The History Of Jumpman (And Jumpman Forever)


Jumpman Level 1 “Easy Does It” on the C64

Jumpman is really a grand daddy to quite a lot of the platformer genre – even if you’re not familiar with the game.

Here’s a quick quote from NintendoLife about the re-release of Jumpman on the Virtual Console:

“There’s a reason that Jumpman has become such a beloved home computer classic from the 80′s and it won’t take you long to find out why that is. Sure, it’s not as flashy as other games from the time period and the control can seem a bit unfair at times, but when you get past these few minor inconveniences and get to the heart of the game, you’ll realize that it’s got one of the most addictive qualities you’ll ever come across in a classic computer title. It’s safe to say that if you’re a Jumpman fan, you’ll find that the game is still just as much fun as it ever was. And if you’ve never played the game, now might be a good time to see why so many classic computer fans still hold this game in such high regard.”

Oddly, it comments that it’s not as flashy as other games from the time period, but that’s not really true – once you put it in it’s original release timeframe, well, Jumpman was pretty much on par with everyone else graphically, and ahead of some of the others like Miner 2049′er on some platforms.  Honestly, it depended on what you played it on – see, Jumpman came out originally for the Atari 400 / 800 series machines, and the main character was a solid color.  Then, when it was ported the the Commodore 64, it got some graphical upgrades.  Then downgraded again when it hit the Colecovision.  But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

Jumpman, by Randy Glover, was released back in 1983 for the Atari 400 / 800, with a port over to the C64 not long after that.  Released by Epyx, Randy didn’t do too bad from the royalties on Jumpman.  For it’s time period, it was a pretty slick game – rather than 4 or 5 levels as was common in a platform game at the time, and it usually focused on the action portion.  Jumpman was different – it had 30 levels grouped into three different sections, and a wide difficulty setting method where you could change how fast the levels ran.  And the levels were HARD.  I mean, seriously hard – the Intermediate difficulty level set, for instance, is hard enough most people never saw the last level.  And the advanced levels?  Sheesh.  And the levels themselves had a huge amount of variety – robots, birds, disappearing platforms, moving components, UFOs, and more.

But it was a game that gave you a sense of accomplishment when you managed to figure out the magic behind a level.

Randy never released a true sequel – he did release Jumpman, Junior, which was a bit of a “lite” version of Jumpman that loaded faster, fit on a cartridge more easily, and could run on more tight resource restrictions.  But it also wasn’t as large, and had fewer options.  It had 12 levels (brand new levels, not levels from Jumpman), and not as many options to vary the gameplay.

My family has a Commodore VIC-20 for a bit, and they were looking at upgrading to a Commodore 64.  It was at a small computer store in the Pawnee Plaza Mall here in Wichita, Kansas that I encountered Jumpman for the first time – I HAD to have it. Maybe six months or so later, my parents bought the C-64 – and a copy of Jumpman.  The whole “lite version” of Jumpman makes a lot of sense when you experienced Jumpman in it’s original form.  See, Jumpman came on a cassette tape for it’s original C-64 release.  Between every level you had to wait for the next level to load.  Which took FOREVER.  Seriously, loading the main Jumpman game took a good 10 minutes.  Later, with the release of the 5 1/4 floppy version, and the Jumpman, Junior cartridge version, it became tolerable to wait on levels to load! :-)  I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing Jumpman and Jumpman, Junior – I absolutely loved those games!

While not technically a Jumpman game in any way, shape, or form, Wizard and Ultimate Wizard were… well, spiritual successors of a sort, released in 1984.  The main character acts like Jumpman with the addition of spells and other awesomeness.  It wasn’t quite as good – it’s level design had places where it was really lacking – but it was still a danged good game!

And after that, Jumpman faded into obscurity until 1991.  David Sharpless’s Jumpman Lives! for the PC (released by Apogee Software) was a nearly perfect remake of the original Jumpman – the sounds aren’t right, but graphically and gameplay, it was SPOT ON.  All of the original levels were there, and the game used the C-64 color scheme (rather than the slightly simpler Atari one, or the completely unsightly DOS or Apple ][ version pallets), and it had the added bonus of a level builder.

What it didn't have, unfortunately, was permission from Epyx to do a new release.  Jumpman Lives! ended up dying when Epxy sent them the (quite appropriate, all things considered) Cease & Desist treatment.  But enough people had gotten their first taste - or their second taste - of Jumpman for there to be a little interest show up again.

In 1993, Epyx closed, and all the rights for Jumpman reverted to it's creator, Randy Glover.  Then the story starts to get fun...

I tell ya, only the C64 version looked reasonable.

I tell ya, only the C64 version looked reasonable.

In 1994, someone did another sort of “port” of Jumpman for the PC – this time, it was a cleaned up version of Jumpman, brought forward from the old PC version.

Then other people became interested in doing a Jumpman remake, and Randy Glover did something amazing:  he started giving people permission to do some unofficial & official Jumpman products!

This is where I enter the story, again.  On the heels of some mild success with my own games – Boulder Panic! and it’s sequels – I had an idea:  I wondered, could I find Randy Glover, and get the rights to do an official Jumpman game?

