The renaissance of the Commodore 64 is something to truly behold and rejoice as 40 plus year olds all around the world get to live out their childhood experience of pushing 8-bit pixels around a TV screen all over again. What has been even more fascinating is watching modern day programmers take advantage of new tools and solutions to help push the C64 way beyond its technical limits. One shining example of this is when Rhys Clatworthy sprang out of nowhere to astonish the community with video of his project, Stoker, showing a beautifully drawn large dragon waddling and jumping his way around a cave like environment illustrated with lots of colour and detail. Wanting to find out more about Rhys and Stoker, we reached out to ask him for an interview, which he graciously accepted.
RGN: Hi Rhys, thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us about Stoker. The videos showing the development progress of the game have certainly dropped a lot of jaws with its colourful artwork and the size of the dragon character. The game is based on a children’s book that you are writing, is that right?
Rhys: Yes it is. The children’s book that I am writing is called Scarlett Bramwell and the Automaton Knight. It is about a young girl, Scarlett who is accidentally transported back in time by a medieval wizard, attempting to bring to life a suit of armour filled with cogs and gears. This ‘Automaton Knight’ is meant to be a gift for the young Prince so that he may learn to fight like a brave knight and the wizard hopes this gift will impress the King enough to make him a royal wizard, but his spell goes wrong causing all the cogs and gears within the suit of armour to transmogrify into a time machine. Scarlett is pulled through time and lands inside the armour, destroying any chance the wizard had of impressing the king and also destroying the time machine. For her to get back home the wizard has to rebuild the time machine he accidentally made, but only agrees to try if Scarlett (inside the suit) pretends to be the Automaton Knight. During her adventures, Scarlett comes across a dragon that she calls Stoker… And it is Stoker that is the main character of my Commodore 64 game as a kind of prequel to the events of the book.
RGN: Well that sounds like a great backdrop for a fiction book. So how do you go from writing a book to developing a game for a retro home computer?
Rhys: The inspiration for a game spin off was the combination of a few things happening around the same time. I had completed the first draft of the book and was knuckling down on the illustrations. Character design is all important to keep continuity throughout, so each person was being designed fully before reaching the page. It was while working on the little dragon (Stoker) that I decided a model of the little fella would be nice: a maquette that could be held in any position to get an idea of the dimensions and form. Then another bright idea came (self-inflicted distraction to avoid work) to see Stoker animated. So I played around with some of photoshop’s features. While distracted in my distraction further by the internet I stumbled upon what is now clear to me, a still vibrant Commodore 64 community. My childhood dreams of completing and releasing a game came rushing back to me from the 30 year void!
RGN: I can see that you really enjoy being creative and bringing your imagination to life and to have this then evolve to a long life dream to develop a C64 title. Did you have a programming background prior to Stoker?
Rhys: Back in the day (born in 1972 – so grew up on Commodore) my childhood consisted of creating ‘stuff’ on the C64 and when not doing that I was thinking about creating ‘stuff’ on the C64. Young and undisciplined, I dove into project after project. Getting about 80-90% through a game before coming up with a better idea (my mind inserts the meme of a fella walking down street with girlfriend, looking over shoulder at a possible upgrade to his current relationship).
RGN: I could only dream of getting anywhere close as productive as you were by the sound of it. What type of games were you developing back then?
Rhys: There were countless projects that spanned from run and gun sci-fi shooters, endless platformer games and adaptation of a cartoon show called Alias the Jester (by the makers of Dangermouse). That series came and went after one series and so too did the life of the 64. The world was moving on.
RGN: Does that mean you moved onto other home computers or game consoles? Any chance that your old C64 projects could be re-visited and finished off?
Rhys: I dabbled with Amiga for a while and worked for a company that made light guns, designing graphics for a game that unfortunately never got released. And so the passage of time and progress gave way to console games and PCs. I followed a different path in life, eventually becoming a tattoo artist, but those embers of the Commodore days still smoldered away, waiting for I guess the age of emulation and the cult of retro that has taken over my life once again. I had to buy a ‘real’ machine from Ebay as my trusty old breadbin is (much to my bitter disappointment) no longer with me, nor any of the work I did on it.
RGN: Oh no, well I suppose those unfinished works can be considered as new entrants to Games That Weren’t Library (LOL). So when did you actually start working on Stoker?
Rhys: It was June last year that I sat down and re-learned assembly language and familiarized myself with the awesome VIC chip and all the restrictions that promoted creativity in comparison to modern standards. Sure I could have gone down the Unity route and joined today’s developers, but I wanted to complete an unfinished chapter of my life…
RGN: Getting back to the game, you said earlier that Stoker is a prequel to Scarlett Bramwell book you are writing. So what is it exactly about?
Rhys: In the game you play Stoker, who is himself, is trapped in a place he would rather not be. Medieval times are no times for a dragon to be in as every King and every knight wants to slay you! All the dragons that have ever lived on this planet have left, travelling to their own dimension through a rift powered by dragon crystal. After a misunderstanding on the date of departure and his usual propensity for distraction, Stoker misses the leaving day. He is now trapped in his cave with a few nasty creatures that slipped through the rift as his kin fled. He must search for as many fragments of crystal to get out of the cave and travel to a sacred place where he knows there is enough dragon crystal buried away for him to open the rift himself. But Stoker discovers that a castle has since been built upon his hidden crystals. A castle containing a King who would like nothing more than to be the killer of the very last dragon. Stoker has a wonderful plan to change the King’s mind and get into the castle. He will persuade a wizard to take him on as his familiar and get that wizard a job in the castle. …and so this is how the storyline ties in will the children’s picture book.
RGN: Wow, I really like how you have the ‘Stoker-Universe’ well laid out in a multi-media format. Nice touch. So what about the actual game play itself. What is it that you are looking to deliver?
Rhys: As of this week, the collision routines are being programmed. Stoker now hits ‘baddies’ with his flames and fireballs. Next coding is the Hit Points and then back to work on the puzzle elements. For the first section (in cave) there are elements of puzzles to escape each section with a splattering of antagonists to dispatch along the way. The next teaser video will hopefully show these elements.
RGN: Looking forward to seeing the next video. It sounds like that you still have quite a bit of work left to do on Stoker. Have you set yourself a loose timeline in respect to when you think you would have the project finished?
Rhys: I’m constantly working on this project and will not stop until 100% complete. How long that takes is hard to predict precisely, but I am past the childhood average and on a home stretch.
RGN: Great to hear you’re committed to completing Stoker. Thank you so much for taking some time out to chat.
Rhys: My pleasure, any time.
Well there you have it. Rhys certainly sounds determined to produce an iconic title for our Commodore 64 and we can’t wait to see how the game progresses from this point. Stoker is no doubt an ambitious project but, despite his lack of a track record on delivering a completed piece of work, Rhys is full of passion for both his book and gaming projects and all signs are pointing to him being able to provide the C64 gaming community with something special in the near future.