Jason ‘kenz’ McKenzie is well known for his contributions to the contemporary Commodore 64 community. Starting with Binary Zone PD in the 90’s and progressing on to Psytronik Software in the naughties. His companies have brought some highly original and entertaining releases to the C64, and Psytronik is lauded for its professional packaging of physical copies.
I spoke to Kenz just as I was doing the final edit of the Zeroeth issue of INC $D020, when he supplied me with a load of print quality advertisements to use in the digest. Read the full interview below.
When did you first use a c64? What is your first memory?
This would have been while I was still at school. One weekend I visited a friend’s house who had a C64. I was a Spectrum owner at the time and had never seen a C64 before. I was absolutely blown away when he showed me games like Uridium and Way of the Exploding Fist! I couldn’t believe the amazing bas-relief graphics and smooth scrolling in Uridium and the sampled sounds and fantastic soundtracks in Exploding Fist. I was an instant fan of the C64 from that moment.
So what game companies inspired you to eventually get into game publishing?
Big influences were Psygnosis (love their glossy packaging) and Mastertronic (great cheap games!) Fun fact: As a nod to these great publishers I ‘borrowed’ the “Psy” from Psygnosis and the “tronic” from Mastertronic for my own software label name Psytronik. I’ve always wanted to release games packaged in a similar style to the glossy black boxes that Psygnosis releases came in, and after a lot of trial and error, have come pretty close with the Ultimate Edition of Hessian. I was also heavily inspired by the releases of Ultimate Play the Game for the Spectrum – so I was delighted with the Psytronik game ‘Darkness’ which features packaging in a similar style to the Ultimate Play the Game releases.
You’ve been doing Binary Zone since the 90’s (and honestly it shows in some of your website design 😉 ), did you ever think you’d still be doing it this many years later?
It’s great that it’s still going after all this time. I don’t really do much with Binary Zone these days, running Psytronik takes up all my spare time.
Would you ever want to overhaul the design of your websites? Psytronik looks much nicer than some parts of Binary Zone 😉
No point really, I don’t currently have any plans to do anything new with Binary Zone and would rather devote my time and creative energies into new Psytronik releases – which is why the Psytronik website is much more modern-looking and is regularly updated with details of new releases. I keep the old Binary Zone website online as nice tribute to the old Binary Zone PD days. Fun fact: The Binary Zone website was entirely coded using notepad (it probably shows too, heh!)
Where did you get the idea to start a C64 publishing company in the naughties?
It sort of happened by chance really. Jon Wells had converted the Spectrum game ‘Sceptre of Baghdad’ onto to the C64 and it was going to be published by Atlantis – but the company sank without trace, kind of like the lost city of Atlantis, really! I was in regular contact with Jon at the time and together we came up with the idea of releasing it through Binary Zone – but I thought the game was too good to be released as a PD title, so Psytronik Software was born!
What was the first game you published?
Sceptre of Baghdad for the C64.
What was your favourite game that you published?
Knight ‘n’ Grail is probably my all-time favourite Psytronik release. Amazing game. I’m really proud of all of them to be honest and each release has its own little story to tell. If only people knew what went into publishing a new game for a 30 year old computer. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about it … ! 🙂
What do you think is behind the resurgence in retro pop culture over the past few years?
The internet! There’s loads of great places for retro enthusiasts to hang out online and forums + social media are great for spreading the word about retro related releases. Kickstarter has also (excuse the pun) kickstarted a lot of interest in retro related releases, there’s also absolutely tons of great retro material to immerse yourself in on YouTube and there’s also lots of great online stores that specialise in fabulous retro related material – like my very own Binary Zone Interactive Retro Store – *plug plug* 😉
You’ve been intimately involved with the Commodore community for years now, have you met any of the C64 gaming gods?
I sure have. As I’ve attended loads of retro events and concerts over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet loads of my C64 heroes including Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Ben Daglish, Jeff Minter, Matt Gray, Jeroen Tel, Archer Maclean, John Rowlands (Apex), Oliver Frey, Jon Hare and countless others. Many of them have even signed a C64 that I’ve dragged along to various of retro events.
You did twenty episodes of One Man and His Mic, do you have any plans to go back to podcasting?
No plans at the moment but never say never! Those shows were great fun to make but took FOREVER to edit, the joys of being a perfectionist I guess. Maybe one day I will dust off my trusty mic and unleash myself upon the unsuspecting airwaves once again.
Can you tell us what’s coming up for Psytronik and Binary Zone?
There’s lots of exciting Psytronik releases lined up for 2017. I’m really excited about Soulless 2 and the sequel to Knight ‘n’ Grail which is looking fantastic. The fourth Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set compilation from Alf Yngve and Richard Bayliss is also shaping up to be something special and I’m also looking forward to releasing Space Trip 2086 which I’m having great fun playtesting at the moment. There’s also Hammer Down which will feature special Mastertronic styled artwork, and Platman Worlds which is a really clever Pac Man inspired platformer – stay tuned to www.psytronik.website for more info folks
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, and we can’t wait for 2017’s new releases!
Thanks!! I’ll see you … IN THE FUTURE!!