– Hi Martijn ! Before we start, I would like to say a warm WELCOME to www.iamretro.gr !
While I was browsing the net recently, I stumbled upon an interview you gave for Sega-Addicts.com . I’ve read there, with a great surprise that you’ve been developing games since you were 8 years old…Unbelievable !! How did you get involved with development in such a young age ?
– If you were interested in computers back in the day, I guess you didn’t have a choice.
The first system my parents brought home was a Commodore 64, and with little to no software you were forced to program software yourself. I clearly remember the original C64 manual with about 6 pages on how to setup the system with the rest of the manual dedicated on how to program the system.
– Did you own a computer back then ? Any gaming console ? What was your favorite system ?
– Like mentioned I owned a Commodore 64 and later on an Amiga500 and PC, but I had programming experience with many other classic computers when I was a kid like the MSX, VIC20, CBM PET, ZX Spectrum, Philips P2000, etc. as these were available to use and program at my primary school and a tech-related youth organization called “De Jonge Onderzoekers”.
The first game console I was introduced to is the Videopac, a console that my grandmother bought for all their grand-children to play with. During my youth I always had interest in the Sega and Nintendo consoles, but the first console I bought with my own money was the Playstation 1 (shortly after it launched). From then on I started to get into collection consoles as well and now I have a sizable collection for most consoles.
As for favorite systems, obviously I have warm feelings for the Commodore 64 and Videopac systems, but I really enjoyed playing many of the other consoles over the years as well.
– I am well aware that you were very active in the demo scene with your group called “Logic Design” from 1993 to 1999. You released some very distinguished demos for MS DOS like “Fashion” (1st @ X1996 – 2nd @ Symposium), “Performance” (1st @ Bizarre 1995) and “Prologue” (2nd @ Bizarre 1994).
Have you been involved with Commodore’s Amiga as well ? Did you attend to any parties ? Could you please describe those early “demo scene” days ? Do you miss them ?
– My demo scene experience has been mostly on PC as it had the most comfortable programming environment, although I have been and still am very interested in productions from the C64 and Amiga demo scene. For example: One of my friends, Tim van Klooster (now programmer on many console titles like “Tombraider”) was an active member of “Spaceballs” and we always had good connections and collaborations with Amiga artists like Danny and Lowlife which were doing PC work for us back in the day.
It was a great experience for all members of our group, most of which I still see regularly.
– You’ve been developing games and demos for Nintendo’s Game Boy and Game Boy Advance. I think that Nintendo was quite strict to give any license to develop code for the consoles the company manufactured over the years. We all remember the Nintendo’s Seal of Quality written on a tag that was stuck on the box of every commercial release. How did you manage to “infiltrate” and develop code for this handhelds ? Which programming tools did you use ? Any special hardware equipment ? Are you still into developing homebrew games for it ?
– At the time we had the official development hardware provided by Nintendo, which was very bulky and expensive. Also the Japanese SDK / documentation didn’t help.
Like many other professional game developers, we also used a bunch of black-market stuff to make life easier. I haven’t programmed the Gameboy in a while. I might be interested if I can get cartridge cases/pcbs somewhere.
– You are a quite inspired and innovative developer.
You released some great titles for obsolete consoles, that many users and video game fans hardly remember or never heard of their existence (well at least the young ones).
Let’s remember some of your released titles. They are well characterized by their innovative features.
Could you please make a short comment underneath each title ?
– “Astrododge” (2012), which is notable for being the first physical release of an SEGA’s SG-1000 game for approximately 30 years.
– I felt it was a great opportunity to release a new game for this nice Sega System. The game was developed in parallel with the ColecoVision version as both systems have many similarities.
It also took a bunch of effort to get the hardware developed, but I had great help by Nick Porter from SC-3000 survivors which helped me with designing the hardware.
– “Mage 3: The Final Journey” (2014) for Videopac / Odyssey2. This is a crown jewel !
“..The first game to feature fully animated double-resolution sprites for all in game graphics. This allows for twice the amount of detail of regular Videopac sprites !..“
– The last game in the “Mage” series is really pushing the Videopac/Odyssey2 system, maxing out every byte of rom. I think its a nice conclusion of the story that stretch all 3 games of the “Mage” series.
