A year or so ago, a new Atari group was created from existing sceners. Soon, that group of people became one of the most productive and controversial groups in the history of the Jaguar. In just a few months they released one complete game, the first level of another, source code and a utility that enables anyone to make their own Jaguar CDs out of homebrew binaries. On the other hand, they became a headache for webmasters of two Jaguar forums. I personally know them as good friends and that’s the best part of being an Atari scener. It’s not easy to interview your friends, the two roles might mix badly. Hopefully this interview is balanced but I’ll let you be the judge of that.
LR: I know you guys from your other groups. Why start Reboot?
Reboot: Because it was a new start for us all. We’ve never worked together on the same thing before and we wanted a unified name for us as a team. It was something new that didn’t fit in with our existing groups and allowed active members from these groups to come together without any hanger-ons.
Also, the idea was that Reboot would be a reboot for those involved – a chance to go off & do different things under different names, without any pre-conceived ideas from people or having any history to live up to or be compared with. No pressure, all fun, on our terms. That freedom was refreshing but also had downsides.
LR: However that didn’t sit well with some people, especially with those that had no previous scene affiliation where that sort of thing is normal. Why is that?
Reboot: The downsides… In computer scenes, new teams formed from existing sceners under alternate names is just par for the course. It’s a way for new stuff to come about that doesn’t fit with existing groups. But that’s not what irked some people. It was the simultaneous use of both existing & Reboot nicks in the same forum discussions that caused problems. That was a mistake, but the past is the past – we said our piece & tried to put things right & that is that. Nobody was really hurt, except for maybe their dented pride… after all, it was just talk in an Atari forum, not life or death. Some people respected what we said at the time & others have more recently agreed to let bygones be bygones which is clearly the best way forward for everyone who wants a community that is productive & friendly. Unfortunately, there’s still one or two people who’d prefer to continue the unproductive nonsense, but luckily for the community as a whole, it’s just a very small minority who are already infamous for such actions & it’s all taken with a pinch of salt. We certainly just laugh it off these days – we might have learned that hard way but we know that’s all the attention it deserves, and attention seems to be the motivation behind it. People want new Jaguar games & utilities, not arguments, pissing contests or bitter rivalries. That’s compatible with the way we do things now.
And we’re not so arrogant that we haven’t looked at things from the other perspective. When we bust into the Jaguar community some people wanted to give us a fair go; others just saw yet another cocky group of developers promising them new things for the Jaguar or another group possibly coming in and stepping on toes… the Jaguar community had already been stung by these kind of promises several times before & some didn’t expect anything different from us, which in hindsight is fair enough. We speak here of the kind of ‘groups’ who had the Cafe Press mugs ready before even creating the first line of code… well, that’s just not our style. We never deceived anyone like that or set out to profit from the Jaguar in any way. We’re sceners & that spirit will always run through our work – free downloads of everything we do, free source code where we can, openness & sharing of ideas & findings. So yes, if we ever said we’d ‘Reboot the Jaguar’ it’s in that context it should be viewed – promoting an open scene spirit rather than embarking on a closed commercial venture. If that was our thing we’d be making iPhone games instead, but it’s a million miles away from who we are & what we’re about. And we never claimed to be better than anyone or tried to impose our way of doing things on anyone either – that’s not our motivation… we’re just doing our own thing in our way & we’re happy as we are now.
Joining the Jagware collective was interesting. Being mostly a French collective, it was a little difficult at first for us to get involved in things with the language barrier (luckily, most of the Jagware guys know English better than us). To be fair it did put us under a little additional & slightly unexpected pressure initially as there were already existing issues between a few people & the ideas/plans of some Jagware members. But we can’t say we regret that decision one little bit – Jagware is the most productive team on Jaguar today, they’re doing some of the most impressive & exciting work and to a man they are very friendly and willing to share. That fits with our ideas like a hand in a glove. As we see it, Jagware will continue to be one of the most productive teams on Jaguar & we’re really pleased to be a part of that… and with each release we shall show our commitment to making Jaguar games & take another step closer to having a library of routines that will allow for the creation of pretty much any flavour of 2D game we can think of.
