cxt: Hi Laurent, ever since the release of Bold the whole Atari scene seems to
recognize your name. I can't recall that I have ever heard of you before. Were
did you hide yourself for that long? And while you are at it, would you please
introduce yourself. Tell the world who you are and how you got in touch with
Laurent: As you would have probably guessed, I am French. I was born in 1973 and
spent all of my youth in the south of France near Marseille. As far as I
remember I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil in my hand. Anyone
growing up in the 80's got influenced and attracted by the first home computers.
I started programming really early, using Basic, and I quickly mixed all the
things I loved: drawing, story telling, role playing into one medium: video
games. My first computer was an IBM PC, I was 11 I think. Then, in 1986 my
father brought back home an Atari 520 ST and this day is still clearly stuck in
my mind. I don't think I have been hiding for all those years... maybe I've just
been really quiet. Everything kind of started because of my video game
collecting hobby. I moved to UK in 1996 and I managed there to really get myself
plugged to the internet (It may sounds a bit archaic today, but back in 1996 it
was really tricky to surf the web, especially in the south of France...). Back
then I contacted other video game collectors and realised that a lot of people
had interest in old video game systems, and especially Atari. I met great people
like John Earney and even helped him (even if not much) in his quest for the
Giant list of 2600 Label Variations. Then one day I downloaded Pacifist. It was
one of the first Atari ST emulator for PC (with Gemulator and StonX) and it was
a revelation. The first games I tried to run were my own. At that very moment I
decided to make my games public as it would have been a shame if they just got
lost. But time passed and I only managed to create images from all my old ST
disks (it still took a while as I have around 200 of them...) But I clearly
remember last year, it was my 30th birthday. I was standing and looking at this
box containing all my old Atari ST disks. I had to do something!
cxt: On your website you write about your first contact with computers at the
age of 11 too, and mention a huge grey box with three silver letters stuck on
it. This doesn't sound much like an Atari and since you stated it was a PC I
guess it was an IBM machine right?
Laurent: Yes, it was a big and heavy IBM PC. It didn't have any Hard Drive
though, just two floppy discs. The CPU could only run at 1 Mhz and the screen
only display green and black characters, no fancy graphic card. I was 11, and
this is when I did my first programming steps in Basic. My first games were just
ASCII characters chasing each other. I still have a 5.25" floppy disc with all
my games on in, and I even bought an old IBM-PC XT few years ago and, one day, I
will look at those games again... I'll probably just find out that the floppy
simply didn't survive ;)
cxt: Yes, it seems to be the same for every developer ;), I can remember those
ASCII aliens too from my ZX-Spectrum time too. It seems you are also collecting
old video game and computer systems, indeed you own an impressive collection.
Maybe you can tell us a bit more about your goals in this area, and the reason
to collect all these outdated machines.
Laurent: I started collecting video games when I was sixteen, or maybe fifteen.
I've always loved video games, and back then I could buy boxes of Atari or
ColecoVision stuff for nearly nothing. And finally it was also a sort of revenge
as I wanted to play those games as a kid but couldn't afford them. I could only
try to reproduce them using my home computer. This is how everything started and
then I got bitten by the 'evil bug' I guess. Anyway, I really would like this
collection to become a source of information for other collectors and players, I
have already created a couple of web sites with a lot of information about games
and systems (like my PC-Engine Lounge), and I have also helped other friends to
expand theirs. It may sound a bit strange, but I would love to create a video
game museum one day, I want the future generation to see what it was all about.
cxt: Well since I am collecting classic and current consoles - if I can pick
them up for a reasonable price - I can smell the nostalgic air surrounding these
machines. However I am not sure the future generation can understand why we
played Pong or Space Invaders for hours and hours. Nowadays the classic hardware
looks really outdated compared to modern gaming devices and I am not sure that
the youngsters will get the feeling for them without those memories we have. I
am sure you have played on lots of machines in the past. Which is your favourite
machine for each of the following categories? Maybe you can also explain what
makes the machine so special for you.
Laurent: Arcade: It has to be Sega's Galaxy Force 2. I remember the first time I
played the cockpit version, it was an incredible moment.
