Interview with Oziphantom

Published in Vandalism News #66
Performed by Jazzcat

V) Welcome to the magazine and thank you for your time. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?

O) Well I'm your stock standard tall fat nerd ;) I do computer programming as a job and a hobby, I'm a Commodore Man (but not the cars, the cars are crap... Lotus all the way). Video games are mostly my passion; I love the creativity they give me. I also dabble in electronics and trying new things, but it's a learner project for me, I did it as a kid but those were the analogue days. I'm a total introvert so if you see me out side of the house, take a photo it is a rare event. I love juxtapositional things, like Apocalyptica ( death metal on Cellos - no really ). I mostly listen to Symphonic Metal, Death Metal, Thrash Metal, but I do like the old Rock and Roll, Queen etc. I'm also a Manga/Anime tragic and can be found at some "cons" and I love a good movie or even a really really bad one.

V) I understand you also did some work for Sony, can you tell us about that?

O) Yes I worked for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Cambridge Studio and London Soho. I was a programmer and basically did something different on each project, I mostly became the "glue" coder, since I had worked with all the pieces before my job became making them all talk to each other, this also put me in the spot where I would have influence over the Editor, the Editor to Game Data tool, and then the in-game entities, physics, rendering, GUI, Startup, Demo, Packaging, Input, I also helped a lot with Audio programming. Basically if there is an aspect of game dev, I've been there done that. The released fit to mention games are

MediEvil Resurrection on the PSP
24 : The game on PS2
Heavenly Sword on PS3 + Kai Demo
Eyetoy Worlds on PS3
Eyetoy Kinetic Combat on PS2
Little Big Planet on PSP

V) Could you tell us a bit about your computer history. How did all this start? What have you been doing?

O) When I was a kid I really really wanted a computer. I made one out of Lego. Then my parents eventually found one from my Hair dresser, she cut the top off one of my ears so we got a discount. Luckily it was a C64, it was just chance. I got the 64 when I was in Year1, the school library had a nice collection of those Osborne books, the ones with the little robots in them, I must checked out each of them at least 20 times while I was there. In the middle of high school I finally got my hands on a C128, what a machine... I then managed to get a C128D + Commodore PC for $10, I was trying to convince the seller he could keep the PC and sell it again, and I would still give him $10. He wouldn't take it. I had to cart the stupid heavy thing soo far... I did have PC as well, a 386SX it could mostly run Doom. Then I got a Pentium 133 for school work. The old Dot matrix just didn't cut it anymore. The PCs were expensive to get programming software for and not as capable as the 64 so I stuck with the 64/128 for most of my daily computer usage. Until I went to University were I couldn't take Commodore collection with me, and I was starting to learn "real programming", so yeah in 2000 I touched C for the first time, being a 6502/65816 guy up till then. I didn't like it very much, PC dev was silly, for beggars. SNES emulation was getting good and since I had a solid 6502 knowledge I started looking at SNES homebrew but with no artists and the tools were hokey I didn't get very far. Then I went to Sony so I was away from PC dev and back on solid bare Metal again, so I was happy. I also by chance got an A500 at around year 9, having read all the 8bit mags saying they were rubbish I didn't really want on. They were wrong the A500 is wonderful machine, but I agree the games are pretty rubbish, but Deluxe Paint IV, Amiga basic was handy too. But not having any 68K assemblers I never got into actual Amiga dev. Being out in the West of Sydney and being the only programmer I knew, I wasn't able to really get much from the "scene" or even pass me downs from older people, also the Amiga mags didn't focus on game making like Commodore Format did.

V) Your latest game is Qwak on the C64, tell us about that one and the development process with Saul Cross and Martin Piper (did you guys just go back and forth in email? Slack? GitHub?)

O) Well I put Soci and Martin Piper on the dev because they had to suffer me asking about their tools, and for upgrades. Soci for 64Tass and Martin Piper for 6502BDD both of which I used a lot during development and both made my life a lot easier.

