Johannes Graf (Atari) – Interview

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We love Iron Soldier 3. Therefore, we love Johannes Graf. The Atari veteran discusses IS3, Sturmwind and the amazing Alpine Games to name but three of the great titles he’s worked on. Adrian caught him for all the gossip…

 

Can you remember your earliest memory of gaming and what was your favourite computer/console while growing up?

The first thing I remember seeing or playing computer games was at our neighbours house, they had an Amstrad CPC computer and some other friends a Philips G7000 video game console. We played “Pickaxe Pete“ for hours and hours on this console, that was awesome. Later we got an Atari ST for Christmas from our parents, after that we were big Atari enthusiasts and later developed for the Falcon, Lynx and Jaguar.

 

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

I worked on CAD machines, doing all these 2D drawings, but was always interested in 3D and played around a lot with some early 3D modeling tools. The real professional tools where very expensive back then and most of them only available for the SGIs, fortunately a couple of years later the situation got better and more and more of these programs became available for the PC.

As for working on the IS3 Project, I just rendered some images and test animations, the Eclipse guys seemed to like it and that was it. Unfortunately after IS3 Eclipse (the developers) faded away silently.

 

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

Well the first professional game I worked on was Iron Soldier 3, of course there is a lot of little stuff I worked on for my own but nothing which became a real game.

 

Were you a fan of the Iron Soldier games before you got to work on the third installment of this series?

I liked the first game on the Jaguar a lot. Certainly one of the best games on the machine. The second part looks very nice with a lot of texture mapping for a Jag game. So I wouldn’t call me a die hard fan for the game but I liked them for sure.

 

 

Iron Solider was one of most ambitious titles on the Jaguar. Do you think any other title really showed off the machine’s true power and do you have a personal favourite Jaguar game?

Well games like AvP, Doom, Iron Soldier 2 or Super Burnout showed what the machine can do. Everyone loves Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar, so do I. It got everything right and the effects are not getting in your way. So that would be my favourite Jaguar game. I also like Super Burnout a lot.

 

Did you play the first two Iron Solider titles to help inspire you to make the awesome Iron Soldier 3?

Yes I played the games but I didn’t really work on the game itself, most of the Iron Soldier 3 team was scattered around different places or countries. So I was working on my own on the rendering sequences with a little input here and there.

 

Did you work on both the PlayStation and Nuon version of the game and if so, which do you think is the best version and why?

I worked on the render intro sequences. There wasn’t much contact to the real game until it was finished. I only played the PlayStation version and personally have never played it on a Nuon. The only Nuon DVD machine available here in Germany didn’t have any controller ports ;(

 

Many people would have never heard of the Nuon console. What are your views on this mysterious console and why do you think it never became a success?

Well for not becoming a success it was basically too little too late. It came around the same time as the Dreamcast and couldn’t compete with that. I’m not sure but I remember the Nuon DVD players/chipsets being a bit more expensive than was originally expected. If it would have been the same price, a lot of companies would have adopted it, maybe there would have been a chance for a sort of casual games market on it. Programming wise I think it was just too difficult compared to a PSX.

 

How do you reflect back on Iron Soldier 3 and do you think there is scope for the series to be rebooted?

Not sure if a lot of people outside the Jaguar fan base would remember the game. Apart from that you would certainly need to evolve the gameplay a bit, add multiplayer maybe a storymode etc. But there are not a lot of mech games lately, so maybe that would be a good idea.

 

If you could create a brand new game on the Jaguar, what type of game would you love to make and why?

The Jaguar could use a good Turrican like run ‘n’ gun don’t you think?

 

Yep! You helped create Alpine Games on the Lynx. What was it like creating artwork on a portable machine as opposed to more powerful consoles?

That’s of course very different, memory is so tight. You are really counting every byte and every bit you can share to save some memory. It was a really funny project to work on and I hope we will have the time to come back to the Lynx again at some point in time.

 

 

You have worked with so many developers. Where did you most like to work and why?

Working on our own projects was always most fun. So I did really enjoy working on Sturmwind, of course that was only in our spare time.It makes a lot difference working full time with the time pressure of milestones etc.

 

How has the role of a graphic artist evolved throughout your career and what advice would you give to anyone looking to enter this profession today?

I have always done 3D stuff so it didn’t change that much. Of course everything is better and faster now than 20 years ago, tools are much better, computers are much faster and depending on what projects you are working on it can be a lot more expensive that’s for sure because you need more details, textures etc.

 

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

Our own projects like Alpine Games or Sturmwind where most fun. Why? Simply because there were no time constraints or dump game designers/producers telling you what to do. If you have a new idea or see something cool in another game you just try to implement it without arguing around.

 

Have you ever worked on any games that were never released, and if so, which unreleased games do you feel would have been the most successful?

We worked on the Native prototype for the Jaguar, that game wasn’t finished, apart from that most or almost all games I worked on got released. There was certainly some stuff on PS2 or GameCube that got canned but I can’t remember the details 😉

 

What are your top 3 video games of all time and why?

1. Uncharted 1-4, If i would have to pick one it would probably be part 4. Just loved the whole series.

2. F-Zero (SNES), Speed, music, gameplay just awesome.

3. Arkanoid, So much fun, can still play it today.

 

 

What projects are you currently working on?

I can only talk about private projects, we are still working on a Dreamcast game based on an updated Sturmwind engine, not sure when this will ever be finished but it is a lot of fun to work on.

 

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

It surely would be Elena Fisher from the uncharted series ! 😉

 

Many fans in the Jaguar community would love to learn more about your work on Native for the Jag CD. Despite Sturmwind getting released on the Sega Dreamcast years ago and the recent re-release, have you thought of finishing what you and your brother Roland started with the Jaguar CD version of Native someday in the future?

We have worked so long on Sturmwind that at the moment just don’t want to work on the same genre again, but you’re right, it should still be finished one day.

 

 

We worked on Native around 96/97 if i remember correctly. Today it’s no problem to release games because all necessary keys etc are available, but at this time there was no real opportunity to get it working off a real CD. Maybe some day we go back and finish it….

 

Here’s hoping! Thanks for stopping by Johannes!

Adrian

 

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