About Me

My name is Chris Fitzsimons and welcome to my little Indie game development web site.

Chris with Manic Minor backdrop.
Chris with Manic Minor backdrop.

I was lucky enough to have been born before the creation of home computers and when they arrived, I was reborn at the age of 14!  I quickly learnt to program the VIC20, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad, C64, BBC Micro, Apple II, bulky Commodore Pet and all the Amiga models.  My first game was called Airlock on the CBM PET and I proudly pinned the code listing to my bedroom wall like a poster.  After several projects and the wallpaper no longer visible by all the code listings (dot matrix printer output), my parents knew computing would be a career I would follow.

My favourite 8bit machine of all time was the C64 and coding demos and games in assembler was fun.  When I left school, I decided to go work for a large computer company running IBM mainframes.  It was 1988 and before I took the job, I had a chat with a company called Electric Dreams with the view to maybe going full time in game development.  Looking at how the industry was starting to change for the worse, I decided to stick with a more stable job.

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My favourite ZX Spectrum game

Although I loved the C64, there was one game that consumed me.  This was a game on the ZX Spectrum where you collected parts to build a ship.  So simple yet very addictive.   

I decided in 2013 to make a similar game in a product called GameSalad.  I created a few versions.  One with scrolling landscape, another flip screen but ultimately abandoned them as they just did not capture the excitement of the original.

In 2019, I decided to restart the project and wanted to add a zoom feature to give it a little something extra.   I love this game!   This time I kept the game to 1 screen which gets progressively harder each level you complete.   People ask me why use GameSalad and not Unity or Unreal?   I wanted to prove to people that this type of game can be made with a simple drag and drop game engine which is used in schools today.

Jetpac
Jetpac by ultimate play the game
My C64 games/demos
My C64 games/demos
Example of 6502 assembler code
Example of 6502 assembler code
My C64 Demo in Retro Gamer
My C64 Demo in Retro Gamer

I buy the Retro Gamer magazine every month and in issue 130, there was an article about having more than the standard 8 hardware sprites on screen at the same time. I was very surprised to see a screen shot of my DangerZone demo. In some games you will see a side border as shown in the screen shot.  (from memory) This is because the X value can only be from 0-255 and then you have to switch on a BIT value and reset the X to 0 and increase to take the sprite the rest of the way across the screen. I do have a box somewhere in storage with printer listings of some of my early demos and will upload some code in a future post.

From VIC20 to the C64

When I was 15 years old, my parents purchased a Commodore VIC-20 home computer for Christmas. With a cream case and a brown keyboard it was nothing like the BBC Micro or ZX81 I was using at the school lunch computer club. This small machine with a slow processor and 5K of memory with only 3.5K available to write programs in basic was enough to captivate me, my mind and my soul.

My first program on this new amazing beast was to display the contents of every memory address using the PEEK command.  What did all those decimal numbers mean?  How did they control the computer?

The answer would come a year later after I managed to get a morning job at a local supermarket were I would turn up every morning at 6am and clean/wash the floor. Once I had enough money saved, I purchased a C64.  Games with amazing sprites, and sound from the glorious SID chip. It was heaven on earth! Some kids at school were programming the BBC Micros in 6502 and having found the C64 used the same assembly language instruction set, I purchased every book I could find on the subject!

During the following summer I managed to get a weekend job working in a local computer store. Shelves and shelves of all the latest C64 and Spectrum games. To me, it was a dream come true. This is the place I met Andie and Gairy. Andie loved to do GFX and Gairy, at the age of 13 could write in 6502 and loved to work with the SID chip. We formed our little crew called HCS.

It was around 1986 and I had just watched a TV show about a young computer hacker called Freak. I thought that was a cool handle (nick name) so I adopted it.

My friends and I joined an online service called CompuNet. A service which allowed C64 users to connect and upload/download files and chat online. This service introduced us to the “Demo Scene”. Oh My God!  Some of the best 6502 programmers had their demos on CompuNet like Ash & Dave, Ian & Mic, Mean team, The might Bogg, Dokk, Skuzz, Alpha flight, 1001 crew, Yak, Judges, Stoat & Tim, Hubbard, Galway, and others!

I can only describe the demo scene as a kind of brotherhood. Being able to program the C64 and force visual FX due to bugs found in the chipset, which would allow you remove side borders, change the border colour every xxxx machine cycles to make a rainbow pattern with one colour was cool. Being able to share the programming tricks with others to enable a better demo to be coded was awesome.

