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This is (again :)) Dracon from TAQUART Group. I have the honor to present another interview with a person known (this time) for his excellent games on Atari XL/XE. At the time of the interview he is currently 30 years old and... it's English programmer Ivan Mackintosh, to whom we owe such hits as CRUMBLE`s CRISIS or REBOUND (giving only a few of the collection). Despite the passage of time, however, I decided to publish it, with the consent of the Ivan himself... This interview was based on a series of our emails from 1999 year and was firstly published at Polish website Atari.Area. D = Dracon I = Ivan Mackintosh D - Hello, at first I must say that you were a really great Atari 8-bit programmer. I remember you from such great games as BLACK LAMP or CAVERNIA (was it your latter game on Atari ?). I - Hi. I am glad that you like my games. CAVERNIA was not my last game, because I wrote one more for Atari, which has never been released - "TUBE BADDIES". It's a two-player game where you have to shoot down the monsters and stick holes in the pipes so that no new monsters appear. It was another game made with Richard Munns - so, as usual, there is great music and graphics. My first game written in assembler 6502 was REBOUND. Previous games (Crumble`s Crisis and continuation - Space Lobsters which is only good for graphics - no playability) were written in compiled Basic. This is probably the reason why they are so slow. D - The English magazine NEW ATARI USER once published a review of your game TAGALON. I also read there that there was a big break between writing and publishing this game... Is it true ? I - I think so, as I've never seen it in the sold version or even the cover ! D - So it seems that you didn't make much money writing games for Atari... Am I right ? I - I had a promised fee of 1500 English pounds (9500 PLN ?) for Black Lamp and 2000 English pounds (13000 PLN ?) for Tube Baddies game. Since they were never properly spent, we didn't get that fee. These two games were also the biggest earner. So in fact, when all the money was divided between Richard and me, we didn't have that much for 5-6 years of Atari XL programming. Certainly not enough to do it as a full-time job. D - Where did you get the inspiration your games from ? I - TAGALON was similar to SABRE WULF (from ZX SPECTRUM) for 2 players. TUBE BADDIES was inspired by another spectrum game - COOKIE. We were asked by Atari company to create BLACK LAMP. REBOUND was an attempt to write a sports game. And the other games just "happened" (without direct inspiration). D - Have you programmed games on a "clean" Atari or with the help of e.g. Atari ST (I'm asking in the sense of creating games on an 8-bit computer)? I - The first two games (CRUMBLES CRISIS and SPACE LOBSTERS) were written in Atari Basic and then compiled. It took two 1050 stations to speed up the compilation to about half an hour. I used a software assembler (Synapse Synassembler) to do the REBOUND. The rest of the games were programmed using my cartridge with MAC-65 assembler. All games were encoded on my faithful 800XL. D - And how did it look like to create e.g. music ? I - Richard used a synthesizer to work out the melody. Once he composed it, he manually translated the notes into values in the Basic's DATA command. When it was done, I converted his music player into an assembler and run it on VBI interrupts. D - Can you tell what is happening now with other famous people from Atari XL, like programmer Ian Copeland or musician Adam Gilmore ? I - Unfortunately I can't help it - I never talked to these people. D - Do you know that there are still people in Poland who write amazing programs, especially demos ? I - About three years ago (1996) I was in contact with one of the guys who made JOYRIDEcurrently doing demo. It was the last time my Atari 1050 drive was still working ! D - Well, what is your opinion about the so-called demo programs ? Is there any sense to write such programs instead of good games ? I - I think that some demos coming from Poland are excellent. It's just a shame that all this didn't happen 10 years before the Atari scene died. Anyway, as I see it, in the UK the 8-bit Atari scene is now extinct. D - Can you tell us what Richard Munns and HARLEQUIN (who has released the PLASTRON game, for example) are currently doing? I - Richard is messing up with PC computers, although he is not doing it professionally. I don't know what is happening with HARLEQUIN. Richard had contacts there when he was making music for it. As far as I can remember, he was cheated by HARLEQUIN because they did not pay him for his work. Richard