Saturday, July 15, 2006

Halloween Harry's 21st Anniversary

It's hard to believe it, but Halloween Harry turned 21 this year!

When I made the first Halloween Harry game all those years ago I had no idea that I'd be still making video games 21 years later. But here I am, so I figured I'd give you a little insight into the creation of the first game and follow up with some more entries on the other games later.

Most people remember the PC version of Harry released by Apogee back in 1993 but the very first game was made on the Microbee computer in 1985. The Microbee was probably the only Australian made computer system - sort of like a Commodore 64 but with a Z80 processor and no color. Still, the Microbee was sold to local schools and was a popular educational and home computer both in Australia and Sweden.

I wrote my first game called Chilly Willy (a Pengo clone) in 1984 during my high school Christmas vacation. I sent the finished game off to Honeysoft, the software arm of Microbee and they accepted it for publication. I was so happy that I sold a game that during my next Christmas vacation I set out to create a completely original game.

Inspired by Ghostbusters, the game was set in the 21st century and featured Harry, a Ghost Hunter, facing off against all sorts of evil across 13 levels. Essentially it was a platform shooter with some puzzle solving elements - set on a single screen. But rather than explain the back story, why not read the actual in game instructions that appeared on the start screen:

It is the 21st century and from this futuristic new world comes an exciting new hero:- HALLOWEEN HARRY!

As Halloween Harry, a fearless ghost-hunter, you have been assigned to destroy an evil witch that has taken over a 13 room building. You do this by collecting the magic item in each room, then escape through a mystical door.

There are 12 items to collect, ranging from a broom in room 1 to a cauldron in room 12. When all the items are collected you must confront the witch in the 13th room. The witch is protected by a magical barrier, so you must collect a padlock and a key (in any order) so that her defence is broken down...

Once exposed you may zap the witch with your trusty garlic-blaster laser gun, (which has 13 shots). 3 additional shots may be obtained by grabbing the bonus garlic. To make your task difficult, the witch has summoned up various ghosts and ghouls, as well as the dreaded dropjaws and zombie hands to destroy you!

Don't forget there's a time limit. It can be extended by the magic hourglass that appears when time is low.

Notice how I explained everything up front, even the ending of the game. Mystery and self-discovery wasn't something I had learnt in school at that point.

Each level had a different name, which was related to the special item you'd find in that room - and here they are:
  1. Magic Broomstick Closet
  2. Witches' Hat Room
  3. The Enchanted Chalice
  4. Pumpkin-Pie Room
  5. The Wizard's Library
  6. The Magic-Potion Pantry
  7. The Room of Wax
  8. Black Cat's Cavern
  9. The Crystal Ballroom
  10. Grandfather's Clockroom
  11. Yoric's Bedroom
  12. The Witch's Cauldron Room
  13. The Bewitching Hour
I initially drew the graphics on paper to get an overall look and feel. Then I used a tool called PCG Edit that allowed me to turn on and off pixels on screen so I could see the sprites as they would appear in game. I'd save the pixel data and include it in the game code.

I also used a simple sound editor to make really crude white noise effects that I used for monster and weapon sounds.

All up I spent around six weeks on Halloween Harry before I thought it was ready to ship. I saved the game to tape and sent it off to Honeysoft who happily signed it up. Then I spent the rest of the holidays hanging out with my friends doing regular kid stuff like swimming in the local river, riding my bike and exploring the local bush.

I had a ball making the game - spending late nights as a computer nerd cutting code while my parents shook their heads wondering what on Earth it was that I was doing. Even though I sold a game the year before I don't think they really quite "got it".

Making games was such an otherworldy concept back then that I didn't even talk about it amongst my school mates. How times have changed!

Anyway, I'm proud to have created something that has lasted the test of time and is circulating around the interweb in some form or other. Happy 21st birthday Harry.