Interview: Realtime Games Software (1989-08-12) by ST NEWS Disk Magazine
From Sega Retro
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Original source: ST NEWS Disk Magazine
THE THIRD DIMENSION OF REAL TIME GAMES AND VEKTOR GRAFIX by Richard Karsmakers 08:55 We awake to deafening sounds only audible to us: The beeping sounds of random noise in our ears. It's quite terrible and we cannot really hear ourselves speak, even. We didn't hear the voices of Steve's offspring this morning either, by the way. I think I've got a slight headache. Today will be a bit of a leisure day, as we don't have a really tight schedule: It's as flexible as we could possibly wish ourselves. I like that. Richard 10:00 In the car again - to Leeds, where we will visit Ian Oliver's Real Time Games as well as Vektor Grafix. Later today, we will also meet Pete Lyon, who also lives in Leeds. As usual, we had a splendid English breakfast at Steve's place, prepared by his wife who is still amazed about Stefan's use of sinnamon but who now puts it on the table by default anyway. She also offered to do our dirty washing, so we left the poor woman behind with an enormous load of smelly socks, unclean underwear and sweaty shirts. A good idea: We have taken a portable cassette recorder (of the Ghettoblasting type) in the car and we are now listening to one of my tapes I brought with me. It contains some mixed stuff, including Jason Becker, Metallica and even some hip-hop (Public Enemy and the like). A good idea indeed, as it helps to reduce the beeping random noises we can't seem to get rid of. Stefan 10:32 Steve has halted the car at the Granada Lodge gas station - for even cars of celebrities need gas to pull themselves forward to the places where their drivers intend to take them. ("Shivers ran down my spine as I heard Metallica's 'One' on the tape just now!" Richard quote) Stefan Just after half past eleven, we entered Leeds. Ian Oliver, programmer of "Carrier Command", had explained the way to Steve, and it sounded pretty obvious (something like "Turn right before the Holiday Inn Hotel"). This explanation, together with Steve's built-in sense of direction and stupefying scoutsmanship, assured that we actually arrived at Real Time Games only a few minutes later. Prospect House we had to be at, and it lay in Souvereign Street -a rather industrial area of Leeds where all buildings have this characteristic dark brown-red color. "32 Prospect House" was written in large white capitals on the window above the front door, which' frame was painted brightly red. We entered the house, and on one of the upper floors we entered a spacy office where we met a large bloke wearing a hawaii shirt and casual jeans: Ian Oliver. He seemed to enjoy life thoroughly, as his eyes gleamed with zest and a warm smile was constantly present on his face. A really terrific chap, this Ian. He seemed to feel honestly sympathetic for us - little kids asking him questions and stuff. Also in the room was an equally large bloke by the name of Andy Onions. He wore glasses, beard'n'moustache and a 'Telecom' T-shirt (Rainbird, Firebird, Silverbird) that I eyed with even more greed than I had eyed Anita's Magnetic Scrolls T-shirt a little less than a week earlier. The office was spacy indeed, and mostly filled with fast PC systems that they turned out to develop their all their software on. We had to be careful not to fall over a long cable that connected one of those fast PC's to a Tandy one. As soon as we sat down, we went ahead with what we had come to Real Time Games in the first place - interviewing Ian. This was rather difficult, as the continuing noise in our ears often prevented us from hearing the answer - and sometimes it even refrained us from hearing our own questions! What's your date and place of birth? Ian: Leeds, 18th March 1963. How did you end up in the computer industry? Ian: Eh..well, most of us here were always into electronics and computing and sort of went through our levels and decided what to do with our degree. I did a degree in future science. We've programmed all sorts of things at University. The first 16-bit thing I've programmed was the PDP11, but before that we were programming also 36-and 52-bit computers. We also did 4-bit micros. The first 68000 I did was the QL. Andy: Ages and ages ago. Ian: We started off programming commercially for the Z80 and Amstrad. We actually started that doing "Tank Duel" which was a fairly traditional tank game which we made at our final year at University. Then we did "Star Wars" variants using polygon 3D. We only did "Carrier Command" on the ST, and we're working on another product right now, which is for Microprose, but we're really not allowed to tell