Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Interview with SCPCD and Zerosquare. JagCF getting near

May 15, 2010

As you have noticed, this is a jaguar heavy issue. Maybe because the jaguar has seen a rebirth or probably because I have one and only a cartridge and I’d like to know what I can do with it.
In that respect, every console out there has a way to load games that are distributed in binary form. With CD-ROM based consoles, in most cases it’s just a matter to burn the image in your home PC. With cartridge based consoles, there are flash cards etc that allow it to emulate a cartridge.
So far, the jaguar has had Alpine boards by Atari which are expensive and hard to find, BJL modifications that allow loading the executable in the main RAM (thus taking up space and limiting the possibilities for the game) and recently the Skunkboard. A flash card that does exactly what is needed but is unfortunately out of manufacturing with no plans to make another one. So either newcomers or people who missed the release of the Skunkboard are left with no options.
However, the hardware division of Jagware, namely SCPCD and Zerosquare are developing the JagCF. A small device that allows the possibility to have a CF card connected to your Jaguar and use it to load binaries, develop on the console and adds quite a few things to it. The development of this piece of hardware started a long time ago so we decided to talk to them about the JagCF and its current status and also give them an opportunity to address the various issues that have been raised concerning this kit.

LR: So let’s start by telling me a couple of things about you. How you got involved with the jaguar included 🙂

SCPCD: I love the jag since the day when my father came back from the Atari show with a jaguar and a lynx :p

Zerosquare: I didn’t know anything about the Jaguar until I met SCPCD in electronics engineering school a few years ago. He was very passionate about this console and I’ve always liked unusual hardware, so I thought “why not ?”

SCPCD:    some years after that, I started to be interested in programming (on a MegaSTe, a TI92+ and on PC with Delphi), and I looked for a way to program the jaguar but I hadn’t enough knowledge to modify the jaguar for bjl. And I finally entered into an engineering school where I burnt the BJL rom onto a EPROM by the robotic club of the school and started jaguar programming and modding in the same year :p

LR: Did you have any other involvement with atari computers and consoles before the jaguar?

Zerosquare: nope, I never had any Atari hardware before the Jaguar.

SCPCD:    yes, my father had a 1040 STe, a 520 STe, a MegaSTe (the one where I wrote my first Assembly program and that I used many years to assemble code for the jag) and he also had a Falcon 🙂

LR: So, SCPCD you are responsible for giving Zerosquare the Atari virus 😉

SCPCD:    😀

Zerosquare:    basically yes 🙂

SCPCD:    indeed.

Zerosquare:    I also discovered the ST and Falcon afterhand thanks to SCPCD and friends   and I think they’re cool machines 🙂

LR: The two of you met at electronics engineering school and then you decided to develop the jagcf. What brought this decision?

Zerosquare:    SCPCD. In fact it was already in development for some time. but he’ll explain it better

SCPCD:   I had made in the past some prototype project to expand the jaguar. The first one that I have made is an IDE & ST cartridge interface for the jaguar for a “TIPE” (note: a kind of a 6 month assignment in French universities) that can use the Audio input/output interface described in an STmag. The second project was the “Jaguar Evolution 2” that is based on 2 IDE interfaces, ACIA interface (like an STe), memory extension, ATX connector, FPU, and several not finished expansion boards. But this one was cancelled when I started the JagCF (because it was much more powerfull)

LR: And what are the main features of the jagcf at its present (final?) state?

Zerosquare:    features:

– Compact Flash connector
– 60 MHz custom RISC processor
– extra RAM
(but the base clock is 120 MHz ^^)
– USB connection to a PC
– PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
– non-buggy networking of several dozens consoles
anything else I’ve forgotten, SCPCD ?

SCPCD:    hmm, I don’t think so.

Zerosquare:    so, with it you can run existing homebrews, commercial games (if the controversy about the piracy problems settle), and new JagCF specific games

The CF card PCB

LR: I see, before we talk about the piracy controversy, would you mind answering a few technical questions?

SCPCD:    yep
Zerosquare:    no problem

LR: While the connectors and the cf slot are pretty much self explanatory, the extra RAM and the RISC aren’t. So I’d like to know if the extra RAM can be seen from the 68K and the other chips of the jaguar.

SCPCD:    the jaguar can have access to all the extra RAM with a Bank Switch operation. Each ram page is 4Mbytes

LR: And what benefit will software developers see from that feature?

Zerosquare:    not running out of memory for their games 😉    The Jaguar can use 64k and 16M color graphics, but they use a lot of memory. a lot of games could have better graphics but have to be scaled down because of the lack of RAM, same things with the sound.

SCPCD:   the extra ram can be used for exemple to store data read from the CF to reduce loading time so that streaming HQ video is possible 🙂

Zerosquare:    when you think of it, the Jaguar technically outperforms the NeoGeo easily, but the later use lots of memory to compensate

LR: And what about the DSP as I’ve seen you refer to it? What does it do exactly?

Zerosquare:    the DSP is used to speed up math calculations, it can be used to calculate 3D objects, scale graphics, synthetize sound, decompress audio or video, etc

SCPCD:    and can be used to make some work to discharge the jaguar

Zerosquare:    yes, it can run in parallel with the other processors in the Jaguar, without needing bus access so it solves the problem of bus contention which is another common issue on the Jaguar.

SCPCD: but I haven’t yet finished the graphics part of the DSP, the finished part is like a boosted jaguar RISC. Also  the DSP can directly address the whole SDRAM memory at a very high speed (optimised burst etc…)

LR: I see. Then again the Falcon’s DSP has been used for graphics without actually having graphics functions (selfnote: I should stop talking about the falcon in jaguar topics 😛 )

Zerosquare:    yup, but graphics-specific functions are a plus. For example, the processor will include features for hardware-accelerated alpha-blending. It’s not something you see usually on the Jaguar because it requires too much processing power to do “by hand”

SCPCD:    The DSP is used by the jagcf firmware for FAT16 read/write, remote debugging, network, audio stream

LR: A part of the controversy surrounding the jagcf is that with those two features the jaguar stops being a jaguar. You were frequently told to make a new console. Myself coming from a computer background I can only partially understand that argument though I don’t agree with it. What are your views on that? There is also the issue that this could raise the cost.

