Interview: Simon Quernhorst

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Simon Quernhorst programs games for retro systems such as the Atari VCS. Among others, the Germany-based programmer developed KITE!, a kite-flying game that uses two joysticks imitating the two kite handles.

1. Do you remember your first video game? When did you fall in love with games?

My first games were a Pong console and an Atari VCS in the early 1980s. These games were nice, but the real fun started in 1987 when the Commodore 64 along with tons of games moved into my life.

2. How and when did you start developing games?

I started programming on the C64, first in BASIC then Assembler. I always developed small demos and games since then. My first Atari VCS game was started in 2001 after recognizing its tough hardware restrictions again…

3. How many people were participating in developing the game?

KITE! was completely done by me. It consists of 4 kb totally, including all graphics and sounds and was developed in assembly language.

4. Why did you choose to develop for the Atari VCS?

The fun about the Atari VCS is its restricted hardware. There is no ROM, no operating system, no charset, only 128 bytes of RAM. You even have to count the amount of displayed screen lines yourself. It’s a special challenge to create a game on that platform – and additionally it should even be fun to play.

5. What do you think separates homebrew games from indie games? 

Maybe it’s the motivation: probably homebrew games are made for fun as the aim is to release a new game for your favorite system and the resulting games are mostly released for free download, with limited supplies of real disks or cartridges additionally being sold. Indie games are made for popular platforms and are developed with the hope for financial benefit somehow…

6. From where do you get your inspiration for the games you make?

I create games just for fun and to please myself. KITE! was created as there was no console game about flying a stunt kite so far and I really liked the idea of using two joysticks to simulate the two kite strings.

7. Do you think it’s important to give more official opportunities to hobbyists to develop games?

I think that there already are so many platforms and tools to choose from, that everybody should be able to create a game nowadays. Part of the fun of developing for old consoles is that consumers were not intended to write games themselves. Therefore there were no official programming manuals available and a lot of stuff needed to be tested and reverse engineered first.

8. What are your tips for a newbee who wants to become a freetime game developer?

Do it for the fun and for yourself. And consider the fact that starting a game development is very easy, but testing, debugging and finally finishing the project takes much time…

9. What were the most enjoyable parts while developing? What sucked?

Developing on the Atari VCS means that your program either works or not. You won’t get error codes or hints from the machine itself, but that’s part of the fun, too.

10. How much time did you spend creating your game?

The development of KITE! took some months of spare time until it played fine and all those bugs were removed…

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