Since I’ve recently talked about Will Wright’s crazy helicopter sim that managed to save Maxis from bankruptcy, I’d say it makes sense to take a look at another of his helicopter titles. Apparently, Will took a trip on an helicopter when he was a kid and had been totally fascinated with them since.
Raid on Bungeling Bay is a shoot ‘em up at its core but also, weirdly enough, shares a lot more common ground with Sim City than it might be apparent at first glance, being the original inspiration for the city management title.
Released in 1984 originally for Commodore 64, then later converted to both MSX and NES, Raid on Bungeling Bay sees the player departing from a naval carrier with their precious helicopter, tasked with destroying the evil Bungeling empire’s factories. Apparently, these evil buggers are working to develop a generic, but unstoppable, weapon of mass destruction.
Compared to other shoot ‘em ups of the era, Raid employs a rare top-down view and has a whole multitude of original features for the genre. Since the game has no music and very few sound effects, starting it gives off an almost quiet and relaxing vibe. But ’tis only temporary because, pretty soon, the action will boil up and the player will have their plate full, while trying to shake off guided missiles and bombs, not to mention having to defend the carrier since it is necessary to replenish ammo for the various weapons.
The title seems to take place in the same universe as other Broderbund titles, like Choplifter and Lode Runner. Apparently, the American software house was really keen on marketing games featuring the whole history of the evil Bungeling empire, I wonder if the sultan of Bungeling was the one actually featured in Prince of Persia?
It probably comes as no surprise that the original Commodore 64 version is graphically the crudest out of the three available, which was inevitable since the MSX and NES were technically superior machines. Still, what is missing graphically, it more than makes up with its complex flavours of gameplay. While the core of RoBB is, naturally, shooting and bombing the enemy factories, the player needs to employ a precise strategy in order to bring down the evil empire.
For example, taking out the ships bringing in supplies to the Bungeling factories causes a general slowdown to the bay’s economy and the production of weapons. Of course, the player could also decide to directly attack the missile factories, which are the main objective, even though running at full power they are way more dangerous to tackle head-on. The more time the player allows the evil empire to produce weapons, the higher the difficulty the game will be in the end.
The player can check out, on a dock on the island in the upper right, a battleship that is slowly being built. Once the ship is ready, it will sail to destroy the carrier and is going to be pretty hard to destroy. The radars also play an important role, destroying them means the Bungelings will have a harder time attacking the ‘copter. The handling of the helicopter is pretty realistic, as much as a game like this can allow, it is more suitable to be piloted with the keyboard than a joystick.
The interface is concise enough to be displayed on a single line on the bottom of the screen, but Wright still wasn’t satisfied and wanted to give the player even more information. Hence the use of colors to inform the player how much damage has the helicopter taken, along with identifying the strength of the various factories to be blown up. A 100% damaged helicopter is basically useless and but can still be usefully employed: for a desperate suicide bombing attempt.
This is, also, probably the first shoot ’em up ever to feature a whole assortment of different endings: the newspaper headlines on the final screen shall change depending on how many crafts were lost in the fight against the evils of Bungeling Bay. If the last helicopter is crashed against the final factory, the newspaper will celebrate the sacrifice of the great hero. Little details like these go a long way in distinguishing forgettable games from passion products, separating good game designers from real talents. The NES version enjoyed a pretty good success in Japan, so much so that an arcade version was also developed, using Nintendo’s own VS. system, like the Super Mario Bros arcade game.
Will Wright reportedly had more fun designing the buildings in the bay and their connections, rather than the shoot ’em up part. He developed two tools to make the game: Chedid, a character editor and Wedit, a world building editor that let one use the characters from the other. It was Wedit that eventually evolved into Sim City, when Wright started researching urban planning. Thanks to RoBB’s good sales, he had enough economic independence to start working on such a daunting project.
It is also worth nothing that the original C64 version of Sim City graphically looks pretty close to Raid on Bungeling Bay. In his GDC talk from 2011, Wright goes on to describe RoBB as “a mediocre title”, while I see what the designer means, personally I don’t really share his sentiment. For 1984, the game was nothing short of revolutionary and the fact that it is still one of the few shoot ’em ups – then and now – that uses unique mechanics from strategic titles, along with a slew of small details like the different endings, is clear evidence of that.
It maybe be of interest more to game historians than actual players, but Raid on Bungeling Bay remains a well designed and well done early shoot ’em up and a brilliant C64 title.