Jon Woods

Status: Preview, Findability: 5/5

A year passed since the death of the commercial UK C64 scene, and Commodore Zone and Commodore Scene had taken over where C-Format and C-Force had once stood. Games were few and far between, but for those reading, each new release was as exciting as a Gold Medal game reviewed by Zzap. The C64 scene needed games!

Colony was announced in 1995/1996 to the delight of many readers of both magazines. It wasn’t until the preview was unveilled on the covermount of Commodore Zone, when the true realisation of the game was found.

Colony is what can only be described as a cross between Phil Nicolson’s Deadline and Defender. Featuring little men which you have to protect and save for your Colony (Hence the name).

Although not a wholy original concept, Colony incorporated some amazing techniques which had only really been seen in the likes of Mayhem, with its impressive colour mixing and fast parallax scrolling.

The original preview went down well, but suffered from critism for being too hard. No problem, some constructive critism for Jon. However, after numerous tweaks and a bit more work, Jon decided to call it time on the project. Possibly for a realisation that the game could take time, and not reap much back. It was slowly being realised at the time that a realistic good profit could not be made anymore with new C64 software. EBES had already been there and failed for instance.

After struggling to get the game complete – Jon decided to hand the project over. Colony was handed to Oxidy/Ambush designs back in 1997. However, it was reported that Jon had lost some of the source code and they needed them all to finish the game. It seems they never got all of it… :-(

In recent times, Jon himself has shed some very detailed light upon the subject of his unfinished masterpiece, which he critisizes quite heavily. He details about the various new C64 techniques which would have blown any gamer away as much as Mayhem did on its release. But as John says, "All ‘if’s and but’s". .. Even Russ Michaels of EBES and Jon Wells were said to try to help the game’s progress out in various ways.

Still, Jon manages to paint a picture of a game which can stir the imagination and excitement of any C64 game enthusiast. Read more about the game in Johns own words on the Creator Speaks page.

To almost conclude, the game only made it to the stage of a few extra tweaks and a few completed levels. But not much but the previews which you can download from here.

Recently Jason Mackenzie was instrumental in uncovering further parts of the remains of the game, and as well as the original preview, there has now been uncovered a full-hires colour picture and a superb sprite test demo to now seemingly complete this entry….

well, not quite….

Allan Bairstow was another person to have a load of Jon’s disks, and sure enough GTW were loaned the disks. Upon examing the contents, we were not disapointed!

We found another rare preview of the game… a earlier preview than the rest, with the ship movement in place (rather unsmoothly) and no enemies over a different colour landscape. This file is separate from the D64 in the zip… you may need CCSC64 to run it… as it needs compressing we think to work in Vice (or at least an AR cart plugged in).

But also a fair bit of Source Code was discovered. We asked Jon about putting the source out, and he has given us the thumbs up. You can now download 3 disks worth of source code, bits and pieces.. sfx, graphics and other bits we don’t know much about. These need looking at carefully, as there could be unknown bits on there…. we hope to go into more detail to what they are very soon…. there could be a lot of unused material there… but have a look for yourself!… and help us if you figure it all out! :)

Finally, in 2009… Vinny Mainolfi helped in uncovering yet more remains when he backed up an old Commodore Cracker fanzine disk. On here was a special preview with a different title screen and a slightly different preview with no sound and different panels. So yet more to check out!. We learn from this that actually Parallel Logic were originally going to be releasing the game!… this must have fell through when PL left the C64. Jazzcat has kindly taken the relevant files and also some clean note files and previews uncracked and given us an extra D64 to add to the download archive.

Another exciting production, unfortunatly scrapped… case almost closed…..

Contributions: Jon Woods, Jason Mackenzie, Allan Bairstow, Vinny Mainolfi, Jazzcat

Supporting content

Available downloads

Creator speaks

Jon Woods speaks to GTW about work on Colony...

"You only gave me 8/10 (referring to the old score system GTW once had), which is about right considering how I never polished up the gameplay - I was always more concerned with producing stunning visuals at first, planning to sort the gameplay out later. Although I abandoned the project many moons ago, I still think about what could have been. I planned a desertscape (like in the Westerns), a waterscape (with shimmering parallaxed effects), a nightscape (with parallaxing forests), a cityscape (with burning buildings, etc.), and, best of all, a winterscape.

