If we had reported back in 2006 that the Virtual Console would ever play host to a series of Commodore 64 games we might have been branded as crazy. Heck, some of our readers are too young to know what this home computer was, some even questioned if the beloved breadbox was a competitor of the Nintendo 64!
Despite the initial surprise of getting the first C64 game on the Wii back in March 2008 and scoffers suggesting that no one would pay the same cost as a NES game to download them it – the decision to release these old games on the Wii seems to have been worth it. Older gamers with rose tinted spectacles firmly in place have enjoyed reliving those old classics and even younger gamers seem to have got a kick out of cherry picking some of the classic games which have managed to stand the test of time better than others.
To find out a little more about how this all came about and what the future has in store we got in touch with Commodore Gaming. It turns out that they partner with a German company called Kaasa so our interview was passed over to Nico Kaartinen who was one of the masterminds behind this. With a skill that would impress even an experienced politician he manages to sidestep some of our more probing questions, but given the difficulty of licensing these games from defunct publishers and other factors we can understand this.
Read on and let us know your thoughts below:
VC Reviews: How did the decision to rerelease Commodore 64 games on the Virtual Console come about?
Nico Kaartinen: At the beginning it was all a crazy idea which came up with Commodore Gaming and some other friends from the gaming industry. We have all our interest in retro gaming as it all brings back the memories of how it all started and how much we time we spent playing or coding in front of the C64. At some point we involved Eidos and Alten8 into the idea and we had all pieces together to get this project started.
We decided to move forward and talk with Nintendo and present them our thoughts. The great thing was that Nintendo of Europe was open to our idea from the beginning even though a C64 has never played a big role in Japan. It was not necessarily easy all the time but at the end we established a great relationship with the guys at NOE and are happy that we have so many titles on the Wii C64 VC.
VCR: Can you tell us more about the C64 emulator you are using? What are the challenges involved in making games play correctly on a Wii Remote?
NK: I can not tell you too much about the technical issues of the emulator as this is all being handled by our partner Chris at Alten8. I think he has done and is still doing a great job with all the bits and pieces involved with the emulator. Obviously not all went smooth from the beginning but Chris spent a lot of time to get the emulator as far as it is now.
VCR: Might we see USB keyboard support in the future for some games?
NK: I can say that there is no title planned to use the USB keyboard yet. We have decided to not support it for various reasons but the possibility is there and if we see a good implementation for a game to implement it we will most probably do it. At the end you have the keyboard as a new layer over the game that is running whether it is transparent or not.
VCR: So far you have released a lot of the older C64 classics, but is there a chance we might eventually see games from later in the C64’s lifespan such as the Turrican series, Creatures 1 & 2 and Flimbo's Quest?
NK: As you know yourself the C64 catalogue is so huge and it has so many great titles that it takes some time to decide which titles should be released and which not. I am sure that you will also see titles that have been developed in the later days of the C64, see for example Mayhem in Monsterland which we hopefully surprised people with. It is a great title and impressive to see what John and Steve Rowlands got out of the C64 at the end.
VCR: Have Nintendo mellowed on the Great Giana Sisters yet? Might we ever see that on the Virtual Console?
NK: Interesting question as we have been involved in the mobile phone version of Giana Sisters. It is something I have thought about but currently this title is not in our line up. When you know better it is very interesting to see and read about people’s opinion in forums. Some bits of the actual story are more of an urban legend that people like to tell each other.
VCR: So far we have seen games from Epyx, Hewson, System 3 and First Star Software. What were the obstacles to overcome in working out the licensing for games from these defunct publishers?
NK: I would like to say that this is the easiest part but as licensing contracts were a bit different today than back in the days problems pop up here and there. I am happy that I am working closely together with Darren from Eidos even though he is a very busy person. At the end, the Wii C64 VC gives a wide audience the chance to experience these computer games that many generations were brought up with even though it seems sometimes funny that we have spent hours, days and sometimes weeks in front of certain games and were just flashed when we saw the large pixels moving.
VCR: What is the likelihood of licensing C64 games published by the greats like Codemasters, Ocean, US Gold, Firebird, Elite, Melbourne House, Mastertronic and Kixx? Which ones seem more possible at present?
NK: All of the publishers you mention have had great games during that time. The likelihood that new publishers join the Wii C64 VC is there but who it will be out of your list is something I can not really tell you.
VCR: Do you intend to make C64 games available to the Virtual Console service in Australia and North America soon? What have been the difficulties in doing this so far?
NK: I do understand that this is one of “THE” questions in regards to the Wii C64 VC as I am reading the feedback from your users and other web pages. I can not say if it comes to the regions you refer to.
VCR: Have you got any plans to bring out games from the C64’s big brother, the Amiga eventually?
NK: Did the C64 have a big brother? Seriously speaking, we are currently concentrating our efforts on the C64 releases.