Saturday, 28 March 2020


The Lost Arcade is a long running pop-up arcade located in the harbour area of Bristol and last month myself along with my ten year old son went along to play some games.

So the story begins...

"Building workers, recently renovating an old dock building in Bristol have stumbled across what is thought to be ' a lost video game arcade ' 100s of vintage and retro video games from the 1970s, 80s and 90s – upon finding this haul, the developers for the scheme called in the 'History of Video Games team." Of course this is just a marketing ploy but a great one at that, it sets the scene of the place really well.

Upon entering the first thing I noticed was the wide selection of games they have. I loved how collectively the make this inaudible noise but every now and then you can hear a snippet of a familiar theme, grabbing your attention immediately. With the entrance fee allowing you free plays on all of them, to begin with you are spoilt for choice and the nostalgia hit is huge.

From the moment we entered my son loved the place, playing the games for what they are and not constantly comparing them to modern games like I heard a number of kids doing in the place. I could watch him all day as he obsessively plays a single game, learning its mechanics and looking for ways to beat it as he assumes all games of a certain age had flaws in their programming. He found one too and my heart just burst at seeing the joy on his face.

My all time favourite game Battlezone was present and I must have played this one for a full hour until the outlines of tanks were etched into the backs of my eyes. I love all the clever and creative controls some of the cabinets had back then and I loved the use of the periscope with this one. 

It reminded me of this talk I watched about how the Paperboy game and cabinet controller was designed. 

I would definitely recommend a visit in you can, if you would like to learn more then follow this link.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020


Last month Salisbury hosted its first TEDx event and I was extremely flattered to have been asked to deliver a talk on creative coding. 

The video is now available to watch on the TED website. Alternatively you can click on the video below.

I still can't quite get my head around what was achieved that evening. This was an event that Salisbury had been crying out for and I'm just amazed at all the positivity that is still rippling through the city as a result.

Friday, 28 February 2020


Last night Salisbury's Arts Centre played host to a very special event, the city's first ever TEDx talks. The theme of the evening was all about crossing boundaries with a set comprising of four guest speakers and two musicians. I was very flattered to have been selected as one of those speakers.

I thought long and hard about the topic of my talk and in the end went with something very personal to me, dealing with self doubt when artists and creatives showcase their work. I called it Connecting the Dots Differently and is all about the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone. The video of my talk should be available to watch on the TED platform soon.

I remember the tickets selling out rather quickly but the popularity of the event wasn't realised until I stepped out onto the red spot to be greeted by the audience. To be the first speaker at the very first event was a huge privilege, if not a little scary but once I settled into the talk and spoke about the many paths my creative coding projects have led me down, it all felt strangely natural. I think part of that is down to teaching and running classes both in schools and out.

Afterwards, the audience were encouraged to chat with all the speakers and I really enjoyed meeting everyone last night. There are so many kind and creative people who came out to see us, there was a lovely positive vibe about the whole event. To the people who told me they were going to give coding a try for the first time - go for it! To the others who said they never post about their passion projects through fear of rejection but are going to give it a shot after attending this event, you are awesome in so many ways. 

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped organise the TEDx Salisbury event. They were all volunteers, giving up their own free time to help make something magical and get the people of Salisbury sharing and discussing ideas.

My chatbot projects featured heavily in my talk, highlighting the many uses for a simple project born out of boredom a couple of years ago. There is now a simplified version of Cass online for people to play with, pull apart and add their own features if they wish to. The online version along with the code and Android download can be found here. I would love it if people were to get in touch in a few weeks time to share with me their ideas.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020


It's always great to be able to build games that run on original hardware. Sure, the same task can be achieved more easily through various emulation platforms such as RetroPie for the Raspberry Pi but there's nothing quite like the feeling of coding something that plays on the console it was originally intended for. For years I thought that coding for old, obsolete consoles was very much a dark art until I found a really nice drag and drop game creator called GB Studio that popped up last year and has been well met within the community.