didn't hear about HARLEQUIN later - maybe the company went bankrupt. D - Where do you work now ? I - I am a professional programmer (more precisely: "senior software engineer"), writing C++/COM applications for Reuters. D - Do you know if NEW ATARI USER magazine still exists ? I heard that it is (was?) available only for subscription... I - About 2 years ago (i.e. in 1997) I saw a copy of it on a computer show. It was A5 format. Really not much bigger than some leaflet. I don't think it's in print anymore. D - Do you sometimes turn on your 800XL (or emulate on PC) nowadays? I - None of that. My hobby nowadays is rather arcade machines. However, I still have 3 Atari computers (400, 800XL, 130XE) at home. D - So say something more about it. I - Currently I am more interested in games and arcade emulators. I have one slot machine and a NeoGeo console with 5 cartridges. I've never been to Poland, so I don't know anything about your resorts, but those in England usually have a lot of entertainment gaming machines, full of big "cabinets", containing a monitor, joystick, special table, etc. This is the kind of machine I have in my private room. D - You mentioned that SPACE LOBSTERS is only good for graphics. Yes, that's right, but why is it so difficult ? Why didn't you put any codes in your games (like Frank Cohen or Chris Murray) ? I - You mean, you haven't found any cheats yet ! There are none in CRUMBLES CRISIS nor in LOBSTERS SPACE. However, in CRUMBLES CRISIS you can rename the files so that you can play faster in the later stages of the game. In BLACK LAMP, as far as I remember, you can type "forest" and you will get infinite life. In CAVERNIA, type "tamsin" (my wife's name) to go to level 16 and "stevie nicks" (she's Richard's favorite pop artist) to move forward 1 level. It seems to me that this last code also works in TUBE BADDIES! D - Besides, I'm curious what happens when a player completes SPACE LOBSTERS or CRUMBLE CRISIS - is there any "final sequence" ? I - I don't remember what it is like in CRUMBLES... but there is nothing in SPACE LOBSTERS - we thought that the game is so bad that we don't have to do something like that, as nobody will get that far. So the game starts again, but it's more difficult. I think you have to collect more codes or something like that. Richard used to play it to get this far! D - In general - do you remember coding on Atari and you still have this ability ? I - I have Atari so I still remember those times. I think I could still code on it. It would be quite slow as I only remember what it can do, not how to do it. So I would have to take a good look at the book "Mapping the Atari". I would even like to program the Atari again, but I just don't have time. D - What's your favorite Atari game ? Mine is BLACK LAMP and DRACONUS. Both have a unique fantasy atmosphere and I am still impressed by the craftmaship in them. Appropriate, refined graphics, music and the rest - I think that these games take the maximum out of XL ! I - You've probably noticed from several of our games (Rebound, Tagalon, Tube Baddies) that we really like games for 2 players. One of our favorite games of all time was M.U.L.E. We also played a lot in International Karate, Drop Zone (we liked Archer McLean's games) and the games from Lucasfilm were also outstanding (Ballblazer, Rescue on Fractulas, etc.). D - And which games were favorites on other 8-bit computers? I - Our (my and Richard's) favourite games are arcade adventures. We grew up on ZX Spectrum games such as ATIC ATAC, SABRE WULF, ALIEN 8, etc. D - What is your opinion on your various "rewritten" (patched) games? I mean your games with trainers, intros, etc. ? I - After seeing it, I am generally flattered by the fact that people considered these games worth modifying ! D - In that case, what about such a case - a "transfer" of the CAVERNIA's hero in another game named DEIMOS? Is that OK? I - I really enjoyed playing DEIMOS. It reminded me very much of the kind of game that Richard and I would write together. As for the observations, it was a shame that the whole scenery was in gray tones and the colors of the hero were strange. I was tempted to make a modified version with other colors, but I noticed that the image with the game is compressed. I would need to have it unpacked on disk for modification. Although to tell you the truth, I don't have any free time for this. D - What made you stop writing games on XL/XE ? Haven't you thought about releasing e.g. TUBE BADDIES in Poland (here was a big market for this computer in mid 90's), Germany or somewhere else ? I - I went to the University and because of that I didn't have much free