It’s been a while since we’ve done an indie feature but the wait is truly worth it. With some of the loveliest pixel art we’ve seen, especially in a retro SHMUP app, Starsceptre is worth a punt. You can get it on the App Store for mere 49p! Our Adrian and Anthony spoke to 8-bit Magic Games’ Richard Morgan to get the lowdown.
Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedule to allow us to interview you Richard. Please tell us a little about yourself and can you recall your earliest and fondest memories of video games while growing up?
I always loved computer games and arcade machines. Friends, at the time of junior school, had an Atari 2600 and I would love to go round their house and play it. We wouldn’t actually get a computer until I was 12 years old, but that didn’t stop me going to friends houses and playing them. It was when we finally got our first computer, the ZX Spectrum 128+ that I started to think about making games.
My first attempt at a game was coded in Basic. Inspired by the game Terra Cresta, my friend and I made a ship reprogramming the characters on the keyboard, to make sprites that would come together to make the ship. We had very little to play with and could make the ship move around the screen and shoot and that was it.
The game that changed my life was Space Harrier in the arcades. Mum and dad would take me and my brother to Southend Sea Front on the weekends in the summer and we could play the games there. I absolutely fell in love with Space Harrier and spent the next 4 years trying to get the best conversion on 8-bit and 16-bit systems. Finally I would land on the PC Engine version which was spectacular.
You seem to have excellent credentials and keeping yourself occupied. Creative Director, Painter, and of course a Gamedev. What made you interested in developing video games?
I’ve always been creative. Mainly from a visual perspective. When I was studying in school, I had an Atari STE for my course work where I created pixel art designs for my GCSE Graphic course. At the same time I was creating music on the same machine.
When I finished School I wanted to go into making my own games, inspired by the bedroom code warriors of the 80s. Sadly I saw the games becoming big 10 men 3D teams and didn’t want to get swallowed up so I went into advertising instead, more specifically web design which was brand new at the time.
Painting came about because of my need for an iconic piece of poster art for Starsceptre and so I took up digital painting and then oil painting a little later.
Was Mighty Mower the first ever game you developed and how can our readers play this game?
Mighty Mower was the first game I ever made and also released. On my commute to work I have a 90 minute journey and knew I needed to make a game. And so I looked into how I could do it. And when I found the app Codea, I finally thought I’d have a chance to make a game.
Mighty mower, as its developed on an iPad is an iOS game that’s free on the App Store. It was a great piece of fun to make and my good friend made the music too. It’s not a great game, but then its my first – lol.
Can you reflect on how you started work on this game and how long did it take to finish?
I got started in Photoshop creating pixel art graphics at 180×240 resolution to retain their blockiness. I then started the coding process to get things moving. Each day I learned something new and constantly asked questions on the Codea Forum. The people there are just amazing!
Codea uses LUA as the programming language. I had done a bit of Flash and actionscript during my career but wasn’t a confident coder at all. But LUA felt good. In fact if you look at my code from my games, they are just a bunch of ‘IF’ statements lol.
Your latest title is a shooter called Starsceptre. It looks and plays amazingly. The game is highly praised with close to a 5-star rating on the App Store. What inspired you to make Starsceptre?
I’ve always loved SHMUPS and always wanted to make one. Since the time of the Spectrum and Terra Cresta I wanted to make that. I also love anime and sci-fi so it was perfect alignment for me. I love the Macross films and series, so that is a heavy influence on me. I was inspired to make a game with a different control system at first. So Starsceptre was born as a ‘Tilt n shmup’ – you tilted left and right to steer whilst shooing.
I thought it was a great system, but sadly players wanted on screen joysticks, up and down movement and then touch screen no joysticks. So over time I worked up the engine and worked on making the players happy.
The game isn’t standard auto fire because you the player need to choose when to shoot. Sometimes not shooting at all. Each level and boss is a test of your skill
Can you give our readers an idea of what to expect from Starsceptre and how do you reflect back on this stunning game?
Starsceptre is a seat of your pants shooter. With its time rewind power, you get to relive the moments you die and improve on them. All powered by the star sceptre itself. It has a kick ass 80s narrative and anime style pixel art cut scenes. And the game is all for the lowest cost on the App Store.
