One of the nicest things about the retro scene is that as time goes on, people test the hardware to the limit, long after the commercial lifespan of said hardware is long gone. Check the homebrew scenes on any computer, and you’ll find a smaller but still keen community keen to push the limits of a chosen software or programming language.
One such individual is Alf Yngve, a Scandanavian who achieved a measure of fame in the latter end of Commodore 64’s lifespan with his well thought out, cleverly designed and fun shoot em ups built in SEUCK, some of which graced the magazines of the Commodore Force magazine, which was the followup to Zzap! 64. SEUCK, in case you are unaware was a graphical designer of “Shoot Em Ups” (hence the acronym – The “Shoot Em Up Construction Kit”), that allowed games to be knocked out very easily, and were a staple of covertapes & Public Domain libraries the world over. Alf’s games stood out as even over 15 years on, I still remember Cops & Holiday Cops.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alf recently about his latest SEUCK projects, which you can see on his youtube channel, here is the interview in full!
Hi Alf, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First question – how did you get into video games?
Let me take you back to the ancient times of the Druids, when no one had even heard of a “Commodore 64” and no one knew what computer game designers were doing.
My first home video game was one of those crude PONG-based cartridge game systems which flooded the market in the late 70s — not even Atari, but some second-rate rip-off. It was really horrible. Even as a kid I knew this was the bottom of the barrel. Every game cartridge was just a variation on PONG. The sound effects made my teeth rattle.
Nevertheless, I got hooked on computer and video games for life. I couldn’t imagine back then that one day I might actually make games. but every time my parents took me to the local amusement park, I’d go to the videogame arcade and check out what was new.
So as a kid I played games like STAR FIRE, LUNAR LANDER, SPY HUNTER, SPACE INVADERS, DEFENDER, SPY HUNTER, DONKEY KONG, though I never really got into Pac-Man. (I suspected he had a drug problem, always chasing those pills that made him see blue colors! ;-))
Remember, back in those days the only cool games were in the arcades. Home systems simply couldn’t compete in terms of graphics, sound quality and gameplay.
The long-term effect of this “upbringing” was that, to this day, I prefer games that are action-based, quick to play and intense – much like in the old arcades.
What made you design for the Commodore 64, specifically SEUCK games?
Hey, I’m not a coder, just a “creative guy.” There were no other utilities around, unless you built them yourself.
Much later, when I got steady employment at a real computer-games company (about 1994-2001), I learned how much the games production process relies on teamwork. It is very rare that someone can make a game entirely on his or her own – which can sometimes be frustrating!
What did you like about the (original) SEUCK System? And what did you find the most frustrating?
What I loved about the original SEUCK was that it made the work so simple and eliminated the boring, slow coding process. I could just pour the ideas out of my head and onto the screen. And at virtually no cost, no fancy equipment was needed.
And the process went so fast: I could make a complete game in one weekend, then keep testing and polishing it.
SEUCK is like the computer-game equivalent of Punk Rock: Do it yourself, and it’s okay if you can only play two chords, it’s all about self-expression.
Of course the more I wanted to create, the more I ran into technical limitations. Limitations such as: not much memory size; no power-ups; no horizontal scrolling; I couldn’t add music on my own, the annoying sprite flicker when many enemy objects appeared on-screen at the same time.
Another constant problem was I kept crashing my C64 — sometimes destroying several hours of work, if I had forgotten to save a backup.
The SEUCK contained a great bonus, which I eventually discovered and learned to use: in the game SLAP’N TICKLE which came with the utility, there are a few background blocks made in high-resolution graphics (with 2 colors only, black and white). If you copied those blocks, you could make a game with much more better-looking graphics.
I first came across your work with Cops & Holiday Cops on the Commodore Force cover tapes. How did you get involved with them?
I had been making SEUCK games on my own since 1987 or 1988. But when I started to get good at it, I realized that either I’d keep these games to myself or try to share.
Remember, there was no Internet then – distribution was controlled by publishers, and only the magazines would tell you what was out there.
I read the UK-based mag ZZAP!64 (later renamed COMMODORE FORCE). Well, when I could find it, anyhow (it wasn’t sold in many kiosks in Sweden, for some inscrutable reason).
And those magazine covertapes inspired me to send games to ZZAP!64 and ask “How do I get games published? Would you put this on the covertape?”
