Centipede vs. Bad Caterpillar

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

Bad Caterpillar is a game by Fun Infused Games for PC, Xbox 360, Ouya, iOS, and Android, originally released in 2013. Centipede is a game by Atari for the arcade, originally released in 1981.
Atari’s Centipede was one of the most iconic games of early 80’s arcade gaming. In this era, an arcade machine’s physical design and attract mode essentially played the part of the carnival barker, offering hints as to the amazing things that lay beyond the opaque curtain (“Step right up! See the amazing Centipede! Cut it in half, and it just keeps coming! Only 25 cents, folks!”).

Centipede lured players in with its amazing cabinet art, unique visuals and audio, and its use of a trackball as its primary control input – one of the first arcade games to do this. The unique mechanics, environmental interaction, visual progression indicators, and tension-driven gameplay kept players coming back to sustain the centipede on its diet of precious quarters.

As is typical of arcade game design, the game starts out slow and escalates very quickly, offering a balance of engaging gameplay and frequent death, tempting the player to drop in another coin when his stock of lives is depleted. The player character sits at the lower end of a mushroom field, and the player is able to move around in a confined area at the bottom of the screen and shoot upward. At the top of the screen, your multi-legged foe moves back and forth, dropping one level downward and reversing direction when it touches a mushroom or the edge of the screen, steadily descending on your position.

You must fire upward at the centipede, but hitting it in the middle causes one segment to be destroyed – and replaced by a mushroom – while the centipede splits at that point, sending one part onward and the other part backward, making it an even tougher target. For each section of the centipede you destroy, a new mushroom is added to the playfield. And the more mushrooms there are, the faster the centipede is able to move downward.

You are able to shoot the mushrooms as well, knocking away chunks of the mushrooms similarly to how the shields are destroyed in Space Invaders, with 4 shots destroying a mushroom completely. This environmental interaction is more than just a neat effect, however, as it allows you to manipulate the path of your enemy.

By destroying mushrooms completely, the centipede’s descent is slowed, but you can also use the arrangement of mushrooms to speed up its descent. A great strategy for quickly destroying a centipede is to get it trapped in a vertical row of mushrooms, forcing it to drop straight down while you blast away at its segments.

As the game progresses, things become more chaotic. Instead of levels starting with a single centipede, the centipede emerges with a number of individual single-unit segments running around on their own, making them tougher to hit. Additionally, a spider often appears at the bottom of the screen, moving around erratically in your play area, forcing you to dodge it – or shoot it for a score bonus – while attempting to focus on the descending centipede.

The closer the centipede gets to the bottom of the screen, the more dangerous it becomes, since you must work to dodge it and shoot it, and any mushrooms that are left within the player’s bounding box will cause the centipede to drop even faster. However, if you clear out too many mushrooms in this area, the game will spawn a flea that drops down from the top of the screen, adding mushrooms to the playfield as it falls. Flea drops become more frequent in later levels, and spiders can destroy mushrooms along the bottom of the screen, forcing more frequent drops as well.

There is also a scorpion enemy that appears in the upper section of the playfield and poisons any mushroom it touches. If you are not able to destroy these poisonous fungi before the centipede reaches them, you are in for some real trouble. When the centipede touches a poisoned mushroom, it drops straight down to the bottom of the screen. Upon touching the bottom, it starts climbing back upward in reverse, eventually reaching the top of your bounding box and moving downward again. If you are killed, any poisonous mushrooms remaining are turned back into regular mushrooms, and any partially destroyed mushrooms are restored as well.

Interestingly, all of the mushrooms in the playfield carry over from one level to the next, giving the player a bit of control over his fate from one wave to another, as the playfield changes based on his actions. While the game’s rules and enemy behaviors are certainly enough to keep the game interesting, the player’s ability to alter the environment in a persistent manner has a dramatic impact on how the game is played.

Furthermore, level progression is indicated visually, with the colors of enemies, mushrooms, and even the player character changing in each new area. Today, a new color scheme may seem like an insignificant reward for the player’s progress, but it is a clear indicator of how far you have made it in the game. Given the nature of arcades, which were just as much about playing games as they were about watching others play, you could tell when you were watching a master Centipede player at work merely by looking at the colors on the screen… and perhaps tempting you to give it a try yourself.

Centipede’s core gameplay is driven by a slow escalation of tension, which is supported by its audio design. A steady beat plays in the background as the centipede descends, and there are separate audio cues as each different enemy enters the screen. The dive bombing flea is given the sound of a falling bomb, the scorpion’s poisonous infestation is accompanied by a warbling noise, and the chaotically-moving spider is matched up with a loud cacophonic sound.

When you’re whipping around the screen like mad and trying to nail those last few centipede segments while pinching your fingers on the trackball’s edge, the sound of a spider entering the playfield serves only to increase your panic response.

