The best game I played at AVCon was on Commodore 64

Indie games have been on a huge up-swing over the last decade, and have been spearheading innovations in both gameplay and technology. At gaming conventions VR is all the rage these days, showing the potential for atmospheric and unique experiences unachievable in other mediums. But at AVCon this year, a tiny indie game took my fancy… and it was a basketball game developed recently for the Commodore 64.

Jam It is a 2v2 Commodore 64 arcade basketball game, not unlike the classic NBA Jam series. The game has been in development for over five years as a passion project by Leigh White of Throwback Games, whose day job is a systems applications developer in Melbourne. White has been making Jam It in his downtime, and while the five-year development time for such a small (249kB zip file!) game might seem exorbitant, the surprising amount of nuance in the game’s mechanics completely justifies the efforts made over the years.

The game uses a top-down, isometric perspective of one half of a basketball court, saving precious computing resources from having to render/scroll a full court. Due to this, Jam It follows half-court rules: when one team of two players gets possession of the ball, they have to dribble back across the half-way line before running a lay up or taking a shot. As the game is constraining itself to the limitations of C64 hardware, the controls have been simplified to using just a joystick and single button for passing and shooting.

Jam It is playable with up to 4 people and joysticks.

Jam It is playable with up to 4 people and joysticks.

Double-tap the button to pass to a teammate, hold to shoot and let go at the apex of the jump to score a basket. It sounds simple but in the heat of the game it’s easy to let go either too soon or two late, leaving the ball open for rebound possessions by the opposing team. There’s also the ability to use a trick charge (which are limited within a full match) to initiate slow-mo trickshots and even start an instant replay if the shot is good. Despite the limitations of the hardware (a whopping 64kBs of RAM), these mechanics play out like they would in modern pixel games. There’s even the ability to dunk and break the backboard, which then initiates an interrupting animation of a janitor coming in to sweep up the glass debris.

Going even further to deliver an authentic 80s computer experience, Jam It is available in legit analogue hard-copies such as cassettes, cartridges and 5 1/4 inch floppy. Otherwise the game is easily available for US$2.99 on Itch.io with the help of a C64 emulator.

The various mediums for the hard copies of Jam It look beautiful.

The various mediums for the hard copies of Jam It look beautiful.

I was absolutely blown away by the amount of detail and nuance is coded in this game. While most sports games from this era and console would mostly rely on straight button presses simplified animations, Jam It takes a lot of cues from modern indie/arcade games to present itself in a neo-retro light. If you’ve got a few dollars to toss, three friends (or even none at all) to play with and a taste for arcade sports games, give this sweet little gem a go.

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