Jump to content

Episode 8: The Assembly Line


Scrobins

454 views

 Share

A Homebrew Draws Near!

A blog series by @Scrobins

Episode 8: The Assembly Line

image.png.317eb074e9d9ce8b448d9aaf8aeac4eb.png

Introduction:

It was around September 2017 that I first learned about homebrew games. Months earlier I shipped my collection of old video games and consoles from my parents’ home and hoped to expand my library. Searching for the “essential” gems no self-respecting vintage gamer should be without, I stumbled upon a pair of articles from The Verge and Wired about new games for old consoles. Curious, I researched homebrew games to learn more about these new cartridges and the people who made them. My search revealed a variety of fun games and even some live Kickstarter campaigns, but the results consistently led me to two places in particular: the NintendoAge forums and a podcast called The Assembly Line.

Kevin and Beau’s podcast about homebrews was the first podcast I listened to faithfully. Although NintendoAge was a great resource to learn about the major personalities within the homebrew community, The Assembly Line provided greater depth to prominent games, the insights of their developers, and news of games to come, in addition to Kevin and Beau’s own projects and travels. They are excellent guides to exploring homebrew, and are great cheerleaders bringing attention to worthwhile projects, celebrating the talent and passion brewers pour into their games.

For this episode, I’m covering The Assembly Line because I’m thankful for this podcast and its two hosts, who have been integral to my introduction to and exploration of the homebrew scene. At the time of this writing, there are 23 episodes available. You can listen to every episode on Soundcloud, iTunes, and YouTube.

image.png.8ed55255a1c84e18871d42b64888222b.png

Gobble gobble bleep boop

 

On-Air Personalities:

@SoleGoose (E.B.D. Holland)

@KHAN Games (Kevin Hanley)

 

Gurus and Friends:

I made Beau’s acquaintance first, when I messaged him on Kickstarter in July 2018 to ask if there would be any copies of Spook-o’-tron available to purchase after backers received their games. Beau responded soon after to let me know I wasn’t too late, and was thankful for my interest in his game, thus beginning our ongoing friendly correspondence. A few months later, I checked in with Beau to ask if he planned to attend the 2018 Portland Retro Gaming Expo. I had just made plans to visit Portland for my first real vacation in almost 8 years, and I was looking forward to meeting some of the homebrewers behind my favorite games.

The idea for the trip had come together all of a sudden. I tracked down Chelsea Beck at Life Works, who handled sales of Cowlitz Gamers 2nd Adventure, but she was reserving remaining copies for PRGE (though she also initially mistook me for my name doppelgänger, who was one of the people behind the Coleco Chameleon scandal, and was thus leery of selling to me). While I couldn’t justify a cross-country trip just to pick up a single game, I told myself that if I could find something else to warrant the expense, I would go. Something nagged at the back of my mind; I’d had this conversation with myself about Portland before, there was something else I wanted to do there but needed another reason to justify going. It hit me: in addition to Portland’s incredible food scene, a short drive outside the city in Amboy, Washington was one of the few places in the continental U.S. offering scenic bungee jumping: out in the woods, off a bridge, over a river! I had enough good reasons, now I could go. What a trip this would be!

image.png.1e931e18941df84228e0143a1c104ceb.png

Hangin’ round the NA booth at PRGE

As it turned out, not only would Beau be there, he said he would have a few carts of Spook-o’-tron for sale to offset the costs of the trip! When I walked into the expo on the second day, when the vendors were officially open for business, I recognized Beau immediately from his Assembly Line avatar, he was even wearing his trademark hat. I bought a copy of Spook-o’-tron and we chatted about homebrew for a long while. I’m sure I embarrassed him with my fandom and request for a picture, but I didn’t care because I was having an absolute blast talking to him, other brewers & YouTube personalities, and exploring the surrounding city.

