Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Pico Breed (PICO-8)


Back in the mid-nineties, one of the deciding factors that persuaded me to 'upgrade' from an Atari ST to an Amiga was playing a little budget game called Alien Breed (Special Edition) by up and coming studio Team 17. I'd cycled 4 miles on my BMX to a friend's house in the next village to check out his new Amiga 600, and after initially laughing at it's childish form-factor I was soon taken aback by the quality of the games on the thing compared to my trusty old Atari.

Looking back, Team 17 certainly had some balls in releasing Alien Breed. The follow up games swapped the xenomorph-lookalikes and face-huggers for more generic/non-copyright-infringing sprites, but that original game captured the pure essence of James Cameron's Aliens. It was unlike any other top-down exploratory shoot-em up of the time; your bulky marine felt slow and vulnerable, there was a constant feeling of dread and the scarcity of ammo and keycards forced you to constantly weigh up your options and make difficult decisions. The endless waves of xenomorphs meant that getting lost or taking a wrong turn could have dire consequences - and when that self destruct sequence countdown started... well, you just knew you were in the shit.

20th Century Fox missed out. They could have put an official seal of approval on the thing and Alien Breed would have been the best Alien home computer game ever. It really is a classic, and a game that I've yet to find a modern counterpart that successfully captures the same feelings.

Until today.

Who would have thought that it would have been an Alien Breed 'tribute' on the humble Pico 8 that almost got it right, causing those happy memories to come flooding back? But yet here we have Pico Breed, a game by a developer who has quite clearly been touched by memories of the 'Breed' in a similar way to yours truly. And damn, those teeny weeny alien sprites are almost too cute to kill.


Of course, being a Pico 8 port, there's been some cuts. There's only one short level, and aside from the three-headed queen there's a grand total of two alien types; predictably full grown 'xenos' and little facehuggers than spawn from eggs. Thankfully your stereotypical marine-tough-guy can take a huge amount of damage before kicking the bucket, and if you act smart and target the alien spawn points first then you'll find there's enough ammo to last for days.

Progress is made through this top-down shoot-em-up via the collection of key cards and hacking of terminals to open doors and sealed bulkheads. The layout of the stricken spacecraft is typically Alien-Breed-ish; i.e the architects were clearly on some heavyweight recreational narcotics when they came up with the layout and had no regard for common sense or health and safety. There are dead-ends and maze-like ventilation shafts a-plenty, key cards kept safely behind locked doors and ammo lying about in the most unlikely of places. At least on this version there's no self-destruct sequence with barely enough time to escape and tons of hurty-hurty one-way electric gates. What kind of sicko space-engineer came up with the idea for those anyway?

Surprisingly Pico Breed has also nailed the sound of Alien Breed too. There's an ominous background hum, the doors open with a lo-fi "swish" and the explosions and gunfire are suitably punchy. Even the alien death-throe chirrups are as perfect as you can get with the Pico 8 limitations. In addition to this, the starfield zipping by in the background gives a feeling of speed and urgency that Alien Breed never managed; there's a genuine sense of panic as the starship full of alien scum hurtles towards Earth.

There have been a few complaints on the BBS that the game is too hard, but I guess they are missing the fact that the spawning points can be disabled, or perhaps they missed the weapon upgrade? Not meaning to sound as though I'm bragging, I found the game pretty easy - I think it took all of two or three goes to successfully reach the end. But hell, it was a blast to do so and thanks to the speed-run timer I'm tempted to give it another shot. Gabriel Crowe, I salute you.

Download/Play the the game here (from the PICO-8 BBS).
Run it using PICO-8 (Commercial).
4 out of 5

Friday, 26 May 2017

Continued Progress


Good evening all! A rather eventful week so far here at HQ, I've been busy continuing to flash Paul Koller's Luftrauserz cartridges, we've just about finalised the manual text ready for Chris Mantil to work with, and lastly the Luftrauserz C64 case inserts have arrived and look just as dope as the indiebox originals. Check them out below; even the sepia is a perfect match!


As mentioned last week on Twitter, over the past six months our stock levels have run down from a healthy surplus to a mere handful of cartridges. We'll be taking advantage of this situation by relaunching our out of stock games with improved cartridge labels (see the post header image above) and newly designed and professionally printed manuals - in addition to new product photography and preparing proper press-kits and itch.io pages for each re-release.

For those of you who already own the games, don't fret. We'll be selling the new manuals together with the labels as upgrade kits, priced at around £4 plus postage (with free shipping when combined with other orders). The quality of the newly packaged version outshines our original hand-printed labels and manuals by far, as I'm sure anyone who owns one of our more recent games can testify (the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Just check the comparison below for yourselves (Powerglove original manual is left/top, new version is right/bottom).