This is all backed up with some helpful documentation here and although relatively young, support for GB Studio is growing, especially on YouTube and I would recommend checking out Pixel Pete's channel for some really useful tutorials on how to get started.

Pixel Pete's channel is also proving a good resource for people who are wanting to develop their pixel art skills further.

What I really like about GB Studio is the ability to not only export as a ROM file but also as a web page with your game embedded within it. This is such a nice feature and one that I would like to explore further when I have the time.

Once you have exported your ROM, you're going to need need to transfer it onto a flash cart of some kind. The one I went for was this one being sold by Retro Towers.

Now for some reason I had trouble using the software that came with the cartridge, I found it too clunky. However, I managed to find a suitable alternative called ems-qart and you can download the latest version from here. This made transferring files so much easier and I recommend that you use this software from the start, to avoid the same frustrations that I encountered.

Here is the game running on my original Gameboy.

It even runs and looks slightly nicer due to the additional colours on my Gameboy Advanced SP.

I did have trouble running it on my much favoured Gameboy Pocket, as the game failed to load and kept rebooting itself. After a quick search in the forums, apparently the issue is due to the power that the flash cart requires in order to successfully run and the Gameboy Pocket just can't deliver.

Sunday, 2 February 2020


I think it's important to not exclude the younger generation when it comes to game development. As a teacher I am always amazed at the thoughts and ideas that come out of the heads of children and it's this level of creativity that so many independent game developers crave. Sure, we can master the countless software solutions out there that will allow us to produce truly incredible things but without an idea, without that spark of inspiration we are never going to fly.

So I set about proving a point. I recently entered a game jam competition, which is nothing new for me but this time I wanted to only use the software that children are taught in schools - Scratch and hopefully highlighting that it's not what the game is made with but it's the idea behind the concept that's important. I've made the Scratch blocks for my game Taco Cat available for all here.

Image result for scratch logo

For those who wish to skip the process of making the Taco Cat game and visit the game's page to read its feedback and to play it yourself, then click here.


Character Design:

There is a lot of truth behind the saying, "Keep It Simple Stupid" and when developing 2d pixelated games I like to create characters that contain bold colours and subtle animations. The Taco Cat character was based on a gif of the same name, drawn using the free Pixelart online and animated to give the appearance of walking.


I wanted to add something a little different to the game, so not only can you move the character through the level from left to right, you can toggle the gravity to vertically flip Taco Cat adding a new dimension of play to the level.

With any game, it's important that the player knows the rules and controls from the very beginning and Taco Cat is no exception - Simple controls for a simple game. I've found that with the majority of my games it's of huge benefit if the game opens with the controls and rules of the game. In this case the controls are displayed in the background of the first introductory level.

Level Design:

This is an interesting one and a topic that has countless books written about it. It's important that the player understands the rules of the game by completing the opening levels and ensuring that the player levels up quickly and easily at the start.

The levels in Taco Cat start with the easiest possible obstacle of all, a single cactus before increasing in number and complexity. It's important not to make the game too difficult too soon, the skill is finding that sweet spot that makes the game not too difficult but still poses a challenge.

Thank you for getting this far through the post. Hopefully I've managed to highlight that if you have a great idea there will always be a tool out there to help you build on it. Just look at Taco Cat, built using Scratch and entered into a competition where it was pitched against some truly fantastic designers and their games.

Game Jam Tips

I would definitely recommend making and entering a game in one of the many game jams that take place on a weekly basis. They're a great way to test your working process and they're such a great way of getting friendly and constructive feedback from the community. Here are a few game jam tips to get you started. 

  1. The most important point is always participate. This may sound silly but if nobody took part in games jams there would be no game jams. Even with little experience, people can benefit from the game jam experience on so many levels, so just get stuck in.

  1. It’s a mistake made by many, people start working on a game before the theme of the game jam is announced and they then try to shoehorn their game idea to fit the theme. Always wait for the theme of the jam before brainstorming ideas. 