Console: It has to be NEC's and Hudson Soft's PC Engine. It is the most amazing
system ever made, its size, its design, its list of great games. It is my
Handheld: Some people may argue, but I really like Sega's Nomad. I like the fact
that traditional Megadrive cartridges can be played with it, like NEC's GT. I
also love Nintendo's Virtual Boy, but can it still be called a handheld? ... But
my favourite portable console is not here yet, the future is bright and this
area of portable video gaming is going to be really big!
Computer: Ok... it has to be the Atari ST... I know it was an easy answer. There
is nostalgia, and there is nostalgia. I grew up with this machine. My heart is
bound to it. Even when I use an emulator, my spirit just blends in channelling
with the green desktop. Weird feelings...
cxt: Nice choice, PC Engine was my favourite console too once but the Dreamcast
is really close :) Hardware is nothing without software; can you also name your
top 5 games of all times?
Laurent: Man this is tough. But I saw it coming. Only five? Let's do it this
way, I'll list here the games I play often... no, this doesn't work as I only
play the same games for a while and then... ok, let's do it.
1. Majora's Mask by Nintendo for N64 It has to be one the best game
accomplishment I have ever seen. The story is awesome and the game is just pure
game design perfection.
2. Einhänder by SquareSoft for PSX/PSone I love shoot'em ups and Einhänder is
one of my favourite. I also love good stories in video games and this little
fellow has all those qualities... and more.
3. Radiant Silvergun by Treasure for Sega Saturn Radiant Silvergun is huge and
has this quality over Einhänder: it will always surprise you! I'm still playing
this game today and I still find new tricks and new techniques...
4. Rogue by Enyx for the Atari ST This game just perfected randomness in video
games, the Atari ST version was really well done and I am not ashamed to say
that I still today go back to the dungeon of Doom and try to bring back the
Amulet of Yendor...
5. No, this is much too hard, I can't stop here. There are so many other great
games... I am not sure which one should be the fifth one ... Elite? No, no maybe
Sundog or what about Gradius Gaiden? But hey! I am still collecting video games,
so it just means that I can not make a decision about which one is the best...
isn't it? :) Ask me again in fifty years ;)
cxt: Nice to see some great shooters on that list, Radiant Silvergun is one of
my favourites too, like most Treasure games, these guys are gods. Anyway, there
is a live beside computers and games and somehow you have to earn money to
finance your hobby. In your CV (http://www.geocities.com/lkermel/new/main.htm)
you mention that you are currently working as an effects Artist at
PDI/Dreamworks. Since Dreamworks has produced many great movies it might be
interesting to know in which ones you were involved.
Laurent: I have just joined PDI/Dreamworks last year so I haven't really worked
for a whole production yet. But, be patient, it will be out next year :)
cxt: Ah, you want to increase the tension. Or more likely you had to sign some
NDAs I guess :). Ok, let's focus on the past. You also worked for many other
movie and TV related companies like Mill Film or Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Which was your favourite project till today?
Laurent: My favourite project was to work for the first two Harry Potter movies.
This was a great experience and a lot of fun too. But still, I couldn't work for
the third one, two in a row was kind of enough ;) I love my job, as a kid I
wanted to become an illustrator. But I always loved movies and this new digital
era in special effects is exactly what I was looking for. I can now mix my
programming and 3D skills with my drawings and illustrations. But it is a
challenging and tough profession, believe me.
cxt: Challenges are important for a long term occupation, without challenges
you will loose interest and motivation. And new stuff is always challenging,
isn't it? Beside your activities in the world of movies you also did some very
impressive drawings. And it seems you are very talented with traditional drawing
utilities as well as several computer programs. What is your favourite drawing
Laurent: I really like digital tools like Photoshop, mainly because it is easy
to setup (just need to turn my PC on and draw...) and I also love the 'undo'
option ;) I still love painting and drawing during my free time...
