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Play Expo 2012: An hour with RGCD & a C64

InterviewPlay Expo 2012

The Commodore 64 is a machine that outside of fantastic publications such as Retro Gamer garners little attention. There’s no doubt that many of today’s leading developers were brought up with a healthy side salad of Commodore and Sinclair electronics. The loading screen alone on Commodore’s baby is a thing of beauty.

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Many a child sat and watched the grring crunch of analogue being processed into digital code as a plethora of coloured lines danced onscreen. This could also go on for quite a while if the game had crashed and failed to load. We never did get that Bullseye game to work. Probably for the best.

RGCD (Retro Gamer CD) is a publication house for independently developed titles of the lower bit format. These new games – not much larger in data size than an email – cram as much as possible and many breathe and evolve through community support and designer competitions. There’s a lot of love here. It’s clear this is a hobby the participants treasure. It’s an innocent and welcoming place to be.

On their table were brand new games for old systems made available for demo and, very much to my surprise, even for purchase. Yes, brand new Commodore 64 games were there. Ready to be bought and played on a system I hadn’t touched for over twenty years. Even without owning the system it was tempting.

While playing three of their published titles I chatted to James Monkman, Editor and Project Leader. They’d attached a custom connection to the C64 to allow use of a Playstation 2 controller which demonstrated both how tight the controls still are and allowed newcomers to not feel alienated by old peripherals.

The first was Fortress of Narzod, a remake of a classic title I hadn’t had the chance to play when I was younger. James explained that RGCD functioned as a publishing house, helping indie developers to put out games such as this on tape via a royalty based scheme.

To encourage development, submissions and community spirit they ‘run a yearly competition of 16kb games’, James explained. Only the size of an email, these titles cram an ungodly amount of content in. When you consider Elite built a whole universe and crunched it into a C64 game, it makes you wonder what really could be achieved with today’s technology.

My time with recent Cave shumps clearly helped as I cleared the first run of Fortress. An evil overseer appeared onscreen and told me – via text, naturally – that it was time to start again and this time it’d be more difficult. Fortress was tightly designed and after two levels the black and grey vector lines no longer felt old, but rather part of a grander design choice.

Next I was given time with C64anabalt, an official conversion of a popular mobile videogame where you’re running through a city that is being crippled by a natural disaster. As our man sprints forward he leaps over obstacles and continues to increase in speed, an algorithm randomising what happens next. Hitting boxes along the way slows him down but the rush is in the sheer speed he can acquire and how long you can help him avoid crashing into a wall or other obstacle.

Finally, there was a demo available that was built specifically for the expo. Currently unfinished, it was a trial of a game called Super Bread Box that’s being submitted as part of this year’s competition and will be available at the end of the year.

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Speaking to James and spending time with a sample of what RGCD had published was my highlight of the expo. The sheer youthful energy and attitude made such a refreshing change. My questions weren’t met with soulless stock answers – one of the reasons videogame journalism is short of real interviews – and the games felt refreshing, even through the thirty year old technology.

An XBLA/XBLI collection wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

Super Bread Box will be covered in more detail via a separate hands-on article

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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