HBL Interviews: Simon Jameson.

Simon Jameson

After a couple of months away, HBL is back with another exclusive interview, this time we caught up with Simon Jameson, the brains behind to recently released Doc Cosmos. We scoop some info on the man, the games and much more besides.

Enjoy.

HBL

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Simon

Thanks it’s nice to be asked. I’m Simon and I’m currently working in London for a large software company and I like to build, mod, repair retro computers and code C64 games in my spare time.

HBL

What was the first game you created?

Simon

My first game ever would have been something in BASIC on the BBC micro probably a lunar lander type game done with ASCII. My first C64 game was a single screen puzzle game called Tommy Tomato I wrote when i was 13 or so, you rolled around a maze bouncing on springs and avoiding spikes, it was very simple and never released and was lost like all of my early stuff back then. My first released game is only since coming back to the scene all these years later and is Doc Cosmos.

HBL

Do you create all Graphics, Sounds and Coding and can you tell us a little about that process of bring your ideas into a game?

Simon

Coding for me is always the start, I’ll generally come up with a game idea or effect I want to try and then go from there. Once I have something I want to make a game out of, I’ll start tidying up my code and then introduce some simple graphics to test the ideas. Once it gets to this stage I can tell if Its going to work as an idea and then I start creating final graphics. Graphics and sound have never been a strong point for me so many projects got stuck at this stage, but recently I’ve started trying to learn about pixel art and its helping, the limitations of the C64 seem to make it easier for me and I’m getting better a creating tile sets and sprites as a result. Sound is always last for me, I just see what room for music I have and add in what sound effects I can based on what feels like it needs it most

HBL

What do you for a living away from game creation?

Simon

I work as a Technical Lead for a large software company in London. Making mostly automation and testing tools to support our internal teams.

HBL

You clearly love the C64 as you started on a port of Parasol Stars for it, what was the reason for this and can you talk us through the process please?

Simon

I’d played a lot of Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands growing up but never got the chance to play Parasol Stars and the story around the C64 port was always in the back of my mind. When I got back into the scene a couple of years ago I started experimenting with new techniques I’d never used and picked the Rainbow Islands graphics set to work with. Eventually I just decided to give Parasol Stars a try as a way to learn more tricks and a few months later I had learned a lot and had the build you can see in the video. I put it to one side on hold and thought nothing of it until recently when I decided to share it with Twitter.

HBL

Doc Cosmos blew my mind and certainly appears to have been a big hit in the scene, tell us how you came up with the ideas behind the game and how you created that awesome timeline system?

Simon

It started with a friend at work mentioning the RGCD 16K competition and deciding to give it a shot. I wanted to make a game similar to Montezumas Revenge but with a modern look to it and so started thinking how to make it unique. I liked games that have dual world puzzles and so thought of the PETSCII idea as a way to implement that kind of thing but keep the space usage down for the 16K cartridge, so I started writing a tech demo to see how the timeline effect looked and the game grew from there. It seemed natural once the game took shape to add a seperate “old school” control system to Doc in the 1982 timeline and actually provided some interesting puzzles to boot!

HBL

Doc Cosmos 2 is in development, can you expand on what we can expect from this game and will there be a physical release?

Simon

So the first Doc had to fit into 16k and so is limited in many ways. I want the sequel to be bigger and create not just a simple sequel but a huge step up in terms of gameplay.
Firstly the sequel is not flick screen, its a full colour 8 way scroller. It’s also much larger with each level being at least double the size of the entire first game and each world will contain 2-3 levels (number of worlds is yet to be decided). Secondly Doc was woefully unprepared in the first game, the sequel see’s Doc rightly armed with a weapon making enemy encounters more action packed. Theres a whole list of things I want to add into the game but only time, resource and CPU cycles will determine what makes the cut.

HBL

Any thoughts about doing games on other systems? Spectrum, Amstrad or other.

Simon

I was always intrigued by Z80 as before i got into assembly programming I did have a ZX Spectrum which I broke and got a C64 to replace. However If i had to pick a different system to write a game on now, it would have to be the Amiga, the things I could do with all that extra speed!!!