  1. Always keep ideas simple as quality with always triumph over quantity. People will always favour playing a really good short game over a lengthy one. Keeping ideas short and simple will also make it easier to experiment with new concepts and at the end of the day, that is the main point of game jams.

  1. Create multiple ideas at the pen and paper planning stage, then condense these down to one. Take time to do this, giving each idea careful consideration as this will pay dividends further down the line. Expect this final idea to keep evolving over time as development progresses.

  1. Manage your time and write your development time on your calendar, plan your work in two hour blocks and put everything in your calendar. Remember to always factor in time for polishing and bug fixing as these stages are often overlooked. You don’t have to work the full allotted time of the jam.

  1. Never overlook the impact that sound has in a game. If your skills lie elsewhere, hunt out all the free resources that will help you out when source sound effects and backing tracks.

  1. Write a good, clear explanation for your game and pick a great title of it.
  2. Most Importantly, have fun!

Sunday, 19 January 2020


I recently purchased this 'broken' Nintendo Gameboy for £19. It was being sold as spares due to a screen issue and the A/B buttons failing to work properly. Everything else however appeared fine once I put batteries in it. The screen was problematic in the sense that it was suffering from several missing vertical lines and the A/B buttons were a little unresponsive - though I suspect from judging by the general condition of the device that this unresponsiveness was due to dirt inside.

The first thing I always do with any restoration project is gently take everything apart so that you can see the full extent of the problems. You will need a tri-wing screwdriver to open up the casin of which I have a couple, both of which have been damaged by my wife trying to use them to unscrew Philips screws in the past but they're still able to do the job in this case.

It's worth mentioning that care needs to be taken when removing the springs from the rear battery case. These have little metal catches that are designed to hold them in place to prevent them rattling around in the casing. These can be easily removed by using your screwdriver to pop the catches.

It was very clear at this stage that I needed to give the Gameboy handheld a good wash. To be honest it was pretty disgusting in parts but a dip and a descent scrub soon had it looking presentable. There was still some discolouration on the front outer shell but considering this thing is nearly 31 years old, I'll let it off. Remember to throw everything in apart from anything metal: casings, battery cover, buttons and rubbers, they all need cleaning especially in this instance where most of the inside was caked in thirty years of dirt.

With everything scrubbed and dried, it was time to partly assemble things back together. Only the rear casing and the battery springs should be assembled - don't forget the power switch at the top like I did! The rest will need to wait until the screen issue has been fixed. In order to do this, add batteries and power up the device. Set the contrast dial to its lowest setting and you will now see the extent of the issue of missing lines. Also remove the small rubber strip that runs along the base of the screen.

To fix the issue of missing vertical lines on a Gameboy, we're going to have to use a soldering iron to heat the contacts underneath where that rubber strip once sat. You need the soldering iron nice and hot and you'll need to apply some pressure in order to melt the old solder beneath. This scared me when I first tried it as the screen will appear to get worse before it gets better but keep persevering and eventually you will have all the lines on the screen restored. Remember, this process takes time and although I've repaired many Gameboys this way, it still takes me about half an hour to complete this stage.

Once happy that the screen appears as it should, assemble the remaining parts, ensuring that all the buttons have their nicely cleaned rubbers sat behind them. Take your time when assembling everything back together, the screws screw into the plastic casing and won't tolerate being removed and screwed in repeatedly, so make sure you don't miss anything out.

The finished result is a very clean Nintendo Gameboy with a fixed screen and fully working buttons. I am still amazed at how retro consoles can easily be revived with a little TLC, I am even more amazed at the power of a good clean. The before and after photographs don't highlight enough how dirty this handheld was but it's looking and working so much better now and I love it.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020


Salisbury is home to a number of great secondhand and house clearance places and recently whilst doing the rounds I came across this interesting homemade box comprising of an old Bakelite phone and working Morse key.

The most interesting feature of this find was that it came with a rather interesting phone connector, allowing the phone to hook into a telephone network similar to what would have been on army bases. As there are many army camps in the area, I'm guessing this was once made for a child living on one of these neighbouring bases. There was similar box in the shop, obviously they were built as a pair but unfortunately it was in such poor condition that i decided to just purchase the better of the two.