Zerosquare:    hehe. What makes you think that we’re not planning on making a console from scratch someday ? :). More seriously, yes, it’s a valid argument but the fact is that you don’t have to use the new features. you can use it as a simple compact-flash reader if you like and the extra features doesn’t raise the cost much. a lot is implemented in a FPGA chip which would have been needed anyways. It’s basically a lot of firmware.
SCPCD:   I think that it’s like the 32X or the CT60. It’s always a jaguar with it’s limits (cartridge bandwith for example), but with more potential and like Zerosquare said, the FPGA used in the Jagcf is more powerfull than the one originally planned, but it costs less ! (higher technology ! ;))

LR: However as I understand it it did increase the development time. Anyway, if you make a new console I’ll buy it 😉

Zerosquare:    yes, it did increase the development time, but you’re not creating a new extension for the Jaguar everyday, so you tend to want to include as many bell and whistles as you can 😉

SCPCD:    the thing that increases the development time is the job, when I started the jagcf I was at school, so much much more free time 😀

LR: What’s the current status of the project, how much is done and how much is left?

Zerosquare:    the current status :  one prototype has been manufactured  so the hardware is basically done (save for the last-minute few tweak and fixes that you can’t avoid).Firmware and software development is now the priority

SCPCD:    whith possibility to make 3 others when the first one is completly checked

Zerosquare:    (I don’t know if you can estimate a percentage of how much is done, SCPCD ?)

SCPCD:    hmm difficult to say

Zerosquare:    anyways, don’t ask about a release date 🙂

LR: ha ha ha!

Zerosquare:    we did try to set milestones in the past, but our day jobs and other factors always got in the way  so to disappoint nobody, we prefer not to give false hopes 🙂
SCPCD:    🙂

LR: the other dreaded question: cost estimate? I know it’s a function of quantity but let’s say for a realistic 100 units…

Zerosquare:   do you still have your cost worksheets SCPCD ? While he’s looking for his files, we don’t plan on making any profit on it (or very low ones, at most), so the costs are purely based on the price of manufacturing

LR: yes, if you sell something you are required to make “some profit” by law

Zerosquare:    also, the JagCF will be sold by preorders, so no shortage and the price will decrease if more people are interested

LR: right, the ct60 method

SCPCD:    I should update prices because my worksheet is with chip cost of april 2009

Zerosquare:    give an estimate anyways 🙂

SCPCD:   but I think that it should be between 120 and 150 euros. The prototype cost us about 240euros

LR: that’s not a bad price 🙂

LR: Another issue with the jagcf are the piracy concerns. That people will use the jagcf to play pirated games and especially a specific game. What do you have to say about these things? How did it all start?

Zerosquare:    well the Jaguar community seems to be very sensitive to piracy questions, much more than any other console community I’ve seen before. the fact that the authors of that specific game are mentionning it regularly is probably a significant reason. Honestly, I don’t think the JagCF will have any notable effect on piracy.

SCPCD:   I think that jaguar community is based on atari fans and “collectors” that will always have original games and that the possibility to play original games onto the jagcf could permit to have more people that will play the jaguar.

Zerosquare:    Jaguar games are not protected, and the technical ways to dump them have been available for years and there are also ways to copy games (Alpines, Flash cards, or just swapping the ROMs on a standard cartridge). Now there’s also the Skunkboard, which didn’t seem to disturb people when it was released. Regardless of all of these factors, piracy is very low on the Jaguar, much lower that in other scenes. A lot of people are willing to pay for homebrews even when they’re not technically impressive just to support the authors.

SCPCD:    but the world is not a “bisounours” world, so there will be some guy who will use the jagcf in a pirate’s way, it’s life %)

Zerosquare:    besides, on other machines, the availability of dumps doesn’t prevent games from being sold, so, basically, I think it’s a non-issue, it’s possible to pirate games using the JagCF, but you can also do it without it. And if you’re going to pirate that one specific game, burning EPROMs is even cheaper

SCPCD:    yep, burning a cartridge is not difficult, burning a cd is not difficult…

LR: So I think I am covered about the jagcf. Do you have any other projects you’d like our readers to know about? Jaguar and possibly other old platforms?

SCPCD:    On Jaguar we (me and Zerosquare) have planned one or two games using the jagcf

Zerosquare:    yup :).    I also tend to do various hardware and software projects on other consoles, so don’t be surprised if you see my nickname elsewhere 🙂

LR: well, if you do anything for the ST, give me a shout 😉

SCPCD:    and I have another hardware project after the jagcf but this one will not be for the jaguar 🙂

Zerosquare:    ChrisTOS: I’ve written some effect for a ST demo, but it was never released, because some members in the group are too lazy ^^.. maybe someday 🙂

LR: he he he.   Demosceners are lazy! it’s a necessary quality to enter the demoscene 😛

SCPCD:   I think that I will take some more time on the falcon after the jagcf 🙂

Zerosquare:    and there’s a programmable cartridge project on the Bandai Wonderswan I have to finish ^^

SCPCD:   Zerosquare, maybe i will finish the jagcf before 😀

Zerosquare:    who knows 🙂

LR: Thank you very much for this interview. It was thoroughly informative and I enjoyed it. If you have anything else to say to our readers now is the time to do it. Also I’d like to invite you to the comment section after this article because I am certain our readers will have a lot of questions.

Zerosquare:    Sure.Thanks for interviewing us and long live to your mag, it’s a fresh breeze 🙂

SCPCD:   🙂

Zerosquare:   what’s the saying already ? “stay cool, stay atari” ?

So, with a timeframe that rivals that of the CT60 and the CTPCI the JagCF is reaching completion. Let’s hope that it will deliver as much as the aforementioned projects did.

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Reboot! A new atari group was born. Another interview

May 15, 2010

Reboot Logo

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:

Tapperesque Video:

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…

Project One:

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.

Beebris Tribute:

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.

Beebris SE:

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.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it. With ULS it is VERY easy to produce a run of CDs that are all individually signed & can be tracked to an individual purchaser – you just create a series of slightly altered binaries for inclusion on the CD. It is trivial for any developer to create a tool to do this for & also record the details in a file. It would also be possible to create a version that applies slightly modified audio warning track to perform a similar function, or even a combination of both, but this isn’t strictly allowed under the terms of use, but we’re open to discussion & if a developer wants to use this technology we’re here to help.

