To celebrate August being C64 Month, we’re writing about a different Commodore 64 game every day! Start from the beginning here!

I feel like I’ve written a lot about Nebulus recently for Issue 9 of Reset 64, your favourite Commodore 64 magazine, but well I couldn’t resist the chance to talk about it again here for this blog series. Plus it was either this or Ninja Scooter Simulator, so here we are. In fact, the piece I wrote for Reset 64 didn’t make it into the magazine, so I’m going to run it here:

Myself and some of my other game developer pals wrote some thoughts about what they would do if they had to remake Nebulus – I hope you like it!

John Phillip’s innovative platformer won rave reviews when it was first released for the Commodore 64 back in 1988, and it still holds up amazingly well today. The objective was simple – climb a smartly-presented rotating tower, avoid strange creatures and solve puzzles to get to the top. Each of the game’s eight challenging stages offered plenty to discover and enjoy, and there was even a cool fish ‘em up bonus game between levels.

We asked several experienced game developers how they would bring Nebulus back, and here’s what they had to say!

Michael Carr-Robb-John (Archon, Dungeon Master 2, Shadow of Mordor)

“If I was asked to remake Nebulus on the current gen platforms, I would probably keep the traditional platformer mechanics but I would like to see it go bigger. This would mean levels with wider and taller towers, multiple towers on the same level (i.e. you can transition halfway up to another tower and then back again), more than one way through the level and puzzles that weren’t simply avoid monster or kill monster,

I would want other interactions with monsters, for example luring them to trigger switches, using poisons to  make them attack other monsters or being able to mind control them. Visually I would probably make everything 3D even though we are playing in 2D and finally I would get rid of the fish catching phase of the game.”

Cameron Davis (Viva Pinata Party Animals, TY The Tasmanian Tiger 2, Game Room)

“One of the most interesting aspects of Nebulus to me is that it’s basically a maze puzzle game, with a key visual twist. Pogo can spit out these floating white balls to zap nearby enemies but it’s not exactly a shooter, after all.

With that in mind I would expand out the maze element by making the normally cylindrical buildings completely weird. I imagine huge, intertwining, almost Escher-like constructions floating in the depths of space that Pogo would have to navigate the surface of in order to reach a central point.

Imagine the trippier levels from Super Mario Galaxy with secret doorways, conveyor belts, platforms, and massive three dimensional shapes that are like convoluted space pretzels and you’re on the right path. I also think gravity can play an interesting part in how Pogo controls, with gravity getting lighter (and Pogo’s jumps getting higher / longer) the further away from the central point of the level he is.

The buildings can even change shape over time or through user interaction, for example a Moebius strip can have sections of it detach and re-attach in other locations, allowing access to new areas. I can see all sorts of weird and brain-bending environments being designed to keep players guessing.

And after you reach the target area of each level, you initiate the self-destruct sequence and then have to race back to your ship before the whole thing explodes! Perhaps after that you get a cute mini-game where Pogo pilots his ship through space towards the next level, firing at random creatures he finds along the way.

I think this would be a lot of fun, and a good way to update the formula for a new audience while keeping the original’s spirit of charm and exploration.”

Anthony Stiller (Abyssonaut, Sopwiths & Pterrordons)

“Cute player sprite. Beautiful, rotating tower. Trial-and-error platforming.

Sounds perfect for a Virtual Reality experience. Not first person (I’m not a monster, though it would be brill for the submarine bonus scenes), but imagine hovering above the water like an elemental, the tower in full view. You can grab and rotate the tower itself slowly back and forth. I mean, that gorgeous rotation effect is what everyone remembers from Nebulus, right?

So there’s the tower, dappled light reflecting from the ocean surface, turning gloriously under your disembodied virtual hands. Your little tower toppler, Pogo, is guided by simply tapping the next platform to go to. A squeeze of the controller spits a gob of goo.

Turning the tower around reveal enemies, pathways along the outside of the tower, and potential hazards and pitfalls. Those infuriating disappearing platforms rattle a little. Enemies flinch at your touch, buying a little extra time to get Pogo higher up the tower.

And when that tower falls! Why not let the player smash the tower themselves with their mighty virtual fists? This sounds almost as satisfying as destroying a Dreadnought in Uridium.

Uridium? Hey, now that would be a VR experience and a half.”

Rob Caporetto (Armorello, Pocket Dogfights)

“A modernised version of Nebulus? That was quite an interesting conundrum to ponder. When I sit down and ponder where I’d go with it. As much as a straight evolution of the formula sounds appealing – the fact of the matter, I feel like I’d want to take it in more of a puzzle-based direction.

You still would be tasked with getting Pogo up to the top of each tower, though the pace would be slowed down, giving it a bit more of a planned tone. This would also extend to the time-limit, allowing it to be relaxed, giving more breathing room, along with less of a punishment for when you inevitably mess up your ascent.

Along with that, I’d also work to make the levels more involved, requiring do you more than just ascent to complete the stages. To start with, the tunnels which allow Pogo to quickly move to the opposite site would be altered to require you to unlock them, through finding keys or accessing switches.

Along with that, I’d mix things up by differing platform types – whilst your standard one continues to function as it does in the original game, I’d want to make sure there would be different terrains, that you’d need to find the right items for (ala Chip’s Challenge). This would also offer opportunities to trap the player with more than just the disappearing platforms offered in the original game.

In taking it in this direction, I feel that Nebulus would be a game which would reward patience and careful movement a lot more than in the original game, where the tight time limits would result in more frustration than fun. At least in my books.”

And to top off all this Nebulus love, here’s a Nebulus comic 🙂

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