A Homebrew Draws Near!
A blog series by @Scrobins
Episode 27: Dangerous Demolition
If nebulae are the cradles for new stars, game jams and other compos often serve as the cradles for promising new homebrew. Though it is uncommon for jam games to continue into full-fledged productions, it is rarer still to see any new games receive the physical treatment. Nonetheless these challenges and competitions bring out the best in retro console love, demonstrating the creativity of devs, and highlighting the depth of even the most obscure console’s homebrew library. Therefore, it is all the more important to recognize when a game jam (or in this case, two!) gives rise to a physical release for a vastly underrated system.
For this entry, I’m covering Dangerous Demolition, a hybrid top down shooter & block breaker developed by Dr. Ludos for the Sega Master System. As of the time of this writing, a digital release of the game is in the works, and a CIB physical edition is available from Coté Gamers here.
@Dr. Ludos: programming
@Jaden (Jaden Houghton): music
CIB with the sweet hang tab action
For the full story behind Dangerous Demolition’s development, you might enjoy reading the Dangerous Demolition Making Of booklet, also available for purchase from Coté Gamers. But to highlight some of its important moments, this game’s story begins in 2018, when Dr. Ludos developed the first iteration of the game as his entry into the 2018 Ludum Dare game jam, which challenges participants to create something from scratch in 48 hours. The jam’s theme that year was to combine two incompatible genres. Deciding to meld shoot ‘em up and Breakout’s style, Dr. Ludos created Shootanoid, in which your character shoots lasers to charge up balls in order to break bricks.
Screenshot of Shootanoid from Ludum Dare 41
Two years later, Dr. Ludos adapted his game for the 2020 Coding Competition hosted by SMS Power!, which emphasizes 8-bit Sega consoles. Dr. Ludos ported Shootanoid from its original TIC-80 software to the Game Gear, taking six months to transform the game into what he now called Dangerous Demolition. Though the game placed second to last, it was notably the only Game Gear entry in the compo that year. As such Dr. Ludos was undaunted, hoping to bring something to the underserved Game Gear homebrew community. Dr. Ludos continued working on the game, carrying it over to the Sega Master System, and teaming up with Raphaël and Coté Gamers to bring Dangerous Demolition to physical release in mid-2022.
Screenshot from Dangerous Demolition (Game Gear) from SMS Power! Coding Competition
Dangerous Demolition describes itself as a mix of top down shooter and Breakout-style brick breaking. You play as D.D., the fearless protagonist tasked with shooting at balls in order to charge them up and use them to break bricks across 30 levels. Gameplay is very detail-oriented, so be mindful of the environment. Each level provides balls you will use to break walls, however you cannot touch the balls directly. Instead, using either button to shoot and the D-pad to navigate, you use your laser to charge up the balls, turning them from gray to red. Strategy and precision are important as your goal is to break a certain type of brick: orange bricks are your typical targets, and gray keyhole bricks have to be hit with your laser before you can access what’s behind them. Meanwhile you have to work around the unbreakable blue bricks and completely avoid the insta-death skull bricks. Now I know why demolition is so dangerous!
Screenshot from Dangerous Demolition for the Sega Master System
Dangerous Demolition takes a number of familiar elements and reinvents the genre to provide something refreshingly addictive. You might go into this game thinking you know enough from playing Breakout, but if you rely too much on your assumptions, it’s you who’s about to get broken. Gameplay seems easy enough as you shoot & avoid balls in a relatively large space, especially considering how adorably tiny your sprite is. However the screen suddenly feels much smaller when you have to contend with multiple balls at once.
