Yesterday, I had a piece published on Jason Hill’s excellent Screen Play blog. It was the story behind Australia’s first “Retro Remakes” category winner.
Today, we go into a bit more detail with Sydney-based retro game maker Shane Hockings. We go behind the scenes of his previous remakes, get a tonne of great tips for would-be remakers, and tease out a little hint… as to his next top-secret project…
As you’ve already on my Screen Play article, Shane’s a big Commodore 64 fan. Five years ago, he was searching for the classic game “Racing Destruction Set” when he discovered the Retro Remakes site. He started reading the forums and was soon hooked.
I started by asking Shane why he seemed to like remaking the “underdog” titles…
Although I want people to play and love my games, I make games first and foremost for me. I’ve rewritten the games that I enjoyed and would want to play again if they were updated. And the games I love aren’t always the hits. Secondly I have all the drawing skills of a frozen chicken, so it’s hard for me to improve the original graphics (which considering the graphical powers of the c64 is saying something!) If you don’t do a noticeable improvement on the graphics (assuming you’re not looking to do major gameplay improvements/bug fixes on the original that is) then people might as well play the original in an emulator.
And what have you learnt, as you’ve done more remakes?
- Not everyone sees things the way you do. What’s obvious to you isn’t obvious to someone else, and your “really cool feature” is someone else’s Achilles heel.
- There’s nothing like the support of your family, without it you’ll never get the game done.
- It’s all about the gameplay – it doesn’t matter how pretty the graphics or how magnificent the musical score, if it’s not fun to play then even the greatest sound and graphics in the world aren’t going to save it.
- Kids have amazing abilities. An 18 month old child can, in three random whacks on the keyboard, undo days of work and make some of your code still compile but fail to work with a bug that will take you hours to find…
One of games that Shane remade is Cops n Robbers – a title that British mag Zzap64 called “The worst program we’ve seen on the 64.”, giving it an overall score of 9%. I happen to like the game! C’mon Shane, here’s your chance to defend “C n R” once & for all…
I think Cops n Robbers has a unique style and whenever you go outside of regular styles you’re taking a big risk. The graphics are a weird mix of top down layout with mostly side on platformer style graphics. It’s not a top down shoot-em-up, nor is it a side on platformer, nor is it an adventure game, it’s some combination of the three. What Zzap64 overlooked about the game though – is that it’s pretty intuitive to all ages. It’s obvious that you’re a robber so avoid the cops, there’s a diamond company so there’s no surprise you’ll be robbing it. It’s also been balanced very well difficulty wise with enough challenge to be “fun” yet not enough to be “too frustrating”. Combine that with the game’s straight forward adventure aspect (find the code to unlock the safe etc) then you’ve got a nice fun game that’s good to lose yourself in for a while. Sure it doesn’t have continual weeks of playability in it, but it has the “just one more go” factor.
One thing that seems constant amongst “remakes” authors is a hard-drive full of incomplete projects. So Shane, what have you got hiding in a that folder… and what’s the current status of each game?
- Zorro remake – I was determined to do the game justice. But I couldn’t get any atmosphere in my backgrounds.
- The Goonies (2 player version) remake – Struggled with graphics, but there’s a good chance I’ll get back to it.
- Racing Destruction Set remake (my first serious attempt at 3D game writing) – Rested due to my struggles with the AI & Pathfinding.
- Shoot the rapids remake – I’ve only dropped that recently, as I got interested in writing an original game to sell.
Ahh, the jump from “free” to “not free”. Has this meant a change in how you approach game-making?
It has actually, but not with the change from “free” to “not free”. The jump has actually been from “remake” to “original game”. With that comes a lot more planning. I typically work things out as I go, but now I’m having to envision an idea, make sure it’s going to be fun and playable, within my abilities and be something good enough that people will be prepared to pay for it. Pretty much everything has to be thought about and worked out beforehand to ensure the game is not going to hit an insurmountable hurdle part way through. It’s a lot easier with a remake because just about everything’s been thought of for you.
Is “project X” going to be a PC-only or multiplatform release?
Luckily I’ve recently gotten GLBasic and out of the box it will compile for (among others) Windows, Mac and Linux. This is fantastic as it means I should be able to make any future games immediately cross-platform without any increase in development time or having to learn anything new.
So, it looks like you’ll be busy in 2009 working on your indie game. Are there any other releases you’ll be hanging out for?
I’m not generally a fan of current games, but I am hanging out for:
- Cletus Clay
- The Space Quest 2 remake
- The new Ghostbusters game
- Mostly though, I can’t wait for Operation Block
And while we’re talking lists, I’d better ask about your top 5 remakes…
- Smila and Stu’s Ultimate Bruce Lee is one of the best remakes I’ve ever come across.
- Plasma pong
- Trashman Anniversary
Finally Shane, how about some tips for a “would be remaker”?
- Get your hands on one of the “basic” game languages* – GLBasic, Blitz3D, Playbasic etc. C/C++ doesn’t really give you much more than a very steep learning curve which is not what you want when starting out. [*And I’d add Gamemaker to that list -Ed]
- Remake what you love first, worry about what other people want second – unless of course you’re getting paid for the remake.
- When starting out, get your hands on graphics / sounds from somewhere rather than starting from scratch, and use them as placeholders to get your game to the point where you have something tangible. It will be hard to keep motivation up if you’ve got 300 lines of code and nothing cool you can show off to someone else.
- Start small and easy, it’s surprising how many hurdles can come up in even the simplest of games. If you think for example “Pacman would be SO easy, I’m doing something harder” then have a look at this document where someone has gone into the complexity of the AI in such a “simple” game.
- Spend a lot of time playing old computer/video games and spend some time analysing them
– What triggers an enemy attack? Does it happen at a certain stage in the level, at a certain score, when the player is on the right hand side of the screen and has the big gun power-up etc
– What’s good about the game? What’s bad about the game?
– How have they used sound / colour / graphics to emphasise what you should be looking at on the screen.
- I would strongly recommend every game programmer reviews this checklist – not everything will always be relevant, and some things should be added to it, but it’s pretty comprehensive.
Thanks for your time Shane; I hope to blog the development of your Indie game here on J-OMG in coming months…