HBL Interviews: Vector Republic.

Vector RepublicThe Vectrex console is one that fascinates many retro fans, it’s a system that had a short commercial life but the homebrew community keeps the system alive till this day, devs like Chris at Vector Republic are making some stunning looking games, the level of detail gone into making the games really is something very special and so I hope you enjoy this latest interview.

Homebrew Legends

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

Chris

I’m Chris Parsons, I run Vector Republic, my own label for Vectrex games, I’m 44,  a life long gamer starting with an Atari 2600 in 1981 followed by C64 (on which I learned to program in BASIC, writing loads of 70% finished games that my brother Rick and I always thought we would release but never did), Amiga 500, Amiga 1200, SNES, PS1, Dreamcast, Gamecube… by this time I’d been picking up all the old computers and consoles at car boots and on eBay and have owned pretty much everything going at some point. I bought my Vectrex in 1997 after putting an ad in a local paper (I’d always wanted one since they were released); a guy got in touch who had bought the console and every single game back in the day right up to importing the lightpen from the US as it wasn’t released over here. Everything was really nicely boxed and I paid £100, the only down side was it was an instant complete collection and I didn’t get the fun of collecting the games bit by bit. Luckily even back then the likes of John Dondzilla and Christopher Tumber were releasing Vectrex homebrew titles so I have been able to buy new games ever since. As a collector I also have a complete, boxed Nintendo Game & Watch collection, 7 arcade machines and tens of other consoles and computers.

Vector RepublicHBL

Whats the reasoning behind the name Vector Republic?

CP

The logo I designed had a feel of Designer’s Republic about it (a favourite design house of mine in the 90s) and a few other names I thought of were taken on the web so I went with Vector Republic

 

HBL

What was the first game you created?

CP

This would have been a C64 BASIC game, hard to say which was first but it would have been one of Karate Kid (time your kick or punch as a thug slid towards you from the right of the screen, get it right and you increase from white belt to black), Colour Ball (A platformer, exploration game with traps… we had the whole game mapped out on paper but only implemented 4 or 5 screens), Harry Smasher (throw rocks at houses, shops, etc. and avoid the police), and Tower of Doom (a graphical adventure that took about 30 minutes to load off tape!).

HBL

What do you for a living now?

CP

Delivery Lead / Agile PM on IT projects (I’m an ex programmer but was never interested enough to keep up with everything).

Vector RepublicHBL

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

CP

As mentioned, one of my brothers and I had always wanted to release a game right back in the early 80s on the C64 but had been just a couple of years too young compared to the bedroom coders of the day who had games published. I chose the Vectrex as I love the system, it had a homebrew scene but wasn’t flooded with titles, and there were some nice tutorials and tools available. Programming in 6809 assembler appealed as, to me, it’s quite simple and has a very logical flow that fits the way I think things through.

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

CP

I’m not personally surprised as I have always been into the old systems and have all my original stuff as well as a lot of what I have collected since around 1996 when I first started work. There are a lot of people now of a similar age that did leave it all behind who are at the point in their lives that they have the time, money, space and nostalgia that has caused an exponential increase in interest (and prices) the last couple of years.

HBL

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

CP

Not much for the Vectrex, there’s a couple of prototype Track & Field 100m binaries (one side on, one top down). My C64 discs are still littered with unfinished games from back in the day though.

HBL

Any thoughts for doing games on other systems?

CP

I’ve ordered a Spectrum Next and would like to port Big Blue to it at some point in the future.

Vector RepublicHBL

What was the inspiration behind Big Blue?

CP

It was actually my son’s idea, he was 8 at the time. My plan was to do a Track n Field type game as my first release but to learn 6809 and the Vectrex BIOS using my son’s idea so he had something to play. What he came up with was not dissimilar to the premise for Scuba Dive on the Spectrum (which of course he had never seen). As the game progressed and functionality got added it became clear it would go on to be my first release.

HBL

Do you do all the development yourself?

CP

Yes, just me doing the code and in game graphics although other developers have been great for asking advice and bouncing ideas off. The music is by another home brew guy, Der Luchs, who releases games for Vectrex, Lynx and Jaguar (http://www.luchs-soft.de/shop/) and my brother, Rick, does all the box art, logos, overlays, instruction manuals, etc.

HBL

Do you have timelines built in to the management of these games?

CP

Very loosely, I do plan them in an Agile/Kanban way but don’t have strict timelines, real life gets in the way and I can go months at a time without touching the code. For Frontier my target is simply “2018”.

HBL

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

CP

The biggest limitation is the amount you can draw on screen without slowdown and flicker. There are a few coding techniques and tricks you can use to improve speed but as I am using the built in BIOS routines there is only so much you can do so it mainly comes down to designing the game around those limitations. For the clever types you can ditch the BIOS routines and write your own more efficient drawing routines but I’m sticking with them myself!

HBL

What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

CP

I would say earlier arcade games and Commodore 64 titles mainly. I’m happy to borrow ideas and then like to put my own twist on them, and add new features. I wouldn’t set out to do an exact conversion of an old game personally.

Vector RepublicHBL

Can you tell us about your latest game Frontier, Dead or Alive?

CP

Frontier is a Wild West themed game that has a 2 player Vs mode that is my take on Outlaw, Boot Hill, Western Gun, etc. with added power ups; this mode has already proved popular at games meets where I have run knock out competitions. The 1 player game has started out as a clone of the early Nintendo game Sheriff but will have many differences and probably other stages like a quick draw round with Wanted Posters of increasingly hard opponents.

HBL

Which one of your games you have worked on would you say your the most proud of and why?

CP

Big Blue as the first game Vector Republic released has to be the one I am most proud of. To bring to fruition the aim to have a fully boxed game that would be as close to the originals in appearance as possible was very satisfying. The end product is, in my opinion, still the most accurate recreation of the originals with cart, overlay, instruction manual and box almost identical to the games released in the early 80s.

HBL

Whats next, do you have an idea in mind?

CP

Having just re-released Big Blue in the US/GCE style (the original was MB/European style) and soon Japanese style artwork, I am concentrating on coding Frontier mainly. Past that I would still like to create a multi event sports game and have some ideas for a bigger adventure/RPG type game, perhaps reusing the Western theme from Frontier.

HBL

What was the inspiration for Frontier and will it have a physical release?

CP

It was initially just a theme choice that was of interest and had no representation in other games on the Vectrex; I do love the games Sheriff, Boot Hill, High Noon (C64), Outlaw, Bank Panic so figured I could pay tribute to those games and make something fun to play.

HBL

Do you intend to produce further batches of Big Blue?

CP

The new batch of US/GCE style boxed versions is still available and I had plenty printed so they should last a while; there will be a Japanese variant that will be achieved as a sticker set to be applied to the GCE box (this is how 9 of the original 11 Japanese Bandai games were released originally).

HBL

Will your new game and future games be on you fantastic looking website?

CP

Yes, the site will be updated to feature Frontier as well as Big Blue and I put out regular updates on the Facebook page for Vector Republic and Twitter.

HBL

Whats the difference between US/GCE style and the original was MB/European style?

CP

The US games have a different logo, screenshots on the rear of the box instead of European language translations, a different style manual and cart label. The MB version had a foam inner to hold the cart in place but since then a guy in America has had repro cart tray holders produced so I am now using those to be even closer to the originals.

HBL

Its there technical difference and so on?

CP

There’s no technical difference, the Vectrex had no region lockout so the rom burned to the carts is exactly the same.

Vector Republic Website

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