– “Cavity” (2010) and “ColorClash” (2010) for Meggy Jr RGB (8×8 LED based handheld system) http://www.evilmadscientist.com/2008/meggy-jr-rgb/
– When I first saw the Meggy Jr RGB project, I just wanted to have one because I liked the challenge of designing games in 8×8 pixels. I wrote my own simulator on PC before I even received my unit.
I actually had more games in development, which I need to finish up and release btw. In fact I might take a look at it once I finish up this interview 🙂
– “Trip8 / SuperTrip demo” (2008) for Chip-8 / SuperChip. “The first proper demo for Chip-8 and SuperChip systems.”
– Just wanted to see if it was possible, probably some of my demo scene roots kicking in
– “Debris” (2005). Bitmap graphics on Vectrex ? Yes, you made it real !
“Debris” is fully bitmap based and features rich animation, VecVox support and so many more… I will stick on Vectrex with your slideshow demo, “Climax” released @ 2010 as freeware. Full of bitmaps converted to Vectrex. Did you use your own dev “tools” ?
– I wanted to see if it was possible to do a bitmap-based game on the Vectrex, but in hindsight the project was quite ambitious as a first Vectrex game. This is why I later released “Debris Revisited”, which actually encapsulates my original vision of the game.
A sequel has been in development for a while now which mixes vector and bitmap graphics and I hope to release it someday.
– This list is getting very long, with so many to mention and I know I missed lots.
What gives you this inexhaustible inspiration ? Do you develop in a parallel, simultaneous way for many of them ?
– I really like working in the limitations of these systems and working around them. I think its like a Sudoku for programmers.
Furthermore, I have nostalgic feelings for a lot of classic systems (probably because I have been exposed to many classic computers as a kid).
– I will stick to Vectrex. I have to confess my incurable addiction to it.
Let’s remember “VexOS”. The very first and only operation system for this magic black box, developed by you for about 2 years, am I correct ?
– Sounds about right, it has been a few years since I last worked on it.
– You had included too many super features; A text editor, a multi graphic format viewer, a music file format player… Many of us, Vectrex “power users” and profound collectors, have been waiting for a release but this never happened. I know that the whole process of coding and iron it out, pushed you to your limits and it was quite exhausting.
How did you start ? How far did you get ?
– It has been an extremely ambitious project and had various separate elements that all came together:
– VexosBasic: A basic compiler that is able to interpret Basic code and convert it to its own binary format that can be run by the “VexOS” on the Vectrex.
– VexosPacker: A packing tool that packages a map with all kind of files (text, images, basic, sound,etc) into a Vectrex binary (and optionally uploads it).
– VexOS binary for Vectrex: This is where the magic happens and interpets the different file formats.
– Various other tools including a Vector Painting/animation tool.
Most of these elements work well and I’m quite pleased with what the “VexOS” had become. Its a shame I haven’t been able to properly release it yet.
– Was “VexOS” in a good beta stage to release it, before pulling the plug ? The “million dollar question” is: …Shall we expect something in the future ?
– Once I can get a cheap-to-produce ram-cart produced to bundle with the VexOS, I can release it.
But my hardware-partner for Vectrex is very very busy, so its all up to him.
I am also looking into releasing the Chip8 emulator, originally developed as part of VexOS, as a solo release as soon as I have new PCBs.
– You have also released “Avalanche” (2012) for Commodore VIC20 computer. You have already released titles for Commodore 16 and even PET computers. Shall we expect some more releases for these systems in near future ? Any plans for Commodore 64 ?
– “Avalanche” for Commodore 64 is still in final stages of development and is used as a simple step-up project to get most of the systems in place (sound/music/graphics/etc.). Once I get this release out I’m looking into releasing a few larger projects like “Mayhem 2” (with the original included) as well as a large “Mage” game for the system.
– Is assembly language your favorite platform to develop ? C++, Java for modern appliances ?
