Cubic Critters

1982 Commodore

Platform: Commodore Vic 20

Jack Attack as a game title for the Commodore 64 (and C16/Plus 4) was a well known dig at Jack Tramiel and his so called “Jack Attacks” that he used to give out to his staff. The red main character sort of looking familiar to the Commodore boss at the time, or so we thought. But did you know that the game had originally been produced back in 1982 by Kevin Kieller and John Traynor, and was originally a 4K cartridge game written for the Commodore Vic 20? Cubic Critters was the game, and Commodore absolutely loved it.

Instead though of just releasing their title, they got the developers to develop it for the newly released C64 and rename it to Jack Attack. It went on to become a bit of a cult classic over the years with gamers, with its simplistic but fun gameplay. But what of the Vic 20 original and why was that not released?  

We got in touch with developer John Kieller, who explained: “One of the reasons that the VIC-20 version wasn’t released was that Commodore didn’t think the C-64 version was sufficiently “better” than the VIC-20 version.”, he began. “Kevin Kieller and I developed the VIC-20 version first, and then adapted (ported) the code to the C-64. One of the oddest phone calls I ever had with Commodore was when they said, ‘We just reviewed the C-64 version you sent; why are you not using sprites?’ Of course, from our perspective, there were no game elements that ‘needed’ sprites (from a technical perspective) and we wanted the game to be consistent between the VIC-20 and C-64 versions.”

“In contrast, Commodore’s view was that all things on the C-64 should be “better” than the VIC-20, and so decided to shelve the VIC-20 version. Which, frankly, is pretty sad, since so many more people could have enjoyed the game. That said, I’m sure many people who owned a VIC-20 went on to buy a C-64, so perhaps it didn’t matter in the end. I don’t have a physical copy of the cartridge (and don’t know who does), but there’s perhaps a slim chance Kevin may have a printed copy of the source code.”

It wasn’t the first time that a Vic 20 game had outperformed its C64 counterpart – with Omega Race and Hellgate being key examples. That however didn’t stop those versions being released to not embarrass the C64, so it seems harsh to see the machine prevented from seeing a potential classic release.

Kevin Kieller additionally spoke about Jack Attack in Bitmap Book’s Commodore 64 visual compendium book, and mentioned that just a single cartridge exists with the game on. So could it possibly be preserved some day to make digitally available? Although the cartridge itself seems to have gone walkies at this time, a printed copy of the source code has been found.

So we are hoping to see this preserved, and hopefully a compilation made to bring the original Jack Attack home and share a piece of history.

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