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
Jerry: audio
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


Links:

  1. Reboot website

YM heaven in the net

May 15, 2010

A new ambitious project was released in the web some weeks ago called Atari Music Network (AMN). We would like to talk with Donovan Logan about the past the present and the future of it.

LR: Could you please introduce yourself?

DL: Gladly! But first, I’d like to thank you for this interview opportunity and your interest in the Atari Music Network. This is my first public interview, so I’m very honored.

My name is Donovan Logan. I lived in Toronto, Canada for nearly all 30 years of my life until recently when I immigrated to the USA to get married. Now I live in the beautiful mountain town of Asheville, NC. It’s definitely been a culture shock – especially since the Asheville Craigslist hasn’t had a single Atari listed since I arrived last year! 😉

LR: What was you first Atari and when do you get in in touch with music on the Atari?

DL: I studied piano/keyboard from the age of four straight through to University. I fell in love with the Atari in grade 7 when my school invested in an entire Atari 1040 ST MIDI studio for $4000. All had at that time was a Tandy TRS-80 and my classroom’s C64 which I brought home on weekends to compose an arpeggiated, three-channel chiptune and light-show on using Basic. The thought of owning a real, genuine Atari seemed impossible; I literally waited years to save enough money from odd-jobs to buy a smokey-yellow Atari 1040 STFM when I was 16 in 1996. Now, I own three modded Atari Falcons that read SD and CF cards and connect to a 22″ flat screen and mint condition Roland and Yamaha analog synths! It’s my dream come true! To read my full-length, extremely humorous and somewhat perverted Atari story, visit this link: [2]. You can also write your own nostalgic Atari story there too!

LR: How would you describe the AMN in a few words?

DL: The Atari Music Network (AMN) promotes and celebrates Atari MIDI and chiptune music with forums, how-to articles, news, & a growing collection of nefarious software. Although AMN focuses on Atari, it warmly welcomes Amiga, C64, ZX & NES musicians to share their music! There’s no platform rivalry here – we’re all one big, geeky, vintage family!

LR: What is the greatest feature of the AMN?

DL: In the beginning of April 2010, the Atari Music Network released AMN Live!, an incredible new feature which has completely revolutionized the site. AMN Live! is a free, professional music publishing tool designed to help chiptune and MIDI musicians promote their music to a targeted, global audience. It is the only chiptune and MIDI music sharing service that includes in-depth SEO and social bookmarking tools so search engines can easily index our musician’s profiles and albums as individual landing pages. AMN also pays out of pocket for Facebook and Google ads to drive traffic to this area of the site; therefore, if you really want your music to get noticed, you’ll want to spend some time writing a clean, professional bio as well as some informative album reviews.

LR: How could somebody could participate?

DL: All you have to do is register once to get access to both AMN Live! and the AMN forums.

LR: How long did it took to establish the site?

DL: This is a loaded question! First of all, this is the first website I’ve ever built. When I started back in June of 2009, I knew absolutely nothing about HTML or Joomla. In fact, I didn’t even know how to buy an internet domain! Since I was a new immigrant to the USA, I wasn’t allowed to work so I had a lot of spare time on my hands. Originally, I wanted to launch the site it in October, but someone hacked into my files and deleted everything. Can you believe I never backed up anything either? It was so devastating and I almost gave up. But after several nights of drinking Heineken and receiving encouragement from several Atari friends and my wife, I started all over again. The site was finally launched on midnight, Jan 1, 2010. And you wouldn’t believe what happened next! A few minutes after the launch, my hard drive crashed and I couldn’t access my site for days!

Over time, I have become quite proficient tweaking CSS, HTML, and mySQL files. The site has changed so much since January and I’ve got many unfinished projects to finish on the site. I can safely predict it will take another year to call it “complete” and “running on its own”. Unfortunately, since June 2009, I haven’t had time to even touch my Atari studio. It’s been a huge sacrifice building this site; there’s always modules to upgrade, bugs to fix, SEO enhancements to make, advertising to pay for…the list is endless. In fact, I’m running both a Joomla and PHPBB3 forum side by side and this dual platform system requires double the constant upgrading and monitoring. Right now, there’s a lot of people waiting on me to upload articles they sent back in March! I can barely keep up! Although I’ll admit, since I’m a graphic designer by trade, I spend too much time perfecting my front page graphics! ;-p

LR: Do you think that there is something most Atari musicians have in common?

DL: I don’t like to over generalize, but I can share some observations I’ve made over the years. Atari musicians come in two flavors: MIDI synth enthusiasts and Chiptuners. MIDI musicians tend to be in their 40s-50s, and are incredible Atari hardware experts. They always seem to have an answer for even the most obscure questions. Typically, these are the guys that never sold their Ataris since they bought them new, or if they did, they came back to it years later after realizing Mac and PC were no where near as stable, efficient, or fun to to sequence MIDI music on.

Chip musicians seem to span all generations and platforms. There plenty of older MIDI-chiptune crossover musicians and ex-demo gurus too. Perhaps the most exciting and promising thing I can tell you is that there are thousands of youths in their teens and 20s who are way too young to even know what Atari is – yet they are embracing and popularizing the 8-bit music genre like never before! For example, I recently encountered a few hundred of them from Indonesia though Facebook. The 8-bit scene is massive over there and I constantly get thank you emails and letters of support from them – incredible!

LR: Do you meet other Atarians in real life from time to time?

DL: Not in the Appalachian mountains! But there are still hundreds of Atarians back home in Toronto buying & selling Ataris on Craigslist all the time. One of the Atari Music Network’s goals is to create a global ‘network’ of Atarians to exist as one, large community.

LR: What are your plans for the future of the AMN?

DL: There are actually several planned stages of growth for AMN. First and foremost, I plan to produce an e-commercial for YouTube to attract and invite more chiptune and vintage MIDI synth musicians. I also have over 1GB of Atari software I need to upload which is a long boring, task – but one I’m sure all Atarians will love and appreciate. More importantly, within a couple years, I am planning on hosting international chiptune/MIDI festivals, similar to Blipfest, in the USA and perhaps globally. But right now, I’m focussed on making sure AMN is running smoothly with more content, software, and members.

LR: When I had a look at the link section, I didn’t see anything related to games and gaming, why?

