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Lundi 25 juin 2018 - 04:25  

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Interview with Erik Hogan
(Interview realized by David Brunet - June 2018)


Here's an interview with Erik Hogan, one of the few game developers on Amiga who has already published some goodies like his Special Editions of old commercial games and is about to release a new action game called AlarCity.

Erik Hogan

- Hello Erik, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I'm Erik Hogan - 34, kiwi, software developer by day and an Amiga game developer by night. I like Pina Coladas and walks in the rain.

Most of my hobby Amiga works are on earok.net/game, while the fan projects I do for ReImagine and the commercial project (AlarCity) I work on for PixelGlass is at pixelglass.org.

- You're known as "Earok". Where does your pseudonym come from?

Erik + Turok. It's a weird idea I had in High School (when Turok on N64 was still a new thing) that has stuck this entire time.

- What was your first computer?

C64 at the age of two, but it was a couple more years before I knew even how to boot games. I still have a C64 that I drag out every now and then for classics, as well as newer titles from Psytronik.

- When and how did you discover the Amiga?

I'm not quite sure how exactly, just general knowledge of what computers were available in the early 1990s. It was only a few years ago that I picked up a CD32, since I had wanted an Amiga as a kid but never ended up getting one, and I've been an avid fan ever since.

- What are your favorite activities on Amiga?

Making games and playing games! My only real Amiga is a CD32 and I have a healthy library for that (both originals and homebrew of course), for game development I rely exclusively on WinUAE.

- What was the first game you created?

I used to dabble with Klik N Play (by AMOS creator François Lionet), though I started by making a couple of experimental type games the first one I consider to be complete was "Death Derby", essentially a top down 2D demake of the PS1's Demolition Derby with a twist - you'd have to run over the other competitors as well as trash their cars. Morbid, but that's the mind of a 12 year old boy for you.

- You did quite a lot of hacks named "Special Edition". What was your first Special Edition hack? What prompted you to do that?

I didn't label it a "Special Edition" as such but the first one would have to be Giana Sisters 2. "Hard N Heavy" on Amiga and various other platforms was originally intended to be a sequel to Giana Sisters before pressure from Nintendo forced them to change the theme. My general idea with that was to try and restore the game to being something like it was originally intended to be. I primarily relied on Codetapper's "MapTapper" tool to locate the graphics on the disk image, before I used a custom tool to replace them (converting PNGs to raw bitplanes).

Giana Sisters 2
Giana Sisters 2

Giana Sisters SE
Giana Sisters SE

- Which hack was the funniest? And the more complicated to do?

The funniest was probably Rise Of The Robots Special Edition - mainly because it's such a notoriously bad game that people were scratching their heads as to why I'd bother. In truth, I think the game has a certain amount of charm as a guilty pleasure, and so I set out to fix whatever I could. The biggest faults are still there (lack of character select choice and inability to jump over enemies) but the gameplay is a little less painful than it was.

Rise Of The Robots
Rise Of The Robots SE

The most complicated is certainly "Another World: The Lost Levels". The specific challenges were:
  • Working out how to run data from the PC edition in the Amiga engine.
  • Extracting the compressed data (thankfully there's a tool for this).
  • Rerouting the level table so the "level select" screen shows first (rather than copy protection), and allows you to jump to either of the levels in the hack.
  • Learning to understand the engine's byte code so that specific changes could be made, specifically:
    1. Removing copy protection completely (the copy protection menu does not show up at all in the hack).
    2. Fixing controls (the PC version is different in that "SWIM UP" and "JUMP UP" are considered different actions that could be on different buttons).
    3. Fixing scrolling (again this works differently in the PC version).
Another World
Another World: The Lost Level

In terms of time and effort, Giana Sisters SE certainly received the most overall (due to every graphic in the game being replaced, as well as a few other tweaks), but the bulk of that effort was done by my frequent collaborator Tsak.

- What other "Special Edition" did you plan to do in the future?

There's various unfinished ones I have lingering on my hard drive but nothing I can promise at this stage. Recently I've had an interest in "second button" hacks (adding Jump, Smart Bomb or Accelerate function to the second button on a gamepad) so I might look at a couple of different platformers and racing games.

