with Tobe /
cxt: Hi Tobe, I read somewhere you are an oldskool funky blitter addict. :)
Maybe you can tell the world a bit more about you. Who are you? Where do you
come from? What do you do? Stuff like that.
tobe: Hi cxt, my name is Jean-Baptiste Berlioz, I am 30 years old and I live in
France. I'm the proud father of my 2 years old son Dorian. I was working as a
game developer in a small company called Galilea, but it just crashed and I'm
waiting to be fired for some economical reasons. That's life ((c)
Gloky/MJJPROD). I'm spending a lot of time in front of computers, sometimes too
much, but I'm not a real geek because I didn't study so much, I was a dunce at
school. I learned to code by myself (by throwing stones in darkness and
listening to the noises from the bounces :)). Now I'm working on custom
-rendering engines, mixing 2D and 3D for adventure games on PC.
cxt: What does Tobe stand for?
tobe: Tobe stands for Tobé, a deformation of the French verb 'tomber' (English:
to fall down) in the form 'tombé'. It's my real short name, the one my family
and some friends use to call me. For the history, I was very young kid when a
girl, who had speech impairments, pushed me to the floor and started to shout
'tobé! tobé!'. Then, she used to call me Tobé and other people quickly followed.
cxt: How did you get in touch with computers, and what was your 1st machine?
Judging from your bias for a certain flash animation I would guess it was a ZX
Spectrum but who knows? :)
tobe: My first computer was a C64, but I was too young to remember exactly when.
My parents brought it at home for house accounts but my brother and I quickly
started to copy games with friends and we also started learning BASIC to make
our own little games in text mode with a few hand coded sprites. It was my first
contact with computers, and it was very impressive because it didn't work first,
something was broken and it only drew '_' on screen every time we hit a key, but
it was quickly repaired. I still have great memories of this time, the games
were awesome and the BASIC very user friendly. I was 15 years old when my
brother and I asked my parents to join our Christmas gift to have an Atari ST.
Slowly my brother switched to comics drawing and the STE was mine. I spent 5
years on the ST, coding GFA stuff and computing Persistence of Vision pictures.
The ST really introduced me to low-level programming and modern computing. This
was also five unforgettable years. Then I took a half-time job and bought a PC
with the money instead of the driving license :), mainly because I wanted to
play Doom! I was first horrified by the 32 bit environment, and was unable to
code anything, but I quickly switched to Linux for coding purposes.
cxt: Beside your C64 and your ST you own several other classic computers it
seems you are a collector like myself :). Which machines do you have so far and
which ones are you desperately looking for?
tobe: I have an Atari 2600, a ZX Spectrum, a Commodore 64 with two 1541 disk
drives, 3 Atari STEs and 2 Super Nintendos. The ZX is the only machine I never
own before, it still in the box :), the C64 is still fascinating and I continue
to use my STEs today. I buyed the SNES to play Dragon Ball Z, but my son often
asks me to play Super Mario World because he love to see Yoshi eating apples!
I'm looking for some 8 bits Ataris, an Amiga, and a Cray II :)
cxt: If you should name the top 5 machines of all times which ones would that be
tobe: Sorted by date :
1. My C64
2. My 1040 STE
3. My first PC
4. My second PC
5. My third PC
cxt: Hmmm, too much PC for my taste. Anyway can you also name your top 5 games
(any platform) and describe what makes them special to you?
tobe: Sorted by date too :
1. Boulder Dash (C64), hours and hours and... hours...
2. Llamatron (ST), no comments!
3. Speed Ball II (ST), despite the fact I never won :)
4. Doom II (PC), because it was incredible.
5. Transport Tycoon (PC), I'm still playing the deluxe edition!
cxt: Interesting collection. Llamatron - like most Jeff Minter games - had many
demo like effects included and most game developers are also coding demos. A lot
of them was also recruited from the demo scene. Since you have joined a demo
crew recently, which kind of demo are you more interested in, oldskool or
tobe: To tell the truth I'm not very interested in demos, but I'm amazed by what
is possible to do with a given hardware. I prefer oldskool 2D effects!
cxt: Hmmm despite the fact that you are "not very interested in demos" you have
coded some demo screens yourself and you are also member of the French Atari
demo crew MJJ-Prod. At least there is a fancy picture of you at the bottom of
their member list :) ( http://perso.wanadoo.fr/mjjprod/html/membres.html ). When
and why did you join them?
tobe: From time to time, I'm coding small screens, to test some features and to
keep a good coding skill, but I never spend too much time on it. I joined MJJ
-Prod a few month ago, at the Huno Party II, because they are very cool guys
with a good spirit and a deep French touch.
cxt: Cough, cough.
tobe: Ok, to tell the truth, Felx threatened me!
cxt: Everybody knows you are coding in GFA BASIC. Recently the word has been
out, that you started with Assembler. Are you coding on other platforms as well?