Is it true that you made a lot of Starsceptre while commuting to work, and if so, what issues (if any) did this bring up?
Oh yes, like Mighty Mower, Starsceptre was developed the same way. The issues weren’t many as I needed time and my commute gave me 90 minutes each way to and from work to code and test.
I became obsessed and also some of my fellow passengers became obsessed too. They would test it for me and I would tinker with the code there and then. Also one of the commuters who became a good friend is a character now in the game! Photoshop for the pixel art, Dropbox for syncing to my iPad and Codea for development.
Starsceptre took about 2 years to develop. There’s a lot for one person to do. From graphics and code to testing. I had help with the dialogue from my good director friend Shian and also the music from my old friend from school, Andrew of 7Hz Research – we used to create music together back in the day!
Did you ever come across any commuters who were either really good at the game or point blank refused to help test your game!?
Some played the game and then said they preferred the auto fire touch games they already had. I just found some of those games boring. I’m an arcade, mash the fire button, type player. Always active. Not passive.
How does it feel that you have made two great games on the go and do your co-workers think of your love of making games?
It feels ace. My bosses have been super supportive of my game dev. They love I did it all on my own and got it out there. My co-workers too. We’re a very supportive bunch!
You are a real inspiration for anyone who wants to make their own games from scratch. What do you think are the most important skills and characteristics for needed to make your own game?
Most important skill is the ability to break down problems – take a big problem and distill it down into little bite-size ones.
Characteristics are to be passionate about what you want to do, that you are committed even when it’s going wrong and also open to ideas by engaging with people who can help you understand new things
Can you reveal any interesting Easter eggs for Starsceptre?
We have the Konami Code built into our game. Proper old school geek fest! Just click on the flashing star on the main screen and you’ll open up the Konami Code entry screen. Enter UUDDLRLRBA Start (U= UP, L= Left etc…)
Some fans have had themselves turned into main screen avatars. They’ve been given their own unique Konami Code to unlock those!
The painting for Starsceptre looks amazing! Have you always been an artist, and do you hope to continue to paint in the future?
Being an artist has all come about because of Starsceptre. I actually failed A-Level Art in the early 90s. So picking up a brush is amazing for me. Since I painted star sceptre, I bought a new iPad last March and an Apple Pencil and now paint every day. I even paint now in oils too!
Have you ever thought about the idea of porting over your games to popular new generation units like the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One?
This might actually happen. A good friend I met through my game on Instagram wants to rebuild the game engine so it can be ported to Android, and the next generation platforms too. So there’s some hope it might happen as he is a kick-ass developer!!!!
How about retro consoles? Since the demand is quite high for them, we at Arcade Attack believe it would be a superb choice. If you have the chance to do so, what games would you like to have them on for others to play?
It would be amazing to have the game running on Mega Drive or even NEO GEO! Definitely an arcade machine. That would be incredible!
Are you currently planning on making any new titles for the video game community in the future? If so, would you be able to give a hint on what it is?
There’s a potential new platformer my gamedev friend and I want to create. We have a great idea for it which we have to keep under wraps for now. I can say it will be a retro-styled pixel art platformer. Think NEO GEO Arcade quality visuals!
What are your personal favourite consoles and games of all time?
The PC Engine is without the greatest console of all time for me. It was a total powerhouse of a machine as it was 8Bit.
My favourite arcade game of all time is Space Harrier. Thumping music. Ace visuals and just fantasy gone mad!
And the Metal Gear Series of games is just the best thing ever! Snaaaaaaaaaake!!!
If you could be transported into any video game and live there for a day, which game would you choose and why?
I’d be transported to Metal Gear Solid 3. Sneaking around as Big Boss in Russia would be epic.
As a man with experience in the field, what advice do you give for those that want to be involved in the video game industry?
I’d say don’t wait to start your dreams. Start now, with ideas, paper, learning code, or chatting to others. Start building the relationships and go for it. I turned my back on my dreams originally, but it seemed I was just waiting for the perfect time!
Thank you for your time and dedication Richard. If you had the chance to have a drink with one video game character, who would it be and why?
It would be Big Boss from MGS. I would want him to know he didn’t fall from grace. He was never a bad guy!
Adrian & Anthony
Please check out Anthony’s Atariage forum Neo Geo thread here.