Obligement - L'Amiga au maximum

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Interview with Paul Carrington
(Interview realized by The Crypt - July 2002)


- Vulcan Software was set up to release the first in the series of the Valhalla Games, Obviously the name Vulcan and the fact you did use the Quote "Live long and Prosper" would indicate that one of you are strong "Trekkie" fans. Spill the Beans :) Is it you, Lisa or both?

Yes, Vulcan was established in 1994 to release our very first game Valhalla & The Lord of Infinity for the Amiga. At that time we had no idea it would be the first Valhalla game in a series. We primarily chose the name Vulcan based on the Greek God of fire, the metal forger. But it is true that both myself (and Lisa) are Trekkies :) And over time, as we adopted a more logical approach to running a software development/publishing company, our identity geared itself more towards the Trekkie reference to Vulcan. Although our company logo still remains, as the symbol of a hammer head, hitting an anvil, creating sparks.

- When the first instalment of Valhalla (Lord of Infinity) was released the Magazine Games reviewers, Could not seem to make up their minds, I have seen VERY Low review scores and reasonably high ones. Did this bother you or did you have complete faith in the Valhalla series?

Don't forget this was our very first game, it was created in 12 weeks and written in Amos ! So we had no idea of how it would be received by the magazine press, let alone that they would even contemplate reviewing it. It did have one thing in it's favour and that was, it was the first ever speech adventure for the Amiga.

It was a new and exciting time for us, I remember going into my local computer shop on the day of release and seeing the boxed game on the shelf and thinking 'wow', simply that, 'wow' as I'm sure all developers of commercial product say, the first time they see their baby on display.

Soon after we had a visit from one of the Amiga magazines (I think it was CU Amiga) and they fell in love with it, giving us rave reviews and a 90% score. Soon we had cover disks and magazine reviews and another magazine (Amiga Action) went a bit loopy giving it 94%, sales went crazy and we where soon on the Saturday morning television shows promoting the game and in the daily newspapers.

Then the funniest thing happened, the magazine called Amiga Power (which I always loved) gave it a score of 14% and hated it ! It was such a strange thing, as our publicity was from one extreme to the other. This in turn actually did us a great favour, as we had so much publicity around the drastic reviews from one magazine to the next.

The saying, 'all publicity is good publicity' actually came true for Vulcan and our sales achieved the retail best buy awards for that year. So looking back I think the diversity of opinion helped our cause and made Valhalla a bit like Marmite (you either hated it or loved it).

- When you released the second game Valhalla Before The War, you actually took the story back in time (To before Lord of Infinity). In reality, If you wanted to play Valhalla in sequence You would have to play 2-1-3. Was there a reason for this? i.e.. Did you not really plan for a forward sequel.

Actually they should be played in order 1, 2 then 3 to fully understand the plot. We hadn't set out to make the Valhalla games as a series, but the sequel was the most logical step for us, based on the success of the first one.

In the first game you played the cute little prince who was going to kill the evil Lord of Infinity who stole the crown form the little princes father (the true King of Valhalla). So your quest was one of revenge and justice. In the fourth level of this first game the little prince meets the Lord of Infinity and we always thought that his character was so colourful and interesting in his final death scene.

So when faced with developing a sequel, we knew we just had to use the Lord of Infinity as the main character.. but.. erm .. he was killed in the first game ! So our only choice was to go back in time and explain how this evil person came to kill the original King and take the throne, and so that was your quest in the second game.

It actually turned out well, as you went from playing a cute do- gooder (in the first game) to playing an evil twisted and grumpy character (in the second game).

- After Valhalla 1 and 2 had been released ..You must have realized that the Games had developed a "Cult" following. However for the Third game in the series (Fortress of Eve) you changed from the Dark gloomy, Mysterious top down format, To a More (dare I say it :)) Bright cartoonish side-on format. Why change what had been a roaring Success?

Cult following indeed, we actually went on to make other Amiga games (after the second Valhalla game) namely Hillsea Lido and Timekeepers but all that time we were inundated with requests for the next Valhalla instalment and so it soon became clear that there was a cult following that had to be fed.

We did change the layout of Valhalla & The Fortress of Eve mainly as a technical improvement over the first two games, this time we changed the angle slightly as it allowed us to show more detail of the world and objects, as well as offer new puzzles that would have been impossible when looking over head.

This game was more light hearted than the first two as your quest was to find and marry a princess and so we opted for a more colourful and clean approach to the graphics, I agree though, it did turn out more cartoony than the first two, but just like the original magazine reviews, we had fans saying, 'I love the new presentation', or 'I hate the new presentation', there was no in between :)

- After releasing Valhalla 1&2 you introduced the MiniSeries, However soon afterwards you announced that you would be producing CD-ROM games only called the MegaSeries. At this point in time a lot of Amiga users had not upgraded their machines. Was this decision taken to (a) Allow you to produce better games (b) To combat Piracy (c) or an Indication that you were frustrated with the Amiga users who failed to upgrade their machines?