DL: That link page is massive, isn’t it? My web analytics also show that it’s the most popular page on the site! It took countless weeks to build that page and I am nowhere near finished. I’m now looking for volenteers to continue adding and building it. The categories extend way beyond Atari music and so far it has potential to be the largest, most up-to-date Atari link page of all time. If anyone would like to help continue building it, please contact me at atarimusicnet@yahoo.com. I’d love to have a game section as well as sections for our C64 and Amiga friends.

LR: What are your 3 favorite Atari made tracks?

DL: I can’t say. Ask me again in one year after AMN attracts hundreds more talented Atari musicians – I want to sample thousands of new, innovative tracks before I form an opinion on what I like most. Maybe someone reading this article can blow me away with their musical talent! Hope to see you at http://www.AtariMusic.net/

LR: Thanks a lot that you found some time to do the interview Donovan, and good luck with your project.


Links:

  1. Atari Music Network
  2. Donovan’s Atari story

A new star at the shores of the Main

May 15, 2010

Not long ago the Hessian Kick Off scene organised in the RMKO [1] (Rhein Main Kick Offer) were only few in number. Because a tournament only counts international if at least 4 players participate we have to say thank you to Volker and Oliver from the KLD (Cologne, Langenfeld, Duesseldorf) team. Their participations often made it possible to have a real tournaments.

Now since there are regular retro meetings in the Rhein Main area called HomeCon, we were always able to get at least 4 players from the Rhein Main area itself. That’s a big success and we now locking forward to a brighter future of the RMKO.

Beside the constant attendance of long term RMKO’s like Thorsten B, Jan K, Frank F and Juan S we were able to recruit a new star at the HomeCon: Horst L.

LR: Could you please give a short introduction of yourself?

Horst: I am 38 years old, so I got first in touch with video games in the early eighties.
First in the Arcades, as you could sneek in easily as a child in 1982 🙂 Later I bought my first computer – a C64 – and had any Amiga except the A3000.
As my parents never bought me a pong console nor an Atari 2600, two years ago I started to collect and repair any model of the Atari 2600/7800 and by having now a collection of roughly 250 cartridges, a dream of my youth became true. Once a month I take part in a Radio Show called Dr. Pong on Radio X in Frankfurt, where we talk about recent games for current Systems like Playstation and XBOX but also about Atari 2600/7800 Homebrew titles and classic Games from the golden age of video gaming.

LR: What were your Kick Off experiences before you met the RMKO?

Horst: When we started to play Kick Off 1 on a Friday evening, we skipped the disco and played until 5 o’clock in the morning until we were some how able to control the ball and score goals (even the goalie was quite week in part one).
When Kick Off 2 was released, we ordered it in advance an got an original English version.
I probaly played it with my mate from school 3 times a week until 1993. Then I left for my studies and we just had a few games afterwards.

LR: What do you think makes Kick Off different to other football games?

Horst: The fact that the ball is not attached to your foot, allowing dribblings any time, requires certain skills with your hands in controlling the ball which current soccer games do not.
In FIFA/PES you need to see the coming action and plan the sequence of the 3-4 buttons you have to press in a row in forehand.
Kick Off requires the player to be concentrated all the time and is more comparable with Table Football (Kicker/Tischfussball) as you need a certain talent to move your hand/fingers. For FIFA/PES you train more tactics and moves, in Kick Off 2 you first have to train ball control, even though tactics are important in Kick Off as well (e.g. find the weak point of your oponent and take advantage of it).

LR: What’s your opinion on turning off know bugs of the original Kick Off?

Horst: I like it! It does not change the nature of the game really and now nobody can complain that he just lost because of a bloody auto slide 🙂

LR: How important is the competiton for you?

Horst: Well, 20 years ago I just played for fun with friends but had fun to beat them all the time.
Now playing a competition and having just started again, you lose many games but it gives fun, as you can learn new ways to score goals (I never bended the ball around the goalie before I played a game vs. Thorsten B., now I do 🙂

LR: How would you describe the German Kick Off scene you got in touch so far?

Horst: The guys I met so far were all great. There is competition going on but you allways get tips how to improve your own play and they are all cool guys bringing back the times when we had big parties going on at lake in the Odenwald (that’s were I am original from) with computer freaks from all Europe. This lake hasn’t seen such an crazy international crowd ever again.

LR: What kind of equipment do you use?

Horst: In1988 I was an apprentice at Bosch to become an electrician, so I built my own joystick board with an Arcade Stick and fire button.
Getting my hands aking from joysticks you can buy nowadays, I pulled it up from the basement, implemented a fresh stick and button and it feels great again. That is japanese arcade quality: A stick from 2010 fits in any arcade chassis from 1988, so it fits in my board… !

LR: What do you expect from the WC in October?

Horst: I really hope that I can join the tournament to see the leading guys from other countries to play as well as the German players I have not seen in action before. Hopefully they will find a mode where players of similar strength can play more games against each other to learn and improve before they hit the masters (only a master of evil darth, if you strike me down I will get even bigger… can’t remember the excact words, even I watched it 20 times…).

LR: Have you ever played Kick Off on the Atari ST and if not, what is your relationship to Atari?

Horst: Never played it on an ST. We Commodore supporters did not get in touch with the Ataris often but from time to time we compared the games on our systems and after Commodore and Atari were going down we had one common enemy: These fucking PCs with no soul, were you always had to buy new hardware to get your new game running smoothly… Even today I only play on consoles, never on a PC (except emulators of old systems). Today I love the old Atari stuff (2600, 7800) as I once loved my Amiga but never got in touch with Atari computers at all. I would say Atari is the mother of video games and I admire the guys from the first generation around Nolan Bushnell but did not care much about anything released from Atari by the Tramiels. I find it quite funny that today some people are still picking a fight on which system was the better one. If I think about Jay Miner, I know we had the same roots anyway… wasn’t it Steve Jobs working for Nolan as well?

LR: Do you like real football?

Horst: Yes, I played football when I was young and watch every game of Eintracht Frankfurt. I have a ticket for the whole season.

LR: Which 3 retro games you like most?

Horst: That depends on the system really: A2600: Pitfall, Missile Command, Hero, A7800: Centipede, Commando, Galaga, Amiga: Turrican 2, Apidya, Kick Off2!… and so on. I have my top 5 on each system up to the current systems, so it would take a day to compile a list. These games are just a glimpse.

