Gromada: Crash Investigation

OK, I’m having technical problems with Gromada. There’s one level that consistently crashes to the desktop. It doesn’t do it immediately, and it doesn’t do it at a consistent time, but I can’t get through the level without a crash, regardless of what I do. The level does do some peculiar things that I haven’t seen happen on other maps — specifically, it involves a bunch of pre-damaged enemy tanks, and a repair center that will eventually give one of them a key as it repairs it. I can believe that this construct somehow gets into an untenable state when multiple tanks try to access it at once, or something like that. But this speculation doesn’t help me much. I don’t have a fix or a workaround.

I do, however, have an error log. It isn’t terribly informative about the problem, though. It mainly just seems to be a bunch of diagnostic print statements that got left in the release, lots of “sprite free” and “Beginner curclock=27106024” and the like. There’s one line that gives me pause, though: “SND::Can’t control CdAudio volume”. CDAudio? Is this game supposed to be playing CD music? There’s some evidence to support this. I hadn’t been getting any kind of background music during the missions; the only music I had heard in the game was a jolly jingle on winning levels. And yet, the options menu contains a music volume slider, which doesn’t seem to affect that jingle at all.

Well. I tried playing the disc in Windows Media Player, but it didn’t recognize it as having audio tracks. Perhaps my current system just doesn’t recognize audio CDs at all? It’s been quite a while since I last used one. But no, I tried one out and it worked fine. Perhaps it’s just hybrid audio/CD-ROM discs that give it trouble? It took me a while to locate a disc in my collection that I knew to be a hybrid — I know I have several, but I’ve forgotten which ones they are. The only one I could think of was Spirit of Excalibur, a game which uses CD-audio tracks for NPC speech and rather memorably starts the speech tracks with every insult to the player character in the game. Yes, a memorable game, but not a memorable name, so it still took me a while to find it. Anyway, the system handled it just fine. So unless Gromada uses some weird audio format that later operating systems don’t recognize, it looks like there aren’t any audio tracks on the disc. Perhaps the original Russian version was different. At any rate, I’m going to assume that this isn’t actually the cause of the crash.

The crash doesn’t actually stop my progress entirely. After you’re a few levels in, Gromada makes two levels available at once, and after that, three. This doesn’t seem to be a branching structure, but rather just a choice of ordering. Still, this means I could keep on playing other levels. But I’m discouraged now, and I don’t want to bother finishing any more levels until my problems are resolved. Which may never happen: this is a game with basically no web presence, and nary a patch. I’ve found a few cheat codes, but those seem to be the only words anyone has to say about it. Bethesda customer support acknowledges its existence, but only just barely.


Somehow, this didn't look quite so brown in the actual game.As with every post these days, I’m posting this a few days late. It was when I was playing the Lexaloffle retro-styled games that I started thinking about playing something from the stack that came by that style more sincerely. I’m not sure why Gromada is the one that stuck in my head. Heck, I’m not sure why I even own it. Probably because it was cheap and in an eye-catching, colorful package. At least it still installs and runs without problems.

Gromada is an isometric sci-fi tank game from Russia. It seems to go out of its way to emphasize its nation of origin, in fact, as if to appeal to all those Red Alert fans who instinctively associate Russia with massive supertanks. (And yes, it was released at about the right time for this to be a plausible factor.) I’m not sure this is the case, though. The two chief things that suggest conscious russification are the way that the opening animation displays the logo as “Громада” at first, and the way that the mission briefings are often awkwardly translated, with not enough articles. But the former could just be a matter of Bethesda (who published the game in America) not wanting to spend the money to redo the animation from the beginning, and the latter could just be plain ordinary cheap-videogame bad translation.

Everything, including vegetation, is rendered with a plasticky Gouraud-shaded sheen, as if it’s all toys — and the canary yellow paint favored by the enemy emphasizes this more. I’ll say this: the vehicles rotate remarkably smoothly for a sprite-based game. Presumably a lot of time and effort was devoted to this, an effect that we get trivially in the age of 3D.

Your supertank can be controlled from either mouse or keyboard. The keyboard controls are avatar-relative — “tank controls”, as they’re sometimes called. This is at least appropriate to the context, but I much prefer the mouse, which is a simple click-to-go-here system, complemented by click-to-fire-here on the other mouse button. (This is the sort of tank game that lets you rotate your turret independently of your direction of movement.) This still has its problems, mind. You can hold down the fire button to keep on continuously firing at a single point (as long as your ammo holds out, anyway), but, inconsistently, you can’t hold down the go button to continuously update where you’re moving. Also, tanks need to move in a circle in order to turn, and the mouse doesn’t give you direct control over which direction you’re circling in; for small turns, it’ll choose the most direct way, but if you suddenly have to go back the way you just came, you can wind up bumping into perfectly avoidable walls. Still, the click-to-move system lets you essentially set your tank on autopilot so that it doesn’t stay still while you concentrate on shooting at things, and that’s pretty nice.

It strikes me that it’s been a while since I played a game with printed documentation. The manual for this game, while pamphlet-sized, is surprisingly thick, given the game’s fundamental simplicity, but it turns out to be mostly occupied with an illustrated backstory. The portion devoted to the game basically just summarizes the menus and the controls, not even giving the rundown of enemies and pickups that, say, its fellow tank game Combat (2001) does. Note that Combat was released a mere two years after Gromada, and furthermore is deliberately retro, even to the point of containing limited lives, but it seems ages closer to modern design sensibilities all the same.