In the 80s and early 90s it looked like everything cool, games-wise, was happening in England, France, the U.S., or Japan – not anywhere near where I lived. So sending my stuff to a games mag seemed like a good idea at the time.
The games I remember sending them were:
- A.M.N.T. (a blatant Ninja Turtles imitation, later altered to “Ninja Blueberries”);
- Twin Tigers (an attempt to imitate the arcade game TWIN EAGLE);
- Alienator 93 (an attempt to imitate SPACE GUN);
- Tau Zero (heavily inspired by TERRA CRESTA and GEMINI WING);
- COPS (probably inspired by the arcade game JAIL BREAK — or perhaps by screenshots from an obscure Atari Lynx game called DIRTY LARRY: RENEGADE COP.)
And the rest is history. The editors accepted COPS and later HOLIDAY COPS as covertape features. I showed the reviews they wrote of my SEUCK games to a software house, and that probably helped me get a job in the games industry, despite having no programming knowledge beyond SEUCK on the C64 and the Amiga.
It strikes me now, how strange and naive this young man Alf Yngve must’ve seemed to those magazine editors in the early 1990s – a Swedish “idiot savant” appearing out of nowhere.
Bear in mind, I was a complete outsider. I was never a member of any demo scene, had no previous “rep”. I had bought my C64 used from a friend.
And here I come knocking on the door of a games magazine, basically saying: “I’ve made these games, can you please help me break into the industry?”
Games companies didn’t yet exist in Scandinavia then. In fact, during the 1980s and 1990s the Swedish cultural establishment treated computer games as a suspect activity – breathless TV documentaries warned the public about how the BARBARIAN taught kids to chop each others’ heads off.
I thought then and still think that was nonsense. New media have always been received with hysteria and paranoia by the guardians of old media.
(Actually, I’m terrified that one day I’ll be one of those old farts: “Damn kids are ruining their brains with VR implants, why can’t they play real 8-bit games like in the good ol’ days…” ;-))
How else were your SEUCK games distributed in your pre internet days?
Only through covertapes and Kenz’s Binary Zone PD (later Psytronik Software) in the UK.
What were your favourite games to make?
The game NUKENIN & THE RONIN (released with the SHOOT’EM UP DESTRUCTION SET from Psytronik) is the finest game I made in the 1990s.
It used hi-res graphics to improve some of the backgrounds. The gameplay had greater variety because you could choose to play either as Samurai or Ninja with different weapons. And the Medieval Japanese setting made for some really nice set-pieces.
The whole thing has a strong “1980s Capcom” vibe.
I hope more people will play NUKENIN & THE RONIN now, when it’s re-released and widely available for emulator software, because it was great fun to make and I think it shows.
Did you design any games outside of the SEUCK system?
While I worked for the Scandinavian software house Funcom, I was “Junior Game Designer” and then mostly did game testing.
Funcom was a big company in the late 1990s, one of the biggest games producers in Scandinavia. Perhaps I would have been more comfortable in a much smaller organization. But I continued to produce ideas and some level design for various games projects at Funcom — several of which were never completed. (Two words: “Development Hell”.)
Funcom released the PC game NO ESCAPE which was based on my original concept: Instead of a “flat” game world, let’s put the player/s on a very small planet — so small that you can run around it in a really short time.
Unfortunately, NO ESCAPE was made and released at the time when Funcom also released its super-ambitious mega-project ANARCHY ONLINE (one of the early 3-D MMORPGs) — so NO ESCAPE was practically buried underneath it.
Question from Mr. Staypuft: Which Arcade games inspired you, and specifically which scenes/levels/play mechanics from each?
Good question! I studied arcade games and I deliberately tried to imitate what I thought was clever and original about them.
- From the Data East game DRAGON NINJA (a.k.a. “Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja”), I got the idea of having a fight on a speeding vehicle, such as a truck or a train — see COPS.
- From the Taito game VAPOR TRAIL I got the idea of having a realistic Earth landscape invaded by a massive army, with bigger and bigger set-pieces — see SUPERSTRIKE. (The armored train boss is lifted directly from a level in the arcade game.)
- From the Taito game FLYING SHARK I got the idea of using “sprite flicker” to create the effect of a semi-transparent shadow cast by flying vehicles, and also to have enemy planes attack in dynamic formations — see BORDER WAR and BORDER BLAST 2.