LR: What are your plans for your Kick Off future

Horst: To play some tournaments localy and hopefully find the time to even go abroad some day.
As I only train vs. the computer from time to time, it is not so easy to improve my game play. It would be quite helpful if I can play a few tournaments with players on similar or slightly higher level, so I hope the scene will grow and we have tournaments with more and more players.

LR: thanks for this interview and good luck for the upcoming tournaments


Links:

  1. Rhein-Main Kick Offer

The future of ST web collections: Atarimania

December 28, 2009

Since years ATARIMANIA[1] is a well known source for all Atari 8 Bit fans. Now since some time, it extend it’s collections to also cover the ST computers. Not long ago, there was a relaunch of the site. So it was a good opportunity to have some words with one of the main responsible for the ST part of the site: Marakatti.

The new design

The new game screen

LR: Please introduce yourself.
Marakatti: My name is Marko, I live in southern part of Finland (the promised land of C64, Amiga and Windows) with my wife, 2 kids, 2 dogs and lots of Atari-machines and software. I’ve been active ST user since 1990 and own Atari machines from 2600 to Jaguar and from 400 to Falcon030. In the earlier days I was a gfx-man of Alien Nation and Depression crews. I also used to collect computers and videogames from 1997 to 2005 or something and have total of 135 machines and around 1500 original software titles for different systems.

LR: What is your function in Atarimania ?
Marakatti: My main job is to build the ST / TT / Falcon030 database (games, utils, demos), make Pasti-images from the originals we get or own, do a lot of scanning (disks, box, magazines, and whatever are related to ST software) and the most important part, to add the stuff our contributors send for us.
As every member of Atarimania I also participate to design, bug hunting and suggesting new features for the website and the special program we use to update the Atarimania. I try to work at least 1-2 hours every day for the site so you could say that there’s every day something new to see. I think 11 hours a day is my current record ;)

LR: How did you start participating in Atarimania?
Marakatti: In April 2008 things were very silent at the Guardians of the PaST. Team had lost the coder, founders needed to take a break for their hard work and the database engine wasn’t working 100%. It was a bit of uncertainty what comes next and when. So I was looking for a another project to keep the flame burning while the Guardians was on hold.
I noticed a site called Atarimania which was listed on RetroGamer magazine. It looked cool and I saw that the ST database wasn’t yet published. So I sent mail to the team, told a bit about myself and asked if I can help building the ST section. I got accepted to enter Atarimania. Later I worked for the both sites but as things got more and more silent on the Guardians side so I chose to concentrate my energy for Atarimania which is now my main Atari-project.

LR: What are the highlights of the relaunch of Atarimania? When did the relaunch was planed, and how long did it took?
Marakatti: It was amazing how fast our coder did the whole site from scratch concerning he has a fulltime job. I think the first concepts were done in late January. The new design really took off in May or so and we already had a new version running in early September. We’re still fixing bugs, cleaning the site and adjusting some minor things. This is pretty much done and we can concentrate to build the ST database again which still needs very much work to be equal to other areas of Atarimania.

About highlights I think the best thing is “My Atarimania”. It’s a totally new concept in Atari world where you can keep easy list of your Atari software online no matter where you are. It has already been very popular feature amongst the game collectors.
Generally speaking the whole site is now much faster and easier to navigate thanks to the fact that it’s fully recoded with Webdev instead of PHP. This also allows easier and more flexible expansion for future features.
We tried to make it more user friendly experience for our visitors and also have the latest web technology under the hood for the future.

LR: How many people are involved in Atarimania and how are they organized?
Marakatti: At the moment we have 10 active members from France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Finland.
Six members are working on 8bit Atari-machines and four for ST / TT / Falcon030. It’s a funny coincidence that most of the ST team are from Scandinavia.

LR: Are there dependencies between the different systems, or are systems like the VCS and ST independent in Atarimania?
Marakatti: The ST section is most independent from the others. With an exception of our coder, we don’t do maintenance work for 8bit systems. Atarimania has originally been built around 8-bit machines so it’s natural that the founders work for console and 8-bit computers.
In fact 8 and 16+bit machines don’t share that much similarities apart from Atari name and the case design of XE. So both require special kind of expertise and most importantly years of experience. I have to admit I don’t even have enough knowledge to use 8-bit Atari computers properly apart from loading some games or watching the absolutely fantastic demos this “babyamiga” has to offer. These guys are best for the job so ST section can concentrate doing our own thing. Having said that I will ofcourse be here to help if things like scanning or taking screenshots is needed.

LR: Why is there an own forum with topics like “programming”, why not reuse “Atari-Forum” or “Atari Age” or whatever?
Marakatti: I think our forum main purpose is to allow interaction between visitors and Atarimania. The other areas like utils and demos are also expanding so it’s natural to have our own little forum for that. It is true that Atari-Forum and Atari Age are the most active places for community. We don’t try to compete against them.

LR: What number of games do you expect to be listed in AM in the end?
Marakatti: For single ST/TT/Falcon titles we try to reach the magical 5000 games limit. I still think there might be some PD or personal archives to be explored. But it will take a lot of time to go this far as we now need to concentrate to fill up the gaps in the current database.
For the total number when you count different releases like budget-versions and country specific releases + the utils and demos for that, no one can’t even imagine the total number! I think we are going to see well over 10000 entries in couple of years.

LR: Is there a chance, that the Atarimania project will die (the ST part) as Guardians of the PaST died?
Marakatti: First of all I think it’s too early to say if the Guardians have died or not. It had a habit of having big breaks, and then suddenly something moves a bit again. As I spent hundreds of hours working for that project I still have a soft spot for the site in my heart and would be sad to see it vanished completely.

I’m sure that Atarimania will survive as long as we have a coder to supports us and there’s nothing dramatically in our families lives. We spent our childhood with different Atari systems, we love to play with our machines now when we are adults and we want to preserve the good old days for the future generations when we’re gone. Three very important things that keeps us together.

LR: The strange thing on GotpST was, that it was only interested in “Commercial” games, what’s the opinion on PD and Shareware games on AM?
Marakatti: It was this way because Guardians goal is to preserve everything including complete game boxes. It was something that most people didn’t realize.