Avoiding all these double entendres is the real minefield
While it would be easy to charge the balls and stand back (since once charged and turned red, the balls stay that way), the fun of a stopwatch tracking your time, allowing you to set speed records means you want to continuously enter the fray to redirect balls again and again. I wonder what gameplay would feel like if there was a mode in which balls reverted back to gray after a certain period of time, forcing you to essentially pay closer to attention to each ball to ensure it’s working for your benefit. With infinite continues and a save system, the game encourages you to go bold. The funny explosion that results from you getting hot by a ball might also be another reason to go for broke. Dangerous Demolition had the potential to be a tedious clone of a genre done to death by devs trying to demonstrate their burgeoning skills, but fortunately Dr. Ludos shows off why he’s the good doctor, giving new life to an old classic.
As I said earlier, the sprites are 8-bit tiny and cute, but not so small you can’t see or distinguish blocks. Your character has a jaunty step as he walks; I wish I could be so consistently perky at work. Meanwhile Jaden’s musical accompaniment brings a bubbly yet tense ambiance to gameplay that I think of as a happy focus: you’re intent on getting the job done and no force on earth will pull you from your task, but also maybe you whistle merrily while you work.
For a behind the scenes look into the game’s development and the stories that led to its creation, I interviewed the two members of the development team about their backgrounds and inspiration…
-Before we dive into Dangerous Demolition, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to become a homebrewer? What is the origin story of Dr. Ludos and Ludoscience? Is that your actual name or does it have relevance to your work or background?
As many readers of this blog and forum, I grew up playing video games. I have a lot of nostalgia and passion for games in general, and more specifically retro video games. So my first inspiration to become a homebrewer was to fulfil a childhood dream: creating a game for the consoles of my childhood :). I actually achieved this dream with my first projects (Sheep It Up! for Game Boy and Yo-Yo Shuriken for SNES). But the fun thing with homebrew is that while fulfilling a childhood dream I learned a lot about how retro gaming machines work under the hood. This is a very captivating topic in itself, and it somehow boosted my interest in making homebrew games. I love to discover how “new” machines work, and I try to use their limitation to make some fun games.
Screenshot from Yo Yo Shuriken for the SNES
Making games for machines released before the mid 2000’s is a very different experience from making games for modern consoles or computers. Today, you’ll use a lot of engines and tools that provides a lot of (necessary) abstraction from the machine. But with gaming machines from the 70-80-90’s you don’t have an operating system or some fancy abstraction layer: you often work “on the metal” and program the hardware directly. And that is a very fun experience :)!
So yes, I think my motivation is a mix of nostalgia for consoles of the past and a thirst of a new knowledge for how these machines work, and the fun you can have programming them.
Regarding the Dr. Ludos “pen name”, it’s simply a nod to “Ludoscience.” Ludoscience is an associative R&D laboratory gathering a few researchers from various Universities interested in the scientific study of games in general. We have worked together since 2006, and we made a lot of work dedicated to Serious Games (using games for education, etc.) for example.
Although this is not my professional job, I have been an amateur game designer & developer since my youth. Under various pen names, I always loved to create some small games in my spare time, for the PC, for the Web, and since 2017 for retro gaming machines. I’ve also always been very interested about the history of video games, so being able to make games for old machines is pure joy for me!
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
I think I first discovered the idea of “homebrew” (as “making new games for old consoles”) back in 2008, with a series of articles published in a Retro Gaming magazine I was subscribed to: Pix’N Love. Those articles delivered news about all those new cool games for our old machines, and were written by RayXambeR. In my country, RayXambeR is a legendary figure and longtime supporter of the homebrew scene. Nowadays, he is working for Coté Gamers, and manages their “homebrew games” publishing division, while still writing news about the latest homebrew games. So I’m very grateful to RayXambeR for his articles, and I’m very honored to work with him on a few of my current homebrew projects.
Regarding homebrew creators themselves, I’m a huge fan of Sebastian Mihai (http://sebastianmihai.com/). Over the course of several years, he created homebrew for almost all retro gaming machines, often using “modern SDK” to do so. I really love all the projects he did, and how he shared all of them open source on his website. He was, and still is, a big inspiration to me. Being able to create games for so many different systems is outstanding. Although I’m far from reaching his technical excellence, I also share most of my projects as open source and I try to write “post-mortem articles” on my projects. I think it’s important to help other people to create games for their childhood machines. I feel that it’s a very important part of the homebrew communities: people there are all driven by a passion for these awesome machines, and they are always very helpful for those who want to start making their own games.