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Simon

Absolutely blown away. I’d always kept an eye on the retro scene in general and loved seeing new software and hardware come out. But when I properly got back into it about 2-3 years ago, I could not believe the sheer volume of content being created for such old systems. And the fact we are seeing the excellent ZX Spectrum Next shipping out to customers now, and the Mega65 project approaching on the horizon just shows that theres something about retro that is never going to go away, we’ll just keep making backward compatible versions of the hardware with similar retro limitations but more power. Exciting times!

HBL

Which one of your games are you the proudest of and why?

Simon

Doc Cosmos. It’s the only thing I’ve released and the reaction to it helped me to realise I can actually do this and do it quite well.

HBL

Which game caused you the most headaches?

Simon

Without a doubt it has to be the sequel I’m currently working on. There are just so many things I’m trying to fit into the 64 and I’m really finding it hard to cut anything, I want it all. The scroller in particular is a very tricky piece of code as its fast, full colour and multi directional, it took about 3-4 iterations to get it where it is now and will probably have more done to it before I’m finished.

HBL

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?

Simon

Parasol Stars is the obvious one here. I posted the WIP video without really realising what kind of response it would get. It’s been phenomenal and I’m definitely looking to finish that as soon as I can. There’s also a horizontal shoot em up that I’d like to finish one day thats kind of a cross between Armalyte and the spaceship levels from Turrican II, it was a very early test as I jumped back into C64 dev again and I ended up pausing it to try some technical tricks that ended up being Parasol Stars.

Here’s a gameplay video.

HBL

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?

Simon

I got back into developing for the C64 after becoming hopelessly addicted to “Human Resource Machine” on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a very cool programming style game done with cutesy graphics and very accessible. I realised very quickly I was essentially writing assembly programs and then the desire to get back into 6502 grabbed a hold of me and didn’t let go. Now only a few years later I have several retro machines (mostly Commodores!) and love repairing, modding and coding for them.

HBL

What games at the time (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Simon

Everything by Braybrook, Trenz and the Rowland Brothers and their respective publishers. I especially like the games that do things different and push the envelope of the machines capabilities, and these guys consistently did this.Specifically Uridium, Turrican II and Creatures were by far my most played games of the era and I struggled to put them down, and even when I did it was only to get out the action replay and dig into what was going on inside. The stand out game for me of the modern era is Sam’s Journey and I’m learning a lot from the game as I look into ways to make things work in Doc Cosmos 2.

HBL

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features
title-to-title? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)

Simon

Always speed. Graphics is just something you learn to work within and I actually think the limitations of the machine make for some interesting game ideas and artistic styles, they’re really not that limiting if you put some thought into the design. Memory is less of an issue now than it used to be back in the day when there were so many tape users and 64k single load games were the big thing. Most people today with actual hardware have access to disks (with fastload), SDcard loaders or cartridges, and with the latter its easy to start using banks to do memory expensive things. Speed on the other hand isn’t going to change at all with a base machine and there’s only so much you can do by unrolling code and trimming cycles from the routines. I’d have loved to have seen the C64 with a 2MHz CPU like the 8502, oh and some movable colour RAM would have been nice soon as anything fancy looking is going to be spending a lot of time shuffling that around!

HBL

Do you have timelines built into the management of these games?

Simon

I’ve never been one for completely planning everything up front. My process is pretty iterative with new features popping up all the time as I play and work out what will and won’t work. So I rarely know from one feature to the next just how long the entire project will take, thankfully however those pesky machine limits do a good job of calling time on a project as there’s only so much you can fit into the CPU time.

HBL

What’s next for you?

Simon

My focus is on Doc Cosmos 2 for the time being, there’s a ton to do and I’m trying to keep up with a dev log of it too as I find it helps me focus on next steps when I talk about what I’ve been doing recently. After Doc Cosmos I want to pick up where I left off on Parasol Stars and get that game on the C64 once and for all!

Finally

A huge thanks to Simon for taking the time to chat with us, we will bring you more news of Simon and his games as we get it.

Simon Jameson on Twitter

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