Just imagine living on an army base fifty years ago as a kid where yourself and a friend were kitted out with a communications box such as this. You could hook the contraption into the network and communicate with one another via voice or better still, Morse code.

I wanted to bring this build into the 21st century by adding a few additional features of my own. I decided to first concentrate on the Morse key and built in a Morse code trainer comprising of a BBC Microbit. By tapping out a combination of dots and dashes on the key, if done correctly the equivalent letter will display on the small LED matrix. If you want to experiment with your own Microbit Morse code trainer, you can download the hex file I used here.

Once that was in place and tested I decided to update the way in which the box transmitted its Morse code messages. As access to an old and obsolete army base phone network is not an option, I decided to play around with the idea of transmitting Morse over the airways by utilising one of my hacked FM transmitters (a previous build of mine that you can read about here). Once installed, I not only had a means to test my Morse knowledge with the Morse trainer but also had the means to transmit my coded messages. Below is a quick video demonstration on the build at this stage.

This build was a rather fun one to do, and highlights the that fact that anything can be reprogrammed and repurposed. Unfortunately, fitting modern technology into a box that used to house old telephonic technology fro decades ago, it soon became apparent that the housing was too big and cumbersome. I therefore started experimenting to see how much I could downsize the Morse trainer section and after a couple of prototypes settled on the small box you see below.

This makes it incredibly portable and adds fun to the project having it fully mobile. It still has the Morse trainer built in as well as the means to transmit messages over a variety of FM frequencies. I have been testing is a great deal with a huge amount of success and interest from the passing public. I am now in the process of making a second Morse set so the pair can transmit and receive.

Friday, 3 January 2020


It's 2020 I want to see what's out there.

The idea is to use my builds throughout the year to push myself out of the familiar comfort zone, attend events and meet others with similar interests to me. So I'm kicking off the year by aiming big, really big as myself and Rich attempt to break the world record for the largest Gameboy ever built.

Last year I was fortunate enough to play on the current record holder and to be honest I've seen bigger Gameboy builds but similar to the Wright brothers not being the first to achieve flight, this current record holder had all the documentation to back it up, thus achieving the record. Incidentally, I noticed that it's emulated, a topic guaranteed to divide the retro gaming community.

So in order to start planning the build, we first needed to take measurements of the original model and it's surprising how short and stumpy the original Gameboy actually is. From here we were able to scale up the plans and taking into consideration the size of the flat screen TV that's going to be used, the height of the proposed build comes in at around 2 metres tall, crushing any previous record attempts.

Once again the topic of emulation rears it head and we've decided not to go down this route as we try and keep the build as authentic as possible. For us to achieve this we're going to have to output directly from the device. Luckily I had a handheld that required the screen to be fixed so we were able to look closely at how this was going to be achieved.

The reality is that it's going to be difficult, really difficult. So much so that various searches on the internet yielded very little. We're of the generation that grew up with the likes of Gamesmaster and Bad Influence where Gameboy games were regularly reviewed on our screens completed with console outputs, so we dropped a line to one of the researchers from Bad Influence.

The response we received was really helpful though directed us to a piece of kit that reporters were given at the time from Nintendo themselves. A quick search online revealed how expensive these elusive boxes are, so we're going to have to go back to the drawing board.

In other news, knowing the dimensions of the final build we've found the perfect bookcase that will house everything and act as the inside support for the project.

The project has got off to a good start but straight away we're facing challenges. For this reason, this is going to be shelved under "Slow Burning Projects" as we carve out a way that navigates these pitfalls.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019


This week's weekly game jam theme is titled Lost in Space and after working on a game for a few days, I've submitted my game Shoot for the Moon. Here is evolution of the game from sketch to concept. Those wanting to dive straight into the game can do so here.

All my little games start with my sitting down with pencil and paper. I first sketched a couple of space themed ideas but the one I thought would be the most fun to build involved a space craft harpooning objects in order to propel itself through space.

