Protovision is an independent software label that was set up in 1996 by Malte Mundt and Stefan Gutsch. New members joined the team like Chester Kollschen and they quickly established themselves as notable homebrew C64 developers and so Protovision was born.
The name Protovision goes back to the movie War Games, where a computer from the company of Protovision tries to take over (and destroy) the whole world.
Staying the Course.
Stefan and Chester made the majority of the early trademark games and in 1995, Stefan had an idea to create a SHMUP for the Commodore 64 that utilised the 8 MHz accelerator card “Flash8”. Due to issues with this card development was short-lived. Fast forward to 1997, Stefan met Chester Kollschen, both coders had always dreamed of creating a Turrican-like game. After many cancellations of the game due to the heavy work load involved Malte Mundt aka ThunderBlade stepped in and helped organise a meeting between himself, Stefan and Chester, where a new plan of action was born. Chester took over the code work so Stefan could concentrate on the graphics. The game concept has been redesigned and extended, for example by implementing the two-player mode. Malte and Chester reached an agreement with the band Welle:Erdball to get an exclusive sound track for the game. The graphics got improved, the levels got much bigger and better. Malte digitized and arranged the music created by Welle:Erdball. After a lot of hard work, Protovision presented Metal Dust, the first SHMUP for the Commodore with SuperCPU.
During all this time about (1996) Jakob Voos joined the team, unlike most of the other team members he had no game creating skills, he did however have the belief that distributing their own games was more sustainable long-term and hence Protovision became a publisher as well. Sadly though, like most homebrew software labels back then, sales were low and rewards even lower and so Stefan Gutsch left Protovision together with Chester Kollschen to make a living making games for mobile devices and set up Knights of Bytes.
Protovision appeared in an episode of the Simpsons, during one episode there is a scene from a computer trade fare with lots of 8bit era imagery… There is a (huge!!!) Protovision stand with the logo altered to look like the ActiVision logo and a screen showing something that the team considers to be a space ship from Metal Dust…!
The Interview Part 1
Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you guys?
Protovision is a Germany based Commodore 64 publisher. Protovision is also a development group for new software and hardware – mostly game related, but not only. There are other retro game publishers, but this is the only one that is dedicated to the C64 alone.
Can you tell us about the history of Protovision covering the first game, what the publisher was created for in the first place and any notable events over the years.
In the beginning, Protovision was not a publisher at all, but a dev team. However I desperately wanted to join in and I had no skills to aid game development, so I came up with this idea: what I could do is send out orders. That’s how Protovision got into publishing… due to my lack of skills. The first game ever created by Protovision was Strokeworld, which is now available for free from our homepage. Strokeworld was programmed and pixelled by Stefan Gutsch, who is also part of the team behind Sam’s Journey. When Stefan met Chester Kollschen (the coder of Sam’s Journey), who programmed and pixelled Ice Guys (we are working on a cartridge version of the game) – probably the best game dev team after Ash & Dave and the Rowlands was created and would get known as the Knights of Bytes. The cooperation between Stefan and Chester started when Stefan was working on his game Metal Dust but kinda got stuck and Chester took over the coding part. From then onwards they would exactly work this way: Chester does the coding, Stefan the pixel work – however both know and understand the other person’s realm. That’s ideal, especially for advanced graphics that need bits of coding to it (Did you notice that the Sam’s Journey logo in the title screen is no standard graphics mode?) Many notable Protovision games were done by Stefan and Chester, who is also the creator of the 4 player adapter that was introduced with Chester’s game Bomb Mania and that has led to a multitude of 4 player games basing on it.
What games back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?
The biggest inspiration when we started was undoubtedly all the Manfred Trenz games. I met Manfred once on a Radwar party. A very nice and respectful person.
However nowadays I have to say: ALL THE GAMES! Sam’s Journey draws from a lot of sources, from Mario to Donkey Kong via Kirby to Kid Chameleon. We really love all the styles and look at all the games on all the systems. My own game project “Pac It” is inspired by a great but unknown C64 game called Weaver, an old Mac OS game called Oxyd and, quite obviously, Pac-Man.
Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?
We never liked the term retro, because we are actually forward-looking. We started when other software houses closed down, because for us, the C64 never got out of fashion. It has an exceptionally wonderful music chip, it has a graphic style we like and it is fun to use, provided you treat it with a good cartridge attached, for example a ‘1541 Ultimate’ emulating an Action Replay:
You turn it on and it is ready for use IMMEDIATELY. Not even a second to wait. It powers up faster than the monitor attached to it!