anything about that, really. It will be 3D. Andy: It was meant to be a follower to "Carrier", but in reality it is a totally different game and it doesn't look like "Carrier" in any way. It just has a sort of similar name, which is "Tank Command". Ian: We haven't got a definite name for it yet, though. What do you dislike most about the software industry? Ian: Distributors are fairly devious people, but we don't have to deal with them any more. Andy: Microprose (laughs). Ian: The machines that are technically best to program on never sell any units; they don't sell in large quantities. What do you consider to be the best game ever launched on the ST? Andy: "Dungeon Master". Ian: Yeah, "Dungeon Master". And the lousiest game? Ian: I don't know really. We never get to see the odd ones. Andy: Certainly a lot of the programs for a lot of machines are bad, but we don't go out of our way to look for them. Ian: I've not actually seen anything bad, I guess. Andy: You know, magazines would see it, but we don't. What's your best achievement on the ST? Ian: "Tank Command". Is it faster than "Carrier"? Ian: Of course. Faster, yeah, but we're talking about a final few percent faster if you know what I mean. Andy: "Carrier" was very efficient right from day one. Ian: Speed is one of these things that people really notice much anyway. It's very subjective. Andy: We already had the advantage of four years of active development. All this development went into that version. There were other people who were just starting on the ST. If you were to make a comparison between them and "Carrier", you would probably see more difference. Ian: We've always gone for nice, pretty views, really. There's compromises. What do you think of ST NEWS? Ian: It's an interesting idea. I didn't play around with the thing that much, since I had other work to do. Andy: Does it sell? No, it's Public Domain. Andy: (Really surprised) Oh? (We hand him a disk containing the latest issue, and he's off for a while to an adjacent room to have a look at it) Please tell us an interesting joke. Ian: Ah....if you'd go to a comedian you'd ask him for a program? I am afraid I can't tell jokes. What car do you drive? Ian: A Toyota Celica. What tools do you use to program? Ian: For the ST, we use our own assembler and an editor called "Brief", and our own sampler and stuff which we are going to market fairly soon. We're just finishing the hardware for the PC to the ST. We assemble everything on the PC, by the way. "Carrier" took six minutes to assembler on the ST, and using our PC assembler we put that down to 18 seconds. It's quite a difference. We use "Deluxe Paint II" on the PC to do our drawing. We sample sound on the PC, we do everything on the PC. The ST just sits there as a type machine connected to a piece of wire. It gets everything down from the PC. You can't use ST's to program on because it's not a machine designed for that. It's not particularly fast and in an environment like this, they are not particularly reliable, and so at the end of the day you're far better off with something that's gonna grow along with you. I know people who use Amigas to develop on as well, but the problem is that you're tied to one manufacturer; you're tied to what Atari does or what Commodore does. Whereas if you work on PCs there's such a variety of machines that you can decide which one you can afford, really. What's your favourite food? Ian: I like sausages, and I eat quite a lot of pasta as well. And your favourite drink? Ian: Stella Artois, nice Belgian Beer. What's your favourite film? Ian: I haven't got one, really, but the film I watched most was "The Blues Brothers". Favourite book? Ian: Oh, grief. I could give you a big list of them, but just one...I think "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. I read mostly science fiction; several books a week. Favourite band? Ian: I don't go to see bands much....not at all, actually. I think the people I listen to the most are "The Damned". They are always on in the car. I've got three "ZZ Top" CD's at well. (Andy comes back and gives us back the disk with ST NEWS, sits down again) Who do you think is the most interesting person in the software industry? Ian: Probably Jeff Minter, actually, now you come to mention interesting persons. If you mean interesting as in 'unusual'. He's certainly unusual; an interesting man to go for a drink with. Andy: Speaking of drinking - there's gonna be a large beer festival over there in that big hall (points to a big hall outside). Should be nice. People come from all over England for it, so it seems. Ian: Sounds good. Where do you get your inspiration from? Ian: I don't know...from all over, really. From science fiction you've