TND Productions, C64 News + Updates

Interview with Beyond Reproach

Author of the Sexy Robot games series. Richard digs out some typical interview related questions at games programmer Beyond Reproach. He talks about the Sexy Robot series, the games, and what TND stuff has impressed him the most and also other bits of chitty chatty banter. Here goes :o)

RB: What originally gave you an idea for the two Sexy Robot games? Was it something real, or imaginative?

BR: .... Well, the first time I saw a ‘Sexy Robot’, it was airbrushed several metres high onto a fairground ride. I discovered some time later that it was based on artwork by a Japanese artist called Hajime Sorayama, and that he’d painted quite a number of different Sexy Robots. At that time I was working on a very crude graphics converter for hi-res C64 graphics, so I started using the robot artwork to test it out. I had wanted to make a matching-pair puzzle game for while, and I had thought about using these hi-res graphics as a background to the game, but I ended up dropping that idea. A while after that, I produced a better graphics converter (for multicolor C64 graphics) and also the code for a shifting-tile based puzzle game, and that’s when I revisited the Sexy Robot idea.

RB: What sources (tools+apps) did you use to create your own games?

BR: I use C64ASM to do the cross-assembling. There might be better options, but I've become too familiar with the syntax of that assembler to switch to something else now. I created the music with Lasse Oorni's excellent GoatTracker program, and also borrowed from his IRQ disk loading routine for Sexy Robot 2. Nearly all of the SR graphics were produced using a Dark Basic(!) program I wrote for myself about 5 or 6 years ago called 16M2PRG. Basically it could take a 24-bit colour image and turn it into C64 multi-colour data (although usually I'd work the image down into the C64 palette before processing, and leave it to 16M2PRG to get rid of any extra colours per tile that the C64 couldn't display). I keep meaning to turn 16M2PRG into a C++ program, but I just never get around to it.

RB: Who originally gave you ideas for this game?

BR: Believe it or not, this game was, at the time, purely based on my own idea. One reason you might find that hard to believe is that there was already a puzzle game on the C64/Amiga featuring ‘Sexy Robots’ called Blue Angel 69 (and a sequel named ‘Sexy Droids’ on the Amiga) – but I genuinely had never played or even heard of those games prior to completing the first Sexy Robot game. I guess great minds think alike…

RB: How long did it take for you to create each game production?

BR: It’s difficult to say, because generally I only worked on SR1/SR2 for a couple of days at a time, and sometimes there would be months in between periods of work on it. These days I could probably throw together SR1 in a couple of days if I had absolutely nothing else to do, but I hadn’t been doing assembly on the 64 for long, so I had a lot to learn. I still am learning, but I’m a lot better than I used to be…

RB: What did you enjoy the most about creating the game project?

BR: To be honest, I don’t remember what was particularly fun or otherwise about making SR1 as it was such a long time ago. I think it felt good when everything started working together (the UI, the gameplay, the large image scroller, etc.).

I was particularly pleased when I got the loading system up and running for SR2, as it allowed me to move stuff in and out of RAM much more flexibly. Also it was great to get the music playing throughout the loads (and there were a lot of loads!). I also liked my main music for that game – probably could have put a little more time into the ‘b-side’ tune though.

RB:  What did you least enjoy the most about creating the game project?

BR: The IRQ loader in SR2 probably caused me the most grief, I suppose that’s why it was one of my favourite things to have achieved. Some of the large graphics compress using a proprietary algorithm, it was sometimes a pain in the neck trying to get those working correctly. Somehow I almost managed to release SR1 with robots 4 and 5 scrambled in their large view because I’d got the compression wrong.

RB:  What do you think of games from The New Dimension? Which game is your favorite, which is your least favorite?

BR: Having played the Sub Hunter demo I definitely think it’s your best yet – good music, quality animation on the sea-life, and lots of variety with the different level types. Balloonacy is another game I quite enjoyed. I can’t think of one that I would describe as my least favourite, but obviously I haven’t played them all, there are so many!

RB:  What do you think of my music?

BR: I like it, I think it’s distinctive, i.e. I could possibly recognise that a piece of music was made by you just from the style. I enjoyed the title tune for the Sub Hunter demo (I presume that’s yours!)

