Saturday 15 June 2019

Relentless (Commodore 64)

Already this year the RGCD 16KB Cartridge Game Dev Compo has received its fair share of shoot 'em ups - and as shmups are my favourite game genre, this makes me very happy! With Sarah Jane Avory's excellent Neutron, Richard Bayliss' Blastopia DX and Let's Invade 2 already submitted and two more planned from C64CD (Stercore XD and Death Weapon), you'd think there wouldn't be room for any more.

You'd be wrong.

Back in 2013, Paul 'Axelay' Koositra, rexbeng and Tom & Jerry released a stunning 16KB shoot 'em up called Relentless for the Amstrad CPC - also, somewhat fittingly, as an entry in a 16KB cartridge competition - which it ultimately won. Then, to celebrate Psytronik releasing the cassette version of the CPC game, rexbeng uploaded a C64 version of the loading screen to CSDB as a teaser - but that was all - there was no C64 conversion planned... Until now!

Similar to the original, Relentless 64 is a high speed, non-stop score-chasing shmup with some neat score chaining mechanics. The enemy waves come at you thick and fast, and taking out an entire wave rewards you with an increasing score multipler, resetting back to 1x should you miss a ship or crash.

Level progression is akin to Konami's Scramble - no pause to catch your breath, no 'level complete' text, just a scenery/enemy change and onwards you go, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. The gameplay, aside from the scoring, is pure - no power-ups or bosses, just classic horizontal shooting action at a breathtaking speed (beaten in this competition only by Stercore XD).

It's fantastic stuff, with multiple difficulty settings (changing the rate of fire of the scenery mounted turrets and player autofire), options for music, sfx or both (with the soundtrack provided by the awesome Cyborgjeff) and proper high score entry (which even remembers your initials between rounds). There are also plans for medal icons to show the difficulty scores were achieved on in the high score table.

As with Moonspire II, rexbeng's artwork gives the game a unique futuristic feel - the player ship and bullets are vibrant and despite the minimal ROM space he has achieved a rich and varied set of enemy types and scenery pieces. The randomly selected enemy waves also help to keep it feeling fresh with every play.

All that currently remains prior to submission in the competition is a reworking of the front screen and some minor tweaks and changes here and there, but in all Relentless 64 is shaping up as an excellent 16KB game, and one that we're especially proud to announce will be available from RGCD and Psytronik in physical format in the near future.

Keep an eye on the 16KB competition progress here, and make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the Relentless 64 is released!

Sunday 9 June 2019

Wolfling (Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga & PC/Linux/MacOS)

Earlier this year, shortly after the launch of the Amiga versions of Powerglove and Tigerclaw, Matthias 'Lazycow' Bock released Wolfling for the Commodore 64, a conversion of his 2017 NesDev competition entry and possibly his most accomplished platform adventure to date. Featuring a shape-shifting werewolf protagonist, Wolfling is most notable for it's interesting mechanics; you can use rays of moonlight to transform from girl to wolf, with both characters controlling differently and having unique abilities and attacks. The game improves on the already high standard set by Lazycow's previous C64 games, with greater environmental variation and more developed story-telling, the only downside being it's relatively short length.

The more observant of you may have noticed that shortly after launch, the Wolfling page was updated with a new cover illustration. We've been keeping this pretty quiet, but that was actually commissioned by us after we reached an agreement with Matthias to team up together for a cartridge release of the game. Why the secrecy? Well, before making any announcement public, we needed to be in a position to actually confirm exactly *what* we were announcing...

Now at last, several months later, we're super proud to disclose that not only will Wolfling be getting a physical release, but it will be further expanded with two new levels, save-points, a mini-map, new graphics, parallax scrolling, new items (including a sword) and a power-dash for the Wolf! Oh, and the big news is that as with Matthias' other releases, this enhanced version of Wolfling will be available for the Commodore 64 *and* 1MB Commodore Amiga!

We've still got quite a long road ahead of us before release; currently the two new levels are built but most of the rooms are placeholder graphics only, and of course for the Amiga version all the artwork will need to be redrawn. There's also the question of how it will be packaged; at the moment I'm considering using the same boxes as used for our Amiga releases, and having the same print material for all versions (like in the old days).

This not only simplifies things for the customer, with one product page with the option of which version you wish to buy (C64 cartridge, Amiga CD and floppy disk, or both, all in the same box), but also saves on production costs - meaning we can sell the game at an affordable price. In fact, with there being Windows, Linux and MacOS ports too, it makes more sense to include a glass-mastered, CD32 compatible CD containing *all versions* of the game even with the C64 cartridge, and have the manual in the format of a CD booklet inside the jewel case.

We'll be back with an update when further progress is made on the Amiga version, but in the meantime, check out the latest public release of the game (currently available for Commodore 64, NES, Windows, MacOS and Linux) over at Lazycow's page.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the game is released!

