Veteran coder Jim Bagley, of Pixel Pyro, likes videogames. In fact, he likes videogames so much, he makes them in his spare time. Brought up, like many of us, with happy memories spent in the arcades (back when they were full of actual videogames and not fruit machines and coin-pushers), Jim often would cut his teeth on new technology by creating simple games in his spare time, ostensibly a way of learning a new system practically and quickly.
With a coding roster that stretches all the way back to 1986 and Melbourne House's Throne of Fire, Jim clearly has a fine pedigree in the industry and a shedload of experience to boot. But today I'm talking to him about his latest creation, Apple Bob, a platform game for iOS that evokes memories of those arcade games of yore.
"The origins of Apple Bob are retro in themselves," grins Jim, "as back in 1995, after finishing Striker for the Megadrive, I designed and wrote a game in my spare time." The coder (who was working for Rage Software at the time) had always wanted to write a platform-style game with collectables, extra bonuses and a tally screen after each level. "But as I am no artist, I decided to use the characters from Striker as place holder graphics, so I could still have my character moving around." Jim created branches to create the platforms and various items including mainly fruit, which was to be collected by the player. "I called the game 'Gorging'," he says, "and by the end I had written around 80 levels for it."
But with the game obviously unreleasable due to its graphics, the idea remained dormant for several years until 2012 when Jim began working with old colleague Paul Vera-Broadbent with whom he had collaborated on the Master System game Ultimate Soccer. "I showed Paul this game I had written back in the day and he agreed that it had great potential, so we then set about giving it a major overhaul and basically thinking about how we could keep the original template intact, but adapt it for touch-screen technology." With Jim busy on the code and Paul designing the graphics, it became apparent there was a lot of potential in this new game; although the two soon realised a change of name was in order.
"We were about halfway through development when I checked on the App store to see if there were any games already called 'Gorging'," smiles Jim, "and to my joy, there weren't any!" Jim's elation was soon tempered by what was there by the same name. "The results of the search had some music tracks of a very, err, adult nature so we had to quickly change the name as we didn't want kids searching for our game and asking their parents what the title meant!" As the original concept was essentially acquiring therefore eating fruit, specifically apples, gorging was a logical title. I think Jim's solution, Apple Bob, is an even better one.
Other parts of Apple Bob were tweaked and altered, giving an idea of the amount of thought that was going into the development of the game. "We decided to add more fruit and colour and also change the baddies. In the original game the enemies were bees; but of course bees are a very important part of the life of fruit." Given this, Jim's wife, Su, came up with a new angle, creating the 'gloopers', pinkish globular enemies that engulf and slow down Bob should he come in contact with them. And ironically (yet aptly), Bob must now save the bees and ultimately, the queen bee. "So now we not only had our new title, but we also had a good topic for the basis of the game - work your way through the four worlds and Evil PLC, totalling 100 levels, and rescue the queen bee at the end. Su had been looking into popular stories at the time, and the current disaster with many hives being wiped out by germicides and pesticides is what inspired her."
Of course, there's a lot more to Apple Bob; continuing the theme, Jim and Paul introduced multiple flower and magical hat power ups that give Bob a range of powers, including the ability to destroy the gloopers and reduce the gravitational effect when our hero jumps. The graphical style indeed successfully evokes arcade games of old such as Mr. Do and Bubble Bobble and the comparisons no doubt differ depending on the player's particular gaming heritage. But given how many games he has produced in the past, how pleased is Jim of his latest creation?
"I'm extremely happy with Apple Bob," he says, beaming with pride, "as it is solely my creation and one we've worked on so much for the last year. The thought and effort, fine tuning the game play and style I think really shows in it and so far the response has been very enthusiastic. I doubt it will be the last we'll hear of Bob..."
Many thanks to Jim for his time.