To Sir, with games. Karl Adamson.

(CC photo credit)

Videogames allow us to explore space, or race a Ferrari. To match shapes,  or solve ancient mysteries. To make Sonic collect drugs, or throw excrement at Kieron Gillen. And for the latter, we can thank Karl Adamson.

Karl’s a supply/substitute teacher in the UK, teaching Secondary English. In 2008, he made his own interactive fiction (text adventure) game and used it in the classrooom. It was a simple ‘haunted castle’ affair, designed to teach narrative techniques. The students enjoyed the experience and as Karl wrote in The New Statesman, he “realised he’d become irrevocably addicted to designing games.  [It] became both a hobby and an obsession.”

SEUCK remake

Soon afterwards, Karl discovered Gernot Frisch’s SEUCK (Shoot em up Construction Kit) remake. His first game? “A terrible shmup. It was boring, predictable and way too hard.” But even so, this still led to some good insights. “I think if I learned anything from creating it, it was that building my own engine meant that I would be in control of everything in the game. I also learned – pacing is essential, as the game’s first level was so hard most people never saw beyond that.”

The next step in Karl’s indie game-making history was an important one. A friend introduced him to Mark Overmars’ Game Maker. And what was his first impression? “Gamemaker was bewildering when I first fired it up – a total blank slate.” Mind you, Karl overcame his initial shock, and was soon pumping out games at a serious rate of knots. Arena shooters, platformers, shumps.

Karl reflects on a few of his creations released in the last 18 months…

Blocky Bill in the Arena of Death

 Blocky Bill in the Arena of Death
“An arena shooter. I wanted to make something determinedly retro-styled, hence the super-blocky graphics. It’s a fun little game, but there’s a few balancing issue with it if I’m honest. But it was an experiment for me in creating a one-screen game. It’s really a tribute to Doom and Serious Sam via Robotron 2084, which is why some of the monsters may look familiar.”

Dave Awesome Versus the Thieving Alien Scumbags

 Dave Awesome Versus the Thieving Alien Scumbags
“This is a tribute to Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. There’s even a Miner Willy topiary outside the castle in one of the routes through the game. It was created for a competition, hence the wholly highscore-oriented nature of the game. Overall, this is one of my favourite games and one I still come back to! I learned a lot about collision detection from making this, as that isn’t easy when making games in Game Maker.”

Silo Commander

Silo Commander
“This was made for a MiniLD [Ludum Dare competition] last year on the theme of “greatest fear”. I went retro and went with the fear of all-out thermonuclear war. The retro-stylings here are quite blatant – the game is really a tribute to Missile Command and its ilk. It marked the very first time I had made a one-screen game, and I found it to be a very enjoyable experience, as it is quite replayable because it is such a quick burst of gaming.”


“Created from a scrapped mechanic from Platformcraft. I was going to add flooding to Platformcraft, but the framerate just wouldn’t hold up. I think this is one of my sneakier games, and it’s also one of the more popular ones. It’s totally about risk VS reward – you can complete the game, and that’s a fair challenge, but you need to put the little robot dude in harm’s way if you want to rank at all with your score. Overall, it’s quite simple, perhaps even crude but it proved to be a hit.”

 And then, the big ones…

Go Go Sonic

Karl’s first game to really made an impact was “Go Go Sonic“. Unsurprisingly, it’s a tribute to Sega’s blue mascot, but one that accentuates his biggest Mario-threatening attribute.  “I really wanted to take Sonic and strip it right back to one thing – sheer speed. So I came up with the idea of Sonic running faster and faster to the right and the player having to keep him alive.  [I added an] attack button, which was mainly a psychological thing but gives the player one more way to protect Sonic from the avalanche of stuff trying to kill him at 100mph.”  Go Go Sonic was well received by players, and enthusiastically promoted by sites like UK:Resistance and Rock Paper Shotgun.

Imagine: Embittered Videogame Journalist

The acclaim continued for Karl’s next release, Imagine: Embittered Videogame Journalist. It was inspired by a trip to his local W H Smiths (A British bookstore chain). As he browsed the magazines, Karl felt terribly depressed. “I decided to take the idea of the decline of videogame journalism and turn it into a game. I haven’t been a fan of Kieron Gillen since he gave the original Hitman: Codename 47 a bad review in PC Gamer, so with my own prejudices – the villain was an obvious choice.”

