It gives me great pleasure to announce our latest interview here at RVG and this time its with PC Engine/PC Devs, Aetherbyte.
Aetherbyte are a small group of talented people with a love of classic videogaming. They are the very image of a homebrew software team and are passionate about creating authentic software for older systems (particularly the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine), as well as retro inspired games for modern PCs and consoles. They have created 4 PC Engine games, Pyramid Plunder, Insanity, Reflectron, Protocade and their newest title to be added to this list is Atlantean which will be the first PC Engine HuCARD release for 20 years!
The Aetherbyte Team
Arkhan aka Andrew
The founder and driving force of Aetherbyte. Arkhan’s multitude of responsibilities include game design, programming and music, along with all the other fiddly stuff such as order processing. Arkhan is the core of the group and the man that gives the green light to new projects. Arkhan got his start programming in AmigaBASIC and QBASIC, and then C/C++ for DOS. He later began experimenting with the Commodore 64 and Apple II, which then led to his arrival in the PC Engine and MSX development scene.
sunteam_paul aka Paul
The administrator of The PC Engine Software Bible, sunteam_paul has been drawing graphics since the day of the ZX Spectrum and produced several public domain games and demos for the Amiga. Joining the Aetherbyte team to work on Atlantean (and just in time to draw some pictures for Pyramid Plunder), sunteam_paul has become Aetherbyte’s primary graphics artist, creating sprite and tile art as well as designing packaging for Aetherbyte’s releases. He is also involved in game concepts and design.
A retired software engineer with 30+ years experience in Industrial Control software, TheOldMan has programmed in most languages from AS360/370 to C#. In his spare time, he has played with most major free dev kits, including the 2600, Coleco, Sony and Nintendo setups. He had also been involved in the PCE scene in the late 90’s, leaving after being dismissed as “an AOL newbie”. Now he is helping advance OBEY at Aetherbyte.
Firstly thanks for taking part in this interview, can you guys tell us a little about yourselves please?
I’m loud, hyper, a bit anti-social (I don’t like crowds), but pretty laid back overall. I spend most of my time gaming (video, pen/paper, card, pinball!), playing music (guitars/synths), listening to music (J-Pop, speed metal, and synthpop usually). I also rollerskate and play lazer tag alot. I hate bowling.
I’ve been into gaming since the ZX Spectrum and have always made, or attempted to make games on whatever system was current. I was a big fan of anime before it became cool, and have developed a strong interest in Japan over time. I like to try anything creative, but have found that I feel most comfortable drawing low resolution pixel art. I also run the PC Engine Software Bible website and have written some ezines for the PC Engine and ZX Spectrum.
What got you started in the development of homebrew games for the Turbografx?
I was originally screwing around with C64 stuff and entertaining the idea of trying to make either a Berzerk clone, or a Gateway to Apshai clone. Then, I got kind of tired of the C64 scene and decided I’d rather spend my time poking around with a machine I grew up with, as opposed to one I got into only recently (I got the C64 in 2000, wayyyyy after the party.).
The first game I made was originally a college project that I started for fun.
When Mysterious Song (an RPG by Frozen Utopia) was being developed, I offered to help in generation of a few abstract background patterns for the visual scenes. After that, I began talking to Andrew on the Aetherbyte forums and muscled my way in to doing the art for Atlantean and the end of level pictures for Pyramid Plunder, because Mysterious Song was taking too long.
You currently also have games for the MSX and Windows and the skillset to work with other consoles. Any plans to port some of your games to other 16-bit systems like the Genesis or SNES? I’d love to see Atlantean and Inferno on the Genesis!
There’s so many new projects to work on that spending time and effort on ports seems wasteful. If people want to play the games, get the system!
Probably not. I’d rather expend the effort making new games. Ecco the Dolphin is the only dolphin game allowed on the Genesis, in my opinion.
Going futher on that above, would you ever consider writing a new game for a different system?
I wouldn’t mind tackling some other systems, but I would have to be passionate about the project. I’d be more inclined to work on earlier machines like the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum than the SNES, or maybe even the Master System which is another machine I used to love.
I’ve considered some before. It really comes down to time, and picking which machines are my favorite. I have to really, really enjoy the machine a lot to want to dive in and figure things out.
Can you discuss any other projects you are currently working on?
Well, there is Grelox which is our PC game that we’ve announced. It’s in early stages since we’ve just finished Atlantean. I am taking a small break to regain my senses before I dive back in. Inferno is still in the works as well actually. That is the next retro thing I intend to tackle, as it is currently just a demo, and deserves to be completed.
There’s a few ideas for PC Engine stuff bouncing around too, but nothing has been coded yet. I don’t like to code too many things at once.
I have art lying around from so many projects, it’s hard to know which will see the light of day. One thing we have discussed is pulling together some of the artwork and shoving it all into some big rolling demo. That may happen one day. My main focus at the current time is Apothecary – a PC Engine arcade adventure. It’s basically the prototype for Grelox and was cancelled until a programmer called Orion decided to ressurect it.
Are you yourselves collectors of retro systems and games
While I have a small collection, I lost the collector mentality a long time ago and don’t feel the desire to own everything. I still enjoy playing old games but more of my time is spent making them. I’m not a snob about emulation and I’m happy to experience many old titles in this way.
I only collect what I like. If I won’t play the game, I don’t buy it. If i buy it and end up hating it, I get rid of it.