And for the homebrewers I’m currently watching, there are too many to name them all: half of my Twitter feed features other game developers sharing their progress on their current project for old consoles or computers!
-You’ve released a number of homebrew games, how would you describe your aesthetic?
I’m not sure if we can say that I have an “aesthetic” per se, but I always try my best to design games that are fun to play while being original or unique.
For example, the Dangerous Demolition project actually started in 2018 as an experimental web game project that I created for the Ludum Dare 41 game jam. I participated in the “compo” category, where people had to come up with a new original game from scratch in 48 hours under the theme “Combine 2 Incompatible Genres.” So I decided to try to mix “Breakout/Arkanoid” gameplay with a top-down shooter. The result, titled “Shootanoid”, can be played from here: https://drludos.itch.io/shootanoid
About 2 years later, I decided to revisit this game concept for homebrew, and created a (very limited) prototype of Dangerous Demolition for the Game Gear, that entered the SMS Power Competition 2020. I then spent about 2 years to improve the game (remaking basically everything from scratch), while porting it to the Master System too. I try my best to make it suitable for a physical release.
Although there are some exceptions, many of my projects follow a similar pattern: trying to come up with an original and fun game for a game jam or development competition, with limited time. Then, if the project shows some potential, I’ll spend as much time as needed to improve it and make a “full game” worthy of a physical release. So I don’t know if it’s an aesthetic per se, but an approach or methodology to creating homebrew that I use very often.
-Have you noticed any changes in your style or game development preferences over the years?
Yes, the more I create homebrew games, the more ideas for other games I have - but sadly I lack time to work on all of them! Honestly, many ideas wouldn’t lead to good games in the end I guess, but still it’s somewhat frustrating to not be able to pursue all the game concept I have in mind.
Regarding style, even if I work on different machines, many of them have some similarities (e.g. all the tile-based display games consoles such as the Colecovision, SG-1000, NES, Master System, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, Neo-Geo, etc.). So my technical knowledge tends to grow over time. It enables me to attempt to more “ambitious” projects - or at least to be able to program game concepts that I wasn’t skilled enough to make a few years ago.
I’m a hobbyist at core, so I don’t have a plan or a set trajectory defined. I often decide to try a project for a new machine because I’ve been inspired by another fellow homebrew project or write-up. Honestly, I don’t think I have some kind of real “changes” to share with you for this question, as I’ve been working like that since several years now :).
-Another fascinating aspect of your work is that you develop games across multiple consoles, including the Gameboy, SNES, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and Atari 2600. What has led you to transcend consoles when many other brewers prefer to stick to one console?
Thanks for the kind words! As I said, my main inspiration for this is Sebastian Mihai. When I discovered that a single developer could make games for tens of different retro machines, it was very cool and inspiring. I have a lot of respect and admiration for homebrewers who focus on a single machine, and I usually lean a lot on the documentation and open-source projects they have released to get started on each “new” machine I work on. But personally I have too much fun learning new thing to focus on a single machine, and I prefer to try my hand at all the machines that I have some nostalgia for :).
