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Alive 9
Interview with

Laurent Kermel

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
computers etc.

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
favourite system.

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  (
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
letters below:

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)

R: RenderMan

E: England

N: Nanosecond

T: Tron (I still love that movie)

K: Kilobyte, used to be so big, now so tiny.

E: Evolution

R: Run

M: (I'm) Missing the old days when things were so simple

E: Emulation

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
first ;)

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 :)

2004-08-07 Cyclone/X-Troll

Alive 9