The MiniSeries was created to make all of our Amiga floppy games part of a set, an identity if you like for Vulcan products, it was also a way to offer Amiga users cheaper games. At this time, from 1994 through to 1997 the decline of the Amiga (commercially) was making itself know. Fewer shops where stocking Amiga games and Amiga magazines were closing all around whilst Amiga users flooded to PC. It was virtually impossible to sell 'full sized' boxed games in the shops and make a living.

Vulcan's solution was to reduce the box size (to about one third in size) and manufacture, duplicate and print our own products which we would specifically sell through mail order (at half the price) and supply bulk units through wholesale and retail around the world. We balanced this for a while, for example for every UK buying public we lost, we then gained one in Germany or France etc. So we survived whilst all around failed and went on to produce 10 titles in the MiniSeries.

But we knew at that time that there was no way we could compete with the superior PC CD products coming out. It was for this reason (and this reason only) that we decided to switch to Amiga CD development. We had in the back of our minds that if Amiga games could offer similar experiences as PC CD's then we might have a future. At this time, we really believed Amiga would find a new owner and once again be supported at the hardware level.

Piracy was never an issue for us, it exists and that is that, if you use pirated products then you were probably never the type of person to go and buy the product in the first place, and so lower sales is not attributed to Piracy, but simply that there are fewer honest people around who see the bigger picture.

Our switch to Amiga CD allowed us to offer multi-language products, with superior sound, graphics and animation's, it was brave as hardly any Amiga user had a CD drive. Yes it was frustrating that not everyone upgraded to Amiga CD but I don't blame them as the CD units available at that time were over £120 compared to a PC CD for around £40! However, the hard-core Amiga users did upgrade (for which I greatly admired), there was a core of dedicated users, committed to the Amiga who would do anything to help it's future.

- Vulcan quickly became the Main developer of Amiga Software, and you appeared to have some interesting Titles awaiting release. However You made the shock Announcement that you were scaling down Amiga Developments and moving to the PC platform. A brave move considering you were entering a market where you would be virtually unknown and facing the Big multi Millionaire developers. Have you ever regretted this?

Regretted? I regretted the fact that Amiga never found a company to bring it back to life (when it so desperately needed a new heart), it was given life support a few times, but in the end it was all too apparent that it's time had come. Far too many users had left the platform, far too many developers had turned to greener pastures, far too many retailers closed and far too many magazines folded. In the end it was futile.

All I can say now is that Vulcan tried to do its bit. We ended up producing 5 MegaSeries Amiga CD titles and the last one in 1998 called Genetic Species (by Marble Eyes) was an insight as to where Amiga games was heading and how great an Amiga game could be ! GS supported 14 languages but when you counted how many Amiga buying users remained (throughout the entire world) it was sad indeed, so much so that we never recovered from GS and the debts it left behind.

Vulcan moving to PC was one of two options, the first option was to close Vulcan and get that job at the food store. :) Not a pretty thought ! So we stopped all Amiga development, sold our remaining Amiga hardware and bought a PC and a C++ compiler. Yes it was scary ! January 1999 Vulcan (now 5 years old) entered PC development with no PC development experience and no money ! It's your worst nightmare scenario !

But no, I haven't regretted the move, it's a challenge.

- You faced a lot of savage and generally undeserved criticism when you left Amiga, that must have hurt. Any lingering resentment to the critics?

I don't hold any resentment towards anyone. Yes we got allot of criticism, but it was normally based upon the individuals passion to see the Amiga succeed, I too shared that passion, and so knew where they were coming from. Having said that, we did also receive allot of praise 'and thanks' for our efforts, which was really nice, as it meant people where aware of our struggle and our efforts to make it all work.

The only thing that really got my back up was when someone would criticize us for leaving, and to then find out that they never once bought any of our products.

- Recently you uploaded the Full "Genetic Species" game to the Aminet. Was this really a farewell Present to the Amiga users or were you just fed up of the Pirates copying the game?

Purely a farewell present to any remaining Amiga users out there, not just Genetic Species but all of our old Amiga games are slowly being released on the Vulcan website (for free download).

- Will Genetic Species , or a similar type game be released for PC?

Vulcan have no plans to make a PC version of Genetic Species but if one was ever initiated it would be from the original development team (Marble Eyes), however, I am aware that a Game Boy Advance version is in the first stages of conception.

- It's obvious from past Interviews/statements that you were once very dedicated to the Amiga Computer ...Do you

(1) Still own an Amiga (even if it gathers dust in the Loft :))


No, all our Amiga's were either sold or thrown away. I do however still have the Amiga external CD drive I bought for £120 but would you believe that only yesterday it stopped working! Spooky !