In Atarimania our ultimate goal is to save every software title released no matter under what license, where or who published them. As far as the commercial stuff goes we prefer to use Pasti-images for protected games to have as fresh copy as possible, that’s why we decided not to use any cracks. We have nothing against crackers though, without them the ST history wouldn’t be complete and no one could enjoy as large software base as we can today.
But the thing is that there are already mighty CD or DVD compilations available from DBug, our newest member Marcer and from many other people in the past. But no one hasn’t succeeded making the ultimate Atari ST / TT / Falcon030 software archive yet with as unmodified software as possible. So PD, demo and shareware stuff is most welcome, it would be a real loss to miss such classics like, let’s say Llamatron.

LR: I saw on a C64 Forum, that they have videos of each level of a game, do you think that will come as a future feature in AM as well?
Marakatti: Very tempting idea. It would be possible with the games that have trainers or by hiring Xerus to play everything for us :D

Couple of ST videos are already uploaded with much more to come. Time will tell if we manage to go this far. I have to admit I really enjoy watching the Amiga speed runs from YouTube and would love to see such thing on Atarimania someday.

LR: What are the next steps in the project?
Marakatti: Main priority on ST is now to take screenshots for the current entries and to make as much Pasti dumps available as possible. In total we have well over 1000 boxed originals waiting to be pastified and/or scanned + the new contributions we get every week.
We will also do our best to find lots of previews, reviews, work in progress etc. documents to be added as well as videos and otherwise unreleased material not found from other Atari websites.
I’m also a huge fan of Falcon030 so thanks to the already very good Falcon emulation on Hatari we are finally able to build decent Falcon database as well. I think we also start soon working on Jaguar section when we have figured out how to get decent screenshots.

LR: What are your dream features of Atarimania?
Marakatti: In the future when the database is ready I would like to see Guardians style things in Atarimania like the expanded background information of games, ability to play ST-game music files, wider selection of screenshots etc..
It would be great to be able to play ST games directly from the website like on VCS section. Also the idea of having rotating 3D software boxes sounds very cool to me.

But my ultimate dream is that I would like to see the members of Guardians of the PaST, Atari Legend, Atarimania and other ST sites to work together for one big project that would challenge the big sites like Hall of Light on Amiga or World of Spectrum instead of trying to do things on our own. ST scene is just too small for that.
Just look at the VCS and 8bit databases. They are real flagships of Atarimania. It just shows what is possible when you have motivation and dedication to give your best shot and get people to support the project. We have the technology and motivation so it can be done on ST as well. So far the support has been great but there’s always space for more stuff and people.

LR: What are your favorite ST games?
Marakatti: I’m a big fan of racing games on any platform, so almost anything from that genre goes. I think the best ones on ST are games from Magnetic Fields (Lotus and Super Cars series), Vroom, Microprose GP, Toyota Celica GT Rally and Stunt Car Racer. From other than racing games I enjoy very much playing Kick Off and all the classics like Gauntlet II, Ikari Warriors, Xenon, Arkanoid II, Fighter Bomber, Llamatron and Obsession just to name a few. I bet there are still dozens of great games I’ve never even played. That’s what makes ST gaming so fascinating :)

LR: Many thanks for this great interview, and our best wishes for the future of the project

Links


1. Atarimania website

The truth about the Amstrad CPC

December 28, 2009

Most users owned one only retro computer system or only a couple of them from one brand. We got in touch with other systems, but not in detail. So a bigger part of our knowledge about other systems are prejudices. We liked them in the past, because they were an excuse to keep a closer look on other systems. In this article, I put all my prejudices against the Amstrad CPC on the CPC-Forum [1]. Thanks to the open mindness of the people there we had a very good discussion and I think that most of my prejudices were wrong.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: There were no good Joysticks around for the Amstrad because it had a own joystick standard

Octate / CPC-Forum: The CPC uses a standard 9-pin SUB-D connector, so you can connect all standard joysticks to it. However, it only has one port so you need a joystick adapter to add the second port. The missing 5V power supply on the SUB-D port prevents auto-fire from working, but, as already said, you can connect a standard joystick (e.g. I’m using a Competition Pro).

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Ok, there were other computers that had no joystick connector or only one (the Spectrum for example). Now I know what the CPC switch on some joysticks meant. It was the autofire. Thanks for the answer, it extend my horizon.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The 3 inch disks were exspencive like hell and no CPC user owned a floppy drive

Octate / CPC-Forum: Only the CPC464 and 464 Plus had no floppy drive, the 664, 6128 and 6128 Plus came directly with an inbuilt floppy drive. It is also possible to connect a 3.5″ PC floppy drive to the CPC which is the standard today.

TFM / CPC-Forum: Most of the CPCs had a floppy drive built in. Further most of the CPC users use an additional external 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive with inexpensive discs. Since the CPC had a standard drive adapter, nearly every drive can be connected. Even some actual PC 3.5″ drives can be connected.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: But every school kid had to deal with drugs on the schoolyard to be able to buy at least one 3″ disk to get some pirate copies for his 664 or 6128, they were so expensive, so in reality everybody used datasettes I guess.

Almasys / CPC-Forum: indeed, I had to use cassettes when I was in school. One pack (10 pieces) of Panasonic 3″ disks had to be enough. But on the other hand, a normal cassette player was much cheaper than a 5,25″ disk drive.

Octoate / CPC-Forum: I got a 5,25″ drive soon after I bought a 3″ drive for my CPC 464. The disks were cheaper of course. A bigger problem for me was, that nobody else owned a CPC at that time. Most people owned a C64

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: All CPC died after half a year because the floppy belt got broken

Octate / CPC-Forum: Not half a year (it lasts longer), but we can’t deny that it is the main cause for a hardware failure of the “CPC”.

TFM / CPC-Forum: have a CPC running, bought in 1987, it still uses the original floppy and drive belt. Had never a need to change a part.
The drive belt problem only appears if the drive is not used for a long time.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Is it hard to get a replacement?

Alamsys / CPC-Forum: Not at all, I get them from a local TV & radio repair shop

Octoate / CPC-Forum: There are enough Ebay auctions around, to get one.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The Z80 CPU suxx because even with more MHz a 6502 machine had the faster 3D graphics

TFM / CPC-Forum: The original prototype CPC had a 6502. But this CPU was too weak, so Amstrad decided to switch to the powerful Z80 CPU. Look at Starglider with 3d Vector graphics or Driller for 3D solid graphic. The CPC versions beat every other system, especially the slow and ugly c64 versions.
When looking at the game Mercenary the Atari 800XL and the CPC versions were superior compared to all other so called home computers (16 bit machines excluded).