Screenshot from GB Corp., a Gameboy game recently funded on Kickstarter
I think part of the “secret” to being able to work across different machines is to rely on modern tools to make games, such as cross-compilers for high level languages like C or Basic (e.g. CC65 for the 6502 machines like the NES, the Apple II and the Atari 8-bit computers, or SDCC for the Z80 machines like the Colecovision, the Master System, the Game Gear and the Game Boy, etc.). That way you can leverage the programming skills from one machine to another, even if they use different CPU architectures. It also allows you to focus more on the game design part, as most of the modern libraries do a lot of the low level work for you, like managing VRAM, driving audio hardware, etc. For example, GBDK-2020 is a godsend to make Game Boy games (and GB Studio, the wonderful “code-less” tool to make GB Games, is actually an extra layer on top of GBDK). SGDK is magical when it comes to program SEGA Genesis Games, and PVSNESlib does the same for the SNES. Last but not least, DevkitSMS (with PSGlib audio driver) makes the creation of games for the Master System and Game Gear much easier. That’s what I used to make Dangerous Demolition. Thanks to its author Sverx (https://github.com/sverx/devkitSMS) for creating such a wonderful tool!
-Do you have a favorite console you prefer to program for? What are the unique joys and challenges of programming for each?
That’s a tough question. Honestly, I enjoy programming for all the consoles I’ve tried so far. If I were to rank them in the difficulty I had to create games for them using current modern tools, the list would be [easiest to hardest]: Game Boy, Mega Drive, Game Boy Advance, Atari Lynx, NES, Game Gear, Master System, Neo-Geo, Atari 2600, SNES and Atari Jaguar. Some machines are more difficult to use than others, but this is part of the fun!
But if I have to pick only one, I’ll go with the Game Boy. First of all, it is a powerful machine, but simple enough for a solo developer to make really great games, sometimes rivalling commercial productions of the 90’s. The console has a very iconic aesthetic with its 4 colors graphics and unique audio chip. The hardware is also very well designed IMHO, and is a pleasure to program for. Last but not least, this is arguably the console that has the best selection of modern tools to make games for it:
- If you don’t know how to program, you can use GB Studio and make very great games without writing a single line of code: https://www.gbstudio.dev/
- If you want to program the game in a high-level language, you can use C with the wonderful GBDK-2020 SDK: https://github.com/gbdk-2020/gbdk-2020
- And if you want full control over the machine, there are also modern assemblers like the awesome RGBDS that will allow you to fully master the console: https://github.com/gbdev/rgbds
- There are quantities of solutions to test your game on real hardware (GB Everdrive, BennVenn flashcarts, loads of different “EEPROM” based solutions, etc.) and on your development computer (BGB is my favorite emulator thanks to a very high accuracy and powerful debugging tools, but loads of great GB emulators exists for almost all platforms).
- Besides the tools, the community also has produced a large quantity of documentation to help you make game on the machine, like the reference “Pan Docs”: https://gbdev.io/pandocs/
- And speaking of community, there are a lot of homebrewers working on the Game Boy right now, and you chat with them using a wide variety of tools (Discord, Forum, IRC... or Twitter!): https://gbdev.io/chat
-What tools do you use to code?
It depends on the projects, but I usually use a SDK or library allowing me to program in a high-level language (mainly C, but I love other languages too!). They usually come with some tools to convert graphics and audio assets too. For Dangerous Demolition, I used DevkitSMS. It relies on C and provides you with everything you need to make SG-1000, Master System and Game Gear games.
Regarding code typing, I’m a huge fan and user of Scite since about 2006. It’s very lightweigtht, yet it provides me with everything I need to program.
For testing, I obviously use flashcarts to test my games on real hardware (Everdrive). But I also use emulators a lot, especially in the “gameplay fine tuning” stage of development (level design, difficulty curve balancing, etc.). It allows me to try new ideas very quickly, and when they seem to work, I put the ROM on a Flashcart to test it more extensively on my console.
-Your games have been published by several major distributors, including Catskull Electronics, Yatsuna Games, and most recently Côté Gamers. What qualities do you look for when choosing someone to publish your games?
Well, the first quality I’m seeking for each project is that they are able to produce a physical release for a game I made!
