HBL Interviews: Batman Group.

For our next exclusive interview we took some time out to chat with the members of Batman Group, we chat about Vespertino, and the formation of BG Games and much more besides.

Enjoy!

HBL

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you and the team?

Batman Group

Thanks to you! We are a group of friends mainly from the south of Spain that since the early 90’s we like to do demos and games for retro platforms like Amiga, Amstrad CPC or ZX Spectrum for hobby.

HBL

What was the first game/demo you created?

Batman Group

Our origin as a group started in the demo scene, so our first creations were small demos called intros, many of them were not released although we still keep them in old 3.5″ disks.
Our first demo with which we became known on the Spanish scene in 1993 was “The Killing Joke”, an Amiga OCS demo released at the Southern Party in Spain with which we got the third place in the demo contest.

HBL

Who does the Graphics, Sounds and Coding and how do you bring all your creations together?

Batman Group

Over time the group has had 2 stages, at first we formed a very large group: Batman (swapper & organizer), Beefeater (support), Davín (support), Dj Uno (music), Dredd (code), Frank (swapper), Headbanger (music), Johnny Centronics (math), Killing (support), Mac (gfx), Migue (support), Peruano (support), Rauling/Winden (code), Rhino (code), RPC (support), Shubby (code, gfxs, music), T-1000 (support), The Punisher (gfx), Vecchia (support), Xonor (support) … and we may forget someone!

The second stage begins at the beginning of this decade, when some former members decided to do the Batman Forever demo for Amstrad CPC. In this second stage we are Batman, Dredd, Frank, JDC (Music), Mac, Rhino, The Brothers (organizer), Toni Galvez (Gfx, he was invited to BG by Batman in 1995, but Toni get into the group officially in 2011) and Winden. Formerly we had a computer store where we met to plan and develop our productions, now we are in contact mainly by Telegram. Currently the projects are usually individual initiatives, where the rest of the group participates during the development and sometimes we are also helped by external collaborators as well as individually we also collaborate with other teams.

HBL

What was behind the decision to create retro style games and demos for the Amstrad?

Batman Group

We had stopped making demos in 1995, moment in which each one of us began his professional career in different fields, some in the sector of programming and the video game industry, but it was not until 2009 that we found motivation to develop again for old platforms. There are several reasons behind this such as nostalgia and fun, but perhaps the most important were the internal debates about which 8-bit computer was the most powerful. At that time there was a broad consensus that Commodore 64 seemed like the most complete platform, but Rhino disagreed and started doing routines for Amstrad CPC, which was the computer where he started programming in his childhood and motivated primarily to win the argument to Batman (who is the biggest C64 supporter) *laughter*

HBL

What do you for a living away from game/demo creation?

Batman Group

JDC, Mac, Toni & Rhino work developing indie games under Joyco Games brand. The rest have very diverse jobs, from the Public Administration, self-employed or in large corporations such as Google.

HBL

What’s the idea behind the name Batman Group?

Batman Group

It was one of those crazy things you do when you’re a teenager. The founding members had a previous group, Batman Brothers, influenced by the Batman fashion after Tim Burton’s first film. As more members joined, we decided to change the name to Batman Group. Although we weren’t all Batman fans, we did agree that the Batman theme was very cool when it came to making demos, because you can use a very attractive aesthetic. I think it was Alex Toth, the comic strip artist, who said it’s probably one of the best superhero designs, and it’s the only one you can instantly recognize just by looking at the silhouette.

HBL

How did the group form?

Batman Group

It all started when the Amiga came into our lives in 89, Batman and Vecchia, the founding members, purchased the 512kb memory extension, the video (DIGI VIEW) and sound digitizers. They started capturing images and digitizing samples in which they said the Batman Brothers ‘were the best! *laughter*. Then The Punisher and Dredd joined, and we changed our name to Batman Remix and then when more friends joined we changed to Batman Group in 1991. At that time we were able to get several programming books for Amiga, and we started making our first developments.

HBL

Are all your games/demos released under this name?

Batman Group

Not really, for demo making we use Batman Group and for games we use BG Games in order to avoid legal issues.

HBL

What game will be the first to feature the BG Games label?

