About pikXells

How I became an indie game developer, from Commodore 64 to iOS and Apple TV

pikXells photograph

Hi, my name is Paul aka pikXells, and I have spent the past seven years making a video game called XScape. I was born and raised in the Midlands UK during the latter part of the 70’s, and I live with my beautiful wife, two daughters and three Furby’s. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a keen interest in computers, programming, graphic design and writing music. What follows is a brief history of my life and how I came to become an indie game developer.

At 15 years of age I was given my first computer, a brand new Commodore 64 model C with a 1541-mkII floppy disk drive. I had always been a fan of playing games on my brothers C64, but it wasn’t until I owned one myself that I first began to look into programming. Initially I learnt BASIC, but realising this wasn’t powerful enough for my needs, I soon moved onto Assembly language. With the help of numerous books from my local library, I was able to finish my first full game called Square Scape in 1994. The game was reviewed in magazines and turned out to be an epic failure. Not quite as bad as Dick Tracy the video game, but not far off. I think Commodore Format magazine gave it about 35% and commented “an all right but not very inspiring puzzler”. Failure only inspired me to try harder, and later that year I had my first commercial game published.

"It seemed that indie game developers were flocking in their droves to release apps for this amazing new platform"

My Commodore 64 setup circa 1997

My Commodore 64 setup circa 1997

"I didn’t own or had ever used a single device manufactured by Apple."

My games Mega Force and Square Scape 2

My games Mega Force and Square Scape 2

As my skills continued to grow, I was able to see out 1995 with a total of 3 games published on Commodore Format cover tapes. It was around this time that something quite strange and unexpected began to happen. I started to receive letters from people all around the world who had played my games. I found it quite humbling that people would take their time and money to simply write and say thanks. The letters really proved to me the positive effect video games could have on peoples lives.

I continued to program and write for the Commodore 64 up until 1997, when the lure of the PC finally took hold. It wasn’t long after buying my first 32bit computer that I began to have the programming itch again. First learning C, and then following this up a short time later with C++. During the 2000s, I wrote a number of small games and applications for Microsoft Windows which I gave away for free on my website. One such game was titled XScape. A PC remake of my old C64 game Square Scape 2, which also happened to be a remake of the ill-fated Square Scape, everyone still following? The remake was written in a language called Blitz Basic, and was a near identical copy of the original C64 game. If I am not mistaken, I think it came in third place in one of their code-a-game competitions.

Of course this wasn’t the last time I would revisit XScape, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this now. A short while after the PC version was released, I began work on a conversion to the GamePark GP32. An obscure but incredible handheld games console, which no one has probably ever heard of. The release was again faithful to the original, and came runner up in the GamePark programming competition of 2003, again if I recall correctly. It was almost a decade later before I would once again find myself thinking about XScape.

In April of 2012, I started to notice a buzz forming around mobile video game development. It seemed that indie game developers were flocking in their droves to release apps for this amazing new platform. What kindled my interest further was the kind of apps and games being released, many of which had a distinct retro flavour to them. I had always found something lacking about developing for the PC, and wanted a chance to return to the fun days of coding on my C64. Mobile video game development, on the surface at least, seemed to tick all of those boxes.

XScape level 15 Neon Lights

XScape running on a GP32 (GamePark 32)

"Failure only inspired me to try harder, and later that year I had my first commercial game published."

XScape level 15 Neon Lights

My first ever purchase of Apple equipment in 2012

At the time, I didn’t own or had ever used a single device manufactured by Apple. It must have been during May 2012 when I took delivery of a shiny new Mac-mini, iPhone 4s and an iPad 3. I devoted all of my free time to learning Objective-C and everything I could about the devices. To make the process more fun, I set about the goal of writing a small game for the iPhone. I had the idea that it would take a few months to write and that I would sell it for charity on the app store. Little did I know, this would turn out to be a seven year journey with more twists and turns than your average M. Night Shyamalan movie!

By late 2014, just as I had become confident with iOS development and Xcode, Apple threw me a curve ball with the release of the Swift programming language. I had always found Objective-C a little cumbersome and welcomed any alternative with open arms. I set about an immediate rewrite of the code I had so far for XScape, whilst learning Swift as I went along. Pretty soon, XScape became much more than just a remake, with the original 30 levels being only a small part of the full and final game. As a stay at home dad, I would work on development and graphics whilst my daughter took naps during the day, then write music on headphones by night whilst the rest of my family slept. The game certainly took its tole on me and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I felt like giving up. The knowledge that donations from the sales of my game might one day help people, certainly became my biggest incentive to finish.

And finish we have, as we have come to the end of this page. I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of how I became an indie game developer, and I would really appreciate if you continue to follow my endeavours on this website, and through the social media links below.