Going on from that point, our forthcoming releases could well be quite varied & involve specific gameplay mechanics/effects/routines, but without making things just for the sake of it. We do actually have a good internal system of how we go about things now & no one voice speaks louder than the others. We’re still very much learning all about the Jaguar, practically from scratch. It’ll take time before we are in a position to push things to a high level, but that’s not to say what we do should be subject to any kind of snobbery or looking down the nose, because it’s ‘just’ 2D or has tried & tested gameplay mechanics.
We’d like to show that making Jaguar games can be somewhat easy, fun & even sometimes fairly quick, as long as you play to your strengths as developers – both the strengths of the team and to the strengths of the hardware itself. Yes, we enjoy making & playing a certain style of games – if people want to play them or try them out all they have do do is click on a download link. If they are collectors or really like the game & want to have their own copy, we’re committed to providing a limited number of those as a service & that also allows us to make our own copies & to give some to our friends, which is win-win for us.
LR: Apart from the three of you, are there any other members?
Reboot: There have only been three of us active in anything we have released as a group so far. There are 2 other members… Dot Dot Dot and Oblivion, both of whom aren’t working on the Jaguar or in fact working on anything for Reboot right now. This could change in future if Oblivion steps up form the ST, but Dot Dot Dot is unlikely ever to grace the Jaguar with his skills. If other atarisceners want to get involved in working on jaguar, we’d be quite open to helping them make the move & support them with the hardware/software required.
We should mention there is also a support team of 3 testers: remowilliams, partycle and your good self, christos. Without remowilliams’ help providing the first skunkboard, there would not be a Reboot on Jaguar today – so a big thanks to him for that.
LR: Only the three of you took part in the internet wars as well. In hindsight what would you have done differently? If anything?
Reboot: “Internet wars” is overstating things hugely. Really, it’s just some computer geeks on forums (of course, ourselves included) some perspective is required. We’re not so high & mighty to think of ourselves as anything else, it’s a fun hobby that has its challenges & rewards, along with some pitfalls, but war is a long way from the truth. Maybe one man’s war is another man’s silly-buggering-about on a forum? But what could we have done differently? Never posted anything in an Internet forum would have been a good one. Simple as that. Just released binaries & let others get on with making of it what they would. Heads down, STFU and release stuff. But hindsight is 20/20 and there will always be stuff aimed at you when you dare to have the balls to make something for the Jaguar. It took us a few months to realise this, but it is a lesson learned & we intend to do our talking through our productions, not in petty arguments.
So yes, we came out too vocal on the Jaguar as newcomers and it wasn’t the best planned arrival into a community – that’s for sure! But in however many years time, none of the forum chatter will remain in any meaningful way, it’ll all be just that, words typed into a box once upon a time… all that will be left will be the games & tools and who will honestly care?
LR: You’ve recently released a game for sale. How well did Beebris do?
Reboot: How well it did is a subjective thing. It was much more popular than we expected (at the time of writing, there are over 60 copies of Beebris out there, with 8 of these being gifts & prizes). What we thought would be a little service to a handful of friends & people we had met turned into a mini production line. What it has done is put things into perspective. The vocal minority of nay-sayers are just that – a minority. It would seem the vast majority of Jaguar folk are true blooded gamers & collectors. I think we’re all in a much happier place than we were a few months back now we realise the kind of support we have out there. If a port of a 20 year old ST game (albeit a perfectly nice 20 year old ST game) has this kind of interest it, our follow-ups should prove even more popular or at least offer more experiences to Jaguar gamers. We received some great e-mails of support with the orders and that’s very motivating in itself.
Beebris though is a special case. It does not demonstrate the level of our games on Jaguar and especially not our intentions to go about making others. It was made all those years ago on the ST with the intention of being a great game, but as popular as it was, it was never quite what it should have been (the in-game music was only a title music for instance). The Jaguar allowed the game to be realised as it was originally intended with a simple graphical makeover and a further one with the SE release.
