all 72 stages - each of the two level disks could only hold the graphics for three kinds of scenario, so disk 2 held desert, spaceship and medieval levels, while disk 3 contained spaceship, gangster and alien planet missions (the spaceship ones having to appear throughout the whole game for plot reasons). To reward the player for having just ploughed through eight boring-looking medieval stages, I dropped a gangster mission in straight away, since with their back alleys, shop fronts, skyscrapers and rooftops, they were by far my (as well as main artist John "JL" Lilley's) favourite levels.
I always find it odd, incidentally, that nobody ever comments on CF2's mixed perspectives. All of the levels are depicted in the same overhead straight-on view (something which only really stands out in buildings-based settings like the gangster city) , except for some of the desert levels, which are shown in a "diagonal" 45-degree overhead perspective instead. I have no idea why this is.
Phase 2 - THE OLD MAIN DRAG
Title: Named for a Pogues song.
Mission info: This level takes the form of a single vertical avenue with dual carriageways running its entire length, and introduces the gangster form of the enemy jeep, in the shape of an Anthill Mob-style 1930s Mafia saloon car. There are plenty of fire hydrants by the sides of the road and bushes down the central reservation to trap the two "jeeps" against, enabling the troopers to take them out with grenades, leaving two to blow up the generator doors. It's not a particularly tough stage, but in the light of Jops' subsequent comments (see Mission 7 Phase 1) it might have been nice to give the player a couple of spare grenades here just to have a little fun with.
Background: Until quite near the end of development, vehicles crossing the kerbs in the gangster-city levels would, realistically, bounce up slightly into the air. Early on we noticed that if you hit a kerb at high enough speed, you'd bounce up so far that it was possible to ramp player vehicles right onto the roofs of buildings and drive around on them. Everyone loved this as an unintended feature, but just before sending the finished game off it was taken out as it introduced too many possibilities for bugs.
MISSION 14 - FREAK YOU MELON FARMER
Title: Thanks to the CF2 character set's lacking of a comma, you can choose to punctuate this level's title either way.
Phase 1 - A RAIN'S GONNA COME
Title: "…and wash the scum off these streets"
Mission info: The troopers are provided with a player transport chopper right at the start of this stage, whose main purpose is to provide access to the two crates of rockets at bottom left. This is one of the few levels in the whole game where the troopers are provided with a plentiful supply of explosives, there being enough rockets and grenades to take out every generator door and Mafia car with at least half a dozen left over. This was partly compensation for the absence of obstacles with which to slow down the moving cars, but since they were, as far as the game was concerned, "civilian" vehicles and so always drove in a straight line along the road, they were pretty easy to hit anyway.
Background: This mission also introduced a quirk unique to the gangster stages of the game. The CF engine was designed to only operate with two vertical "levels" of 3D space, but I designed the gangster levels to have buildings of many different heights. This meant a certain inconsistency with the troopers' ability to shoot or throw grenades down long ladders, as well as an inability to walk "behind" tall buildings, since the game included no mechanism to map characters who couldn't be seen. These were easily explained away - "Well, the grenades explode on a timer, obviously, and the tall buildings just happen to have other stuff behind them that you can't see, which is why you can't walk there" - but a few players did raise objections. JL and I were aware of the perspective issues when we were making the missions, but decided that it made for such atmospheric stages we'd do it anyway. I've never regretted the choice.
Phase 2 - WILLIAM TELL ME
Title: Misleading pun.
Mission info: I'd hoped by now that I was messing with players' heads a bit, so sticking an enemy chopper right by the troopers' start point, temptingly beside a crate of rockets, in a large stage, would make them worry that they were supposed to leave it alone and use it to blow up enemy targets which they wouldn't otherwise have enough munitions for. Actually, the level offers more than enough rockets and grenades to do the job, so the chopper can be taken out straight away, and the rest is a breeze.
Background: My hope was that players would endure several harrowing, bomb-dodging attempts at the stage before realising they'd had a bum steer, waving their fists at the screen and muttering "Why I oughta…" in a thick Bronx accent, thereby adding to the authenticity of the atmosphere.
Phase 3 - FREEWAY ENTERPRISE
Mission info: Another long road, but horizontal this time. Several Mafia cars roam the tarmac, but the cunning player will again use obstacles to halt their progress, and the truly skilful will get several stuck around the same place and take out multiple cars with a single grenade. For dealing with the generator doors and any remaining cars, there's a crate of rockets located on a high narrow roof just above the troopers' start point, but there's also a player attack chopper right at the end of the stage.
Background: I liked the idea of the player struggling through the level carefully rationing their explosives, only to find that just as they destroyed the last enemy, there'd been an invincible chopper with limitless bombs there all along. Tempting them to go back to the last save point and play through three stages again just to get a go in the chopper was one of the meaner tricks I played in CF2's entire design.
Phase 4 - AMBUSH CITY LIMITS
Title: From Ike & Tina Turner's "Nutbush City Limits", of course. The idea of the title was to make the player, funnelled down a set path, fret about where the ambush was coming, until their nerves were frazzled.