- In 2014, Mikael Persson released Smurf Rescue on Amiga. Few weeks after, lawyers from Studio Peyo demanded compensation for infringement of intellectual property. Did you not fear the same misadventure with some of your hacks or ports?

A little but it doesn't keep me awake at night. There's always a certain risk of fan projects going awry, you never know if the IP owners are flexible (such as Paramount with various Star Trek fan works) or absurdly strict (as we've seen with Peyo). I try to exercise some care, such as checking if the trademarks are still active before embarking on a project, but in general all love entails some risk and it's the risk we take because we love the original work.

I did get a couple of takedown notices relating to my unofficial compilations for cd32.co.uk, for example on a game that I had no idea was recently re-released on Steam.

- Raid Over Moscow is a game published in the 1980's for lots of 8 bits platforms. An Amiga version was also planed by US Gold but never materialised. Some years ago, you started a conversion of this game on Amiga. Is it finished? How did you manage this conversion? Did you plan to add new features?

It isn't finished yet, every now and then I dust it off to add a little bit more but it won't be finished until after AlarCity is done. I've tried to keep it as faithful as possible to the original, but there's one feature that will be entirely new - music. Simone "JMD" Bernacchia has come up with an original synth-styled soundtrack that is based on the music in Cold War paranoia films such as War Games and Miracle Mile.

Raid Over Moscow
Raid Over Moscow

I'd like to make a shoutout here to Adrian Cummings, who made the original artwork (and has made those assets available) and is still active in the retro space (as the developer behind the first physical ZX Spectrum Next game, for example).

- Gloom Construction Kit is another of your project. It is designed to facilitate the complete creation of an entire Gloom mod, including art, audio and levels. This seems awesome for Gloom maniacs. Is it finished? Did you need some help to polish/finish it?

Oh, whoops, I forgot about that! I'll need to look at it again, I can't remember why it was never released in an official sense. But yes, the general intention of it is that it automates the conversion of every kind of graphical and audio asset from IFF and 8SVX files to Gloom's native format, using a bunch of different tools by different developers.

- Could you tell us more about your incoming game AlarCity?

AlarCity is a frantic, and smooth eight way top down shooter where the goal is to survive through waves of relentless enemies whilst upgrading your character. The team consists primarily of myself (code and design) and John "Tsak" Tsakiris (art and design), with music by Simone "JMD" Bernacchia, Vojta "Nooly" Nedved and John "Tsak" Tsakiris.

AlarCity
AlarCity

- AlarCity will be commercial. Did you have an idea of the price? Will the game be available in a box with a manual?

It's actually available for purchase (pre-order) right now, with different editions at different price levels, including physical and digital only: amiga.net.pl.

- If AlarCity does not sell well, will it demotivate you from the development of Amiga games?

Not at all, but the time and effort I can justify putting into Amiga titles obviously depends on how successful they are. Sales have been steady but we'd always appreciate more!

- [Questions by Kamel Biskri] Which tools has been used for coding, the musics and the graphics? Why AGA only and did you plan a port to OCS/ECS Amigas? How far the game push the Amiga? What limitations did you encounter? How did you work together (IRL, via Internet) and how did you keep motivated?

Coding : I use Blitz Basic more or less exclusively, with little bits of ASM here and there for speed.

Music: I don't do anything in this arena, my collaborators use ProTracker I believe.

Graphics: I only do little bits and pieces graphically, again that's mostly the realm of my collaborators. When I need to do graphic manipulation, I normally do it in Paint Shop Pro on PC, and then use ADPro to manipulate the image to get the palette, number of bitplanes and special features (HAM, EHB) I want.

Why AGA only: at the moment AlarCity is the only AGA exclusive project from either myself or PixelGlass. AlarCity uses two AGA only features - 8 bitplanes (2x4 bitplane dual playfields) and 32 pixel wide sprites. An OCS port is possible but would likely need some cutbacks in either performance or graphical fidelity, probably both. RTG is also another possibility for a future update.

How far am I pushing the Amiga: that's quite a hard one to answer, I'm no where near as capable at squeezing the Amiga as a demoscener but I'd like to think there's some interesting qualities in the projects I work on nonetheless.

