Interview with Claus [EN]

Even if he was not very widespread in the scene of C64 till a short time ago, Claus programmer in his free time, advances in great steps with his projects he has in the future and he wants to show his likings for the 64 with this title and for what he is preparing. He took part in 2015 in the yearly competition which the German Forum64 organises and in which each year they create games starting from a certain subject. This time it was about adventures and he was second behind the magnific 'Caren and the Tangles Tentacles' making with his Zeit der Stille/ Time of Silence a first step. The second part will be shown soon and through Protovision, a company he is a member of.

Taking advantage of his generosity, we had a short interview with him about his history and what in the near future he will prepare for us.

  • Name: Claus
  • Country: Germany
  • First Computer: Commodore 64
  • New Projects: Zeit der Stille 2

–What's your history on the C64, as a child and how you grow up with this machine? 

–To be honest, I was not a "scener" at all in my youth. I received my C64 when I was around 15 years old for Christmas. I did not have too much of a network to other C64 owners, so I was happy to get a current game here and there for my trusty datasette (I only bought a 1541 some years later). But I was immediately hooked to programming. After writing some Basic programs, I realized that I needed to learn Assembly the sooner the better and bought a Data Becker book. I would spend day after day disassembling game intros using a simple disassembler written in Basic, and noted everything down on tiny paper sheets. Without any contact to the experts, some of the things stayed total miracles to me (e.g. I never really figured out the VIC timing). Times have become incredibly much easier since then, with all the knowledge shared in the Internet and the wonderful cross assembly tools. Luckily I lost all the work from that time by accidentally throwing away the CD where I archived all my programs, so I can pretend that it was cool stuff :D

–Tell us a little how it all begins with ToS/ZdS?

–There is actually a longer background story to that: I ALWAYS wanted to write a computer game. The first predecessors to Time of Silence started on the HP48GX pocket calculator, which was quite common during my studies. Unfortunately, before I had made much progress, I learned that HP was leaving the calculator business and it was expected that there would be no further models or support.

That was when I decided to change the platform. In fact, it seems that they did not completely leave the business, and there is actually an active HP calculator scene particulary in Eastern Europe. But I did not know that, and the next similar platform seemed to be the upcoming generation of mobile phones (this was far earlier than the iphone, the phones at that time offered 32kb of memory to use with a very limited Java dialect). So I started porting the game engine that I had to that. But I soon realized, that the mobile phone development became unbelievably fast! New phones getting more and more powerful were entering the market every year, and I had no chance to keep up with the development in my meager spare time. So I decided to change the platform once again.

Now, that I had learned Java anyway, I thought about continuing the game development on the PC. Suddenly I had huge power and memory at hand! So I extended the engine more and more, and quickly ran into the mistake that many many game developers make: I became overambitious. After some years of development, I did a rough estimation on how long I would need to finish the game when continuing with the same pace: it was at least another 10 years :-(. Luckily I realized the only method to avoid this mistake: limitation. So I thought about changing the platform one last time...

My view fell on the 1541 I still had in my cupboard (bought on ebay to archive my software) and it became clear to me, that the C64 is the most limited platform that can be used to create games that are still acceptable today. So I decided to go for that! At that time I was not even aware, that there is still such an active C64 scene! So I started (again) porting the engine to the C64. By coincidence, a few months after I started my investigations, TheRealWanderer started the Forum64 Adventure Game Compo 2015, and thought that this might be a perfect milestone for me to get my engine into a somehow runnably first state.

–Give us info about how many time have you spended on this game and what was the biggest challenge writing it.

–Whoever took part in a game development compo knows, that time is always far too short, so I really had to cut down my ideas for the game extremely - in fact to the absolute bareable minimum. The competition went for 9 months, but I actually wasted quite some time in the beginning, before getting hectic towards the end, and the time restriction was by far the biggest challenge in writing the game. This is also the reason why the game is so short. I had so many other ideas, but only the main idea could be realized (you will know which one that is, if you played the game ;-)). Still, I surprisingly won the second place in the compo after the fantastic "Caren and the Tangled Tentacles". To give you an idea about the hectic at the end, here comes a brief report of the last day before the compo deadline, translated from my respective Forum64 entry:

  • 18:00: Quickly put together the end sequence. Due to the short remaining time, I simply copy a couple of existing code parts. Done.
  • 19:00: Oh dear, there is still not a single combat. I quickly throw in a couple into the levels. 馃榿
  • 20:00: Save games are suddenly not recognized anymore, although I am working on a completely different module, that is not even loaded at that point in time 馃樀‍. It turns out that the file size in the disk directory can be interpreted as PETSCII character '"', which confused my parser. 馃槞
  • 21:00: One level music is still missing. So I plug in the headphone into the Notebook and hack a song into goat tracker in 1h. In hindsight, I like this song actually best 馃榿
  • 22:00: Oops, the intro is broken, because the memory runs over. That should normally be checked by the linker , but there was a copy&paste error in the linker configuration file. Quickly fixed by copying around some memory, phew!
  • 23:00: Hooray, finished! Some final quick testing on real hardware, luckily everything works. Naturally, I find some more smaller bugs during this test, that need to stay in.
  • 23:40: Quickly writing the announcement email and forgetting to remove the save games of my final tests. 馃槚 . They are now on the competition disk image, well , nothing to do about it anymore...
  • 00:00: Deadline beer and falling dead into bed 馃檪

–Is in ToS a japan influence in the way the game plays?

–Honestly: no :-). Well, maybe indirectly. The main inspiration for the game was actually Ultima VII. That is also where the strange graphics perspective comes from. I love all kinds of RPGs and adventures, in particular the Might of Magic series. Just recently I started playing the Japanese classics (Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and (dare I say it) Pokemon). In fact, these games resonate a lot with me, and if I had known them before, they would certainly have been a huge inspiration for ToS.

–What tools do you use for ToS?

–The original ToS was created using CA65 and LD65 (because I think there is a huge advantage to have a separate linker for multipart games), jEdit (as it is a very configurable simple editor similar to Notepad++, but available on all platforms that I use), SpritePad, CharPad, Goat Tracker and some self-developed Java-Tools. Still, the creation of the game logic was really cumbersome, involving hundreds of lines of byte values entered in the text editor. That is why I am developing a complete game editor in Java for Time of Silence 2, that will allow me to be much more efficient and produce much less bugs (hopefully :-)).

–How do you see the C64 game creative scene lately? With Sams Journey, Caren 2, Unknown Realm and other games like the second part of ToS, big projects are growing up this last year.

–Yes, this is marvellous! It feels like the scene is really ramping up on activity right now and I am very excited to be part of that! It also seems to me that the general quality of not only the games but also the packaging, distribution etc. has increased a lot in the last 2-3 years. I love it and I am certainly inspired by these games, trying to keep up or even topping them :-D. I know the guys behind Caren 2 from the Forum64, which is my main activity area for the C64, and I was in contact with Chester of Sams Journey, who is a really great and helpful guy. I think all these developments create a healthy atmosphere of inspriration and competition (as we are luckily far away from a market where the money to be earned spoils the spirit).

–What about ToS 2? What can you advance us?

–Well, there is a lot ongoing in the background. I am a bit lazy updating my blog, but I am using as much time as possible on the project. Tos2 will be much much larger than ToS and will be a full boxed game that can be bought at Protovision. The story will take place in the same universe as ToS, and you will be able to meet some of the characters from ToS, including Tom (although he will not be the protagonist anymore). For the rest, I will wrap myself in mysterious silence (muahaha!). I actually love the setting of ToS and I think there is a lot of potential for further interesting stories. That is also, why I am currently spending so much time on the development tools. I am rather certain, that there will be more parts of ToS, so the tools will stay useful in the future...

–What about modern games?

–I still love traditional style games, and recently played and enjoyed Might and Magic X. I am not fond of games that create too much stress anymore (e.g. action games or even worse real time strategy). I guess this is because I am getting old and my reflexes are not what they used to be (or maybe never were :-)). I like games that I can pause at any point in time, ideally for months, as my spare time is mostly unpredictable. I totally failed in my attempts to like the later Tomb Raider installments (although I loved the early ones at their time), because I would have forgotten the special moves after I paused playing them for a couple of weeks. The last game that I really loved was "Techno Babylon", a classic adventure with a great story and a difficulty level that seems to be taylored specifically for me. I also liked "Thimbleweek Park", although that did not fully live up to my expectations. Anyway, I am obviously stuck a bit in the past regarding games.

Development documents: ideas.pdf, readme.pdf, story.pdf

Time of Silence is an old stype RPG. with similarities of Time of Lore, Faery Tale and other games,  mixing what a good RPG has but simplified, with overtones from the Japanese homonymus and with a good dose of adventure. It is a very good game, short and with a great story we are sure that the author will extend or continue in the second part in which he is working now. You can see the progress of this second part at the link at the bottom of the page.

–Thank you very much for your time and this interview!


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