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AB5 and James Vernon Interview
Posted by Ryan on 2 October 2012, 15:25 GMT

Few series have a graphing calc fandom comparable to that of the Alien Breed series, the ever growing and impressive set of titles released by James Vernon. In case you didn't know, James is pretty much prolific. He has accrued a number of featured programs for different platforms, all of which are a testament to his ingenuity, creativity, skill and dedication. Having spent well over a decade composing these titles, and with the recent release of Alien Breed 5, we thought that it would be a good time to catch up with one of our favorite heroes and take a peek at his inner workings. Without shame, we celebrate the many valuable contributions that James has made to the community over the years, and he was gratious enough to talk with us about his motivations, interests, and future plans. Click through to see the full interview, and make sure to grab yourself a copy of Alien Breed 5. You didn't need to pay attention in math class today anyways.




Alien Breed ticalc: What are some of the motivating factors that have kept you working on the Alien Breed series for such a long stretch of time? How does this coincide with your other interests, personal or professional?

James: Probably nostalgia more than anything. I'm a sucker for old school games, and Alien Breed was always one of my childhood favourites that even to this day I'll still occasionally play on an Amiga emulator. It just so happened that earlier this year, I'd been tinkering with some Z80 for a bit of fun, and within the space of a few days, played the original Team 17 Alien Breed again. On top of that, I was never entirely satisfied with my previous attempt at an AB game for the calculator, so I started brainstorming on what I would do if I tried making a new instalment. Most of all, it was just a lot of fun to do some Z80 programming again. Even at the age of 30, I still get a kick out of turning a calculator into a primitive gaming platform :)



Alien Breed II ticalc: In what ways have you grown as a programmer over your time of working on this series? Are there things that you do differently as a result of your efforts on Alien Breed?

James: Over the last 5-7 years, I haven't really done a lot of programming, but I did notice one thing in particular when copying bits of code from Alien Breed IV over to AB5: there were many times when I'd look at a bit of ABIV code and wonder "why did I do this the hard way?" and then rewrite it in a more efficient way. And no doubt if in 10 years time I looked back on the AB5 code, I'd frown at it just as I recently frowned at a lot of my ABIV coding :P



Alien Breed IV: Final 

Assault ticalc: What do you have in store for the future with the Alien Breed series? How about Alien Breed 3D? Or an interactive fiction version of the game? :P

James: I guess an assembly version of AB3D isn't entirely out of the question, although I don't have much knowledge in raycasting, etc. In terms of AB5, I already have a short list of minor adjustments/improvements, so no doubt in the next few months I'll release a small update. I also have tentative plans for adding further levels, and possibly with that, adding more features to the game, such as more to interact with in-game and more enemy variations. It all just comes down to time & motivation. I'd also love to tackle 2-player co-op linkplay, which was one of the drawcards of the original Amiga AB games.. So we'll see. I currently have another 83/83+/84+ project I'm messing around with, so I'll be focusing on that for the time being.



Golvellius: Valley Of 

Doom! ticalc: You are clearly a big fan of the series. What are some other games / series that you draw inspiration from or, alternatively, for which you have a big place in your heart?

James: Lots of different games over the years.. I grew up first with an Atari 2600, then a Sega Master System, then the Amiga 500 computer, and then finally went to PC in the mid-90's. There are so many games that I've been hooked on over the years, but a few that jump out are the Wonder Boy series on Sega, Golvellius (which was Sega's answer to Zelda), the original R-Type, RPG's such as Monkey Island. Later on, I got into Warcraft II and then Starcraft, although I suck at RTS. These days I'll go between World of Warcraft, Diablo or Minecraft depending on my mood. Currently it's mainly Minecraft and WoW that occupy my gaming time.



Invaded ticalc: Could you walk us through your planning and implementation process for when you set out to start and complete a project?

James: With AB5, seeing as I'd already made so many versions in the past, I didn't want to make another one just for the hell of it. So the first thing I did was put together a list over a few days of improvements/features that weren't in the previous versions that I wanted to achieve. Once I had a short list started, I started going through each item and thinking about how they could be achieved. Once I was confident enough that AB5 could be sufficiently better than ABIV, I went full steam ahead. A lot of the basic game engine was taken from ABIV, but rewritten more efficiently, and also extended to allow the larger levels. From then on, there wasn't a whole lot of planning or forethought. I literally just kept a text document called "to-do", and I would add things to this list as I thought of them, and then strike them off once I'd implemented & tested them. When it got to the point where I felt the game coding was 80-90% complete, I started level designing. At first I was lazy and wrote a very simple on-calc editor, but that sucked and I eventually wrote a decent Windows editor. Writing that Windows editor alone was a crash course in C# for me, basically taking my limited C & Java experience and reading a few online tutorials. Finally there was testing. During the first couple of weeks of September my band was on tour, so I spent a lot of time in the van on my TI-84+ playing through AB5 over and over!



Banchor: The Hellspawn ticalc: We know that at one point, you had said that you no longer programmed as a profession. What types of programming did you or do you still enjoy outside of work?

James: Oddly enough, I've probably only spent about 6-12 months of my life actually programming for a job, which was writing an interface for a CAD program for laser cutting. I do some very minor SQL work in my current job, but I wouldn't call it programming. It's simply setting up reports, doing some database maintenance, etc. A couple of years ago I started writing a PC game using the XNA package, which was my only previous exposure to C#, but that quickly fizzled out, partly because I suck at pixel art and then I lost motivation. I would like to eventually write & complete a PC game one day. But for now, I'm still well entertained by my TI-83 & TI-84+ :)






Thanks for the interview, James, and we hope that you stay with us for decades to come!

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The comments below are written by ticalc.org visitors. Their views are not necessarily those of ticalc.org, and ticalc.org takes no responsibility for their content.


Re: AB5 and James Vernon Interview
Stefan Bauwens  Account Info
(Web Page)

Well done on the feature James!
When I read the title, I though the interview was about the one on TI-Story but it looks like you're famous. ;-)

Like Ryan said, thanks for the interview. :-)

Reply to this comment    2 October 2012, 18:33 GMT

Re: AB5 and James Vernon Interview
Patrick Prendergast  Account Info

AMAZING WORK JAMES!

AB5 is a great game and fits in very nicely at the top of your series. I am truely amazed at how fast you pushed it out, from planning to completion. Also was great to get an insight into your programming life.

Well done!

Reply to this comment    2 October 2012, 22:37 GMT

Re: AB5 and James Vernon Interview
Chickendude Account Info
(Web Page)

Congrats, James! It's great to see some "old-timers" stop back for a while. I'm also amazed how quickly everything came together, AB5 is amazing and is much more polished than the rest of the (also amazing) series.

Reply to this comment    3 October 2012, 01:27 GMT

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