HBL Interviews: Reboot.

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RebootAfter a couple of weeks away, Homebrew Legends is back and this time we bring you an interview with popular Atari Jaguar game dev – Reboot, these guys really do produce some fantastic games for the Jag so enjoy our interview.

HBL:

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

CJ:

Well, we’re a tiny, close bunch of relatively small numbers. I know that people think Reboot is large
group of people, but in reality it is just a few core members, with many people with whom we work with externally. We all have a love for retro gaming and creating fun games, believe strongly in open-source where appropriate, helping other people move forward with their personal coding challenges and, in general, just having fun with their old consoles.

Shamus:

Pretty much what CJ said. I might add, that we don’t take ourselves too seriously as life is too short to take yourself too seriously. : )

NEO:

I hate to say it but I’m a rather small fish in Reboot. Life gets in the way and I’m doing other projects which I keep flip-flopping between.

HBL:

What was the first game you created?

CJ:

Personally, it was a very dodgy looking ‘snake’ game on the A8 system that nobody outside of my immediate family ever saw.

The first thing I had published was a very bad ‘car game’ (In the loosest possible sense) called ‘RALLY’ which can be found in Home Computing Weekly #74, on page 28.

As a group, the first ‘game’ created by Reboot was the very much failed ‘Project One’ – an attempt to make a vertically scrolling shooter by a bunch of people with no experience making vertically scrolling shooters who had also never worked together on a game before. We all learned a lot from this, but I think the thing we learned best was how not to make a vertically scrolling shooter.

The first complete game released by Reboot was ‘Beebris’ which was a port/improvement of a game I had previously written on the Atari ST. For ‘new content’ our first completed original game would be SuperflyDX.

The Jaguar games can be found HERE:

Shamus:

Well… On the Atari 8-bit, I wrote lots and lots of demo code which were my attempts to figure out how to code a game. I did make a Gauntlet-like game on the 8-bit (never publicly released; written in Action!, which was and still is a killer language for that platform) which was text mode based—I didn’t even bother to redefine the characters. But at least, it was playable and recognizable as the thing it was trying to be.

My first serious game was a version of Solitaire that I wrote for a small company that closed its doors due to a serious illness in the family of the guy who owned it. It had nice selectable backgrounds, different selectable card backs, and sound effects(!).

NEO:

Sometime around late 1981, when the ZX81 was just out and I just started out programming
by copying code from books and examples from magazines. Managed to make a few games
but my best one was a scrolling asteroids dodge-em game.

HBL:

What do you for a living now?

CJ:

IT Engineer for a Managed Service Provider.

Shamus:

I run my own IT business, doing just about anything and everything related to that term.

NEO:

I have for the past 31 years been a correspondence executive, otherwise known as a postman.

HBL:

Can you tell about Reboot, how it started, its mission statement and why the name Reboot?

CJ:

It started when three friends, with similar goals and aspirations came together in the spirit of ‘just making the thing and having fun’ to produce games. At the time, the Jaguar system was portrayed as this super-computer that was super difficult to code for. I knew this wasn’t true, as I had been working on it during the 90’s for Sinister Development, and wanted to show people who it was possible to make fun games for this system relatively easily. In less than three months we put together the Project One demo game. It’s not great, by any means, but when you consider this was done from scratch, by three people, in that short period of space, using the toolkits available at the time it does show that things are possible if you don’t buy into the mystique other ‘developers’ during that period would have you believe and just try things for yourself.

We wanted to ‘Reboot’ ourselves and hopefully the Jaguar scene. Looking back over the last decade at all that has advanced on this platform, I’m very happy with how things are now and hope that in some way we helped to influence and make things easier for people along the way with game releases, source code, tools and, recently with the RAPTOR API and raptorBASIC+ packages,
lowering the entry bar for people to get onboard and start being creative and having fun with the Jaguar.

HBL:

Last StrikeLast Strike looks an extremely fun game, tell us how you came up with the idea for this game?

CJ:

Thank you! I’d love to say I came up with the idea for this game, but I think there’s some sort of horizontally scrolling shooter from the 80’s that heavily inspired it. Last Strike is a mix of a few genres of old arcade horizontally shooting games blended into a single package. I hope the end result is fun and something people can enjoy. At some point during the development of a game the people making it can lose track of difficulty levels and that ‘fun factor’ but I do value feedback and have been making a few changes to the way some things handle. Finger’s crossed for the final binary meeting everyone’s expectations.

HBL:

What was the interest or main reason for wanting to port and reboot older games to the Jaguar?

CJ:

Fun. It’s always about fun. These games have proven that their core gameplay is enjoyable and that people already love the basic premise. Taking the basic game ideas and expanding on them, but without going overboard with options and features. Enough to make it more fun, not too much to bloat it, while adding that ‘Reboot’ touch to them along the way.

