Thierry Levastre (Delphine Software) – Interview

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Delphine Software made some of our favourite games, you know what they are. It’s our pleasure to introduce Thierry Levastre, Delphine graphics supremo, who’s kindly ventured his opinions on working in the 90s, working with Paul Cuisset and also why that new version of Flashback didn’t do so well…

 

Thierry, good day to you, thanks so much for stopping by Arcade Attack! How exactly did you enter the gaming industry?

I was lucky to know exactly which job I wanted, very early on. So I got into the game industry directly after leaving school in 1988.

First, I worked at Exxos Software freelancing and my friend Philippe Dessoly (Beach Volley, Ivanohé, Mr Nutz) who worked at Ocean France introduced me for my first job at Ocean – Cabal.

 

 

Do you remember the first ever video game you worked on?

I first worked on a game which was never brought out, called Ninjanimal for Legend Software. But that doesn’t count.

 

 

The real first game I worked on was the Purple Saturn Day conversion for C64 for EXXOS Software. It was a freelance contract. Four colours by blocks of 8×4 on a 16 or 8 colour pallet. Transparent colours included, all of that using an Atari ST!

 

 

How did the opportunity to work at Delphine arise?

At the end of Ocean France, we were freshly unemployed and we went with friends to a French video expo. Strangely it’s not at the show that the opportunity arose, but in Pierre Adane’s car (Pang, Mr Nutz, SnowBros). I was with a musician and Frederic Savoir (Programmer). Frederic was working at Delphine Software and told me that they were looking for a new graphic artist.

The next week I had an interview and was committed to Delphine Software!

 

Flashback is one of Arcade Attack’s favourite games! Please could you share with us your own views on this legendary game?

The day of my commitment, they showed me the first version of Flashback and I knew on this day that it would be a good game. Animations as we had never seen before and Christian Robert’s backgrounds (particularly the jungle) were simple but with incredible pixel precision.

However, today due to the character control, we would execute immediately the gameplay programmer by knifing him with a little spoon. Yes it’s much more painful (and a tad cruel Thierry! – Ed).

It was lacking fun in the commands but it’s also what it did Flashback’s gameplay.

There was this feeling of precision in fight sequences with the gun where all the actions had to be perfectly linked in a precise order. It owed to a technical constraint where all animations in the game were horizontally wedged on a grid of 16 pixels.

To note that there is also a Mega CD version for Sega with CGI sequences created with Softimage by Denis Mercier on silicon graphics computers and programmed by Benoist Aron. It was a real challenge for its time.

 

 

What was your exact role whilst working on Flashback?

On Flashback, we all made a little of everything and we had the opportunity to do what we preferred. Personally, I made many secondary characters’ animations or for Conrad when moves was missing. I also did a lot of cinematics on the internal polygonal editor: DPOLY from Benoist Aron.

 

The graphic sequences of Flashback still look as good today as when the game was first released. Why do you think games like Another World and Flashback have managed to age so well?

I think that it’s the peculiarity of the games with simple and original graphics. They play always well as long as the gameplay is fine and precise.

Personally I always have so much fun on Virtua Fighter (Saturn), Virus, F18 Interceptor or Typhoon Thompson (Amiga). No textures, no effects but just clean and fun.

 

Paul Cuisset is a true gaming legend. What was it like working with Paul and do you hope to ever work with him again in the future?

I am always amazed to see this, as it was easy in the 90s to become a legend. Especially if you were at the head of the studio. It’s much less easy today.

I always had lot of admiration and respect for Paul Cuisset, Peter Molyneux, Eric Chahi and others, but along the years, I also saw how it was difficult for the teams to work in the shadow of these legends.

A simple example. If I tell you EarthWorm Jim, you instantly think David Perry. Do you know the name of the genius that designed and animated the main character? (we do, our friend Doug TenNapel – Ed) The musician?

We feel vastly dispossessed and our work minimised. You spend a whole development cycle to do a game all together and at the end it’s a game from a single person.

Today a game is the game of a studio. I don’t know if it’s better…

All that to explain that a game is the product of a team, a mix of very personal experiences and cultures that each member of the team brings inside the game.

Here, as is for the legends, it was necessary to make a point there above…

So to answer your question, on Flashback, working with Paul Cuisset was amazing and working with the Delphine team was incredible. I worked all day with my best friends on super projects that we trusted. At 20 years old it was a dream but it was another time and I was young.

I worked again with Paul during the creation of VectorCell and the experience was not also pleasant. The environment of video games has changed, more hard and difficult than ever and we can’t work with the same mind-set that we had in 90s.

