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Alive 9

with Tobe / MJJ-Prod

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
and why?

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 :) ( ). 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 .

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:

  UNTIL b|
  VOID SHL(13,-b|)

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:  ),  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 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
world graphics.

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
really finished.

cxt: Well Roger is the past, lets turn to the future. What can you tell us about
Roger 2000?

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 ( )? 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 :)

J: Jump

E: Electronic

A: Addicted


-: :-)

B: Beer

A: Atari

P: Psychic


I: Idiot

S: Sex

T: Tezcatlipoca

E: Experiments

B: B-Boy

E: Escape

R: Recursivity

L: Life

I: Inside

O: Outside

Z: Zoo

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  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

Alive 9