GRB: Why did you
decide to develop games for orphaned consoles, rather than the
powerful and versatile personal computers of
LLOYD: For the
same reason I own The Greatest American Hero and Land of the
Lost on DVD. There is a link to certain memories of
playing my Atari systems, and so it seems cooler and more
rewarding to make an "Atari system game" than if I coded up a
PC game. The technical challenge of it all adds to the allure.
After all, how many people are truly capable of programming
their own Atari system game? Very few. But it's all
worth it when I see the appreciation and excitement from retro
gamers when they see a new game coming for their beloved
Why do you design games for the Atari 5200 in particular?
does this system offer over other consoles available in the
LLOYD: I loved the Atari 5200
Supersystem back in the day. It really delivered the arcade
experience more than anything else. In summer 2000, I
got my original 5200 back from my cousins after a 10-year
absence, and the memories came flooding back. It was
about this time that I discovered the homebrewer community at AtariAge's
forums, and so I decided I would learn the 5200 hardware and
attempt my own game -- that 5200 demo became Koffi: Yellow
Kopter, which was finished in 2002. Back then, I was
happy to learn that the 5200 was virtually the same as the
Atari computer line, which I had some experience programming
as a kid, so I had a little head start there.
I'm not very familiar with the
Colecovision, but I do know that the 5200 has built-in
hardware "collision detection" and the CV does not. The
CV and 5200 trade off several minor advantages/disadvantages,
it seems. The 5200 is far easier to work on than the Atari
2600! The 2600 is a bit hamstrung by its meager 128
bytes of RAM, and cart sizes were initially only 2K or 4K
which doesn't allow much game code. In contrast, the 5200 has
16,000 bytes of RAM and easily supports 32K games, although
few of the official 5200 games used over 16K. The 5200
has far better sound and graphical capabilities than the 2600
does. But I don't think it is easy to make a decent 5200
game. The 5200's biggest weaknesses are its limited
number of color registers and limited sprites. There are
tricks to boost these, but it depends on if the game's design
allows you to use these tricks.
What is really cool about both the
2600 an 5200 is that both are flexible enough for developers
to continually come up with more tricks and methods to use
them! Homebrewers use bigger ROM memory sizes than were
typically allowed by penny-pinching companies in the 80's and
it allows richer and
easier to code games.
What tools do you use to create Atari 5200 games, and what
skills and experience are necessary to make
software for the system?
I use a PC with WordPad along with DASM and
TASM to compile source code into the binary file.
Atari800win is the most accurate Atari 5200 emulator I've
seen, it seems to have the timing down perfectly. But I
also need to use Dan Boris' Virtual Super System 5200
emulator, the 'programmers debug' version, because it gives
more freedom in testing and running the code line-by-line if I
To test on the real machine, I used
to burn eproms using a $200 eprom burner that I had to
buy. But today, I use the the A52 flash cart that
Videogame Wiz sells, which is much faster, easier and
cheaper. Anyone wanna buy an eprom burner? :)
Having good modern tools makes the
process a lot more fun. There is an ANTIC4 program
available online that we used to draw our screens and develop
our character sets. I wish I had a good sprite program
that did the same thing. Still, pencil, paper and graph
paper comes into play even in this day & age. Finally, for
Adventure II we use a compression routine to pack more stuff
into the game.
have a BS degree in Computer Science. You don't need that, but
you really do need to understand binary and hexadecimal
numbers. You need to learn how the system of choice
works and how a TV set refreshes. You need to learn
about ROM and RAM, and how to properly program computer code,
most likely Assembly language. I had a head-start due to
my education & occupation. Some people just aren't
cut out for it though, just like I'm not cut out for running
fast or dancing. :)
You had encountered some resistance while designing your
latest game, Adventure II. Please
describe in detail what nearly put an end to the
project, and how
you were able to resolve the situation and resume work on
Infogrames purchased the Atari properties and
in 2004, as the new "Atari", they had issues with homebrewers
using their purchased intellectual properties. On the
one hand, I understand the legality of registered trademarks
and owned intellectual properties. That is why I didn't
name the dragons in Adventure II "Yorgle" and so forth.
Of course, nobody can claim ownership on the word "adventure"
or the adventure style of game. Still, we are clearly
making an homage to the Atari 2600 game, Adventure. I don't
know if Warren Robinette would recall this, but back in 2001
or so, I emailed him to basically get his 'blessing' on our
project. I was happy to read his response that he views it as
an homage and he was fine with it. Still, I respected
the new Atari's wishes and temporarily changed the name to the
wonderfully creative title, "Quest for the Golden
Chalice". Thanks to Curt Vendel's efforts, however, the
lawyers agreed to let me keep the title. In 'fair trade'
exchange, I assisted Curt's team in the development of an
Atari Flashback 2 version of Adventure II (which is Atari 2600
hardware). "Atari" still dictated some ground rules that I had
to agree to, which affected a few ideas I had. Hey, it's
water under the bridge, let's all just move on!
GRB: What compromises can
major software developers like Atari make with
the designers of
fan-made projects like your own Adventure II?
I think it would be cool if the big companies
granted licenses or general provisions for homebrewers, with
the provision that the projects could be included on
compilations or as secret unlockable bonuses in the real
games, if desired. It has been stated that companies
must defend their intellectual properties, or a precedent
could be set causing them to lose them. For example, if
somebody programmed a Sonic the Hedgehog or Pac-man game and
sold it, that is clearly using somebody else's "property" and
I don't go for that. (Hmm, but I would love to try Sonic on
the 5200... no, don't go
there!). But an homage, that is something different, and
something that ought to be encouraged, not shot down.
And something made for an outdated 25-year old system, where
only a few hundred people at most are playing these things ...
come on, what is the big deal?
Why do remakes and tributes of classic games far outnumber
original creations in the homebrew
Possibly because we never got what we wanted
from the offical companies back in the day. That's why
somebody tries a version of Warlords, Combat 2 or Adventure II
for the 5200. That's why you see Thrust, Climber 5 and
Maze Craze on the 2600 -- we never got satisfactory versions
of Thrust, Donkey Kong,
or Marble Madness on the the 2600. And you sit back in
the 21st century and look at these games and think "WOW! I
never thought the 2600 could do that!" And nostalgia
plays a role, of course.
What can be done to encourage original output from
independent game developers?
It takes so much time & effort just to get
a classic system homebrew to run properly, that many don't
have to free time to additionally create their own characters,
world, and gameplay! Perhaps if there were some reusable
game engines available, there'd be more emphasis on new game
design and less on the programming aspect.
think it is best to let the homebrewers try what they
want. It may be better for homebrewers to copy the style
of a proven fun game, but to modify it as they see fit.
Or, to take not a certain game, but a certain theme from the
era and develop something fun. We could always use new
shooters, just so long as they aren't more Space Invaders
From personal experience though, I
think that the act of inventing and creating the 'world' and
characters in Koffi: Yellow Kopter was the most fun part of
the project. There were no expectations like there are from
making an homage to an existing game. I'd like to revisit