The problem for me in my younger years was finishing a demo coding project. Having an idea, coming home from school and coding for 4-8 hours a night, it could take a few weeks to a couple of months to finish. I would always get 80-90% finished and get bored and start on something else. I just could not seem to finish. An example demo I created is DangerZone. It was my first demo like a mini shooter game but I could not be bothered to add a sprite explosion animation when something was shot. It’s odd that I still regret not adding that last bit in. The screenshot on the left is the demo as featured in Retro Gamer issue 130.

The first full game (unpublished) I created was called DangerZone and was a vertical shooter dedicated to Yak the Hairy (Jeff Minter). Unfortunately, the source code and game have been lost. I love Jeff’s games and you can read about the history of Llamasoft here https://s3.amazonaws.com/lsshop/AHistoryofLlamasoft.pdf

The second game I finished was called “Crack Mainia”. I thought the miss spelling of “Mainia” would be funny but people just accused me of being a bit retarded saying I can’t spell. I expect thew- r-wobbly-wight. 🙂  Crack Mania was a 2 player Pac Man style game but with little characters and floppy disks instead of ghosts. I had this bug that affected the player 2 joystick and could not find the bug. I was at work and had one of those weird kind of moments where I stopped in my tracks and in my mind’s eye, could see 100’s of lines of assembler code scrolling and then an arrow flashed next to a statement which showed I was saving the accumulator “A” register to the X register instead of the Y register. I told my dad about this and he recommended I “Get a life”. Looking back, I could see that Asperger’s focus going a bit too far. No wonder I had no girlfriend.

If you download and play Crack Mania today, you will see it has been cracked by TRIAD who were one of the biggest game crackers at the time. Its kind of a weird privilege to think someone would take the time to crack a game I made.

I am grateful to have been born in an era of the home computer and at a time when kids could find joy at looking at the schematic of the machine and have hours of fun programming the chip directly instead of using nonsense like Basic.

Next came the Amiga and that’s another story….

Advice to others

Creating games is a fun exercise to keep my brain sharp.

I will be working in the Unity engine going forward and have several ideas for interesting games.  I have always worked in 2D and now the move to 2.5/3D is a whole new adventure.

My advice for anyone looking to make a game…

  1. Its harder than you think. From idea to app store.
  2. Choose your game engine carefully and make small games like pong to being with. Change engines if needed. Writing small games will help you understand how long the process takes.  Everyone says this and most people ignore it and begin with the next Doom or World of Warcraft.
  3. Follow step by step courses like the ones found on Udemy. The game engine itself can be overwhelming before you even create your first level.
  4. If your rubbish at art and music, then buy assets from app stores or itch.io. Who cares what people think, your building the game for you.
  5. Create the game for you! Enjoy the process and try not to give up unless the idea is not working.   Everyone I know at some point becomes fed up, hates their creation, gets frustrated with the engine not behaving the way it should, want to throw in the towel etc etc.  A good developer will find a way to push through this barrier and get to the finish line.
  6. If you are working a day job and have a family or must balance many things while writing a game, then DON’T make the game the priority! A lot of people believe they will become rich from their first game.  Some do but most do not and it’s not worth sacrificing your job or relationships to reach your goal.  Even if you make a million on your first game, was it worth the sacrifice?
  7. Try and make the whole process as fun as possible. This keeps you motivated.
  8. Cut the game down into chunks. Looking at the whole can be overwhelming so start small with a main character then add weapons followed by enemy etc.  Make a small test level and build out the mechanics of the game.
  9. A work colleague came to me once and said “I got this amazing idea for a game and you can make it right? But as it’s an amazing idea I might have to get you to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement)”. We went out for beers to discuss further and I said, “Ok, give me the basics of your idea.”.  He started with “It’s just like Call of Duty but….” And I was like “Hold on…..  Do you have any idea of (1) The number of games on the market like Call of Duty and (2) Do you understand how many people and the length of time a game like this takes to make?”.  His answer was “No.”.   And of course, he wanted a 50/50 split of the profit without any investment in the first place as it was his amazing idea.   I have recommended he look at a new engine in development called Game GURU MAX.  A simple drag and drop engine with no coding or visual scripting of any kind.  An engine he could use to make bring his amazing ideas to life.   It’s an engine I am keeping an eye on and it may be worth using to prototype something quickly.   Game ideas are 10 a penny (old English saying) but a good one fully developed from start to finish are hard to find.
Jetman Galactic Mars
Jetman Galactic Mars
Games made by Chris
Games made by Chris
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Games Made
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Applications released
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Awards

HappyZoid Games

Check out my blog for the latest updates.  Contact me for any game chat and if you like playing my games, please let me know.