Jimmy Huey Remembers the VIC-20 - from an interview conducted by Rick Melick on October 28, 1996
SWARM REVIEW: In Swarm, you are a tiny person who races around the bottom of the screen, attempting to blast a swarm of attacking insects. Some drop straight down like the spiders in Centipede. Others scroll down more slowly, although none can be said to have segments. The movement is distinctly chilopodic, however. Zillions of little dots have to be shot, and there are butterflies, birds, and other nice targets from which to select. The whole scenario looks like yet another John Carpenter remake of Hitchcock's The Birds. You start with five little guys with which to fend off the invasion and a mind-boggling coice of 40 expertise levels. The top difficulty level is fun to try just once, just to give new meaning to the term annihilation. Beginners will have more fun at the easier settings. Swarm has a few nice touches, but is a bit too free-form to suit me. I prefer the regimentation of a Galaxian style game. Give me disciplined aliens, so I can plan my moves a few femtoseconds in advance. -David Busch(CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1983 / PAGE 150)
SIDEWINDER REVIEW: Sidewinder is the best Defender variation for the Vic-20 I have seen. Its impressive array of features can be attributed in part to Tronix's use of the 8K memory expander--a rarity in a sea of software aimed at the lowest common denominator. Sorry, but you folks who bought your Vic-20s just to play games are going to have to purchase one of those nasty programmer-type memory Expansion Cartridges to enjoy this great contest. A fast-moving jet helicopter is your vehicle; you have four with which to protect the planet from vicious invaders, including the dreaded black satellite. You may set the initial difficulty level from one to ten, depending on how brave or foolish you feel. Joysticks maneuver the chopper on its mission, which involves shooting down the bad guys while protecting a series of radar towers. The scanner may or may not be of help, depending on your ability to focus your attention on two parts of the screen at once. When destroyed, the radar towrs collapse in a messy lump that spoils the landscape and serves to remind you of your recent defeat. Worse, when all the towers have been eliminated, the scene turns black and you are forced to operate in the dark. A free chopper is awarded at 3000 points. Another may be bestowed later in the game -- I never got that far. Like Defender, this can be a difficult game. -David Busch(CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1983 / PAGE 150)
>Where did you get your ideas for games? How did you plan a game?
Most of my vic 20 stuff were either complete rip-offs or heavily influenced by coin-op games. Really not much imagination involved here. I programmed a little bit, looked at the results and just followed the flow. I was pretty fanatical about making a game play well, though
>How old were you when you programmed the VIC-20?
I think 21 or 22.
>Does the VIC-20 hold a special place for you, or was it no more or no less significant than the computer sitting on your desk right now?
I still have fond memories of programming the vic-20, but not fond enough to keep a vic 20 lying around. Got rid of them years ago!
>How did you get published with TRONIX What is the meaning of DRAGONFLY?
My first computer was an Ohio Scientific (OSI), a very very funky machine. The hardware was unreliable. Even though it came with a disk drive, there was no real DOS to speak of. To save and load files, you actually had to specify track numbers. Because the machine was so low-level, I ended up doing a lot of assembly programming, which helped me out when I started to do vic-20 programming. I hooked up with other OSI users in the LA area and ended up self-publishing a bunch of games under the Interesting Software label. One of them was a precursor to Night Crawler, a centipede clone called Worm War. There wasn't much money to be made off those games and decided to give the vic 20 a shot later that year. I bought it with the intent of selling some quick 'n dirty games. I wrote a one or two simple hybrid basic/asm games. Then wrote Space Phreeks/Galactic Blitz using vicmon. Vicmon was so much of a pain to program in I eventually caved in and bought an Apple ][ (with a real assembler) to use as a development machine. The core group at that time was: me, Jim Lin, Hal Lafferty and Corey Ostman (a whiz-kid 16 year old prodigy). Hal got us hooked up with Softsel (the parent company of Tronix), which ended up publishing the vic-20 games that we had originally sold ourselves.
>What were the differences between SWARM! and NIGHT CRAWLER, and why?
I don't know if you remember, but Atari was breathing down everyone's throats during at that time. In fact, we got a letter from Atari threatening legal action if we continued selling the game. Tronix couldn't sell Night Crawler without getting sued by Atari, so I modified the game. Changed the mushrooms to stars, unlink all the worm segments and turned them into bugs. That was pretty much it.
>Describe your relationship with those who published you?
It was pretty cool at first, but the last game that I did didn't do well, probably because of the vic-2O market collapse and a weak title; I ended up getting a negative royalty check from Tronix - a $12,000 bill!
Tronix also put out some really embarrassing press releases - told Infoworld that I was a UCLA studentt when I had actually dropped out a year or two earlier. They also put out fliers with really silly, made-up quotes. Sheesh.
Other interesting tidbits: Nightcrawler was pirated in the UK by Rabbit Software. We would have never known, but someone at Softsel's UK office spotted the game in stores there. Probably fearing a lawsuit, the head of Rabbit Software, John Savage came down to LA. Promised not to sell our games anymore. He seemed like a pretty nice guy. Jim Lin stupidly sold Mr Savage the overseas rights to Quackers. Never saw a dime. I heard later that Mr. Savage had committed suicide (blew his brains out), after being saddled with huge debts.
>Did your work on the VIC-20 help you to get where you are today in your career? What are you doing these days?
It probably helped out my career. I had dropped out of school and really had no clue what to do when I started programming these games. I wasn't a good enough programmer at that time to land a real job. The vic-20 gave me a chance to a get a foot in the door. After looking at some my old games, it's surprising how weak they were (technically) compared to other titles on the market at that time. I was using simple character graphics when others were programming in bitmapped mode!