The next step was to prototype the idea, so I put together a few shapes and from there was able to build the main mechanics of the game. Even at this early stage of development I could see the motion of the player didn't quite work as it either needed drift so that when the harpoon was detached, the player continues to glide for a short time in the direction of travel (similar to Asteriods), or the player needed to fight gravity, again allowing the player to continue moving once the harpoon had been disconnected.

I decided to go with the latter, mainly because it was the easier option given the timescales I'm working with but also by adding a gravitational element I would be able to add a character or planet to the bottom of the screen. The obstacle will be constantly pulling you down, preventing you from remaining stationary in the game.

I think the planets add a really creative border to the game and offers an element of risk during game play.

Below is a short video of the progression of the game's evolution, complete with game play at every stage. You can play the game here.

Friday, 27 December 2019


Coding chatbots has always fascinated me for years and during that time I have created a number of chatbot projects with varying degrees of success.

It wasn't until I exhibited one of my simpler yet more successful chat projects called Woggle at a science fiction convention that I started to realise that putting a sci-fi spin of things greatly increases a project's popularity. For those interested, you can see Woggle in action and follow the links to chat with it yourself:

Whilst at the show I took the time to visit the other exhibitors, one of which were a group of Star Wars droid builders and they kindly gave me a tour and breakdown of the robots they had brought with them that day. It was these people that suggested that I put one of my chatbots into a droid's body and we all agreed that this would make for an interesting project indeed. However, as I am not skilled in the art of droid building, this quickly became a problem. I was lucky enough though to meet James Bruton at another show shortly afterwards who suggested re-purposing a toy to help solve my droid building problem.

Now I have a young son, who like his friends are Star Wars crazy and so I didn't have to wait very long before a broken droid toy came my way care of one of his friends. This toy happened to be a BB8 droid of a decent size, perfect for housing a Raspberry Pi that I was planning on using to run a bespoke version of Woggle. Once again another problem decided to surface as it soon became apparent that the round bodied droid can struggle at times to house a square Raspberry Pi board and its components, so I had to get a bit creative with BB8's insides.

It wasn't long before the project started to take shape and I could hold a semi-decent conversation with BB8. As well as the conversational aspect to him, I also coded the droid to perform basic tasks like streaming radio and Ham radio websdr which I thought would compliment things rather nicely. As with my more recent chatbots, BB8 utilises a simple SQLite database in order to learn from the conversation he has with people. This means he can improve on the responses he gives by himself without my help.
Here is the short video of the finished project...

This has been such a good project to teach myself new skills. Sometimes it's a good thing to be pushed outside your comfort zone and if I hadn't then I wouldn't have met some really nice people.

So what's happening with this project now? Well, BB8 and I have started visiting schools in the Salisbury area to give talks to children on programming and toy hacking. The response has been absolutely amazing though I keep it a secret that on the inside BB8 is partly held together with tape!

Tuesday, 10 December 2019


An old Raspberry Pi project of mine seems to be gathering in popularity once again. This is to do with turning a Pi Zero into a little FM transmitter. I had previously written a tutorial for it over at and I remember at the time being amazed at how many people viewed it on its first day of becoming featured on the site.

If you have an old model Raspberry Pi or a Pi Zero and stuck for something to do then this simple project might just be for you. It’s all based around number stations, relics of the Cold War that transmit cryptic messages to spies out in the field over shortwave. This tutorial shows how to broadcast your very own station over FM. Read it here.

Radio has been an interest of mine since I was very young but it's only now, over the last few years that I've been able to develop this interest further as my knowledge of electronics and software has grown.

My favourite of all has to be a little WebSDR box that I built, complete with a Morse code decoder. This allows me to listen in on ham radio broadcasts whilst fully mobile. I even added a retro looking handset to complete the look, the sillier a project is the better in my opinion. You can check out a quick video of it here:


The Lost Arcade is a long running pop-up arcade located in the harbour area of Bristol and last month myself along with my ten year old son...