Limitations encountered: the primary one would be ChipRAM I guess, getting all of the graphics and audio assets that you want in a game can be difficult because of that limitation (and thus requires creative solutions). The performance limitations of the Blitter and the 68000/68020 processors can be frustrating too.

How do they work together: Internet only, I'm based in New Zealand but the rest of the people I work with are based in places like Greece, Australia, the US, Poland, the UK and a few others, so I haven't met any of my collaborators face to face.

How do keep motivated: I think the number one thing is the Amiga community really appreciates what we do (and in turn we really appreciate the massive support we've seen).

- You are also involved in the find of Sibwing. Could you remind us what is this game? What is the story behind this find? Is it now freely available?

Sibwing is an early prototype of the game that eventually became Guardian, developed by former Acid developer Mark Sibly (Starwing + Sibly = Sibwing).

Sibwing
Sibwing

Why the prototype is remarkable is that it's almost an entirely different game. Guardian is of course essentially "Defender in 3D", with a similar goal on every level. Sibwing has unique level goals for every mission, I know this isn't the best comparison but it did make me think of Terminal Velocity on PC. It's a shame that this version was never finished as either a prequel or sequel to Guardian but it's still nice to be able to play it in it's current state regardless.

It was dug up when I was browsing through an archive kindly provided by Acid's Simon Armstrong, that treasure trove also lead to the release of the Gloom source code and unreleased Amiga Format Blitz Basic competition games. Phill "Galahad" Boag-Butcher handled mastering Sibwing as a Scoopex release.

It can be downloaded from Aminet as an ADF: aminet.net/package/game/demo/sibwing.adf.

- Backbone can make easy the creation of Amiga games but these games are often disappointing. What is your opinion about Backbone?

Like any game making tool, good results can be made out of it (Patrick Nevian consistently does great work with it), but if you have anything less than an 68030 performance can be mixed.

- Redpill seems to be better than Backbone. Is this game maker it a good idea?

Certainly - not everyone has the time to learn how to code, so anything that helps would-be Amiga developers be productive is a good thing. Redpill isn't likely something I'd use myself but I'm keen to see what people come up with using it.

- What are your favorite Amiga games? And according to you, what are the best Amiga games of the recent years (2010-2018)?

These are my favorites. I know they're not broadly representative of the Amiga community since I have particular tastes.

All time:
  • Another World
  • D/Generation
  • Dune 2
  • F1 Grand Prix
  • Flashback
  • Gloom
  • International Karate +
  • Lemmings
  • Monkey Island 1/2
  • Super Skidmarks
Recent:
  • AlarCity (hope it's Ok to select my own game ;))
  • Blocky Skies
  • The Game (yes, it's actually called that!)
  • Solid Gold
  • Sqrxz (+ sequels)
  • Tanks Furry
  • Tracker Hero
  • Worthy (Another PixelGlass game but I have to be honest, it's really good)
Unfortunately I haven't played them yet, but Bomb Jack Beer Edition and Dream of Rowan are likely excellent.

- Amiga Kickstart ROMs still under copyright. Is it an anachronistic fact according to you?

It is what it is, all software is under copyright for decades and Kickstart ROMs are no different. The fact that the copyrights are defended is something that - in my view - makes things harder for Amiga hobbyists, since it adds another layer of complication to anyone wanting to try emulation, and it's not technically possible to provide a fully self contained Amiga emulator package for free unless you're relying on free ROMs. As an example, we're not able to provide a cross-platform CD-ROM edition of AlarCity that uses an emulator layer as a base, unless we were to licence the required ROMs.

- What is your opinion about Amiga NG systems?

Admittedly I haven't had much to do with them. They are certainly a crucial part of the modern Amiga family but as a retro gamer my primary focus is still on 68K systems.

- Are you also interested by making games on Amiga NG or for Vampire cards?

Possibly, yes. Unfortunately I don't own either but if there's enough demand I could look into Amiga NG or Vampire editions. In theory all of my games should 'just work' on a Vampire, particularly given that they're adding AGA support to even the OCS cards, and they should also work under emulation on NG systems.

- A last word for the Amiga community?

Keep the faith! Amiga's still surviving (and getting better year on year) because of your fantastic dedication to the platform.


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