It is always a pleasure sitting down with a friend and sharing our mutual love of early 1980s micro computers. That is exactly what we are doing this time around, by putting our great friend and former C64 River Raid champion, Rob Caporetto in the interview hot seat. While we have Rob shackled in the hot seat (Ed: oo’er!), we delve into his love of retro and his indie development endeavours when BAM, he drops an exclusive bombshell on us! So what’s the exclusive you may ask? Well, all is revealed in the interview. So throw away that tabloid newspaper, turn off your C64 at the power-point end, and let’s get to know Rob that little bit better… oh yeah, and find out about this exclusive!
AUSRETROGAMER [ARG]: We’ll start this interview by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into gaming?
Rob Caporetto [RC]: Hey Folks! My name is Rob Caporetto. By day, I work as a freelance programmer – having worked on a number of projects ranging from games, iOS applications, and even corporate web applications. By night though, amongst other things, I’m a retro computer enthusiast, indie games developer, as well as host (of sorts) of a retro-computing focused series – “Rob Plays” over on YouTube.
When it comes to getting into gaming – like plenty of other kids who were born in the 80s, it was probably by being introduced to it through other family members. In this case, it was my cousins – they had an Atari 2600 (this would probably be around the mid-80s), and when we’d visit them, I’d be watching everyone else playing games, whilst entranced by the colours and sounds. I was so young at that point, that I don’t really remember any specifics of which games they were.
The gaming bug struck at home when we got our own 2600 as a hand-me-down Christmas present from an Uncle in 1987. That came with a few games – Slot Racers, Moon Patrol, Boxing, Space Raid (a Megamania bootleg), as well as Yars’ Revenge – and from there I think it stuck. There’s something about those early games – simple sprites, booming sounds, that really made for a unique experience compared to cartoons or other media at the time.
Arcades weren’t part of the formulative experience for me – I was just too young to appreciate them, and never really visited them – save for the occasional encounter somewhere else. Though I remember Tiger Heli from one occasion early on, as well as playing Steel Talons and Gauntlet Legends when I was a bit older in the 90s.
ARG: What made you get into the retro gaming scene?
RC: I’ve always flirted around it – having started messing about with emulators in the mid-90s, in the days when most of them were incredibly glitchy efforts. That was the era when the ‘U’ in UAE really did mean Unusable, and C64 emulators would trash the screen trying to play Pitstop II.
Getting more into the scene was something I didn’t really investigate then – mostly because enjoying old games on long-forgotten hardware was something they didn’t really get, so it was easier to just focus on it being one of those weird things I enjoyed solo so to speak *smiles*
It wasn’t until many, many, many years later than I encountered the Classic Console area at the first PAXAus – the fact that there were people who were seriously into retro gaming, and had been building up these communities were enough for me to start taking it a bit more seriously as a hobby (ARG: PAX Aus 2013 was where we first met Rob!).
From there I got going again and even into grabbing retro hardware – as I’d not really used any real hardware in years. So from there, I started getting a few other micros, grabbing a 1541 Ultimate-II for my C64, and starting to dive into things again. Through those connections, I also discovered some of the other meetups around – like the Amiga Users Group, as well as some of the demo-party events around the country like the Syntax Party.
ARG: What inspired you to get into developing games? What games have you created?
RC: I think like a lot of us who got their hands on an 8-bit micro in the 1980s, it was really down to just being inspired by seeing that there were individuals behind these games on home computers, unlike console games where it was just a corporation. Along with that, it’s also the thrill of being exposed to an old-fashioned BASIC prompt when you started a computer up – avoiding the incomprehensible noise that was DOS, and still allowing you to interact with it in a meaningful way.
So having gotten our C64 from my uncle, I was playing about with some of the *cough*backup*cough* games we had, in particular the C64 conversion of Commando – and there was just that moment one day, after seeing the sprite glitches one too many times, that I could do it better. That I could make my own game. With no sprite glitches!
Let’s face it – as an 8-year old, without understanding assembly language, or how games are put together, that wasn’t really a feasible goal. But regardless, I pulled out the C64 manual, and standard punching BASIC code in to making some form of game. I didn’t get that far – in fact, just displaying a title screen and one row of ‘soldiers’, before it really felt like it wasn’t going to work.
Perhaps, it’s best left for the mists of time that I overwrote the tape which contained it with other things many moons ago…
From there though, I started hitting up the local library and devoured all the BASIC programming books I could get. Learning about other micros – as they had books on the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Apple II series among others. Most of what I was doing there was simply typing listings and just making a few adaptions here and there, which got me interested enough in wanting to take programming as a career – so, I took it to University, and from there, working on web, mobile and eventually game projects commercially.