I met Kevin a few months later at MAGFest, where he was watching people play his newest game: NEScape! Since the event was being held in National Harbor, just outside D.C. (where I live), it was a significantly easier trek. After wandering for a bit around the convention hall, I found Kevin and Beau in the homebrew section. We chatted for a bit about the podcast and homebrew collecting. Kevin invited me to play NEScape!, but fortunately he stepped away when I picked up the controller because I was terrible. I struggled to unlock the title screen! K3VBOT, who was also nearby, took pity on me and helped me get to the actual game where I fared slightly better.

image.png.92bcdb3d77e56f1ba3395d4d8adba903.png

I don’t want to talk about it

In the time since, I’ve stayed in touch with both Beau and Kevin. With their help, I’ve found several homebrews on my wishlist and significantly expanded my knowledge of homebrewers and the myriad games they have developed. I’m privileged to have received a few shout-outs on The Assembly Line for my fanboi creepings as well as for taking pictures in and around the Irving Convention Center to help with a possible Convention Quest sequel. We’ve swapped gaming news and related gossip, and talked about their relationships with other brewers, pixel artists, and chiptune composers. And of course I've trolled both of them on social media as well as during Kevin's annual NES Spectrum Marathon.

2057337290_TerrificBass.gif.06ed96a794e29841dedd61c972c944cb.gif

image.png.ecbf6ecdc95f625303d7757ee178119e.png

Kevin knows what both of these mean, and I'm not remotely sorry why

In a few short years I’ve grown from a complete newcomer to the homebrew scene to a joining the VGS staff, maintaining thorough lists of available and in-development homebrew physical releases. I have a folder of bookmarked webpages (currently 150) and a host of social media pages that I regularly check for news and new postings so I can stay up-to-date on the community. Yet I get most excited when I receive a notification that a new episode of The Assembly Line was posted, because it isn’t just about the game news or developer interviews; there is just something fun about Kevin and Beau chatting that makes them essential listening. And I’m thankful for both of them, and the podcast they’ve made for us.

 

Podcast Overview & Blogger’s Review:

The Assembly Line allows itself plenty of flexibility in its format so the conversation can flow freely, but there are still some hallmarks that listeners can count on hearing in each episode.

Beau and Kevin often share insights learned in game development since their last conversation. It’s a great way to learn any new programming or technological breakthroughs such as new coding tricks or the practical uses of a new type of board. It’s a kind of news segment that exemplifies not only the talent of individual brewers, but also how the homebrew community at large has grown by orders of magnitude. Homebrewing began as something in the realm of hobbyist tinkering, something a handful of nostalgic, tech-savvy people experimented with to learn how it was done “then.” But unburdened by deadlines or the budgetary demands of a corporate overlord, homebrewers are not grinding out games by executive fiat, and are instead taking time to craft something new and interesting. Which begs the question: has homebrew eclipsed the licensed era, and if so when did homebrewers overtake their forebears?

image.png.ebaeb01c411622a221e1a11103cb4a1f.png

This first level looks great, now finish the game in 10 weeks so we can have it on shelves for Christmas

Next the podcast will introduce the episode’s featured game. Beau and Kevin discuss the gameplay and features, highlighting any interesting technical facts alongside the game’s development history and some fun tidbits about the developer(s). It’s a helpful introduction to the game to prime listeners unaware of it and reminds familiar gamers why this particular game is special, setting the mood before the arrival of the developer on the show.

Then comes the interview. Beau and Kevin have been in the community so long, they know practically everyone, so most interviews have an easy, familiar feel, as though someone turned a microphone on during a casual conversation among friends. Having interviewed a number of people for this blog, I can attest to how frequently some of my subjects worry about sharing too many stories and getting lost in their own answers, though I’m sure my readers will agree with me that those are the best parts of these posts. Beau and Kevin’s existing relationships with most developers removes that anxiety from their show, and interviews are filled with great stories behind the developer’s background and initial interest in homebrewing, as well as the specific inspiration that served as the catalyst for the game. If we’re lucky, Beau and Kevin might tease out some discussion of the developer’s other upcoming projects. It’s easy to get so lost in collecting and playing these games that we forget the people creating them. The stories shared during the interview offer glimpses of their passion, sometimes trying to make their homage to a beloved old classic or tackle a gaming feature they always wanted to see in an NES game.

