RVG Interviews - Garry Kitchen.
Here is our latest interview at RVG, Garry Kitchen has been in the industry for many years and its a pleasure to be able to bring you our interview.
Huge thanks to Garry for agreeing to do this from all here at Retro Video Gamer.
Your port of Donkey Kong for the 2600 has the virtue of lacking flicker. How challenging was it to accomplish this and how were you able to do it?
I was always completely opposed to flicker on the 2600. I never wrote a kernel that did it and I would never consider using the technique. In my mind it was a cop out. The Donkey Kong kernel was the most complex display kernel I ever wrote. It had to handle 2 player objects - Mario with a single line color table and the rolling barrel in single color, as well as 2 missile objects (which comprised the handle and head of the hammer), and 6 unique stores to the playfield background data. The rolling barrel movement algorithm was the key to avoiding flicker. Even though there could be many barrels on the screen at once they could never overlap vertically as the code could only handle one barrel at a time on a horizontal scan line.
Did you feel that you wanted to do more with Donkey Kong on the 2600? If so, what kept you from doing it?
There were two huge limiting factors on the DK 2600 cartridge. The first was schedule, the cartridge was written in about 3-4 months, with no flexibility on the end date. I worked the last 72 hours straight without sleep to get the code submitted to manufacturing based on Coleco’s desired ship date. The second limiting factor was ROM size. The game was a 4K cartridge at a time when 8K technology was readily available but Coleco refused to go to 8K for the ROM size because of the added manufacturing cost. Had the game been allowed to go to 8K, and assuming a longer development schedule, I would have put in all four of the arcade game screens.
Do you feel you could have added the third screen to Donkey Kong had you been allowed to more resources?
Yes, see above answer.
What was your inspiration for Keystone Kapers?
Couple of things. I wanted to do a humorous game and the keystone cop worked for that. I also had this idea to create a staircase using a vertical player shifted every 8 lines to the left or right, which then evolved into a moving staircase, or escalator. Once I had that I had to work it into a game idea.
Is it true that Coleco made sure that 2600 versions of their games were made weaker on purpose so that their own console would look better?
Not true at all. The limitation was purely schedule and ROM size, as discussed above. The 2600 version actually looked better than the Intellivision version, which was a testament to how hard I worked to duplicate the look of the arcade game on an inferior hardware platform.
Space Jockey is a quirky shoot 'em up for the 2600 that is regarded as a bit of a hidden gem, where did you come up for the idea of that and was it difficult to make a horizontally scrolling shooter using that hardware?
I created Space Jockey as an exercise while I was reverse engineering the 2600. It was a concept very much driven by the hardware; many games utilized horizontal bands of objects as is done in Space Jockey. It was my earliest kernel work on the Atari so it was not a sophisticated display; e.g. double line resolution. Obviously somewhat influenced by the Defender-style games of the era.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in gaming?
I’m proud of the fact that Garry Kitchen’s GameMaker (1984, Commodore 64, Apple II, IBM PC) became a platform that inspired many successful game designers to enter the business. I hear this often when I meet industry colleagues at events and conferences.
What gave you the idea for Pressure Cooker?
I was standing in line at Burger King and saw the conveyor belt that took the burgers through the flame broiling process and I immediately thought that this could be a game; as with the escalator, I liked creating 2600 emulations of animated mechanical objects and I thought a conveyor would work well.
Are you aware of the homebrew community for the Atari 2600? Have you seen anything that has been released by them for the 2600? How about for other systems?
I am aware of the homebrew community but I haven’t spent a lot of time looking at what’s been released. I suppose I’ll look at some point. I enjoyed writing 2600 kernels so much that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that I may be tempted to do one myself someday.
Are you aware of any unfinished games that might be to hand that could be released? There is a very active retro scene hungry for old unfinished games.
Nope, I get that question often. I found a prototype cart the other day labeled “Cop13a” but I believe it’s the final code for Keystone Kapers. I’ll keep my eyes open!
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