Briley Witch Chronicles: The Inside Story

Briley Witch Chronicles for the C64 is an awesome looking brand new RPG being programmed by ex-SEGA game developer and author: Sarah Jane Avory. We've all been amazed by recent sneak peaks of the game on her blog and on Twitter. And it impressed Protovision so much, they approached her with a publishing deal, and even to come onto the project to help it's completion. I wanted to find out more...

Q. Hi Sarah, I've been enjoying your dev tweets for a long time now, they give a real insight into the headaches, and triumphs of a game developer first hand. For those not familiar with your work, could you explain a bit about your background in game development? How did you start and what sort of games and platforms have you worked on?

A: I started programming when I was about 11. I bought a VIC-20, but didn’t have enough money to buy a tape-deck, so I couldn’t play any games. Instead, I read the user manual and thought the section on BASIC programming looked interesting. Well, I learned BASIC and started writing my own programs. That progressed until I took an interest in assembly language and bought a 6502 book. I started writing machine code programs… until the C64 was released. I bought one of those, plus a disk drive, plus an assembler, and then I had a lot of fun! I had 3 games in development when I got my first job at a small local company named Orpheus. One of the games became Delphian. But, sadly, none of the games were ever published, as Orpheus closed down. At Orpheus I had bought myself an Amiga A500 and had learned 68000 assembly language (one of my favorites).

I got a job at Imagitec and moved to Dewsbury where I coded several games, one being Combo Racer for Gremlin Graphics.

I moved to Core Design Ltd after a short while, where I coded Thunderhawk on the Amiga and Atari ST. Jaguar XJ220 came next, followed by my first Mega-CD game, a conversion of Jaguar XJ220. Next came Thunderhawk on the Mega-CD, my first game utilising the scaling/rotation chip. After Mega-CD Thunderhawk I coded perhaps my all-time pride and joy, SoulStar for Mega-CD. A Sega 32X version of SoulStar was in development, but that was cancelled in favor of an unreleased Jaguar CD version. Firestorm: Thunderhawk 2 was my first Sega Saturn game, and would have been followed by Fighting Force, a 3D fighting game inspired by my love for Streets Of Rage on the Megadrive. Instead, Fighting Force was coded for the PS1, and the Saturn version cancelled.

When the PS2 was launched, I coded Thunderhawk 3 for the PS2. A thunderhawk 4 was in development, but that was cancelled so I could help out with the camera system for Tomb Raider: Angel Of Darkness.

I then moved to Circle Studios, working on a game named Without Warning and several other demos, before Circle closed down.

I spent a couple of years at Free Radical, working on tools and their world editor for Battlefront III and coding an anim tree animation system, before Free Radical was closed down.

From there I moved to Cambridge, where I now work full-time.

Q. Do you prefer writing books or code? And how do you divide your time between them?

A: To be honest, I love both. I’m coding right now to give myself a bit of a break from writing. After having written and self-published 15 books in about 3 years, I felt a bit burned out and needing a change of scene, hence the recent interest in programming again.

Q. When you first started the Briley Witch C64 game, a few years ago now.. you originally planned to release the game for free... did you underestimate the scale of the project to begin with?

A: When I started, I had no idea there was so much interest in the C64! Originally, since the project was purely for fun, I was going to release it on disk for free. But it kinda grew a little, plus I discovered that 512k cartridges existed! And upon discovering that publishers like Protovision existed, it seemed like a good idea to make the game as good as it could be. Protovision approached me, and have been excellent so far, offering to help with some of the in-game graphics, all the music and sound effects, plus the box art and manual. I decided to go with them as they appeared to be a great bunch of people, plus it will be great to see a physical version of the game, complete with box.

Q. It seems like a golden age in Commodore 64 game development is taking place... Is that what inspired you to go back to coding for it?
A: After feeling a bit burned out from some intensive writing, and remembering my old 8-bit days of programming (plus discovering VICE existed), I thought it would be fun to write something silly on an old machine that nobody had used in ages… or so I thought at the time. So I coded my own 6502 assembler system, coded a character/map editor, and decided to write a game. I do love a challenge, so I thought an RPG based on my Briley Witch books would be a good idea. From the feedback and support I’ve received so far from people, it has spurred me on to try my very best and make a game people will want to play.

Q. Briley Witch looks like an old school arcade rpg, was it the goal to make a game for C64 that is more popular on retro consoles like the Master System/NES?

A; I used to play RPGs on the Megadrive, and I can remember Sword Of Vermilion and Exile being two of my favorites. So I had the (perhaps crazy) idea of making a Japanese-style scrolling RPG for the C64. It’s a big challenge, with lots of limitations to overcome, but having the game cartridge only makes lots of things possible, so I’m pushing things as far as I can. For combat, I looked at Phantasy Star IV, as well as Pier Solar, and decided on a side-on turn based combat system. The game is very much story-driven, the entire game storyline being taken from the first four of my Briley Witch novels. So far I’ve written 10 novels, so there’s plenty of material left to write a game sequel, depending on how well the first game does.

Q. And finally can you read the thoughts of Cats?

A: Why of course! I just have to take them to Briley’s world first, and then we can have a good conversation (mostly about the delights of tuna). Cats are very intelligent ya know...
Oh I know Sarah. Chilli and I love sharing a tin!... thanks so much for your time and good luck with finishing the game.

Many exciting C64 games are in the pipeline right now. This is one of 3 Protovision announcements in the last few days. Also Spelunky64, a 4kb competition, SEUCK competition, Cartridge specialists RGCD back at full strength, Psytronik's consistently incredible and growing disk lineup (including Black Star and Organism) and even more developers returning to their 8 bit roots... including SEGA and Amiga veterans like Sarah Jane Avory. The handful of sequels for current "gen" consoles being demoed at E32018 has the world watching, meanwhile a quiet revolution is taking place on 8 bit platforms... With the C64 way out in front... And talking cats in tow!

Briley Witch Chronicles will be published by Protovision for the Commodore 64, sometime later this year (Cartridge only).

Posted by @hayesmaker64

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