Jeff Minter (Llamasoft) – Interview

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Adrian will say this man is a retro gaming god, and we’d be inclined to agree. A man who needs no introduction, here is Jeff Minter.

 

How exactly did you get the opportunity to enter the video game industry?

I started making games before there was a videogame industry (true – Ed). Well, I suppose technically there was coin-op, Pong games and the very beginning of the Atari VCS, but there wasn’t yet anything that was accessible to most people, and the idea of being able to make a living coding games didn’t really exist. Me and a handful of nerd mates made games on the one Commodore PET we had at 6th form but we never thought there would be enough other people with computers around to actually be able to sell them to anyone, we just made them for our own fun. Then the ZX80 came out, and even though it was still a pretty nerdy hobby at that stage, there were suddenly a lot of new users buying the machines and going to the ZX Microfairs and such and everybody wanted software; those of us who had a bit of experience already got a bit of a head start and fell naturally into the nascent home computer games market.

 

Do you remember the first ever game you worked on?

I did a bunch of little games on that Commodore PET. Probably the earliest one I distinctly remember was a 2-player tank style game on there, I remember working out that there must be “screen memory” somewhere in the machine (we didn’t have a lot of documentation) and through systematic peeking and poking finding out where it was, which made collision detection and object plotting in the game a whole bunch more efficient (up till then I had been keeping the game screen in an integer array!).

 

 

Out all of the games you have created, which one are you most proud of and why?

A tossup between Space Giraffe and Polybius I think. SG because it pushed the boundaries out in a way that hadn’t really been done before in terms of deliberate sensory overload (which not everyone liked), and Polybius because we were able to overcome one of the early problems of VR and make something that was both speed-rushy and exhilarating without giving players nausea. It is also visually intense but in a way that is far less divisive than SG was; people seem to really enjoy it and it actually makes them happy rather than overloaded and frustrated. Also, through Giles’ hard work we were able to get fantastic performance out of the PSVR and deliver one of the only games to hit 120FPS with effective supersampling.

 

Tempest 2000 is rightly regarded as one the top titles for the Atari Jaguar. How exactly did the opportunity to work on this game come about and what are your views on the lasting legacy this game has created?

I was at an early Jaguar devcon and Atari listed out some titles they wanted ported/updated, I loved the Tempest coin-op so when that was mentioned I stuck my hand up for it. I’d never done anything with vectors, polygons or 3D at that point so I had to learn a lot quickly to be able to even start making that game! (job done! – Ed)

 

 

I feel the Atari Jaguar was underappreciated and never really got the attention it deserved. What do you think are the main reasons the console was not a success?

Atari needed a few more passionate devs like me to tackle more of their library of IP I reckon. At that time some of those old classics were still in recent memory and if there had been T2K-equivalent updates to things such as Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command et al available alongside T2K at or around launch it might have helped the Jag get more of a toe hold before the PS1 came in. Also, in the later part of the Jag’s life I think they tried too hard sometimes to make the Jag do stuff it couldn’t do nicely easily, like texture mapping, rather than playing to its strengths.

 

The homebrew scene for the Atari Jaguar is really giving the console a new lease of life. Would you ever be tempted to release a new game for the console?

I wouldn’t mind, but at the moment I have to concentrate on just making enough to be able to carry on, haven’t had much time for hobby dev unfortunately. So I kind of have to keep focussed on what’s new and current.

 

Are there any games on the Atari Jaguar or other consoles you started work on but never managed to release?

The only unreleased thing I can think of was Unity on the Gamecube, apart from that and a couple of half-finished things on the Atari ST I’ve pretty much been able to finish everything I’ve started.

 

If you could give the 2000 treatment to another classic retro game, what game would you choose and why?

Hmm, it’d be easy to say Robotron, but let’s go for something different and say Asteroids. I’ve always loved games with inertia and lunar-lander type thrust controls. It could be quite nicely psychedelia-infused (look at Spheres of Chaos as an example of a game that takes Asteroids to tripout city quite effectively). And there’s a bunch of stuff you do with gravity effects, maybe borrow some of the double-ship stuff out of Space Duel, imagine a co-op mode where the two ships were tethered by some kind of elastic rope, if you lengthened it you could even work in some kind of Quantum/Qix gameplay in there… there’s a bunch of ways you could extend it and still keep it Asteroidsy.

 

 

Llamasoft has been successfully creating iconic games for many years. What initially inspired you to launch your own software house?

A combination of getting shafted by other companies I’d tried selling games through, and incredulity at the shit that some people were getting away with selling at high prices.

 

Polybius looks awesome! Can you explain to our readers what to expect from your new arcade shooter?

Polybius is a fast, intense tunnel shooter that looks visually overwhelming at first but which actually feels lovely when you’re in it and playing, especially in VR. It delivers fast, smooth gameplay with an intense speed rush without causing any VR nausea (hooray! – Ed). It’s also something of a puzzle game, as some reviews have noted, in that part of the fun is learning a new level and how it works, going from just stumbling through the level to being able to blaze through it at maximum boost scoring the best points. It’s pretty generous with extra lives and being able to restart from levels you’ve previously got to with your best score and lives intact (Restart Best, which I have been putting in my games for a few years now and which people seem to like). Best of all, it is just sheer fun to play and people genuinely seem to feel happy and buzzed while playing it and that’s how I want a game to make me feel really so if we’ve done that we’ve done our job right!

 

If you could travel back in time and work on any video game, which game would you have loved to be involved in?

I’d say Robotron but then again what could I have possibly added to the perfect work of Jarvis and DeMar? In fact I can’t really think of working on any of the early great classics as to insert myself in them would be to deny them the style that came from their original creators, and which actually made them great. So I’d just have to go back and help myself make one of my own early games much better :).

 

 

You are clearly a fan of llamas, goats, sheeps and other ruminant mammals. If you could turn all the characters from a popular video game into these animals what game would you choose and why?

Super Mario World but Mario is a goat like in Goat Up. He could eat the power-up flowers to gain their effects. Enemies could be various other beasties. At the end of each level there’s be a big bull instead of Bowser.

Something like that :D.

 

What other projects are you currently working on?

We are finishing off the ports of TxK we have which we hope to one day release. In what form I can’t say yet as certain things remain unfinalised, but we’ll see. We also have a PC port of Polybius being prepared, which currently supports Oculus, and we will be adding support for Vive and Microsoft Mixed Reality. We can’t release that until 6 months after Polybius’ PS4 launch, but when that time comes we’ll be ready. We are also chucking around ideas for a new game beyond all this and will be doing some prototyping of stuff for that.

 

If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?

My minotaur companion out of Skyrim (I added him via a mod and we’ve been inseparable ever since). After all the dungeons we’ve been though together it’d be great to kick back with a few beers. Just so long as there’s not a bloody bard hanging around singing about Ragnar the Red endlessly. Bloody bards.

Adrian

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