image.png.139cafd5fa24a871a2fb9f8bb6f7f9f0.png

Where homebrewers begin…

Transitioning back to the two hosts with a chiptune interlude using a track from the featured game, Beau and Kevin return to their own discussion of the game and deliver their review, incorporating any insights gleaned from the interview. Their critique is honest and fair, with a healthy dose of appreciation for what an accomplishment it is to publish a game. This segment might be where Beau and Kevin shine most: they’ve already discussed the game for a few minutes before the interview, but revisit the conversation, allowing listeners to glean how the interview itself impacts their previous impressions. It’s listening to an evolution of their own understanding and appreciation of the game in real-time.

Having finished their discussion around the featured game, conversation shifts to Beau and Kevin’s own projects, whether that includes their own games or work assisting on the projects of others. They’ll also discuss developments in the wider community, including any new games announced, updates shared, or official releases. If you aren’t someone watching developers’ various social media pages, this update can be a great way to stay informed. Or you could also follow my pinned homebrew threads.

image.png.d019234ba4998ddd89ea7050d63a009f.png

Just sayin’

And with everything else in the bag, Beau and Kevin wind down the episode and close out with one last chiptune track, from a project or an artist of interest.

 

Interviews:

To help reflect on The Assembly Line and the work that goes into making each episode, I talked with its esteemed hosts…

 

image.png.b6ec58b4e0d41516c3ecf01e2be27662.png

Kevin Hanley

@atonofglaciers

-Before we talk about the podcast, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of KHAN?

When I joined NintendoAge back in 2007, a website that no longer exists sadly, but was once the hub of the NES collecting scene, homebrew was still in its infancy. A few early NES developers, James Todd (who went by Zzap, of Chunkout fame), and Al Bailey (Sudoku 2007 developer), were starting to release physical projects to sort of set an early taste of what the homebrew community could be. I was pretty fascinated by the prospect! I had joined the site because I was a collector, with the common goal of acquiring all the games in the NES library. But here were people making new games! It was incredible. Having no programming experience, but having a background in music, I figured composing songs for some of the stuff these guys did would be my gateway into homebrew. And I did pretty well (mostly because there weren't many people doing it at the time. When good composers came along I kindly took a step back and let them do their thing. Thankfully for me, this came right at the time Brian Parker (of retroUSB fame) started releasing his Nerdy Nights NES programming tutorials. I never really considered the fact that I could handle learning programming, as I definitely had no background in it, but I was an avid user of early computers, so I knew my way around a DOS prompt pretty well and had written some batch files. I never really pieced together that it was sort of the same thing. It was an uphill battle to learn assembly language, but thanks to Brian (and James') infinite patience, I made it over the hump.

 

-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?

It's hard to say who my influences are, because I sort of just do my own thing. I would say I am most influenced by what I play. When I play a new indie game that blows my mind I always want to bring that experience to the NES in some way. The same can be said about retro computer games. I grew up on them as much as I grew up on the NES, so I always want to bring the experiences in those games to the NES. One, because the NES is my favorite system and I love seeing more and more games on it, but two, because I want other people who didn't experience the games I loved as a kid to be able to experience them. It seems like people who grew up on NES didn't experience early PC games, and vice versa (with a few exceptions of course). It's nice being able to bring something fresh to the table (which is ironic to say since I mostly just port things with few original ideas).

As far as who I follow closely, I feel like I've taken a step back and kind of look at the scene as a whole now. I just love that it's getting to be so big. I'm watching everyone! But especially Sly Dog Studios. 😉

image.png.b2eaaa9d5267b656de75c549aecc6fa6.png

Screenshot from Sly Dog Studios’ website

 

-You have been a part of the homebrew community from its early days, and you have developed a multitude of games over the course of that time. In developing your games would you say they have any qualities that seem quintessentially you across that time? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Brian would say the only thing that makes my games mine is the fact that I hard code my sprites. 🙂 But to the end user, I doubt there's much that defines my games as mine. Other than "Oh look, another port."