I’m an amateur / hobbyist, so I tend to work with likeminded publishers, who are not afraid to take risky or niche projects. For example, when Coté Gamers agreed to work on Dangerous Demolition with me for the Game Gear and the Master System, there were very few homebrew for these systems. Parts to manufacture carts were not widely available, meaning the few available releases sometimes had to “recycle” part from commercial games of the 90’s. We are all game collectors at heart, so we prefer to avoid destroying existing games to produce our own. So the first thing Coté Gamers had to do was to hire a technical wizard to design a Master System PCB (and later a Game Gear one too!), so we could build the game without destroying or recycling commercial games from the 90’s. Then they had to source new cartridge shells, new boxes, and print all the manuals and covers.
They did all that knowing that the Master System is a very niche system. Thus, it would take them more time and effort to produce a physical release for my game, and resulting sales would be very limited compared to other platforms like the NES for example. But they were and still are very excited about the project because they are huge fans of the Master System. They prefer to invest in making new games for the machines they love than focusing on earning money. That’s very rare, and I admire them for that. Only in the homebrew or hobbyist communities you can find people willing to produce / release projects putting passion over money.
-How did you connect with Jaden to use his music for the game? How did you connect with Côté Gamers to handle publishing?
I love to listen to chiptune music, especially music composed to run on retro consoles or computer hardware. So I tend to browse Battle of the Bits from time to time, and enjoy discovering new (chip)tunes. That’s were I found Jaden’s track titled “On the Run” that you can hear during gameplay. I managed to get in touch with him and I asked permission to use his music in my project. He happily agreed, and even offered me another SMS track he composed, titled “I Dunno”, that I used for the title screen. I really love both music tracks, and I’m grateful that Jaden let me use them for Dangerous Demolition - thanks again Jaden!
Regarding Coté Gamers, I was already in touch with them as they made a physical release of my three SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive games on cartridge: 30 Years of Nintendon’t (main game), alongside Break an Egg and MeteoRain (bonus games). We worked well together, and I knew they were hardcore SMS fans. So when I started a Game Gear project, I contacted them. Indeed, Dangerous Demolition prototype was originally developed for Game Gear - this console is basically a portable Master System. We discussed and they agreed to publish the Game Gear version. But they were also very interested in a Master System version, so I worked hard on making a full game for both consoles!
-What went into the decision that Dangerous Demolition would be a Sega Master System game instead of a different platform?
As I said, I started by developing a Game Gear version of the game, out of my personal love for the console. For whatever reason, the Game Gear doesn’t seem very popular among retro gamers, but it’s a very good handheld with loads of interesting games (my personal favorite being “Popils”). Having already completed games for the Game Boy, the SNES and the Atari 2600, I wanted to try my hand at another console I loved, and it was Game Gear’s turn! ;).
Screenshot from Popils for Game Gear
The Game Gear is basically a portable Master System: the main differences are the smaller screen area, 160x144px instead of 256x192px, and a larger color palette. As I love the Master System too, I figured this would be a nice project to port the game to the Master System too. So I developed both versions of the game in parallel. The core gameplay code is identical between the two, but I redesigned all the levels to use the larger screen area in the Master System. The block layouts were modified. I also had to rebalance difficulty on all the levels, for example by setting different numbers of maximum balls on screen for each level.
That way, you can enjoy the game on the Sega 8-bit machine on the go or at home depending on the consoles you have in your collection!
-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in developing Dangerous Demolition? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
Although the Master System and the Game Gear don’t have the same level of popularity as the NES and the Game Boy, they are actually not that different from Nintendo’s machines from a game developer perspective. If you have made a game for the Game Boy, you’ll have no issue making a game for the Game Gear. And once you have a Game Gear version, it’s very easy to adapt it to the Master System.
Despite being less popular, the Game Gear and the Master System have very good development kits and other tools to make homebrew. They don’t have “code-less” solution like NESMaker and GB Studio (yet!), but they have high level language programming kits on par with what you can find for Nintendo’s consoles. DevkitSMS is arguably as powerful as GBDK and NESLib when it comes to developing a game in C for the Master System and Game Gear! You also have excellent and accurate emulators (Emulicious, MEKA, Kega Fusion, etc.), and very good Flashcarts to test you game on real hardware (Krikkz’s Everdrive GG and Master Everdrive).