read and films you've seen and people you've spoken to. The actual game design only occupies the first few weeks and those are the weeks that you're really enthusiastic about it. Then you've got several months of programming and you grow to hate the idea. Then, inspiration comes in handy. What do you think of software piracy? Ian: It exists, I mean most people stop people from pirating the products, but you can also look at the viewpoint from why people do it in the first place. They want something for nothing. Andy: Piracy basically forms the network of distribution of the ST. Ian: I mean the Nintendo console is doing extremely well because people can't rip off the cartridges. Zero piracy. It's now got 85% of the market in the U.S. Makes a big difference. All you can do as as software author is trying to do what you can to stop people from copying your product - without irritating individual users. I mean "Carrier Command" went out without copy protection - we even gave you a copier on the disk. It only had a password protection. What's your worst habit? Andy: He picks his nose and scratches his bum. Ian: (Laughs, slightly embarrassed) I pick my nose and scratch my bum. What's the cheat for "Carrier Command"? Ian: Don't you know it? It has been in a lot of magazines. You have to pause the game (Control S) and type in "grow old along with me" (without the quotes, with the spaces). The game will restart and you will get the message "Cheat Mode Activated". The following keys have a function: In Pause mode (keypad numbers only) 1 - Refuel planes and tanks 2 - Reshield planes and tanks 3 - Move planes and tanks to destinations At any time 6 - Test squares 7 - Fast mode (no graphics) 8 - Frame rate indicator 9 - Show difficulty level + - Immunity on - - Immunity off Immunity only works for planes and tanks After this, Ian and Andy tried to convince Steve that PC's are much better to design software on. They are now working on their own assembler, "SNASM" (Spino Norman's Assembler), which is EIGHT times faster than "Argasm" - assembling on DISK instead of in MEMORY (like "Argasm"). It's on a 20 Mhz PC. They're gonna be showing it on the PC show at the end of September. After this convincing, which took quite a while, we went over to Vektor Grafix - which is a place very near to Real Time Games, where e.g. Domark's "Star Wars" was programmed. 13:02 We're in the car again, now both sitting in the back as Ian is sitting next to Steve Bak and telling him which way to go to Vektor Grafix. Ian's coming with us. Richard 13:10 We have arrived at Vektor Grafix, but the people we want, Andy Craven and John Lewis, are off to a pub for lunch. Vektor Grafix, by the way, is located in a restyled old mill with a spacy but very hot upper floor with rafters and the whole lot. A really nice working environment, if you ask me. Anyway, we'll hop over to that very same pub, the "Duck and Drake", now. I am kinda craving to get my hands on some fluids and have them slowly disappear down my gullet. Richard 13:50 I am now talking to John Lewis of Vektor Grafix, and he just told me that he once found an issue of ST NEWS on Oxford Circus, on the London Underground - about four months ago! At a bit over a quarter past one we arrived at the "Duck and Drake" and immediately ordered some Coke for Stefan and a pint of bitter for yours truly. Hmmm....it was surely nice and cool. With us here are Andy Craven and John Lewis, high people at Vektor Grafix, and two promising new creative talents that will help to make this company big - Alistair Swinnerton and Nick Pratt who will launch their first, truly unique game within one year. It will be called "Twentyfirst Century Fast Food Blues". The second game by these two people might be called "The Voyage of the Starship Fort Anglia". These will be in the Cinemaware kind of stuff - with more action sequences. The different thing about these games is that they will be programmed from the storywriter's kind of view rather than the computer programmer's kind of view. They're aiming for some absolutely top quality software. They have recently employed someone who used to work for the Ministry of Defence. His job there used to be the development of a natural language parser. He's developing the most amazing parsing system. It will be absolutely better than that of "The Pawn" and is already better than the Infocom adventures. John is a very nice person who reminds me of someone I know - though I can't for the life of me remember who. Andy has, I think, something of Virgin's Richard Branson. He also has an accent that I would interpret to be Scottish (but I wouldn't dare to bet my life - or anything - on the accuracy of this statement, and I take it that