Then, after people either made their own copies up or requested we did for them, it was used as a means to test what kind of interest people would have in an already freely-released game… a test of how popular an official release of a game might be even if it was already freely available. We thought this was worth pursuing – the poll results suggested we might need to make 15 to 20 copies and originally we made 10 to be on the safe side. But the current numbers speak for themselves & also back-up the findings of Atari Owl’s poll on Atari Age – people love the idea of huge, technical masterpieces & look forward to them greatly, but there is also a need for other stuff in between that keeps them interested & gives them a reason to leave the Jaguar set up & not in the bottom of the wardrobe.
We should point out that the release did not target turning a profit – it was simply done to cover our costs & allow us & our friends to have a ‘real’ copy of our own game. Of course, what it has also done is prove that a ‘commercial’ Jaguar release will still attract sales of sufficient volume even when a binary already exists of the full game. Providing digital versions on a second CD as well as a CD image for the user to make their own back-up has proved very popular also – it shows a level of trust we have in the users that we equip them with everything they need to be able to play our game the way they prefer, but also everything they need to ‘pirate’ it (as it is slightly different to the original release). That has been well received.
We didn’t set out to gain fans or seek praise with Reboot. It was a personal thing, a desire to test new ground & have some fun on another Atari (even though CJ had already been there to some extent with the ex-ST-hacker-turned-game-developer group, Sinister Developments). Recent feedback following the release of Beebris SE has been the single most motivating factor in all the time we’ve been together as a group. So yes, all-in-all, it has been a really positive experience for us and we look forward to future releases in a similar fashion.
LR: Myself being a bit of a coder, I know all about feedback and how motivating that can be. And I find that you are happy with it. Would you mind doing a short overview of what you released so far and what was the response?
Reboot: Well, first up was:
CJ had been toying around with the Jaguar devkit for a few days, just playing around following the ‘escape’ of JetPac (it’s far too buggy to call it a release!). A playable version of Tapperesque was up and running and remowilliams kindly made a video of it. At that point there was no Reboot, just CJ , DOSBox and Virtual Jaguar. Remowilliams was running test builds on real hardware but what was working in the emulator wasn’t necessarily working on the real thing, so he kindly donated a Skunkboard to CJ. Soon after that arrived Tapperesque was running properly on the Jaguar. However, it was not really much fun to play and would need serious work to make it really enjoyable and would also have to be overhauled to prevent any © issues – this is the Jaguar after all, not a scene machine such as the ST or Dreamcast where such releases would be universally accepted. Thus it hasn’t been released yet, it was more of a “remember how this console works” kind of project. Bizarrely, the Tapperesque title screen actually evolved into…
Our first Reboot release was Project One (level 1 demo). We worked hard on it for three months. P1 has far more to it than the released preview might show to the average gamer (see the tech page of the P1 pages on the Reboot website for some in-depth details). With time it could have become a decent game for the Jaguar and while we would like to see something come of it one day it doesn’t fit into our new self-imposed restrictions on the kind of project we will work on together. So it’s in Limbo. We’re not going to get into anything that will in any way have a detrimental effect on our personal lives again (P1 took over for a while), real life comes first, other interests may take priority, what we have left we will use in a rational, targeted way to produce things that are doable, fun and achievable in a reasonable time limit. We don’t want to work on an enthusiasm-killing DNF project ever again. But lessons learned, while learned the hard way, have helped us get to where we are now & we’re all happy about that.
Looking back, we’re actually really proud of what resulted from those three short months, it’s just a shame we didn’t get as far as actually working on the playability or real gameplay design or producting something that looked ‘Jaguar’ graphically beyond the title/menu. Realistically though, P1 was stuff bolted on stuff bolted on stuff & that is no way to go about designing a game. It would be simpler & easier to start again, using what we learned in making it & taking that knowledge to make something far better & more technically impressive. We did toy with the idea of stripping some stuff out of it for a different shoot-em-up experience, but there’s more effort and compromise involved in that than any of us are comfortable with now.