The justification for this price is due to the high unit cost (due to the low order quantity), design fee and new product photography. Upgrading the manual and label for an already released and sold out title is a bit of a risk, so we have to ensure that it pays back what has been already invested. If they prove to be popular, then we should be able to drop the price in future.

We're also phasing out the 'standard' cardboard cartons. They sell in such low quantities compared to the plastic case versions that they end up raising the overall costs due to the additional print material that ends up being (mostly) unused. This will come as a blow to many of you who prefer these little boxes, but they are simply not economically viable. I'm really sorry about that!

Anyway, back to the restock/upgrade. First off the assembly line will be Powerglove for the C64; with the Amiga version available soon, we thought it would be nice to give the original game a little more love.

C64anabalt, Super Breadbox and Bomberland will follow soon behind with their own upgrades. In fact, the manuals for C64anabalt have already been ordered and Super Bread Box is being worked on as I type.

More news soon!

Jam It & Moonspire Back in Stock!


Just a quick heads up to let you know that both Jam It and Moonspire are now back in stock, with 25 copies of each arriving in the mail yesterday. More information on these two popular modern day Commodore 64 releases can be found here and here.

Talking of Moonspire, I recently received a copy of Dušan's six-level expansion 'The Draxx War' and have been giving it a blast. Although the differences between the original Moonspire and this follow-up are mainly cosmetic, I have to say that it feels pretty much like a full-blown sequel.


We're currently debating whether or not the game warrants a cartridge release, or whether we should stick to our original plan of simply offering the game for download (with Moonspire) for emulators at a very slightly increased price tier. On that note, if a cartridge release of Moonspire: The Draxx War is something you'd like to purchase, you can express your interest to do so here.

As for the original Moonspire and Jam It, grab your copies today from our online store!

Friday, 19 May 2017

An Introduction to the PICO 8


Hey there! I've got a day off work today, so whilst I wait for various parcels full of C64 goodness to arrive I thought that I'd tap away on the keyboard about my recently discovered love for Lexaloffle's 'fantasy console' - the PICO 8. But first, a bit of history...

My first home computer was the humble BBC Micro, way back when I was about six or seven years old. I don't remember much about it other than extensively playing some educational software in which you had to build robots on a factory assembly line by answering simple arithmetic sums. Get it correct, and all the limbs were put in the right place. Conversely, deliberately getting the answers wrong was far more satisfying, resulting in the creation of legions of broken robots with legs instead of arms and heads.

This is my first memory of computing. Deliberately playing educational games wrong.

Fast forward a few years, and I receive a 128K ZX Spectrum for my ninth or tenth birthday. It was the black 'Amstrad' model with the tape drive included inside the main chassis. This came with a collection of tapes that allegedly included over 100 games - most of which were admittedly quite poor. But hey, there was fun to be found in searching through those cassettes for the rare, hidden gem - such as Mastertronic's 'Rescue'.

By now I'd started buying computer games myself (with rather limited pocket money), and I'd began to learn about the different games that were available for the variety of different computers available at the time. As far as my parents were concerned, computers were an educational toy, but despite their best efforts at encouraging me to learn BASIC, for me it was all about the games.

An Atari ST, an Amiga and dozens of PCs later, this same feeling hasn't changed. It's the library of games, especially exclusives, that attracts me to a platform over anything else. So it should come as no surprise that it was the initially the games that influenced me to put down my $15 for a PICO 8 licence.



Much like the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, the PICO 8 wasn't designed primarily as a platform to simply 'play' games on. Instead, it was designed as a creative tool; a modern day, 8-Bit computer on which the user can build all aspects of a game (or other software) from within a single, integrated development environment. Much has already been written about the innovative design of Lexaloffle's undisputed opus; the cross platform support, the distribution of games within small .png 'cartridge' images, the well thought-out interface and LUA script-based programming language, and of course, the fact that all software developed on it is open source and editable.

But, I'll be frank; none of that really excites me. What does gets my juices flowing, however, is that this zany little 'virtual' computer features a whole load of exclusive, cute little games created by a community of both newcomers and well-established indie developers and artists.

Of course, 8-Bit game development isn't a new phenomenon. The ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 800 and even Amstrad CPC homebrew gaming scenes are still active, with dozens of new games released over the past few years for these vintage machines. However, the rate at which the PICO 8 library has grown over the same period is quite astonishing - especially when you consider that it isn't actually a real-life, physical computer that you can actually buy. Or so you might initially think.


