20 Years since Terminal Pacity

Around the age of 15 I started to code after a family friend gave me a BBC Microcomputer Model B that his local army barracks were throwing away. Though primitive, it was a wonderful machine that showed me where my future lay. I learned BBC BASIC and a smattering of 6502 Assembly to gain performance and then moved on to PC.

I bought a second-hand 286 PC for something like £20 and migrated to QBasic and x86 Assembly using Gavin Estey’s tutorials. Although having no real knowledge of how professional games were made, I’d heard about a mystical language called C that I was eager to learn. Back in 1995 I had a 28.8 baud modem that my parents were strictly controlling due to phone bills; I’d be allowed about 15 minutes each day and no more.

The next year, at the age of 16 a friend left his Learning C book behind at school on the last day before the summer holidays. Over the next 4 months I got up to scratch on C and built Terminal Pacity, the first game that I sold as Shareware:

(emulation in the browser is a little dicey - it took me a while to find a CPU cycle count that worked)

Here’s a whole bunch of things that I’d done for the game:

  • Majority of game written in C to target Mode 13h, with some inline Assembly.
  • Per-pixel collision detection with forward-difference motion, jumping and ledge hanging.
  • EMS memory management to fit sound effects in memory.
  • Sound Blaster audio with DMA scheduling and port/IRQ auto-detection.
  • Custom level editor for the game with ability to load user levels from the command-line.
  • A single EXE game installer with its own text mode user interface, modelled on the old id Software ones.
  • Save game support.
  • Designed all the audio sound effects and music.
  • Designed all graphics, mostly with POV-Ray.
  • Designed 6 of the 8 levels in the game; the other 2 designed by school friends.
  • Allowed custom user skinning of levels.

It was a short-term labour of love that took around 7 months in total to polish and sell (homework did suffer a bit). There were a few great website reviews at the time, with a nice collection of game CDs choosing to include it. However, it’s now mostly disappeared from the web, especially given the Geocities collapse.

After release I moved onto learning other stuff at an increased rate and started to get job offers in the games industry. One was from Lionhead as a junior coder when they were in the first few months of writing Black & White. I said no for many reasons and started at a company local to where I lived instead. Who’d have thought that 10 years later I’d finally end up back there!

I’ve uploaded as much code as I can find to Github. It’s thoroughly embarassing but I’d only been coding for about a year. We all have to start somewhere, I suppose. The repository also contains a version of the game and editor that have DOSBox embedded, so you can run it straight from Windows for lag-free gameplay and use of save games.