A while ago we had the chance to talk with Daniel Macré. He is the author of the legendary game Vroom and was general-manager of Lankhor (1996 - 2001). Read all about his quest to make the fastest racing game for the ST!
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2) The first steps
3) His collection
4) The Atari ST
5) A legend is born
6) ST vs Amiga
7) I need speed ... That's what I need!
8) His work
9) The company
10) The big boss
11) Sad news
12) The little buggers rise again
13) His thoughts
14) The future
15) Words of wisdom
1) Hello Daniel, nice of you to join us for this little chat! Can you introduce yourself to the people who haven't heard of you before?
My name is Daniel MACRE (Dan McRae). My current job (after I stopped Lankhor) is Project/Program Manager within a leading software services company in France. My main hobbies are :
- music from the sixties for which I have a CD collection (and also some MP3 files)
- 18th, 19th and modern art paintings
- new Information Technology architectures (J2EE, .NET, XML, Web Services)
2) What were your first steps into the world of computers? What were your first programming experiences? Your first computer? How old were you?
I have been working in the computer industry since 1970...I spent 20 years at Digital Equipment (DEC) from 1975 to 1995. Therefore, I am 56 years old! My first programming experience was in 1968 in my aeronautical engineering school and by that time, we used to program in FORTRAN using cards or paper tapes. The first computer I began an expert of was a PDP-11 which I used to program in assembly language.
3) Which computers did you own during all those years?
The first personal computer I had (if I may call it so) was a Sinclair ZX80, followed by a Sinclair ZX81 in the early 80s. You could not do much with them. Then, after I had discovered "Pole Position" on Sega Arcade system, I got a Sinclair QL (68008 based) around 1984-85 with the specific objective of developing such an F1 racing game.
It took me 6 months to develop it: programming in 68000, graphics and sound (rather noise). I called the game VROOM from the sound of racing car engines. QL VROOM was released by a small French publisher called PYRAMIDE who specialized in QL games (Pyramide did not survive the QL fiasco). Due to the shortage of games available on the QL, it sold pretty well in the UK (3200 units).
4) When did you first buy an Atari ST? Why?
I bought one of the first STF's in 1986 with the objective of converting "QL VROOM". After six months or so I had something running but not to quality standard of early ST games ("Arkanoïd", "Buggy Boy", etc.).
5) How did you end up coding Vroom for the ST? Did you work with more people? What was your specific task? Tell us a bit about the history of the project.
I realized that it was no longer a one person job working after hours. I contacted Jean-Luc LANGLOIS whom had also developed a QL game called Wanderer (Wanderer was a galactical adventure and commerce game in wired 3D using Anaglyph technique with bi-color glasses).
Jean-Luc had created a company called Lankhor. They had just published "Mortville Manor" a police investigation game using speech generation on the ST which was a big hit then. We decided to co-develop and co-publish VROOM on the ST. Jean-Luc LANGLOIS is a very good programmer and working full time, he did a lot of the programming. He ended up revisiting and optimizing or re-writing most of the graphical functions that I had already written. He also added new graphical functions such as 3D buildings and he spent a lot of time on the road. He developed the very good sound of VROOM; being a musician, he is an expert in sound. He is the creator of the speech generation used in "Mortville Manor" and "Maupiti Island".
He also developed the controls. Actually controls in VROOM (keyboard, mouse and the joystick) were quite sophisticated. Together with the high frame rate, it contributed to the very good playability. In the later F1 game that we developed, our control system was still based on the original intelligence system that was first put in VROOM. He did also work with me on the opponents' car behavior (so-called AI).
- I programmed initial graphical functions, the physics (yes, there was some): car engine, collisions. I worked with Jean-Luc on the AI. I did the menus, etc.
- Christian DROIN, another programmer, worked on tools (track editor, etc.), on the environment functions (compression, file system, etc.) and he programmed the communication mode (with null modem cable).
- Stéphane POLARD did the graphics.
6) Why was Vroom created on the ST and then ported to the Amiga, and not the other way around like most games of that era?
When I first started the project, the Amiga was not released. After, it has been a matter of time and resources (I was working after hours, Lankhor was a very small team). After the success of "Mortville Manor", they put a lot of their resources on "Maupiti Island", also a big success. When VROOM was re-prioritized up, the Amiga was bigger than the ST but we decided to complete the ST version first. It was released in Oct 91. Then, It took 6 months for Jean-Luc to convert it to the Amiga, and after that, to the Sega Genesis (published by Domark under the name F1).
