Interview: Throwback Games

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Throwback Games is a one-man project developing for the C64. The four-player arcade-style basketball game Jam It is Throwback Games‘ debut.

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

It was the early 80s and for Christmas our family got an Atari 2600 bundled with Space Invaders. I was probably about 6 and the only other game I’d tried was Atari Breakout at a friend’s house. I had no interest however as I struggled with the paddles! Space Invaders was much more accessible, and I think I loved the novelty of the ‚fat ship‘ option!

2. How and when did you start developing games?

Some time in the late 80s we got a Commodore 64 which include a bunch of great type-in programming books. I played around with Basic to try and make sprites appear but it all ran really slow. I later discovered that I’d need to learn Assembly Language. I had no idea where to find the resources to do this and by then 16 Bit revolution had started making it almost impossible to find anything C64 related. At that point I just stuck to making games with SEUCK (Shoot Em Up Construction Kit). It wasn’t exactly programming but it was a great introduction into the graphics limitations of the C64.

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

Developing Jam It was just myself. I had help though with the loader screen art from an amazing C64 artist named Carl ‚Mase‘ Mason. This was based on the game cover artwork designed by Oliver Frey. He was very well known in the 80s 8bit era designing game magazine covers as well as game covers. The loader screen music was produced by Yogi and Roland who are some talented musicians from the C64 scene.

4. Why did you choose to develop for the C64?

Partly it was nostalgia, being my favourite computer and that I wanted to make a basketball game similar Dr J vs. Larry Bird. Also I knew that I had forced limitations both in graphics/sounds/memory which meant I had a realistic chance of actually making something. With modern game development there are endless possibilities with what you can do – having forced constraints keeps you focused on what’s important to the game.

5. What do you think separates homebrew games from indie games? Is there such thing as a separation anyway?

About the only thing I could suggest is that homebrew is done more as a hobby outside your 9-5 non-video-game-related job. There’s no pressure of finances and your attitude can be more relaxed to when it’s finished. When I think about Indie game developers, it is more about taking a greater financial risk and making game dev your primary job, with only some initial investment savings to get you by or game-dev contracts.

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

Primarily it is from other Commodore 64 games – there was a ridiculous number made (~10000 commercial games according to Wikipedia). I do also like the idea of trying to incorporate modern elements (eg unlockable bonuses, simultaneous 4 player controls that wasn’t around in the C64 80s era).

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

Any opportunities to increase exposure for hobbyist games is great – there’s so many games being released every day that it’s very difficult to be discovered.

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

Make a conscious decision from the start to limit the scope of your game, otherwise you’ll never finish it or just get distracted to start a new game. Also try to make something you’d want to play, as you’ll be doing it A LOT when testing!

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

The most satisfying is when you get a major mechanic working on screen as you’d imagined. In the case of ‚Jam It‘ this included having players passing the ball to each either, shooting a goal and dunking.

The parts that sucked are having to remove chunks of code because a mechanic didn’t work as planned. For example I had a way to direct your AI team mate to specific zones on court when you had the ball, with the aim of giving you some strategic play options. In reality this was useless as the game was too arcade-like and fast paced.

There was also a mini-game of ‚knock-out‘ based on the free-throw part. Each player took turns at a free-throw and if you missed, the next player had a chance to knock you out if they scored. Each round, the reaction timer would get quicker to increase the difficulty. It was fun for a couple of games, but added had no return play appeal. I would have left it in if memory permitted … This one I should have followed my own advice on limiting the scope of the game!

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

I’ve estimated around 800 hours but I think in reality it was probably an extra 100 or 200 more. This was spread over 4.5 years.

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