 

-How has your approach to homebrewing changed over the years?

The main thing that's changed is the fact that I have developed so many connections now and can use experts in different fields (i.e., graphics and music) to bring me much better assets than I could ever do myself. Sharing and creating a project with others is a lot more rewarding than just doing it all alone.

 

-What tools do you use to code?

I code almost everything on my 2012 Macbook Air, using Sublime Text 2 for the coding, and the normal developer tools for creating assets. NES Screen Tool for backgrounds, Tile Layer Pro for sprites, Famitracker for music, Hex Fiend for hex editing, etc.

 

-You are also known for your entry in the Annual NESDev Coding Competition, Nothing Good Can Come of This, and your work on others’ games, from the 8-Bit Xmas series and Scare Carts to Zi’s cart-based chiptune albums. Do you have different attitudes toward your work between your compo entry projects, your “feature-length” games, and your work with others? Is the experience of developing them different?

They are definitely different beasts in my head. I'd say my "feature-length" games are just that... feature length, so I take a lot more pride in making sure they're polished and presented in precisely the manner I want them to be. When I help others with stuff I typically just use parts of previous game engines I've done to expedite the process so it doesn't take nearly as much time.

 

-Ever since my first episode, M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as the player's point of immersion in the game and also serves as a reflection of its designer. Are there aspects of yourself imbued in your games’ characters?

Well, I think I've joked about the similarities between Larry (of Leisure Suit fame) and myself, but going down that road can be depressing, so I'll keep it light. I don't think there are too many similarities. A lot of the other developers will wax philosophical for hours about their nonsense. I don't ever think too deeply about this kind of thing. I just make what I want to make and that's that.

image.png.56f1798b15d9ccf35647b7b9f988fdd0.png

The resemblance is uncanny

 

-What lessons have you learned that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

You will never please everyone with your creations, so focus on exactly what you want to make and do it. Don't succumb to trying to put features in games that other people want if you aren't crazy about it. There's only one you, so make things only you can make and don't be afraid to ask for help. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for everyone being so selfless with their time and information.

 

-You were/are also working on a number of games such as Courier, Unicorn, Isolation, Larry 2, Risk, Thomas is Alone, and your mystery TV show game. Do you have any updates on any of these games (or others) that you would like to share?

Courier is going to be a masterpiece, from the mind of Peek-a-brews. I will be getting back to that game as soon as I'm finished programming Unicorn, which is what I'm currently working on. We're having to move a lot of the game engine to the web server (for reasons I won't bore you with) so that's taking a bit longer than expected, but it will be a really fun online NES game that I hope everyone gets into. It will be a unique experience for people who didn't grow up on early computer bulletin board systems. As far as the other games mentioned, I wouldn't count on them ever happening, other than the mystery TV show game, which is definitely finished and will be out by the end of the year, correlating with whenever the TV episode airs.

 

-Let’s talk about The Assembly Line. You and Beau have produced 23 episodes over 3 years up to now, not counting episodes that are in-development. Have your interests and goals for the podcast changed over time? Has making the podcast had an impact on your interests and goals?

I'll be honest. Since the episodes are happening so infrequently now, I've lost a lot of interest in even doing them. That will probably change when Beau gets better internet and we can do them more often, but it's so rarely in my head now that we aren't doing more than one or two episodes a year. I wouldn't say that the podcast changed my interests or goals, but it has made me realize that we actually have the ear of the community and with that comes a bit of responsibility, both with making sure the things we say are as accurate as they can be, and also that we treat the topics we cover with as much respect as we can because this stuff is truly special. It's been nice to see that we aren't the only ones that care about it, and quite the opposite, the audience out there delving into this stuff is far greater than we imagined. The number of people listening to the podcast (even as infrequently as they're coming out now) is really really surprising. And inspiring.

 

-Do you listen to any podcasts, gaming-related or otherwise?

