When Paco Suárez came up with what was called to be the first Spanish video game, he was 26 years old, he was learning to program on his own and he was fiddling with a ZTX 80 computer, from the British manufacturer Sinclair, “a very small machine, the first personal computers that arrived in Spain that were a bit affordable ”. The first time Diego Vargas looked at The flea, I was 13 years old. “A neighbor of mine who owned the Spectrum 48 had bought it for him,” recalls the founder of development studio Ikigai Play. Nothing at that remote crossroads presaged that Suárez and Vargas would one day sit before the same screen to create a new version of The flea. The revamped video game, now dubbed The Flea Evolution: Bugaboo It has just been released on Steam, where it is available for PC, Mac, and Linux, and on the Google, Samsung, and Huawei app galleries. “It will also appear on Amazon Games and on Nintendo Switch,” completes Vargas.
The collaboration came about by chance. Vargas was filming a documentary on the history of the sector in Spain that logically had to start with The flea. In the interview, Suárez told him that he was developing his own video game development engine and that with it he was preparing to create a new version of the thirty-year-old title: “So I proposed to collaborate”. The work completes the project started by Suárez in 2011 with aesthetic touches and changes in the different levels, the interface and the objects available.
The original flea and the new one have similar adventures. An alien creature named QQ2 makes a forced landing on a strange planet and must jump out of a series of tricky situations. The jumps were the germ of everything. Suárez was testing a parabolic shooting algorithm, designed to reproduce that same trajectory in virtual objects according to parameters such as time or speed, when inspiration struck. “It occurred to me to send a copy of the game to a company called Indescomp, which I think at that time sold computer accessories, and they asked me if I wanted to make it for Spectrum,” he says.
The process was slow. “The problem is that the computers of the time had very little memory, and the loading of the programs had to be done on a cassette tape,” explains Suárez. The only way to get the game going in this context was to write the entire program, save it to external media, and then load it to see if it worked. “This was very, very, very cumbersome. Each test took a long time ”.
About three months later and with the collaboration of his colleague Paco Portalo, Suárez completed the game. It went on sale first in the UK. “At that time in Spain it was hardly sold. The important market was the United Kingdom, and the company with which I made La Pulga had good relations with a distributor there, ”explains Suárez. Two months later, in December 1983, the first Spanish video game reached national stores.
Vargas fell in love with the game and the Spectrum. “At that time you didn’t see those colors in games. It was something unusual, “he says. In the original video game, the flea is a yellow character who propels himself on two legs to jump over colorful platforms in a long ascent to the surface. A yellow pterodactyl complicates the escape. “I didn’t think it was going to be that successful. But the people who played were hooked. It was quite frustrating and that kept them playing, ”reasons Suárez. The founder of Ikigai Play agrees: “Indeed, it was very difficult. But at that moment you didn’t stop to say ‘how frustrated I am’. I don’t even remember if I got out of the cave. The fun was running away from the bug. “
In the new version, the color range has the richness of video games made in the 21st century and, although the simplicity of parabolic shooting is maintained as the main tool to advance, some changes are incorporated: the flea must now escape 16 levels of increasing complexity where a long list of enemies make sure that nobody goes out the first time. “And now the flea does many more things: it can dive, it can go in a wagon, it has objects with which it can help …”, adds Vargas. The great novelty of the recently released game is the predictive jump system, which allows the player to estimate the path that the avatar will take once the jump has been executed.
Developing video games in Spain is now not as different as one might expect, explains Vargas, with regard to the small dimensions of the equipment and working times. But the context is different: “At that time everything had to be done and they could create novel mechanics such as the parabolic jump of the flea. Currently it is very different since there is a lot of competition. We have to create high quality products to stand out in a very demanding market and it is difficult to have visibility when a indie –Independent game– does not have the means for marketing. Making videogames in Spain is a matter of vocation without a doubt ”.
For now, neither Vargas nor Suárez are concerned about the possibility that The Flea too frustrating for modern gamers. “It took me a month to pass it on. In a live I saw yesterday, nine levels were made in two and a half hours ”, confirms the founder of Ikigai. Although it is still early days, the two positively value the initial reception that the game is having. Is it made for the nostalgic or for newcomers? For both. “I am already seeing people who did not know the game say that they are delighted to play something fresh. The funny thing is that the fresco game has nothing, “admits Vargas.
You can follow EL PAÍS TECNOLOGÍA at Facebook and Twitter or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.