I have a lot of stuff. Tons of it. Like, every console you could think of naming probably. I only hook up the one I am playing though. The rest are neatly stored on shelves.
Most of it was accumulated during the normal life cycle of the consoles since I grew up during the end of the NES era and powered through the 16-bit wars and beyond. All I ever asked for for Christmas/Birthday presents was video games. The two machines I do go out of my way to buy things for are PC Engine and MSX. I am a sucker for the Toshiba MSX models. I have two that are functionally the same, but one has a red stripe. The other, a green stripe. I had to have both because I am an idiot.
How hard was it to manufacture brand new HuCards after all these years?
Lots of experimenting was involved. TheOldMan (our other Aetherbyte-person) did all of that. It started off with etching them by hand, and eventually moved to a board design that we got printed. We then went from taping credit cards to the boards… to getting a 3D printer and experimenting with shells until we got one that seemed to work. It was basically just a ton of experimenting.
The real effort now is assembling them. To get a card that is pretty close to a real one, we use SMT EEPROMs. Those aren’t fun to solder.
And, once the 3D printer is calibrated properly, printing the plastic itself just takes time. Sometimes the printer breaks down during printing though, and that sucks because you end up wasting time and plastic.
Insanity looks amazing, have any other homebrew developers approached you about buying HuCards for their own projects?
Insanity looks terrible. I drew all the art. Thankfully, Paul came along and stopped me from doing that ever again.
We’ve had a few people mention buying the cards, and we may do that once we get our own stuff out and test the waters and make sure things go smoothly.
You have made some stunning looking games, which one are the proudest of and which would be your biggest achievement?
I’d say Insanity and Atlantean. Insanity because it was the first and dispelled the myth that CDs were hard to press. It also featured chiptunes instead of CD music, which was a first.
And, Atlantean because, it looks the most professional thus far and is on a real card. So we’ve got excellent art, excellent chiptunes, and an excellent package. It’s also full of features. I did as much as I could with that game, give the fact that it is really just a Defender clone.
The answer to that question is the games that we are still working on! But of final releases, I’m proud of them all in some way. I did a Cybernoid remake for the PC years ago that I’m very happy with, Atlantean is the first PC Engine release when I was 100% involved in, and I’m also very proud of the full screen pictures that I drew for Pyramid Plunder.
I have heard you are using a form of 3D printing for the Atlantean release, can you share details of that and whats involved? Also any photos of what you making would be great?
It’s pretty simple really. We just use the printer to make the shells that the board is placed in, and the case trays. All that is involved is time, and hoping the printer doesn’t break down or anything.
[img height=373 width=500]http://i940.photobucket.com/albums/ad242/zapiy/NewPrinter.jpg[/img]
[img height=373 width=500]http://i940.photobucket.com/albums/ad242/zapiy/OldPrinter.jpg[/img]
What was the inspiration behind Atlantean?
I’m tired of outer space shooters. I like them, but holy crap, it’s like, all they ever made in the 80s.
Every shooter is space ships, asteroids, star fields, and crap. It’s getting old. PC Engine had this love/hate game called Deep Blue that took place under water.
Combine that with my love of Defender, and Ecco the Dolphin, and you get Atlantean.
Dolphins are awesome. Dolphins that fire lazers are even better.
PaulDeep Blue inspires everything in life.
Can you share any sneak peaks or info of Grelox that you have in dev for the PC?
I’m trying to be fairly open with the development process on my Blog, but for those who do not know about it, the basic premise of the game is a cross between Zillion, Dizzy and a hint of Metroid. I want to get the feel of the old 8-bit platforming action games but adding puzzle solving and the need to actually draw a map. I miss those days.
Nooo. Only what is on Paul’s blog.
Inferno for the MSX2/2+ looks fantastic, where in the development timeline is this?
It’s a demo right now. The engine is going to get some polish/reworking, and then I will need to spend time doing level layouts, and more music. The engine itself is probably somewhere around about 75% done.
I’ve drawn a lot of the art for enemies and suchlike. But there’s always more to do, and sprite animation can take a lot of time because I find it quite difficult.
When i met Arkhan he said he went from C to asm mid process. I’m wondering what tools/compilers he recommends for beginning TG-16 developers. Also, how hard it was to transition to asm.
Andrew: You’re stuck with HuC. Use it to learn the ropes, but then, start using ASM where you can. It’s not hard to transition to ASM if you take your time and use a solid book to explain how the instructions work, and how to do some simple things. Without a good explanation, you’re kind of hosed. I recommend the book Assembly Lines for the Apple II. It uses a 6502, so the concepts in it apply still. There is also the 6502 book by Leventhal. It does a good job of explaining the basics.
Avoid trying to just dig into someone else’s code. Undocumented assembly looks horrible, will confuse you, and won’t really teach you anything. This is especially the case if you’re looking at super optimized assembly that is making use of various programming tricks. Starting off with tricks and shortcuts is a great way to set yourself up for a mess later on.
Notes: Our various websites.
Aetherbyte’s Blog: http://aetherbyte.blogspot.co.uk/
Paul’s Blog: http://chunkypixels.blogspot.co.uk
The PC Engine Software Bible: www.pcengine.co.uk
Paul’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/sunteam
Paul’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/sunteamretro
The PC Engine Software Bible Facebook page: www.facebook.com/obeypcengine
PC Engine Homebrew Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pcenginehomebrew