Today, we are having a chat with one of the most talented personalities in the Atari scene. Known as Templeton, Sébastien Lucas is an insane graphic designer and a programming genius. He is best known for his work on Cerebral Vortex productions, but he has also joined forces with Dune and the Dead Hacker Society. If you're wondering who created those incredible designs for the Sea of Colour demo, look no further. But the man has more tricks up his sleeve. He is also the creator of several games and conversions, like Crash Time Plumber or Supa Zazai Da. Two games ST Graveyard reviewed this year. So, Templeton gladly agreed to do this interview ... And we hope you will have as much fun reading his answers, as we had asking the questions. Oh, and by the way, this is a joint interview by myself and ST Graveyard. Our first, and we hope to bring more cool stuff in the future.
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1) The obligatory introduction
2) His first computer? A ZX-81
3) Studies in computer science? It helps, but not essential
4) Atari: the power without the price, really?
5) The urge to work on other machines?
6) The story behind Cerebral Vortex
7) And the other teams?
8) What's in a name
9) Converting games from the PC
10) Behind the code
11) What do you mean, my games are hard?
12) Band of brothers
13) Tools used to draw
14) Coding parties
15) What about that new game?
16) Tips and tricks for beginners
17) Let's talk about the other hobbies
18) Hall of...game
19) Meeting famous sceners
20) Make a wish
21) The end already?
1) Hello Templeton. Can you introduce yourself in a few words for those who do not know you?
Hello, my name is Sébastien. I am a graphic designer / coder in the Cérébral Vortex team and I create demos and games on 16-32 bit Atari computers.
2) When did you start getting interested in computers? Which machines did you own? Tell us a bit about your past.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 9 years old at the time! My math teacher had bought a fully loaded ZX-81 with all bells and whistles (memory expansion, professional keyboard, printer, etc.). Every Wednesday afternoon, he made this thing available to those who wanted to learn more about the fascinating world of microcomputers.
My first drawing was made on this machine. A boat (well it looked vaguely like one) in 64 x 48 pixels! Thanks to the ZX Printer, I was able to show this horrible masterpiece to my mother... It was the dog's bollocks!
The year after the ZX-81 I discovered the Thomson TO7-70 with its fabulous optical pencil, as accurate as a Stormtrooper's laser, and most importantly, my first computer game: the cult game Lode Runner. It was awesome!
I have kept all my ''ordinosaures'' (ed: French 'portmanteau' of the words "ordinateur" (computer) and "dinosaur") that I bought at the time. I now share my collection with my brother ... and everything is still in working order, even today!
I have a 520 ST with a single-sided drive (aargh!) extended to 1Mb (thanks to my father). There was a lot of welding to do for my poor Dad. This was my first computer and it was a revolution in comparison to the 8-bit computers such as the Amstrad CPC, the ZX-81 or the Thomson!
I also have a 520 STe with 4Mb of ram, a 1040 STF, a 1040 STE, 1 Falcon with a CT60 (which is located at GT-TURBO's house), 1 Amiga 500 with 1 Mb of RAM, an Amiga 1200 with a small accelerator card + 4 MB of FAST ram and a PC 486 DX4 100 with a Vesa local BUS.
3) What studies did you do? Did they help in becoming a coder?
I have a university bachelor's degree plus 4 years in Computer Science. ;)
Nevertheless, these degrees are not necessary to become a coder. Learning a coding language is like learning a foreign language, everyone can do it... Even Homer Simpson!
4) What do you think makes the Atari ST so unique?
Its simplicity (both software and hardware) makes it very user-friendly and easy to access for beginners. Therefore, it’s exciting for programmers, musicians and graphic designers who want to be challenged.
In addition, it has a strong visual identity that makes it very appealing ... with its bee, its bombs, the unlikely colour of the desktop, its look, etc.
From a historical point of view, we’ll remember it as the first computer with a mouse and GUI that was affordable for the general public. The Mac and the Amiga 1000 were inaccessible because of their price tags.
5) Have you ever wanted to work on other machines?
Yes, machines like the Lynx, the Jaguar, the Amiga 500, the Mega Drive and the NeoGeo, for example. But I'm afraid I get bored with them because they have less technical restrictions compared to the Atari.
6) When did you join Cerebral Vortex? Did you already do anything notable before joining them? Can you talk to us a little about Cerebral Vortex?
