Author Topic: RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.  (Read 712 times)

Offline zapiy

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 12329
  • Country: england
  • Karma: 60
    • View Profile
RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.
« on: May 09, 2018, 07:15:15 AM »


Here we have a fabulous interview with the man behind such games as the amazing Battletoads on the Gameboy, Paul Machacek, a huge thanks to Paul for his time on our questions and his amazing replies.

Enjoy

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Paul

Hi Folks, I’m Paul Machacek, current Test and UR Manager at Rare, however I’ve had a range of roles here over the years starting with being a Software Engineer for a long time and also building Teams and Producing games. I joined Rare in July 1988 and initially did some work on Rare’s Razz Board arcade system, but quickly moved onto writing NES and then Gameboy games. Before Rare i had taught myself to programme computers (Oric 1, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Research Machines 380Z) in my early teens and had a few games published whilst at school and before joining Rare.

Zapiy

What was the first game you created?

Paul

I started as a bedroom hobbyist, self-taught, as a lot of my peers did back during the early 1980’s home computer revolution. I learned a language called Basic, however quickly hit its limitations so switched to learning 6502 Assembly Language on an Oric-1. The 1st programs I wrote were pretty simply, and quickly steered towards simple games, so the true answer here is “probably a simple space shoot-em-up” (that I can’t remember anymore). However when I switch to the Amstrad and Spectrum systems (both Z80 based) I started writing games in anger and the 1st that I had published was a game called “Darkwurlde”.

Greyfox

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Paul

No. Old games never went away, they just became harder to access in a way that old music doesn’t. You can still buy a Beatles record (sorry, showing my age here): you can stream Beatles songs without any problem, but to play a game that’s locked away on an audio cassette or cartridge requires a bit more expertise these days. At the same time, emulators have been around for decades, MAME in particular, so there was always an appetite for the games, but it was within a niche group who were motivated to look for them and keep them alive. Billions of people around the world now have powerful computers in their pockets, and there have been increasing methods in recent years, some officially sanctioned/supported, that let old games live again on modern devices. Even we did it with Rare Replay in 2015.

Zapiy

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day

Paul

Yes and No (probably). In the early 1990’s, Kev Bayliss and I worked on a SNES wrestling game at Rare called Wrestlerage. It was never completed but looked cool. We eventually abandoned it, but that’s just development for you. We also looked at a WWI Biplane flight sim game codenamed “Fokker”, but that lasted even less time than Wrestlerage. Around that time we actually wrote four Battletoad games for the Gameboy. Three of them were released, but the fourth “Super Battletoads” was not. It was a spinoff from the arcade game and was 100% completed and signed off by our test team, but a drop in market performance on the arcade game meant that the publisher pulled the plug on the franchise and that was the end of that. However, during the work for Rare Replay we dug up a final build of it and got it running on an emulator that someone here had and it worked perfectly. The only problem was we needed to play through it to ensure it was intact, and being a Battletoad game that no one had seen for over 20 years that was unlikely, so I ended up using the sourcecode (which I still had) to work out a cheat to hack an infinite lives version, and then I gave this modified build to one of our team to play through. After Battletoads I was part of the team here for 16 months that worked on the Dream project, and we eventually changed course on that as well and wrote Banjo Kazooie instead.

TrekMD

How did the idea for Battletoads come into fruition? How long was the development process for the game?

Paul

In a nutshell, Tim Stamper had been in the States at a CES show and came back and said there was a big craze for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles going on. Up until that point Rare had largely been doing games for other people’s IP, either direct ports to NES/Gameboy or original designed titles for those IP’s. We wanted to get away from that work and do original things that we owned outright, and the Turtles gave rise to the Battletoads as our 1st attempt to do that. Mark Betteridge worked with Tim Stamper and Kev Bayliss to create the 1st NES Battletoad game, which took a few months. During that time Tim asked if I’d do a Gameboy port of the unfinished NES game and I suggested that for a little extra design work we could write an alternative BT game instead, all the engineering and everything else would have to be done new anyway, and he agreed. We based the 1st Level of that Gameboy game on the 1st level of the NES one to give a familiar initial feel, but then went off on a tangent and created a bunch of new levels after that. However, it was given the same “Battletoads” title as the NES game, even though it was a different game, which then gave us a problem a couple of years later when we finally decided to actually port the NES one to GB. We ended up calling that Battletoads in Ragnaroks world just to confuse everyone 😉 The 1st Gameboy BT game took 6 months to write.