the editor assumes no responsibility whatsoever). The other people are talking about various aspects - ranging from games' story angles to murders on American streets that some of them appear to have witnessed. Richard At 14:32, we arrived back at Vektor Grafix. Andy came to us and demonstrated some of the most amazing aspects of their forthcoming game, "Bomber". This turned out to be not the only program they were working on at the moment - they are momentarily also doing "Fighting Soccer", which is a coin-op conversion. Some people were working on the graphics and they looked good. Some time during the demonstration of "Bomber", Ian Oliver went back to Real Time Games again. Pity he had to go so soon, for he was a swell dude, for sure. After "Bomber" was being demonstrated, we talked a bit with Alistair about a new label they're setting up. Alistair: "We're setting up a label for four games a year, which try to take computer games several steps further on. We try to create miniature animated films in which the player takes a role. You become a film star on a computer screen. '21st Century Fast Food Blues' is set in the future, but not too far in the future. Burgerbarons rule the cities, and the underground is the vegetarian underground. The idea is to take out the Burgerbarons." Nick showed us some artwork on paper which looked really stunning. The games designed by these two creative geniuses are surely worth to look out for. Considering the fairly short time they've been around, Vektor Grafix certainly seems to have established itself as one of the world leaders in 3D games. They are one of the names to watch, and might even beat hell out of Argonaut's "Hawk" - we'll have to see when the finished products are ready and playable. At four o'clock, we left Vektor Grafix. Lucky enough, just before we left, some slides were delivered - screenshots of "Bomber" and the like. So we could take a few of those as well. We forgot something else, though: One of the two walkman AC adaptors and one plug to transform the UK plugs to continent plugs. Lucky for us, Vektor Grafix sent them to us so that we were to find them in our mail when we got home (cheers guys!). Bomber The first game that Vektor Grafix will do in a short time is "Bomber" - due for release in September this year through Activision. It's an original concept - it was in development for ten months when we saw it, with a bit more time to go. A total of ten people have been working on the project - six right from the start and the rest joined in later. It is an interesting variation on the flight-simulator theme. Most flight simulators feature fighter aircraft and concentrate heavily on air-air combat on the assumption that that is the most exciting aspect of air warfare. In fact, the most exciting modern aircraft are those with multi-role capability: air-air and air-ground. In that category there are a number of comparable aircraft from several nations and so they came up with the idea of creating a game in which the player can choose to fly any of these aircraft in a head-to-head against any of the others. The list of aeroplanes available to the player includes Panavia Tornado, F-15 Strike Eagle, F-4 Phantom, F-111, Saab Viggen and, they think uniquely, a Mig 27 Flogger. The presentation graphics of the individual planes (side view and front view when loading weapons) is truly staggering and almost indistinguishable from a photographed picture (yet NOT digitized). A lot of games say that they offer different aircraft for the player to fly but, in fact, contain only the most superficial differences between them. In "Bomber", everything is different about each aircraft including the aeroplane's handling characteristics and the fly envelopes. And the player can select his opponent from fourteen possible adversaries, too. You get a high tech jet that you can arm to the teeth and blast away everything that moves. "Bomber", just like "Interphase ST" and "Hawk" we had seen earlier during our quest, uses additional 3D graphics in the form of circles and ellipses. Something that is very hot at the moment - again: Speaking of parallel development! You have a bunch of pre-set missions you can undertake, but there's also a mission designer - which' files can be stored on disk and swapped between "Bomber" players. Some of the nice things of the game include in-the-air refueling (with graphics), spot-look from anywhere to anywhere, perform a 3D graphical area/target reconnaissance, 'bus tours' (driving around the landscape to have a look around what you're flying over - they are currently forming the Mount Rushmore monument in 3D!) and a 600 square mile map. Watch this one..."Bomber" will surely have a large impact!