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Bringing back 1993

Twenty years ago four teenagers from a small town in Sweden created a game for the Amiga in their spare time. We talked to Krister Karlsson about why it was abandoned then and why he's looking to release it on Steam now.

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Krister Karlsson at Modesty is faced with a unique challenge. He wants to finished the first game he ever worked on and release in today's marketplace. A game he developed from his childhood bedroom twenty years ago called Shenandoah: Daughter of the Stars, and is now called 1993: Space Machine]... but that's also pretty much the only thing that's being changed.

We gave Krister Karlsson a call to find out what development was like back in the day, what went wrong with Shenandoah, and why he wants to release the shoot 'em up today.

Krister Karlsson. Photo by Monica Asp - StudioAsp.

It's been unusually difficult to do research ahead of this interview. There aren't a lot of solid sources, but I've gathered that the year was 1993, you were four people developing a game that eventually came to be cancelled...

"That's correct. I was in my last year of secondary school. My friends and I were heavily into graphics on the Amiga. We were big fans of mainly shoot 'em up titles and travelled around town to play games like R-Type and Thunder Cross in the arcades that existed. And when we'd been doing this a while and learned our way around the software at the time - a sort of Photoshop-like programme called Deluxe Paint on Amiga - we felt like making a game of our own."

Were you studying something along those lines?

"No, the two of us were studying natural sciences and technology at school. Both of us worked on graphics and we needed someone to program for us, so we placed an ad on the bulletin board at school. There weren't a whole lot of other options. There were no forums online or even internet, but we actually found two more guys who wanted to create a game so we got started.

"The place of work was in my house, my small room. The four of us were crammed together between the desk and the bed, and we sat there for pretty much a year and a half. We got pretty far, in spite of not having any sort of plan. We had no idea of how to structure this kind of project, so we pretty much just went ahead and worked on what inspired us."

Was the idea to publish the game at some point?

"Yes. We had some idea of meeting publishers and game companies at the LAN parties of the day. Companies often came there as they knew competence thrived at these events. Our plan was to make a demo we could show off there. And we succeeded. We got hold of a publisher called Black Legend from the United Kingdom. They had some representative in the south of Sweden that we met with several times, and finally we agreed to have them published the game upon completion. They got us mentioned in the largest gaming magazines at the time like Commodore User and Amiga Format - small mentions with screens from the game. It felt great as if we were heading somewhere."

1993: Space Machine is available to vote on over at Steam Greenlight right now.

How did the financials work?

"There was no money involved at that point, but I was young and lived at home with my mom and dad, so I pretty much had no living costs to consider. At the time you didn't have to upgrade your hardware either and we used the same computers for several years. It worked fine."

In the end that game was never released. What went wrong?

"One of the programmers fell in love with the other one, and the other one actually moved to Seattle and hasn't been back since.

"We were only boys, so it got a little strange all of a sudden. In just one week the whole thing died. We had put tons of time into the project, all of us, and it was an enormous disappointment. Especially when you consider how far along we'd gotten. Personally I burnt out on the project and kept away from the industry up until a couple of years ago."

But the project is making a comeback...

"That's right. This game has been in a moving box ever since, and I rediscovered the old stuff when I was clearing out the cellar storage with my partner a while back. I took it out and started it up, and people who have seen it think it still looks pretty good. It has that inherent charm of having been developed on Amiga. At around the same time I bought Jamestown on Steam, another pixelated shooter, and I started thinking that something could be done with what I had.

"After my studio Modesty released The Spookening on mobiles earlier this year, with the aid of a guy named Gunnar Johansson, who supplied us with important industry contacts, we started talking about the possibility of releasing the game from 1993. Gunnar liked the idea of finishing a project that had gotten as far as this one had."

How much of the game from 1993 is reused and will you be finishing the game on your old equipment?

"We will reuse all of the graphics, the concept, the level design, the music, the sound effects, animations, text and background story. Pretty much everything in other words. But we have to redo all of the code as the old one is specific to Amiga. It simply cannot be used."

Any idea when it might see release?

"It will probably be during the second or third quarter of [this year]. Some of the stuff we thought we wanted to do at the time back in 1993 isn't possible today. Or perhaps it's possible but takes more time. Most of the ideas came for us who worked on the graphics as we wanted to max out the concept. It was the programmers job to stop us when something wasn't possible. It's hard to pinpoint an exact release window, even if you've done it before."

Is it just you left from the original team?

"Yes. I have regular contect with the other graphics guy, but he's not quite as interested in this today as I am."

The limitations must have been much greater 20 years ago...

"Yes, we were limited to a pallette of 32 colours that we ran on the Amiga, and that was still pretty high. Most games at the time only used 16 colours in order to maintain the framerate. In addition most sprites could only be 16 pixels wide, and so on, so there were a lot of limitations to consider. At the same time it was a lot of fun getting a great result when working within that tight framework."

Photo by Monica Asp - StudioAsp

That's where the programmers had to put their foot down at times?

"Exactly. They had a much better grasp of what the machine was capable of. We only saw what we saw and they had a grasp on the technical limitations, but such discussions and problem solving can be a lot of fun. It was the same thing with The Spookening that we released earlier this year, so it's something you probably always encounter.

"Speaking of getting around limitations, my father - who's an engineer - devised an adaptor that allowed four players to play the game simultaneously on the same machine. It was a pretty big deal that we planned on making happen. The idea was to include an adaptor with every game."

Your father was meant to supply a third-party peripheral in other words?

"Yes, exactly."

That sounds like a pretty big deal.

"Yes, it was a very cool thing. We had never previously been able to play with four joysticks."

Now you've been given the chance of letting 20 years of game development influence the game - would you like to release exactly as it was meant to be or would you like to make some tweaks?

"As much as possible I would like to be exactly the way it was back then, but I have been thinking about deviating on that as far as explosions and lightning goes to give a little more flair and fireworks. Nothing is completely set in stone and I get very mixed feedback from people I have asked. You want it to be the original game of course, but at the same time so much has happened that it would be fun to give a little extra firepower. The idea is that it's a game from 1993, and it's supposed to look like it's from 1993. It's important that the retro feel is authentic and not tagged on. There is a genuine interest for this among many players today."