But, absolutely yes. I would work again with Paul because I have lots of goods memories with him. Now, I’m not sure he’d want to work with me again…

 

 

We won’t ask why T! Fade to Black was again met with critical acclaim. How easy was it moving Conrad from the slick 2D graphics to an immersive 3D environment?

It’s interesting to indicate that historically, Fade to Black is one of the first (or maybe the first game) using the third person camera. Later arrived Tomb Raider.

Moving a character in a 3D environment, linking animations, isn’t the most difficult thing do at this time. Motion capture had just begun and animation mixing was very basic but we had a good grasp of these.

What technically kills a 3D game is the management of the enemies and the management of the camera moves. A number of games with high potential were destroyed by bad camera management.

 

The newly remastered Flashback received mixed reviews. Why do you think the new Flashback failed to reach the same success of the original?

OK, so first they asked us to do Flashback reborn in 3D with 10 people and a 10 month deadline. Thus it was the same conditions as the development of the 2D version in 1994.

Each person expected his dream version of Flashback with same technological quality levels of current standard games.

Someone wants a 3D game with a third person camera, others wants a pixel art version. It’s very hard to make everyone happy.

I also think that we would have had to add levels within the levels. Enlarge the jungle and add more missions on Titan etc… And forget the motorace which brought nothing and took a long time to do.

But it’s only my point of view.

Over that, the starting point was clear, doing a remake, and to do it well. In my opinion, I think graphic design is too charged (weighted? – Ed), we would win with a more basic graphic design like Rockhard.

But it’s easy to say that now without the development’s pressure or money constraints!

 

 

Which game did you have the most fun working on?

Clearly Pang because I was in full charge and complete authority and just after, Flashback because the Delphine years were the best ever in my career. Working with my best friends, laughing all the day and making good games.

 

If you could give one piece of advice to anyone looking to work in the video game industry what would it be?

First, I will show him this video… All is said! It’s funny for game developers because it’s all true.

Second, enter in a specialised school (choose a speciality), multi-tasking roles do not exist anymore in this industry.

 

If you met Conrad Hart in real life what would you like to say to him?

Change your underpants my guy! I make it three games that you wear the same clothes. That stink like a billy goat!

 

What projects are you currently working on?

With Benoist Aron we created a development studio (PixieShade Studio), and we create mobile games. We are making beautiful, fun and smart games. If you play, why don’t you play smart? (this is a good question Thierry… – Ed).

Small games certainly but if we will survive for a long time, we hope to have one day enough funds to make bigger games and with more original concepts.

We already have released Jellography, a 3 match game to help children and parents discover geography together.

https://www.pixieshade-studio.com/english/jellography/jg-downloadfull/

We have launched an Ulule crowdfunding campaign for our next project and it’s very hard. You can help us on:

https://en.ulule.com/switchwords/

And of course, there is a full English version translated by professionals.

It very important for us and we really need it. As an indie studio, every backer is important for us so thanks for every support you or your readers can provide (pleased to help Thierry! – Ed).

 

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

Strangely, with Major Shepard from Mass Effect (female avatar of course) or Colonel Christopher Blair from Wing Commander (and to the officer’s mess of the Tiger Claw, if it’s possible… thanks).

Just because I love the Space Opera and I enjoy Wing Commander, Prize of freedom and the Normandy from Mass Effect very much!! Give me one for Christmas.

I want to command a real Battlecruiser in a great and fun open universe like Assassin Creed Blackflag and fight other battleships with shields, FTL systems, universe navigation maps, planets and overall the most incredible weapons you’ve ever seen.

Yes I would like to take a drink with one of these two characters. And rebuild the universe together.

 

You paint quite the picture Thierry! We wish you all the best with your universe rebuilding. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing some great insights! Readers, head over to the crowdfunding page for SwitchWords!

Adrian

 

2 Comments on “Thierry Levastre (Delphine Software) – Interview”

  1. What a shame… ! Crazy to see some people arging it was easy for Paul Cuisset.
    I’m a fan ! and i think he was head of studio because he was bringing creativity and direction.

    In fact, there are always frustrated people saying they can do better than génius and creative people, but never do anything better.

    Seriously, Just take a look at Subject 13 on kickstarter…. it’s something more creative than the project presented in this article.

    1. Totally agree.
      Played almost all games created by Paul and i must say that
      this guy was lucky to work with Paul Cuisset on very creative projects.
      Now he seems to bite the hand that fed him….

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