An Extraterrestrial Excursion Worth Taking: “Captain Cowboy”

A space odyssey, a homage to Boulder Dash, and a testimony to in depth exploration done right, fellow readers, may I introduce Captain Cowboy.


Aside from the usual train of products that come along our way each week, Captain Cowboy is not one of your run-of-the-mill retro titles claiming its authenticity solely with 16 bit design and migraine inducing chip tune soundtracks. It is also divergent from the stream of release that are usually aesthetic replicas of late 80s while Captain Cowboy is more about the early 80s.

The magenta-blue moonscape is enough to provoke estrangement to the eyes. However you will be offered seamless hospitality with parts of the game that feels just right. In fact everything feels very familiar and the chance of you not grasping the game mechanics is nil.

You swipe up, down, left, and right to move. Life is all but difficult, collecting diamonds without getting yourself stuck between boulders and dismally crushed.

Another area that shines is the soundtrack. Bob Nimbe, the developer of Captain Cowboy is also a lead singer of a Swedish band called Maskinpop offering a unique selection of synthwave.

Besides the soundtrack, my curiosity directed me into asking what exactly the grid-pixel effect was called. To this neophyte query, Bob replied:

What it really is, is placing a small multiplied grid on top of the screen that seperates colors in strict RGB stripes. Then put in a cascading order. This is not perfectly aligned with the actual pixelresolution, and also much higher, so that every single low-res pixel will be constructed out of small stripes of How much Red it contains, Green and Blue. (Then blurred a bit, and then I lead the contrast bleed a bit for a nice glow)

This simulates an old CRT screen with contains three different electric beams for RG&B , but to avoid total havoc they get filtered through a SHADOWMASK. Which is depending on manufactor and style of tv/monitor a plate with small holes in some kind of grid. Since these beams hit the holes in different angles it results in small small dots or stripes of RGB which differs abit depending on where on the screen you look.

So I think, what you’re looking for in terms of effect, is the “Shadowmask”. Mine is a quite lazy way of doing it without totally wasting your dear iPhone battery.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a degree in computer science to fully decipher what’s just been said by Bob. But I do understand that Bob’s work has spearheaded retro graphic design, ultimately producing something unprecedented in the retro genre.


Here is Bob’s wonderfully composed, idiosyncratic monologue of how he first conceived the idea of making Captain Cowboy and how his experiences so far as an indie developer in the mobile industry has been.

The idea of Captain Cowboy is in its technical core a Sega Master System game. We had this crazy idea of learning how to actually create one so I took up my old assembler-knowledge from the old days and started chunking threw the technical documents learning all about it’s GPU. Then I built an editor to create graphics. Not your average paint-program but it was closely simulated how the actual GPU of the Sega Master System was behaving. We had lot’s of fun with it but the game was never really completed. But we did use it last year and released Lambo at Revision:

So how is this connected?
Well after all that time I suddenly realised that in the actual editor I had a simulator of the whole GPU, running from a virtual video memory and you communicated with it exactly as if it was a Sega master System GPU. No sprites, just chunky chars. And I always had a special place in my heart for games where you advance an entire char since they are closer to the actual gamelogic. I blame the Game & Watch game Climber which was my actual first electronic game. So I dropped the Sega Master System restrictions, kept the functions, made the tiles volumetric and put them on a Z depth cause people wouldn’t believe how much GPU power I was consuming when everything was just flat, and it didn’t matter if all 1008 tiles would be moving around.

Then I was standing there with my newly founded company and needed to create a game with as little resources as possible. Since I was the only workforce, and all around me I saw people releasing games they called retro. I though, That’s not retro, that’s… like from the late 80s. I need to show these kids how we did it back in the early 80s! When games weren’t hardcore fast paced action games with sprites flying around everywhere. Hey we didn’t even have square pixels.
And I’m not being brief at all.

So then I made Captain Cowboy, in that engine. And spent 1 third of the development time slamming my head against the wall tying to solve how to make water pressure work in a celluar automaton physicworld. We didn’t put that much water into the game in the end cause nobody likes the standard puzzleformat of “Hey we built this entire world out of this one cool feature we thought of” . We just used it as water in the world. And it behaves as you would expect of water. If you are into physics.

One thing I wanted with the game was to make it accessible to non gamers. Like my father in law who never plays games. He loves the game now and I added so much crazy stuff just to comply with what he, as a non gamer, perceived as natural when interacting with the game. Also I made the game to open up the minds for people used to playing one screen puzzle games. Cause you are actually walking out of the screen here, and continue exploring a whole world. Maybe not a big deal for you and me but some of the non gamers I’ve tried it on got their first taste of world exploration. A genre usually not that available for “normal” people.

Life as an indie developer is my dream come true of course. It’s so wonderful to be able to go home from work every night thinking “I didn’t just waste 8 hours of my day, and I don’t need to sit up late tonight working on what I really would like to do, cause I just did!”.

Sorry for not being brief.
But I just drank a whole tub of coffee.
Cheers and thanks for your time!

This is not first time I have seen indie mobile developers making games of exceptional originality, which makes me wonder if the weather of Scandinavia makes it an ideal place for innovation and creativity (imagine what you would do in the long, dark winters).

With the gameplay simple enough to draw you back in, the soundtrack hauntingly addicting to keep you enthralled, and the graphics encapsulating the 80s essence, Captain Cowboy has enough to keep you in reverie for a good amount of time.



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