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John Dondzila

An Interview with John Dondzila by Michael Thomasson, retrieved from

John Dondzila of Classic Gaming Creations is a  modern day programmer of classic gaming consoles. He has coded for the Vectrex, Odyssey2, and the Colecovision.

Describe a memorable game-related anecdote?

Uhh, probably not good for my PR, but in my teen years I broke into a “Breakout”.

What inspired you to start creating new titles?

I was tired of listening to loads of “talk” from all the individuals
who were going to build RAMCarts, development systems, yadda yadda
yadda and write their own games.

I am a do’er, not a talker.

What is the typical development time for your creations?

Depends on time and motivation. Vector Vaders took 4 days (with no Vectrex
programming experience), Patriots about a month, Vecmania has
been on and off for the past year and a half (has it been that
long ?) I’m a lot busier than I used to be and don’t have much
free time.

What differences have you found between programming for the Vectrex
and the Colecovision?

Both have their ups and downs. I’ve always been more fond of Motorola
CPUs over Intel. Vectrex sound is easier to code, graphics are
more or less easy as well. Coleco graphics are nasty. 3 different
screen modes and the only source of reference was the graphics
chip programming manual which is as confusing as why Donny & Marie
are still so popular.

You didn’t ask about the Odyssey 2 – did I mention it’s almost as
painful to program as an Atari 2600 ?

Your Odyssey 2 multicart is a nice piece of work. Have you done
any further O2 programming?

Just AMOK! although I will eventually do another O2 game.

What is your production run for each title? Is there a finite
amount? Do you keep track of who owns which cartridges?

I’ll keep building carts for as long as people want to buy them. I
don’t believe in limited runs. The only people I kept track of
were the original owners of Patriots who got the serialized versions
of the cart.

How does one tell if they own a serialized version of Patriots?

The cart has a signed label with the number, and the number appears
on the title screen with the owner’s name.

What are your favorite Colecovision and Vectrex games?

Colecovision – There aren’t any. I despised those controllers the day the system
was released and thought most of the games looked “rushed”. Wait,
I take some of that back – I seem to recall spending a lot of
time as a salesman in JC Penney playing “Miner 2049’er”. If there
are any favorites, I’d say they are my own.

Vectrex – Star Castle, Rip Off, Armor Attack

What current endeavors are you working on?

Vectrex – Vecmania (it will be done by the fall or it won’t get done at

What type of Game is Vecmania?

My next Vectrex game release, including a Star Wars style shooter,
a Phoenix style shooter, a new updated version of my Rockaroids
game and a few other surprises.

Any Future plans for other classic systems?

Atari 2600 – A bit of code lying around somewhere for a game which was
said could never be done, which I did anyway, which will probably
never get finished due to the incredible amount of time it takes
to write code for the machine. Another more feasible project is
on the drawing board, and will be the next project after Vecmania.

So what is this mysterious game for the 2600, which was said “could
never be done?” (Tempest?) And, if you never take the time to
complete it, wouldn’t “they” be right?

Tempest was done (well, a playable prototype at least). My mystery game
was QIX. Maybe I’ll finish it some day.

Coleco – No more plans or desire to continue programming.

Odyssey 2 – A few ideas bouncing around now that I know how to program
the thing. Nothing immediate though.

Studio II – In my early programming days (mid 70’s) I always wanted a
Cosmac ELF (more or less the same system) to write games on. If
I live to be old and grey (or at least retire) I’d like to finish
reverse engineering my Studio II and do a game for it (Studtris

For those not so savvy, what was the Cosmac ELF?

A very, very primitive computer based on the old SLOW RCA 1802 CPU.

How does one obtain the secrets programmed into your games?

They wouldn’t be secrets if I disclosed them, would they? If you really
need to know, In Patriots, pause the game with
a score of 150 to play Breakout; In All Good
, hold down button 1 while selecting the games to
play an old TRS80 puzzle game.

In Spike Hoppin’, hold down 1,2 and 4 at the Vectrex
intro screen and a space ship will pass by and destroy the GCE
copyright logo (an eye sore for Vectrex programmers). Also at
the title screen, press 1,3 then 4 in order to play Vectrepede.