Batman Group

We hope it’s Pinball Dreams, we just need to get the license and hope we can release it this year.  A couple of years ago we launched Super Lopez for ZX Spectrum under BG Games, this was an unfinished project from 1989 that we rescued recently.

HBL

Are you moving more into the game creation side of the scene now and if so can you expand on the reasoning?

Batman Group

Yes, part of the feedback we got with Batman Forever was that Amstrad couldn’t do the things we showed there in games, so that motivated us to make games that proved otherwise. This is an interesting challenge for us and it is also attractive to experiment as far as the machine can go. In any case, little by little and with the participation of the whole group, we are returning to the Amiga demo making too, as well as other projects for ZX Spectrum.

HBL

You guys clearly love the Amstrad CPC as you ported Pinball Dreams to this computer, what was the reason for this and can you talk us through the process please?

Batman Group

We think the CPC still doesn’t have the reputation it deserves as gaming platform, so we came up with the idea of trying to help change that perception, and we started to evaluate options to release a game that nobody thought would be possible on the platform. We were looking for repercussion, so we chose to make some classic that would attract the attention not only of Amstrad users, with graphic and CPU requirements above the usual 8-bit. We were shuffling several options and finally found in Pinball Dreams all the requirements we were looking for and we got down to work.

Firstly we had to analyze if the project was possible to do it on CPC at 50 FPS and with game physics at least as good as the original, because if you don’t achieve this the game wouldn’t fun. First we made the physics in Java on PC and then we made the maths library for Z80. This was important because we needed to know if all calculations could be run at 50 FPS on the CPC. For scrolling, we used a hardware routine we had done to collaborate in a project of another team. When we started developing the intro, we realized that the original Amiga screens didn’t look very good in the standard CPC video modes, so we worked on 3 advanced video modes that offer more resolution and colors and made the tools to draw on them. Adjusting the gameplay so that the game experience would be similar to Amiga’s was also hard, we knew how the table rules work through the manual, but there is a lot of information about scoring and bonus that is hidden in the manual, so we started doing reverse engineering for this, but soon we realized that it was better to adjust these parameters according to our own gameplay and finally we gathered a big group of testers that helped us a lot!

HBL

Any thoughts about doing games on other systems? Megadrive, Dreamcast or SNES.

Batman Group

Yes, we like all retro platforms and there are many that we have never worked for, but we hope to do it someday.

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Batman Group

Sure! At first some of us thought it would be a passing fad, but it seems that every year there are more projects and people involved, which is great! In Spain even retro is promoted from universities, such as the CPCRetroDev contest that is organized by the University of Alicante.

HBL

Which one of your games are you the proudest of and why?

Batman Group

Although it’s not exactly a BG game, because it was made by only 3 members of the group (Mac, Rhino & Dj Uno) under another brand and at a time when the group was dissolved, but I believe that probably Astro Assembler, developed in the second half of the nineties, was the first attempt to do something professional by some members of the group while we were studying at university, and at a time when the industry was very tough on small developers, despite all the adversities we managed to publish the game for PC. The game was recently converted to an arcade machine thanks to Arcade Planet. Toni Galvez worked on more than 30 games, it is hard to choose, but maybe War Times was his biggest achievement.

HBL

Which game caused you the most headaches?

Batman Group

I think Astro Assembler too, not because it’s a difficult game to make, but because of the amount of changes we had to make to adapt it to the new technologies of that time, the game started being for MS-DOS, and ended up being for Windows with 3D elements and multiple resolutions.

HBL

You have just completely stunned the 8-Bit Retro community with your teaser video of a racing game called Vespertino, can you tell us about this game, the ideas behind it, how long this has been in development, the tricks to achieve such glorious visuals are one question people asking, so can you expand more into this game for us please?

Batman Group

Thank you very much, we really didn’t expect such a excitement! After finishing Pinball Dreams last November, and seeing that we would have to wait a while to get the license, we thought that a good way to kill time would be to start a new development, but we had to think of something more surprising than Pinball Dreams, on the other hand, we saw that there are more and more ambitious projects on CPC, the myth about Amstrad not having smooth scrolling is already completely destroyed so we had to try to go a little further.

