Rogue Invader: 1-bit Games Are Still Cool



Do you miss the days of 1-bit Mac games? Squishy Games is finishing Rogue Invader – their nearly-complete, modern side-scrolling shooter, due to be released February 2016 in 720p black and white.  The early build I played looks impressive and shows a lot of promise.

Creator Nathan Rees spoke with me as he was preparing to launch his Kickstarter:

Brian Wiser:  What inspired you to create Rogue Invader and use retro 1-bit graphics?  Did you have a classic Mac growing up?

Nathan Rees:  I grew up with the Apple Macintosh being the home computer for all my DarkCastleyoung life. We started with the 128k, jumped to a Mac SE, then a Mac Classic.  I remember playing great games on those black and white Macs. Ones that stood out were Dark Castle, Beyond Dark Castle, and of course you have to include Stunt Copter and Wave 15 (which I still haven’t beat).  I also loved Space Quest, King’s Quest, Police Quest, and Gold Rush from Sierra.  These games looked awesome for only working with black and white pixels.  My parents wouldn’t buy a game console system, though we wanted one really bad.  They instead encouraged us to use our time and be creative.  I now thank them for that decision because Rogue Invader is inspired directly from and old animation I did on the Mac SE.

Not having a game console in the house meant I had to go to friends houses and play theirs.  I’m sure they got annoyed that I wanted to play so much, but I loved video games.  My mind just was enthralled by the worlds created in front of my eyes, and that I could control the character interacting with these worlds.  I would come home with different ideas of games I would want to play some day.  But I wasn’t a programmer, I was an artist.  So, I made animations of video games on the Mac SE using a program called Video Works 2.  I made a ton of animations with it, and have them saved on my Mac Pro now in QuickTime format thanks to the Mini vMac emulator and screen capture. So now that its 20 years later, and I’m running an independent animation company. Then one day I watched Indie Game: The Movie.  I said to myself “These two and one man teams could make a game and be successful, why shouldn’t I try?”  I called my friend that knows programming, and we decided to go for it.

But what kind of game to make?  I wanted one that would stand out.  There are tons of pixel art games, and they are absolutely beautiful pieces of work.  So I went back to my old black and white animations and decided that art style would definitely stand out.  We have Pixel Art games hearkening back to the Super Nintendo and Nintendo, but what about going back further?  What about the old Mac games with 1-bit graphics (each pixel is either black or white, no in-between gray).  But I was still taking a chance.  Would the public accept a Black and White game?  Would their eyes hurt looking at it for a long time?


So, I looked up if anyone else did black and white games like the old Macs. The only ones that stood out were SilverQuest and Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn (which is looking awesome, and I am totally going to buy it when its released).  That was the final decision to go black and white – if Lucas Pope is gutsy enough to go that direction, then we’ll jump on board with him. (Side note, we have already reached out to Lucas Pope, and he said he likes how our game looks).


BW:  What story and experience will players encounter?

Aliens_InvadeNR:   I knew that the art style would be black and white, but what would the game be about?  I went back to my old animations, wanting to made one of the ideas I had was a kid.  I decided on one game idea called Adventure Masters 2 (The first in the series being drawn up in Mac Paint documents only). And here is the animation, with bad spelling and everything.  As you can see, we have a few marines shooting aliens.  I don’t know why, but I loved Xenomorphs from the Alien movies, and I liked lasers (it made sense to me as a kid).  But now we are making a game, we needed an excuse as to why the marines are shooting aliens with lasers.

So we decided on a dark comedic satire approach where you are the invader of an alien world, but your whole army of one million marines has only one drop pod and one pistol left.  You need to invade one marine at a time.  Top that off with making it a Rogue-like game (Permadeath and Punishing) you have what is now Rogue Invader.LVL_Outpost

As you fight to defeat King Zeno, you will recover minerals and weapons to beam back to your fleet in orbit, or use what you find to survive and achieve victory.  The levels are laid out in a narrative structure, but aspects within them will change each new drop.  For example, rocks and aliens will be in different locations, so you can’t memorize enemy locations.

Another big feature is persistent damage.  This is where if you destroyed a Zeno sniper tower or a metal cover wall, it won’t reset automatically the next drop. It will slowly rebuild over time.  So what you destroy can help or punish you for the next few runs.  We have included secret locations and such to reward you for going off the beaten path, but that doesn’t mean the secrets are any easier.

BW:  Is there something from the early Apple days that speaks to you in a different way from the games of today?

LVL_BridgeNR:  Working on Rogue Invader just makes me feel like a kid again.  I did so much art on Mac Paint, that I learned plenty of tricks using the limited “color” palette.  I think that limiting the artists that made the old Mac games were amazing in what they could pull off.  Having worked on 3D animations and high quality graphics, going back to 1-bit is refreshing and a fun change of pace.  I hope that others will be able to feel the same way playing Rogue Invader.

BW:  Please talk about your remaining development efforts and when the game will be available.

NR:  I would first like give a HUGE thank you to everyone that has taken time to talk to us, and cover Rogue Invader. We could not have gotten as far as we have without this great online community. Our current development of Rogue Invader should put us on track for a full release early February 2016 on PC/Mac/Linux. We have all the base code in place, now its mainly art assets, cutscenes, and polish to get it nice and shiny. To follow us and get updates, go to Feel free to connect with us, we won’t bite.


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About the Author

Brian Wiser

Brian is an A.P.P.L.E. Board member and Managing Editor of Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine. He is a long-time Apple consultant, historian and archivist. Brian designed, edited, and co-produced several books including: "Cyber Jack: The Adventures of Robert Clardy and Synergistic Software", "Synergistic Software: The Early Games", "Nibble Viewpoints: Business Insights From The Computing Revolution", "What's Where in the Apple: Enhanced Edition", and "The WOZPAK: Special Edition" – an important Apple II historical book with Steve Wozniak's restored original, technical handwritten notes as well as a forward from Steve Wozniak and other Apple legends. Brian also co-produced the retro iOS game "Structris." Brian was an extra in Joss Whedon’s movie “Serenity,” leading him to being a producer/director for the documentary film “Done The Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of Firefly & Serenity.” He brought some of the Firefly cast aboard his Browncoat Cruise and recruited several of the Firefly cast to appear in a film for charity. Brian speaks about his adventures at conventions around the country.