TrekMD

Beetlejuice is a fun but peculiar movie. How difficult was it developing a game based on the movie? How much liberty did you have when making the game?

Paul

We were given a lot of freedom to be honest, and whilst there are a lot of original ideas and visuals in the film, we still had to create gameplay that worked. I wish we’d spent more time planning levels out TBH, and some of the things we did veered from references in the film. We knew up front it would be a platform game, and knew that the art style from the film would translate well into that type of thing.

TrekMD

Battletoads/Double Dragon is a fun game that combines two very different sets of characters. How did this interesting mix come to be?

Paul

That grew out of how we had been mostly working to that point. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Rare had been doing a lot of contracted work for other people’s IP’s, and we had an agent called Joel, based in Miami, who did all these business deals. One such arrangement was to create a BT game with these characters, but we were given a fair bit of free reign to do it the way we wanted. Obviously we were familiar with the DD characters and their gameplay so mixed that up with the Battletoads world we’d already created. I don’t recall getting too much direction or feedback from the DD IP holders.

TrekMD

How difficult was it to adapt the world of Donkey Kong Country from the SNES into Donkey Kong Land for the GameBoy?

Paul

Getting that game onto a Gameboy was a technical feat! The instigation was again Tim asking me to do a port of a console game, and me responding with “most of the engineering work I’d have to do would be the same for a port or an original title, and an original title could sell more, so why don’t we do some extra design work and write an original offshoot game”. Tim agreed, probably because it had worked when we did it for Battletoads. The basic GB architecture is similar to a SNES (or NES) in that they are all character mapped screens, with limited palettes, where you did edge-updates for scrolling backgrounds etc. Sure, the GB is much less powerful, has fewer characters (both in memory banks and displayed on-screen), had a slightly laggy LCD display, a lot less processing capability etc, but the architecture for building the game was not a massive shift in thinking. This allowed us to translate existing artwork across quite easily and use the same rendering tools that we used for DKC to create new artwork and characters for DKL. Also, the fact that the screen was smaller (fewer displayed characters), and laggy meant that we could not have the same gameplay layouts and timings on GB that we had on SNES, so by designing levels again, or doing different ones, we built the game to suit the hardware. When I wrote the 1st Battletoad game I wrote an engine from scratch to drive it. Each subsequent BT game started development with a bunch of engine upgrades that I had thought up during the previous games’ development. By the time I got to DKL I realised I needed to make a fundamentally big jump but used the existing Battletoads system as a base. I spent about 3 weeks heavily upgrading it with extremely tight timings to download graphics to the video RAM, not only during Vertical Blanking (the standard way to do it), but also during Horizontal Blanking as well (which, basically, no one would ever do as it’s too hard). Anyway, I got it working and it meant I could download large amounts of graphic data to video RAM rapidly as the game was running, which a DK game required. Overall, I’m very proud of the technical underpinnings of that title.

TrekMD

You’ve written games, designed games and produced games. Which is your favorite role in the game development process?

Paul

I taught myself to write Assembly Language in my early teenage years (literally between 12 and 14 years old) and saw myself only as an engineer when joining Rare. It was a hobby, but of course one that developed into a career, with deadlines and other things. I loved it. I loved technology, and I loved working on computers at that level. By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was driving teams from more of a Producer point of view, and initially I found this a big jump because instead of very specifically telling a computer to do something and expecting it to “obey”, I was negotiating with others about the best way forward on projects, but as part of a team where the direction might be something other than what you had considered. I settled into it though and am very proud of some of those projects, particularly the last two Nintendo DS games that we did as I thought the team was excellent and we drove those schedules properly with good decision making and everyone gelling together. For me, the best dev cycle, and most enjoyable, was Viva Piñata Pocket Paradise. I took on my current role because we wanted to bring a more engineering lead focus into the way that we do games testing, and now, some years later, the way that Rare has developed Sea of Thieves is very different to how we used to write games. I can’t say I actually have a favourite time TBH. Specific projects stand out more than roles. Whatever I’m doing, I come in with the intent that we will make tomorrow a bit better than today, and there have been lots of wins in various roles over that 30 year period.

Greyfox

Any thoughts on doing a game for a retro system?

Paul

I’m personally too busy ATM at work to look at doing anything else like this, and having become a father a few years ago I’m spending my spare time (and latent Producer skills) on bringing up my son. I also don’t really want to look back. I’ve done retro games, though a long time ago and they weren’t retro then. I’m more interested in doing something new that we’ve not tackled before.

