A huge thanks to Eduardo of Opcode for agreeing to this interview, enjoy.
Opcode Games is committed to keeping your ColecoVision console alive by offering you brand new ColecoVision games to play! They are also bring the Super Game Module addon to the ColecoVision with a brand new port of Donkey Kong.http://opcodegames.com/zapiy
Tell us a bit about you and how you got involved in gaming development?Eduardo
That is something I started thinking about when I was 13 or something. As soon as I got my Atari 2600, I was already dreaming of making games.
Back in the early 80s arcade games were the big thing to me, while consoles were more of a convenience, just like watching movies at home can be convenient at times, but nothing replaces the experience of watching them in a movie theater. So during my Atari and ColecoVision days, I was mostly interested on arcade ports, and was always wondering if what I was playing at home was indeed the best that could be done, even though at the time I didn't know much about any particular platform to make any objective judgment.
Once I got in college, my passion for classic arcade games combined with my reminiscences of technically questioning arcade ports I had played back in the early 80s, made me decided to try to port some of those games to a classic home platform. Unfortunately for many years I never got beyond the point of planning, as I had no direct access to any arcade game, so any initiative would be entirely based on observation of the originals, something that never appealed to the perfectionist on me.
Then in 1996 MAME came out and changed everything. Finally I had access to the originals at the conform of my own home, and, most importantly, I had access to the original code.
I still had to decide on platform though. I was fortunate enough to have played the ColecoVision during the early 80s (and I say fortunately because as someone living in Brazil, that was probably a chance in a million that such thing could have happened), and of course the console had a huge impact on me, but then I moved on and spent most of rest of the decade with the MSX computers, and got to know the ins and outs of the architecture pretty well. So when it was time to select a platform, I had the option to go with the MSX, but then the MSX scene had moved to other things, more advanced types of games, and classic arcades didn't mesh well with it. So it occurred me that the ColecoVision was pretty much an MSX1, so it wasn't that hard to make a choice. To be honest for a while I also considered the Atari 2600, but once I checked the tech docs my reaction was like "Geez, this stuff is crazy!" so I quickly forgot about the idea. In retrospect I have the deepest admiration for all VCS programmers, you guys are really macho men.
I started working on Space Invaders Collection the same year MAME came out, around 2006 or 2007, but stopped and started several times due to pressures from college and then getting my first job. Finally I decided to finish the game soon after I met my wife, so in 2003 it was finally released.The Laird
I noticed that this is an officially licensed product (Super Game Module), how did that come about?Eduardo
Let me first talk about the SGM itself. Soon after I started working with the ColecoVision I realized that memory would become an issue. With the MSX it was easy to add extra RAM to the cartridge because the MSX cartridge bus was really complete. The ColecoVision cartridge bus on the other hand was bare bones. However, the ColecoVision expansion port is unbelievably complete. Then it occurred me that Coleco themselves planned a similar expansion device in the 80s, the original (and never released) Super Game Module. Basically the original SGM could expand the ColecoVision main memory from its 1KB to 32KB, and it could add a wafer drive, which in turn used wafer media capable of 144KB or something of storage space and could save data from games, like score tables.
The new Super Game Module does the same thing though in a slightly different way. It adds the same 32KB of RAM, but instead of using wafer media, that is very unreliable (not to mention impossible to find these days), it uses Super Game Cartridges, which are basically solid state memory. Super Game cartridges look exactly like regular cartridges, but offer up to 1MB of storage space, and is also capable of saving data like the aforementioned score tables. And I added to that an extra sound generator as a bonus.
Anyways, getting back to the question, the year I moved to the US I was contacted by Mark from River West Brands, owner of the Coleco brand. I think he got to know about me because of Nathan Kozlowski from ColecoNation e-zine fame. So he called me and we talked a little about his plans for the Coleco brand and such. In the end I guess nothing came from that, but still I got access to him. So in 2010 someone suggested what sounded like a crazy idea: asking RWB permission to use the ColecoVision name. I was really nervous about the whole idea because, you know, there was a risk they could say no and then keep an eye on me. Sometimes keeping low profile is the best you can do. But for my surprise RWB agreed with the terms, which I think made everybody happy.The Laird
What games are planned that will take advantage of this add-on?Eduardo
We have 5 games being released this year with the SGM, with probably a dozen more next year. We have a lot of ports from the MSX, but also a couple of arcade ports I am doing myself. For next year I hope to finally release a brand new port of Donkey Kong, straight from the arcade version, then probably a re-release of Space Invaders Collection. From there I have a number of options for which I should port next. Arkanoid is in advanced stages of development actually. Pengo is about 30% done. Another option would be Donkey Kong Jr, which is basically a hack of DK.The Laird
Will this unit make converting games from the MSX computer much easier?EduardoThe Laird
Will it have support for things like high score like the XM for the Atari 7800?Eduardo
The Super Game Cartridges will, yes. In fact I think the Super Game Cartridge approach is a better one, as you don't need to carry the module around to take your score with you, just the games. Also, since each game has its own save memory, there is no limit in terms of the number of games you can save in a single module.The Laird
How are you doing the improved sound, are you adding a completely new sound chip?Eduardo
Yes, I am. It is very similar to the original ColecoVision sound chip, just a bit more robust in terms of frequency range and offering useful features like volume envelopes. But it sound pretty much the same, which I think is cool since you can now use all 6 channels (or 8 if you count noise) to create pretty cool music or sound effects.tomwaits
Why do you develop exclusively for Colecovision? Is it personal history or are there some technical aspects that you find more appealing than other retro consoles?Eduardo
As I explained, the ColecoVision had a huge impact on me when I played it for the first time back in 1983, curiously the same day I also played the Atari 2600 for the first time. I was 12 and familiar with arcade games, but that was my first experience with consoles. And secondly because I am very familiar with the MSX computers, so transitioning from one to another was fairly effortless.
Are there any Colecovision programming feats that you're especially proud of? Any clever code that you've written to work around hardware limitations that constrained gameplay/graphics in the original retail releases?Eduardo
Let me see... For Space Invaders Collection I was especially proud of the graphic engine that duplicates the way the arcade produced graphics, with no sprites involved, and still managed to run smoothly. In retrospect I think I went a bit too far in terms of emulating the graphic engine, which wasn't really necessary, but it worked anyways.
For Pac-Man Collection I am proud of several things. I had to use some clever tricks to scale the whole game down by 3/4, and run the code like it was emulated. I was also proud of the sprite engine, which manages sprite flickering like nothing else out there for the ColecoVision.tomwaits
With the additional storage capacity of Super Game Module carts, is there any chance of a compilation multicart with all of your older titles? (with high score save)Eduardo
Technically yes, but honestly I don't see myself doing that. From now on I will be investing my time on arcade ports mostly, that is what I really enjoy doing.
Thanks for sending the questions. And please feel free to fix my poor English as you see fit.