(2) Still take an Interest in developments in the Amiga (if there is any)

I did take an interest for the first year on leaving but soon grew tired of the same old press releases about what the future may bring, and I never saw any evidence of the future bringing anything but suspended faith and diminishing hope.

(3) Do you have any comments regarding the Development of the New Amiga OS or AmigaOne machine.

No.

- Having recently downloaded your "Vulcan Portal" I must say, I do like the idea behind it, A sort of interactive/Digital speech equipped FTP program for your Web site. What gave you this Idea?

The Idea behind the Vulcan Portal, Wow, this is a complicated one to explain ! It kind of evolved. Originally the Vulcan Portal was going to be a simple downloading program that would eventually download our new PC products (in episodes) to the users computer. A digital distribution application. But we simply didn't know when to stop developing this application (and still don't).

It's important to note that when we started developing the Vulcan Portal in February 2001 we had just spent 2 years developing some pretty fancy 3D game development tools (called Mother3D) along with runtime engines, you know the kind of 3D that can animate skin'able 3d characters in real-time.

First tests of the Vulcan Portal allowed the user to download a test file, and a requester box came up saying, "you have the file" or "something's gone wrong", not inspiring and very dull ! After staring at our computers for a few days we thought it would be kind of cool to remove those silly requester boxes and replace them all with a real time 3d character, one that could, move, smile, blink and speak, putting a human face on the functionality of the Vulcan Portal.

After a few months we had successfully integrated our Mother3D technology into this application and the results where quite remarkable. The Vulcan Portal was now fronted by real-time 3D characters, who synthetically spoke (in six languages), allowing them to report on all downloading operations, advise of problems and offer information about itself. Needless to say we soon realized that the Vulcan Portal could be more than just a downloading tool.

In it's current state (version 210), the Vulcan Portal allows its users to define how they virtually look in 3d, with customizable skins and speech preferences, and they can upload themselves to the Vulcan Orbiter, where they can meet all other Portal users and engage in communication by sending each other 3dVoiceMail, (like email but the text of the mail is spoken by a '3d you' with perfect lip synch on the receiving computer), they can also collect daily 3dVoiceNews about Vulcan's developments and daily PC and console gaming news (supplied by Ferrago.co.uk) which is spoken to them by a 3d news reader. Oh and of course download our application and games.

All in all it's turned out to be a community building application around Vulcan and our products, we call it a 'gateway to everything Vulcan'. It's a tool, that allows you to download and play our products but also comes with a whole community of other Vulcan game players, offering an entertaining and remarkable way of communication. It's also an evolving application, meaning it upgrades to new version 'automatically' (about twice a month) allowing it to expand with new services and features. The feature we are currently working on is real-time 3dVoiceChat.

- You are currently porting the original Valhalla games to work on the PC via the Portal ...Do you have any plans to port other original Vulcan games to the PC (like Timekeepers ... Please pretty please ...My wife is holding a rolling pin to my head :))

Due to popular request we have indeed started to convert our old Valhalla speech adventure games to PC, we've called them the Valhalla Classics and they comprise of 12 episodes, each episode is downloaded (you guessed it) through the Vulcan Portal application (approx. 6Mb per episode) but remarkably they are also played within the very same application.

The PC versions witness some major graphic enhancements (now we have allot more than 32 colours to play with) and we have re-written some of the puzzles and trebled the amount of digital speech, however we have tried to keep the spirit of the original Amiga Valhalla games intact within the PC versions of this cult speech adventure.

Timekeepers? Laugh out loud, yes we do have plans to also convert Timekeepers to PC, once again to be downloaded and played within the Vulcan Portal, but only because of people like your wife who confront us with rolling pins all the time. :)

- Each episode of the Valhalla Classics Games can be downloaded for the small sum of £2.50 ..Making each game cost £10. Surely at this you will not recover the costs of reworking the games, Or is it your hope to capture the attentions of the Ex Amiga users upgrading to PC?

The first episode of the Valhalla Classics (The Crypt) is free (as is the Vulcan Portal). Episodes 2 to 12 are priced at £2.50 each (approx. $3.60). The main reason for doing the conversions is to preserve the Valhalla brand 'identity' by placing them on a mainstream platform, and at the same time build up a Portal community in preparation for our flagship PC title Valhalla 3D The Curse Of Infinity, which we have been developing for 3 years.

The actual conversion of the Valhalla Classics is more of a hobby which we do in our spare time, the end result is the preservation of this cult game, and cheap 'accessible' fun, for anyone who gets hooked. With regards to recovering costs, don't forget digital distribution means no manufacturing costs (box, CD's, manuals) and no middle men fees (distributors, publishers, retailers) the end result is the ability to offer games at a really cheap price to the user and still (as a developer) make the same (if not more) unit revenue per title if published through normal retail channels. In my mind digital distribution is the future.