Which one do you like most?
tobe: I'm coding mostly for PC, both high-level in C++ and low-level in ia32
(Intel Architecture 32 bit aka X86) with MMX/SSE. I have had the opportunity to
code for Macintosh computers a few years ago but now I prefer coding on PC. I
know 68K for a long time but GFA was the first real language I learned so I keep
on using it, mainly for the fun. I'm not going to inline 68K often, because it's
a pain to switch from ia32 to 68K!
cxt: IMHO, M68k is the easiest and most user friendly language ever created. I
haven't done much with it in the last 10 years but it's like riding a bike, you
never forget how to do it :). Anyway, M68k or not, which products did you finish
on the Atari platform so far?
tobe: I wrote some screens in GFA, a few games and some tools for modelling and
animation for Persistence of Vision. I lost all of them, except roger which I
found in a PC floppy box a few years ago.
cxt: What's special about the "Tribute to (Rainbow) TOS" screen in the Atari
Forum demo? I guess it was coded using GFA and Blitter. Otherwise I wouldn't
know why it shouldn't run on a plain ST.
tobe: It's the first screen I wrote after 10 years away. I call it "Tribute to
TOS" because the colours we used in the logo are the same you can watch in the
TOS 1.62 info box. There's a lot of colours (I could have put more colours but
me and C-Rem prefer to have a nice design rather than a technically impressive
effect), and this colours are spreaded on two palette registers to achieve four
raster effects, the green, yellow and red colours and the Atari-forum logo. This
effect uses the blitter to draw the colours because it's impossible to achieve
this only with GFA code. There's also a low border removal, a 1 bitplane 32x32
scrolltext using the blitter and a nice music from 5O5, knowing the fact it was
impossible to use the SidSound effects due to the intensive blitter usage!
cxt: I heard the source codes for most of your projects are available for
download from the web?
tobe: All the source codes for roger and Tribute to TOS (code named Liquid) are
available at my website directly from http://atari.freemind-tobe.com .
cxt: Your forthcoming small project - called "Smoke" - uses the Blitter to
generate a plasma FX while you manipulate the X-Offset of the STE video
tobe: The code named Smoke is a brand new effect on STE, I hope :), it uses the
Blitter to interleave the accesses to palette and offset registers. I'm still
coding it from time to time and I hope to finish it soon.
cxt: I don't code much under GFA BASIC these days, would you like to explain how
you synchronize the code to the video beam with GFA?
tobe: It's quite easy to synchronize the code under GFA, it's a four line code
I've found in the French ST-Mag:
cxt: This synchronisation looks similar to the one you would use in assembler.
For the non coders amongst us, you basically read the low byte of the video VAC
(Video Address Counter) until you get the first value different from zero (since
video memory is always aligned on a 256 byte page on plain ST, it starts with
zero) and use a command that uses variable CPU time depending on the input
value. Theoretically it has to use less time if you read greater values and more
time if you read smaller values. SHL does the job In GFA BASIC. The routine has
to be executed after the vbl but before the video memory is read out, otherwise
you should experience strange results, right?
tobe: Yes, that's it, generally I'm calling the VBL wait function first, then
I'm trying to put as much as possible code before the beam reaches the first
line and then I call the synchronisation code. It's quite slow in GFA, so the
first line of the screen is lost and I put some NOPs ('~0' or 'VOID 0' in GFA)
until it reaches the second line to start the effect.
cxt: Will we see some source codes of "Smoke" released someday too?
tobe: I will add the Smoke sources a few month after spreading the screen.
cxt: Your most famous project is called 'Roger', in his review ST Survivor
suggested to use Roger as a mascot for the Atari machines. What do you think
about the idea and how much did you pay ST Survivor for that suggestion? :)
tobe: LOL, I think it's a great idea as long as it come from people who loved to
play roger ! I'm not going to support it by myself, but if anyone wants to use
roger as a mascot, I will not stop him :)
cxt: Roger was coded in 1994, when you were 14 (according to myAtari:
http://www.myatari.net/issues/apr2004/roger.htm ), how comes that the public
release was nearly 10 years later?
tobe: I was 19 years old in 1994 and I had just started to discover the world of
UNIX and PC computers. In fact roger was never finished, it lacks some features
I will put in Roger 2000, and the disk was stored away in a box. All my software
and games were cracked, because it was too expensive for me, a friend gave me a
copy a his GFA editor and compiler, a copy of Deluxe Paint and I ripped the
music from the SidSound Designer package without knowing the author, so I
dropped the project, to avoid troubles with justice :)
cxt: So Roger was never available as a shareware game, like the myAtari review
suggested. I guess I can drop the question about the amount of registered Users
for Roger, then :) However, what do you think about coding Shareware nowadays?