In a way, the PICO 8 has already seen a couple of official 'physical' releases; the Chip and Pocket Chip both come with a PICO 8 licence and the software pre-installed. However, if you have a Raspberry pi sitting around in a drawer then you can actually make your own dedicated PICO 8 machine yourself. This rather excellent guide by gamaral explains how to do it (the process of preparing the card takes all of five minutes).

If you've not got a Raspberry Pi, then visit a site such as the Pi Hut and grab one. You'll need the following for the ultimate PICOPi experience:

  • A Raspberry Pi (ideally revision 2 or three), power supply and video lead (~£40).
  • A case for it (~£6).
  • A USB keyboard and mouse (you have these already, surely?)
  • At least one USB gamepad (some games support up to 4 players). Xbox 360 style pads work fine, or you can go retro if you prefer (~£5-£30).
  • A Micro SD card. PICO 8 requires a tiny amount of space, so if you have a spare small-capacity card, that'll do just fine (~£9).
  • A PICO 8 licence ($15).

(Of course, if you don't have any of this stuff then there are bundles available for this sort of project, like this one for £65). In all, you end up with a fully functional computer system for less than £100 that you can play and develop games on. And if you want a break from PICO 8, then you can simply pop in another SD card with another OS or setup on it. It's awesome.


After refitting a spare Pi here with PICO 8 and seeing my kids have a crazy amount of fun with it, I realised that this fantasy console really was the modern day equivalent of those home computers my generation grew up with. It's so simple; plug it in and they are playing games in seconds. With it's in-built, joypad controlled game browser, even my youngest can find his favourites with ease.

Sure, with only 32KB set aside in the header of a .png file to hold all the game data, most releases on the PICO 8 are quite basic, but there are enough notable exceptions to make it worth investigating further. As with our own 16KB cartridge game compo, the strict limitations of the PICO 8 have resulted in some incredible achievements, way beyond the scope of what was initially thought possible.


So, now my two boys have one to share, tucked away under the TV in the lounge, and my daughter has her own one which I am hoping she'll learn to program on herself (thanks to a recent Kickstarter project). Hell, even I am tempted to tap out a few lines of code on the thing.

Anyway, enough of the hard sell. What I've been getting to here of course is that as there's so much cool stuff coming out on the PICO 8, I'm genuinely excited about sharing some of my favourites with you. So, as RGCD slowly picks up momentum again, I'll be dropping occasional news and reviews here for what is fast-becoming one of my favourite retro platforms.

In the meantime, have a go at some of these as way of an introduction (all playable within a browser via the PICO 8 BBS!)


More news soon!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Signs of Life


Hi all! James here on the keys. Thank you so much for all your kind messages and emails. The past six months have been a difficult period to get through, but I'm happy to say that positive things are finally happening again here at RGCD HQ:

  • The case inserts for the 2015(!) competition cartridges have been completed by our good friend and collaborator Chris Mantil. I'm digging the faux-retro design! (Photo above.)
  • The case inserts for Paul Koller's now-complete Luftrausers demake have been ordered and are in the process of being printed. Ilija 'iLKke' Melentjevic is wrapping up the final pieces of the package (cart label and double-sided poster) whilst Paul and I collaborate on the manual.
  • Tim Harris of Shareware Plus is building new cartridges to replace some of our long out-of-stock releases.
  • New domed cartridge labels and manuals are being created for Super Bread Box, Bomberland, Powerglove and C64anabalt in preparation for this restock.
  • Dusan Miliojevic is finalising a DLC pack for our recent release Moonspire, tentatively titled 'The Draxx War'. Technically it's a whole new game, but we're not sure whether we'll simply add it as a DLC style download for emulators or offer it on cartridge by request. We're just waiting on Agemixer's new soundtrack before release. More on this one soon.
  • I'm in the process of building new press-kit pages for these games (and moving them from Dropbox to a server due to changes in Dropbox's page hosting rules).

There's other stuff happening in the background with regards to Powerglove and Tiger Claw on the Amiga, but for now we're taking things step by step, with Luftrauserz being the current priority.

Expect photos of stuff as it progresses and arrives both here and on our twitter feed. Competition prizes will (finally) be mailed out next week, with initially one free cart per entry (additional copies can be purchased on request).



Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Personal Message


(Note: this is a message from James Monkman, and is not representative of the feelings/thoughts of the others involved with RGCD and our associated projects).

Hey there, it's been a while. I rarely write anything personal on this blog but I think I owe an explanation for my complete lack of activity here at RGCD over the past 5 months. This isn't the easiest thing to write; in fact until recently this isn't something that I've told many people at all. However, enough time has passed now that I feel confident enough to share my story.

