Friday 8 July 2011

Hyper Viper (C64)

Not to be confused with the recent BBC Micro game (which confusingly has the same name), Hyper Viper is in fact a new C64 title from Exeter-based programmer Jamie Howard, and the latest release from the hyper-prolific 8-Bit publisher Pystronik Software.

Based on an obscure MSX game that Jamie used to play as a kid, Hyper Viper may look like a pacman-clone or snake/nibbler derivative, but the game concept is actually quite different from these oft-aped retro-gaming staples. In Hyper Viper the player's goal is to chase the snakes around a maze, gobbling them up from behind whilst avoiding being eaten themselves. Accidently bite into the middle of a snake and it will split into two, and although you can grind the 8-way scrolling levels for points and extra lives by eating the fruit bonuses, the little critters that drop them also occasionally lay eggs that hatch into 'blue meanies'; very fast and invulnerable variations of your character who will eventually hunt you down if you take too long to clear a maze.

Neatly wrapped up with an 1980's coin-op style title screen and attract sequence featuring an officially licensed SID rendition of Grandaddy's 'A.M. 180' (better known as the song from the shopping sequence in 28 Days Later), Hyper Viper is a superb debut that is well worth the budget price tag (£1.99 for the download).

Being a somewhat uncommon hobby, it's very rare that I meet up with retro programmers outside of expo's or demo parties, so when I found out that Jamie lived within 15 minutes walk from my house I dropped him a line to ask him out for a beer. Or several, as it turned out to be.

Stumbling back home in the early hours of the morning (much to the wife's displeasure) after far too many alcoholic beverages, my memories of the evening are a little hazy. However, I'll do my best to (mis)quote Jamie as I relate the details of the game and his other projects in the rest of this review.

A web-engineer and programmer by trade, Jamie was attracted to the 8-Bit coding scene for both nostalgic and practical reasons. After recently rediscovering the original MSX version of Hyper Viper, he thought it would make a good introductory project to help him learn C64 assembly. He explained that "unlike modern platforms which generally require a team, on 8-Bit machines it is possible for one person to develop all aspects of a game on their own relatively quickly and still end up with a decent result. That, and the opportunity to learn ASM, was the main appeal."

Ever the professional, Jamie went on to discuss how he had contacted the programmer of the original to formalise the legality of his remake, and the process behind licensing the soundtrack from Blue Mountain Music, the company holding Grandaddy's publishing rights. "I initially thought that they'd refuse my request outright, but after negotiating and explaining what I wanted to do they were very reasonable. Hyper Viper is probably one of very few 8-Bit games to feature a properly licensed soundtrack from an indie label, and most likely the only game in the world to use a Grandaddy song!"

Jamie was keen to hear what I thought of the game, and especially if there was anything I didn't like. When I mentioned that the joystick controls felt a little unresponsive (particularly in fast mode), he explained that this was something he had tried to address, but after many attempts he still couldn't get the control to be as tight as when played via keyboard, and stated that really that was the best way to play the game. Other than that, he modestly accepted my praise, and expressed that he was keen to show me a version of the game that he was developing for the iPhone.

Viewed from a fresh and unique perspective, the iPhone version of Hyper Viper is played from within the centre of a rotating cube (I really wish I had taken a photo, it’s hard to explain). The game still takes place on a 2D plane, but uses all six faces of the cube. "I thought that this cube idea would be an interesting way of getting around the small screen size on the iPhone whilst maintaining the original low resolution pixel graphics. As you approach each side of the cube, it rotates so you can see what's ahead". It's a really cool effect, and although the game is currently little more than a tech demo, already the concept looks quite promising and original.

On the C64 side, Jamie also showed off another MSX port that he and STE'86 are currently working on. "Polar Star is a really cool shoot 'em up, and I've not seen anything like it on any other 8-Bit. I've tried to contact the Japanese developers, but the language barrier is proving to be problematic, so we've decided to redo all the graphics, change the design a little and call the game something like Arctic Star instead. Of course, we'll still credit the original game as the inspiration."

Again, at the moment Arctic Star is no more than a proof of concept, a demo with a little player ship flying over a scrolling, first person perspective landscape (the three dimensional illusion is quite convincing). The game will play as an arcade shooter, with a boss ship slowly emerging over the horizon and each level climaxing in a frantic battle during which you have to charge your weapon and hit moving weak spots whilst avoiding enemy fighters. To be frank, it looks fucking awesome, and I'll be sure to keep this blog updated with news as the game is developed further over the coming months.

In conclusion, not only is Hyper Viper a great little budget release, but as a newcomer to the C64 scene Jamie is definitely a developer to keep an eye on. Check out the gameplay video below, and if you like the look of it drop by the Psytronik site and grab a copy from their shop.
4 out of 5

Buy it from Psytronik Software here.
Run it using VICE (free software).


  1. Not had a chance to play the C64 version, but I *loved* the MSX one. That was a great game! Original, fast and fun. Kuma released a stack of great MSX games, few of which made it to other platforms, so it's nice to see this made, even 27 years later :)

  2. Hi Richard - yeah it's not bad at all! Unfortunately Jamie is really demotivated at the moment because the game was 'cracked' on the same week as release (even though it had no protection whatsoever). Unfortunately, this sort of behaviour is an established part of the C64 scene, but Jamie isn't seeing the funny side right now.