Mission info: This is a long and winding level in the shape of an "S", with only one route through it. There's plenty of ammo to do the job and you shouldn't have too much trouble even from the two gun emplacements at the end, but there's a catch - you MUST keep both your troopers alive, or you won't be able to trigger the switches that summon the UFO to come and take you to the next setting. If either of your little guys gets killed, it's start-the-level-again time.
Background: As mentioned back in Mission 9 Phase 2, I hate the idea of bits in any kind of game where you effectively have to sacrifice lives or characters. Maybe because I came to gaming from an arcade background, I'm a firm believer in the fundamentalist principle that if you're good enough, it should be theoretically possible to get to the end of any game without losing a single player. (Later, it would be one of the reasons I loved Goldeneye - with no health packs, every bullet you took meant something, and you knew it had to be possible to beat the level without them.) So I made quite a few levels like this, where for various reasons it's vital to take good care of all your little troopers, rather than regarding individuals as expendable resources on the way to the goal. Since CF went to the trouble of giving every one of your soldiers a name, I wanted to honour the principle behind that.
MISSION 15 - BETWEEN PLANETS
Title: Named after my Atari ST and ZX81 fanzine (itself named after another song by you-know-who), this mission takes you back to the enemy aliens' mothership en route to the source of the problem. In the story, the aliens would at this point have realised that their evil plan was in serious trouble, and with two whole "worlds" of their minion army defeated and another under attack, it might be time to head home for some reinforcements.
Phase 1 - QUARANTINE
Title: A simple description of the mission, with no puns, quotes or Britpop or classic-indie references at all as far as I can remember. What was I thinking?
Mission info: As they head home, the aliens are taking with them some of their own commanders who've disobeyed orders out of sympathy for the citizens of Earth, and are being returned to the alien planet for terrible punishment. The troopers can't free them as they're held in "cells" of disintegrator pits powered by the generator doors, but they must be kept alive in case they can provide vital information (and, of course, for moral reasons). Obviously a restrained trigger finger is necessary to take out the guards without killing any of the prisoners and forfeiting the level, especially as their pale blue prison garb can make them hard to see against the patterned floor.
Background: Actually everything was hard to see against the patterned floor. I liked the look of the mothership levels, particularly the motifs on the walls and doors, but it's not hard to see why some people found it a bit painful on the eyes, especially in cramped areas with lots of narrow passageways and walls where a lot of stuff would be moving around. These are by far the worst levels for spotting aliens lurking on corners with bazookas and suchlike.
Phase 2 - UNCHAINED MELODIES
Title: Ah, that's better. For my sins, I used to listen to the rather nice, swirly-and-histrionic, U2 cover version of this classic epic ballad at the time. They can be good from time to time, and I don't care what anyone says.
Mission info: Initially the freed hostages run off in fear, but the troopers manage to track them down to another part of the mothership, where they're hiding in some out-of-the-way corridors. Like the medieval damsels they're too scared to move while enemy troops are in the vicinity, so clear the area before leading them back to the safety of the transporter which will beam them aboard your UFO.
Background: The mothership levels probably suffered the most from the absence of an ostensible plot. They're so at odds with all the other settings in both CF games (they're the only indoors ones, for a start) that without some kind of explanation it was just too weird for most players to adjust/suspend their disbelief and enjoy them for what they were. One of the things I'm hoping for in writing their feature/guide is that in some small way, a few players will reappraise some of these levels in particular, a number of which I think would have been really popular in other settings.
MISSION 16 - BEEN DRIVIN' FOR DAYS NOW
Title: Comes from a line in a Swervedriver single called "Son Of Mustang Ford", and was meant to allude both to the long travels of the troopers as they moved through time and across the galaxy, and to the vehicle-heavy nature of the mission's stages. The rescued commanders have supplied important intelligence about some alien units still operating in the gangster levels, so your troopers must head back there.
Phase 1 - GRIDLOCK
Title: After the Ben Elton play/book of the same name. Ben Elton might have turned into an irritating little establishment twerp these days, but he could (and as far as I know, can) still write a punchy story.
Mission info: The troopers start the level beside a player jeep, but the title is a warning that there might be a little too much traffic around to make driving wise. A couple of enemy jeeps patrol the grid of streets below the starting position, and with manoeuvring space at a premium, crashes are likely. The smart move is to take the enemy jeeps out with your explosives, then use your own jeep to mow down enemy soldiers and finish off the level by destroying the generator doors.
Background: One of the complaints made about the lack of a plot pointed to the fact that the troopers' continual jumping around backwards and forwards between areas makes no apparent sense in the context of the time-travel plot. Why wouldn't they just sort out one area completely before moving on to the next? The answer is that all the missions in each setting don't necessarily take place at the exact same time.
In the desert, say, one of the flashpoints that the aliens hoped to influence might have been the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and another might have been the start of Desert Storm in 1991, which were months apart. Obviously the troopers couldn't just hang about for months or even years on end, so in between they have to shuttle back to the mothership. But they can't use the transporter they came out on, because they have to disable it with grenades when they leave to stop the aliens following them. So every time, they have to get picked up by the UFO, sneaked back on board the mothership, and find another transporter to use. (Otherwise the mothership mission would be the same one every time, of course.)