As Amiga lovers, we know what Lotus was like on this platform and we thought of doing something similar on the CPC. The first few months were of technical planning only, testing and experimenting, until we believe we have found an efficient way to make this game on CPC. But there are 2 important points to note here, the first is that the development is still in an initial phase, and second, once you have a smooth road engine, you need all the animations to be smooth too, for example, if you can only have a few scaling frames for the 3D sprites of the set and the cars then you won’t appreciate the 25 FPS of the engine, so we realized that the amount of sprite scaling gfxs needed for everything to look smooth would exceed the usual 64/128kb, so we would need a support that provides more capacity as is the cartridge.

There are 3 great aspects that differentiate the 16 bit from the 8 bit, the audio/visual quality, the processing speed and the amount of memory. Amstrad has a graphic quality almost comparable to 16 bits, about speed, programming and hardware tricks can do surprising things, so that memory would be the biggest differential factor, but with cartridge solutions that are penetrating more and more into the platform, this last stumbling block can also be overcome. So we have approached the project in 2 versions, a reduced version for disk and a full version for cartridge. We know that this decision will have its detractors in the CPC scene, little accustomed to cartridges, but if other 8-bit machines use it regularly, why not on CPC? let’s try and see what happens…

HBL

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?

Batman Group

There are indeed some, for example, a football arcade game for GBC that we started in 2000 as the official port of the famous Spanish game PC Fútbol from Dinamic Multimedia. When we started the project the company went bankrupt and has remained unfinished all this time. But, again, this was a project started by some members (Mac & Rhino) at a moment when BG was dissolved, but we have thought about resuming it for BG someday.

HBL

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?

Batman Group

It’s a way to expand the work we do in the demo scene a little more, that is, to demonstrate the real capabilities of some platforms that had been hidden during their commercial life. But also for fun, of course. Although BG started out as a demo scene group, we’ve always been very fond of video games; we’ve been very good players in childhood and adolescence, but above all we’ve liked to be creative. Retro games have the advantage that they can be created relatively quickly, and it’s an interesting challenge because they’re technically very limited systems.

HBL

What games at the time (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Batman Group

For Vespertino, probably Amiga’s Lotus 2 and Out Run.

In general, we are very inspired by arcade classics such as Terra Cresta, ASO, Slap Fight, Aerofighters, Rygar …

For other projects that are only sketched out as ideas, we have as references very varied games throughout the history of video games, from adventures such as La Abadía del Crimen or Monkey Island, strategy games like Defender of the Crown, and others like Ranarama, or Barbarian, for example. And in the professional area, recent successes such as Candy Crush are also good references, especially about monetization mechanics.

HBL

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features
title-to-title? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)

Batman Group

Depending on the platform, in CPC memory is often one of the most limiting factors because Amstrad graphics often take up twice or more than other 8-bit platforms and this also ends up affecting the speed, in the end you have to find a balance between both things to be able to do what you want to do. Amstrad also has a special attraction to have not well documented in its day, it is true that anyone could look inside, see its components and find the datasheets, but lacked the picture as a whole, how chips could be used with each other to achieve incredible techniques. So even today new ways of exploiting their hardware are being discovered.

HBL

Do you have timelines built into the management of these games?

Batman Group

Not really, as we do it for fun we don’t have any kind of pressure and we prefer to launch something well done no matter how long it takes.

HBL

Are you doing all the development independently?

Batman Group

Yes, although we also usually ask for help from external collaborators for things like music and testing.

HBL

Which is the most popular game you have created?

Batman Group

As BG Games we haven’t released many games yet since this Batman Group division was recently born, but professionally some of our members have made games with about 10 million downloads, like Kingcraft, a puzzle game for mobile devices.

HBL

Where can people find your games you are releasing? Do you have a website and so on?

Batman Group

We are currently working on the Batman Group website and BG Games, but they are not finished. Meanwhile our productions can be downloaded from Pouet , watched from our Youtube channel or followed on our Twitter account.

Finally

A huge thanks to the guys for taking a moment to chat with us, Vespertino is a game I know I can not wait to see more info on this and all future Batman Group / BG Games.

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