The winterscape was to have had the c64's first ever parallaxing snowfields, and this was to have been attempted by a special technique for toggling between two charsets and two screen pointers, so that there would have been two screens updated at once, but only one visible at a time, if you follow - whether this would have worked or not, I'll probably never know. I also thought of renaming the game "Warchild", of increasing the on-the-ground action, and expanding the dogfighting sequences which begin in the demo once you've slain most of the helicopters. Oh, I also reckon many more layers of very convincing parallax could have been added, but alas, the world is full of "could-haves" and "if onlys", so there's no point whingeing.

There was a version that used the 2MHz speed of the C128 to speed up some of the processes, and it worked only on a c128 in c64 mode. When the raster was updating the upper and lower border of the screen, the 2MHz mode was activated, and then switched back to 1MHz for the main screen. A pointless exercise really, it was done just to prove that it worked, though it did tempt me to consider a c128 only version of the game. The parallaxing code was based on a system developed by Phil Nicholson (I think that's his name) who wrote Deadline. The graphics also featured a strange combination of chroma-noise colour mixing, as perfected in Mayhem, and colour-dithering, which I think worked really well, although I've never seen an emulator that could mix the colours properly. I also had plans to sharpen up the graphics so that they lost any semblance of blockiness - this would have been possible by using hires rather than multicolour mode in certain places, along with a technique which has enormous potential, but which probably every coder since the early days has ignored - ECM (Extended Colour Mode). I piloted a technique using this in-built c64 feature in a strange demo I coded in an awful hurry for Kenz - it was called Project Red Moon, and ECM is used, in a very limited way, for colour blending the skyline in one of the sequences of that lame-ish rip-off of the impressiveTerminus demo. (ps - Red Moon tested various new techniques).

Anyway, back to Colony - Russ Michaels of EBES saw it and requested that I rename it Defensive, in honour of the aborted project of the same name. At that stage I had already decided to quit work on it, and anyway, I was not enamoured by Russ's attitude to things. Round about that time, Jon Wells sent me demos of his music, with a view to composing a piece for Colony.

From a coding purist's viewpoint, Colony was no masterpiece. The scrollers were very inefficient, and I made the mistake of not updating all sprite attributes from the IRSTs (raster interrupts), although the final game would have had these issues resolved. Graphics wise, my aim was to produce something that looked too good to be a c64 game - I love nice scenery, and I was determined to have a beautiful, parallaxed scene in each level. However, where interrupts are used for gfx, speed, rather than compact code, is of the essence - for the same reason, it would be advisable to try to produce games on smaller areas of the screen, through this has been rarely done. "

Jon Woods.

Posted in: GTW64 archive | Tagged: | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Colony

  1. Major update: Given the resurgence of interest in the C64 of late and the release of some stunning new products (most notably Sam’s Journey), I made the decision to revisit my old stomping ground after almost a quarter of a century in absentia.

    Accordingly, I have been working secretly on a new game that uses some of the techniques featured in this demo (the colour-blending, the parallax scrolling, etc.), but it is much more ambitious than a mere shoot-em-up. It will hopefully be an ambitious, feature-rich arcadeRPG, for want of a better term, designed for the retro consumer market.

    There will be no seizure-inducing colour-dithering such as that used in this horribly rendered emulator clip.

    Colony as it was / is, was more of a technology demonstrator than a genuinely playable game. The on-the-ground elements of gameplay were poorly executed and too extensive, while the airspace was too cluttered. The new game – codename “Grand Teton” – will suffer from none of those flaws, I trust.

    Returning to the new game, it is based around survival in a high mountain wilderness during a major global crisis. As per Colony, the backdrop is to be a beautiful landscape, but this time the graphical theme is to be more refined. Actually, the starting point for the whole project has been the design, so what I’m aiming for is a strident, boundaries-pushing look, combined with immersive gameplay that requires the player to think and plan ahead. I’m also hoping to incorporate atmospheric music and SFX, 100% arpeggio-free.

    Currently, I am still crafting the graphics, largely porting – by hand – the various building blocks from my photo editing software into a UDG format. I liken the process to sewing a tapestry; it’s long, it’s slow, but the results should be worth it.

    In closing, I would like to hear from anyone whose curiosity has been piqued by this “toe-dip” announcement; feedback at this stage is vital and would probably set the tone for my morale in the ongoing development of the Grand Teton project.

  2. Wow, I decided to look up my old game online to see if any trace of it could be found and I see this!

    It would be great to find my old interview because if I recall I included some technical information on the C128 version.

    I still think about this game from time-to-time and deeply regret not having the time to have finished it. It really was a rough diamond that needed massive hours of work to polish into a gem, but I always felt the kernel of a good game was there. Ah well…

    • Hi Jon, good to hear from you – there are some details under the “Creator Speaks” tab about the C128 version. Not sure if this is what you mean.

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