(But then where’s BORDER BLAST 1, you ask? Sorry, I can’t recall. I gave Kenz all my work and backup tapes long ago. Perhaps he’ll retrieve it, but I think the game file was accidentally lost at some point.)
- I played OPERATION WOLF a lot during my military service, and several times I tried to make a SEUCK-created “light gun” game with cross-hair controls.
Most of those games are lost now (apart from 3D SPACEWAR and ALIENATOR 93)… but Kenz owns the only copy of my Amiga game OPERATION BABEL which really is an Operation Wolf imitation.
You are designing more and more with SEUCK today, as seen on your youtube channel. Care to talk about your future projects?
Now that I’m a family man and I do other things than making games, I find less and less time for the SEUCK, but I still come up with new “tricks” to play with the utility, so I’ll continue making new games when I have the time to spare.
In 2009, when I found out about the new Sideways SEUCK, you can imagine my mixture of joy and disappointment: “WOO-HOO! Finally I can make a proper side-scrolling game! ARRGH! Why couldn’t I have Sideways SEUCK fifteen years ago?”
But I just had to get my hands on it, so I made the side-scrolling LAST AMAZON SPECIAL EDITION game (see Psytronik Software).
And in 2010, thanks to Sideways SEUCK, I could – at last – make my first real beat’em-up, soon to be released by Psytronik. It’s an odd creation that uses “old skool” beat’em-up gameplay straight out of KUNG-FU MASTER or DRAGON NINJA, but then mixes in absurd humor, in-jokes and satire.
I’m looking forward to people playing this game, going “Aha!” and then laughing when they get the joke or the reference.
By the way, Richard Bayliss has done a smashing good job of enhancing this game with power-ups – such as
Priceless Ming Vase, Tai-Chi Heartburn, and The World’s Most Dangerous Banana Peel.
Also coming soon is a side-scrolling space-shooter, inspired by NEMESIS and G-DARIUS. If I get all the enhancements and extras into this game that I planned (I wrote an extensive design document for the person who volunteered to enhance it), then it’s going to be the best SEUCK game I ever made.
Aaaand… just this year, I made a sequel to COPS, titled COPS – THE FINAL CHAPTER. A multi-load game in two parts, with a movie-style intro sequence.
Oh, and did you know there’s a spanking new freeware SEUCK for making PC games with 16-bit graphics? I’ve tried it, and I will use it to make games in the future.
(Check out SEUCK for the PC at Gernot Frisch’s website.)
Which other SEUCK Games did you like & inspire you?
Now I’m going to sound like a cranky old bastard, but there’s really not much I’ve liked in SEUCK games made by other people. And I can’t think of a single SEUCK game (by another person) I’ve played that made me think: “This is inspiring. I want to make a game like this one.”
I thought the game BARNEY in the 2010 Sideways SEUCK Competition had absolutely fantastic graphics, virtually photo-realistic — but I couldn’t play it because the game didn’t give you enough lives to have a decent chance.
Most other SEUCK games have two basic flaws that put me off:
Firstly, they don’t give the player a sense of power, of being able to master the game’s environment, because the player is given a pathetically weak weapon, the agility of a turtle, not nearly enough lives or bonus lives, and is then expected to beat the entire Russian Army.
Shoot’em-ups are at heart power fantasies, so empower the player.
Often they also have terrible graphics. I’ve drawn and published my own comics and painted pictures. I didn’t just study arcade games, I studied reality. HOLIDAY COPS was inspired by a vacation on a Greek island, so that I had seen real Greek houses, landscapes and ruins before I tried to draw them in the SEUCK background editor.
Some say that SEUCK graphics will always look “blocky,” but I disagree. They will look blocky if the designer didn’t put enough effort into them.
I enjoyed SYLPHWYRM, though. It had its own, consistent style.
What else do you do with your time? I see on your website you’re an author.
Oh, I do this and that… but that’s another life, you know? The SEUCK part is like my secret identity. “No one suspects that this mild-mannered citizen is really Shoot’em-Up Construction Kit Man!” 😉
Anything else you want to plug?
I’d like to plug Sarah Palin’s mouth shut with a giant cork, but that’s never going to happen.
Thanks for asking me these questions, it was fun. 🙂