A quick port of an old ST game, to try to spark CJ’s interest in Jaguar again & to realise Beebris as it was originally intended.
An improved version of the previous game, with a bit more time and effort spent on it to improve presentation. It still has slightly laggy controls on the slower levels & rather twitchy movement on the super-fast ones (mainly due to its previous existence on the ST), but it is a reasonably solid & bug-free game that fills a gap in the Jaguar game library… and what most people tend to agree on is that you don’t fix something that isn’t broken – so no need for some crazy for-the-sake-of-it ‘jaguar-looking’ face painted on a classic puzzle game… what that kind of action usually results in is a worse game experience for the sake of some needless eye candy. Gameplay comes first and this was exactly what we said it was – a quick port with a little polish to brighten it up.
The next game release will be shown at Outline 2010 and a collectors edition, full download & website will follow shortly afterwards. Other than games, we have also released a couple of tools:
CD Encryption Tool – skunkboard version. GGN modified this one to be used with the skunkboard rather than the old BJL method, released with source code. This paved the way for:
ULS. The Universal Loading System is clearly our most important release to date. It gives regular users the ability to create bootable, encrypted CDs for the Jaguar CD from practically any of the homebrew games & demos out there. The Jaguar encryption process is not so much difficult as time consuming, certainly wasteful & really not everyday end-user stuff. ULS does away with all that hassle for single-load prods. It also means it is not necessary to own a development system/flash device/modified console of any kind in order to see homebrews on a Jaguar with CD drive – that should not be underestimated! You own a Jagaur & JagCD? Then download any BJL/COF/ABS, fire up ULS & minutes later you could be playing it on your machine. Version 1.1 now supports the .JAG Jaguar Server type 2 & 3 files, so that’s another whole stack of things people can easily put on CD.
So in effect, we made a very simple anti-piracy measure when we released ULS. To do a run of 100 discs like this by hand, not using our technique, would literally take days & days & waste another 100 CDs. Sure, it won’t stop someone copying a game, but it does allow for accountability should the developer care about that kind of thing.
As usual, GGN worked really well producing the PC tool in record time, CJ & his skunkboard did the hard work on the Jaguar side & the concept & testing was down to sh3 – again, real teamwork bringing great results. In short, this team just works. We find a 3 person team is ideal, one drags the other 2 into activity and the three of us manage to cover a lot of ground between us in what we can do; the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts & this bodes well for the future. It also helps that we all have a similar outlook on life, share a somewhat refined sense of humour & are all fans of games spanning the genres. We have our new goals & a new way of going about things & it seems to be working well for us. And that is our story so far, coming up to 10 months on the Jaguar.
LR: What are your new goals?
Reboot: The new goals are simple: Re-affirm why we started this group in the first place – to have fun & explore new ground. We won’t normally take on anything that is in any way too big to be completed within 3 or 4 months or so, but we won’t just make quick tech demos or churn out releases for the sake of doing so or jump from game to game & have them sit on the shelf part-finished for years, because we have all found that kind of thing really depressing & demotivating in the past. This is about making fun but manageable games in a decent time frame while enjoying it all the way. If people want to play them – great! If they want to even own a boxed copy that’s great, too, we’ll oblige.
We realise some people might call what we’re doing “creating mini-games” or “old school” or “retro”, simply because we prefer 2D gaming… but we’re on a platform that was designed to be a 50/60fps 2D paradise & 2D gaming is something we love and it’s what we’ll continue to do. Take a look around the 2D gaming websites that have sprung up over the last few years – there’s a lot of very interesting stuff going on in 2D & some really good in-depth articles concerning misguided 2d/3d snobbery & the perceived worth of games because of their format. All 2D games are not mini games or of less worth per se, and similarly, all 3D games are not instant classics & worthy of greater respect (as a number of the officially released Jaguar games prove). Every game should be judged on gameplay first and foremost… for instance, we don’t see the point making a classic game in 3D unless it brings more to the experience… maybe the appearance of 3D with pre-rendered sprites is possibly the way to get the best performance in such circumstances, despite the Jaguar’s memory limitations. There’s no reason why we won’t someday explore some kind of 3D gaming on Jaguar as GGN has the mathematics background to take that anywhere he likes, but for now we’re quite content doing what we’re doing & enjoying it plenty.
