Homebrew Legends Interview: Retream.

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RetreamSimone Bevilacqua and his Retream game development label has been slowly releasing some quality Amiga and C64 games for a while now, Homebrew Legends managed to connect up with Simone and ask him a few questions about game development and much more.

Homebrew Legends

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

Simone

You’re welcome!
I’m 41, and I wrote my first lines of code at age 9, on a Commodore 64 (my first computer). On that machine I learned the basics of programming, but I only had the user’s manual, I was totally isolated in my small hometown, and I was no genius, so I couldn’t get too far. When I was 16 I switched to the Amiga 1200 and that allowed me to become much better; however, I was still isolated, so it took two more years before I could get access to proper documentation thanks to the internet connection of the university lab. In 2004 I started programming on AmigaOS 4, but since that’s a totally different thing than programming classic Amigas and C64s, my interest in the older platforms always stayed alive. In fact, in 2007 I returned to the C64 to learn a bit about its hardware and fiddle with overlaid sprites (a fixation I had as a kid).
Computers aside, I used to play basketball in local teams, I play guitar (not particularly well, but enough to compose the music for my games), I write stories and poems (and there’s also a novel that I’ve been writing in rare spurts during the last… 25 years), and occasionally (well, rarely) I make pizzas in pizza restaurants.

HBL

What was the first game you created?

Simone

The first complete game was a puzzler called Follia, for the Amiga. I’ve even released it to the public, but not long ago I’ve retired it as I’d like to rework it heavily, using a graphical engine I’ve written in 2003 – but I can’t say if/when that will be possible.

HBL

What do you for a living now?

Simone

Sadly, I’ve been unemployed for almost two years. It’s precisely the need to get a job that prompted me to become a pizza maker, but it hasn’t worked out (yet). Italy is a devastated country, and the southern part (where I live) is… is… there are no words. Here I’ve had many jobs in many places, companies and institutions alike, but none was stable and earned me a living. The only two real jobs I’ve ever had were in Finland and in the Netherlands – but I was forced to return here for various reasons.

HBL

QUOD INIT EXIT for the C64 is a crazy idea for a game but extremely fun, tell us how you came up with the idea for this game?

Simone

It’s a long story! However, there’s something I can indeed tell about the origins of the game.
When I returned to the C64, I got carried away: the more I was learning about it, the more fun I was having; at some point, experimenting was no longer enough, so I decided to create a full game. I wanted it to be different, and I wanted it to be entirely hires and colorful (another fixation of mine). So I spent many hours thinking hard about what my limited skills and knowledge allowed, and I came up with the general concept; then, my mind naturally connected that with the jokes… and the game was born.

HBL

BOH looks a fantastic puzzle game, how did you come up with the idea and why only Amiga OS4?

Simone

Thanks, I appreciate that you caught the puzzle aspect of the game – most people exchange it for a shooter, and thus miss a chance to discover a very unusual and deep game.

The idea of a making a graphical engine that was tile-based, top-down, character-centric, and had real-time lighting and field of vision, came out of my usual free wandering imagination design sessions. I implemented it and, as soon as I tried the first versions, I realized that it was hugely immersive, atmospheric, and naturally suitable for a dungeon crawler.

The development was mostly done on AmigaOS 4, but the game runs natively also on AROS (an AmigaOS-like OS), Linux, MacOS, and Windows.

HBL

Any thoughts for doing games on other systems? CPC464, Dreamcast or SNES.

Simone

I’m not interested. I’m no technology geek, I’m not interested in technology per se. To me, computers are just the means that allow me to materialize my dreams. I’m totally satisfied with the C64 and the Amiga, so I don’t need to look at other platforms which I have no personal connection to.

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Simone

No. A full analysis of the phenomenon is out of my reach, but I think these factors (among others) should explain it:

* the nostalgia feeling of the first generations of gamers;
* the fact that modern games/technologies tend to provide a realistic experience, whereas the old school games are more abstract, dreamy, cartoonish, etc., and thus involve the brain in a different and more creative way;
* the fact that modern games (except for an innovative minority, mostly indie) provide more and more of the same, so the huge variety offered by retro gaming turns out to be particularly attractive;
* the fact that the big companies realized that they can make lots of money with very little investments: developing and releasing today’s fashionable “mini” consoles is a walk in the park to them (compare that with developing and releasing a next generation console) and there’s a huge library of games already available; moreover, the potential audience is huge, as it includes the nostalgic gamers mentioned earlier and also other gamers that might enjoy the “new” experience;
* last but not least, the fact that (many) old school games are terribly fun and wonderful pieces of art!

HBL

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

Simone

I am not proud of any game. I’m simply happy I could enjoy the experience of making those games, and that there are people out there having fun with them.

HBL

Which game caused you the most headaches?

Simone

Maybe (just maybe) MAH, due to the complexity of the game and the scarce resources of the C64.

HBL

Huenison is another Amiga OS4 game and it looks stunning, can you tell us the thought process behind this game?