tobe: Yes, Roger was never spreaded, the only registered user was myself :)
Shareware was a great idea, I can remember Llamatron and Doom, but too much
coders tried to sell crap and buggy software so unfortunately it didn't replace
the classical and wrong way to sell software. Today it's possible to download
demos and buy software directly from the developers on the internet. I hope it
will replace the boxes in shops!
cxt: It would kill lots of jobs in the customer sales segment and all middlemen
of course. Since the costs are reduced a lot (no packaging, shipping etc.) the
prices should drop which might lead to higher sales per title but how would you
do the marketing? Drop a line at slashdot.org maybe? I am sure you will have
lots of visits on your homepage and enormous traffic bill :) Beside there are
lots of people who buy games and who have no internet access at all. Think about
the usual grandma who buys a gift for her grandchild. And since you work for a
gaming company don't you believe your own job would be at stake too?
tobe: Customer sales segment killed lots of job first :), because it's very hard
for a small company to put games on the market because they often prefer selling
games they are sure to sell in big amounts. I can understand some people are
ready to pay more to have a nice box, but I always found games are much too
expensive. I think it should be possible to sell games in box and in the same
time on the web. For example, I bought all the games for my PocketPC online, it
took five minutes to pay, then a few more to download.
cxt: Yes, but PocketPC titles are still small in size, current DVD releases
would be a pain to leech with current bandwidth, but lets get back to Roger and
sources of inspiration :) Since I owned a Mega Drive (aka Genesis) and played a
lot of games on that console, I found some similarities with other one
particular game. Roger reminds me somehow of "Cool Spot", is this a coincidence
or did you use this game for inspiration?
tobe: Yes, roger was inspired from the bonus levels from Cool Spot. It was a
very addictive game I used to play with a friend on his Mega Drive, and we loved
the bonus stages and wanted to have more of them. At the same time I was coding
a screen with a huge blitter scrolling using dithering memory for effects, I
reused it to start the project and started to draw roger himself and the first
cxt: Which STE features does Roger use?
tobe: Roger uses the STE colours, DMA sound and the Blitter with dithering
effects to make transitions. The hard scroll was dropped because it would take
too much memory to hold the screen double buffering.
cxt: IMHO Roger was a really nice STE game, especially if you keep in mind that
it was done in GFA. How do you achieve this outstanding quality without using
assembler? Have you ever tried to convert it to a plain ST?
tobe: In fact there's not a lot of sprites in roger, all the items are draw in
the screen buffer once and only removed when needed, the only sprites are roger,
the infos at the top, sometime a bubble, so the big part was the scrolling done
by the blitter. I never tried to convert to plain ST, because I don't think it's
possible in GFA, but it might be possible for a 68K guru to do this.
cxt: Grazey included Roger in D-Bug menu #180. What do you think about crackers
and compilation disks in general?
tobe: I would like to thank them, as I said early, all my tools and games on the
ST were cracked, mainly because they were too expensive for me or my parents. I
don't think crackers killed the gaming industry, the gaming industry killed
itself. Without crackers, it would have been impossible for me to learn coding
on ST and became a game developer today. Now I can buy the software I need, and
I know its better that way. I can easily download cracked versions of the games
I coded at work, I can't tell people to not download them but if they have
enough money I think they should buy them :)
cxt: The gaming industry killed itself? From my point of view I thought it is
still alive and kicking. Of course there not much small companies left like in
the 80th or 90th but we have giants like EA or Activision for example which do
multimillion dollar projects, and develop only games that would return at least
15 million dollars per platform and title. In fact these huge companies made the
game development business an industry, while we had mostly small companies until
mid of the 90th. So why do you think the gaming industry is dead? And why did it
kill itself in your opinion?
tobe: I was talking about creativity first, of course big companies earn lots of
money, but I prefer small ones with a family-like crew where everyone can
xpress himself. Today all games look the same. The last one I played for hours
was SWAT 3, but most of the time I only play a few minutes with the demo. It's
like all this movies with the same story but different actors!
cxt: Galilea-Games, the company you work(ed) for, seems to be specialised in
adventures and strategy games (not exactly my favourite genres). However the
most recent products from them are called "Jack the Ripper", "Pax Romana", "The
Cameron Files" and "Genesys". Maybe you can tell us, more about your role in the
development of these games.
tobe: I didn't work on "Pax Romana", it was a crew from another company which
did. I was the main developer on all the other games, and in fact the only one
for "Genesys" and "Cameron Files 1". For "Jack the Ripper" I created a new
technology to mix rendered pictures and 3D models in a 360° view with shadows
and lightning in real-time.
cxt: Nice, it seems you are much deeper into coding than your initial statement
of "working on custom-rendering engines, mixing 2D and 3D". However enough of
that PC stuff for now, this is an Atari magazine isn't it? How did we got here,
I think it started with Grazey and his "crack" of Roger. While packing Roger he
also made it work from harddisk, will your next products contain this ability
right from the start?
tobe: Ok, let's talk Atari! I haven't had a HD when I was coding roger, and I
still don't have one, but I can test harddisk compatibility easily with STEem.
