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Growing up with a Commodore 64 I was generally too young and too stupid to grasp the black art of game programming. But, like most people who owned Commodore computers, I had a yen to create my own games. The Basic computer language included in the c64 ROM was easy enough, but the results were usually too slow to accomplish what I needed.
There were a few game making programs released for the Commodore 64. Shoot Em Up Construction Set, Pinball Construction Set, Adventure Construction Set, The Games Creator by Mirrorsoft, and 3-d Construction Kit. Among them, perhaps Shoot Em Up Construction Set is the most memorable. It allowed the creation of a wide variety of scrolling games, but it wasn't really all that flexable for other genres. What if you wanted to make a Lucasarts-type graphical adventure game, or a Legend of Zelda type of game? It just wasn't made for it.
Then, in the summer of 1985, Activision released a game construction kit by Garry Kitchen.
When I saw the above ad in Compute! magazine I knew this was for me, so I ordered a copy right away direct from Activision. Several tortured weeks later the box arrived in the mail and I put off all my plans so I could sit down and find out just what I had ordered.
The quality of the program and the contents of the box were quite high. Looking at the 80's box cover, it wouldn't appear out of date even today. It included a well written manual, a quick reference guide, a musical staff, an intriguing entry form for a contest (I wonder what ever became of that contest?), and even a disk mailer to send your games through the mail. Everything about it reeks of quality.
Click for larger image.
The core of GameMaker that ties everything together is the programming environment, a simple structured language that allows complete control of a game. Most of the commands are very basic and intuitive. The free value near the top of the screen indicates how much memory is left. The empty program space starts with only 3553 bytes free, and some commands use up more memory than other. There are also many limitations on the number of variables that may be used.
Once the game was completed, it could be compiled into a nice standalone executable prg file.
The Sprite Maker allows editing of both types of c64 sprites: 24x21 mono-color or 12x21 tri-color (plus transparent color). It is a very simple but powerful tool that also allows animation, joining and positioning multiple sprites into a larger sprite, and limited editing functions.
The Scene Maker allows hi-res backgrounds to be drawn in 4 colors. There are only a limited number of editor functions though: line, circle, box and fill. The zoom mode allows detailed pixel by pixel editing, however. I was never able to draw anything very good with it, but the Pitfall game by David Crane has very nice backgrounds.
Soundmaker allows quite impressive control of the SID chip. It allows sounds to be constructed by adjusting values using control knobs. It even allows different sounds strung together into frames. Though making a sound is not intuitive, usually if you play around enough you can get the desired effect.
The Music Maker included with GKGM is one of the best for the c64. Lots of instruments, lots of room for notes, and access to pretty much every effect a real composer has access to. If composition isn't your thing you can copy sheet music directly to obtain new music, or just use some of the included tunes.
Once the game was completed, it could be compiled into a stand alone program. The compiled program would always display a title screen with your name and Garry Kitchen's GameMaker info, as seen above.
It was good. The GUI was windows based and all control was through the joystick. The first disk included a pseudo-Choplifter game, an archery challenge and a port of Pitfall. The Pitfall demo proved the power of GKGM. The second disk contained a draw poker game (the cards seem to be extra lucky for some reason) and a bundle of demos. The best part was games created with it ran FAST, and they could be compiled as standalone programs so anyone could run them, regardless of whether they owned GKGM.
For the next few days I flipped through the thick manual, learning everything I could about it. The language was pretty similar to basic, but allowed much easier control of sprites, sound and backgrounds. There were a few limitations, though:
Still, even with these limitations it was enough to flex some creative muscle.
Back in 1985 I knew there must be others out there who were making their own games with GameMaker, but without something as ubiquitous as the Internet it was hard to find them. Now, in 2002, I'm hoping to preserve some of these unique creations before they fade into oblivion. If you have any GameMaker disks with creations of your own, please send them to me, along with optional writeups of your experiences. I'll post them here to share with the rest of the Commodore 64 community.
On to the games...