I do listen to a number of podcasts, but only one of them is gaming related, and it hasn't released a new episode in a long, long time sadly. It is called the Upper Memory Block Podcast, and it's (surprise!) about early PC games. The other podcasts I listen to are Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend, Zack to the Future, The Jump, 99% Invisible, Post-Pinkerton, Off-Camera, and the Twilight Zone Podcast.

image.png.dd05dae9c56fdc496136f9a8a1da92dd.png

Banner from Upper Memory Block’s website

 

-What makes for a good podcast episode?

Alcohol. And a game I truly care about talking about.

 

-On average, how much time passes between the initial planning for an episode and posting it for listeners?

We typically come up with the game we want to cover well in advance so that we take the time to both play through it fresh. Then we typically write up the outline of the episode, including the intro discussion topic and all the things that have happened lately in the community the day of recording. Then we record at night, sometimes doing the interview a different day. Then editing takes a really long time. Typically 20-40 hours, so that can span over weeks. I'd say the episode finally drops a month or so after recording.

 

-What is your favorite segment to talk about in an episode?

My favorite part is typically the interviews since they are special and we get to talk to people that we aren't always super familiar with. Although even when we bring good friends of ours on that is super fun too.

 

-I’m curious about your thoughts regarding the various people you’ve interviewed and the games they’ve developed, so I’ve got a bit of a rapid-fire gauntlet of questions:

-Favorite interviewee?

humanthomas

 

-Favorite chiptune featured on an episode?

I can't really think of one that stands out, honestly. They're all really great, but chiptune music in general doesn't do much for me, surprisingly haha.

 

-Favorite homebrew?

Will never be able to choose between The Mad Wizard and Candelabra Estoscerro! I love both for different reasons, but truly do love both. So much.

 

-Favorite homebrewer?

Robert L. Bryant from the Sly Dog Studios!

 

-Most charming graphics?

I'm sure I've used this word to describe graphics before, but nothing immediately comes to mind. Maybe Convention Quest?

 

-Most obtuse gameplay feature?

Trying to use spoken word DCPM samples as clues in a video game. Such a dumb idea!

 

-What is something your co-host uniquely brings to the table?

Research and philosophy.

 

-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?

Orange Island is probably the main one. Other than Unicorn. I WANT THIS GAME TO BE OUT, DAMMIT!

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Don't do drugs.

 

image.png.5440ed737c77e4af411bded4af3011cf.png

E.B.D. Holland

@SoleGoose

-It’s great to interview you again! Last time, we talked about Trophy and The 6502 Collective, so I’m excited to talk more about you and Sole Goose Productions (I deliberately refrained from asking you some questions when we talked about Trophy so I could ask them here). What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Sole Goose Productions, and what is the significance of that name?

I guess it would have been the spring of 2012. I had had the desire to make a game for about a decade, ever since high school. Over that time I would think about a project, write notes and sketch things out, try to find ways to accomplish that dream, and then eventually give up. My interest has mostly been in 2D games, particularly RPGs over the years, and I generally messed around with RPG Maker 2003 during this time. That spring of 2012, after planning out sections of a space-themed shooter/RPG, I decided that I needed to either learn how to actually achieve this dream of making a game, or give it up for good. I started looking into things more that fall, discovered that people were still making games for old consoles, and decided that that was the direction to go. The amazing community around NES development sealed the deal on which system to learn, after months of exploring options based on the type of game I wanted to make.

SGP naturally flowed from that decision. Everyone putting out games in the community had a name: Khan Games, RetroUSB, Membler Industries, Sly Dog Studios, etc., so I knew that I wanted one if I was going to release things on cart. My first choice was Blue Apple Games, no real reason why other than I could see a logo in my head, but that one was taken by some edutainment company (if I recall). I have a list somewhere of all of the nouns and adjectives that my wife and I came up with, but no combination really worked. In the end, we were driving by a pond in a business park and she saw a goose by itself. You usually see geese in pairs or groups, and she exclaimed, “Look, sole goose!” It kind of fit with the theme of solo homebrew development, so that was that (she did not approve!).

image.png.da85dca6a6c211e15305317c9e8b24ff.png

It's a great name! What’s your problem?

