[In this interview, homebrew game developer Sivak talks with Gamasutra contributor Jason Johnson about creating homebrew NES game Battle Kid and its sequel, how he develops homemade games for the 26-year-old console, and why his platformers are so hard.]
When Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril
released for the NES last year, it was hailed as one of the finest (though, admittedly, one of the very few) homebrew titles put out for the system.
It's also a very hard Metroidvania-style platformer, inspired not just by the look of the old Mega Man
titles but also by their trial-and-error super difficulty, as it's filled with spikes and other hazards that instantly kill unpracticed players.
The brawn and the brains behind Battle Kid
, Sivak, developer of Battle Kid
, has a programmer's mentality. He delights in discussing the technicality of his work, he has a voracious appetite for collecting NES games, and he plays on the hardest difficulty when given the chance.
What more would you expect from the guy who took up making games for a console that hasn't been produced for 17 years, merely to crush us with a sadistic 8-bit throwback and its soon-to-be sequel, Battle Kid 2: Mountain of Torment
Why is Battle Kid so hard?
I tend to like hard games. I like the challenge. I've played some hard shoot'em-ups like the Touhou Project
. I've beaten a couple. Those games have really hard extra stages with bosses that have 10 different attacks. I completed one extra stage after about 190 attempts. I was so happy.
series has thirteen games to date. When I was in Japan last year, I got legit copies of games 6 through 12. I got them in Akihabara -- in a store two spots over from the station. There was a clerk cosplaying as a character from one of the games. Akihabara is incredible. I went there four times during my trip.
Apparently, there was a store that had Battle Kid
on display. They bought 30 units from us and were selling them with adaptors. I never found that store, and I so wanted to see it. I've seen pictures. If it's still there when I go back, I am so going to tell those people who I am!
Why do you go by Sivak?
Sivak Draconians are monsters from Dragonlance, a companion setting in Dungeons and Dragons. I thought they were cool, and the name stuck.
Why did you decide to make NES games?
I always liked the idea of making games ever since I was a kid. Specifically, I fantasized about making robot masters for Mega Man
. Something like Volt Man. Kind of an electric guy. I had some silly ones too, like Propeller Man, who wound up looking like Gyro Man in Mega Man 5
. That's something I always wanted, and in some ways I still have a small dream that I can make it happen.
What do you like about developing for the platform?
It's not as restricted as something like the Atari 2600, which has a lot of homebrew, but the games are very simplistic. And just that it's possible to do it. You can make the cartridges. It's authentic. Whereas games like Mega Man 9
try to emulate the look and feel. Having Battle Kid
run in an emulator and eventually on a cartridge is a really great feeling.
How are the replica cartridges made?
The plastic parts are done by a distributor out of Hong Kong. We get the circuit boards made there too. My distributor puts them together. The circuit boards have to be soldered.
How did you get into NES homebrew?
A guy who calls himself albailey released a homebrew game called Sudoku 2007
. I found out about it at the same time I was going back to college. Coincidentally, I was taking a class in assembly programming. It fit together nicely.
Is the NES homebrew scene a tight-knit group?
I don't talk to any of the other authors.
What games influenced your work on Battle Kid?
I had played I Wanna Be The Guy
. There were things I really liked about it. Going from room to room. I hated the unforeseen death-traps though. I tried to make a game like it, but without the things I hate.
How long did it take you to beat I Wanna Be The Guy?
Actually, I've never beaten the Guy.
How many times did you die?
How long have you played Battle Kid for?
3375 minutes. I might have beaten it 10 more times after I got my cartridge. And, of course, I played it in bits and pieces during development. There's really no upper limit to that.
I understand you have a sizable NES collection.
I have around 275 games. That includes licensed games, unlicensed games, and homebrew games. People say the official count of games made for the NES is around 770. I don't think I'll go that high. Storage becomes a problem.
Why collect NES games when you could easily play a ROM?
At first, I thought it might be fun to collect a few at a time. There's something special about having the physical game. It's the legitimate experience. You're playing it the way it was intended to be played. LCD monitors these days are bad for NES games. The zapper doesn't work. And zapper games are pretty fun: Hogan's Alley
, Wild Gunman
--that's the one where you have to shoot the guy to make him jump. It's very hard. Almost impossible.
NES games can be really hard. Did you struggle with any one in particular?
The Adventures of Bayou Billy
. I had it as a kid, but I just recently beat it for the first time. The third stage has a boss that is ridiculous with the timing. You have to drop kick him and hope that he doesn't grab you and throw you. The final boss is this gangster guy who jumps around and shoots at you. If you have the whip, you're okay, but if you only have the regular kick, you're screwed.
Battle Kid has some very tough bosses.
I recently did the 5th boss for Battle Kid 2
. I did them out of order: 1 through 4, and then 6 and 7, and back to 5. Now, I'm coming up with the attacks for 8, the final boss in the main area. It's not really a "he." It's more of a "they." As individuals, they aren't too bad, but together, they can be rather tricky.
Have you ever made a boss that was so difficult that it was impossible to defeat?
Yeah. One that immediately comes to mind is Cleo. She throws these wavy pink circles at you. You had to just hope they missed you. The way I tweaked that was by having them spaced out a little more. Instead of 10 frames, I'd wait 15; around a quarter of a second. Another problem with Cleo is that she changes color. She'll change to 1 of 6 different colors to signify what attack is coming. I didn't know it, but about 11% of all males in the US are color-blind. I've had a few complaints about her!