cxt: Yes, undo is really important, that's why I only work with digital media
:). While we are speaking of tools, which painting utility did you use to create
the awesome graphics for Bold and the other Atari games like Dragon Twins or
Laurent: Back then I used NEOchrome. It was a great painting package for the
Atari ST. I used it again recently when I released Bold, and the forth-coming
Wiliness, and I still do not know how I did to use it during all those years, I
must have been really patient ;) Pixel-graphics are hard to master and take a
really long time... I am now used to draw with a graphic tablet and a scanner. I
wish I had that as a kid :)
cxt: Another bulls eye :) Everybody knows about my bias for NEOchrome. It was
one of the 1st and still the best drawing tools for the ST. This surely explains
why I like the Empire graphics so much, even the sketch like ones are really
great. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Laurent: Thanks :) I am pleased you like them. The sketch like ones are not in
-game graphics but some research drawings I did and scanned in. And about my
inspirations and such: I'm never sure where to begin. I've always loved science
fiction, Asimov and Arthur C. Clark books, Star Trek and Star Wars, but also old
mythologies and role playing games like Dungeon and Dragons. The 80s were a
great time for a kid's imagination I guess. Sometimes I would get inspired by
what I would see around me. Other great sources of inspirations were video game
magazines where I would look at other games designs and graphics.
cxt: On the Bold page you say you wish to release all your old games. Can you
name these games and tell us when we will have the pleasure to witness their
Laurent: I am planning to release most of my old games. I mean, the ones that
are playable. At the moment, only a few are shown on my web site, but there are
a lot more, I would say something like twenty or thirty. But they are not all
worth the penny you know. I will soon release 'Wiliness 3', which is one of my
favourite role playing games. This game is a good example, it is not finished
but the first 6 levels are fully playable. The next game will probably be
'Dragoon Twin'. I am not sure about games like 'Empire' and 'Malstrom' as I
stopped really early in production so there are not really playable...
cxt: Are you planning to release the source codes and graphics as well?
Laurent: This is a really good idea, why not? Maybe some people would be
interested to finish some of those games :)
cxt: This is a real nice decision. While talking about source codes, which
programming languages do you use on Atari machines?
Laurent: GFA-BASIC was my programming language. I tried to write a couple of
functions in 68000 assembly but I guess I was too young to get into it. Still I
created and modified existing ASM code which I used in my final games. I haven't
done much programming on Atari machines for the last ten or fifteen years. But
it was a great, and a weird feeling, to write GFA code again when I released
Bold... it is amazing what your brain can actually store and remember...
cxt: Yes, quite true. I was also surprised how much knowledge about coding on
Atari machines was still hidden inside some dusty, cobweb covered chamber in my
brain :) It must be right beside that chamber were I preserve another Atari
related information: Rumours say Grazey / D-Bug will include Bold in one of his
next menu disks. What do you think about D-Bug and their compilation disks?
Laurent: Whaooo... Bold may be included in one of their next menu disks? This is
great :) Back in the old days, I only remember Automation and their menu disks.
I've always been impressed by their intros and also the 'packers'. Great Stuff!
cxt: Since you are glowing for this idea, what are you thinking about the Atari
scene? Are there any chances to meet you at an Atari Coding Party?
Laurent: I really like the Atari scene today and it also looks more mature than
it was in the past. Let's be honest, I remember the old days and the competition
in between teams of coders. Some intro text scrolls were sometimes really
arrogant. This seems to be much better now and competition has turned into great
passion for Atari machines... And about meeting up at an Atari Coding Party?
This would be great! I never considered myself as a great coder. I always try to
get my stuff to work before optimising it. This must be the reason why I never
really managed to get deep into assembly code. I still do a lot of coding today,
mainly C, but it is not machine or system oriented. I don't think it is worth it
anymore, technology changes too quickly, I now prefer portability rather than
intense optimisation for a graphic card or an operating system...
cxt: I see, I guess you can't imagine to take part in a current project for the
Atari scene, maybe doing some graphics for a demo?
Laurent: First of all, I wish I had time for this. My work is taking a great
deal of time, and I have also other commitments, and my lovely wife. The other
thing is that I have always been more 'artist' than 'coder' (even if I still do
a lot of coding at work but it is more 3D stuff) and I still prefer to enjoy
drawing using 24 bits images rather than 4 ... especially with feature films
where we often end up working with huge resolutions and up to 16 bits/colour.
Actually, I still love doing old graphics and reviving Bold and the other games
has been a fantastic experience. But it is more about time I am afraid...
cxt: Too bad, but lack of time has never stopped people to release stuff.
However time, that's a good catchword. What is your opinion on the future of
Atari machines? Have you heard of the ct60, will you support it or do you stick
to the classic hardware?