In terms of things I put out though – the first things I ever “published” were a couple of C64 entries in the 1999 “Crap Game Compo”. The first was “Blast that Plane!” – a simplistic take on Combat style two player shooters, with the second being “Advanced Lotto Simulator”, which as the name says, is a simplistic ‘simulator’ of a lottery draw. Those were designed to be deliberately terrible, so they’re not the most exciting things to play – but it’s amazing to find them contained within the Gamebase 64 collection.
I didn’t do much until 2009 or so – that’s where, after a few years toying about with XNA, I released “Meteor Swarm” which is my take on Asteroids, but with a few extra surprises and game modes. That’s one which can be downloaded for free from my site.
After that, I potted around with a few more prototypes, and one of those turned into the first title I attempted to sell – “Pocket Dogfights”, which was my take on an overhead shooter in the vein of Time Pilot – which wasn’t its direct inspiration, but it’s funny how things go sometimes. That’s available at here – with links to the mobile versions (which can be downloaded for free), along with the desktop versions (which are Pay What You Want, meaning one can give me a tip if one desires).
Away from my own projects, I’ve helped out on a few other games, notably Armello (where I helped finalise a lot of the user interface prior to release), as well as an in-development game titled “Ice Caves of Europa” (which has a devlog over here), in which I helped out with a bunch of mission scripting and other supporting work.
ARG: You created the awesome hellfire64 YouTube channel a few years ago – tell us how that came about and what kind of videos people can expect to watch on your channel?
RC: According to the stats, I’ve had the channel for almost 10 years! But like a lot of other people, I would have originally set it up for bookmarking and commenting on other videos, way before I had thoughts of uploading my own content.
I did start out with uploading various development videos, both for “Meteor Swarm” and “Pocket Dogfights”, but after releasing the latter, that activity faded out a bit. Once I was getting my feet into retro stuff again, I did make a few attempts to do some retro related bits, but they never really got traction – so I was happy to almost leave it be for a while.
But as I met and started talking with a fellow indie developer – Kale (of Quarries of Scred fame), things started to take shape. For a brief period he was uploading videos on his own channel covering some Apple II/IIgs games which he’d enjoyed as a kid – taking a look at how they worked, and what particular traits he enjoyed and didn’t enjoy.
Some of those included ones which would get C64 conversions – and with a bit of a back and forth over Twitter, I decided to start doing a similar thing covering those, as well as some of my other favourites. It always was a bit of an exercise to take a step back – I’d been running into development troubles on the game I was working on at the time, which compounded with some struggles to find work, had put me in a less than satisfactory place.
I fired up some screencasting software, along with a C64 emulator and some old games, and looking at them with a critical eye, was something which I hoped would give me a bit more inspiration, and pull me out of a funk.
After completing that initial batch of episodes in late 2013, it became something I started taking somewhat more seriously in 2014 – whilst I started using emulation, as I had dusted the C64 off, I upgraded my process so that I would use the original hardware to capture from. That took plenty of research, but moving to real hardware was something I feel greatly adds to the legitimacy of each episode – especially after YouTube started supporting 50fps playback in late 2014.
As for the actual content? The typical content is a weekly video (usually on Friday), focusing on a particular title. The format’s a relaxed play, where I’m trying to play through it as much as I can (without cheats) – whilst commentating, and giving a mini-review, along with talking trivia and other pieces about the game.
Unlike other reviewers, I usually have played a game before I cover it – I think that actually knowing what is happening in a game (even if I’m rubbish at it) is important to show how it plays, and whether a viewer may wish to check it out!
Whilst I started off being a C64 focused channel, over the past year, I’ve expanded into covering games on several other machines: the Atari 8-bits, the Commodore Plus/4 (and C16), and the Amiga.
Besides those, there are also more scripted pieces that I release as well – these tend to focus on games where there’s something interesting (as with my look at Star Raiders II, or a compilation where there’s multiple games, like Action Extra. The format may be different, but it provides both a change from the existing content, as well as a chance for me to stretch my editing muscles.
I pick games ranging from ones I own a physical copy of (both from back in the day, to those I’ve acquired since collecting), to homebrew releases (both free and commercial), as well as classics which were made available for free. I also aim to cover a mix of the fondly remembered classic titles, as well as those which aren’t really talked about in retro gaming circles. The way I see it, it’s especially important to be able to talk about the big titles as well as the lesser known ones.
ARG: What is in store for season 4 on your YouTube channel?
RC: As I’m writing this, the first episode will have gone up, covering the C64 conversion of Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. The format hasn’t changed – I’ll pick a game, fire it up, play it, go through my stash of notes, and see how far I go. Those notes are what form the ‘review’ – what I like or dislike about it, any interesting trivia, or some other resources where appropriate.
With these episodes, I’m experimenting with recording my commentary as video, not just audio – and I hope that brings an additional level of personality with both visual and aural responses as things go wrong or right in the course of a game.