Greyfox

What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Paul

I was a big fan on Ultimate Play The Game (the precursor to Rare), and still recall vividly walking into my 6th form study at school and seeing my friend playing Knight Lore on a ZX Spectrum for the 1st time. I had not heard about it, but was in awe and said “Is that the new Ultimate game?” because it could not have been anything else. What I didn’t know was that 4 years later I’d be working with the people that had written it. It set me on the course I’m on today. Before that I loved Defender on the BBC Micro, was partial to Manic Miner and especially Jet Set Willy with their unforgiving pixel-perfect jumps. Gauntlet caught my attention when it originally hit arcades too. Tetris was ground-breaking; that “handheld machine that plays that little block game” was genuinely a standout launch and opened up playing games to a wider audience and one outside people’s homes. I killed many hours playing Age of Empires II, I like strategy games and I thought this was the best in that series. When GTA Vice City came out I actually bought it accidentally. I’d been after The Getaway because of it’s claims to have “modelled London”, and bought a PS2 to play it on, but there was a multi-buy deal in the store and I randomly picked up Vice City as a 2nd title. It was Vice City that I got hooked on though. Stunning, and the themes and music was my generation so it gelled strongly with my. Played it to death. In recent times I’ve played Age of Empires Castle Siege, erm, and Monopoly on my phone but I’m not sure that counts.

Greyfox

How did you get started in the video game industry?

Paul

My dad designed electronics, and ran some electronics companies in London. I had access to lots of components as a kid and got my 1st soldering iron when I was 11. I was heavily into Meccano as well and basically grew up building things. I managed to get a visit (as a child, with my dad) to Shepperton Studios in 1979 to walk around the various sets for Ridley Scott’s Alien film, shortly before they started shooting. My dad made all the lights, switches and control panels in the spaceship, and many years later (when I could finally see the film) recall walking through the corridors and around the table where the chest-burster scene happened. So by the time home computers came out I wanted to build technical things and I wanted to be creative. I self-taught coding very quickly, and mixed my enthusiasm for playing computer games with my new skills for writing computer software. I was simply on that track, and very dedicatedly so. When I had completed games it only seemed logical to approach software publishers to try to sell them, it didn’t occur to me that I should have been focussing on other things whilst at school. I made friends with Jon Ritman who was working on “Head over Heals” for Ocean at the time, shortly after I did my A-Levels, and I ended up in a situation where I wanted to write an isometric puzzle game (with the help of the people that did art and audio for Jon) because of how Knight Lore had affected me. TBH, by the time I’d finished it the world had moved on somewhat from isometric, however it looked professional and I got Codemasters to publish it. It was originally called “Aidacra” but the Darling brothers didn’t like that so they suggested the title “Superhero” instead. Jon was visiting Rare one day and I somehow got an invite to come with him. So we drove from London to the Twycross farmhouse, met the Stampers and I showed them a running (virtually finished) build of Superhero. We spoke about sheep for half an hour, in what I guess was an interview, and a week later I got a letter offering me a job. That was 30 years ago.

Shadowrunner

Do you have a favorite game that you were involved with?

Paul

I can’t single out one, but for various reasons I’d list Superhero, Donkey Kong Land, It’s Mr Pants and Banjo Kazooie as up there.

Shadowrunner

Was it hard adapting to the changing hardware over the years?

Paul

Earlier on, no. By far the biggest shift was in the mid 1990’s when the PS1/N64 generation of consoles launched. The engineers had been writing in Assembler language on PC’s (running DOS, CPM or early Windows) up to that point. Suddenly we moved to SGI workstations running Unix, had to write code in ‘C’ and learn (or relearn) our maths to drive polygon pushing 3D engines). Then we had to work out what to do with all this freedom that these more open-world environments we were starting to create gave us. Later on, newer generations of engineers coming through the Uni system were shifting dev to C++, and occasionally C# more recently, and I was already doing production work away from engineering by that time.

Shadowrunner

When you first started did you ever think that the video game industry would become as big as it has and still be going strong all these years later?

Paul

I didn’t see how computers wouldn’t propagate and pervade our lives. I couldn’t understand that at the rate of technological development that devices, and all forms of useful or fun experiences that they would provide, couldn’t become so widespread. I had a house-master at school who thought I was wasting time with computers in the early-mid 1980’s, actively tried to ban me from the computer room at school, but I thought he was a luddite and decided to ignore him. And here I am! I thought that we were on the cusp of a wave of a revolution that would affect everyone’s lives. I thought that again in the 90’s when I first started to get access to an early internet. I think that again now with drone development in recent years. There are so many applications, and so many ways that these technologies can affect, help or entertain people that I think the explosion is inevitable.

