Here's an interview with me by Vinny Mainolfi for Freeze64 Magazine
An edited version was published in Freeze64 Issue 30 - Comic Bakey - The magazine is excellent, and definitely worth your monetary support!
Hi! I'm Vidar, aka. "dmx". I live in Oslo with a wife, kids, a house, a station wagon (I since traded the station wagon in for something lighter), tons of coffee, some beer, and no tea.
I work as a systems developer doing mostly internal web applications for a relatively big, non-tech corporation.
I got my first C64 in 1986, and a second one for Christmas 1987 after beating the crap out of the first. Spoiled, much? I soon tired of losing at games and entered the demoscene in 1989 as a musician for Megastyle. My coding skills were limited to doing very rudimentary hacks using the Action Replay monitor, with a tiny bit of assembly. I sold the C64 in 1990 to afford an Amiga, but in 1993 I got a C64 for cheap from a friend.
That's when I buckled down and learned 6502 assembly properly. I didn't produce much, however. Some light intro efforts (lost to time), and a silly hit-the-letter game called Holy Camels, which can be found at csdb. I had a brief reappearance on the "scene" in 1998, but it wasn't until 2016 that my interest in older systems really reignited, and I rejoined Megastyle.
In 1985 - my friend's older brother had borrowed the original tape version. We played it to death in it's fun two-player mode. There's little more satisfying than standing on a ledge as Yamo, casually delivering a punch, and watch Bruce fall to his death below, all while cackling maniacally.
I loved everything about it, even if I had no idea who Bruce Lee was. The whole game just oozes atmosphere, and I still adore it's quirky mechanics, beautiful graphics and spot-on sound. I've recently played the original Atari 800 version, and even if it's smoother, it still doesn't feel quite right!
It's 30 years later, and the Emperor has rebuilt his forbidden fortress. Taking the role of the evergreen Bruce, you must again face your nemesis. I didn't want to write any story, so I just make up one every time I need to. The first versions were called Bruce Lee Returns, but "Return of Fury" sounded more Brucey. Basically it's the same old game as we know and love, but with a whole new world transplanted in like an artificial heart.
I've always had an interest in hacking games, and figuring out how they work internally. I glued together a C64 emulator, which I expanded with a pretty comprehensive disassembler, allowing me to "build the source" while playing by mapping data reads/writes, tagging code, etc. This was later forked into a stand-alone disassembler, which I dogfooded by disassembling Bruce Lee. After reaching the limitations of the tool, I continued documenting the rest of it using a simpler toolset.
I tried to a continuation of Bruce for the Amiga in back in 1996. It was also to have a 3 player mode, but was never finished, and I can't remember why. I guess that's where the idea was conceived. (See screenshot)
It was an on-off, mostly off, process that started in 2016. It wasn't until May 2018 I had the code fully "relocatable", which means that it's possible to add/remove code and data at will without side effects. I added a new sound-effects engine for fun, and made four new maps as a test. By then, my initial curiosity was satisfied, and the project lay dormant until November, when I finally decided to just go for it and do a whole new world, just to get something out the door. In January, I finished up the remaining maps and the ending, after that only bug-fixing remained. It was released March 1st 2019, although not entirely bug-free.
My own tools at first, but after the initial pass, I used Notepad++, ACME and VICE to figure out the rest. There are still parts of it I don't fully understand. It was sort of like solving a crossword puzzle. Most of the time pretty relaxing, but significantly less so whenever I introduced new, hard to find bugs.
I read an interview with the designer and programmer, Ron J. Fortier, where he mentioned something about having to do an Atari "emulator" for the C64 port. There are 10 sprite slots allocated for the characters; For Bruce and Yamo (the green Sumo) there are two sprites each, most of the frames are 8 pixels wide, but punches, kicks, ducking, getting hurt are 16 pixels wide. On the C64 they're double sized. The ninja is always one sprite, but even he can be 16 pixels when he stabs. We're up to 5 sprites, then double it up for double-buffering. My first thought was that Ron may have been inexperienced with the C64, since he didn't use the multicolour sprite capabilities, but it turns out it couldn't easily be done; those wide sprites spoiled all the fun. I'm sure he tried, though!
Interesting anecdote: After the release of ROF, I got in touch with some Atari 800 freaks, and I was fortunate enough to be able to help documenting a disassembly of the original code, and yes - all the code, except for the hardware specifics, is the same for both versions! I know they're hard at work doing a new Bruce game for the Atari, and I also got some fallout that'll be very interesting to follow up on in regards to a possible future project... Let's just say that I'm not yet ready to part easily with the Legend of Bruce Lee. And who can, really?
After the disassembly; level design. I'm not a designer at all, so that was a bit of a slog. But once you factor in the limitations, get some basics in there, you can always refine to something passable. I hope at least some of the new levels are interesting. But I also wanted to keep the "spirit" of the original game, so did not go completely overboard with new features. Get something up and going, polish later. Seems to me a good rule.
I used Tiled. It's new "World" mode was a really nice addition which helped me visualize the world better. I use it for any project now, it's an excellent map-editor. All objects, exits and colouring were done in source. In 1993, I did the coding in Turbo Assembler on the C64 with a 1541 drive. That was tedious enough, and I can't even begin to imagine how it was back in 1984. Here, a new build was ready for testing in mere seconds. I have a profound respect for those hackers of yore!
There are a few hidden screens, and you can press 'V' while playing to see the version text (try it in the original game, too!). Press 'S' to reduce frameskipping from 3 to 2 and feel the difference (notice how it slows down when the foes come marching in.) There might be hidden messages somewhere too, but I didn't overdo it. There were no secret messages in the original game, apart from the version info.
Overwhelmingly positive! Most people seem to enjoy the fact that it stays true to the original in spirit. A few were frustrated with the difficulty level, and a few found some bugs when used with specific hardware. Overall, I'm really happy with the reception!
The high-point for me was when Mr. Ron J. Fortier himself commented on twitter that the game "Looks fantastic!". That really made my day!
Interestingly, very few mentioned what I thought would be the main selling point; the 3 player option. I guess there's not too much hot-seat multiplaying these days, which is a bit sad. I have fond memories that as kids we used to visit eachother all the time, playing all those fun two-player games over and over.
The interest did fade quickly, though! A mere few days after release, it went into "long-tail" mode, where it'll be discovered and re-discovered over the years. But I'm very happy I could be a part of these new heydays of the C64, and contribute something substantial.
I have no such plans at the moment - it'd have to be some other favourite game of mine, maybe H.E.R.O.?
But I'm also not yet completely done with Bruce, so you never know what's going to turn up. I was also able to help some Atari 8-bitters in their efforts to disassemble and document the original Bruce for Atari, and they're hard at work creating a new Bruce game for that system, too. Maybe there'll be a backport?
Megastyle is also always hard (?) at work producing original and classic-inspired games for the C64.
If you'd like to keep up to date, check my website: https://rebelandroid.com or @RebelAndroid on Twitter.
Thank you for featuring "Return of Fury", thank you for this magnificient fanzine, and a big HELLO! to all the readers out there!