Developer Spotlight: Simon Jameson

Currently residing in London and working as a Technical Lead for a large software company, Simon Jameson delved into 6510 assembly language after being introduced to the Commodore 64 in the mid 1980s and idolising the likes of Manfred Trenz, Andrew Braybrook and the Rowland Brothers.

After many years away from the Commodore, Simon jumped back into the retro scene about 2 years ago, buying himself several machines from the 8-bit era and it was only a matter of time before the C64 took pride of place on his desk and he would pick Assembly again to produce what is arguably the strongest C64 release so far for 2019, Doc Cosmos.

Doc Cosmos is a flick screen platform game where you control Doc, on the search for a powerful alien device that allows the user to time travel. Upon finding the powerful device is said to be located, he instantly transitions to a 1982 timeline where the landscape around him is quite different. Doc quickly realises that he is trapped and needs to find a way out by going around collecting keys and unlocking doors in order to get back to his rocket ship. But to do this, Doc also needs to use the mysterious device to switch back and forward between the current day timeline and the 1982 timeline if he is to succeed in his quest to escape the planet.

Doc Cosmos is a great C64 title that reinvigorates the platform genre with its seamless transition feature and is a joy to play. So impressed were we with Simon’s debut C64 game release that RGN felt compelled to reach out to this relative newcomer to the scene and find out more about his current and future game titles.

RGN: Thanks for taking the time to chat to us Simon. You launched the 16K version of Doc Cosmos (for the C64) earlier this year, seemingly out of nowhere, to great critical acclaim. What were your expectations of the game’s receptions before its release? How have you found the feedback from the C64 community?

Simon: I knew that I had an interesting concept but until I released it I honestly had no idea what to expect. The response has been amazing, everyone seems to love the game and especially the timeline concept. It was very cool to see Twitch streamers playing the game and really helped me to understand what was good and what was not. 

RGN: Yes, seeing your game played live over Twitch is a great way to get feedback. What inspired you to work on a C64 title and at what stage did you think you were going to submit is as an entrant to the RGCD 16K Cartridge competition?

Simon: I’d been working on a couple of projects, but had never managed to get anything close to releasable. When a friend at work mentioned the RGCD competition I decided to take up the challenge and started from scratch on a new game. I think the 16K limit helped to focus me and stop me creating a game with an out of control scope. The whole thing happened very quickly, about 8-9 weeks including writing a custom map editor.

The 16K Doc Cosmos sees you trying to find a way back to your rocket shiop

RGN: Wow, completing the game in around 2 months sound likes an amazing feat considering the timeline transition concept, which I’d also like to discuss later. I really enjoyed the game theme. How did the space traveler concept for the back story come about?

Simon: The story was actually one of the last things I did. I spent some time thinking about a name for the game, I had the effect in place and the idea of time travel but nothing about why it was happening. After a few different ideas for a name I decided that I needed the game to be named after the protagonist and then thought about hero names from films, tv and games such as Flash Gordon, Indiana Jones, Doctor Who, Rick Dangerous, Dan Dare. Doc Cosmos was born and became a kind of hybrid of these heroes. I see him as a Doctor Who type time traveler but with an adventurous streak as he searches the universe for artifacts.

RGN: The stand out feature of the 16K Doc Cosmos is its transition between current and 1982 timeline. How did this concept come about?

Simon: The effect was the first thing I did. I had recently been playing Montezuma’s Revenge and wanted to do something similar but with a twist. I liked the idea of switching between two different views of the same world and after a little playing around came up with the idea of having a PETSCII representation of the map. Once Doc had a back story it made perfect sense to add a little humour into the game and set the old timeline in 1982 to reflect games of the era.

RGN: The transition effect within Doc Cosmos appears to work seamlessly. Surely you would have experienced some difficulty in getting this to work how you wanted it?

Simon: The hardest thing about the transition was figuring out how to make the PETSCII look correct during the transition. Originally I just had the effect switch between the modern map graphics and the C64 predefined font but this looked messy as the fonts didn’t map directly. I ended up creating my own remapped version of the C64 font to avoid the odd glitching that would occur. Additionally getting the colours for both to update at the right times took some tricky timing.

The 1982 timeline transition featuring PETSCII graphics

RGN: I feel that Doc Cosmos could be an ongoing franchise for you to build upon, adding new elements to the game with each subsequent. I see that you have started early work on Doc Cosmos 2. What are you looking to add to the game? 

During the development of the first game, there were so many things I wanted to add but simply didn’t have room for. Doc Cosmos 2 will take the timeline concept from the first game and add all the things I couldn’t add in 16Kb. It will be much larger and use a full colour scroll mechanic rather than flick screen. Doc will have a weapon that quite frankly he should have brought to make his life easier in the first game! I’m looking to build multiple worlds each with its own unique enemies and end of world boss, each world will be split into 2 or more huge sub stages (the original game was 47 screens, in the sequel each sub stage can be approximately 150 screens). 

A preview shot of Doc Cosmos featuring full screen scrolling

RGN: Well that sounds like a game that is well worth anticipating. Will it have a different backstory/setting? 

The story will be a continuation of the original game with Doc searching the universe for more treasures. I’m hoping to add a few nice surprises in there to keep the game fresh and to really make use of the extra space.

RGN: Great, I definitely think you have a franchise on your hands. How large do you expect the Doc Cosmos 2 to be? Are you targeting a physical release?

Simon: As well as having more space to play with I want to take advantage of modern formats and am looking to make this a cartridge release so that I can use the cartridge to enhance the experience by using it as a kind of REU expansion to allow me to further optimise the scrolling code and also to have on cartridge save games. As such a physical release is a real possibility, watch this space!

Another sneak peak at Doc Cosmos 2

RGN: Thanks for sharing with us your plans for Doc Cosmos 2. On broader matters, what do you think of the current C64 gaming scene?

Simon: The sheer number of games being released for a system that’s closing in on 40 years old, is a testament to the hardware. If someone had told me all those years ago when I was making Space Invader clones in my bedroom as a child that the C64 would still have an incredibly active community when I was in my 40s I would have laughed. But here we are, and every week something new and amazing is being released and it seems to be growing year on year.

RGN: The current gaming scene is fantastic and it certainly keeps us busy, what current games have impressed you lately?

Simon: When I got back into the scene a few years back I bought myself a C64 and an EasyFlash cartridge. The EasyFlash came with Prince of Persia on it and I was amazed, I’d played the game a lot on the Amiga but never imagined someone could do the same on the C64, it’s an impressive port and I recommend everyone to try it. Sam’s Journey came along shortly after and that game blows my mind, it feels like a proper console game, it’s easy to forget you are playing on a C64.

There’s a couple of games I’m really looking forward to on the horizon. Søren Trautner Madsei is creating a C64 version of Limbo and it looks incredible so far, and one of the Little Big Planet devs Marco Shealey is working on a Sackboy game for the C64 too!. Truly incredible and exciting times!

We greatly appreciate Simon Jameson for checking in with RGN and we are really excited to see Doc Cosmos 2 in action when it is ready. In the meantime, you can grab a copy of Doc Cosmos on Simon’s Itch.Io page and you can follow his development blog for Doc Cosmos 2.

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