Dear RFGeneration members, welcome to what I hope to be a series of interviews on homebrew game designers in the VECTREX community. As some of you know, I'm a real proponent of the VECTREX system and it's a large focus of my gaming collection. I vaguely remember the system growing up, but never played one until a few years ago. I was immediately drawn to it, not only because of it's unique look and portability, but because of the vector graphics, which I remember being a huge fan of in the arcades of my youth; Tempest is still one of my all time favorite cabinets.
Though the VECTREX had a very limited amount of original releases, some of which were only playable with the Light Pen and 3-D Imager accessories, the majority of the games are fun and challenging. Due to the small amount of original games, several designers in the homebrew community who have an affection for the VECTREX, have created some great games for the system, some which are originals and others are ports of original vector arcade titles. Kristof Tuts is one of these designers and is the founder of Tutstronix, a company that creates homebrew titles that push the boundaries of the VECTREX console. Kristof currently resides in Belgium and is one of only a handful of designers still creating games for the VECTREX. After ordering a copy of his most recent release, Vector Pilot, I was fortunate enough to get in contact with him for an interview, which I hope you enjoy.
**Kristof with this son, one of his primary game testers**
Kristof, thanks for your time and allowing me the opportunity to interview you. You're most welcome!
Just so that we know a little about your background, tell us a little about your history with video gaming. At what age did you get into it and what was your first home console?My first gaming experiences were at the age of 11 somewhere in the spring of 1982, I know, I was not an early bird in video-games, but I do remember that my first experience on an arcade-machine was DONKEY-KONG and FROGGER at the bar of the local bus-station were I had to wait for the bus taking me to school. I really, really love that golden period of the arcades. I never had a game-console back in the 80's (didn't have the money for it). Never had any C64, ATARI, Amiga, and VECTREX. Of course, I was quite familiar with these consoles since some friends of mine had one of those devices.
It just started when I went to university (that was also the place were I began to enjoy assembler-programming) and I wanted to do some game-programming... I do remember that around that moment (1991), I bought my first game console which was the SEGA Megadrive (Genesis). In 1992 I finally found on a flea market a proper VECTREX second hand and I was really excited to finally have my own VECTREX.
It's funny, many of our members have similar stories of playing several systems at a young age, but only acquiring being able to acquire them later in life. I certainly fall into that category with several systems, including the VECTREX.
Do you own any current consoles, or are you more into retro gaming?I'm more into retro-gaming, definitely. My current collection contains the following:
-3 VECTREX units.
-1 SEGA Megadrive.
-1 SONY Playstation 1.
-1 Mortal Kombat Arcade machine (my flagship!)
Three VECTREX units! That's pretty cool. Many of us in the U.S. find it difficult to come across these units in the wild. I also know a few people on our site who would be pretty envious of that Mortal Kombat cabinet.
As you may know, RFGeneration.com is a discussion forum and database for video game collectors of all systems. Are you a collector, and if so, what is the approximate size of your collection and what systems do you primarily collect for?Based on the small list I depicted in the previous question, I think it is clear that I'm not a big game-collector. I think that the VECTREX is the only console where I try to do my best to collect some stuff for.
What is your all-time favorite gaming title (home console or arcade)? What is your favorite VECTREX game?Its too difficult for me to give a all-time favorite for the arcades, but I give my top 3:
1. Mortal Kombat 1 (Arcade)
2. Moon Patrol (Arcade)
3. Panzer Front (Playstation 1)
-My all time Favorite VECTREX game: STAR CASTLE!
Star Castle is an awesome game and a really great port to the VECTREX. I remember growing up and playing lots of Moon Patrol, definitely one of my favorites.
What made you decide to start developing homebrew titles for the VECTREX? Was it a system you had or were fond of when you were younger, or did you get into the system later in life?2 reasons :
(1) As a 12 year old boy, I was really blown away when I first saw the VECTREX in action at a local toy-store! The bright vector graphics were really unique! Also, as a European-resident I saw the big potential of a game console with a built-in screen. No longer annoying mum and dad with requesting a slot on the one and only available TV in the living room. That first personal impression has still up till today a big afterglow effect on me. Unfortunately the VECTREX was wayyy too expensive for me back in the day, but luckily enough, a friend of mine was spoiled to rotten and he had one!