 

-You have been a part of the homebrew community for a number of years, and you have developed and released several games over the course of that time. In developing your games would you say they have any qualities that seem quintessentially you that you have maintained across that time? How would you describe your aesthetic?

Well, I haven’t released much that I have programmed myself, but looking over all of the unfinished projects and rough ideas I’d say that my games try to learn from the past. A lot of people approach the NES with nostalgia, but for me it is a living thing. Most of my ideas come from directly playing games, good or bad. I take what I like and try to combine it with other elements that are not often found together. I also try to look at things that seem like a good idea, but suffer in execution. The NES is great for this! Developers were throwing things at the wall to see what would stick, and genres had not been as heavily defined. We lost a lot of that spirit as things settled down, and going back to those games can breathe some new life into what we do today. Just because we make games on the NES doesn’t mean that we have to be stuck in the past. In many ways, it is our chance to approach things as they did back then, as a wild frontier of possibilities, though with decades of hindsight and medium evolution.

 

-How has your approach to homebrewing changed over the years?

Whew, that’s a tough one. It has probably changed in a lot of ways, but a major way that I have noticed recently is in regards to patience. It hit me the other day as I was working on the car (yes, the one that caught on fire). I had this seemingly simple task that I had never done before, draining the coolant, and it ended up taking the entire afternoon. Old parts were stuck, tools were missing, there was constant internet searching for missing information, and I had to improvise some. At the end of the day, though, I was not frustrated that it had taken so long. I just kind of acknowledged that the job takes as long as it is going to take, bumps and all along the way, which is how programming seems to work on a daily basis. I think, “oh, I should add this feature, it’ll be easy!” and then two days go by, I’ve ventured down numerous rabbit trails touching other aspects of the project, cleaned up old things, squashed some bugs, and who knows what else before it is finished (a state which is never certain in any event). These days I still have my end goal in mind with a project, but the quest to get there is no longer something that feels quite as immediate. It makes programming much more enjoyable, and probably leads to better results, even if it is a slow process to get there.

 

-I asked Kevin about how his experience developing a game for the NESDev Annual Coding Competition compares to developing a game outside that compressed timeframe. You’ve broached the subject on the podcast a few times, do you think you’ll develop a game for the compo one day?

Hahaha, funny you should ask. This is the time of year where I usually consider doing something. Maybe this will be the year?

 

-What tools do you use to code?

I use fairly basic tools. Tools influence creativity, and I want them to have as little say as possible on that process. If I didn’t, I’d still be using RPG Maker or whatever people are using these days. Making games simply to have them on the NES is a novelty at best, but ASM allows one to deeply engage a platform. I want to make the ideas in my head, not someone else’s vision of what I should be doing. Why make a game if someone else is calling the shots? Since tools are not really made for the NES, or only for a part of it, it’s up to the programmer to find them and bend them to his or her needs.

I write code in Notepad++ and use NESASM to compile it. I used a plain text editor for the first six to nine months, but the features of NP++ are too good to pass up. Even something as simple as having line numbers is a huge gain; I recall the dark days of counting the lines in ordinary Notepad when doing the Nerdy Nights tutorials, hunting down an error the compiler spit back. I do all of my programming on an old, offline XP machine. It is light and quick, and does not interfere with thinking or work. Minimal distractions, and all of the tools I need.

For graphics I use a combination of programs. I draw in Paint (Windows XP version), and do whatever edits I need to things in there. It is light, quick, and easy, and allows me to directly see the results (notice a theme?). When I do need to do more complex artwork I use Aseprite. I primarily use it for two functions that Paint does not have: layers, when doing sprites, and the find/replace color command. That last one is important for getting things into a graphics editor. I use YY-CHR, and it only recognizes certain colors, which means flipping everything to them prior to importing. The process might sound kind of complicated, but I can draw for days or weeks in Paint before needing another program, and then when it is time to convert things, that generally takes a few minutes for everything. I usually work with filler graphics that have been altered to be close to what I eventually want to have, so swapping out final assets for them is a (mostly) painless task.