Phase 2 - SIDEWALKING
Title: The fifth Jesus And Mary Chain track to get into CF2, this time their breakthrough thundering electro-juggernaut tune about going for a stroll on the pavement.
Mission info: One of the few appearances of the gangster levels' under-used dockside scenery, but it plays no significant part - there's no wading through water in any of the gangster missions. Hugging the docks, however, does lead the troopers to two vital crates of rockets, so do that first. The streets are infested with manholes out of which enemies pour until the troopers blow up the generator doors, but a couple of jeeps patrol the roads to catch the unwary soldier, so watch where you're going and be ready to run away quickly.
Background: This stage is shaped, for reasons which entirely escape my memory at the present time, like the little-dog playing piece from Monopoly,
Phase 3 - RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET
Title: Named after one of the loveliest songs in the repertoire of influential cutie-poppers the BMX Bandits. All the phases in this mission, alert viewers will have spotted, have road/street/traffic-related names to tie in with the driving-themed mission name.
Mission info: This large, open level features numerous rooftop gun turrets and not one but two enemy choppers. One, however, is an unarmed transport craft carrying an alien general, and it will do its best to hide from the troopers. It's wise, then, to preserve the player jeep found at the start point until everything else in the level has been killed, whereupon it'll prove an invaluable tool for chasing the general's chopper around (madam) until it lands and can be blown up.
Background: Fabulous though they are, a few of the songs that inspired and/or gave their names to CF2 stages (including this one) don't work terribly well as a soundtrack to playing the game, which is why they don't feature on the CF2 Official Soundtrack Album.
The what now? Watch this space.
MISSION 17 - KASIMIR S PULASKI DAY
Title: Named after a track by Big Black.
Phase 1 - I WISH I COULD FLY
Title: Keith Harris and Orville.
Mission info: It's payback time. Retrieving secret plans from the wreckage of the helicopter of the alien general (whose name, it would have turned out, was Kasimir S. Pulaski), our intrepid troopers set out to use the information to clean up the gangster town for good. Documents on the general's body provide the rooftop location of an alien attack chopper, which our heroes commandeer, embarking on a vengeful mission of destruction. Once inside the chopper the troopers are invulnerable to enemy fire, so the player can cruise the level picking off troopers and generator doors, watching out only for the enemy's own choppers, which lack air-to-air missiles and can therefore be followed until they land, and then destroyed. The only way to fail the mission is to let the enemy choppers blow up your own on the ground before you get into it (trapping your troopers on the rooftop) or by colliding with one of them in the air.
Background: This mission was designed to provide players with a cathartic break (and some easy reinforcements) before the assault on the alien planet, with the odds for once stacked in their favour. If you remember that bit in the Christopher Eccleston series of Doctor Who where the Doc saves all the zombie people at the end of the brilliant episode set in WW2 Britain, and with near-delirious euphoria shouts "Give me a day like this!", you'll know how CF2 players were meant to feel on Kasimir S. Pulaski Day.
MISSION 18 - TRAVEL'S IN MY BLOOD
Title: Annoyingly, this mission should have been titled "Space travel's in my blood", from the immortal "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones, but there weren't enough letters available in the mission names.
Background: The appearance of the alien planet also marks the first of the levels designed by Amiga Power competition winners, from which most of the alien homeworld levels were drawn. Most of them needed quite a bit of reworking by me to fit into the game, but the core ideas/designs for them belong to the readers. Accordingly, my ideas of what the levels' designers were trying to achieve in their stages might be a bit vague at times.
The reasons for putting the reader levels all in one setting, and near to the end of the game, were threefold. Firstly it meant we could get on with doing all the rest of the game while the competition ran and only have one "world" to wait for, and secondly it protected us against all the entries being rubbish, and hence having important, opinion-shaping early parts of the game be effectively outwith our control when it came to reviews and such. Thirdly, for a competition the readers were obviously likely to design complicated, difficult levels, so it saved us having too many of those near the start. By putting them so near the end, though, I did occasionally wonder how many of the winners actually got to see their levels in action.
Phase 1 - LOVER'S LEAP
Title: Chosen by Amiga Power reader
Mission info: Back in Mission 15, the rescued alien commanders had provided your UFO with the location of the alien homeworld, so the troopers are landed in a quiet location from where they set off to rescue another of the alien commanders, who the aliens had managed to recapture in the chaos following "Quarantine" and who may be able to help with the attack on the homeworld. They find an alien buggy not far from a destroyed bridge across a seemingly bottomless chasm, with a tempting ramp at the cliff's edge.
Background: On this level, the birds of previous stages were replaced by little ETs on bikes, which I always thought was a nice touch by JL. But anyway
Phase 2 - THE ROAD FROM HELL
Title: Chosen by Amiga Power reader.
Mission info: As the troopers ponder the long, exposed causeway into an alien base, flanked by deadly gun emplacements, a rocket-firing alien pops out from behind a nearby bunker to get them moving. The base is very heavily defended. It sure would help if there was a massive stash of special rockets located somewhere nearby.
Background: See? That's a nice-looking level, man. Everyone's just wrong.