A lot of the 2D snobbery, generally speaking, comes about because many people just don’t realise how much work goes into even the simplest of games, irrespective of the genre/2d/3d/whatever, because they know so very little of the actual processes involved in making a game. If someone can take the time to criticise a game & still be productive themselves, great, at least they have the releases, the work-in-progress or the knowledge to back their comments up. We’re not fond of classifying games as 8-bit, 16-bit & 64-bit or minigame/ midigame/ puzzlegame/ actiongame/ epic/ etc,. Games are games. Pigeon-holing software in such an arbitrary way is easy to do but serves little purpose at the end of the day other than for yet more pissing contests or finger pointing. If a game is good people will play it whether it looks like a VCS game or a PSX game, whether it took 6 weeks to make or 6 years, whether it was coded in C or pure asm, whether it runs entirely on the 68k or has Tom & Jerry melting under the pressure. This is the way we look at games, when you detach yourself from the “But it’s 64-bit!” mindset, you allow yourself a much freer hand & the resulting software will be better for it.
Making games is not strictly easy on any console platform when compared with doing so on computers and some are more difficult than others. What is easy though is making mock-ups & quick tech demos as proof of concept on any platform (as all the unfinished projects we have seen over the years on the ST/Falcon show). Taking that forward into a proper game engine that’s fully tested and allows for a playable, fun game to be created around it, that’s a different thing altogether & a discipline all of its own. You have the basic engine, the proof of concept, or whatever, but then comes the real ‘game’ and with it all the boring stuff – the user interface, menu, the behind-the-scenes management etc., etc… all way more time-consuming & all rather tedious compared to the fun of the rest of the process but all completely necessary for all but the most basic efforts.
LR: What kind of games appeal to Reboot? What can we expect from you?
Reboot: The 3 of us have diverse interests, so we cover most of the gamimg spectrum, but finished games appeal! For us games are there to be made and then played. It’s the reason they exist. To never finish them is counter-productive and anyone who completes a project on any retro platform deserves a pat on the back and a big thumbs up from everyone.
What to expect from Reboot? Releases are what you can expect and if we’ve learned anything from working together in this group it would have to be: “the unexpected” – our ideas can turn into code far too quickly.
Getting our games to as wide an audience as possible is also key. We want anyone and everyone to be able to take a look, whether it’s on a Jaguar with dev cart, a ULS CD or via emulation on a PC. That’s why we’ll always release our games in digital form. And we have more ideas than there is time to refine & realise them, so at the very least, what you can expect is _something_. We’re approaching this with a realistic outlook & sensible, solid goals and we’ll also do our best to try to get some of our games to other Atari platforms, we’re an Atari group after all, not just a Jaguar group.
LR: You keep mentioning you are an ATARI group. So far you have been Jaguar exclusive. Do you see ST or Falcon games in the future for Reboot?
Most definitely. Right now CJ is enjoying the freedom the Jaguar gives him as a coder. GGN believes the Falcon is as unexplored as the Jaguar for us, even more so – it deserves some attention. The ST is by far a tougher environment to work in and requires more thought and effort to get good results: lower bit depth (in annoying planar modes), slower CPU, etc, etc. but we’re actively looking for concepts that can be realised on an ST or Falcon & made to shine on Jaguar.
LR: Most of our readers (and authors) have experience with the ST/Falcon but not the Jaguar. Would you outline the differences between coding the two technologies. And of course what’s it like to draw for those machines?
