Get to Know a GameDev: Leif Bloomquist
Not all game devs do it for the money and Leif Bloomquist is a classic example. This retro gaming enthusiast with a penchant for Commodore 64 games says it’s all “purely a hobby”, but he’s developed several multiplayer network games and is working on Vortex, currently in beta.
Leif’s programming skills have also brought him some unique work opportunities, including working with the Canadian Space Agency on the Phoenix Mars Lander, Canadaarm2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission.
Because we love space, game devs, and pretty much anything retrogaming-related, we eagerly asked Leif about how he came to land his hobby and his (very cool) jobs.
What would be your unofficial title, if you were describing your role in gaming?
I’m a “retrogaming enthusiast”, with a focus on (but not limited to) Commodore 64 games. I’ve also developed a handful of proof-of-concept multiplayer network games for the Commodore 64, just to show it can be done and to enable others to do the same. All my projects are open-source.
Gaming’s purely a hobby for me. Although, we do use some gaming technology at work when developing simulators, graphics visualizations, etc.. I had a Commodore 64 when I was a kid and loved it. Now that I’m grown up, I’m super nostalgic for the old-style games and love to revisit them and share them with my own kids.
Plus, now that I’ve learned a lot more programming, I’m trying my hand at developing my own games and doing hardware modding, purely for the challenge and the fun of it.
Why the C64?
Not many people know that there is a very active game development scene for the Commodore 64 and many other machines from that era. In fact, new games are coming out all the time for it, both homebrew and commercial.
The weirdest project definitely has to be the C64 Controlled Dancing Cat. Jeri Ellsworth (of Valve and castAR fame) and I put this together at the afterparty at a retrocomputing event in Chicago several years ago.
Haha, so what are your current projects?
Too many! My current project in the realm of retro-gaming is called Vortex, which is a “massively” multiplayer space shoot-em-up game for the Commodore 64. The game is in development but a beta is playable. Being a hobby project work goes on in small bursts and it’s been ongoing for a couple of years (and may never finish!)
I understand you’re also a contractor for the CSA; how did you get involved with the Space Agency?
I actually got the job through a rather interesting series of coincidences. I attended the University of Waterloo, which has an amazing co-op education program. After graduation I was working for a company that I had worked with in my co-op placements, developing robotics and communication systems for underground mines. That company was then acquired by my current employer, MDA. MDA developed the original Canadarm for the Space Shuttle, and has worked closely with the Canadian Space Agency on a huge number of projects since then, most notably the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station.
It was great, I didn’t have to do a job interview or anything. I just showed up at the new location one day and was assigned to work on the Phoenix Mars Lander. I couldn’t believe my luck. Been here ever since.I’ve worked on a number of projects here, in addition to the Phoenix Lander I worked on the Canadarm2 control software, and a laser altimeter instrument for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission. Mostly I do software engineering and testing, but occasionally this branches out into simulations and such.
That’s an awesome portfolio! Has a video game ever made an emotional impact on you?
That’s a good question. Most recently, I’d have to say Minecraft since my kids and I play it together a lot and have many great memories from that. I loved the Thief series (The Dark Project, etc) and its immersiveness. From back in the day, I’d have to say Ultima III: Exodus for the Commodore 64. It’s incredible how much atmosphere they were able to achieve with such simple graphics.
Now that you have kids, what do you think has changed about games since you were a kid?
A lot is different, a lot is the same. The biggest change is multiplayer. Back in my day (get off my lawn!) we had tons of great multiplayer games…but you had to all be in the same room! So it was always a social thing. We’re seeing a return to this actually, with multiplayer games that run through your Chromecast on your living room TV – very cool and brings back that social element. Mobile gaming on every phone is of course everywhere, and that’s still relatively new.Gaming’s also used more in education, with some schools using Minecraft for learning cooperation and exercising creativity for example. My daughter even had a homework assignment last week to play some Flash games on the BBC’s website that taught her about physics.
How would you recommend someone approach retro gaming on machines like the C64?
Lemon64 is the most popular forum for English-speaking Commodore fans. There are members from all around the world, and a huge database of C64 games and reviews. I also recommend GameBase64: A massive database with information and screenshots on virtually every game ever made for the Commodore 64, searchable by publisher and genre – 25,000 games and counting.
Any upcoming events where people might see your work?
Toronto just hosted the World of Commodore in December, a weekend of all things retro-computing (focused on but not limited to Commodore), including gaming, hardware hacks, history, and nostalgia. I gave a couple of talks and helped organize. Hope to see you all there in 2017!
I’m planning on attending the Vintage Computer Festival East in New Jersey March 31-April 2 2017. Locally, the Toronto PET User’s Group also meets monthly to talk about all things Commodore and just geek out.
Great! Is your game Vortex still in beta?
Yes, it’s in Beta but I haven’t had time to work on it in ages. I’ll publish any new updates on my blog. Plus I’ve been brainstorming on some new ideas for games. I’d love to write a Roguelike dungeon crawler someday. Multiplayer of course.
We’ll look forward to it. Are there any games you’re looking forward to, in the meantime?
It’s technically already out, but my son and I were looking forward to No Man’s Sky ever since it was announced. We’ve played it a bit and really enjoy it so far, but we’re looking forward to the new gameplay expansions they’ve promised in the coming months. It’s a stunningly beautiful game with a great concept, and the expansions promise to give it some more depth and re-playability.
Thanks, Leif — we’ll keep watching the
skis skies for your work!
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- On February 10, 2017