(2) I also saw that the available library of games on the VECTREX were so less, that it was an ideal platform to port some good old classics to it.. And yes, of course, the VECTREX is full assembler-programmable and as you might know, I really love assembler-programming!! I was really pleasantly surprised when I opened the VECTREX for the first time and noticed that it contained a Motorola CPU, the MC6809! Easily one of the best 8-bit CPUs ever made!
You're right, the VECTREX is a very unique system and always gets a lot of glares and questions about when visitors come into my game room. The VECTREX library is certainly a small one, but still quite fun to collect for. With such a small amount of games, it's great to have a thriving homebrew community.
Do your games typically require the addition of more software space, or do you restrict yourself to the amount of space allowed by the original system? Many people have opinions as to what is acceptable on their own terms. What are your thoughts?Of course, everybody has different thoughts of what is still acceptable or of what would be declared as non-retro. For example, I really admire Vectorzoa because he once made a 4Kbyte game (I think it was Starsling), just like in the days of old, when 4Kbyte was the norm and 8K was big luxury. Again a lot of respect to those guys back in the day developing games on a 4Kbyte ROM.
Regarding ROM-size, my games take as many resources as they can for the moment, this means 2 times 32KBytes. As example, Vector Pilot: the game itself fits in a 32Kbyte bank, but the other 32K bank contains the 3D animations and the related music-data.
Regarding RAM, I can survive with the 1KBytes offered by the VECTREX . (Well, this means for the moment being). I'm playing with the idea however to make a game based on a kind of Multi-bank switching, allowing much more than two 32Kbytes banks of ROM. But its an idea at this moment. So, you could say that I'm not limiting myself to ROM-sizes. Nowadays, 64Kbyte is a commodity product, so why not use it when you have it?
My only commitments so far are that I prefer to use only the CPU-logic and execution-power that is inside the VECTREX and no external CPU-booster. That's for me still the challenge.
But who knows? If there would be a cool extension board, why not use it?
Tell us a little about some of your past projects. Are they currently available for sale on your website?So, I started around end of 1996 with some development tryouts. I remember that my first experiments on the veccy were in fact a very premature version of Vector Patrol (Moon Patrol), Vectruss (Gyruss) and Vector Hopper (Q*Bert). But I was not satisfied with the final result so I postponed these projects. Then, around end of 1998, I started on Vectrexians. Its my bad habit that I get sooner or later tired on programming on one game. So, after 1.5 years of programming Vectrexians (around May 2000), I paused the development of this game in order to start on a new game called Vector Pilot.
So, Vector Pilot development started around mid 2000 and lasted until somewhere end 2003 (remember, its just a hobby and time is very limited). Around that period, I was tired of programming on Vector Pilot too and I re-began again another project, called Vector Hopper (kind of a Q*bert-clone).
Around 2005, I had other priorities in my private life, so VECTREX developments went almost to zero in the year 2005. But it was maybe a good thing too to have such a sabat-year.
Mid-2006, I regained the motivation and I wanted to start finishing a game for release. I selected Vectrexians as the best candidate, since it was the most finished of all the games by that time. I created some music-tunes and a 3D animated sequence to fill up the total ROM of 64K and around April 2007, I released my first game, Vectrexians. This game is still available for purchase. Eight months after the release of Vectrexians, I selected Vector Pilot as second game to be released.
So, similar to Vectrexians, I decided to add some chip-music and some 3D rendered animations to Vector Pilot. Only, it took me 3 more years to make these extra scenes and also to fine-tune on the difficulty levels that are supported by the game. The 3D animations took a lot of time to implement. But anyhow, Im happy of the result. So, around October 2011, Vector Pilot was released. Up to day, the game is still available.
Both of your releases are really great games and have such great detail. Though it takes you a good amount of time to finish a game, the finished product is outstanding and really worth the wait.
I noticed on your website that around the release of Vectrexians, you held a contest to see who would be the first to surpass level 20. Was there any reason you decided not to have a similar contest with Vector Pilot, and could we see another contest with the release of any future titles?Yes, well, I always wanted to have a Galaxians style game, but then with Mine-Storm bad guys. Also due to the fact that Vectrexians has an ending gameplay (20 levels to beat), I thought it was a nice idea to arrange a small contest for the one who would beat all 20 levels. As a reward, a copy of this special version of Vectrexians would be awarded. (You can also find stuff about this game on VECTREX wiki page).
