CAPTAIN COMIC

BY ANTON WINTERGERST

Long before Xbox, Playstation, Facebook and even the internet, there was The Adventures of Captain Comic. Captain Comic was special for its time and proved a few points; Nintendo-like games could be played on a personal computer, and a sole developer could create an international hit. It left a legacy of inspiration for generations of games to follow.

Back then games were largely defined by the limitations of the day. Every pixel was carefully placed to represent a huge amount of unseen detail. As a result, we were forced to use our imagination to fill in the blanks. This meant that everyones experience of games from the 80s was quite unique.

I have many fond memories of huddling around the old 0086 machine (they were closer to machines than computers back then) with my older brother and sister trying to get a little bit further through Captain Comics adventures. We never did finish the game. It’s actually quite hard for a 6 year old.

ANTON WINTERGERST tracked down Michael A. Denio, the legendary developer behind Captain Comic, for this exclusive interview… Long live the Captain!



Captain Comic has quite a unique style. Where did the games inspiration come from?

The primary inspiration of course was Super Mario Bros., but by that time I had played several side scrollers on the NES, so I can’t tell everything that influenced me. I know I liked the puzzle aspect of Metroid, where you could see areas, but perhaps not be able to get through without the proper equipment.

How long did it take to create the game?

I think the game took about 3 or 4 months, but as it was 25 years ago, don’t hold me to it.

Did you work solo or with a team of people?

The PC version of Comic was a solo effort. If you compare the visual style of it to the NES version to the Captian Pixel demo, I think it pretty obvious that I’m not a professional artist.

I’ve been told you had originally worked with Anthony Henderson on a concept for Texas Instruments called Captain Pixel. What happened there?

Anthony posted a good YouTube video of Captain Pixel with a bit of its background. From the start, it was meant to be a teaser demo to illustrate what the hardware could do. What you see in his video is pretty much it’s final intended form.

I wouldn’t say that Captain Pixel influenced Captain Comic, I think its more fair to say that they were both influenced from the games of the time. For example, both Comic and Pixel had fireballs and fireflies, but that was hardly original to either game.

The primary reason that Comic was a space man was that the EGA adapter had no flesh tone color. Since he’s wearing a space helmet, no one questions his purple face. His face mask was changed to red in Comic 2 as I used the two purple shades and one other color for palette animation.

What is your favourite thing about Captain Comic?

Far and away, the best thing about Comic was its enthusiast reception by the shareware community. I received letters from counties from Germany to New Zealand. I never expected such a wide reception. It might be hard to understand growing up in the Internet age, but getting (snail) mail from all around the world was certainly a novelty for me.

The first Captain Comic was released as Shareware (This business model is essentially the same as the freemium model used regularly in mobile games today). Why did you release the game as Shareware? Were you happy with the results?

I shopped the title to a couple publishers first without success. Shareware was more or less me giving it away. I uploaded it to two or three BBS services, and about a week later I had to change my telephone to unlisted. Three months later I was getting about 10 letters a day. It was all a big shock and certainly overwhelming.

Comic wasn’t financially successful, but as I mentioned above, just getting all those letters and the media attention was a real rush. It felt great to know so many people were enjoying the game. Of course if a check for a million had showed up in the mail, I wouldn’t have turned it down…

Do you think the game would have sold better today? What would have done different?

In a word – no. Comic was good for the time (if I do say so myself), but it was not quite up to professional standards. I think it did well because it had such little competition. Today, there are a ton of $1 games that just look and sound fantastic. Comic wouldn’t stand out today as it did then.

Are there any plans for a Captain Comic 3?

It may sound odd, but I really like remembering Comic as it was 25 years ago. I don’t want to spoil it with new memories. Also, if I did another game, I think I’d like to try something fresh and not try to relive past glory.

What do you think of the abandonware sites that freely distribute Captain Comic today? Are you frustrated that they are not paying you for the game?

It would be an impossible thing to police, so it’s really moot. My official stance is to not give permission for re-release, derivative works, or modifications. I also stopped accepting donations about 15 to 20 years ago. People playing for “free” never bothered me. The only thing I used to find frustrating was the occasional angry letter. I once got a cashier’s check in the mail for two cents.

The gaming community has missed you. Where have you been? What do you think of games today?

I never stopped programming, but don’t do games. I messed around a bit with the XNA game studio for Xbox a few years ago. I was absolutely floored by the power of hardware today, and how easy it is to program stuff we couldn’t dream of doing in the 80′s.

But for me, the industry changed back when the VGA display adapter and the first sound cards were released. I recall that the first King’s Quest to use VGA came out right before Comic2 was released. I took one look at it and knew I was out of the game business.

Do you think mobile gaming is the future for the games industry?

The mobile market is certainly going to get bigger. I think pads and phones will always run a different type of game though. There are certain game types that don’t translate over to tilt, point, and drag user interfaces. I still play games quite a bit, but mostly on Xbox. I can certainly see the pc eventually getting kicked out of the home, but I really hope game consoles are going to stick around for awhile. I still vastly prefer the feel of a controller over tilting and thumbing a pad.
Play Captain Comic online HERE
…or set it up the old way:
Step 1: Download and install DosBox
Step 2: Download Captain Comic (Rev4 is the version we had as a kid)
Step 3: Extract comic4.zip somewhere easy to access (On a Mac it’s probably best inside your user directory, on PC it’s best inside your C directory)
Step 4: Open DosBox and mount the folder by typing the following (for Mac: mount c ~/comic4), (for PC: mount c c:\comic4) and hit return/enter.
Step 5: Type cd comic4 and hit return/enter.
Step 6: Type comix.exe and hit return/enter.
Now enjoy Captain Comic once again!

2 Comments

  1. Great. Comic was one of my first games in the early 90s.
    It had many fans here in Germany!

  2. Comic was THE best side-scroller for PC-compatibles 1988-1991. I’d hazard a speculation that Comic directly inspired the development of the Keen series, as well as Jill of the Jungle on PC-compatible systems, after proof-of-concepting the PC as a game platform. We all know where iD and epic megagames went after..
    Mr Denio, thank you for providing me with some happy childhood memories :)