- I see that with the Vulcan Portal, your Mother3d technology and the other tools, Vulcan can now be seen as more than just a games developer, is this an area you see as important for Vulcan to enter?

We started as a games developer in 1994 and still are 'primarily' a games developer, but we have also diversified into other technologies, this we believe is very important and will be the key to our successful transition from Amiga to PC.

We have some excellent intellectual properties (based on our back catalogue) but now after 3 years of PC development we also have some pretty exciting technology assets. Things like our digital distribution technology, speech technology, 3dVoiceNews technology, Ebayer (used within auction on Ebay) and most importantly our Mother3d technology that allows us to create advanced high end specification real-time 3d games, complete with modelling and animation tools. We are really just coming to the beginning of what our future holds.

- Is it intended to sell forthcoming Vulcan Titles ONLY via the Vulcan Portal or will we, again see Vulcan titles available on store shelves?

Our emphasis at present is on digital distribution via the Vulcan Portal. We believe that you will begin to see many more developers and publishers turning to this delivery method in the coming months/years. Based on users internet access becoming faster and cheaper and also on the massive price reductions achievable for end product that generate similar revenue streams. However we will still explore standard publishing routes of our products when the right publishing partner comes into focus and it is something that doesn't detract form our main strategy.

- The Portals website states that the Portal is an evolving system, any timeframe on when the WinAmp conflict will be resolved or when we can use true colour? I do like Winamp :-)

Evolving application, yes the Vulcan Portal upgrades (about twice a month) to new versions that cater for new features and improvements.

The winAmp conflict is already fixed, it actually comes down to a setting within winAmp based on how it should use DirectSound and your sound card. This then allows it to share your sound card with the Vulcan Portal, providing you have also configured your Portal to share the sound card via a medium co-operation level.

The Portal and Valhalla Classics do currently support (true colour) which is16bit and also 24 and 32bit display modes. I think what you are referring to is the actual 3D element of the Portal which currently requires a Zbuffer on your graphics card.

Most graphics cards only support 16bit Zbuffers and as the bit depth of your display mode needs to match the bit depth of your Zbuffer, it means that on most graphics cards, 3d can only be enabled in a 16bit display mode. However we will soon have a Portal version that requires no Zbuffer and therefore will run the 3d element of the Portal at all bit depths.

- I normally use a 1280x1024 screen res, so the Portal is rather small on my desktop, will we be able to "scale" up the Portal or use a custom screen for it?

At present we don't have plans for that, however the Portal does get bigger as we expand it for newer features, (you should have seen the size of it when it was first released ! :)) It's focus is to be a desktop application and as people still have desktop sizes of 800x600, 1024x768 we have struck a happy balance for the size of the Portal. Funny thing is, some old Amiga users commented on how small the Valhalla Classics seemed to be on their PC and they are always amazed to hear that the graphics are the exact same size as they where on their Amiga versions of the game. It's just the Amiga used to run in 320x256 and therefore seemed huge compared to the display capabilities of PC graphic cards and monitors.

- You are currently developing Valhalla 3D (The Curse of Infinity), many game companies on the PC seem to be moving away from the mouse controlled "Point & click" type of adventure games, Relying on complicated keyboard controls (I seem to spend more time trying to figure out which keys to press rather than solve the puzzles on hand). What are you plans for the controls in Valhalla 3D?

Valhalla 3D (still in development) is not a point & click type of adventure, it is an advanced first person perspective 3d adventure, simply imagine a popular 3d fps shooter but trading in your guns for your hands and using your brain instead of weapons, our blurb is as follows:

Prepare to be thrown into a world of lateral and logical thinking, shrouded in suspense, intrigue and atmospheric diversion. This first person 3D speech adventure will captivate your imagination offering true world physics and total immersion into confined locations. No more running around bland locations looking for the exit, this 3D technology focuses on the inward infinite, creating a world that is hard to leave and even harder to forget.

...But yes I agree with you about controls of recent games and we have spent a great deal of thought on this for Valhalla 3D. We have come up with something that we are really proud of and you will find yourself manipulating many objects and environments, achieving complicated interaction and manoeuvring and all accomplished with your mouse and two mouse buttons.

One goal we are aiming for is to allow anyone to instantly get into the game and play the game with out requiring any previous reading or knowledge on how to control the character or manipulate his environment, it's still early days but I think we've cracked it after many months of testing and thinking about the input method.

- Once again Paul, Our thanks for your time and support in completing this Interview and all the Information you provided for other articles in the Crypt magazine.

My Pleasure,
Live Long & Prosper !


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