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Alive SE - EIL 2001
      Interview with Miracle Designs

[NUON-Dome] - We're proud to have a little Q&A with Phil, a programmer,
from Miracle Designs. Of course, they're the company behind Merlin Racing!

[N-D] - First off, Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you
got involved with Miracle Designs?

[Miracle Designs] - I got my first computer (an AMSTRAD CPC) in 1985/1986.
After fooling around with it for a while I got interested in the world of
programming and created my first few programs in BASIC. I really spent a
whole lot of time in front of that little neat 'wonder' thing. After a
couple of years it began to become a bit outdated and I moved on to the
Commodore Amiga. There I learned MC68000 programming and my interest into
creating computer games started. With a couple of friends we made our own
version of Pong and later on some kind of shoot 'em up game. During this 6
year period on Amiga I did all sorts of things, which helped a lot to
become a decent programmer.

When I was around 19 it was time to go to university (CS). After 3 years
of fun and not passing any examinations because of too many parties and no
time left to do any studying, I met an old friend who had setup a small
company called "Visual Impact". They were working on a Jaguar title called
Hyper Force (which has recently been published for Jaguar owners). After
visiting their place Peter (one of my buddies causing all those
examination failures) and me realized we wanted to create computer games
too. A month later we got inside the Atari booth at ECTS (thanks to
Alistair Bodin) and signed our Jaguar NDA and Developer Application. A few
weeks later we got our own Jaguar devkit. Miracle Designs was born.

[N-D] - Tell us the history of Miracle Designs. When did the company start
and what titles have you produced?

[MD] - I told you how the company got started, so after finishing Atari
Karts, we took a really long break. Then we got a PSX development system
and put our first steps in the world of 3D graphics. When we finally
finished our first PSX game prototype, we were contacted by Bill Rehbock
(our former producer at Atari for Atari Karts) who had just left Sony of
America to join VMLabs. He told us what VMLabs was working on and we
decided to give it a try. After signing the NDA we got our first
development kits and started NUON development. On NUON I had to write a
custom 3D graphics pipeline named M3DL, which was licensed by VMLabs to
include in their SDK environment. Meanwhile the rest of the team members
were working on Merlin Racing. So our published projects so far are:

Atari Karts - Atari Corporation
M3DL - VMLabs, Inc
Merlin Racing - VMLabs, Inc

[N-D] - You were the first to release a game for NUON. How did you come in
contact with VM Labs and how long did you work on the project?

[MD] - As I said, we got in touch with VMLabs through Bill Rehbock. The
development of M3DL and Merlin Racing were almost parallel and as far as I
can remember it took around 2 1/2 -3 years to get the projects finished.

[N-D] - What was your experience working with the NUON platform? Difficult
to write for? Easy to take advantage of? Were there major difficulties
being among the first developers to work with NUON hardware?

[MD] - As NUON has 4 separate processors it is quite different to write
for. In order to take advantage of the processing performance most
processing intensive routines need to be written in assembly. Being
amongst the first developers proved to be quite a challenge, because you
had to start from scratch and there was almost no reference/sample code to
take a look at to determine how things should be done. Due to the fact
that the VMLabs engineers were still working on the Bios code things were
changing regularly and it was necessary to update our own code. All in all
we are happy with what we have been able to achieve so far.

[N-D] - What did you set out to accomplish with Merlin Racing? Were you
able to realize that goal?

[MD] - We wanted the game to be much better than Atari Karts. Atari
Karts lacked missiles and the like because the deadlines were so tight. We
also wanted the vehicle controls to be good and AI characters to be
challenging. Furthermore the game is fun to play, and that was our biggest
concern. I think we realized most of those goals, although there are still
plenty of things to improve upon.
It is a pity the game is not doing well with respect to the gaming press,
but there seems to be quite an anti-NUON tendency. If a masterpiece of
programming such as Tempest 3K were to make its debut appearance on PS2 it
would have been a killer application but now it is just 'normal'. I have
seen bigger companies with much bigger budgets release worse software,
which was received quite well. Anyway, every person is entitled its own
opinion, so I respect his or hers as long as they respect mine. The only
thing I can say is if people spend $20-$25 on a NUON game it is a fair
price. What do you get for that kind of money these days ?

[N-D] -Graphically, do you think a future NUON game from Miracle Designs
would improve due to your experience on the hardware? Or do you think you
tapped the NUON chip as much as you could?

[MD] -I am convinced a future NUON game from Miracle Designs specifically
designed for NUON would improve a lot on the graphical side. I think we
reached 60% to 75% of the NUON chip performance.

[N-D] - What, if any, inspiration did you have for the game's characters?
How about the racetracks?

[MD] - As I am a programmer I wasn't really involved too much in the
design of game characters and racetracks. We wanted to have a set of
different personalities and our producers at VMLabs made suggestions. My
personal favorite race tracks are the space levels though.

[N-D] - The music is very fitting for the game. Can you tell us about who
wrote it? It sounds like standard midi instrumentation. Is it midi played
thru the NUON processor, or red book audio streamed from the disc?

[MD] - Harald Riegler and his associate of Wild Element Studios created
the music. These are the same people who are doing the audio for IS3. We
got in touch with them through Marc of Eclipse Software Design. The audio
was originally written in midi format to allow for fast network download
times (Streamaster). At the end of the project the midi files were
converted to streaming audio because the streaming audio playback proved
to be less time consuming than midi playback on NUON.

[N-D] - There have been some reports of the game hanging up during the
'loading' screen. I have experienced this a few times. As far as you know,
is this a hardware or software problem?

[MD] -It is definitely not a game software problem. Personally I think it
is combined problem of Bios firmware and DVD drive hardware. You need to
check with the VMLabs engineers to get the exact answer though. Sorry I
can't be of any more assistance.

[N-D] - Are there any cheats or Easter eggs in the game that we should be
looking for? Being able to play as the bosses is definitely cool.

[MD] - There was not really much time left to include Easter eggs. It is
possible to play tournament mode as Merlin himself though.

[N-D] - What are your plans for the future? Any chance of another NUON
title? We here at NUON-Dome would be thrilled.

[MD] -We are currently negotiating with VMLabs about future projects and
things are going really well. We know most of the VMLabs software
department people in person and we are getting along quite well. After all
we at Miracle Designs are just a bunch of enthusiasts doing this for fun.
Since VMLabs gave us a chance to work on their hardware we will support
the NUON platform as much as we can. So yes, there is a big chance to see
more NUON software from Miracle Designs. As I liked your sample CD I
wouldn't be surprised if it included some Wes Powell tracks either. ;-)
Additional comments:
Furthermore, I would like to congratulate you and Kevin with your work on
NUON-Dome. It is one of my favorite fan sites and I visit it every now and
then. I would also like to emphasize we are always seeking for new talent
and if somebody feels like he has a really good idea for a forthcoming
NUON title don't hesitate to get in touch with us. Game ideas, design or
artwork are welcome. Send us an e-mail!

[NUON-Dome] - Thank you for the kind words, Phil. We look forward to your
upcoming NUON developments! Thanks for the great game that is Merlin
Racing =)

Alive SE - EIL 2001