Washougal game developer readies retro release

Chris Lincoln crafts 1980s-style game for Nintendo Entertainment System

Washougal resident Chris Lincoln's video game "Rollie" features the titular character running, jumping, bouncing and rolling through 16 levels of challenges. (Contributed photo courtesy Chris Lincoln)

The cover art for Chris Lincoln's upcoming Nintendo Entertainment System game "Rollie." (Contributed photo courtesy Chris Lincoln)

 

When Chris Lincoln was growing up in Newport Beach, California, he was interested in video games, but wasn’t satisfied with simply playing them.

“I always wondered how (designers) made these games, and I wanted to figure out what they did to do it,” he said. “I always imagined making my own game.”

Lincoln, a Washougal resident, recently accomplished that feat by completing “Rollie,” a side-scrolling action platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

He’s now in the process of acquiring funds to publish the game with the help of Beau Holland, a Michigan-based developer and publisher of NES games, and Tim Hartman, who works for Retrotainment, a retro-game publisher based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for “Rollie” will launch Aug. 22 on Lincoln’s website, optovania.com. On that same day, a launch party will be held at Retro Game Bar, 6720 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland.

If things proceed according to Lincoln’s plan, “Rollie” will soon be available to purchase on old-school NES cartridges, then eventually on modern platforms such as Steam, Microsoft XBox and Nintendo Switch.

“This game is so accessible, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a hit with modern gamers,” Holland said. “I like that it’s so easy to pick up. You can have fun while settling in to the game, although the last few levels ramps up in difficulty. The homebrew scene is filled with a lot of difficult games made by and for hardcore gamers, so to see something that kids and adults can have fun playing is quite the acheivment.”

Lincoln moved to Camas 10 years ago and obtained a computer information systems certificate from Portland Community College. He moved to Walla Walla, Washington, in 2012, worked as a software engineer for a company in Pendleton, Oregon, then moved to Washougal and left the software industry in 2017.

During that time, he started and stopped work on “Rollie,” before picking it back up for good in 2018.

“I’ve worked on fan games and mods and hacks and that kind of thing for the NES for over 10 years,” said Lincoln, who works part-time as a bus driver for the Camas School District. “I realized I had enough knowledge to make my own game, and I wanted to do that. It was kind of a lifetime dream to do it.”

Lincoln said he’s been coding and developing games for NES for such a long time that he felt now was the time to make his own game.

“I have all this knowledge and experience, and I don’t want it to go to waste,” Lincoln said. “It may or may not pay well, but it makes me feel good. It’s just something I had to do.”

Lincoln made “Rollie” on his personal computer using 6502 assembly language — the computer language that, according to Lincoln, was used in the 1980s to program software for computers like the Apple II — as well as a gaming “emulator.”

“There’s basically a community online that picked up how to develop for the NES,” Lincoln explained. “They reverse-engineered all the specs, got the binary files of games and programmed them off cartridges onto computers. They build tools, (show people) how to make graphics and things like that, and emulators. Those are helpful because you need to play-test as you’re developing all the time.”

It won’t take long for older gamers to look at “Rollie” and draw comparisons to the seminal “Super Mario Bros.” series of 1980s NES games, which are some of the most critically and commercially successful titles of all time.

“I tried to read a lot of interviews by the developers who made those games in Japan back in the 1980s. They were very interesting,” Lincoln said. “Specifically, I think the big influence on this game is ‘Mario,’ of course.”

But “Rollie” also is inspired by other NES-era games such as “Hudson’s Adventure Island” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” — a game that Lincoln never actually played.

“People are like, ‘It’s a cross between Mario and Sonic.’ I guess it might be, because it’s faster-paced than ‘Mario,’ but not as fast as ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’ There’s similar mechanics,” Lincoln said.

In the Washougal developer’s new game, one player controls Rollie, a red, rolling raccoon that jumps on top of snakes and other forest animals out to harm him. The game, which consists of 16 levels, features a multiplayer option by allowing a second player to control a purple raccoon named Lorrie.

“What sets this game apart — besides the physics and the controls and all the polish — is the high amount of mechanics that you can use to solve different obstacles,” Lincoln said. “There’s a lot of different options for the player. A lot of the power-ups are temporary, so you have to make use of them when you can. They’re limited and unique in different ways.”

Holland said the game “went from good to great” after Lincoln made some changes to add multiple pathways for the player to take at certain junctions.

“It’s nice to work with a developer that has a lot of vision, and a good vision,” Holland said. “His whole philosophy of game development is very sound. His overarching vision is all about fun. He doesn’t just throw stuff in there; he has a plan. I mean this in the best possible way — he’s very normal. He’s easy to talk to, get coffee or a beer with. He’s easygoing, and listens to what you have to say.”

Daniel Adams, a computer science student at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, has been Lincoln’s best friend since the two of them were kindergarteners in California. They bonded over their love for video games.

“Me, Chris, his younger brother and older sister would play games all the time,” Adams said. “Whenever we played a platformer together, we handed the controller back and forth. Then we started playing party games like ‘007 Goldeneye’ and ‘Super Smash Bros.’ and ‘NHL Hitz’ all the time. It depends on the game, but I’d say we were all very even. It would always be a toss-up on who would win.”

Adams, who is designing the cover and manual art for “Rollie,” said he has complete confidence in Lincoln’s ability to make a good game.

“(Lincoln) has that persistence to keep tackling a problem until he figures it out,” Adams said. “I feel that a lot of people who are good at math or science or other heady activities have that drive to not give up on a problem, and that’s something that he’s always had. He knows all of the elements required to make a fun game.”

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