Surprisingly, the task of finding Randy wasn’t as hard as I expected – he was working with a computer store at the time that had a website.  We chatted off and on for a little bit, and a pretty simple deal was struck: I had the rights to do 1 (ONE) officially sanction commercial Jumpman sequel, including rights to everything but the major consoles of the day (PalmPC, etc. were valid targets, but Nintendo boxes weren’t, for instance).  This was like a dream come true – I was going to contribute to the continuation of one of my all time favorite games!

So – the plan for Jumpman: 2049 (which became Jumpman Forever) was hatched.  Randy dumped the original level designs for me (the layouts, but he couldn’t send me the actions that occurred – those were all Asm coded, specific for each machine they ran on), and some other goodies here and there – he didn’t just give me permission to use the name and character, he actively helped move things forward!  I learned a lot about the internals of Jumpman, like the use of four sensors (one on each foot, one on each hand) that handled collisions with the environment to test if a surface could be climbed (which explains some quirky falls that happens), some of which ended up being pulled forward into Jumpman Forever.

At the same time, Randy Glover also announced his plans for Jumpman II.  Somewhere, probably dead of bit rot by now, is a hard drive that contains a copy of a preview of Jumpman II Randy was working on – he sent me a couple updated experiments with his idea as he messed with it.  He was using an interesting 2D / 3D concept, where most of the action took place on a single 2D plane, but was part of an overall 3D level.  As you turned a corner, you experienced the next 2D plane of the game.  It was interesting.

For a while, we both worked on our independent projects, but with some co-marketing involved.  Randy had, and I had – he posted blog entries on both, so we could keep the excitement levels of both games up!

I managed to get a prototype that rendered the original game levels on a modern machine with more modern (for the time) graphics, and it was somewhat playable.  Unfortunately, I got distracted with other things in life, including a game that turned into a massive sinkhole, Trajectory Zone.  Jumpman: 2049 kept getting pushed back.

Randy had a similar problem – real life ended up pulling him away from Jumpman II, and the project died.  For a while, we talked about collaborating on Jumpman II, but it just never really came together.

The original artwork for Jumpman 2049, which became Jumpman Forever

The original artwork for Jumpman 2049, which became Jumpman Forever

But that’s not to say ALL of the Jumpman projects died.  Jumpman Zero, a wild 2D with 3D effects take on Jumpman was completed (and is pretty hard to find now, though some YouTube videos of it still exist), and it was pretty danged awesome to be honest!

Jumpman: Under Construction got to the point of shipping betas before it died.    It was an official remake of all the original levels, along with the addition of a Level Editor.  That last bit, the level editor, ended up being a cool thing – both it and Jumpman Lives! had a small community around it that loved to build and swap levels (keep in mind this is way before everyone had Internet access – it was a thing to trade files on a regular basis.)

But, even that all faded eventually.

Jumpman: 2049 kept coming up.  People kept emailing me asking if I was still doing it.  I still had the rights to do it, and the desire, just not the time (I wrote, quite literally, an entire book about one section of my life where I didn’t have time to work on Jumpman: 2049.)  And I would come up with a plan on how I wanted to do the game, but it would evaporate while I worked on things I needed to do to make a living.

It was a confluence of things that brought Jumpman: 2049 back to life.  First, I released my first new videogame in AGES, RetroBreaker for the Mac, iPhone, and Android.  That got the bug for video game development back in my system fully.  Then there was the idea of doing a Kickstarter to get the funds to do the rather intense development that was going to be necessary to do a Jumpman sequel correctly – but I wasn’t sure that I could actually bring the game in on a budget that I could actually get Kickstarted.  Then there was OUYA’s Free The Games Fund.  That was the final straw – the thing that moved it from an idea to “Let’s do this.”  OUYA was matching whatever I raised as part of my Kickstarter target, moving it from the realm of “unlikely” to the realm of “possible.”

I didn’t just want to do a Jumpman sequel.  It’s unlikely anyone else is going to try and pick up the rights and do it again anytime soon.  After 30 years, I wanted to do a sequel on an epic level.  I sat down and wrote up my internal list of features, and created my dream version of Jumpman.  I wanted something that was commercially viable, kept the 2D gameplay, simulated all of Jumpman’s gameplay as close as reasonably possible, kept the spirit of the game, modernized what I could do with levels (like one larger than a single screen), kept the game on an update cycle that would reinvigorate sales on a regular basis, and allowed for community involvement.

I wanted to write a game that would stick around, and be as memorable as the original, if not more.  I also wanted something I could easily port to new platforms in the future.  And I wanted new content to be added all the time.  Basically, I wanted a version of Jumpman that stuck around forever.

And that’s where the name came from:  Jumpman Forever is my attempt to take an old, nearly forgotten 2D game that rocked, and turn it into something that sticks around forever.  Eventually, I’ll have to Open Source the game, and release it for other to continue porting to other platforms when I leave the game industry (in about, oh, 20 years! ;-)  But my goal is to do something so insane and outlandish that Jumpman, my favorite game, doesn’t fade into obscurity again :-)


The Jumpman Forever Logo - big and bold.

The Jumpman Forever Logo – big and bold.

Davis Ray Sickmon, JrThe History Of Jumpman (And Jumpman Forever)

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