At the age of 11 I became the proud owner of a Commodore 64 home computer and before long, started to draw out dozens of game designs on paper. Whilst I wrote some initial BASIC coding for many of these, it usually wasn’t long before I hit some roadblock and moved onto the next idea. Many years later the Commodore 64 was sold but it kept a special place in my heart and my desire to create a game for the computer never really went away.
Roll on 2019 and I received a C64 Mini as a Christmas present. Opinions vary on this system but personally I think it’s a great recreation of the system, especially since the firmware has been updated to allow the use of the thousands of disk images available online via a USB stick.
I had been playing around with the CC65 C cross compiler for a number of months. This allows you to write C code which can then be cross compiled to a Commodore 64 executable. Whilst I thought this was great in many ways my C code wasn’t as fast as I expected it to be and I struggled to understand how to deal with some of the memory management that CC65 requires. It just didn’t feel the same as programming the C64 with its original BASIC or with machine code (which I’ve dabbled briefly with).
I made a decision to switch over to the CBM PRG Studio which I found to have a number of nice features built in including support for BASIC and assembly language programming, character set editor and a screen editor as well as many others.
Much to my delight I was able to fairly quickly put together a machine code program and gradually add to it – displaying a map on the screen, reading the keyboard, moving a player character around the map and redefining the default character set. I also found that my code ran very quickly – amazingly so compared to my BASIC programming I did about a year ago. My map below displays in an instant whereas my BASIC program took more than a minute to display and colour a smaller map. Most importantly of all I’m having a lot of fun putting this together.
The game itself is not a million miles away from one of those early C64 games I started writing all those years ago. It currently presents a map of a City which you can move around exploring various locations (above and below ground). Currently the game is set on a single 40×20 “cell” map but I may expand the City map to flip to another 40×20 section when the map border is reached. The player is currently shown on the map as an @ – as in a roguelike game. I’ll work on some more interesting graphics and visuals once I have some more gameplay features implemented.
I’ll shortly be adding some characters, places to visit and items but I’m pleased with the progress I’m making and I’ve managed to sort out all my assembly challenges to date without too much pain, though it’s a very different way of coding for someone who is more familiar with C or C++. Content wise don’t be too surprised if there is a bit of Ultima or Alternate Reality type inspiration in the game. It’s very straightforward to play C64 games on a modern PC using an emulator like Vice so accessibility for players isn’t really a concern for me just now. The game is still in its early stages but I have a good idea in my head where I want to go with it next.