December 20, 2013 5:20 PM | James Monkman
It's hard to believe that since the first of January 2013 there have been over 1,880 new releases for the Commodore 64, yet that's the total listed on the Commodore Scene Database at the time of compiling this article.
Sure, that figure includes all release types (including demos, cracks, artwork, music and tools) but even so, there were still in excess of 75 game releases, which is a pretty incredible number for a 31-year-old piece of hardware.
Out of your comfort zone with the thought of owning and setting up antique hardware and technological relics such as the 1541 drive or datasette? Well, thanks to the VICE team, emulating a C64 is super easy, with dedicated builds of VICE that run on just about anything (hell, you can even run VICE on the Ouya). So get your geek on and have a quick browse through some of the C64 gaming highlights of 2013.
It's impossible to discuss C64 game dev in an indie context without including Paul Koller, the man who arguably kickstarted the retro-port movement with his Commodore demo of VVVVVV back in 2010, before blowing everyone away with his official conversion of Semi-Secret Software's Canabalt in the 2011 RGCD game development competition. Working with some ridiculous system limitations, in 2013 Paul delivered not one, but two new official indie game conversions; Vlambeer and RGCD's Super Bread Box with it's online highscore boards and new exclusive levels, and his technically stunning 16KB(!) tribute to Terry Cavanagh's opus, the appropriately titled Micro Hexagon (gameplay video above).
Other notable indies that were back-ported to the Commodore hardware included Kobo64 (an excellent conversion of Kobo Deluxe, the 8-way scrolling, base-infiltrating, bullet-hell shmup from the dawn of the current indie scene), Devil Ronin (a C64 conversion of a faux-'retro remake' based on a fictional C64 release) and the now-free-to-download final version of Assembloids (a conversion of the Flixel-based casual puzzler Quartet by Photon Storm). The last one is particularly interesting as it is fast becoming the most converted game of the decade; after the official C64 conversion by Onslaught/RGCD, the game was then ported to the Atari 800 and 2600, closely followed by an unofficial clone for the Megadrive/Genesis. And it doesn't end there - I've personally seen a set of graphics for an in-development ZX Spectrum version and heard rumours of a BBC Micro and NES port being worked on as well. Released back in 2010, the original Quartet may remain a relatively unknown indie game on modern platforms, but its simple design has made it incredibly popular in the 8-bit scene.
2013 also saw a number of unofficial conversions released that are well worth checking out, including the seven-years-in-the-making single/multi-player hit Bomberland - a game that uses every hardware trick in the book to bring an authentic 5-player Bomberman experience to the C64. Rocket Smash and Monster Buster also received a lot of acclaim, the former for finally bringing a decent port of Ultimate's Jetpac to the scene, and the latter for simply being an awesome and incredibly playable tribute to Taito's Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move.
But what about original games? Despite the lack of an obvious killer-app exclusive to the Commodore 64 this year, there were a couple of stand-out titles that are almost worth investing in the hardware for. First up is The Vice Squad, a game all about high octane motors, big guns, risky high-speed vehicular pursuit and deadly force. Designed as a licensed-title for a 1980s vigilante-cop movie that never existed, it's basically a horizontal scrolling re-imagining of the arcade classic Spyhunter, albeit with a ramped-up difficultly curve and complete with a series of intense boss battles, including a car VS stealth bomber finale.
However, even against all the competition, Powerglove by Amiga/iOS/PC developer Lazycow was my personal GOTY. It may look like an uninspired Megaman clone, but it's actually more akin to a Metroidvania with over 100 rooms of run-n-gun gameplay squeezed into a tiny 16KB cartridge ROM. Oh, and it has believable physics too - which is a real rarity for a Commdore platformer.
The current competition version of Powerglove is not without its flaws, but I have high hopes for the final commercial release. Why is this particularly relevant to indiegames.com? Well, because the developer has created a development environment from which he can export the game to both the C64 and PC, meaning that the final will come out on multiple platforms, three decades in age apart. Neat huh?
Although there was no sign of the long-awaited C64 conversion of McPixel this year, Ludum Dare veteran Sos Sosowski still managed to release two new C64 mini games; the punked-up two-player battle game Diesel Duel and Ponk, a Pong clone that he smashed out in raw assembler during the final few hours before the LD26 deadline. Both games come complete with documented source code, making them great examples for anyone interested in experimenting in C64 game development.
So, that just about wraps up the best of Commodore 64 gaming from 2013. Most of the games are available for free download, and if you don't fancy paying the £1.99 price tag for the others there are always cracked versions available. Unlike many other retro platforms, cracking is an accepted and established part of the everyday C64 scene - in fact, gaming is just a tiny fraction of what the C64 in 2013 is all about, so you might want to check out some of this years demos as well.
If you are interested in having a go at C64 emulation, loading software in VICE is really easy. For D64 (disk) and PRG (program) files, just drag and drop them into the open VICE window and they'll automatically load and start, whereas for CRT/BIN (cartridge) files you'll need to attach the cartridges via the File menu. Other than that, mapping joysticks and setting video modes is pretty logical, but if you need help the official documentation is available online.
[James Monkman runs retro gaming site RGCD]