I’m also working on adding some more machines to the roster I can record from – along with the ones previously mentioned (C64, Plus/4, Atari 8-bit and Amiga), I’m hoping to be able to cover games on the ZX Spectrum (via my AV-modded rubber-keyed 48k model), as well as MSX (via a recent acquisition of a Spectravideo SVI-738) – though I obviously need more games! I’d like to also include the rest of my machines, but that’s dependent on being able to upgrade my capture hardware to do so.
I’ll also continue to do scripted review episodes – they’re great for covering a game in a more consise manner, as sometimes for a more in-depth game, a lengthy play video may not the most exciting of videos to watch. Plus, they free me up to cover more details – as with my Star Raiders II review, where ~40 minutes of gameplay footage, turned into something which was much shorter, and allowed me to show off its origins, as well as the C64 conversion!
Plus, depending on what homebrew competitions are held this year, I’d like to do review specials on the submitted entries, much like I did last year with the RGCD C64 16k Compo – and I’d like to extend this to other platforms I cover if I can.
There are some other ideas I’d like to throw about – doing a Let’s Play series on some games, maybe tidbits on development, plus some hardware related bits, but for now, I’d consider them as secondary content for the channel – so it really depends on what happens time-wise more than anything.
ARG: What other projects / work have you got on the go?
RC: Away from the channel, the first thing is of course that I’m one of the writers for the C64 fanzine Reset. My contributions here are focused on game reviews, as well as chairing a column titled the “Reset Rewind”. For that, I pick a random (usually less popular) title which has some connection to the underlying theme of the issue, and ask the other writers to play it, and write up their thoughts on it.
Other than that, I’ve been working on a small game the last few months as a side thing (whilst I’ve been between contracts). (ARG: And here it comes folks, the world exclusive –>) It’s titled Backfire – it is a game of arcade action, where the act of firing your blaster propels you around the playfield (with the power of physics), and you must use this to defy avoid the enemy craft and blast them for points. It grew out of a few ideas I had with wanting to do a different take on the classic twin-stick shooter, and wanted to try something which would be familiar but different. As it’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked on a game of my own, I wanted to try and put into practice some of the things I’ve seen since doing the reviews on the channel.
I’ve got some early footage of Backfire on my channel and I’m hoping to have more to show of it in the near future before I release in the next few months. Right now, I’m planning a release for PC and Mac, but depending on how it goes, other platforms are always an option!
The world exclusive – Rob’s new Backfire game!
ARG: What is your home/games room set-up like? Any potential consoles/systems you are targeting to get in 2016?
RC: Sadly, my set-up isn’t the best – the side effect of living in a bit of a shared spaces with others.
Instead of a games room, I have a “games table” in one of our open spaces, which I place the machines I’m currently playing around with. Right now, that’s currently the C64, my BBC Master 128, and my Atari 800 XL. The C64 is there for obvious reasons, the BBC Master has its place simply because it’s the biggest retro computer I own, and finally the Atari 800XL is there because of Star Raiders, along with many other games I’ve been enjoying of late.
If I want to check out other systems, I’ll swap them out, usually temporarily whilst I bring the other machine in. That also applies to when I’m recording episodes – I usually need to swap out the other machines with my MacBook Pro for recording – which of course makes set-up and tear-down for that a little more complicated.
The other micros and hardware I own are stored away in tubs, which tends to be a very handy way of storing all the necessary gubbins when I have to take them aside.
The games are sorted in similar ways, though I do have a bunch of closet space which I have my boxed titles placed in. At least that way, they’re visible enough when I need to find them, and can keep them together – which is not quite the way I had my original titles go.
Despite collecting physical titles – the biggest boon I have with doing the series is adopting flash storage mediums where appropriate. I don’t think I’d be as productive without devices like the 1541 Ultimate-II on the C64, the SIO2SD on the Atari computers, or Compact Flash adapters on the Amiga and BBC Master.
For 2016? I’ve not really planned out what I’m after actually. The only real 8-bit I’d like for the collection is one of the Apple II line, particularly the IIgs, as I grew up with those back in primary school. I want one really because of how important they were to the early US gaming scene – a lot of great titles which came out of the US were originally written for the Apple line, and it’d be great to play those on proper hardware, instead of emulation – and I find there’s not a lot of good coverage of older US games online, and I’d love to help turn that around a bit.
A more important goal is to work on acquiring more titles for some of the machines I own – in particular for my MSX, as well as for the BBC and Atari machines – both of those I really enjoy using. My final goal is to upgrade my capture hardware, so I’ll be able to capture all the machines in my collection. The downside is what I need to actually achieve this is a bit of an expensive prospect, so it’s a lower priority compared to acquiring titles though.