Simone

Thanks for the compliment!
The process was the usual: I just consider and mix lots of elements, ideas, and technical concepts, freely jumping from style to style, subject to subject, without order, without logic… and, often, without landing to anything! At the same time, I quickly (try to) evaluate if I’m able to deal with what I devised, if it could be fun, if the target platform can handle it, and twist the ideas to make them fit the limitations (if possible at all).
(By the way, Huenison is also for Windows.)

HBL

You appear to have a certain style with the design of your games. Is this on purpose and why?

Simone

To be honest, I can’t even see that style! My games are so wildly different from one another…

HBL

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

Simone

I have many games that never saw the light and also a file where I’ve written down a number of interesting game concepts. I have no plans for any of them, but who knows…

HBL

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

Simone

It looks like that above I have indirectly provided the answer already: I’ve always been into retro game development. Anything that followed the 16 bit era just never interested me.

HBL

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

Simone

All the games I’ve seen have probably influenced me one way or another, but there are no games that stand out. When I design a game I always aim to make something new (sometimes the result is so new that people fail to understand it!), so I discard the idea of intentionally taking inspiration from another game. Basically, my motivation comes from the inner urge to create and give shape to my own visions, so recreating something that already exists would almost entirely destroy the pleasure of the creative process.

However, it’s impossible not to be influenced; in fact, my games contain a lot of elements inspired to other games (the manuals of BOH and Huenison even include a list of such games), probably more than those I can think of.

HBL

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

Simone

There is no general answer: it all depends on what has to be achieved.
For example, with MAH the biggest challenge was fitting everything in 64 kB of RAM, as I wanted the game (which is actually made of multiple sub-games, each with its own mechanics, graphics, and sound), to be single load; the challenge presented by QUOD INIT EXIT II, instead, is relative to the CPU power (as 83% of it is taken by the graphical engine, which allows to display any part of the map at any time, in full screen) and to the creation of the graphics (drawing those high resolution colorful graphics in a suitable way for the aforementioned engine is a mind-boggling puzzle).

HBL

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

Simone

No, I release a game when I feel it’s perfect, no matter how long it takes. And, if later on, I come up with better ideas, I can’t help but update the game to bring it to a higher state. If I had had a different attitude, probably now I would have released at least twice as many games! On the other hand, the quality of the released ones would be much inferior.
Anyway, I have decided that I will never update anymore the currently released games, except for QUOD INIT EXIT (for which I don’t plan any update, but it has so much room for improvement that I can’t exclude that one day I’ll make use of it) and MEMO (for which I’d like to implement an AI I’ve designed for it ages ago).

HBL

Are you doing all the development individually?

Simone

Apart from minor and rare external contributions, yes.

HBL

How did your connection with RGCD and Protovision come about?

Simone

About RGCD, I can’t remember. The first time I saw RGCD’s boss name (James Monkman) was on the order he placed for a copy of BOH, back in 2009 – and I didn’t even know that RGCD existed. But the active members in the C64 scene are not that many, so it’s easy to meet in forums or on CSDb.

We started collaborating when he asked me to release QUOD INIT EXIT on cart. Then RGCD published also Huenison (through their own store and later Steam) and, recently, the cart version of MAH.

Let me seize the chance to say that he’s a great guy to work with.

As for Protovision, I got in touch with Jakob Chen-Voos about two ago on CSDb, through private messaging. If I remember correctly, he asked me if the sequel of QUOD INIT EXIT would have multidirectional scrolling. By then QUOD INIT EXIT IIm was out already, so, after he checked it out, he was so impressed that he even offered to publish it. A few months ago, precisely remembering that offer, I asked him if Protovision would be interested in publishing the disk edition of MAH – and I was pleased to get a “yes” as an answer. I have a most pleasant collaboration also with him.

 

HBL

Memo, I must say is an addictive game, tell us about this game and how it all started and will you be making any more classic Amiga games?

Simone

Again, there would be a long story to tell… but we’re lucky this time: it’s already in the page devlog on itch.io! You can read it HERE.

Regarding the second question, I’ve already started making a new game for A1200: it’s (temporarily) called SPEEDGRID, and you can see a preview video below.

After many years, I wanted to return to the Amiga and have fun with its hardware; I decided to code a scrolling engine that featured multiple layers and transparencies, and also to include high-quality (i.e. 28 kHz 14 bit) audio. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it a fun game. For sure, it’s going to be a small, score-attack game. Additionally, I have coded a very special graphical engine that I’d really like to use for some other game, but I still haven’t come up with a good idea – and, after all, that’s a good thing because I’ve already too many other projects going on.

HBL

Whats next?

Simone

Besides what already mentioned, I’m working on QUOD INIT EXIT IIo, the “fat” version of QUOD INIT EXIT IIm: the latter is just a 16 kB game (with which I intended to participate to the RGCD compo, but I missed the deadline by one day due to a stupid mistake), while the former is meant to be a full-size, multiple-level game. It will take ages to complete, because there’s a lot of content to create and, also, I want to add more features. Recently I had resumed its development and made some nice steps forward, but then I had to stop again in order to take care of the physical release of BOH ADVANCE and Huenison. In a few weeks though, I’ll be able to return to the game.

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