Back in November last year my wife of 10 years suggested that we get a divorce. There was no obvious build up to this, no almighty row, nothing. She just brought it up in conversation one evening, calmly and sensitively explaining that she couldn't see a positive future for us as a couple.

Out of context, this sounds quite extreme. However, in hindsight it had been a long time coming. Since having children (our eldest of three is now nine years old) we had both failed to invest any time or effort into our relationship. In particular I had retreated deeply into my hobbies (primarily DJing and RGCD projects), which took up nearly all my time outside of the day-to-day business of work, basic household responsibilities and the kids. Cass and I worked well together during the day, both having an equal input into the upbringing and welfare of the children, but as soon as they went to bed we'd go our separate ways; I'd go up to my attic office, and she'd sit in front of the TV or go to bed with a book. Once a week or fortnight we'd snuggle up together on the sofa and watch a film or something - but that was it. Like I said, there was no build up to this - we rarely rowed or fought, but other than the kids, we had zero time for each other and no shared interests.

As the children took up more and more of our time, the few hours we had each week to ourselves became ever more important, with us both fighting desperately to maintain some sort of sense of 'self' and to establish our further differing personalities. Where we once shared things, we instead tried to force our own interests onto each other.

A perfect example of this was when I bought and framed a framed No Man Sky print for our dining room. No consultation or anything, I just bought a picture at a games expo and hung it on the wall. A week later, Cass retaliated by going out and buying a print by a Majorcan artist, removing my picture from the wall and hanging hers instead. The week after this, I removed her picture and rehung mine... and so this ludicrous behaviour continued for weeks until I eventually gave in and left her print on the wall. Hilariously, not a word was said about this - it was classic passive aggression in action.

This is just one example of many where our relationship was in clear and obvious crisis.

Clearly, this was not sustainable, yet we'd just accepted it as the norm, and carried on like this for the best part of a decade. Over time, our relationship devolved from us being lovers into little more than than housemates who for the most-part mildly irritated each other.

Luckily, the timing of the D-bomb being dropped on me coincided with a period of self analysis. I'd recently come to accept that at almost 40 years old, I was now super-unlikely to ever be any of the things the teenage me had hoped for; I wasn't going to be a world touring DJ, nor a singer in a critically acclaimed underground post-punk band or a famous/rich video game developer. Shit, I sure as hell wasn't going to be an astronaut either. So instead I'd been taking stock of what I was lucky enough to have; a secure, above-average-paying job that I didn't overly 'hate', a comfortably sized house, three wonderful kids and an amazing wife. So when the shit hit the fan, I was in the correct frame of mind for it. Rather than going on the defensive, I accepted that yes, this wasn't working and although I was a good Dad, I'd not exactly been a perfect husband.

However, all the bullshit aside, I still very much loved my wife and I wasn't going to give up on our 16 year relationship just like that. So, instead I set out to prove what I'd recently come to realise; that her and the kids really were the most important thing in my life - and that's where I have been since November. Everything went on hold whilst I put 100% into saving my marriage.

It's been an amazing experience. Cass and I have both changed so much over the last decade that it was like starting again with someone new, yet with a foundation beneath us. We've openly discussed our feelings, made time to share common interests, established new goals together and shared new experiences. I've done things I'd never previously imagined doing, including Buddhist meditation and dance classes, and I've actually enjoyed myself in doing so. I have made an effort to build a friendship with her brother, and become closer to her family. In short, it's been going rather well.

But where does this leave RGCD? In fact, Cass raised this question the other night whilst out on one of our now bi-monthly date nights. The truthful answer is that yes, I really miss working on RGCD related projects - but I now accept it for what it is, a hobby business. As our 'honeymoon' period calms, Cass and I are again looking to spend a couple of evenings a week doing things for ourselves, so I am slowly picking up the pieces I left in disarray back in November - with this explanation being one of the first steps. It's not going to be a particularly fast process, but I've invested too much into too many projects to just let them die.

With that in mind, my immediate to-do list is as follows (for starters, and in no particular order):

  • Finally send out the 2015 compo carts/prizes(!) Really sorry about this! :(
  • Release Paul Koller's new game for the C64 (This was supposed to happen last Christmas!)
  • Restock our sold-out cartridges.
  • Release Tiger Claw for the Amiga.
  • Release Yoomp! 64.
  • Do something about getting the now-greenlit Conga onto Steam.
  • Write about my love for the Pico-8 scene.

All of which I hope to achieve within the next couple of months.

Take care of yourself and those around you. James.