Compared to NES and Game Boy, the SEGA 8-bit machine has a few particularities that I discovered while making the game:
- For one, unlike the NES and the Game Boy, the Master System and Game Gear sprites can display up to 15 colors at once! (15 color + 1 transparent to be exact). This is a huge game changer compared to the NES and GB limit of 3 color per sprite (+1 transparent color). Same goes for the background. That’s why Master System and Game Gear titles are usually very colorful.
- The console can rotate background tiles, but not sprites tiles (the opposite of NES and GB). If you want to make a game with a hero character who can walk to the left and to the right, you’ll have to draw the “walking left” and “walking right’ animations separately. On Nintendo’s machines, you only draw it once and the console can flip the sprites horizontally or vertically if needed.
- The audio chip offer three channels: 3 square wave channels (to play sound effects) and 1 noise channels (to make explosion sounds). But a very strange limitation is that you can increase the quality of the noise channels (allowing it to play more noise frequencies) if you sacrifice one of the square waves channels. Musicians usually do that to be able to use the noise channels as a “drum” instrument. So it means you only have 2 sound channels for sound effects in games, and these channels are shared with the other music notes! This was much more constraining that I expected at first.
- One last funny thing to know (for homebrew makers) is that while the Game Gear display is only 160x144px , behind the scenes it actually process images at a 256x192 px resolution like the Master System. Basically the Game Gear is creating and displaying “full screen” images like a Master System, but the Game Gear hardware is altered to display only a small part of the “full screen” images from its video memory. So basically, to display a game on the handheld console, you are drawing stuff in the center area of an actual home console display resolution. It took me some time to get used to, especially if you are making a game for the two machines in parallel. For example, if you set a sprite at the 8,8 position it won’t show on the Game Gear, as it’s “offscreen” for the handheld. But the same coordinate are “onscreen” for a Master System and you’ll see it on the home console. But once you are familiar with this quirk, you realize that the Game Gear is actually better suited to scrolling background as it uses quite a large “offscreen” area compared to the Master System!
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon? Any dream projects?
I have a few projects nearing completion that should all be released in 2022:
- First of all, the Game Gear version of Dangerous Demolition! The game development is completed (with extensive beta testing on real hardware) since quite some time, and we’re working with Coté Gamers to make the physical release. But everything is more complex than the Master System version sadly, so it’s taking us more time than excepted.
- I’m also working on an improved physical version of my Game Boy game “GB Corp”, that will be published by Yastuna Games. GB Corp. is a game that rewards you for owning more than one Game Boy model in your collection. A core mechanic of the game is to plug the cartridge on a different console each time you play (for example first a GBC, then a DMG, a GB Pocket, a Super GB, a GBA and they a Super GB2...). The final version of the game will also support 2 players with a link cable so you can have two of your consoles running in parallel :)!
- I have completed the development of Yo-Yo Shuriken for Neo-Geo. The game will be available for MVS, AES, and Neo-Geo CD. It was a childhood dream of mine to make an actual arcade game, and seeing the game running on a Neo Geo MVS arcade cabinet is a very unique feeling! The game is an enhanced version of a game that I first created for the SNES. It’ll be released physically for the Neo Geo CD by Coté Gamers (we are working on the designing the manual, cover and CD jewel box right now). I’d also love to have the game available physically on MVS and AES, but this is going to be very difficult as the cartridges are very expensive to manufacture (around 150-200€ per cartridge from the quote I had so far, and that’s without any printed material). But if some people like the game and are interested, we’ll see what we can do :).
Regarding dream projects, I have lots of them, but they are way beyond my skills and available time sadly. They would be more “indie” projects for a full time team of 3-4 professionals, and not “hobbyist” projects for a solo developer working in his spare time. For example, I would love to make a beat’em up game, or an action-rpg like the 2D Zelda games. But maybe one day, who know what the future holds...
