How my pixels got into ROM


This time I’m writing about a C64 game and how I got involved with it, rewinding to early 2015.

For my part things got in motion when my Out Run Memories picture got some positive attention at the time of its release. Thanks to that I got in contact with Antonio Savona, who kindly asked me if I could make a loading picture for his game P0 Snake. Antonio had already created the game for the RGCD C64 16KB Cartridge Game Development Competition 2014, and the game ended up winning the competition by a fair margin!

And it’s no surprise. It’s a clever snake game with a twist, with varied levels and gameplay, and an ingenious one-button game mechanics! On top of the solid game design there are some surprising features for a 16k game like a password system and digitized speech samples! I mean, the game fits into 16 kilobytes. And when that game greets you with a speech sample saying “Welcome to P zero Snake” and introduces more samples during the gameplay, it does raise an eyebrow! There’s an interesting article at the game’s development blog about the challenges with the audio and how it was pulled off.

Just take a look. Note the clever references to various classic games:

Thanks to the 16k game’s success and popularity, it was going to have an extended RGCD C64 cartridge release. And for this extended version I got to make the intro screen!

Antonio gave me free rein to design the intro picture, using which ever graphics mode I saw fit. And this is how the title screen turned out:

p0 Snake title picture

My first design choice was that the picture should be in hires mode. P0 Snake has crisp hires visuals all around, so choosing hires over more flexible multicolor was an obvious choice. Regardless the fact that I had very little experience making graphics in this mode.

Designing the screen the way I wanted it to look without having to compromise too much was not easy. The color restrictions are tough. For each 8×8 pixel cell you can use only two colors. I think it’s trickier than it sounds, and that restriction can easily lead into color artifacts where you can spot color transitions in square grid. Trying to avoid this took the most design effort – despite the simple elements of the picture.

Part of the image enlarged with color attribute cells shown

If you look closely to this enlarged picture, you’ll notice that each cell has max two colors in them. You will find color inconsistencies especially around the snake, but I tried to hide these color clashes as well as possible.

To aid myself in fiddling with the color cell boundaries I took advantage of Illustrator – a vector graphics software. It’s funny – sometimes to get away with the oldschool restrictions, one has to resort to rather advanced modern tools. Much like Antonio had to do with the audio samples.

The vector files I used for composing the picture saw some other use too. I handed out the vector image and components to Antonio and RGCD to help in box and poster art design.

P0 Snake deluxe case and cartridge

P0 Snake case back cover

And what a nice design it is – by no other than Steve Day! Themes and components from my intro picture span beautifully across both back and front cover of the case. And I think it’s pretty cool that maestro STE’86 remixed my art! :D  These bits and pieces reappear also on manual, cartridge label and game poster, all part of the fab deluxe version. There’s even some stickers with one of them being the intro picture. Great stuff :)

You can admire some more of that stuff on this RGCD.DEV P0 Snake page.

And the cartridge itself is quite a show. The game is housed in a transparent cartridge case, and features an RGB LED. I tried to catch some of the flashiness… Behold!

Flashing P0 Snake cartridge

Sadly the game is currently sold out at the RGCD web shop. Luckily you don’t have to miss out the great game, as you can get a legit digital copy of it from RGCD.DEV page or CSDb.

And hey, don’t miss out the 2015 RGCD 16k cartridge competition that is currently on-going. Some fine looking new C64 games already lined up!

Subtle flashing from another angle


4 Responses to How my pixels got into ROM

  1. Danne says:

    I love the modern retro-esque look of that title screen! Also, your work with the two-colored cells is really talanted! Can’t wait to see more of your contributions down the road!

    (and please, please make sure the Outrun graphics make it into an “Outrun Arcade” re-release of the original game that the Commodore 64/128-platform really, really deserves! ^_^)

    • ilesj says:

      Thanks! =) First there would have to be a remake – is there someone working on making one? But agreed, it would be awesome!

  2. Danne says:

    ilesj – as far as I know, there aren’t any Outrun remakes / fixes / polishes in the works (but then again, I wouldn’t have thought that about Donkey Kong Jr, Commando, Bomb Jack or Ghost n’ Goblins before the development teams announced their work).

    I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that the Commodore 64 can do _so_ much better than what US Gold managed to do with it, and that the platform deserves a much better port of Outrun that what it has today. With that in mind, here’s hoping someone is up for the challenge!

    • ilesj says:

      Let’s hope there will be one eventually :)

      On the other hand, the C64 Out Run is arguable one of the better 8-bit home conversions of the game. Comparing to most other 8-bit versions of the game, the C64 version runs fast. Especially the other 8-bit home computer versions move at snail’s pace compared to the C64 version.

      Still I agree that C64 deserves even better version! It would be very interesting to see what really can be done with today’s C64 know-how and cross-development tools!

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