As far as a map editor, useful for larger projects, I am now using the most excellent program Tiled. For Spook-o-tron I made my own inter-NES editor, and I did the same for Convention Quest. I’ll have more on that someday, but I built an editor based on what I wanted to be doing with that project, working from goal/code backwards to a tool that would accomplish that. Tiled is great in that it does not dictate how the user uses it, and I was able to set it up to mimic what my CQ editor was doing, without having to build things on the NES itself anymore.

When it comes to music I have someone else to compose things for my games. They tend to use Famitracker, and target Shiru’s Famitone2 sound engine, which is quick, light, and easy to drop into a program.

A lot of fellow programmers give me a hard time about the programs that I use, but I like them since they do not get in the way of my work. I don’t want to have to think about the tools, or wait on them to update, refresh, verify whatever over the internet, or whatnot. The worst I experience is that annoying bubble in XP that says “Your computer is not connected to the internet” when I open up the lid, or the once a week “There are unused icons on your desktop.” I’ve gotten used to them over the last fifteen years, having used the same computer the whole time (now an identical rebuild as of a few months ago). Working offline has its bonuses too, since I can cut down the number of distractions and aimless internet searching that often accompanies online work.

 

-You are also known for your work through The 6502 Collective, which has released great games such as Trophy and Rollie, and musical albums such as Zao’s Reformat/Reboot and Steve DeLuca’s Goofy Foot. Do you have different attitudes toward your own work versus in your capacity in the Collective? Is the experience of developing them different?

No, they’re not really different. I’ve been publishing other peoples’ work with SGP since 2015, so it is not particularly new. If anything I make more progress and get more done with Collective work since Greg and Tim do a large part of the work. The commission projects have been nice too since they tend to be smaller and have definite due dates.

image.png.d24f4879d8ef1cd549994aca27ffa3dd.png

For a refresher on The Collective’s work…

 

-Ever since my first episode, M-Tee planted this idea in my mind that a game’s protagonist serves as the player's point of immersion in the game and also serves as a reflection of its designer. Are there aspects of yourself imbued in your games’ characters?

Just flip up the visor on the Spook-o’-tron Spaceman’s helmet and who do you think you’ll find? Hahaha, just kidding of course. Come to think of it, I’ve never really thought of him as a character.

I have been working on more narrative-based games for the last four years or so, though none of that has really reached the public eye. I’m sure that there are aspects of myself in some of them, but I guess we will have to wait and see. One in particular shares a certain receding hairline.

 

-You were/are also working on a number of games such as Swords & Runes 2 and 3, Cityzen, and Family Vacation, as well as a book detailing the history of homebrew. Do you have any updates on any of these projects (or others) that you would like to share?

Swords and Runes III is out! That’s how long it took me to get to your questions ;).

I started a dev blog a few months ago in order to try and keep people in the loop about what I am up to, which can be found here. Besides reflections on the past, announcements and news about new projects will also appear there. Indeed, for the careful reader they may have already.

image.png.fb55a26c590917ad8a9479b5f21db0ed.png

Available now!

 

-Let’s talk about The Assembly Line. You and Kevin have produced 23 episodes over 3 years (not counting episodes you and Kevin are working on). Have your interests and goals for the podcast changed over time? Has making the podcast had an impact on your interests and goals?

I don’t know if we really had much of a “goal” in mind when we started it. I’ve been a fan of other peoples’ work since I joined the community, amassing a respectable collection, talking privately with fellow devs, and collecting notes about the history of things. When I started work on the homebrew history book things intensified, so the podcast became a way for me to start talking about some of that publicly. It has also served as sort of a light first pass for book interviews, since it is hard to ask questions if one doesn’t know what all a person has done.

In the end, though, it’s a great way to keep the hobby a living thing. Being forced to play games and not just let them collect dust on the shelf, getting to hang out with Kevin, and getting to talk with friends old and new is refreshing.