-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
I’m really looking forward the 2022 entries for the NESdev competitions. People always come with very impressive and fun games each year, and it’s always a moment I enjoy as a gamer (https://itch.io/jam/nesdev-2022). Same goes for the annual SMS Power competition that bring us cool news games for the Master System and sometimes for the Game Gear and the SG-1000 too (https://www.smspower.org/Competitions/Index).
For more specific projects, I’m very hyped by the Atari Jaguar games from Phoboz, especially his realtime 3D shooter (“Unnamed 3d Game: https://atariage.com/forums/topic/333087-new-3d-homebrew-game/) and Hammer of the Gods, a very promising beat’em up: https://atariage.com/forums/topic/333594-announcing-hammer-of-the-gods/)
Oh and can I mention OpenLara too? This project is literally jawdropping - seeing the first Tomb Raider game running so great on the GBA is my latest “wow” moment. I’m also very hyped for the 3DO, 32X and Jaguar currently in the works! https://github.com/XProger/OpenLara
-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?
Thanks a lot of interview me on your blog, and for your continued support and coverage of the homebrew scene!
If you want to play all my released games, there are available here:
And if you want to get early and private access to beta and prototypes, you can support my work on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/drludos
-Before we dive into Dangerous Demolition, I would love to talk about you and your background. What first inspired you to be a musician? What led you to compose music for homebrew games? What is your origin story?
Well, I'm 19 years old. I was born in the US. I've loved video games all my life, which is what inspired me to get into game development. I've been making stuff on the internet since 2012, which is when I first made my YouTube channel. However at that time, I was a little kid with no talent. And I also had no interest in music. So, it wasn't until much later, like around my middle school years, that I got into making art and chiptune. I was listening to a lot of C64 music at the time, and I wanted to make music that sounded as technically impressive as some of those tracks I loved. That's when I really first got into making music. I started off with FamiTracker, and I still use it today to compose my music. Really, I just wanted to help people with their games by providing music for them. And I was also really excited to hear my stuff in an actual game project. So, I did some game jam stuff and some music on Battle of the Bits, a chiptune competition website. And then eventually, a dev noticed my work and put it in a homebrew game. It was cool because that was the first time my music was used for a game on an older piece of hardware. And cartridges were being made of it. It was an achievement for me because it felt like a bigger kind of production, even if the game is very simple.
-Who are your influences? And whose work are you watching closely now?
I don't follow any chiptune artists right now. If I'm listening to chiptune, I'm going to listen to some classic stuff. Rob Hubbard, Ben Daglish, Jeroen Tel, the Follin Brothers, and many more were huge inspirations for me. I also like a lot of NES soundtracks. All the Mega Man and Castlevania games have classic music. These days, I'm not listening to chiptune much anymore. I usually listen to classic and progressive rock, with Pink Floyd and Yes being two of my favorite groups. However, they don't really do much anymore. So, I'm still listening to old music, even if it's not chiptune.
Rob Hubbard, my new spirit animal of style
-Do you feel that your music has any qualities that are quintessentially you? How would you describe your aesthetic?
I feel like a lot of my music has a very simple style. It sounds like it would be in a cheap computer game. However, I also feel that it's deceptively simple. Some of my other chiptune work features a lot of different effects and changing time signatures and chords. This particular track is very simple and doesn't represent my work at all. However, some of my other work has that kind of style. They sound like they could fit in an action game, but they're more complex underneath the surface. World War Chips is a good example of this, which is a track I made on Battle of the Bits. It goes through many different movements as the track progresses. I guess that just shows how much my style has developed over that time. And it's still changing even today!
-What is your composition process? Is the creative process different when developing something for something in particular like Battle of the Bits compared to when you compose for yourself for fun?
