John Dondzila is the founder of Classic Game Creations (CGC), a company that creates homebrew titles for the Vectrex. John currently resides in New Jersey. You can check out his website and purchase his games at: http://www.classicgamecreations.com
. John, thanks for your time and for agreeing to do an interview with me.
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 experience of video gaming was an arcade machine called Boot Hill. It was located in the game room at Two Guys in East Brunswick, NJ. I spent many hours with my friends bike riding to stores to play the home games set up on the demo stations. My biggest bummer was that someone always managed to snap the controller handles off the
Fairchild Channel F at the local Bambergers.
My first home console was an Odyssey 2.
That's a very interesting history. We have several collectors on our site who are trying to put together complete O2 collections. The packaging is really cool and it seems to be a very affordable set to obtain. You blew me away by mentioning Boot Hill. That's one that was tucked way back in my memory from my childhood days at the arcades. I hope you might have some plans to make that one for the Vectrex in the future.
**A little glimpse of Midway's "Boot Hill"**
Do you own any current consoles, or are you more into retro gaming?Nothing current. I don't even know how to play a Wii. The most recent console I owned was an original Playstation back when it was first released.
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?I used to be a collector. Most of my collection was sold quite some time ago when I moved into the smaller home that I am in now. I used to also have a basement full of arcade games, but now without a basement, I had to part with those too.
I believe that one of the hardest parts of being a collector is coming to the realization that you will have to give up your collection one day. I'm sure that for someone as into video games as you are, that was tough. If you're ever looking to put a collection back together, we're 5000 members strong, and always eager to help.
What is your all-time favorite gaming title (home console or arcade)? What is your favorite Vectrex game?My favorite game of all time is Starship One from Atari. My favorite Vectrex game is Minestorm.
Minestorm is such a great game and since it comes programed into the Vectrex system and hands down, one of the best Asteroids clones ever (aside from your port of "Space Fury," titled "Space Frenzy," which is incredible!) I would consider Minestorm as one of the best and most iconic packaged starter games ever. Watch out Mario!
What made you decide to start developing homebrew titles for the Vectrex? I heard about the Vectrex archive on the internet long ago. A friend of mine got me a copy and I started exploring the source code. I invested in an Eprom emulator that I adapted to work on the Vectrex and started learning to program the system by experimenting with the sample code in the archives. At the time I didn't own a 6809 book, just my knowledge of 6502 assembler from High School.
Kristof talked a lot about assembler during his interview, so it seems to be essential knowledge in producing games for this system. I'll be the first to admit my ignorance when it comes to assembly language, but after reading about it in more depth, it's really interesting. I'll leave this link for others who might also have an interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assembly_language
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?You can pack a lot of code into the available space on a Vectrex. I don't think any of my games ever filled more than 32K of available space.
Tell us a little about some of your past projects. It seems that you have also created a few titles for the Colecovision and Odyssey 2. What is currently available for sale on your website?All of my original Colecovision titles and Odyssey 2 game Amok are still available. Honestly though, I don't even remember when I last sold a Colecovision game. The system doesn't have the cult following that the Vectrex has.
I think you're right. The Colecovision, while a great system, doesn't seem to have quite the cult following that the Vectrex does, which is a shame, the Colecovision is fantastic. The Vectrex does stand alone in terms of uniqueness (vector graphics, all-in-one system, the over-the-top "retro" look, etc.) so I imagine that probably has something to do with it.
**A video of John's homebrew, "Amok!" for the Odyssey 2**
Tell us a little about any current/future projects that you are working on.Nothing in the home console area. I am currently working at a pinball company designing the electronics for a new generation of pinball machines. It consumes quite a lot of my time.
After putting two and two together (John being from New Jersey and my knowledge about the first Jersy Jack machine being released), I asked John about the company he was designing for, and he stated, I am indeed working for Jersey Jack Pinball. I have designed most of the electronics for the upcoming Wizard of Oz pinball machine.
As anyone who reads my blog knows, pinball is another of my favorite hobbies. I have seen some footage and am very excited to play the new Wizard of Oz machine. It's great to see you making a transition to something that I imagine is not only interesting, but possibly a big part of your childhood as well.
I notice that you have permissions to build all of the original Vectrex titles (except AnimiAction) and some other homebrew titles for the system. Can you tell us a little about what other titles might be available and about the process of remaking these games? Animaction is not built because the cartridge requires additional RAM. The cost of producing separate boards and the ram are just too high.
The other homebrews I produce were originally produced by Mark Shaker who obtained those rights from the owners. When he decided to retire, he passed those rights on to me.
I think it's great that you have the rights and are able to reproduce some of these titles. As many of the developers goes in and out of the scene, it's good to know that someone is preserving their work and making it easily available to current and future Vectrex fans.
What factors influence your decision on the original titles you create?I've always made games that I would like to see myself on the system I wrote them for.
This seems like a common theme among you developers. I can't blame you, I'd make the games I like as well.
Several of your releases, are titles which were originally vector arcade classics or ports of popular games that never made it to the Vectrex. I specifically own Patriots and Space Frenzy, which are incredible ports to the system and I highly recommend them. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do in reworking these titles or what features that you have added to make them your own?Actually, I've tried to make my ports as close to the look and feel of the games that they are based upon.
**John's incredible port of "Space Fury," titled "Space Frenzy"**
I love the fact that your games are so affordable and that you even do boxes and inlays for them. Have you ever done overlays and would you ever consider making them if not? I could never come up with a cost efficient overlay. Seeing how most of my titles are multi-game packs, I would need multiple overlays which would have been too expensive. I still sell my games for the same price that I was selling them for when I started in 1996.
Wow! Your prices haven't changed since 1996. That is amazing and great for Vectrex owners who want to not spend a lot of money to try out a few homebrew titles. (John's price and ordering info: http://www.classicgamecreations.com/ordering.html
Do you mainly work alone, or do you have a team of developers/designers who help you with your games and packaging?Almost everything is alone. Several of my box cover designs were contributed from other gamers.
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?If I ever get the time I would like to do another title, but right now I just don't have the free time.
Understood, time is tough to come by for a lot of us these days. I appreciate that even though you are not currently developing, you are continuing to sell your carts to fans of this wonderful system.
OPTIONAL: Journey or Foreigner? Why?Journey. There's obviously a classic game reference in there.
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?Not off the top of my head.
Thanks again for your time John and best of luck on your current and future projects. We hope that you will take some time to visit our site and please let us know of any upcoming release dates. You're welcome.
**Another of John's games, "Patriots." If you are a Missile Command fan like I am, you have to grab a copy of this game. It works so well with the Vectrex controls.
Other titles available from John, and not mentioned in this interview include:
All Good Things
Tour de France
Spike's Water Balloons
Star Trek Debugged
Polar Rescue Prototype