So you can expect this feature for Roger 2000 :)
cxt: Did you include any cheat modes or other Easter eggs into Roger?
tobe: Nothing, except for the trainer mode. As I said previously, it wasn't
cxt: Well Roger is the past, lets turn to the future. What can you tell us about
tobe: Hmm... more, more and more! Bigger worlds, more animations, more sounds,
more music, different kinds of bubbles and spikes, introduction of the ironball
and gumball objects, some new items that make you jump higher or move faster and
some surprises too :) ! The game will work on STE, Mega STE and Falcon, all
tools needed to create levels and worlds will be spreaded with the game.
cxt: Sounds fantastic, I can't wait to receive a preview for the next issue of
Alive :) Are you working alone on it, or do you have any fellow coders and
tobe: I'm coding alone, and I think I will continue for this project because I
love to code alone :) and because I often change everything everytime everywhere
in the code. I would like to thanks Cooper/Paradize and GT Turbo/CV for their
support but I'm going to wait for the greetings part of the interview ;)
cxt: While talking of fellow coders, I remember Shazz mentioned some kind of
'funny protection code' for the forthcoming Roger 2000. Are you really thinking
about a protection or was it just some silly joke?
tobe: It was a joke, about crackers loosing their skills after putting to much
unprotected games in their menus ;)
cxt: Hehe, yes we all remember one "cracker" who put ONLY unprotected games on
his menus, but I guess everybody knows whom I am talking of. :) The Roger 2000
tech demo looked very promising. Which new technical features will be included
in Roger 2000?
tobe: The big new feature is the parallax scrolling, it will allow free sized
levels. Nearly all sprites will be animated and I'm going to try to put the info
bar in the bottom or top border (for STE at least).
cxt: The lower border should be easier to implement, especially if you want to
use SID sound, which will reduce the available timers. BTW, ST Survivor
complained about missing stage codes or save options in Roger, will Roger 2000
feature any of these?
tobe: Lots of peoples complained about it, so I'm going to implement a load/save
feature this time !
cxt: What's up with your website ( http://www.freemind-tobe.com )? It had been
under construction for ages but recently you have added some content in French.
What are your plans with that website for the future? Is there any chance to get
an English translation someday?
tobe: I need to put some stuff online, both personal and professional, there
will be a PC section and an Atari one with a real download page. I hope I will
find enough time to put more pages online and translate them to English. For
those who understand french: The first page is a joke :)
cxt: What do you think about the CT60 and other clones or accelerators. Will you
support them or do you stick to the classic STE hardware?
tobe: I think it's nice for the Atari community to have some new hardware and
devices for their computers, but I'm not planning to buy them or to use them,
but if I can make my code compatible without too much work I will!
cxt: Beside clones and accelerators there are also Emulators like STEem or
SainT. What's your opinion on them? Do you use Emulators for some tasks, or do
you prefer the real thing?
tobe: I love STEem ! The emulation is really close to the real STE hardware and
it's really easy to use. I use to code with the Context editor on my pc and to
debug the code with STEem-debug, I only use my STE to test and to code at
parties. Emulators are really cool because you can have a lot of old computers
in one, but the real ones are better to play games! (That's why I bought a C64)
cxt: I am almost sure you have waited for it some time, so here we go, the
ultimate Alive brainstorming test. Just write down the first association your
have for each letter.
tobe: Did you notice my name is very long ?
cxt: You should blame your parents for that :)
cxt: We have almost reached the end of this interview and it's time to place
your greetings or final words. Whatever you want to tell the world, just do it
tobe: (scroll text style) Greetings to: C-Rem (for showing me the path to code
back on STE), Cooper (for slapping me around when I'm too lazy to code), GT
Turbo (for the strawberries and code sharing), Strider & Shazz (for the beer
coding parties at the Aconit), all the MJJ Prod crew, the #atari.fr chatters,
the Atari-forum members, all those give positive feedbacks about Roger, all
girls I had sex with and those I will have sex with, my family and God :)
cxt: Let's hope your girlfriend never stumbles across these lines :) Thanks for
all the time and work you spent on answering my questions. I hope we will see a
preview of Roger 2000 soon. Good luck with that game and all your future
tobe: Thanks you for the interview and the Alive team for the mag!
2004-08-06 Cyclone / X-Troll