| Hi Paul - for the benefit of the
readers could you please tell us what first got you interested in
gaming and creating computer games?
I first got interested in computers back in 1979 (I was 12 at the time). I
lived at the time in Scotland and spent my weekends mesmerized by
our TV pong game. A few years later my friends had either managed
to persuade their parents to buy an Atari 2600 or a ColecoVision
and my time away from home and an unhealthy addiction began.
We loved games with a passion, we were 14 years old and we craved
the next big thing. Girls of course thought we were geeks, but hey,
we loved our games! The girls could wait. So we put our money together
and bought a Spectrum 48k. We'd spend most of our weekends buzzing
around town from one friends house to another equipped with a pack
of blank C90's and a Dixon's tape deck. We just couldn't get enough.
The art, action and storytelling in most of the games of course
was very crude - some were amazing, but we found ourselves wanting
more - I mean, we'd already seen the films Star Wars, Tron and The
Last Starfighter so we demanded bigger and better. Equipped with
P.A.W. (the Professional Adventure Writer program) we set about
making our very first games. They were the usual stuff - "Escape
from School", "Lost in Space", "Aliens ate my hamster", kids stuff,
but fun, but most importantly these simple games were ours. We made
them and our friends played them - it felt soooooooo good!
The Commodore 64 changed it all. Games the like of Uridium, Spindizzy,
Alternate Reality and LCP changed my life. I sold my C64 in 1985
and rushed to own one of the first 60 Atari ST's to hit the UK and
then rushed out and bought Starglider ( I rushed a lot back then!).
Shortly after that I bought my first Amiga and with these came the
glory of Cinemawares "Defender of the Crown", Accolades
"Test Drive", CAD 3D and of course AMOS. I could go and
on in great detail describing every little event that has led up
to now, it seems just like yesterday, but needless to say after
school and college I worked in computer games retail for 4 years
(including setting up and managing DMA Design retail division-
the GTA and Lemmings guys) and in 1992 I started my professional
games career in game design, artwork and animation for Argonaut
Software in London. Then Microprose, Scavanger, Eidos and Mythos.
Eventually I was encouraged to move to Sunny California
to work as Lead Scenery Artist at Shiny on a new game 'Sacrifice'
and except for the long hours, it was the best move I ever made.
What first drew you to DarkBASIC?
Did you find the language easy to pick up?
Around the start of 2000 I was becoming more and more interested
in creating my own games for fun. I wanted specifically a BASIC
language. Not C with OpenGL, but a language that allowed me to quickly
get my ideas into action without hassle, something for the PC that
was similar to AMOS. After 2 nights of searching the web and looking
at engines I discovered Dark Basic (I think it was V1.02). I downloaded
it and loved it from the first day I used it. I ordered it as soon
a version was available to buy and I have used it ever since. It
is without a doubt the most satisfying piece of software I have
EVER used. I’ve also dabbled with C and OpenGL and although
I feel I’m becoming quite experienced I know I have a long,
long way to go to achieve a fraction of the foundation DB has to
offer rapid game development.
Approx. how many projects have you
started in DarkBASIC and then aborted before you began work on Virtual
Insanity? Will you revisit any of them?
I have about 40 projects started, most are around the 10% just
playing with an idea stage, and some are very advanced. I released
my first DB game 3D Solitaire over a year ago and since moved on
to other projects. Virtual Insanity is the first of several titles
I am planning on closing up this spring. I have 3 other titles almost
complete, 2 of which are very different from anything in the market
place and very specialist, and another I think (I hope) everyone
will enjoy. As for the rest, they’ll probably be resurrected
at different times in the future, however I already have another
2 dozen ideas I want to see put into action so who knows what will
be created and in what order. It’s kind of chaotic, what with
the day job, family and whatever suits my mood on any given day.
The cool thing is, is that DB offers so much opportunity for creativity
its hard to stay focused for a decent amount of time without saying
to yourself “yeah, I should just throw that together in DB
this evening, see how it turns out”, the language is just
too accommodating – its almost like a game.
Where did the inspiration for Virtual
Insanity come from? Is it based on any other games?
I played a game a few years ago (around 1989) I couldn’t
remember the exact name but I loved it (Editor: We think it's probably
Sokoban) and I couldn’t put it down until I completed that
damn thing. I always wanted more levels, more puzzles, but after
completing it there were no more. So when I was thinking of a game
to make that would allow me to cover a complete development cycle
this one immediately sprung to mind.
Did you work on the project on your
own or in a team? If in a team who else worked with you, what did
they do and how did you communicate to make sure the project got
finished? Do you have any tips for other DB users trying to do the
I started Virtual Insanity in March 2002 and a few months later
showed it to a colleague/friend of mine who said – “hey,
that’s very cool” and from that day on he encouraged
me to continue. Mark (now my business partner), was actually my
producer on Sacrifice, so together we started to put together a
more comprehensive list of what we would need to do to make this
game in Dark Basic and make it of high enough quality to possibly
sell (he’s a producer after all, that’s ALL he thinks
Mark set out a full development schedule, listing the tasks required
and since I was the only one between the two of us creating the
artwork and programming (in the evenings and weekends), he would
use all of his producer skills to get us through to completion.