RB: Do you still own a Commodore 64 or C128? If so, what sort of equipment did you use for it?

BR: I’ve had a Commodore 64 since around 1990/1991, although it got replaced under warranty at least once in the first few years. I didn’t get a 1541 drive until about 5 years ago, and that was mainly because my 3rd party Datassette was on its last legs. I have an XM1541 cable which is very useful, and just recently I’ve bought a brand new 1530 Datasette (although I ended up having to fix it myself after it got beaten up in the post…)

RB:. What do you think is better? A real C64 or C64 Emulation? Also why do you think one is better than the other.

BR: C64 Emulation has reached an incredibly high standard, and it makes cross-development so much easier than it would otherwise have been. Nevertheless I think playing games on a real C64 is always going to be preferable, just because it’s the real thing – and also multicolour graphics don’t seem quite so blocky when they’re on a slightly less sharp TV display. Another point in favour of using a real set-up is that things look a lot better when the display is genuinely running at 50Hz (i.e. a television), and you can’t always get that on a modern PC (although 100Hz probably looks OK – I can’t get that on my monitor unfortunately).

RB: Are you surprised that the C64 productions scene is still alive?

BR: I suppose it's surprising that any 25 year old system should still be getting so many new games, and still being pushed further, some might say. But then, it was a great and inspiring computer, so if any system from that era should still be used and appreciated by people, its the C64.

RB: What do you think of the C64 in general?

BR: It remains my favourite computer. It was the first one I ever owned, and it not only got me interested in games, but programming as well. It’s the best of the 8-bit micros by a considerable margin (I do like the Spectrum, but it’s just not of the same quality). The C64 is an endless source of entertainment for me, whether it’s playing games I’ve never played before, or just trying out new ideas in programming. It’s not always in front of my TV, but it never stays in the box for long.

RB: Will you be writing any more C64 games if you still had the time?

BR: I'm sure there'll be more Beyond Reproach games in the future. C64 programming is a hobby I always come back to eventually, whether I've left it alone for a week, a month or a year. Actually time isn't so much a problem for me as sticking to an idea, I always have new ideas for games or programs and start working on them before finishing the last, and the result is, nothing gets finished. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does that though  : )

I have started on some of the ‘technology’ for a 3rd and final Sexy Robot game – it’s going to be more challenging than the previous games, and will also feature some nice tricks in the intro, but I’m going to try and keep that part as a surprise.

RB:  What's your all time favorite C64 game, demo and tool in general?

BR: It's hard to pick a favourite C64 game, as it would really depend on the time you asked me. Although they're not currently my favourite games, Midnight Resistance and Rainbow Islands are probably the two that stand out from my early days. Trailblazer as well – such a simple game but I could play it endlessly! I have to admit I haven't seen hundreds of C64 demos, but the Second Reality C64 conversion was awesome, and the little animation at the end of Anime-tion (Ninja/The Dreams) impressed me, probably because I’ve tried unsuccessfully to produce things like that myself before. As for tools, well I guess GoatTracker is my favourite tool for C64 purposes. I haven't used tools on the C64 itself in a long, long time... and then it would have mostly been ‘loader-makers’ for BASIC programs.

RB: What game, demo and tool did you/do you still hate the most?

BR: I can't think of a game I hate now, because nowadays I tend to look at games from a more technical point of view and appreciate the work that's gone into them (even if the games haven't come out particularly fun or playable). But again, looking back at the old days (early 90's), some games I found particularly tedious then were Ghostbusters II and Moonwalker (mainly because they took ages to load and were pretty frustrating to play). Street Fighter 2 was a disappointment, but then the developers were never going to go out of their way to produce a great C64 version at that late stage in the machine’s existence. I couldn’t really name a demo or tool that I didn’t like, mainly because I haven’t watched/used enough of them to form that sort of opinion.

RB: Do you have any advice to any newbie games programmers today?

BR: Based on my own limited experience, the advice I’d give to anyone starting out programming on the C64 is to keep it simple to begin with. You’ve got to walk before you can run, to use an old cliché. Also, there are lots of people on forums/newsgroups that are willing to help you out with your programming questions, so don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t ask me though, because I probably don’t know! :)

RB: Okay, thank you for your time. :o)