HBL:

Why the Atari Jaguar?

CJ:

Despite the rumours, it is exceptionally easy to get projects running quite quickly on this machine. It’s hardware is perfect for making the type of 2D sprite based games I loved growing up, and still love now, whilst also offering rich, vibrant, multicoloured displays that it can easily maintain at 60Hz. All this without stepping up to the next generation so I can still feel at home in retroland. I have a hard time considering ‘PlayStation’ and beyond consoles ‘retro’ even though they rightly should be at this point in time. The Jaguar ticks all the boxes for what I want in hardware to make my game
ideas reality. Plus, who doesn’t love the underdog? (Undercat?)

Shamus:

In this day and age, we all have access to amazing machines with enough power to do pretty much (almost) anything that we want—the kind of machines we would have loved to have had 30 to 40 years ago. : ) Even so, or maybe because of that, there’s something deeply satisfying about being able to write interesting software for a limited machine like the Jaguar. It’s fun to think of the Jaguar as a kind of super 8-bit machine that my 14-year-old self would have loved to have had back in the day.

HBL:

Any thoughts for doing games on other systems? CPC464, Dreamcast or SNES.

CJ:

No. Next question? 😀

Shamus:

Eww. If I do games for other systems, it will likely be for the PC. : )

HBL:

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

CJ:

Not really. These games are proven bundles of joy. Indie games seem to tap into this a lot, and it is those that I play mostly on modern hardware. I don’t have a lot of love for modern ‘Add +1 to the number, change some skins, sell it via DLC’ formula.

Shamus:

Not really. I understand a part of it at least, as it was my wanting to play the Jaguar version of Rayman again that got me involved in the Jaguar emulation scene. I had a Jaguar back when they first came out, and it was Rayman and Doom on that console that made me get one. It was ultimately that feeling of nostalgia that got me involved in writing code for Virtual Jaguar and getting involved with the Jaguar scene again after I had given my Jaguar and the games I had to the local thrift store.

NEO:

It’s been bubbling away in the background for years, but only recently reached the mainstream
due to social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube. More and more people have gotten on
the bandwagon, mostly gamers and collectors.

HBL:

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

CJ:

Downfall, because it wasn’t really designed. We put this together extremely quickly, I think in under 2 weeks. Everything just went well, each iteration was fun. Even without any real graphics or sound I found I was playing the game far longer than was required to test what I was working on, and at that point we knew we had something special. It snowballed. The whole team was having a blast making this and the end result was probably our most well known game, and the one that is asked for the most when we attend events. You can get ‘into the zone’ with this one and just be stuck there for hours. It’s simple. It’s fun. It was quick to make. It exhibits everything that means Reboot to us.

Shamus:

I’d have to say it’s my port of Xevious for the Jaguar. As to why, I guess it’s because once it’s released it will be the *best* port of that game out there. : )

HBL:

Which game caused you the most headaches?

CJ:

Rebooteroids. It dragged on and on and on, and there were two very nasty bugs that over 18 months I could not track down. I will be forever greatful to Shamus for backtracing one for me with his internal build of VirtualJaguar. The other exposed a new ‘bugette’ in the DSP silicon regarding shutting down the DSP sanely. It’s not as simple as you might think, and, of course, the Atari docs are incorrect. I think I’m still too close to this game to fully enjoy it myself just yet but I am extremely proud of it and overjoyed by the reaction from others and the post-release support it has gained. Check out ‘Machine’ and his controllers and competitions for Rebooteroids.

Shamus:

Xevious. For all the nice things that the Jaguar gives you, there are some things that they designed in that make you scratch your head, such as a tiny amount of local RAM for the RISC CPUs, and a memory bus that severely limits the amount of multi-processing you can do on the machine. Having just a bit more RISC local RAM, like, say, 64K (instead of 4K) would have been a godsend. There’s only so many tricks you can do to try to work around the limitations, but that’s all par for the course in coding for a machine like the Jaguar.

HBL:

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

CJ:

Yes, and yes. I did have a ‘purge’ a few years back of stuff that won’t be finished but there is always more!

Shamus:

Ain’t telling. ; )

NEO:

Yes I do, about 3 small projects and 1 big one.

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

CJ:

I never left. Is it retro if you’ve been doing this since the 80s?

Shamus:

Like CJ said, who ever left it? It’s like something you’ve been doing all along and then one day it gets the label ‘Retro’.

NEO:

I don’t own a modern games console and have been an avid Jaguar owner since 1995. The Jaguar
is a nice machine and I’d like to see new games being made for it.

HBL:

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

CJ:

Far too many to name. The entire era of 70s/80s games contain so many classics, influences and themes it would be impossible to say. What they all have in common is that they nailed the gameplay. The fun factor. Graphics and sound are byproducts. Nail the gameplay, make it look nice after that. That is how I approach game design.