The guy is amazing. He has produced such amazing games as MDK, Carmageddon
and Sacrifice, and although we are only a tiny team I had to respect
his decision making if we wanted to make any progress – Professional
development has taught me this much at least – trust the producer.
Mark is now spending his time in marketing and PR.
During development did you hit any significant problems
that you found work-around's for? Things that really got you stumped
but you overcame.
The big problem with any design is design itself. Most of the problems
I have encountered have stemmed from the simple mistake of loading
up DB and writing code. DB itself has had many bugs, still has,
but also an equal amount of workarounds. However, I was caught out
more often than not by my hands-on organic programming approach
(basically, just getting stuck in until everything stopped working)
which often had me chasing my tail and abandoning a project and
moving onto something else.
DB is designed to be creator friendly. Its greatest benefit to
beginners is also its biggest downfall for beginners. It is so easy
just to throw your idea together, but once you have your foundation
working, my advice is to start again. You know it works, so re-write
a more robust programmer friendly version to accommodate a full
program flow. This will pay big dividends to your design and possibility
If you have a small team of your own, definitely split up the tasks
to have only one of you dealing with schedules. You do need to set
yourselves targets, regardless of the size of project. If you miss
the targets, then don’t beat yourself up, just set a new one,
but when you do reach it, you can get onto the next while giving
yourself a well deserved pat on the back. It sounds like work, but
it needn’t be. You can have a lot of fun watching your creation
come to life and get better with every day. Before long, you’ll
be close to the end, don’t trip up now, keep going, it’s
just around the corner. You’ll know when it is finished and
you can share your creation with the world and sit back and smile
with a super smug satisfaction that hundreds, thousands and possibly
more are playing your game – after all, that is why we do
Once you are finished, take a well deserved break and move onto
another. If nothing else, your Dark Basic projects could help secure
you a permanent job in games industry, it is an excellent portfolio
tool. So try and not give up on your best projects.
If need be, start them again from scratch (Virtual Insanity was
rewritten 3 times to get performance) it could well be worth it.
A very good friend of mine (a lead programmer who has worked on
games such as Wipeout, Dead to Rights and Pacman Worlds) often says
that every good project is written twice.
The graphics and effects in Virtual
Insanity are very good - what tips or suggestions do you have for
other DB programmers? Are there any things they can do to ensure
their game looks good even if they aren't naturally artistic?
Keep your ambitions simple. The first thing I did when deciding
on VI artwork was to see where I could simplify the art and give
it room for expansion if I had the time. For this, I concentrated
on designing a backdrop system that could change for each level
– For the most part I only had 3 different backdrops, but
as the project grew, and when I needed a break from programming
I would set aside an evening and create another backdrop. I like
to think of it as chipping away with expansion in mind.
With art, if you feel it isn’t your strong point, then keep
it simple. Use plenty of gradients and flat color, and don’t
mix too many different colors together unless you are confident
they work together. It’s all very subjective, but big, bold
and tidy can see you through. Using packages such as Texture Maker
from Tobias Reichert can take a lot of the pain away from creating
seamless and beautiful art. I’d highly recommend it. Fractal
painter is also a good buy, however, a little pricey, but in my opinion
far more powerful and creative than Photoshop. I’ve used both
now for over 10 years and I still say Fractal wins hands every time.
Are there any other DB creations
you've seen that really impressed you?
One of the first games ever created with DB blew my mind. Columns.
Simple, well written, fast and of course highly playable. And all
written in a little unknown programming language. That’s what
it is all about. Making a game that looks good is one thing, but
keeping it fun and more than a demo takes a lot of work and thought.
What would you most like to see added to DarkBASIC Professional?
I bought DBPro a few days after it was released. I love it, I love
the ease of the editor, the feeling of a professional working environment
and the compile options, unfortunately it still has a way to go
for it to make the grade. I think in time it will be a killer app.
If I could choose a command, I’d have to say better access
to vertex data (especially setting color and alpha at vert level
would add so much to the power of the mesh). I’ve used the
FVF format, but with more access to the renderable properties of
the vert and tri it would open up a whole heap of wonderful visual
opportunities. Oh, and being able to resize and camera align particle
objects would be a huge help :)
What's next? When can we expect another hit showcase entry?!
I have several other projects pretty close now. I am planning on
sharing these before I release so that I can get some better feedback
and hopefully make changes based on that feedback for the final
releases. I’m hoping everyone will find them at the very least
“interesting” - and as for hit showcase entries I'll
let the DB community be the judge!
Any final closing words?
Keep your code well structured. Put everything in subroutines or
functions and have a simple control loop branch. If your idea and
projects develop, then this structure from the start will help it
expand more easily.
And get some sleep, you’ll need it to carry on with your
project the day after!