So Saul and I first crossed paths on the Spy Hunter remake thread, and while we waited for Shaun to do stuff, Saul said lets enter this 16K game comp and how about we port Qwak. I said sure. He made some art, I played the original and then the giant email threads started. It was all email correspondence as it was just the 2 of us. So Saul would say it needs to do X, and I wrote code to do X. I made a level editor, but due to Saul's email system stripping it every time, it took a few months for me to ask why don't you use the level editor I made, err what level editor, this one, still don't see it, oh _upload to dropbox_ this one, oh that makes life easier! From there Saul was able to bash out levels, tell me what was missing what was broken and I just added and fixed as we went along. The main change over the BBC version was the jumping was more physics based, the longer you hold jump the higher you jump, and it has an arc and you accelerate down, vs the strict height and linear speed of the BBC one. This lead me into a lot of collision issues, Qwak is 16 pixels high, the gap is 16 pixels high, and you could be falling at 4px a frame or rising at 3 px a frame, but you need to be able to "fit" into the gap. I felt that doing a swept volume system was going to be too heavy for the C64 and so hacks were made to get a "balance".  Saul was on a number of projects and hence he kind of dug himself a deep hole. This led me to the point where time was getting tight so I just pushed on blind. I was mostly on tack, but a couple of weeks before he dropped on me "By the way everything should be moving twice as fast as it does now"... I was able to get some things moving twice as fast but well the collision system that was "hacked" and prodded into supporting 4 and 3px was not going to handle 8 and 6 at the drop of a hat, so some things remained slow and some hacks were put in to handle the speed. Some other things like Bosses were literally thrown in, at the last minute to the point if you look at code you will see stuff like LDX #0 STA Address,x STA Address+8,x where I have just copied and pasted. Oddly though it helped with the compression, I actually fixed and optimised this for the 1.2 release and it made it bigger. 1.2 came about because TheRyk from Mayday sent me a pile of bugs with screenshots, so I fixed them, in return they got the first crack of 1.2, as Didi of Laxity helped with the NTSC fix, I got a special slowed down music file from Saul and let him have the "true" NTSC release as payment.

V) What else are you working on (Qwak 64KB?) and what do you hope to work on? Can you let the cat out of the bag a little...

O) Spy Hunter is still there, it has been bumped to the 128 though, as my eyes are too big for the 64 sized head ;) Also I've hit that controls are a problem so I'm looking at making a new SNES adapter that will let us do all the things. Fortunately e5frog was able to send me one of his switchers for me to get started with.

Squid Jump port, I need to redo my level tool and mentality, play the original, make my physics tweaks and then map out the levels, this needs a solid block to be done right, so hopefully over Christmas, or when I visit my friend in QLD who is "off net" for a week.

Law of the West + Spanish + Swedish EF, this is with Dany from Commodore Mania, and its waiting on Dany to finish the Spanish translation fixes. Anybody speak Spanish and want to help him out?

I've submitted 1 4K crap-tastic game and I hope to submit a 2nd one, it's currently in the Saul polishing machine ;)

Qwak 64K is being mulled over, I'm thinking of adding a 16 bit version of entity positioning to help fix the speed issues and get things smoother, also need to work out how I'm going to do the new collision system to fix the above issues. Maybe a speedcode collision engine that makes it self specific for each level so I can do smaller steps and stay at 50fps...

I've been mulling over what can be achieved with the EF tech, how can I push what is currently possible with large banks of ROM. So yeah a few things in various stages of progress, I'm sure some compos will come up as well soon, and I have a bunch of ideas for those too.

V) Whose work did you most admire on the C64 at the time, any inspirations?

O) Apex Boyz were the gods. Everything that was published in Commodore Format/ZZAP was read, every program they made in Techie Tips was hand disassembled into this big book I have, and then I would try and work out how it worked. I have graph paper where I would copy their artwork from magazine pictures to see how they made it etc. One of my fist Commodore Formats was the 92 Christmas special with every detail about Creatures 2, due to Thalamus basically being dead at that point, it never made it here, 12 years later or so I found a hacked copy at a boot sale in "Maitland" of all places. But I would copy the graphics and look at the arrows and make BASIC programs that put stuff moving up on the screen. Commodore Format was my bible, I basically owe getting a job in the games industry of them. Archer Mclean's Dropzone blew me away. BML's Dutch Breeze was a landmark event, very cinematic and moody, Tales of Mystery was another one along that vain. Mathamatica by Reflex was really impressive.

V) How do you feel about the current scene in comparison to what used to exist years ago?

O) Well I don't know. I got the 64 in '89 when I was 7. One other friend had a 64, but his parents were of the "Computers are bad and you shouldn't sit in front of a TV too long blah blah" so getting a chance to play on it was rare for him. Another friend I did get into programming sadly had an Apple IIe which sucked for programming/everything and his parents were also of the too much computers brigade. So I was basically on my own, I would get demos from Brunswick PD, but I had no idea what they were talking about most of the time. There were no demo parties or groups near me, and if there were I was 9 and not going to fit in and they had A1200 and not those crappy 64s.Every time I found something I had to beg and beg to get it, I took me an hour to get the AR mk 5 I found at a computer fair. Luckily the C64 PRG from my local library's dump bin was only $2. Brunswick PD stopped sometime in the early 90s from memory so that was the end of access to the "scene". Commodore Format refused my Subscription once my parents finally caved and got me one as the local News Agency was getting flaky with it and basically stopped being here around issue 50something I now know it ended at 63 but not here. My parents didn't open the letter from Future so that year's Christmas present was "Hi Kid, umm the mag you love is being axed here is your parents money back". I didn't get the internet until 96?7? to which point the 64 scene was gone. I found an old archive of C=Hacking and CCS64 which didn't work to well and that was about it. So to me the C64 and the scene is the biggest and best it has ever been now.