Shamus:

Like CJ, there are too many to enumerate them all. But a partial list might contain things like Asteroids, Missile Command, Space Invaders, Gravitar, Major Havoc, Xevious, Rolling Thunder, Gauntlet, Xybots (all arcade versions); Sabotage (on the Apple II); Choplifter, Protector, Pharaoh’s Curse, Bounty Bob Strikes Back!, Rescue On Fractalus, Lode Runner, Ultima II, III, & IV, Alternate Reality: The City & The Dungeon (all Atari 8-bit versions). There are many, many more but those are the ones that come readily to mind.

NEO:

Any game that can have you going back to it for ‘just one more go’ is good in my book. If you
don’t enjoy playing the game then there is something wrong.

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?)

CJ:

Balancing the bus load between the DSP (Audio), the 68000 (logic) and the GPU (The Hard Work) is complex and challenging. Sure, it’s fairly simple to produce a demo of something, but try putting it all together and watch things fall apart in strange and interesting ways.

Shamus:

The biggest challenge that faces anyone trying to do a serious game on the Jaguar is the memory bus. Everything typically needs to touch the main 2MB of RAM and only one processor at a time can do so. While you can write programs for the RISC CPUs that only read and write from their own local RAM, there’s limited utility to that approach (especially for the GPU) as sooner or later, in order to get graphics on the screen or sound samples played, main RAM has to be read from and/or written to.

HBL:

Do you have timelines built-in to the management of these games?

CJ:

When they are done, they are done. Setting dates just piles pressure on, demoralises you when they are not met, and implies that you care more about the release than the game. Take time, finish it properly. Debug it. Make it fun. Listen to feedback. Refine. Repeat. And only when you are 100% sure, hit that ‘release’ button. Sure, you might be able to knock out 10 new games a year, but if people buy one or two and see how sloppy they look, or are rushed and full of bugs, you lose the crowd and it just gets harder down the line. Much better to maintain quality and be proud of the output, in my opinion.

Shamus:

Like CJ said, the games are done when they’re done. We do our best to polish and tune things, to make sure the game is actually fun before releasing anything. Nothing is more disappointing that getting a new game that the developers didn’t bother testing or polishing, or even seeing if the game itself was any fun.

HBL:

Whats next for Reboot?

CJ:

Games, games, games. Oh, and some games.

NEO:

Hopefully more games and other stuff for the Jaguar.

HBL:

How did the creation of your Jeff Minter Collection come about?

CJ:

After I’d ported the two games, Llamatron and Camels, they were shown to Jeff. He started taking them to shows to present alongside Tempest 2000. At this point I asked him if he’d allow a physical release of them and he was more than happy to let this happen. About two years passed and I started working on Gridrunner and, once that was done, it was realized they would all fit in one cartridge. AtariAge had already handled the physical production for Rebooteroids, so that was the perfect choice for handling publication and manufacturing. William Thorup was asked if he’d be interested in working on the artwork for the box, manual, and cart and he was excited to join the project. We decided to hide Gridrunner and not tell anyone how to unlock it until April 1st, which happened to be Easter Day, so it was the perfect Easter Egg. Without Jeff’s approval none of this would have happened. A huge thanks to Jeff Minter and Llamasoft, a real Atari Legend.

HBL:

What games company from back then was your fav and why? (Bitmap, Sensible, Gremlin and so on)

CJ:

On the 2600:
Atari: So many memories of fun.

On the A8 (and, oddly, the PC):
Lucasarts: All their stuff is just pure class. No more words needed.

On the ZX Spectrum:
Ultimate: Play The Game: Almost everything they produced is superb.

On the ST:
Thalion – all their games are a work of art.
The Bitmap Brothers – the artwork, production values, gameplay, everything. They nailed it. Every time.

Shamus:

On the 2600, it’s a three-way tie between Atari, Activision and Imagic; on the Atari 8-bit, it’s a three-way tie between Datasoft, Broderbund and Lucasfilm Games; on the Atari ST it would have to be FTL. The common thread among all of them is that they all produced games that were fun to play. Activision’s games were also pretty to look at; Datasoft had interesting screen-based platformers and Alternate Reality; Broderbund had games with interesting depth to them; Lucasfilm Games were pretty and technically innovative; FTL made Dungeon Master. But overall, they all made games that were fun and kept you coming back to play them again and again.

NEO:

From the ZX81 era it would have to be Software Farm because of the hi-res games on the ZX81.
From the Atari ST it would be Bitmap Brothers because I played all their games to death.

Finally:

A huge thanks to CJ, Shamus and Neo for taking the time to chat with us, yet another fantastic HBL interview.

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