HBL Interviews: Oscar Toledo G.
Here we interview Oscar Toledo , Oscar is very well know in the Intellivision and Atari homebrew circles, creating some of the finest games available to both machines. Sit back, relax and enjoy the interview.
Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?
I’m Oscar Toledo G. born in Mexico in 1978 and I’ve always liked the videogames. I started coding in BASIC language at age 5 but few years later I learned Z80 assembly language. Even though I’ve developed a career developing operating systems and Internet browsers, I’ve always made time for creating games and doing visual experiments.
What was the first game you created?
That’s a complicated question and the first time I’ve been asked it, I had to sit down and concentrate to bring memories back.
My first game of my own creation was a game where a “charro” (a guy using a big Mexican hat) go up/down through ladders to reach top of screen and bring back something that I don’t remember what was. The enemies used a different “suit”. Probably I created it when I was age 8 or 9. Being written in BASIC was pretty slow.
My first game done in assembler language by age 9 was pretty primitive also, a karateka going after a woman launching knifes, you only had to jump and then do some blows and kicks to defeat her.
What do you for a living away from game creation?
I’ve a work selling metal detectors for searching pipelines hidden in-house and gardens, finding wires in cows food and sometimes searching hidden coins in old houses.
You have created games on many systems, which was the easiest to develop and why?
So far the Intellivision is the easiest to write games but it’s my own fault because I developed the IntyBASIC compiler that allows to code games using a BASIC dialect. It makes it fast to write concept ideas for games.
Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?
Not really, I’ve been playing retro games since early 2000 because it doesn’t request so much time from yourself. I mean, you can play a game for a few minutes and enjoy a little fun. Finding the differences between the game and the arcade, or the little winks that developers leaved inside.
The modern games require a lot of time just to start playing, the booting of console, connecting to Internet, checking your profile, starting your game, waiting in the pipeline for other players, configure your warrior, and more. Sometimes even you must pay to connect to game service. You can easily take 10 to 15 minutes to start playing. In the same time you can play 5 times a game of Pac-Man.
Which one of your games are you the proudest of and why?
It’s hard to decide between Princess Quest and Mecha-9. Even if Princess Quest is one of my oldest games released, it has very well designed worlds, enemies and bosses, and the smooth horizontal scroll is hard to leave behind. On the other side, Mecha-9 has beautifully designed bosses, better music, a nice side story and lots of graphical screens.
I think even when Princess Quest music is a little primitive (I’ve learned a lot since then), it’s still my best achievement because of its smooth scrolling, a feature very hard to implement in MSX/Colecovision machines because the video processor doesn’t support specifically the pixel-by-pixel scrolling, and of course because of its well-balanced gameplay.
Which game caused you the most headaches?
Princess Quest for Intellivision. I thought it was going to be pretty easy!!! A direct conversion with reduced graphics. But I had to reimplement almost all the game and redesign all levels. I had many difficulties understanding some things of the Intellivision assembler language.
Besides the Intellivision is 4 times slower, so all my beautiful code was simply too slow. Also only 8 sprites can be shown, while the original game continuously can show more than 16 sprites in almost every frame.
Along development my hard drive failed and almost lost everything. So it was the most difficult game in my career.
In fact it was so difficult that I foresee the need for a tool that would make easier to write Intellivision games and thus IntyBASIC was born in December 2014, a BASIC language compiler with support for all features of Intellivision without resorting to assembler language, now in version 1.2.9. Also in June 2018 I’ve published my book Programming Games for Intellivision with good receipt.
Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?
In fact yes, at some time I published a demo of a Squirrel running game for Intellivision but it’s still unfinished.
Also I’ve been developing a space war game but I got stalled because the nifty details exploded in tons of missing things not easy to handle, and after seeing the first version of graphical interface… it’s really ugly.
Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?
It was casualty. I wrote Zombie Near for the MSXdev’10 contest, I wanted to get part of the retro scene with a nice game, and I liked it, people asked for more games, I tried to deliver and then I started porting to Colecovision.
I bought an Atari at a very low price and decided to tried to write a game. Then an Intellivision. And then everything came together and my experience in one platform brought me more perfection for other platforms. So I’m running into inertia, maybe my big problem is that I’m always having ideas for new games.
What games at the time (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?
I think I got a great deal of inspiration from the original IBM PC games using CGA with 4 colours.
These games made a great usage of the graphics and also at same time had meaningful sound, while having reasonable controls. Always an inspiration to see nice games using limited graphics and sound. King Quest I always inspired me because it looked so mysterious, and Space Quest I, even if I never had written an adventure-like game.
I played Donkey Kong and Defender as a kid without knowing these came from arcades with that name, also played J-Bert that was a remake of Q-Bert, and some other pretty obscure game like Jumpjoe, Buzzard Bait, Digger, Bushido and Rogue. Even played Double Dragon in 4 colors. I distinguished pretty fast between different types of games, like action games, RPG and adventure. And defined rapidly the kind of game I liked. I discovered early that a game show needed a full feeling of satisfaction to be a good game. This is always something I want to bring into my games.
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?)
For Colecovision/MSX my main limitations are graphical capabilities, there are things that you cannot do fast, so any game requiring these is hard to do.
For Intellivision the hardest is the speed, you cannot have too much things at same time without doing some thinking in advance to hide it to player.
For Atari everything is about the kernel, and I’m still learning secrets of kernel display, it’s the most hard I’ve programmed. With Atari 2600 you always are thinking how to jump over the wall or transpose music to avoid the musical notes it cannot generate.