ARG: Now we get into the harder questions – do you have a favourite system? We’ll accept more than one, but you better have a good reason!
RC: Obviously, it’s not going to be a surprise for me to state my absolute favourite will always be the Commodore 64.*high five*
Like all 8-bit micros, there’s always that struggle between the capabilities and limitations of the system. It certainly has some big limitations, with the slowest CPU speed, along with being hobbled by the 1541 disk drive (turbo loaders helped but not enough sometimes), and it’s not so great BASIC. But when you look at what the SID chip brought to computer music and chiptunes, along with what the VIC-II offered for game graphics, it provides the perfect balance for gaming at least from the 8-bit era.
Whilst not as important to me, I’d say my favourite console is probably the Atari 2600. I think a lot of that just has to be at the wizardry which was needed to make a game on it. The raw nature of the hardware meaning that programmers had to time things to significant detail for a stable screen means that it was pushed well beyond its expected end of life. In fact, even now, there’s some amazing homebrew titles which are still being developed out there. A machine powered by the most extreme black magic if you ask me!
Then there’s handhelds, and I’d say it’s the Game Boy Advance. Sure, it was my first handheld system, but the GBA got me through a lot of commuting during my final year at university, and in some of my early years out in the workforce. There were so many wonderful games on that system which I got a lot of play out of – the Metroid titles, the Advance Wars series, and so many more which made it a worthwhile platform for 2D gaming in those days.
ARG: Do you have a favourite games genre and/or a particular game that you keep going back to (if so, why)?
RC: Genre-wise, there’s a few which I tend to enjoy. My favourites tend to be blasters or shmups of various kinds – they’re probably some of the best for just picking up and getting a good play session in without too much remembering where I was up to. Arcade wise, it’s games like Time Pilot, Tempest, Asteroids, Capcom’s 19xx series, Sinistar, Bosconian and more.
I’m also a fan of a good racer – these days, I think it’s more arcade style ones than the simulators – mostly because of time, but there’s nothing that can be said for the virtual thrills of a blue sky in games, whilst tearing away at ridiculous speeds through awesome scenery. The original Out Run (either its arcade or 3DS forms), Stunt Car Racer and the earlier F1 Grand Prix games by Geoff Crammond are certainly my favourites there.
Then there’s probably my big love which is for space combat simulators. There’s something incredible with taking the helm of a space fighter, blasting out into the unknown and taking on enemy fighters. Whether it’s something like Star Raiders or Elite, the atmosphere is something which can’t be beaten for me on so many levels. I think those grew out of playing a lot of flight simulators as a kid – but they tend to be a bit more focused than more convential flight simulators.
Outside of those games mentioned earlier, I always find myself going back to Paradroid, which is probably my absolute favourite with its blend of action and tactical gameplay. Starship Command (for the BBC Micro) is one which combines my love of space combat with the love of blasting, also with this amazing blend of tactical play. Then there’s The Dreadnaught Factor (for the Atari 8-bits) which is a shmup where you’re trying to take out a gigantic starship.
There’s probably more, but those happen to be the ones which spring to mind when I sit down with this on. So many games, so there’s probably some which I’ve forgotten though!
ARG: And finally Rob, where can people get in touch with you or check up on what you are up to?
RC: I guess the first port of call is the YouTube channel – the “Rob Plays” episodes are usually published every Friday evening (Australian time), so the best way to keep up to date with them as they go out is to go and subscribe to the channel. If you’re enjoying what I do over there, and want to support it in a more active way (and get early access to upcoming episodes and warm fuzzy feeling of helping a smaller channel thrive), then I have a Patreon page for it.
For those of you on Facebook, you check out my page – alongside promoting videos, I use it as a way to share any retro pickups I’ve gotten, link to various cool pieces of retro homebrew, or retro computing pieces that I find across my travels online.
For development projects – I guess the best port of call is on Twitter. Among other things, that’s where I tend to share most of my development pieces – at least for my own projects.
As for being able to check out my games, there’s links to my blog for most of them, but I also publish on itch.io (an indie games storefront) – where you’ll see the stuff I’ve put out, and hopefully consider buying my titles as they’re released!
Finally, I just want to thank everyone out there for all their support – whether by purchasing my games, watching/sharing/commenting on my videos, or supporting what I do via Patreon. One thing that’s amazing about the internet is that it’s possible for niche things to thrive in, especially with the support of fans who appreciate them!
As is always the case with interviews, they have to stop at some point. As much as we would like to keep Rob in the hot seat and probe him some more, we must allow him to get back to his classic gaming duties! As we unshackle Rob and thank him for his time, we thought we would share a few more photos of Rob’s exquisite collection of retro systems and awesome games – let the drooling continue!
image source: Rob Caporetto