I can’t say if it’s had an inverse impact. My goals are still to make games, see what other people are doing, and keep playing interesting things.

 

-Does the motel you use for Internet when recording episodes recognize you on sight now?

Hahaha, we’ve only had to do that once. Usually I try to visit family every few months for a week or so, and we plan recording sessions around those. It has not been the best solution, but we do what we can with the time that we have.

 

-Do you listen to any podcasts, gaming-related or otherwise?

Not a one. I listened to one episode of Tell ‘em Steve Dave with Kevin while driving once, and my wife made me listen to a single TED Talk, which I was not allowed to interrupt for discussion. I can’t think and listen like that. College lectures were no problem, I loved those, but there is no pause in radio things. I live a fairly noise-free life, playing games on low volume, only turning on the TV a couple of times a week at most, and driving with the radio off 99% of the time, so my passive media intake is minimal.

 

-What makes for a good podcast episode?

You tell me! I guess on our end easy editing is always nice. If the files don’t cut out, drift, or get completely lost that’s a great help. Spending a lot of time with a game beforehand always makes for a better episode, as does doing a bit of research. I have over-researched some episodes, however, and saw how that can easily get things off track. I mainly make small notes, and do not prep Kevin or guests on a lot of stuff so that conversation flows more naturally. We also try to talk about less than we’d like, since we always end up going over our ninety-minute goal.

 

-What is your favorite segment to talk about in an episode?

Either the interviews or the community happenings. I want to hear what other people are working on, I can listen to myself talk anytime. NES development has always been about more than the games for me, more than the finished product. I want to know the process. I have more games on the shelf than I could ever play, and the personal aspect is often what causes me to choose one game over another. You have to want to homebrew; it’s not easy and not exactly rewarding, financially or otherwise. That drives people to do some creative and interesting things.

 

-I’m curious about your thoughts regarding the various people you’ve interviewed and the games they’ve developed, so I’ve got a bit of a rapid-fire gauntlet of questions:

-Favorite interviewee?

Mattias, the fellow who did Quest Forge, since everything he said was brand new information to me.

 

-Favorite chiptune featured on an episode?

Brad Smith, Lizard, Root Zone.

 

-Favorite homebrew?

Lizard

 

-Favorite homebrewer?

Too hard, next!

 

-Most charming graphics?

Charming, eh? Julius’ work in Super Bat Puncher, or Nicholas’ work in Banana Nana.

 

-Most obtuse gameplay feature?

Light switches in pitch black rooms.

 

-What is something your co-host uniquely brings to the table?

Lots of interests outside of gaming that I do not share. We also seem to have grown up, and prefer, rather different games and genres. I’m always learning about something new when we talk.

 

-Given what The Collective has achieved with playable MP3 on the NES, have you considered releasing collections of Assembly Line episodes on NES cartridges?

I pitched it to Kevin a while back, and there was a concern that people either wouldn’t be interested in it (the episodes are free online after all), or that it would be seen as a cash grab. If that is something that people want to see convince Kevin to go along with my wild schemes!

 

-I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and share your experiences again. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers and fans?

Just that it’s been a wild ride with making games, and a blast to do the Assembly Line. Thanks for all of the support over the years, from the smallest kind word all of the way up to strapping in for yearlong testing sessions!

 

Conclusion:

Thanks for tuning in to yet another episode of a series that takes a closer look at the latest homebrew games coming across the finish line, or in this case, covering two colleagues and friends who also celebrate and explore the gems you need to add to your collection. What are your thoughts on The Assembly Line? Do you have a favorite episode? Is there a game you’re dying for KHAN and Sole Goose to cover next? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon as well when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?

image.png.ba7871424841d80e02028846f4e4e475.png

  • Like 4
 Share

2 Comments


Recommended Comments

Great episode as always!

I did chuckle that both responses for most obtuse game feature were different features in the same game.  

  • Haha 1
Link to comment
Guest
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...