Do you have timelines built into the management of these games?
Yes I do some planning. Typically I code the core over a few days and then start evolving from it towards the more visual things. 3 to 6 months is a typical time for developing a game.
Are you doing all the development independently?
Most of time, except for some games were some gifted friends helped me. An example would be Aardvark, Thomas Jentzsch coded an amazing video kernel and later helped me when I got stuck with work in Real-Life(tm).
I want to code a new all-original game for MSX/Colecovision. Also I’ve some game ideas for Intellivision and Atari 2600.
Sydney Hunter and the Sacred Tribe is a fantastic game, how did this game come about?
J-F Dupuis wrote me one day to propose me to code a game based on some graphics he had available, and I said no.
One year passed and Dupuis against wrote me to consider coding a game based on some graphics he had, and I asked if he had the graphics for the whole game and situations. He said yes, and I said I would consider it.
I coded some of the initial rooms, then measured if the graphics would fit into the memory (we were developing for Intellivision), I did coding for some more enemies, and then I gave green light to the project.
I’m pretty serious about projects and I’ve refused a lot of projects just because I had some doubts about feasibility of implementation.
We were very fortunate here because Dupuis had some of the finest graphics I had seen, and I really loved the project and made my best effort in the feeling and physics of player, and developed all kinds of effects for the enemies while walking and moving. It’s a pretty organic game and every enemy has its own behavior, like the bees moving in circles. I was pretty careful about the game but with respect to Dupuis decisions on graphics, although some times I had to correct pixels here and there and made suggestions to improve.
Fortunately Dupuis and me made a very good team, then we integrated my brother Adan to the team to do some awesome music.
Which is the most downloaded and purchased game you have created?
It’s hard to tell when is game developed under request and leaves my hands, sometimes I don’t know if it exceed expectations.
I think Princess Quest is my most succesful game both in physical and digital copies sold and of course because it has more time being sold and was distributed in more platforms (Colecovision, MSX and Intellivision), probably reaching around 400 copies in total, also it was available in Colecovision Flashback. Mecha-8 was also included into the Flashback so it was also very widely distributed.
Mecha-9 would be the runner-up.
Where can people get physical copies of your games?
If the game is sold out then maybe you can try your luck with Good Deal Games, the AtariAge marketplace or eBay.
Do all your games have English translations?
All of my games have been developed in English language.
Although the first ones were more in “Engrish”, later I had help to correct these horrid mistakes, but then I thought that maybe I could come up with something so memorable as “all your base belong to us” but now it’s too late because I’ve proofreaders at every step (^^)!
Hover Bovver is a great Intellivision game, can you tell us about how this came about?
It happens William Moeller had permission from Jeff Minter to port Hover Bovver to Intellivision and was sitting on some hundreds on boxes made around 2012.
He wanted badly to use these boxes instead of throwing them to the trash or tear them like the first batch of boxes.
I thought it was a really complicated game and I was going to say “no” but after watching gameplays of Hover Bovver for C64 and coding the core I notice it was a game that Intellivision could handle, so I said “yes”.
We had a nice chance of being able to convert voice to Intellivoice, and the game comes with 84 seconds of voice, absolutely delightful to hear several voices and English accent saying some of the classic phrases from the game.
At the end I was pretty satisfied with the game.
How did your connection with Elektronite happen?
After the development of Princess Quest for Intellivision, I think they liked the quality of my work and I was contacted to do one game that unfortunately I had to refuse because it wasn’t possible into the Intellivision capabilities.
Later Moeller contacted me about Miner 2049er, I had doubts because the legend behind Miner 2049er and I wasn’t sure of having the level for the challenge but proceeded to evaluate it. And then Moeller told me he had a programmer ready to do the game, so I forgot about it.
But two months later he contacted me again because the programmer had dropped out of the project, and I finished the evaluation for feasibility, Moeller told me he wanted some extra levels and that original designer Curtis Mikolyski would design them and I said yes.
Of course I didn’t knew it was going to be a whole set of new levels with new challenges!!! it took me ages to design everything, but the final result was pretty satisfactory for everyone and now the game is selling very well.
Hope these are ok, would love some images and a Hi res logo from you
if possible, maybe some exclusive news for us to announce would be
Could we get a list of all your games so people can see all you have worked on?
I’ve done a lot of game through the years, but I’ll list only the ones that have physical releases:
Zombie Near – MSX – 64K
Princess Quest – MSX – 64K
Mecha 8 – MSX – 64K
Mecha 9 – MSX – 128K
Sydney Hunter and the Sacred Tribe – MSX – 128K (TBA)
Zombie Near – Colecovision – 32K
Princess Quest – Colecovision – 256K
Mecha 8 – Colecovision – 128K
Mecha 9 – Colecovision – 256K
Sydney Hunter and the Sacred Tribe – Colecovision – 128K
Space Raid – Atari 2600 – 8K
Aardvark – Atari 2600 – 32K (TBA)
Space Raid – Intellivision
Meteors – Intellivision
Oregon Bound – Intellivision
Hover Bovver – Intellivision
Miner 2049er – Intellivision
Steamroller – Intellivision
Sydney Hunter and the Sacred Tribe – Intellivision
IntyBASIC Showcase Vol. 2 (2048 + Oh Mummy + Meteor Storm) – Intellivision
Borzork – TI-99/4A (TBA)
Sydney Hunter and the Sacred Tribe – Sega Master System – 128K (TBA)
Maybe some games are missing from the list, I’m working from head.
A huge thanks to Oscar for taking the time to chat with us.