Loading a program is extremely fast with Action Replay or directly from 1541 Ultimate – takes a few seconds but my PC needs much more time to fire up Outlook. And once you have loaded a program and the program is well written, there are only very minimal waiting times and there is never an unexpected lag during the use of the program. This experience is further optimized when using game cartridges, which may reduce loading times to zero.
We see computers from this user perspective and from this angle, the C64 is one of the quickest and hassle free’est machines around, providing one of the best user experiences available on the market.
That’s why we support it.
Part 2 of this interview continues at the end of the article.
The top 10 Protovision releases.
1 – Sam’s Journey
Sam’s Journey by Knights of Bytes is a brand-new original scrolling platform game developed for the Commodore 64 home computer. It’s about a cute little hero called Sam who finds himself on an unexpected journey in a strange world.
Knights of Bytes wanted Sam’s Journey to be as great as our favorite platform games on the Nintendo Entertainment System or the Sega Master System. To achieve this, they implemented a combination of features that is quite uncommon for a game on the Commodore 64.
Although Sam is quite small, he can run very fast and jump even higher. That’s why the camera has to hurry up and keep track, no matter where he’s going!
2 – Galencia
We didn’t listen to the warnings.
We decided to ignore the decline of our bee population,
and now their guardians have arrived.
You must pilot the 1981 Galencia Fighter and restore order.
Before it’s too late!
3 – Bomb Mania
Bomb Mania offers even more than the 4 player mode: The gameplay itself was enhanced with several features which are not available in any other of the Bomberman-variants on the C64. Let’s take a look at the extras: Next to more bombs and stronger explosion vehemence you can, with the right extra, deploy remote bombs (R-bombs) which can be blasted remotely. There is another extra which gives you the ability to kick bombs around just like a ball – your opponents will look quite surprised. And there’s even more – the game offers eight different levels
4 – Newcomer
Newcomer is part classic adventure game and part roleplaying game: It contains situations and encounters like those found in adventure games and tabletop roleplaying. The game interface and controls are similar to oldschool computer “RPGs”. In Newcomer the emphasis is on interacting with a large and diverse cast of characters, exploring the game world, developing a wide range of in-game and real life skills, and solving complex puzzles and mysteries.
5 – Metal Dust (SuperCPU required!)
Although at the moment there is no human ship that could stop Commander LaserRay, there are many handicaps until he can reach the crucial jump position and the New World.
6 – Heroes & Cowards
He just wanted a comfy-chiller night in front of his TV when our hero was cast into a distant, medieval world by a mysterious force. The inhabitants of the cozy little country of Dartenwood were turned to stone by nasty magician Morlon – and only the Pentagram of Power can break the spell. However, its rubies are scattered throughout the land … All of Dartenwood’s hopes are now resting on a chosen one who’s supposed to get everything under control. By some inexplicable cosmic twist of fate, YOU’RE supposed to be the one! Your journey from zero to hero includes a whole lot of jeopardies and unsolvable riddles – are you up for it? Are you a hero – or a coward?
7 – Jim Slim in Dragonsland
“The Adventures of Jim Slim in Dragonland” (shortly “Jim Slim”) is the latest game by Protovision – a joint venture of Argus Design and Protovision. You play the part of the always cheerful ball Jim, who’s living with his love Candy in Blizland. But as the evil Warlord Gothar has stolen the magic skull, your home, yes, the whole world is in danger! But that’s not all – he also kidnapped Candy! Now it’s up to you to get back the stolen skull and to bring Candy home again.
Roll or jump through the labyrinths and find the way out!
8 – Ice Guys
During the last, snow-rich winter, from some unknown location lots of little, mean monsters came and decided to kidnap some snowmen! And so, lots of these beloved creatures disappeared over night from gardens, sidewalks and parks, leaving big holes in the beautiful winter landscape. Two former Antarctic researchers, which are now retired and have opened an ice café, can’t accept this impertinence by any means. They work out a plan and decide to fight against the nasty little monsters, to let the snowmen return to freedom.
