Code Jetpac’s rocket building action | Wireframe #40

Pick up parts of a spaceship, fuel it up, and take off in Mark Vanstone’s Python and Pygame Zero rendition of a ZX Spectrum classic

The original Jetpac, in all its 8-bit ZX Spectrum glory

For ZX Spectrum owners, there was something special about waiting for a game to load, with the sound of zeros and ones screeching from the cassette tape player next to the computer. When the loading screen – an image of an astronaut and Ultimate Play the Game’s logo – appeared, you knew the wait was going to be worthwhile. Created by brothers Chris and Tim Stamper in 1983, Jetpac was one of the first hits for their studio, Ultimate Play the Game. The game features the hapless astronaut Jetman, who must build and fuel a rocket from the parts dotted around the screen, all the while avoiding or shooting swarms of deadly aliens.

This month’s code snippet will provide the mechanics of collecting the ship parts and fuel to get Jetman’s spaceship to take off.  We can use the in-built Pygame Zero Actor objects for all the screen elements and the Actor collision routines to deal with gravity and picking up items. To start, we need to initialise our Actors. We’ll need our Jetman, the ground, some platforms, the three parts of the rocket, some fire for the rocket engines, and a fuel container. The way each Actor behaves will be determined by a set of lists. We have a list for objects with gravity, objects that are drawn each frame, a list of platforms, a list of collision objects, and the list of items that can be picked up.

Jetman jumps inside the rocket and is away. Hurrah!

Our draw() function is straightforward as it loops through the list of items in the draw list and then has a couple of conditional elements being drawn after. The update() function is where all the action happens: we check for keyboard input to move Jetman around, apply gravity to all the items on the gravity list, check for collisions with the platform list, pick up the next item if Jetman is touching it, apply any thrust to Jetman, and move any items that Jetman is holding to move with him. When that’s all done, we can check if refuelling levels have reached the point where Jetman can enter the rocket and blast off.

If you look at the helper functions checkCollisions() and checkTouching(), you’ll see that they use different methods of collision detection, the first being checking for a collision with a specified point so we can detect collisions with the top or bottom of an actor, and the touching collision is a rectangle or bounding box collision, so that if the bounding box of two Actors intersect, a collision is registered. The other helper function applyGravity() makes everything on the gravity list fall downward until the base of the Actor hits something on the collide list.

So that’s about it: assemble a rocket, fill it with fuel, and lift off. The only thing that needs adding is a load of pesky aliens and a way to zap them with a laser gun.

Here’s Mark’s Jetpac code. To get it running on your system, you’ll need to install Pygame Zero. And to download the full code and assets, head here.

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