Another interesting mechanic is that is that the player character is only able to fire one shot at a time, and holding the button down allows for continuous shooting. What this means in terms of gameplay is that the centipede is harder to hit when it’s further away, and missed shots leave you temporarily defenseless (adding a bit more tension). The most effective method of defeating the centipede is also the most dangerous: let it get close to you and fire as quickly as possible.

The player must remain constantly aware of multiple vastly different threats while considering his firing rate and managing the continued addition of mushrooms to the playfield. Players earn 1UPs every 10,000, 12,000, 15,000, or 20,000 points (based on the machine’s switch settings), offering a reward for vigilant players and offering the chance at further progression.

Bad Caterpillar
Bad Caterpillar is a modern take on the Atari classic, offering a similar setup with the player character positioned at the bottom of the screen as he takes on the ever-descending caterpillar in a field of flowers (rather than mushrooms). Other enemies include a few varieties of spider and a scorpion, as well as several new critters in the form of bees, rolly polly bugs, ladybugs, and moths. The player’s movement area is equivalent to that of Centipede, with the player free to move within the confines of the bounding box in the lower portion of the screen.

At the start of the game, you are given the option to select between one of four pilots, each with minor differences in ship speed and weapon capacity. Bad Caterpillar has a far greater emphasis on firepower, and the amount of ammunition and bombs that can be carried varies by ship. So, while the female character has a higher ship speed, she cannot carry as large an arsenal as the overweight guy with the slow moving craft.

Selecting one of the pilots causes a dialogue balloon to appear over his or her head, with a number of quips based on their various body types. The regular hero-looking guy spouts off phrases like “Good day to be a hero, bad day to be a bug!”, while the overweight pilot makes a number of comments about eating, such as “I can’t believe I’m missing 2nd lunch for this!”. Even more insensitive are the female character’s lines with such things as “Where’s the Oprah special on giant killer space bugs?” and “Does this space-suit make me look fat?” One of the interesting facts about Centipede is that its broad appeal brought in both male and female players alike, as opposed to the typically male-centric audience of other video games. Bad Caterpillar, on the other hand, takes a significantly more antagonistic approach toward its potential female players.

The most immediately noticeable difference between the Centipede and Bad Caterpillar is that the latter is significantly faster than its forebear. The caterpillar moves very quickly to the left and right, dropping as it touches flowers or the edge of the screen, and the player’s ship fires much more quickly, with multiple shots able to appear onscreen at a time. Also, caterpillar segments now take two shots to destroy instead of one.

As caterpillar segments are destroyed, some of them drop powerups or bonus point pickups. Segments holding bonus items are marked with a dot so you can tell which segment you need to shoot to get the reward within. These powerups fall slowly down the screen Arkanoid-style, and the player must pass over them to pick them up.

In addition to the caterpillar itself, there are a number of secondary enemies. Spiders move erratically just as those found in Centipede, and there are several varieties with somewhat different behaviors. Spiders also move further up into the playfield than their counterparts in Centipede, making them easier to hit.

Scorpions plod slowly across the screen and take several hits to destroy, but they do not poison the flowers to impact the caterpillar’s behavior, so they’re largely in place as a score bonus opportunity. Bees dive bomb from the top of the screen, similarly to the fleas in Centipede, although they do not add flowers to the playfield.

Rolly polly bugs move along the upper portion of the screen, eating flowers as they go. Ladybugs roam around at the bottom of the screen, turning to move up toward the player ship when their axes intersect (similar to the beetle enemy in Centipede’s sequel, Millipede). A chirping sound is played when a ladybug enters the screen in order to give the player a chance to avoid its attack. Lastly, moths are the peskiest of enemies, flying erratically and moving in on the ship’s position, and even flying off the bottom of the screen only to fly back upward into play.

Weapon powerups include a laser that allows you to shoot more quickly, a forward-focused 3-way multi-shot, and a rail gun that fires more slowly but slices through enemies and flowers. All secondary weapons have limited ammunition, as indicated by a bar along the top of the screen (the maximum length of this bar is determined by the pilot's ammunition capacity). Additional powerups include speed upgrades, the ability to freeze everything on the screen for a few seconds, and a powerup that reverses the direction of the caterpillar and causes it to move back up toward the top of the screen. Bombs allow you to discharge a large slow-moving bomb upward, which explodes when it comes in contact with a flower or enemy, destroying everything in the vicinity. Other drops include a number of colored flowers, each of which offers a score bonus when collected.

Gone is the ability to earn 1UPs by reaching a certain score, so grabbing point bonuses and shooting down enemies only impacts your placement on the scoreboard; it does not impact your overall progression. Once you lose your stock of 3 lives, you must start the game again from scratch.