7) What is so fantastic about Vroom is the feeling of speed? No other game has ever managed to pull that of for me? How did you do that? You can be a bit technical if you like, for the coding fans out there!
The speed comes from the over-optimization of display functions. The way the ST is addressing the video memory is very poor and you have to be very maniac to find optimization tricks. Take the scrolling background. I remember that I had optimized it a lot but afterwards, Jean-Luc managed to speed it up by a factor of 2, which I thought was not possible.
8) Was "Vroom" your first project for the ST? / Did you program other games for the ST?
VROOM was my first and only game on the ST. Developing VROOM took too much of my spare time and holidays. After completing VROOM in 1991, I decided not to develop games anymore.
9) Tell us some more about the history of Lankhor. They were responsible for some great ST games!
LANKHOR was created in 1987 by the merging of 2 very small studios (BJL LANGLOIS created by Jean-Luc LANGLOIS and KILKHOR created by Bruno GOURRIER). From 1987 to 1993 they released some hits on the ST and the Amiga (Mortville Manor, Maupiti Island, Vroom) and many others games, and some good games on Sega Genesis (VROOM-F1, Kawazaki Superbikes). Lankhor started publishing its own games until 1993. Then it was a development studio.
10) I heard you became General Manager at Lankhor. Tell us some more. Why did you go back to the games industry after 5 years? Which games did you produce and for which machines?
In 1996, 5 years after VROOM, I had an opportunity to leave the company I was working for (DEC) under very good conditions. So at 50, I decided to come back to video games. I agreed with Jean-Luc to join in Lankhor that was almost closing its activities then. Fortunately, we signed very soon with Eidos a contract for F1 games on PC and PS One and Lankhor was up again.
During these years from 1996 to 2000 we did the following games for PC and PS One :
- Official Formula One Racing Eidos (UK)
- F1 World Grand Prix Eidos (UK)
- Warm Up ! Microïds (France)
Year 2000 had been difficult but at the end of 2000 we had signed :
- another FIA licensed F1 game on PC and Xbox with a Japanese publisher.
- a simulation game "Ski Park Manager" with Microïds.
Unfortunately the F1 game contract got cancelled in January 2001 and we were left only with the development of "Ski Park Manager". We had to reduce our staff dramatically. We developed "Ski Park Manager" and it was completed in December 2001 and released in February 2002. During 2001 we tried to sign new games, but we were not successful (bad economical situation of the company and tough times for the video games industry). We closed Lankhor on 31 December 2001.
11) That's really sad news! I'm sorry to here that. I guess we will never see Detective Lange (Mortville Manor, Maupiti Island) again on our PCs ? There have been many rumours about a new game featuring my favourite French detective over the past few years, but since Lankhor is no more...
You are right. Lankhor is no more. But who knows. Jean-Luc will surely look for a new start. There are only 2 games with him: "Mortville Manor" and "Maupiti Island". A third game "Sukiya" was designed but not developed (yet?).
12) Enough about Lankhor now. Let's talk about you! What is your all time favorite computer game?
One game I liked very much was "Sentinel"(by Geoff Crammond) on the ST, and also Lemmings from Psygnosis. But I am not a hard-core gamer.
13) What do/did you think of the Atari ST in general, compared to other machines?
I think that the all-in-one concept of the Atari ST (and the Amiga) was a great one. These systems were very open and very powerful compared to the previous generation of Z80-based systems (Spectrum, C64) and compared to the PC (before Microsoft introduced DirectX). A lot of young people developed their programming skills and graphical skills with these systems in Europe. It was an explosion of talent.
14) What are your future plans?
They are not in the video games industry. I now work in the "mainstream" computer industry.
15) Would you like to share something else with us? Some final thoughts? Greetings...
I wish all the success for your collector site. Information (in French) on Lankhor can be found on an independent site ([url]www.lankhor.net[/url]).
Thanks a lot Daniel. Lots of success with your future career in the IT business. Thanks for the interview! And of course...Thank you for creating "Vroom". What would we have done without it? Cheers!
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