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Interview: Realtime Games Software (1989-08-12) by ST NEWS Disk Magazine

From Sega Retro

This is an unaltered copy of an interview, for use as a primary source on Sega Retro. Please do not edit the contents below.
Language: English
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!