My creative process isn't different for any specific situation, but it does change on a per song basis. Sometimes, I'll have a particular riff in my head that I build off. There may be a certain story or theme that I want my music to represent. It all depends on the track being worked on and how I'm feeling about it.
-What tools do you use to compose, generally as well as for games?
I use FamiTracker for almost all of my music. However, I did use DefleMask for Dangerous Demolition, since that tracker supports the Master System sound hardware. It's a bit of a mess to be honest, and I'm glad I stopped using it. For mixing my music, I actually use Sony Vegas a lot of the time. I could use Audacity, but it's a bit clunky to me. The layout of Vegas just works better for me, and it has a lot of potential for audio production. I've been satisfied with what it's given me, and I'm going to keep using it.
-Tell me about the development of the track “On the Run”. You mentioned to me that it was something you originally composed several years ago for Battle of the Bits, for the Winter Chip XII competition. Any interesting stories on its evolution? Tell us more about your experiences in the Battle of the Bits.
On the Run was one of the first songs I made for Battle of the Bits. It was during a time when I didn't know anything about how to compose music. So, I just rushed out a bunch of songs in as many different formats as I could. And naturally, all of these songs sucked. I can't remember a single thing about On the Run's development in particular. I just felt like I had to make a Master System song. I really just wanted to win the competition and I didn't make music for the fun of it. Eventually, I stopped using Battle of the Bits because I wasn't winning anything. However, I think my music has gotten a lot better since then. Maybe it's because now I actually have *gasp* PASSION for what I'm doing.
Album art from Battle of the Bits’ Winter Chip XII
-What new challenges or surprises surfaced in creating the music? What lessons did you learn that you would like to share with the people who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
The main challenge with creating the music was learning how to use the Master System sound hardware. I had never used it before, and the resulting song from the day I spent learning the sound chip is about as good as you would expect. One important lesson I learned is that music takes time. You're going to compose a Monty on the Run or Cybernoid II with your first chiptune song. Just keep practicing and really learn the hardware inside and out. Don't rush things and expect them to be amazing. You just have to be patient and accept the fact that you will fail. All those failures and mistakes will make your actually good music all the more impressive and worthwhile.
-How did you first connect with Dr. Ludos, and what are your thoughts on your track’s use in Dangerous Demolition? Have you had a chance to see the game and hear your music accompanying it?
Dr. Ludos contacted me first about using the song in their game. I didn't ask for it to be used. Dr. Ludos just really liked the song and asked if it could be used, and I said sure. There's not much more to it than that. I have tested the game a bit and I like how it's integrated, with it gaining more of its sound channels as the game progresses. I think the concept of the game is solid and I like how my music was worked into it.
-Are there any other projects you have lined up on the horizon, Master System or otherwise?
Nothing else is planned for the Master System. That's a system I have no interest in, to be honest. I'm much more interested in Atari 7800 homebrew right now. I was working on a port of Dig Dug 2 for the 7800, but I haven't made much progress on it. Maybe I'll get back to that soon.
-Are there any homebrew games in development that you are excited to play?
There's a lot of great Atari 7800 homebrews that I'm looking forward to playing. There's a really cool port of Qix being worked on, and some amazing ports of Pengo and Popeye have been finished that are awaiting a physical release.
-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?
No problem, dude! I'm glad that I could share some of my experiences with all of you. All I have left to say is that if any readers want to see how my music has evolved, check out the album I released earlier this year. It's called Where to Go, and I think that album is currently my peak musically. Just look for Jaden Houghton as the artist. It won't come up if you look up DaJoshy. So yeah, if you got $10 to spare, I highly recommend giving it a listen. Thank you for your interview, and I hope that this will inspire readers to make music of their own.
Album art from Jaden’s Where to Go
Thanks for tuning in to this latest episode of the series that explores the new and exciting goings on in the homebrew community. What are your thoughts on Dangerous Demolition and its developers? What homebrews are you eagerly looking forward to? Perhaps you’ll see it here soon when…A Homebrew Draws Near! Command?