Metamorphosis: Leonardo Vettori and his passion for the ZX Spectrum

Metamorphosis meets the ZX Spectrum

Yes, you were not mistaken-we are still in 2022. Although the topic
ZX Spectrum
will tickle among veterans of the world of Videogames memories now dormant of the dawn of an era long gone.
During an episode of Atariteca I happened to hear the story of Leonardo Vettori and immediately a lot of questions exploded.
Some of these of a more technical nature, like how something could be created for a machine like the ZX Spectrum in 2020. Others are more social in nature, to understand how this machine (which was on the market for 10 years from 1982 to 1992) can still be loved.
Metamorphosis is a very interesting video game with a topical story and a more than explicit motto :
Today, however, we are not just going to talk about the game; in fact, I was lucky enough to have a chat with Leonardo, and what better opportunity to tell how it went.

Getting to know Leonardo Vettori, here’s what he says about himself:

I am a Tuscan, recently 50 years old with a passion for retrocomputers; a passion I rediscovered 8 years ago . The world of retrocomputers has always attracted me, but for a variety of reasons I always had other things to do. But here I go to an old computer event one day and my heart is reopened. From then on I decided to devote more time to it .
I have been part of an association for three years, helping in the management (Florence Vintage Bit) and then after that at some point I decided to try to do something else.
I’m a mechanical designer, and I’ve always been let’s say quite creative in whatever field I tackle, from mechanical to computer science, anything.

Expert in everything and nothing, that is.
I have always been fascinated by new things. In years past I would start so many things and never complete them, but then I decided to complete everything I planned to do.
I am also fond of cinema and literature….we do everything and nothing in short ..

You said you rediscovered retrocomputing because it was part of your childhood?

Yes, when I was a young boy. For some strange reason I fell totally in love with computers, in those years it was not a normal thing. I first saw the commercial for the Commodore VIC 20, on television, remember when they were constantly hammering “how do you do it if you don’t have it,” right? Do you remember this one?

I don’t know why but I felt the need, that is, they had completely bewitched me. For a couple of years I insisted with my father to buy a computer, of course he didn’t buy it for me because it cost a lot of money and it’s not like our family was a “technological” family.
And then, when it came time to buy me a moped (I was 14), he told me it was too dangerous; so he bought me the Commodore 64.

And so I spent all that summer locked in the house, with the blinds closed, drugging the Commodore 64. I used to go from one video game to another: Bruce Lee, Pit Stop, Impossible Mission (but maybe the latter wasn’t there yet, I don’t remember)

Everything that moved in the screen was wonderful to me; three months of video game overdose.

But you at that time had already tried to do some programs?

No, then I hadn’t started programming yet, because you know the urge to get into the game… then Slowly I began to ask myself questions: how does this work? Why does it move? How does it make the sound? And so I picked up the Commodore 64 manual and slowly began to programming in Basic . And that fascinated me at one point, because I realized that so many problems could be solved in more ways than one.
Let me give you a very silly example: in school they teach you that for a question there is an answer, right? When you’re a child they ask you a history question and there’s an answer for that, and so is math, right? But for me there was not always just one answer.
Then one time I happened upon
Commodore Computer Club
where there was an article about the aerodynamics of the machine.

I realized, by doing a program on areodynamics, that you could solve equations one way, or another way. There were longer and simpler and elegant ways, or shorter and bastard ways; there a world opened up to me.
This gave me an ‘open mind compared to my peers, and I liked that. Even my professors couldn’t do that stuff there.
I remember that for the first time I felt better than everyone else. Neither parents nor teachers nor the top kids in the class knew how to do what I knew how to do.
Which then, simply put, were nothing more than little programs in BASIC.
I mean in the end it all started there, and then I decided to do computer science , and after 5 years, almost at the bottom, I found out that I absolutely didn’t care about computer science! It went like this.

Let’s get a little deeper into the Metamorphosis project. How did you come up with the idea?

So here’s the deal, I wanted to program Metamorfosis from scratch, I wanted it to be my own project, totally my own, where no one would get their hands on it and everything. Other than me, no one was going to get their hands on it.

Then the pandemic began, a blessing for a retrocomputer lover. They forced us to stay indoors, a good opportunity to resume planning and drawing.
Because then making any kind of game, even a small one, takes a lot of time.

Then I came across a very nice program called AGD,
Arcade Game Designer,
it’s a platform game graphics engine that’s doing great on the ZX Spectrum, programmed by a guy named
Jonathan Cauldwell
So I started working on Metamorphosis.
Immediately, however, I realized the limitations. One remembers these computers, how beautiful they were and all; however, one completely loses track of how much 48 KB is. I remembered that it was a lot then, but today 48 KB is very little!

The game came about mainly for two reasons: the first because there was this engine available. And I was confident in getting my hands on it and being able to do it. The second reason is this. I have friends, also with the Spectrum, who were always getting excited about the same games.
Maybe they were beautiful, however, all with the black background, all with the graphics done a bit like this, all in short graphically insulting.
When I asked why, everyone always replied, “But the Spectrum is like that.” On every question I asked highlighted graphical limitations, but these did not necessarily correspond to technical limitations. Over the years, “spectrumists” have become accustomed to having games like that, because everyone does them that way. The same is also true for the Commodore 64 more or less, however, I said to myself mah, two or three things can be done differently.
I decided to play a color game.
Perhaps it was more a desire to prove that something different could be done with the Spectrum. Then I set out to do some testing, and actually the idea I had was working.

But so the idea of doing Metamorphosis was more to take what the Spectrum’s capabilities were to the limit?

No, not in my opinion. When I think about a game, I never think about the maximum capabilities of a machine. In my opinion, a good game can work even with few resources. It’s that just no one had ever drawn the graphics the way I had drawn them that way. I did a lot of research, because I said to myself, let’s go see where I can draw from, let’s go see what are the best 50 graphics games for Spectrum. I realized that all the graphics had black backgrounds, for simplicity probably of programming, that the games that were considered beautiful were isometric however monochromatic, and the games that had colors were terrible to look at.
And so it wasn’t that I went and tried to make graphics that played on the capabilities of the Spectrum, I just thought of something different, that I had never seen done anywhere else.
The reason it came to me that way is that I took Limbo specifically as my inspiration.

And then the talk of Metamorphosis and the character changing, improving, and becoming someone else. I actually used it because first of all I only had a limited number of sprites to use, for memory reasons of course, so at some point I was comfortable with enemies and character using the same sprites. And then also because I liked the idea of this kind of cannibalism, growth and so on. We also wanted to give artificial intelligence to the enemies. I have always hated enemies who go left, right, up, down for no reason, I never understood why. I was never entertained by them. I wanted to have few enemies on the screen but bastards.

And so putting all these things together, it came up with this tangle, this concept, and it worked.

Are you working on anything now?

Yes to a couple of simulation genre games always for 8-bit machines (it’s true).

I saw that Metamorphosis participated in the Goty2021 Of planet Sinclair, how did it go?

It ranked:first for music,third as Platform game and sixth as game of the year for Sinclair World.

This concludes my chat with Leonardo about the Goty 2021 award-winning game.
Once again we touched on a world from the past to the present day with strong determination, full of new technical innovations as well. I would also remind you that Methamorphosis is not only a digital game for spectrum but you can, and I did, buy the cassette to put in your ZX…for those who still own it today.


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