9 – Advanced Space Battle
Two distinct game modes are available: In the Classic Version, a solo player or a group of 2 to 4 competitors fight against an evil computer enemy known as Deep Jones. The Advanced Version (where Deep Jones does not participate) is played according to more complex rules that require skillful planetary management: Investments in areas such as research, technological modernisation and defence must be balanced as to ensure adequate living conditions for the population. The historical development of each match is registered in a log file, allowing for later analysis via line charts.
10 – It’s Magic 2
Tom, the little tomcat, has gained a lot of experience already in his first adventure (It’s Magic), his journey to the outside world. After he returned to the Dream Islands and was celebrated as a great hero, he since lived happily at his master’s place, the wise wizard who teached him being a good magician as time passed.
Now the Dream Islands – there, all animals live together peacefully – are in danger. And what Tom doesn’t know yet is that he himself is conjuring up this danger by mistake! More about this you will get to know in the intro… But one thing is for sure: The Dream Islands will be pushed into chaos and the only one who can save them is our little Tom!
MAH is fantastic arcade game by Retream (Interviewed on Homebrew Legends) which brings you frantic, immersive, rich, and very original gameplay.
Your objective is to stop the Apocalypser‘s 90 minutes countdown.
You are obstructed by the ApocalypShield, a software system
made of 24 security layers and numerous virtual guards.
You operate a hacking tool called Peekpoker.
Get ready to live and experience that will never cease to challenge and amaze you!
As always in these Retrospectives, we like to showcase some of the awesome boxart and packing that you get when you purchase physical copies. First up the fantastically popular Sam’s Journey.
Next up is the completely awesome Galencia, not only is this game a must own game for the C64 like Sam’s Journey the level of detail gone into the packaging and boxart is mind-blowing.
Clearly Protovision, along with the developers they work with know how to put the heartbeat back in to the C64.
Interview Part 2
Are you selective in the games you one publish or are you guys welcoming for all homebrewers?
We believe in quality over quantity. Sometimes it is hard to measure what is “quality” – is it technical brilliance? Is it complexity? At the bottom line, it is the playability that counts. A game needs to be fun to play. That’s our main focus when we select or turn down games. We also value creativity a lot – think Jeff Minter or in our case MAH – every new game has to be new. Either because it is original or because it does what was done before, but better.
Having said that, EVERYBODY is welcome to approach us and we are more than happy to help with improving the game at hand – we have skilled people for consulting and hands-on work.
What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)
I have never been involved in any bigger project where memory wasn’t one of the biggest challenges, so if I had to choose one it would be memory. Speed is also often an issue, but as we are talking games and not demos, there is no necessity that everything has to be put in one frame. Some things can be put aside, with lower priority so to speak, and voila your speed issue is gone. Example: In Pac It there are switches that change concrete walls into passable ways and vice versa. The moment a player hits such a switch, all walls of this kind have to be replaced on the playfield. Depending on how many there are and what else goes on the screen, this cannot be done in one frame. If you look closely, you will see that some walls are changed a split second later than others. The game just does the switching whenever it has the time without delaying anything else like the music or player movement as that would be much more noticeable. Sam’s Journey is also full of tricks to cover up the fact that sometimes the processor isn’t speedy enough to do all the work.
Do you have timelines built-in to the management of these games?
Not anymore, no. We tried that in the past and failed miserably. It is just not possible to plan side projects that people do in their free time and with no or insufficient pay to a date.
Any thoughts for doing games on other systems? CPC464, Dreamcast or Spectrum.
We are proud to be the only C64 dedicated publisher there is. While other retro publishers cover multiple platforms but are limited to games, we are picking up other things like also developing and distributing hardware or other things like dust covers for the beloved 64. We have no intention to change this focus, although we have deep respect for the other platforms.
Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?
Quite frankly: yes! I believe the reasons are, though, that today’s gaming industry has lost a lot of its fun aspects. When I think of buying a modern game, I feel tired: there is a lengthy download, then installation, then update, then update again process that takes ages and is error prone. (I tried for 14 hours to play Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes on my iPad, before I gave up. It would always crash.)
Compare that to the fun of unwrapping a game and immediately begin playing it on a computer that just works!
As said before, we are not retro in the way of “nostalgically looking back” – we are doing what we are doing not because it is old, but because it is good. We believe that the whole experience of receiving, exploring and using our game packages is of great importance and we are doing our best to stay on the very edge of that to bring tons of fun to our customers!
A HUGE thank you to Jakob at Protovision for helping put this article together.
Retro head and key holder of RVG.