Secret Realms

Repton was an BBC Micro puzzle game I first came across in 1985. It was one of the very, very few computer games that really clicked with me and I have had an on-off relationship with the lizard in the yellow jersey ever since!

In 2010, I was involved in the BBC Micro and Electron release Repton The Lost Realms. I created the cover art, the loading screen, the packaging design, many of the graphics for the game and a set of levels.

Repton The Lost Realms BBC Micro and Acorn Electron Mode 2 loading screen.

The loading screen shows Repton, holding a key and a pill in front of a pair of open double doors. Out of the doors various items (balloons, skulls, eggs, bombs, etc.) are flying out towards the viewer.

The text says "REPTON The Lost Realms" at the top centre. At the bottom left there is text which says "Retro Software", accompanied by the red and white RS logo. At the bottom right is text saying "Superior Interactive" accompanied by the red and white SI logo. The image contains the "Kecske" artist signature.
Repton The Lost Realms Mode 2 Cover Art

When the game was released, it was always our intention to do a follow-up release containing additional levels for the game. This was very important as the levels supplied with the game were far too hard for casual players, and it was crying out for some more accessible levels.

A collage showing six BBC Micro screenshots of the six levels I designed for the game Repton The Lost Realms.  At the top the text says "Repton The Lost Realms Allegro".
Too Hard: The Allegro Level Set I designed for Repton The Lost Realms

Work on the follow-up project, originally titled Repton The Unreal Realms began immediately after the original release. The idea behind the “unreal” part was to make the graphics rather strange, with geometric patterns and optical illusions, and Katie Roseine even suggested a level set which was monochrome and done with outlines.

A screenshot of the BBC Micro version of Repton The Secret Realms running in the B2 Emulator. The emulator shows Repton, a lizard in a yellow jumper and blue trousers, stranding in a maze of walls with jigsaw puzzle and Bristol Café wall designs. The Bristol Café wall is an optical illusion that employs tiles of high contrast arranged in such a way as to make parallel lines look as is they are at an angle.
The Bristol Café Wall illusion

Some nods to that concept are still to be found in the finished games with Escher reptiles, Penrose tri-bars and even a wall section based on the Bristol Café Wall illusion.

Dave Moore of Retro Software thought this concept was a little too ambitious and re-titled the project to Repton The Secret Realms. He (quite correctly) thought graphics should be slightly more abstract than Repton The Lost Realms but should still be very traditional as we were trying to appeal to casual players.

The project was going very well, but was then suddenly abandoned due to a disagreement over graphics which was really my fault; I always prefer to walk away from disagreements rather than work through them.

Earlier this year I noticed that Michael S. Repton had started to create “Let’s Play” videos of the Repton The Lost Realms screens and went on to create videos of the completed Repton The Secret Realms levels. It seemed a crying shame to leave the project unfinished, so I got back in touch with Michael and Katie Roseine and to my delight we all decided to carry on where we left off.

When I created the graphics for the Repton The Lost Realms, I used a very complicated technique of creating the graphics in The GIMP, chopping them up into slices of 8 pixels in height, placing the slices contiguously on a MODE 5 shaped image, converted the image into BBC Micro format and then spliced the graphics portion of the resulting image into a Repton The Lost Realms level set file.

There had to be an easier way, and in this case the “easier” way was inspired by the Acorn Electron game projects written by David BoddieCastle Raider and Jungle Journey. Whenever he wrote a game, David wrote a suite of tools in Python with the Eric Ide to make programming the game easier, and I thought I had to do something like that for Repton The Secret Realms.

Kate text editor showing some of my Python implemenation of Acorn DFS.
Acorn DFS. Written by me, in Python!

I wrote three Python tools for Repton The Secret Realms: a Python implementation of Acorn DFS; a tool to convert PNG graphics into MODE5 format; and a tool to put the converted graphics into Repton The Lost Realms files.

A screenshot of The GIMP showing how all of the graphics for a Repton The Secret Realms level set are stored in a single XCF file.
The GIMP: Each level set has its own XCF file which contains all the graphics

For each set of levels, the graphics all live in a single GIMP XCF file. They are then exported from The GIMP XCF file as separate indexed PNGs into a folder.

A screenshot of the KDE file manager Dolphin, showing all of the graphics from a Repton The Secret Realms level set exported as individual PNG files, ready to be placed into a level set file on a BBC Micro disc image with Python code.
The graphics are all exported as individual PNG files

I then run a single Python command and have them converted into BBC Micro format and placed into the Repton The Lost Realms file of my choice. When I got it all working it really made me feel like a proper programmer!

A screenshot of the KDE file manager Dolphin, showing a six of BBC Micro disc images and six python make files. There is a console window open at the bottom with the command ./ which is used to put PNG graphics into the disc images.
A single command puts the graphics in to a game file on a BBC Micro or Election 5¼” disc image

Back when I was originally working on these projects, I used to compile the Linux emulators for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron from source, and the threads documenting the difficulties I experienced in doing this are still present on the StarDot Forums.

I’m too old (and too busy) to throw away a morning trying to put a library on a PATH variable. I was definitely up for finding for an easier way to install emulators on Linux and, amazingly, I found one.

Thanks to Alan Pope, Tom Seddon’s BBC Micro Emulator b2 (one of my favourite emulators due to the fact that it treats Linux as a first class citizen) is available as a Snap. And, to my delight, Tom Harte has made his ClockSignal emulator available as a Snap as well. ClockSignal is a fantastic multi-machine emulator which I use for emulating the Acorn Electron.

A scrreenshot of the menu screen of Repton The Lost Realms running under emulation in the emulator ClockSignal. The emulator is emulating composite video, so the colours are washed out, slightly blurry and there are coloured fringes around everything.
Clock Signal Composite mode is wonderfully nostalgic!

I love ClockSignal as it has an insanely accurate emulation of Aztec PAL Modulator that was found in the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron so you can relive playing games through a coaxial UHF cable on a domestic television set.

As always, it’s the Acorn Electron graphics that take a huge amount of time to create. I tend to create the graphics for the BBC Micro version and then try and create smaller versions for the Acorn Electron. Doing this takes a long time, and a lot of trial and error.

A screenshot of Screen A of the level set Vivace in the game Repton The Secret Realms. The screenshot is running in the ClockSignal emulator, with S-Video emulation, so the colours are slightly washed out.
An Acorn Electron Repton The Secret Realms screenshot taken in Clock Signal, with S-Video emulation

I haven’t yet started work on the cover art or packaging for the game. I have a cover art concept in mind, and will start working on it when I have completely finished the game graphics and level design.

A screenshot of the BBC Micro emulator b2 running screen D of the level set Moderato from Repton The Secret Realms. Repton is in the middle of a long passageway with balloons, rocks and diamonds in the rooms to his left and right.
The finished result: a level that I designed in 2010 running in the b2 emulator

At the moment it’s not clear how many level sets the finished release will have, or when the release will actually take place. However, the project is most definitely under active development and looks set to have a physical release on cassette, 5¼” disc and 3½” disc for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. It has the blessing of Superior Interactive and I’ll post updates here as things progress.

Many thanks to Michael S. Repton and Katie Roseine for their help and encouragement in getting this project back on the rails and to Dave Moore and Richard Hanson for their encouragement.






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