Cpt_void / CPC-Forum: A friend (hardcore C64 user) throw the joystick away after playing Elite. He said, it unplayable, it’s to fast.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The CPC was not able to scroll as good as the other 8 Bit machines

Octoate / CPC-Forum: Well, have a look at the Giana Sister Remake [2] by TFM and Tolkin. It has smooth scrolling in overscan mode. I guess that this prejudice is caused by the bad Spectrum game ports. It’s much better on a real CPC, cause the CPC monitor had hardware antializing.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: Are there other examples then this Giana Sister Remake ( Or is the real reason you mention it the fact that the ST version of Giana Sisters did not scroll 🙂 Is it hard to code a scrolling?

Octoate / CPC-Forum:

  • Prehistorik II
  • Super Cauldron
  • Axys
  • Warhawk

that are example for good Hardware Scrolling. To code scrolling, you need some OUT orders to some registers of the CRTC and you have to keep an eye on the screen border. It’s more complicated if you use the overscan mode.

TFM / CPC-Forum: Take an old game of the old days… TLL! Watch TLL (Tornado Low Level) once on a CPC and you will never talk about scrolling!!! Really! Watch it !!! !!! !!! Bye the way, it’s not hard to code scrolling. Look at all the demos Wink

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: There are no demos around for the CPC

Octate / CPC-Forum: Have a look at the demo section at Pouet [3]. There are a lot of them…

TFM / CPC-Forum: Take a look at the web and you will need about 99 years to watch all demos Wink

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: I expected to get names from really good demos from you, are there none?

Octoate / CPC-Forum: Of course there are interesting demos, but not as much as on other systems. Of the newer ones, I like

  • From Scratch
  • Pheelone
  • Backtro
  • PHAT
  • PHAT 2
  • Demoizart
  • Hate Beats
  • Midline Process
  • A step beyond

Of the older ones, I like:

  • das Ultimate Megademo
  • The Demo
  • Voyage 93.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: The most unsuccessful Amstrad machine was the Joyce

TFM / CPC-Forum: Wrong, the Joyce was in fact one of the most successful systems for word processing. And in the time of its release it was superior to the PC.

OpenMind / Tollerancia: I heard, that Amstrad sold 8 million Joyce, so they even sold more units than ATARI with the ST range.

Tunnel Look / Ignorancia: Nobody used CP/M in the old days

TFM / CPC-Forum: CP/M was the standard OS in the old days like Windows today.
And it provides still a trendemous software library.

AMSi / CPC-Forum: Thanks to CP/M, applications like WordStar and dBase II were available right at the launch of the CPC. Turbo Pascal was also very popular. The ability to use CP/M was one of the reasons of the success of the CPC.

Nilquader / CPC-Forum: I had computer science at school and we had to write programs in LOGO. The school had to upgrade almost all of their computers to run PC Logo, but I could do my homework on the CPC. Thanks to CP/M and DR LOGO.

Many thanks to the people at the CPC-Forum to understand the intention behind the questions and to cooperate in that great manner. See you soon at a party guys.

Links


1. CPC-Forum
2. Gianna Systers Remake playable via a emulator online
3. Pouet

A brief history of the ST.

December 28, 2009

The Atari ST was unveiled to the public In January 1985 at the CES in Las Vegas. To see what the ST was though, we need to go one year back, to the ousting of Jack Tramiel from the company he founded, Commodore. We’ll skip the intrigue that surrounds that event and we’ll just say that Jack didn’t go alone, but also brought with him the engineer behind the 64, Shiraj Shivji.

When Jack lost his position at Commodore, he founded a company called Tramiel Technologies and Shiraj Shivji started working on a new 16-bit machine. How far the development had gone is at this moment unknown. What we know for a fact was that, as per the Atari Historical Society’s documents [1] and as dadhacker describes in his blog [2], he bought Atari with the dream to make this new computer that would bring the 16-bit revolution in power but without the price. That computer would eventually become the ST, we all know and love, but since the details are sketchy to say the least, Low Res decided to boldly go to the one person that knows more about Atari than Atari ever knew for itself.


The original 520 ST*

Curt Vendel is the man that created the Atari museum, founded Legacy engineering [3] and got the new Atari reinterested in their legacy with the Flashback 1 and 2 consoles. If there is one person respected and admired by all Atari fans, regardless of their favourite poison that would be him. We are therefore honoured that he agreed to answer a few questions.

Low Res: We’ve read the descriptions of dadhacker, who worked in TOS development but from those we can’t tell if the Tramiels had come to Atari with just an idea of a computer or if its development had already reached a good level. Rumour has it that it was the Amiga deal and Lorraine that actually forced Atari’s hand in both the ST’s design and the rush to the market. Are those two rumours true and if so to which extend?

Curt Vendel: Those rumors are completely false. Tramiel setup shop in May of 1984 in some office space in California where Shiraz went to work on his design for a new low cost computer (Codenamed – “RBP” for Rock Bottom Price). The Tramiels knew nothing about the existing contract between Warner owned Atari Inc and Amiga Corp, this relationship had been on going since late 1983 and Atari and Amiga went into contract in late Feb 1984 and paid Amiga an upfront advance of $500,000 towards the development of the Amiga chipset. Amiga would then receive $3mill from a stock buy by Atari when Amiga delivered the chipset to Atari at the end of June 1984.

Low Res: When was the Atari ST sent to the production lines?

Curt Vendel: “RBP” was in design and development within Atari from July 1984 through its showing at the 1985 Winter CES were it was shown to the public. Through the spring of 1985 the custom chips were being finalized and initial runs of the chips were made in May & June. Atari User Groups and Developers received small quantities of sample units in June 1985. Full production began in July through August 1985 and Retailers began to see shipments in late September 1985.

To speed up time to market, the “TOS” (The Operating System, or Tramiel Operating System) was initially delivered on diskettes as the new OS rom chips were not masked and ready in time for production release.

Low Res: You’ve written in the Atari Age forum that the ST was to be fitted with the AMY chip but instead it got the YM 2149. Were there any other corners cut in a bid to rush to the market? Was the ST supposed to have more such as hardware scrolling, sprites etc?

