Free-falling fish and spring-loaded chickens, bottles of poison and whiskers on kittens …

So a few years ago I locate a very nice gent called John Hedley, who had written a RISC OS conversion of an old BBC Micro game called XOR.

This conversion made the game run in a window on the desktop. The graphics had received a good lick of paint and it was a very well presented bit of freeware. Unfortunately, the only place I ever saw it available was on an Acorn User coverdisc … and it was in danger of disappearing into obscurity.

So I tracked John down, and begged permission to host it for download on my website; just so that other people could get hold of it. He very kindly agreed, and because he had no other interest in RISC OS he gave me all his source code and material for the project.

This sparked an interest in me, to find out more about a game that I hadn’t played in about twenty years. I started by reverse-engineering the file format for the map data, producing nice maps using his improved graphics, and hosting those on my site too. Then I went through my old computer-magazine collection, and found out all the articles, reviews and adverts I could find, and scanned those. It all just sort of went from there.

I tend to get an enquiring e-mail or two a week on the subject, which is amazing considering it wasn’t really considered one of the “classic” Beeb games of the time (it wasn’t Elite, Chuckie Egg or Repton) and it was incredibly difficult. I mean: really, really unforgiving.

By the end of last year I had been sent information on different XOR conversions, someone had written scripts that extracted all the music data, someone had produced solutions for all the levels, from which someone else produced a move-list and someone else had made animated-GIFs demonstrating how to complete each level … great news for those of us who had long suspected that the game was actually impossible to complete and the original creators were complete evil bastards.

And then, I received an e-mail from one of the original authors (Paul Carruthers), who had discovered my website. We were very surprised to find that we both work in the same industry, live only about twenty miles apart and have quite a number of friends in common!

I had downloaded the iPhone development tools near the end of last year, motivated by my long-established interest in developing software on gadgets that are cute and shiny … and the possibility of easy-money, fame and fortune by jumping on the iPhone bandwagon. I had never consciously intended to, but my first “learner” project for the iPhone ended up being a conversion of XOR, using the map data and sprites that I already had to hand. I figured that it would be better for me to do a project that already had a definite final goal, so I didn’t faff about for months on my own game design and lose interest in the process.

In the new year I was approached by a journalist for Retro Gamer magazine, who was intending to do an article on XOR. He had already interviewed Paul, and wanted some comments from my side of things too. No problem: as subscribers to this blog will know, I have no problem writing as much waffle as people need. He also asked about the iPhone conversion, reasoning that if people read the article and want to see what all the fuss is about, an iPhone conversion might be quite desirable.

Would I have it finished by March, when the article is published? “Yeah, no problem.” I said. “It’s a fairly straightforward project, and that gives me MONTHS of evenings. Nothing much going on at work at the moment, either. I’m sure I can talk one of the artists to do me some extra graphics, too.”

The following week, I and forty of my colleagues are informed of our impending redundancies … and suddenly my evenings are spent trying to balance my iPhone development with updating my CV, preparing for interviews, revising for programmer-tests, remembering how to tie a tie, travelling around the country, reading-up on whichever company I was about to be interviewed by so I could pretend I was Their Biggest Fan …

Anyway, if you’re interested then the article in question is in the latest issue (issue 74) of Retro Gamer magazine – available from W H Smiths and the like. My fifteen minutes of fame. Fortunately, they didn’t ask for a photo.

And the iPhone conversion? Well, I’ve had to adjust my strategy for release. I had originally intended to have a complete, polished, finished game out in the first release … but my redundancy and worry about not being able to feed the kids has rather screwed that one over. People are reading the article and complaining that they can’t find the game on iTunes, so I need to get a move on.

So, I’m hoping to release an initial version to iTunes in the next week or so. The game is playable (all the levels are completable) and the functionality is all there … it’s just not quite as polished as I had intended, and I haven’t added any sounds yet. But the title is (and always will be) FREE (so you’re getting what you pay for!) and iTunes makes quite a comprehensive job of getting updates out to people, so I can add the sound support in a later release.

I suspect this game will only appeal to a limited number of people. It is still very hard, and isn’t really the usual sort of game that people play on their iPhone. But it does seem to translate very well to a game you can play in short bursts (it’s a puzzle game with no time limit) and can be quite satisfying when you solve a puzzle. And it has chickens in it.

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posted in Diary, Geekery, Work by Oddbloke

1 Comment to "Free-falling fish and spring-loaded chickens, bottles of poison and whiskers on kittens …"

  1. jb wrote:

    Looks nice! 🙂

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