Interview with Rob Kudla
Question #1-When did you first decide you wanted to redo the 2600 Pacman?
Rob-I first thought about it about a year ago when someone on rec.games.video.classic suggested it might be possible to hack Ms. Pac Man or Jr. Pac Man into a more enjoyable simulation of Pac Man. Then after I heard Ebivision demonstrated and immediately pulled their totally new version of Pac Man at Classic Gaming Expo, I decided to do something to soothe my wounded 12-year-old inner self. ;) Even then it wasn't until I found Frank Cruz's page of 2600 hacks on gameovernet.co.uk (he'd done a Space Invaders hack and I had also recently done one to get "in practice") and he had a mockup of what such a Pac Man hack could look like.
Question #2-The original Pacman was 2K (if I am incorrect here, let me know), how big is your version?
Rob-I think the original Pacman was actually 4K, but I haven't actually looked at a binfile of it. Mine began life as Ms. Pac Man, which was 8K and so is mine.
Question #3-What was the most difficult part of the project? Any unexpected problems arise?
Rob-The most difficult part of the project was either moving the bottom energizers out of the corners to where they are now, or making the fruit stay on screen for an appropriate length of time. Without the source code
it wasn't very obvious how Atari's programmers handled either of those things, trivial as they may seem. The only unexpected problem was my own inexperience, and I kind of expected that ;)
Question #4-I notice that most of your classic video games that you are >working on are for the Atari 2600, why is this?
Rob-A number of reasons. One, the 2600 seems to be the best-documented of the old machines, probably because it's the most common. Two, I have a little bit of 6502 assembler knowledge from way back in my Commodore 64 days and the 2600 uses the same CPU. Three, the 2600 has such a reputation for being tough to program, and yet there are elegant ways around many of its limitations and many have been documented in recent years. And last, you can't overlook the importance of having a strong community around a machine to share your hacks with.
Oh yeah, and it's fun and rewarding too :)
Rob-Yup, I started a hack designed to make KC Munchkin for the Odyssey2 look more like Pac Man. I may well end up trying to write a Pac Man from scratch for it if I find some time and good docs, but I've been discouraged since the American O2 can't display yellow and I think that's important to a Pac Man clone. I've also started hacking the Vectrex a little since I still have one of those in cold storage back home (with light pen AND 3D goggles - eat that, ebay hounds :P ), but there's nothing to show yet. And all this 6502 coding has made me want to do a little Commodore 64 coding again ;)
Question #6-Has most of the response been positive for it? Do you get requests to improve other Atari games and if so, which ones get the most requests?
Rob-Yes, the most common complaint has been about the death sequence, which upsets me too in its non-arcade-like-ness ;) Overall people seem to really dig the hack, though, and I appreciate the criticism I did get. I've had a few people suggest I start this project over using Jr. Pac Man so I could get the maze exactly right, but it would scroll vertically and I don't think that would really cut it. No other requests that I can think of, though.
Question #6-I saw you are working on a Ballblazer version for the Atari 2600. While ti is in the early stages, how much of the original do you think you will be able to retain?
Rob-Well, the new game is not going to be an exact copy of Ballblazer of course, though I hope to capture some of its flavor. I think I should be able to capture most of the play mechanics of Ballblazer - assuming I don't run out of CPU cycles animating the backgrounds (even in their not very convincing state!) It may be that you can't look sideways as you could in Ballblazer for example, and the music won't be as good as what they could do on the 8-bit computers, and of course there's the perspective being wrong. But the real test will be how well it plays, and that's what I'm most concerned with. I feel pretty confident I can make it play well, slightly less confident I'll get it done anytime soon ;)
Question #7-I see you are a big fan of emulation. Which emulators are your favorites? Which games were you really excited to see emulated?
Rob-Well, of course there's MAME, king of all emulators ;) though lately I discovered MESS32 and my interest in emulation has been kind of reborn. I like Stella and PCAE for Atari emulation but would love to see a MESS driver for the 2600, since they both have issues with Windows NT which I'm often forced to use. No, I'm not volunteering to write one right now! ;)
As far as which games were exciting to see emulated, I only discovered emulation when I was searching the web a few years ago for a PC version of Mappy, probably still my favorite arcade game. I suppose that would be the really exciting one because it led to everything else. I was also floored the first time I saw Sonic playing on my screen and looking a lot better than the PC version I had shelled out for (and didn't crash Windows!) But I'm most amazed at seeing things like the Adventurevision and Odyssey2 getting emulated (both by Dan Boris,) poorly documented machines without that much of a following so the fact that they're working now is a near miracle.
Overall I would rather see more open-source
emulators of old systems than some of the projects I've seen in the last couple
of years where it's, "No, we're not going to release the source because some
l4m3r might try to copy it, so shut up about it or else we'll discontinue it."
Grow up, kids. Emulation is a way to bring extinct machines back from the dead
and preserve them for the future. I would rather stick with the old stuff.
Thanks for the interview and for everyone interested, you can check out Rob's site at the following URL: http://www.kudla.org/raindog/games. You can reach him by email at the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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