With Vector Pilot, I had no idea of what I could add to the game to make it a special version. A lot of things are available by default in the standard version (selecting different airplanes, difficulty levels, extra stage after 2001 a.d., high-score savings, etc). But you never know, maybe I will make a special version of Vector Pilot for the next Vector War III tournament? (just thinking hard loud know..)
Regarding the contests for future projects, it's not planned yet, but I will consider it, in time.
I, for one, would like to see another contest. I got into the game late on the first one and would like to take a shot at the prize. The prize for Vectrexians was pretty amazing and truly one of a kind.
Tell us a little about current/future projects that you are working on.The last year, I worked quite some time on Vector Hopper and Vector Patrol. One of these 2 will be the next game for release. Both games are (for me) really a challenge to program. Vector Hopper requires and immense amount of vector-drawings in order to draw the pyramid of blocks, while Vector Patrol's road and background is also a heavy load for drawing. And remember, all the drawings have to be done in a period of +- 20 to 25 milliseconds. If it slows down, then the VECTREX screen will start to flicker.
In the picture above of me with my son, You can see Vector Hopper in action on the VECTREX, using a Vector Pilot overlay. (I was too lazy to look for a vector Hopper overlay ).
Sounds like some interesting projects, you can definitely count me in for a copy Vector Patrol. Who am I kidding? Count me in for both....
Your first two releases were titles dedicated to arcade classics never offered in a vector format (Galaxian and Time Pilot respectively). Any plans to create a completely original VECTREX title, or possibly a game released in the arcade with vector graphics that was never created for this system? I cant help it, but I'm really fond of arcades back from the days of old! I'm a nostalgic guy! Yes, Vector Arcade-ports would be a great assert for the VECTREX, maybe a Battlezone?? (That one will be hard to implement, though). So, conclusion: my aim is to port arcades to the VECTREX system.
I have copies of Vectrexians and Vector Pilot and have to say that I not only admire their gameplay, but the detail put into every aspect of your games (packaging, cart designs, overlays, etc.)
Do you mainly work alone, or do you have a team of developers/designers who help you with your games and/or these details?Thank you for your nice words! So, actually, I do work alone. Of course I outsource the printing of the inlays and overlays and labels to local printers, but the development of the game and assembly of the complete package is done by myself. (Courtesy to my brother, Valentijn, who has done some hardware designs for the VECTREX for me).
It seems that there are only a few homebrew designers for the VECTREX out there. What keeps you going in terms of developing new titles and do you see yourself ever retiring from making these games at some point?The VECTREX will never die! What a survivor: 30 years and still running. Of course some of those lovely units are requiring a cap-replacement and then they are running just fine again.
No, I just cant get enough of programming on that gem. Well, Im definitely not the fastest developer, but I will never get tired of writing assembler on such a great platform. Believe me, it always gives a thrill to see your assembly code just written, coming to life in phosphor-graphics in a dark-room ;-)
So, I will develop games for as long as I can. Of course, it takes time with me, so I ask people always for a lot of patience with me ;-)
Sounds great to me. It's good to know that I can look forward to many more years of your games.
Many of our members at RFGeneration are older and some of us have kids (myself included). Ive noticed on your website that you have pictures of your son playing your homebrews on the VECTREX. I must say its nice to see our games being passed down to a younger generation. What influence, if any, does he (or any other children you might have) have on the titles you develop? My son is 5 years now. When I was finishing Vector Pilot, he was a little too young to give usable feedback. But I really enjoyed to see how my son was playing Vector Pilot! Of course, the most attractive for such a kid are the color-overlays! He always likes to run around in the living room with a Vector Pilot overlay in front of his eyes and then to gaze outside of the window, quite cute! So, I hope in the near future that he could participate more in the game developments such as game testing or why not, vector drawing designs? And who knows, maybe even assembler programming? But we'll see.
I think that all of us hope that our kids will find value not only in current video games, but in the classics as well. I for one look forward to sharing my love and collection of video games with my kids.
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Anything that we did not cover that you would like to add or say to our members?Hello from Belgium to all your members and I want to thank you for your big interest and passion in the coolest game console ever. Long live the VECTREX!
Thanks again for your time Kristof. We hope that you will visit our site often and let us know about any of your upcoming release dates. The honor is all mine. Thanks for this interview! I will visit your site with great interest!
Below are some good review and gameplay videos of Kristof's two releases. Please be sure to check out his website and purchase these games at: http://www.kristofsnewvectrexgames.comli.com
Also, if any of you have any constructive feedback or possible questions for upcoming interviews, please send me a PM.