Friday 7 June 2019

Introducing the RGCD Megatape

I've been looking at getting some RGCD branded USB sticks made up for a few years now, but could never settle on a style that I was happy with. I figured it would be a nice extra to add with our physical cartridge games so that they can be played on TheC64 Mini or Ultimate64, but the cost price was always so prohibitive - especially so when in comparison with what value they'd add to the buyer. I mean, a 4GB USB stick holding a few kilobytes of data just seemed wasteful.

Then recently those cool guys at Hewson Consultants launched a (successful) Kickstarter for a collectors 'USB cassette' release of Puppy Games' Droid Assault (a game we championed back in 2009, when RGCD was still a CD-based magazine). I'd previously seen Hewson's USB cassette of Hyper Sentinel and I thought the format was a cool gimmick for an indie game, but seeing the Droid Assault Kickstarter aping the style of vintage game cassettes for the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 made something click... and the concept of the RGCD Megatape was born.

I (like many of you) have an Ultimate 1541-II cartridge with my Commodore 64, and over the past decade I've built up quite a large collection of games, demos, artwork and music releases, all of which are now neatly stored on a single USB stick. However, it takes time to build up this sort of hand-picked collection, and with the scene being currently swamped with hundreds of new users thanks to devices such as TheC64 Mini (and the Ultimate64), I figured that a nicely packaged RGCD collection would possibly be well received.

The RGCD Megatape will not only compile all of our past releases and RGCD competition entries in one place, but will also act as a platform to showcase some of our favourite modern-day freeware C64 games and various stuff from the demoscene. The format of the USB cassette itself not only fits in perfectly with genuine retro game collections, but it's also super easy to use with modern hardware (although I may need to provide an optional short USB extension cable looking at how tightly it fits when used with the Ultimate 1541-II cartridge). In fact, if you want to impress your work colleagues, you could just bin the contents and use it as your regular work USB stick in the office! ;)

As you are no doubt aware, RGCD release C64 games exclusively in cartridge format - although we of course have collaborated with Psytronik and Protovision for floppy and cassette versions of some titles. However, compared to other media, these cartridge games are a little more expensive - which makes the Megatape an ideal way for people to add a physical RGCD release to their collection at a more affordable price. And what's really cool is there's no need for a 'Volume 2' - the contents will be regularly updated on a yet-to-be-built website (currently proposed as and ultimately free for anyone to download. Consider this our gift to the scene.

So, when will it be available? And how much will it cost?

There's still a lot of work to do. In some ways, I jumped the gun in asking Christina Antoinette 'Castpixel' Neofotistou to assist with the design and amazing illustration, but I was eager to see what the samples would look like before investing too much time in putting the contents together. Dr. Martin 'Enthusi' Wendt has also been hugely helpful in re-purposing his amazing diskmag engine for use as a note viewer - from the start I wanted to ensure that any readme texts were accessible as stand-alone programs (I don't think TheC64 Mini supports text files, although the Ultimate 1541-II and Ultimate64 do), so I've been busy writing them using a most 'unique' toolchain...

Enthusi's diskmag engine only compiles on Linux - an operating system I've personally failed to get to grips with. However, RGCD's Jamie Howard already had a Raspberry Pi on his network at home acting as a 'smart-doorbell', so we opted to just put the assembler files and scripts on there. So every time I want to compile a note I have to WinSCP the files across to the other side of Exeter, have a chat with his doorbell via PuTTY to compile it before finally transferring back to me. Yes, that's right, the Megatape README.PRG's are compiled remotely by a fucking DOORBELL. I don't think the inventors of the Raspberry Pi ever imagined their hardware would be used this way! :D

So, we're a few months off at least, but I hope to have the the first build of the Megatape available in our store by Autumn. I'll be at Nova Party in a few weeks and will be working on it there (between beers, smokes and socialising), so hopefully I'll have a better launch date estimate after that. Cost wise, these cassettes are not exactly cheap to have made as a short run, but I'm aiming for a price of around £15 plus postage. However, the RGCD Megatape is being developed more for fun than profit (the £2 mark-up per unit is literally just to cover the cost of the artwork), so I'll do my best to keep the price as reasonable as possible.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to our mailing list so you don't miss out when the RGCD Megatape is released!

Tuesday 4 June 2019

RTFM(!) - The Evolution of RGCD's Instruction Booklets

Here at RGCD we're currently knee-deep in near-completed projects, and one of the biggest milestones in getting a game published is of course the print material finally coming together. With that in mind, I thought it was time to introduce Chris Mantil - one of our unsung heroes. But first, let's reminisce a little...

When I was a kid in the early 90's, buying a new video game meant taking a 30 mile bus trip into Exeter, walking down to either the independent or chainstore, handing over my £20 or so, then catching the bus home again - and as soon as I got on-board I'd tear open the cellophane and pull out the manual to digest on the way home. Manuals back then were pieces of art themselves, often full of the promise of the excitement ahead, if not more exciting than the games themselves (I recall loving the novella that came with Frontier: Elite II much more than the actual game!)

Of course, in today's gaming environment no player is expected to look at a manual - modern-day game developers are encouraged to either make their games so intuitive that instructions are unnecessary, or provide extensive tutorials that hold the player's hand. Gamers have never had it so good, you'd think. But for me, part of buying a physical release was always about the manual, and for this reason I've always striven to provide full, printed documentation with every RGCD release.