Curt Vendel: I wouldn’t called them “cutting corners” it was more of a strategic decision. AMY was and even today, still is a very remarkable audio chip design. However it still had bugs in its designs and time was running out to get it ironed out and then integrated into the ST design, so it was moved to be put into an XE series computer – however it would never make it into that computer design either. “SHIFTER” and “GLUE” were pretty much unchanged in their features and designs from what Shiraz envisioned them to what came out, so with that and from engineering notes and internal emails, it doesn’t appear that graphics features were cut back on in the initial design.

Low Res: The ST was marketed as a rival to the Macintosh, and truth be told it was a better machine. The result proved the Tramiels right since only the “business machines” survived, but what was the rationale behind it?

C.V. : Everything became a casualty of the X86 Win/PC machines. Once Windows 3.1 came out, it began to spell the doom for most computer platforms that were not X86/Windows. Even Apple in the 1990’s nearly went under and came close to stepping out of the PC business. The ST’s however had a simple design with intelligent features like a PC compatible disk drive design, color graphics, decent sound and built in ports for all basic needs from a computer user. Its ASCI port was actually SCSI done slightly better as devices self-assigned ID’s to themselves. Overall the ST was a good machine.

LR:The ST case design is.. interesting. Somebody thought to put the joystick ports underneath the keyboard. What were they thinking?

C.V.: I was never a fan of the Gray cased ST/XE look. It was so foreign to what Atari products looked like and should look like. Cost wise- doing an all in one case may be good, but visually I found it ugly. These are my own personal opinions of course. Yes the positioning of the joystick/mouse ports was a poor/clumsy choice, but given that most space around the sides was already occupied, there wasn’t much choice. I gained a lot more respect for the ST’s when the Mega ST line of “pizza box” styled systems and hard drives. It was an attractive look. Most importantly – a detachable keyboard that everyone wanted and expected in a computer by that time. Of course then the design went back to the 1040ST styled case again. The Mega Ste and TT030 were unusual looking systems, they had a unique look to them. I did like the fact that the TT030 came in an off-white appearance, it was much more pleasant looking then the dull gray color.

LR: Any other interesting insight we forgot to ask?

C.V: I think you asked some good questions.

TOS, The Operating System or Tramiel Operating System as it has been nicknamed was developed in a very short time on an Apple Lisa and in the offices of Digital Research. Anyone with any OS experience from Atari was sent there, they were given the x86 source code and the giant hack that is TOS became a reality. The descriptions of working there are an interesting read. Go to dadhacker’s blog and read them.

Atari actively marketed the Atari ST as a Mac beater and an IBM undertaker but unfortunately that didn’t really take off. The war would be with the Amiga. Atari had the fame of a home computer maker, at least in the United States and so had Commodore.

Ads like this:

would do little to change the climate and the first battle with the Amiga would be on the TV set of a show called computer chronicles[5]. The war that included various schoolyard battles, angry magazine writing campaigns and other favourite childhood memories was started then and ended… well it pretty much goes oon various internet forums where grown men (and women) can be kids again and behave like such ;).

Links


1. Atari Museum
2. Dad hacker blog
3. Legacy engineering
4. Atari ST vs Amiga

*ST image compliments of the Atari museum.

An interview with Rygar about the Lynx and its 20 years.

December 26, 2009

It’s 2009 and 20 years have passed since Atari released the Lynx. To commemorate that event the Lynx community is holding various events, including contests, releases and en masse party participations. None at the Low Res are so much involved in it, we are ST people for the most part, so as usual we go to the experts. All the people we talked to pointed us to Rygar, a French Lynx collector who not only collects but learned how to code the Lynx so as to release a game!

LR: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into the Lynx. Was it your first Atari or do you show an interest in all of them?

Rygar: I had my first one Lynx at the age of 14. It was my first portable console. I had waited for him during almost one year and I considered it to be the most beautiful day of my short life! Dices the beginning the games were very hard to find for this console, few stores had it and I sometimes had to make more of 100km to find a game (there was no internet in the time) so that the pleasure to find a game was very big when I reached there, it is at this moment I believe that the passion and the pleasure of the collection began to be born one my heart.

LR: Let’s say the Lynx is in a shop and you are a seller. Sell it to me

Rygar: Lynx is the best portable retro console, the full set is easily accessible for not too expensive step, the available games are often excellent and it is one of the few consoles where those that develop for it currently produce quality games upper to those of old time. Lynx reserves some more surprises and thanks to the new converters which land regularly on the scene the future lets augur only of the voucher!

LR: What are the best 5 games for the Lynx?

Rygar: Lemmings, shadow of the best, stun runner, cristal mine and bill & ted And indeed on alpine games if you also consider the games post-Atari.

LR: What are the newest developments? And is there a way to change the screen since all the Lynxes I can find have a broken one?

Rygar: For the projects in court of development on lynx you can ask Matthasen for the creator of lynxoplly, he teems with idea and it is a brilliant converter. It is unquestionably towards him that it will carry quite the hopes of the players! For my part I would take out probably some small compilations of my various demos but no true game for the moment. Indeed, you can change the screen of lynx, it’s enough to open him and you will see that it is very simple to replace.

LR: You learned how to code the Lynx so as to release a game. How hard was it? And how enjoyable?

Rygar: All that I know about the programming lynx I owe it to Fadest the creator of the Yastuna, he is the type brilliantly bright that taught everything to me he took time to explain me point by point and since the beginning how to make programs for lynx. Then I used small ends of codes found on the clear to progress and finally take out a game. It is an adventure very long and very complicated especially for somebody as me who did not know how to program before. I think for the moment that I am going to put that of quoted and to occupy me a little my family.

LR: What is being done for the 20 years anniversary by the community? And don’t be modest. You are doing something too

Rygar: 20 were celebrated already with dignity with Lynxoply, the flashcard (and my small game) and then he remains zaku who shall have to go out before the end of the year!

LR: Lynx demos. I can only find 3 of them. Don’t Lynx fans like demos? Why aren’t there more?

Rygar: It is a good question;) can be lynx touch you she a public less numerous than of the other console such as the 2600 or jaguar and then there exists much less documentation to learn to develop on lynx that he exists for the other console there, it is doubtless for it that can of people it launches in projects on this console.

LR: Thank you very much for agreeing to this interview!

Rygar: It is one always a pleasure to see people being interested in the lynx! Long live the lynx!

Links


1. Handy a lynx emulator