– I like C/C++ for programming modern systems and tools. Classic systems either use a combination of C/Assembler or pure assembler depending on the system. I don’t care much for Java.
– I still remember my joy and excitement when I ordered “Debris” and how impatient I was till the delivery ! This was in 2005…I wasn’t a kid anymore but I felt like one ! I really wanted to see all these bitmaps getting alive on screen…
Do you think that we have seen enough of these old systems already ? Did they give us everything they have got so far ?..or there is still something undiscovered, well hidden around the corner, waiting patiently for a talented coder to reveal it ?
– Personally I think I’m approaching the maximum potential on Videopac/Odyssey2 and the unexpanded VIC20, but all other systems I work on I feel that I still have enough room for technical improvement.
– Limited collector editions for the few…or unlimited releases for the masses ? Buying a collector’s edition, numbered game will be some sort of investment ?
– Most of my games are available in un-numbered or large runs to make them available and affordable for all. Wherever a collectors edition has a way of expanding the game or its universe I strongly believe a Collector’s Edition can add value. Like for example my mainline Vectrex releases with original box, overlay and extra features or the Mage series, which help expand the Mage universe with dedicated content, maps, gemstones and much more.
– Your first release of “Debris” (limited run edition), gets great scores on Ebay.
Debris Collector's Edition - Photo courtesy of Vectrex.Wikia
Did you expect such a giant leap at Ebay prices ? Will this rise of the prices go on forever or will be eliminated in future generations ? I am referring to present youngsters that eventually will take over but never had any bond with these old systems as kids, the living gaming experience the way we did.
– I never expected this. The Vectrex limited runs were mostly bound by the amount of effort it took to create the boxes, overlays, etc. Only the original Colorclash Boxed release had a larger run and that took a LOT of effort to get produced.
– Let’s talk for your present career. What do you do for a living ?
– Besides my classic gaming efforts, I teach programming and game development at a college in the Netherlands and work on indie games for modern platforms under the “Bitstorm Games” label.
– You are running two companies, am I right ? “Revival Studios” dedicated to classic consoles and home computers and “Bitstorm Games” for indie games developing. Would you tell us something about them ? Milestones and future goals ? Are these companies, somehow connected together in a way of cross platform game developing ?
– Bitstorm games is my attempt at developing and publishing indie titles on modern platforms like the PC and PlayStation. Right now there are 2 titles actively in development: “Battlesub Aquatica” for Mobile platforms and “Wildforce“, a procedurally generated run-and-gun game for 1-4 players with gorgeous pixel art. Revival Studios is not a company, but just me enjoying my hobby in my spare time and not connected to my other activities.
– I will borrow one phrase of yours, taken from one of your speeches :
“Technology is moving rapidly… We’re going to look at a few successful copies of classic games, and then I’ll show you how to take advantage of these classics and discover a wealth of great ideas in places you might have never thought of.“
Could you please analyze this a bit further for our readers ? Are simple ideas, hidden into all these classic games, capable of bringing inspiration and profits to modern game developers ? How will it be feasible ?
– The quote is from a talk that I give at various events and it talks about finding gems from the arcade era and finding elements that work well to incorporate in your own games. The same is also true for 3D games as there are a lot of unknown gems among the many PS1/Saturn releases that just breathe experimentation.
– I think that big and well established game companies have the obvious advantage in the financial department. On the other hand just because big game companies have all the money they need to hire -top talent- employers to create games, that doesn’t mean independent game companies are not as talented as the people big companies hire.
How do you cope with this financial imbalance? How many members can form a development team ?
– There are no plans to expand to a large company any time soon, but if I someday could expand the core development team to 3 members, that would be awesome. Right now I’m dependent on freelance artists which slows down development a lot, because every good artist gets hired by a large company.
– By reaching the end line of this interview, I would like to thank you once again from the deep of my heart, for your patience to take up with us and our readers. Is there anything else you want to share and I forgot to ask you ?
– First of all thank you and your readers for your interest in me and my productions. If you like to know or see more of my stuff, be sure to check out my website at:
http://www.revival-studios.com and facebook/instagram/allthatjazz.