Laurent: Ooops.... I may sound a bit dumb but I've never heard of it, let me do
some research on the web ... Ok, I am now up to speed, the CT60 is an Atari
Falcon accelerator isn't it? I guess this is a nice initiative, but I don't know
if I would be interested to own one. And I don't really know what to think
actually, I've never been a great fan of over-clocking hardware I still prefer
pushing things to the limits using software. A much better initiative would be
to write a new OS based on GEM and TOS for today machines and fully compatible
with the old one. That would be ace! But this is my opinion. I still think this
is a great initiative.
cxt: You can run TOS and GEM on current machines with Emulators. I guess the
think you are looking for is called ARANYM. What do you think about emulators
like STEem or SainT?
Laurent: I love emulators. Especially as I am travelling all the time so I can
carry my laptop around and always have my games, and even all my collection with
me! I still think emulation has revolutionized the video game and computing
world, and I really admire all the people coding them. And about Atari
emulation, I am using mainly STEem at the moment. I have never tried Saint but I
will surely give it a try soon :)
cxt: I am sure Leonard (the current developer of SainT) will be pleased. Running
on an emulator or on real hardware, Bold can be surely called an eye candy. But
on the audio side it offers only some (repetitive) sound effects. Why didn't you
include any in-game music?
Laurent: The reason is really simple. Back in the old days, internet didn't
exist and the only way to learn new programming tricks was by reading magazines
or talking to other coders. I am from the south of France, and I was the only
'coder' I knew. None of my friends was coding. So I just didn't know how to do
it, and it has always been something that frustrated me a lot! Believe me! I
tried! I used trackers though and I even managed to play some of my 'MODs' in
games like Wiliness. But they are only used during intros or some in-game
moments as it was much too slow to play it during the game itself.
cxt: With or without music, do you have any hints for all those Atarians who are
trying to fight their way through the 5 levels of bold? You know stuff like
which weapons should be used in which level, etc.?
Laurent: He, he, he ... There are several ways to reach the end of the game.
First of all, I think lasers are the best as they are not stopped by enemies
(like tube-laser, line-laser or the bold-laser). My advice would be to sell your
duo-missiles after level one as you'll get a Torpedo at the beginning of stage
two (which is handy for the boss). Then you can sell that Torpedo at the end of
stage 2 and buy a line-laser. A good thing is to buy the Bold-laser and a lot of
Auto-fire at the end of Stage 3. Especially as the Boss at the end of Stage 4 is
not too hard to defeat but it can take a lot of time if you have weak weapons.
cxt: Are there any Easter eggs or cheat codes included in your games? If there
are any would you reveal them at least for bold?
Laurent: Yes there are... and I've always promised myself to give them away to
the first person who will ask for it. And you are the first :) I'll give only
one that, I think, is the best to enjoy the whole game. In the shop, at the end
of every stage, just type 'CHEATMODEPLEASE' and press enter. A secret item will
appear. It will cost you 2000 credits to become invincible.
cxt: 2000 credits for invincibility? Sounds pretty cheap :) Let's see if you can
earn enough credits with the next task. It's about time for the traditional
Alive brainstorming challenge. Simply name one word starting with each of the
L: Linux :)
A: Attic, this is where my Atari ST was and where I spent most of my youth.
U: Up! (cxt: You know interesting movies. Russ Meyer rules)
T: Tron (I still love that movie)
K: Kilobyte, used to be so big, now so tiny.
M: (I'm) Missing the old days when things were so simple
L: Laundry, ideally once a week
cxt: Now we are nearly finished with the interview, and you can go back to work
on your sources and kick out the next releases :) Anyway if you wish to add
anything, place some greetings or whatever, now is the time.
Laurent: What to say? Maybe the fact that I typed all this article using my
laptop and I confirm that I still hate those unusable keyboards. I also miss the
famous 'bip' that was coming out of the Atari ST every time a key was pressed...
More seriously, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk
about my crazy ideas and past creations. I thank you too, reader, for being
strong and patient, and to have reached the end of this interview ;) I would
also like to wish long life to the Atari scene and you should all keep up the
great work! As you said, I have to go back to work now, or maybe I'll go to bed
cxt: Thanks a lot for the time you sacrificed to answer all these questions, I
hope you will have the time to release more games from your treasure chest in
the near future.
Laurent: It was far from a sacrifice you know. I will release more games in the
near future and I hope you will enjoy playing them as mush as I enjoyed creating
and resurrecting them :)