GGN: day/night. I’ll just mention that the dev environment is very poor compared to what is available for me on the 16/32 (Turbo Assembler/Bugaboo/STEem Engine), and debugging stuff can get a real pain (I wore out sh3 while adapting the JagCD encrypter). The Jaguar hardware is a 2D games paradise: tons of hardware sprites, blitter, chunky modes, free transparency, special fx and not forgetting zooming, rotations…
sh3: Personally I’ve had to relearn just a little of what I do. I have been quite happy working within the restrictions of 320x200x16 for as long as I can remember. At first, I stuck to what I knew best & was reluctant to attempt to use a PC for producing artwork for P1. I then attempted to use the Falcon to create the artwork with only slightly improved results. Since then I have got over that barrier, the newer work I’ve done for Reboot on the PC has been better, while still retaining the ‘pixel fun’ of previous stuff.
Cyrano Jones: Debugging is horrible, but not impossible. Virtual Jaguar, while it might not always render correctly, will give a nice error log when it crashes. I’ve used that a few times to find bugs. Also, with notepad, a simple macro, and DosBox – assembling is very easy. As I’ve said earlier, coding on the Jaguar makes the ST look hard. It does everything for you… sprites, scaling, transparency, scrolling, etc… all done via the custom chips. Having three CPUs to run in parallel is also handy for leveraging performance. Of course, you need to code tight, optimised code to exploit the GPU, but its instruction set is nice so its not that difficult. The actual coding environment at first appears harsh, especially compared to the ST with all the integrated apps, however once you set up Notepad++ and DOSBox with a few macros and batch files you are just one button away from assembling and testing. It’s not as bad as it was back in ’94 by any means. In short, what can take a few days to get done on the ST can be done on the Jaguar in a few minutes. The hardware simply ROCKS.
LR: The Jaguar has the: 68000@14MHz, the Blitter, the Object processor, the GPU and the DSP. What’s the role of each one of those processors in your mind?
Cyrano Jones: Ok, in my mind:
68000: core logic and synchronisation
TOM: grunt work
OP: The OP renders the graphics to the screen from a “script”, it can do a lot of crazy stuff (scaling, flipping, etc) without having to code up routines for it. Very nice!
Blitter: What blitters do. Moving RAM around quickly.
LR: Can you tell me a bit about the Jaguar’s display modes?
Reboot: Vid modes… the Jaguar doesn’t have any video modes, not in the traditional sense. It has a linebuffer that is generated by the object processor. Takes a while to get your head around this, but it’s really powerful. It’s better to go read the technical docs than discuss this I think.
LR: From your comments on the Jag being a 2d powerhouse I understand you aren’t really fond of 3d for the Jaguar. Why is that? The GPU should be fast enough to render fast 3d and we’ve seen some great 3d stuff (of course mostly in demos) on the less powerful Falcon. Excuse the constant reference to it but I am much more familiar with the Falcon, it’s not a comparison.
Reboot: It’s not that we are not fond of 3d or 3d on the Jaguar, we all own & play current gen consoles or PCs. We just think it makes sense to play to a machine’s strengths & that it takes a lot of effort to push its weaker areas. On our budget of $0, we’re happy to aim for fun, slick 2d games that play well & use features the Jaguar has more & more in order to make the best trade off of time/effort/results. We’re glad there are others who are willing to put in a lot more time & effort into their large-scale productions but we think we all have a role to play.
LR: Is there something else you’d like to say to our readers?
GGN: “Don’t just moan about stuff, pick up a keyboard and start coding!”
Cyrano Jones: “Judge the Jaguar for yourself. Don’t let other people tell you what it’s like. Have your own opinions!”
sh3: “Thanks to everyone who has given so much positive feedback recently, your support & kind words have been highly motivating – we’ll repay that in releases.”
LR: Alright. Thank you very much for this interview. I enjoyed it a lot.
Apparently Reboot are here to stay. They are motivated and ready to produce more stuff. I personally am far more interested in the 16/32 aspect of things and I hope I will see them soon. They went with the wrong foot in the Jaguar scene, and I understand that that was as much a cultural shock for them as it was for the community. Hopefully now that things for them are back on track they’ll be able to become more productive. Low Res has been priviledged to a sneak peek into their latest work that will be released (if all goes as planned) at Outline. So expect a review of S…uper Secret Project in the next issue.
Since Outline has passed. The super secret project was Superfly DX