Strangely enough, it was Kieron Gillen himself who blogged about Imagine: Embittered Videogame Journalist on Rock Paper Shotgun. But what is it about ‘new games journalism’ that Karl disagrees with? “I’d just like to see reviews being more about the game and less about how well-educated the reviewer is. In fact, as I write this I see that Future Publishing are struggling. This is GREAT NEWS – as hopefully someone better will come along and hire the writers and get games journalism back on track again.”


Regardless of how games journalism progresses in the future, one thing is certain. Someone, somewhere will be writing about Minecraft. It’s inspired tonnes of 2D remakes (most of which are no more than tech demos) but Mr Adamson has made a bit more progress with his variation, Platformcraft. Interestingly enough, he’s never played Notch’s game, himself.  “No, I’ve never played Minecraft. While I like the overall idea, it looks to me like a level designer you can wander around in. What’s the point?  But then I’m probably not the target audience.”

In the end, Karl took most of his inspiraction from ancient DOS game called MinerVGA.  “It’s a simple blend of resource management and score-chasing. It’s also a lot more “physical” than Minecraft. You can’t hack rocks away from 30 feet, you have to be right next to it, and getting trapped in a mineshaft with an angry demon is a real possibility if you’re not careful. ”  He also cites Dig-Dug and Boulderdash as influences upon Platformcraft.

Gryzor (C64)

Indeed, many of Karl’s indie games include references to classic games, and it’s no surprise when you consider his game-playing childhood. His first machine at age 5, was a Commodore 64. Karl cites titles like Gryzor (picture above), Chuckie Egg and Harrier Attack as favourites from those early days. The next step was a Super Nintendo, and there Karl discovered the joys of Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. “[It was] the first game I bought with my own money. [It’s] probably my favourite game of all time and the most influential game on my own design ethos.”

As the 90s continued, Karl bought a Playstation (“which rarely had Final fantasy 7 out of its disc drive”) before moving onto a PS2, then the Xbox 360.  He claims to to have owned just about every portable console on the market at some point, and is currently getting “heavy use” out of his Gameboy Advance.

Now, Karl has returned to where he began; making text adventures. His latest project is called “STARSEEKERZ“. In Karl’s own words, “It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game, very short, in which you choose your character’s path through a shitty TV reality singing show.” Once again, Mr Adamson doesn’t get mad at modern media trends, he merciliously satirises them – via his games.

I wish I had a schoolteacher who did that.

Karl’s games are all downloadable from his site Vaccilating Dichotomy. To follow his latest WIPs, see his blog Gaming Theory. Or – follow Karl on Twitter.

5 Responses to To Sir, with games. Karl Adamson.

  1. A fantastic and most inspiring piece on a creator whose work, I believe, I’m bound to love. Haven’t played anything by Karl yet, but that’s about to change.

    Oh, and it’s that little push I needed to finally finish some of those games I’ve been working on and off for ages.

    Cheers for another excellent post!

  2. […] The other is an incredibly in-depth look at the last 18 months or so of Vacillating Dichotomy/Terrier Games, by Gabe McGrath, and it can be found here – […]

  3. Karl says:

    Gabe – thanks so much for this, and @Gnome – I hope you enjoy my games! 🙂

    I did a bit of digging recently, and this is not even a complete list but it’s MOST of the games I have made since 2008 –

    A frighteningly long list for such a short period of time…

    Most of them are now lost to time/hard drive crashes. Some still exist out there on the internet. And the email from Ubisoft mentioned in the link went nowhere in the end.

    • justonemoregame says:

      Glad you liked it Karl.
      Shame about the UbiSoft thing. At least it allows you to write some sort of ‘Dave Awesome vs Evil DRM’ game in the future 😉

      • Karl says:

        More than likely! 😛

        Although I’ve always wanted to make a game starring Bobby Kotick. There’s so much I could work with there… >:-)

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