We’ve already written about the vibrant Commodore 64-scene here at Spillhistorie.no, for instance in our recent interview with Roy Widding and Chris Stanley from MegaStyle. Today, we’ll talk with another well known game developer, swede Alf Yngve. He’s been creating Commodore 64-games since the eighties, and if you pay attention to what’s happening in the great and varied community around the Commodore 64, you’ll no doubt have heard of some of his games already. But he’s also done other interesting things, such as working at the Norwegian game developer Funcom in the nineties.
An expert at SEUCK
Today, Alf Yngve works as an illustrator and graphic designer, and is also a published author. His interest for games came early – via arcade classics such as Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and Spy Hunter, which he came across in an arcade at a local amusement park.
Later on, he got his hands on a Commodore 64, and with that he also got the chance to make his own games – not using BASIC or other programming languages, but with the help of a commercial game development kit that was highly popular in the eighties and nineties.
– I’ve always wanted to make games, and I have loads of ideas, but I can’t code. In the late 1980s I got my hands on the Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit (SEUCK) from Sensible Software. For the first time I could make my own games, without any coding ability. I used the SEUCK utility obsessively for years, and that’s how I learned every little part of it.
Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit was released in 1987, and is as the name indicates a tool for making traditional shoot ’em ups. The users can draw their own sprites and background tiles, that can be put together to create either vertically scrolling or static levels. They can also set up paths and rules for the enemies as well as player behaviour.
The software is an early example of a tool that enabled users to make complete games with no programming experience whatsoever, though most of the SEUCK-games that were released ended up being quite limited. Alf Yngve’s games were an exception, and some of them were so advanced that they ended up being published commercially:
– Eventually some of my games were published by the British indie label Psytronik Software. I received mostly good reviews in the UK games magazines in the early 90s. I must have produced over 100 SEUCK games by now. Frankly, I lost count of them long ago!
Working at Funcom
The magazines were not the only ones that were impressed – his SEUCK-games actually landed him a job in the games industry, at the Norwegian studio Funcom who would later become known for games such as Anarchy Online and The Longest Journey:
– Ironically, I got hired by Funcom because they were impressed by my SEUCK games. I worked as game designer and then also as game tester. I produced many original game ideas and concepts – but only one was released as a finished game, in the year 2000: the PC title NO ESCAPE. I’m credited for the «Original Game Concept» of NO ESCAPE, that the game arenas are shaped like tiny round planetoids. If you listen to one of the cut scenes in the game, you can hear me sing a country song in the background…
While Alf Yngve’s memories from his time at Funcom are good, the games industry in the nineties were very different from what it is today:
– I worked hard with a lot of talented and creative people. But in hindsight I wish our work had been more structured, more organized. I went straight from being an amateur to working in a professional company that was growing very fast, and I had to learn a lot as I went along. This was before you could study computer game design at the university.
Strengths and weaknesses of SEUCK
But let’s get back to the Commodore 64 and Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit. In it’s original form, it’s a tool that has both strengths and weaknesses:
– It is a very handy tool if you want quick results. You can test your designs and ideas immediately, which is great for «tweaking» the game. But in its «raw» form, SEUCK offers a very limited range of design options. I learned early on to «work around» the limitations.
Fortunately, he’s not stuck with the original Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit any more:
– In recent years, the C64 SEUCK utility has been improved by homebrew coders. The first big breakthrough was the side-scrolling version created by Jon Wells – in the original edition you could only make vertically scrolling games. The second breakthrough is Martin Piper’s entirely new coding framework called SEUCK Redux. I can do the «raw» design with the SEUCK utility – then a coder can import my game data to SEUCK Redux and make all sorts of improvements according to my wishes.
And there’s more:
– I have also added various minor «hacks» that allow me to use hi-res graphics, or large sprites in low-res mode, and other tricks. Since I began to cooperate with homebrew coders, my games have improved greatly.
One of these coders is Richard Bayliss from the United Kingdom. He’s a regular partner who not only helps with programming, but also produces great music for Alf Yngve’s games. Together they’ve explored the limits of Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit, and come up with a lot of new ideas. A good example of this is the game Double or Nothing, which was released in 2014. In this game, the screen has been split in two, each with a playable character as in a two-player game. But this isn’t a two-player game – instead, the player controls both characters at the same time, with the same joystick!
Alf Yngve tells us that it’s situations like this, where some technical insight or coding improvement allows him to use a new and original idea, that he enjoys the most when making games.
– I also love to insert humor, puns and «sight gags» in my games. Some of them are built almost entirely around jokes.
A varied output of games
If you’re interested in trying out some of Alf Yngve’s games, he reccommends the collection Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set 4, which was released by Psytronik Software in 2017. This package contains five varied games that all explore different ideas, and the swedish developer tells us that he is genuinely proud of the collection.
But why continue to use Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit in 2019, when there are others and more flexible alternatives?
– Old habits die hard, I guess. I realize that there are more advanced game design tools out there now, and I ought to use them more. We’ll see about that.
That might happen in the future, but for now he’s got multiple projects on the way. His latest game is getting a release through Psytronik this weekend, and is another cooperation with Richard Bayliss:
– My latest game Precinct 20: Dead Strange is released by Psytronik this year. It includes several design features I haven’t used before – such as multiple pathways through the game. It’s based on my own book of the same name, which can be found at Amazon. It tells the story of an American police officer who specializes in investigating «impossible» murders, and shares a lot of elements with The X-Files.
– The game puts you in the role as this cop, who patrols the streets and comes across supernatural threats. Depending on how well you solve the various tasks in the game, you can get one of two different endings – and each ending is a game on it’s own! Richard Bayliss composed the scary music from the game, obviously inspired by the soundtracks from John Carpenter’s movies.
Tomorrow’s release of Precinct 20: Dead Strange is digital only, though Psytonik will release physical copies of the game later on. If you’d rather play some of the swede’s free games, have a look at these titles. They can be used on a real Commodore 64, or played on emulators or TheC64 Mini:
- Operation Metalstorm
- Super Silverfish
- Zap Fight 2 – Special Edition
- Split Second Redux – Double Or Nothing 3
- Border Blast 3 (Special Edition)
- Rabid Robots
Spillhistorie.no is a Norwegian website mostly dedicated to indie-, niche- and retro games. If you liked this article, we have some more content in English.
Written by Joachim Froholt.