Your score contributes to your overall ranking. You start out labeled as a Grub before moving up to Dung Beatle [sic] and several other varieties of bug, including Mosquito, Hornet, Dragon Fly, Scorpian [sic], and eventually being labeled as a Bad Caterpillar. Each level ends with a stat screen showing the number of shots fired, the number of shots that hit, the number of enemies killed versus the total number in the level, the number of player deaths, and the level completion time measured to the hundredth of a second (although the random nature of weapon drops will drastically impact the player's completion time). Based on your statistics, you will receive a letter ranking and a score bonus. Score bonuses are very close regardless of rank, so you might earn 1,100 points for getting an A rank and 800 for a D.

On the surface, the core gameplay in Bad Caterpillar seems nearly identical to that of Centipede, with the high speed and powerups appearing as its major departures. However, one major component that impacts Centipede is missing; namely, environmental interaction.

No longer is the playfield changed based on your actions. Yes, you can still destroy the flowers on the playfield to impact the caterpillar’s path, but the caterpillar’s significantly faster movement makes this far less impactful. Destroying caterpillar sections does cause additional flowers to be added to the playfield, but all of your changes are lost as soon as the level ends.

In Bad Caterpillar, the screen fades to black after each wave, clearing out all of the flowers and replacing them with an entirely new configuration in the next wave. There are a number of pre-set level designs, some of which are built around sending the caterpillar downward more quickly or making it harder to hit, but many offer only simple words spelled out in the flower arrangement, such as “cat”, “die”, or “fun”, and sometimes they appear in shapes such as skulls, hearts, or a Pac-Man design. There is some randomness to the appearance of these configurations, but the gameplay speed prevents the level designs from having a major impact on gameplay.

Bad Caterpillar focuses on high-speed twitch gameplay rather than the steady tension-based escalation found in Centipede. Where Centipede balances offense and defense while offering a connection to a persistent environment, Bad Caterpillar emphasizes weaponry and powerups for a considerably more offense-oriented experience and consequence-free destruction. Centipede underscores the player’s helplessness by using audio to highlight the creeping doom of the descending centipede and the chaotic nature of the fast-moving spider, whereas Bad Caterpillar blasts away with a guitar-heavy rock soundtrack.

While Bad Caterpillar takes its inspiration from Atari’s classic, the end result is a game that looks very similar to its ancestor and shares many of its mechanics, but provides an entirely different experience. Ultimately, Bad Caterpillar is more of a Centipede-flavored shooter than an organic extension of the Centipede experience.

Bad Caterpillar was developed by Fun Infused, the developer behind a number of 2D video games.

In Nasty, players jump and shoot their way through 100 single-screen environments, facing off against numerous enemy types, each with their own behaviors. Learning how the enemies move and fire is key to completing the levels, particularly when you face off against multiple different enemies at once.

But the enemies aren't the only hazards you'll face; the environments pose challenges of their own, with several platforming staples: one-way platforms, destructible blocks, spikes, and lava. Also, rather than simple bottomless pits, the game offers wrap-around screens, which means that falling off the bottom of the screen will drop you onto the top, and moving off one side of the screen will place you on the other. What's more, enemies wrap around the environments as well, which makes many of these single-screen arenas significantly more complex.

A number of powerups help you deal with your foes, ranging from increased firepower to greater jump height, increased speed, and temporary invincibility. And you can bring a friend for local 2P co-op for the full 100-level adventure.

Abduction Actionis a single-player game, with a decidedly smaller scope than the developer's debut 100-level multiplayer action-platformer. Abduction Action has just 4 levels, with a couple of different enemies and 1 boss in each.

You play as an alien UFO pilot who is bent on causing trouble for Earthlings. In this scrolling action game, you will be picking up people and animals (represented by very tiny sprites) with your gravity beam to abduct them, or just drop them to their death. You can also levitate and drop huge rocks and other objects on people to kill them, or on bosses to lower their life bars. The military will, of course, attempt to put a stop to your terrible xeno-antics. The game is chock full of cows, chickens, aliens, and cheerleaders.

After Abduction Action, Fun Infused developed a game called Hypership Out of Control, an old-school arcade-style action game that has you piloting a spaceship that can’t slow down. You must avoid obstacles while hurtling through space, and collect coins to build up your score multiplier. The game embraces its arcade-ness with nice chunky sprite art, a high score table (with online leaderboards), and a fun sense of humor.

The game features numerous game modes that alter the way you play the game, from a normal 3-lives mode, to a hardcore 1-life mode, to a super speed mode where your ship accelerates nonstop, and a mode called "coin down" where you must constantly collect coins to stay alive.

The studio went on to release an updated version of the game called Hypershp Still Out of Control, which features some new gameplay and updated graphics.

The studio also developed Volchaos, a game where you collect gems while attempting to outrun ever-rising lava, and 2D Voxel Madness, a game that mixes platforming and the contemporarily popular mining genre.