Shadowrunner

When you’re not working on games what are some of your favorites to play?

Paul

I mentioned AoE Castle Siege earlier, which is something I occasionally dip into these days. However, I have actively engaged in other pursuits away from games for diversity and balance. Many years ago I became a glider pilot, bought a glider and raced it in the UK. I’ve flown in various places across Europe too. When I 1st became solo and bought the glider I fitted it with a Compaq iPaq PDA (which were hot back then before smartphones), and loaded it with GPS navigation software. It had a moving map showing ground features and airspace restrictions, and a little icon of an aircraft at the bottom showing where I was on the map and which way I was pointed. As I controlled the glider through stick and rudder, I would see the plane icon on the screen turn in sync with my controls; it was a videogame! However, it was the ultimate VR game experience because I then looked up from the PDA screen to the glorious panoramic view of actually sitting in a glider at x-thousand feet looking across the countryside on a sunny day. In recent years I’ve also been building and flying drones (my old soldering and engineering experiences helping out here), and have used FPV goggles to fly them. Again, I’m using a handheld controller to fly something around, watching the FPV video for feedback. It’s just another video game, but one which costs a fiver if you kill the propellers in a collision with a non-virtual tree.

TrekMD

Are you a gamer yourself? Do you own any retro systems? Modern systems?

Paul

Apart from the Oric-1 i’ve never sold anything, so still have the Amstrad and Spectrum systems from 30-35 years ago, though I haven’t cranked them up in a while. I still have my PS2 and Vice City. However, I mostly want to try to find new experiences, so I really don’t look back. I am partial to Chuckie Egg though.

TrekMD

How different has it been to work in the gaming industry through the years?

Paul

Wow! I’ve said for many years that our industry is driven by fashion and technology, and whilst new hardware can bring different experiences, eventually people’s tastes change and we have to service those, In the 80’s games were built along the lines of “3 lives and you’re dead”. They were very hardcore, and you were lucky to be able to win extra lives to keep going a bit longer. We were not on-board with the early games that allowed you to play indefinitely, effectively with infinite lives, where you could beat a game more through perseverance than skill. But the industry has mostly gone that way for many years now, and I find those old 3-life games from the 80’s often too hard, twitchy and unforgiving now. Maybe I’m just older and slower. The industry has changed dramatically, the systems, the technologies, the genres and also my roles in it. Nothing stays the same. On my 1st day at Rare there were 8 engineers, about 3-4 artists and 1 musician. That meant there were 8 games in production, one per engineer, with artists split across a couple of titles and David Wise doing all of our music, and we had to write the games in 3-6 months. We recently launched Sea of Thieves which has taken hundreds of people several years to produce and we’ve only just started with it.

Zapiy

What company back in the day did you most admire and why?

Paul

Ultimate Play the GameUltimate Play the Game. Why? Well, just look at their games. The other publishers I released games through all offered me jobs (without my asking) and I turned them all down because I really didn’t want to work in-house for anyone, but privately decided that if I ever did it would be Ultimate. I didn’t actually think it would happen. And then it did.
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

Offline TrekMD

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 22075
  • Country: us
  • Karma: 78
    • View Profile
    • http://plus.google.com/+EugenioAngueira
Re: RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2018, 20:51:16 PM »
Excellent interview!  Great answers to the questions.

Going to the final frontier, gaming...

Offline zapiy

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 12329
  • Country: england
  • Karma: 60
    • View Profile
Re: RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.
« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2018, 06:59:04 AM »
One of the best that's for sure.
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC

Offline Greyfox

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 4669
  • Country: ie
  • Karma: 28
    • View Profile
    • http://www.atarigamer.co.uk
Re: RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.
« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2018, 18:19:39 PM »
Truly superb interview, I'm glad I asked those questions :)

Offline zapiy

  • Administrator
  • Hero Member
  • *
  • Posts: 12329
  • Country: england
  • Karma: 60
    • View Profile
Re: RVG Interviews: Paul Machacek.
« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2018, 22:21:26 PM »
Thanks mate.  8)
Own: Jaguar, Lynx, Dreamcast, Saturn, MegaDrive, MegaCD, 32X, GameGear, PS3, PS, PSP, Wii, GameCube, N64, DS, GBA, GBC, GBP, GB,  Xbox, 3DO, CDi,  WonderSwan, WonderSwan Colour NGPC