V) Your view on the scene and piracy? The way it has impacted the commercial scene?

O) Having worked on commercial games in the modern era, where Piracy was an issue for us, I would imagine that in the wild and rampart days of the C64 it would have been a very big issue. A lot of my "senior & lead" programmers were of that era, and the amount of work they had to do and the cost they felt from it was significant. We all have the "well I wouldn't have bought it anyway" mentality but it really did seem to hurt, especially in the UK where the population was so dense and it was easier to copy. It really pushed them to consoles but even then there were issues. Out here in Aus I don't think it was such a big issue, as we were all too far apart, I had some pirated games that I got with my 64, In fact I don't think it came with a single original, but then after that all my games were legit copies.

V) Was there any C64 game which you saw released, looked at the game and thought "I could have done that much better!"?

O) Spy Hunter HAHAHA There have been a lot of crap games over the years, I'm sure there were plenty I have said it too, none really spring to mind though... Wonderboy maybe, I would have at least not made his girlfriend cross-eyed. Street fighter 2, even if I made the background black and put the fighters on it, I think it would have turned out better. Welcome Le Mans...

V) What was your first encounter with the demo scene?

O) Demo discs from Brunswick PD, I don't remember the first demo I saw, probably something Ash and Dave.

V) Demos. Maybe we'll see something from you in that arena?

O) The entry for Demos is sooo high now, and I'm so far behind, I could put in the effort to learn how to do a twister with a 7 pixel high char repeater with open side borders or whatever, but I would just rather make games. I like the creativity and the emergent behaviours you get rather than spending months making a dot scroll with 12 more dots. I get the appeal of it, just it's not for me. Also I would rather use the techniques found in Demos to make games, do something new with it. For example a 16K idea I have is a "Battle Clash" clone where we have a nice big Mech that you fight 1:1 using AGSP to move the Mech around. AGSP is an old technique but not really used in Games ( at all even? )

V) What annoys you about people?

O) I guess in the general sense most people don't think, they can't extrapolate concepts and apply it to the everyday world and they will say things like "number of times I've used Pythagoras since school - 0" well if you learnt it and understood it maybe you would. Or how they fall for really simple marketing tricks, the one that sprigs to mind is Pizza Hut now give you a "drizzle" of sauce, then the ad says "now with drizzle" and they hire some suffer dude to say "oh love the drizzle", my friend fell for it. I pointed out he was an idiot because before he got a whole pizza covered in sauce, now he gets a drizzle over the top which is 1/3 the sauce at best, for the same price, only he is a happy about it. People who buy and defend Apple products are the worst for this "we call it".

V) What do your friends/family think about you tinkering on an ancient machine like the C64?

O) I'm a total nut case who needs to stop going on a nostalgia trip and join the "real world" and maybe even go outside. They don't see the point.

V) Will we see it end? I mean, if the commercial aspect of our culture has not killed "it", will time be the true nemesis?

O) For sure, while the 64 is kicking up and we The 64(tm) those people are not really going to sign up to CSDb. They might download from it, but they will probably not have the time or ability to make 64 products. How many 20 year olds are there in the scene? How many 15 year olds? We really need a HDMI VIC chip getting a CRT is hard now, it's only going to get harder, getting SVideo is hard, analogue audio ports etc. We have emulation but if I'm using a machine to emulate the 64, then it will be able emulate a SNES and a PS3 so why not play with them? So slowly we will die, and the knowledge of stopping a VIC bad line on cycle 13 will go with it. Then the 64 will be 1982 levels again. When I was a kid Electronics Australia use to be about 50% Vacuum Tube Amplifier aficionados I reckon, but I think even now they have basically given up, or at least the circle keeps shrinking. It doesn't take long for something to be lost, Easter Island lost all of their old songs in one generation. Parents don't teach the kids, the kids knew about them, the parents die. The kids now have kids, they don't know the songs to teach, the new kids now don't even know they existed. I talk to kids these days that love Final Fantasy but didn't know it was on a NES, or what a NES is, they are Playstation kids. So do your kids love the 64? Do they use it, do they see the value in using it? No, then when we are gone, our kids might keep the 64 to remind them of us, but they won't teach their kids about it, and their kids won't care for it. 

V) Please feel free to send some greetings out there to anyone you know, past and present...

O) Saul, Shawn, Soci, Martin Piper, Didi, TheRyk, e5frog and Dany.

V) Thanks for your time and participation, it has been a nice journey down memory lane! Do you have any final words for the readers, the C64 community in general or the Prime Minister?

O) When we get a Prime Minister let me know, and tell them get back the Labour NBN plan you useless dropkicks....