time, besides, companies in the UK were offering less and less money for games. I didn't realize there was a market outside my country and I didn't speak other languages either. D - Have you seen some games in which Richard Munns was involved (Plastron, Zero War)? How did you like them ? I - I saw Plastron during the creation, as Andy Dickinson was a friend of mine who lived in the neighboring city. However, I did not like his games very much. He also created the game COUNTDOWN. Nevertheless, the graphics and music in Plastron were good. D - Why was there no music or any ending in CAVERNIA ? Not enough memory (anyway, the hero's animation was great!) ? I - We didn't get a lot of money for the game - there was no incentive to make the game more beautiful. D - Going back to the emulation. Have you seen any Atari emulator on PC ? I - To be honest, I haven't touched any Atari stuff in a few years. I used an XL-it emulator by Markus Geitzen but about 3 or 4 years ago. This emulator was really good except for some problems with player/battle graphics (PMG) and the inability to overlay 2 players to get a third color on the bits I applied. This unfortunately meant that Richard's sprites didn't look so great. Now, however, there is a significant change - thank you very much for sending the Atari800Win emulator! It is excellent, so much better than the XL-it I had. It is more or less perfect ! I was so impressed that now I can even get rid of my real Atari. I was playing my games really well. D - Why did you choose Atari instead of C-64 (for creating games) ? I - We (me and Richard) did not choose, it just happened. We both had Atari for a few years before I started programming. It's a real shame that the C-64 came on the market (at least in the UK) more than Atari, as Atari was great for programming. I suppose if we were creating for the C-64, we could make more money. D - How long did it take you to create Black Lamp game ? The result was amazing and the game is just wonderful ! I also played Black Lamp on Amiga, but it was much worse version. I - Atari told us that they want the same Black Lamp as the Atari ST version. But when we started asking for game maps and other details, they couldn't provide that and then they let us encode what we wanted, if that was similar. I don't remember exactly, but I think it took 9 months to write (remember that it was all done on weekends and free evenings). Atari wanted to see how far we were every 2 months, so they could change things if they weren't satisfied with something. D - It's a shame there aren't any more games as well done as yours and Ian Copeland's. Maybe the 8-bit period was just one stage in creating games, a kind of training... Nowadays it is easier to use the advantages of the machine (good graphics cards) and make nice games (almost unoptimized algorithms and games require more and more CPU power). What do you think about it? I - Nobody cares anymore. There aren't many games that pull everything out of a machine now. TURISMO GAME on PSX was the last game I was really impressed with. It seems that many developers think that just nice graphics will make the game a hit. I completely disagree with that. I believe that gameplay is the most important thing. I can support it with the fact that I bought an arcade slot machine with a 1982 Mr.Do! game. It's a great game. D - You are right that certainly playability (inherent in the idea) is the most important thing in any game. So what do you say about the super hits from the 8-bit games (Blinky`s Scary School, World Soccer, Black Lamp, etc.), which were also released in 16-bit versions? They were certainly not appreciated as popular and good games, even though the idea was the same and the graphics were much better so what about this sad fact ? I - It seems to me that when people get new machines, they want newgames that use the power of the machine rather than some old games that just improved the graphics. Well, in the world of emulation it doesn't matter much now. Can you get Gameboy Color in Poland (small console) ? As I noticed, the DROPZONE game is soon to be released on it ! D - It's supposed to be available, but I don't know if in large quantities. Thanks for the interview ! I - No problem. At the end of this interview I'd add, that Ivan Mackintosh after stopping creating games on Atari also released some small PC utilities, which were related to XL emulation. These were quite a few programmers that helped to handle Atari floppy disk images: IMAGEMAN and ATARI DISK IMAGE MANAGER. Besides, one more interesting thing - at this address you can find a couple of small Ivan's games for NEOGEO Pocket! Polish version available here.