In many cases, this has meant writing a story for an already completed game. Particular examples I'm most proud of include Get 'Em DX - an arcade game which really doesn't need a back story, but received one anyway, and Moonspire - where I had to crowbar a believable sci-fi background into a game that seemingly had no setting at all, despite the futuristic title. (Thankfully, for the sequel Rexbeng, Dusan and I have actually been working out all the plot details before building levels and have even moulded the gameplay to suit!)

However... I'm no graphic designer. Early RGCD releases came with manuals that I put together in MS Word, printed out and cut and stapled together. The text may have been full of plot, trivia and facts, but the presentation was basic to say the least. Then, back in 2016, I received an email from Chris whom introduced himself as a graphic designer (and RGCD fan) who wanted to join the team. The timing couldn't have been better as we'd just agreed to ship Tiger Claw as a perk in the "The Story of the Commodore 64 in Pixels" Kickstarter - a game that very much needed a decent manual. And now in 2019, thanks to Chris, all of the games in our currently available catalogue are up to the standard I always hoped for - with beautifully presented manuals deserving of the player's attention.

One of the things Chris has introduced for RGCD is the 'compatibility grid' - a collection of cells on the first few pages of each manual highlighting features and system requirements. Rather than present these in a bullet-point list (as previously managed), Chris chose a more visual approach that has remained consistent over the past few years - making it immediately clear to the user what they need to run each game.

In addition to this, there's the consistent style he's given each game manual so that it fits the overall package; with Rocket Smash EX's manual having a 1950's aesthetic that matches Flemming Dupont's box illustration, and Aviator Arcade II's 'Field Manual' having the appearance of a fictional Military file. In fact, every time I receive a new set of PDF proofs from Chris my inner kid gives a whoop and a high five!

This year we're continuing the laborious process of working through our back catalogue of 'deleted' games to give them a much-needed refresh and re-release, with 2011's Fairy Well by Wide Pixel Games next to come off the assembly line. I'm hoping to continue to do this alongside the new releases, but it's a pretty expensive venture to redo the manual, create new labels and update the prints, so it will take time for all of our games to become available again.

However, if you have any of our early revisions it's worth noting that some of these can now be (cheaply) updated by purchasing one of our upgrade packs. In fact, if purchased alongside another game or item, the postage is free - so check them out - and please, put my original hand made efforts where they belong - in the recycle bin! :D

Words from the Designer

I emailed Chris a copy of this post for him to check over for factual errors prior to publishing, and in his reply he asked if he could add a few words. What I received back from him was a bit more than 'a few words', but it was so warming to read his thoughts about his time working with RGCD I just had to add it here. Chris, thanks again for all your help!

"I blame C64anabalt for my rekindled love of the C64. After finding out the game had been ported to the 30 year old computer, I quickly fell down the rabbit hole that is the C64 scene. It blew my mind seeing people not only porting games, but also creating entirely new games for the system.

I was so young when we owned a C64, It was hard not to remember it as anything but this funny little computer that our grandparents handed down to us. I wasn't really sure what it was. All I knew was that it was the only form of videogames in our house and that my sister was way better at playing Jumpman than I was.

Diving into the scene as an adult let me track down all the games I played as a kid and appreciate them on a whole new level. I also got to discover a ton of new games, like Knight and Grail, which was easily my favourite game I played that year.

I soon discovered RGCD and again was just blown away by the amount of games that were being released. I also really appreciated that RGCD was committed to putting games on cartridges. As kids, we only ever had a stack of floppy disks, and as much as I loved playing those games, I was never a huge fan of how tedious it was to get them loaded (I didn’t even know games came on tapes)."

"I could tell that there was a lot of care going into these games, and (despite what James may say about his original manuals) I really respected the level of polish that was being put into the packaging. I wanted to be a part of that so I sent James an email and offered to help in any way I could.

It's been three years and I have worked on 18 game manuals as well as boxart for the 2015 16k Cart Competition. It's been a ton of fun collaborating with RGCD and I am very proud of the work we have done together.

Despite being relatively simple, these game manuals are always a bit of a challenge. We usually have limited art assets to work with and often times what we do have is 8-bit sprites. The fun comes from trying to work within these limitations. I always want the instructions and controls to be clearly communicated, but I also want to visualise the tone, energy, and style of the game.

I am particularly proud of the C64anabalt manual. C64anabalt is simple but extremely stylish and relies heavily on atmosphere, as well as a sense of speed and momentum. By replicating the onscreen visuals across double page spreads and the selective use of text, I think we did a great job of conveying the games atmosphere while also communicating how the game moves and plays. Other standouts for me are Super Bread Box, LuftrauserZ, and Rocket Smash EX.

I remember how much fun it was as a kid to pour over game manuals, and I hope my work brings back those fond memories for other people too. It's a ton of fun getting to be a part of this scene. I am constantly impressed by the amount of work people are putting into keeping this computer relevant and I am so glad I get to help out in any way I can."

C. Mantil.