  3. We all love hacking about with C64's and making them do cool new things and I respect there are many talented sceners out there who can do some really amazing things with the old bread box - some of the demo's I've seen have blown me away.

    But ... I would encourage people to act responsibly when putting out so called cracks/trainers when it comes to "new" software because the C64 developers deserve some recompense for the efforts they go to to in production.

    Hyper Viper took me about a year working a day a week on it. I had to learn everything and printed and bound many out of print books like Jim Butterfield's "Machine Language for the C64" and also Computes "Mapping the C64" to name a couple.

    If people want new games to be published - they need to respect and foster the motivation of new developers - no one is expecting to get rich here but a lot of time and effort goes into these productions and as a hobbyist programmer it'd be nice to be able to cover some aspects of those costs.

    I had to purchase music rights for this game and Psytronik have invested in actual product too. So come on guys - don't distribute it for free - have a conscience.

    In short - if you want "new" games, think twice before cracking commercially available current releases as it really puts people like me off developing them.

    Anyway that's my two cents worth!

  4. I've never understood that whole "scene" part of the C64-community. Seems to me that a large part of the community are actively trying to sabotage projects such as this. A shame. Though it seems like something one simply has to try to ignore as it won't change. :(

    Anyway, can't wait to try this. I ordered my cassette copy from Psytronik early monday, I hope it won't take much longer until I hear from them about the tap files so I can play it on my PC.

  5. @Anonymous #1: Yepp, i have to agree with you.
    These are not the 80s or early 90s anymore, with big-budget C64 games and sophisticated copy protections.

    What kind of pride does somebody hoping for these days, to "crack" C64 games which actually come without copy protection. Making a "wannabe"-crack of something that is actually not really crackable makes me worry a bit about the mental condition of these "wannabe"-crackers.

    However, i would not call this "wannabe"-cracking an act of sabotage. If the game has not copy protection, then this will sooner or later inevitably lead to people copying it - with or without a "Wannabe" crack intro.

    While i can perfectly understand and agree with Jamie's point of wanting respect and (monetary) recognition for his work, i find it hard to understand why he has chosen the C64 community as target market for his products in the first place.

    If Jamie's expectation is to get some monetary refund for his game development, I would rather suggest him to focus more on developing iOS games. Not only are people willing to pay for iOS apps/games, but also is the market much larger and he can get more exposure. More exposure than he could ever get in the C64 community. Well, if his games are good enough they might even pay off commercially...

  6. It is also about fun. I hardly think the commercial viability of the C64 is the main objective of game coders on that platform. At the same time however the financial part, what remains of it, should be protected at all costs, at least to cover packaging and distribution.

    People should go ahead and have fun, respecting each other and enjoying a unique platform. The great thing about the C64 is that you can really push yourself due to the technical limits and it allows you to do anything you want without the shadow of a rating-board over your shoulder.

  7. I agree Jazzcat, and I think the key is that if we want to continue enjoying stuff like this, we need to support the people willing to put in the hours needed to make it. Pirating their work is just disrespectful, and if this situation means we won't get more games from this author (I think the preview pic looks great) then not only has that "crack" hurt him but it's been bad for the rest of us as well. That's what I meant about sabotaging in my previous post.

  8. I think pirating will continue as it is everywhere... if anything can be copied it is. I think they did things as best they could, by hiding the release on the site (CSDB), and only have download links for old games. That way they fulfill their pirate needs and not cause harm to the game industry. I do not think they try to be disrespectful deliberately, the opposite even. Both scenes have worked together before, producing etc. Look at The Last Ninja or Summer Games for big examples here.

  9. I think it is very disrespectful. While it's great that we get improved cracks of old games from groups like Remember and Nostalgia, I really can't see anything positive in cracking brand new C64 software. On the other hand out of the few handful of people willing to pay for new C64 games these days because they like having an original disk/cart in a nice box or because they want to show their gratitude towards those who take the time to make games for 30 year old computers I can't see any of those people going "now that I can just play the crack, I'm not gonna buy the game". We're not talking about a Modern Warfare or any of those generic big budget titles here. So yes it's disrespectful, but anyone who enjoys making games for old systems should really just ignore stuff like that because that's just the way it is with "the scene".

  10. Yeah well the scene has always done it. I don't think disrespecting is their intention, even though it maybe the result (in the views of some) I doubt it is their intention. The disrespectful ones, in my view, are when these groups use their "fake" labels and release the titles there. Apart from that I like both original and crack, originals mostly as I like to play the game the way it is intended, if it is too hard or I am too lazy (or both), a trainer is helpful too.

    Anyway, people will keep buying C64 games in 2011, it is great that there is a resurgence lately... so many new projects being made!

  11. Calm down. Anyone who would have bought the game will most likely still buy it, even if the person had the "crack" before. This is a nostalgic scene we're talking about.


  12. Lets be honest here. Even though it may have taken a year for the author, this is something that a decent C64 programmer would make in an evening or two.

    That said, I might still buy it. The tape version is only 4 quid and I'm going to be ordering some other Psytronik games anyway so what the hell..

  13. I wouldnt worry, those that want to buy it will still buy it.
    It's as simple as that, and maybe people will play the cracked version - like it - then decide it buy it.

    I too am working on a few c64 titles and fully expect a crack to come out quickly.