The Commodore 64 may have made its debut back in 1982, but if Paul Koller has his way, you'll still be able to play new games on it for the foreseeable future. Koller has turned his passion for the C64 into an interesting hobby: porting modern indie games to the ancient platform. It all started in 2010 when he released a demo of Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV, and it continued with the release of C64anabalt, a port of Adam Saltsman's iPhone hit Canabalt. Now he's working on a C64 version of Super Crate Box — and soon you'll even be able to buy it on a cartridge.
Koller says that he's been interested in creating things for the C64 since he was a child in the mid-eighties, though he never really took things too seriously. He created what he describes as a few simple games as a kid, and when he reached college he took up the hobby again, programming simple routines to provide himself a technical challenge. "This went on for several years without finishing anything though," he says. Over the years the time he had to dedicate to his hobby dwindled — getting married and having children will do that — as did his interest in increasingly complex modern games. Then he discovered the world of indie gaming.
"Like a C64 game, but without the early 80s bad gameplay ideas."
The purposely retro look and feel of these games immediately grabbed his attention, though VVVVVV in particular caught his eye — he says that it "looked like a C64 game, but without the early 80s bad gameplay ideas." The similarities gave Koller the idea to see if the game could work on C64 hardware. He reached out to Cavanagh, who was enthusiastic about the idea, going so far as to help Koller out with some gameplay-related questions. "I had a C64 growing up and VVVVVV is obviously very Commodore inspired," says Cavanagh, "so the game really feels at home there." After a few months Koller eventually released the first level, and he says that "the response was amazing."
"I knew it would be possible to make a great C64 port."
Despite this, he struggled to keep himself motivated. The size of the project was daunting, and completing a port of the entire game proved to be more challenging than he initially thought. His motivation returned early on in 2011, though, when he stumbled across Retro Gamer CD's "C64 16KB Cartridge Game Development Competition," a contest that challenges developers to create games for the C64 that don't exceed 16KB in size (the same as an original C64 cartridge). When Koller thought about what he wanted to work on, his mind went right back to the world of indie games, this time settling on Canabalt. Once again he received the blessing of the original creator, but this time he managed to complete the game. After it was finished, it took just a few weeks for more than 100 copies of the C64anabalt cartridge to be sold through RGCD, about double that of the site's previous best-seller. "And that for a platform that has been commercially dead for something like 20 years!" says Koller.
When the 2012 competition rolled around, Koller already knew what he wanted to work on — towards the end of C64anabalt's development he was already thinking about the possibilities of Super Crate Box. "I knew it would be possible to make a great C64 port," he says. According to Super Crate Box developer Vlambeer, the studio mainly agreed to the project out of curiosity — they wanted to see if it could actually be done.
"We never quite imagined it would be this tough to create, but the latest build he sent us is so close to the original PC/Mac version it's almost scary," says Vlambeer's Rami Ismail. "Today, Super Crate Box runs perfectly on devices that fit in your pocket — like iOS and Vita — it's amazing to think that 15 years ago, the most powerful computers had to employ extremely complicated tricks and extra memory to properly display the amount of enemies Super Crate Box throws at you."
"If only I had more time."
The 16K version is just about done — and it's being called Super Bread Box — but Koller is also working on a 64K version that will squeeze additional content onto a bigger cartridge, including 16 unlockable characters and three exclusive levels. "There is not much of the original version which is not included," Koller says of Super Bread Box, though some visual effects weren't ported over and a few game modes were left out because the platform simply couldn't handle them "without suffering from significant slowdown effects."
He estimates that there's still a few more months of work left, and the port should be available sometime early next year. But while he's hard at work completing Super Bread Box, Koller is also thinking about what he might do next. He still wants to complete VVVVVV, but after that he has plans to tackle indie classics like Super Meat Boy, Hexagon, and Cave Story, among others. "If only I had more time."