I joined Cerebral Vortex in 2004 and I only did some minor stuff in GFA before that (which was never published). I met GT TURBO on the Atari part of the Yaronet forum (at the time I was working in computer graphics). He was very friendly and he needed a hand, so I made the intro picture for the French Kiss demo. They liked my work, so they asked me to join.
I accepted knowing that Cerebral Vortex was unproductive (I'm very work-shy, too). We were entitled to unlimited Dragibus candy, although I prefer Tagada strawberries (tsoin tsoin).
Cerebral Vortex is a very cool community populated by little geniuses (really!) ... which I am not btw - because I'm above that :)
Some members have more affinity with the Jaguar, others with the ST or the Falcon.
7) Were you a member of other groups apart from Cerebral Vortex?
8) Where does your 'Templeton' nickname come from?
I was looking for a rare name associated with a personality that has things in common with me. So I turned to a fictional character that I enjoyed when I was a kid: Lieutenant Templeton Peck, better known as Faceman (Futé in French) in the A-Team!
9) What is your relationship with Dr. Floyd of Gamopat? Can you explain the conversion process of a (PC) game? Who decides which game gets converted and do you have access to the sources?
I am mainly a reader / member of his forum (gamopat.com). Dr. Floyd likes to revisit certain concepts and games that he originally created in BASIC on the PC.
When one of his games catches my eye, because of its innovative or fun gameplay (and I see a technical challenge for the Atari), I start the conversion. I let him know just a few days before the release of the project to surprise him, he loves that!
So I don’t have access to the source code and I have to redo all the graphics because the original ones are in high resolution and too large to use.
I often take the opportunity to sometimes add frames, improve the graphics and refine some elements, like the physics ... but staying true to the original game and gameplay. The improvements are mostly cosmetic.
10) Tell us a little about the development of Crash Time Plumber and Supa Zazai da: which language did you use? How long did you spend on each game?
Crash Time Plumber is fully coded in C and compiled with PureC. However, for the joystick control, I use an external library ASM / C designed by Simon Sunnyboy / Paradize and Patrice Mandin. I slightly modified the assembler code to make it compatible with PureC. For the techies out there, the game runs in 50 FPS with a multi-directional scroll on 3 planes.
The parallax uses Joefish's 'Spare-Color-Playfield' process. To add more colours, I used a Dynamic Split Raster, more transparency with the palette. Lastly, I used a bitplane altering trick at each VBL on some sprites that allows both time-saving for the machine, but also, playing with the retinal persistence to increase the number of colours. The third fully independent and animated parallax (the rain in levels 3/6/9/10) consumes 0% of CPU time to display as it uses the blitter's half-tone RAM.
Supa Zazai Da is also coded in C on the MegaST / 1040 STe. It uses a small piece of code in assembly on the Falcon to solve compatibility problems between the 68030 cache and the Blitter. The game also uses the same Paradize IKBD library, plus an ASM / C library for the raster in the Hall Of Fame (also done by Paradize), an ASM / C lib for the decompression of the PC1 format (by Paradize and CV), an ASM / C lib to play digitised sounds (only for the MegaST) from the big GLCB library and an ASM / C lib for playing the MP2 on the Falcon (by NoCrew / Orion_ / Dune / CV). The game manages more than 280 elements permanently and can display more than 256 elements on the screen without going under 50 FPS.
When I create a conversion, I always try to bring something extra compared to the original version (graphics, animation, presentation, options, etc.).
The development of these games are spread over 4 to 5 months. But I sometimes won't code for weeks. If I had to count the real time spent on it, I think I shouldn’t exceed 3 weeks of development, at least no more than a month for sure.
11) Your games seem pretty hard at first. Is it a choice or are the original versions as difficult? Are you a hardcore gamer like your brother (note: Templeton is the brother of Xerus, probably the best player of all time on the Atari - see the STOT section on Atari-Forum)?
This is not a choice, the original versions are difficult. I am a good player but not a hardcore gamer like Xerus. I still have the painful memory of a bitter defeat at Kick Off almost 30 years ago ... 13 goals to 5! :(
Nevertheless, I still manage to finish the games that I code with a little practice and some tricks. So it is quite possible to see the end without using any cheat codes. There's always a fun end-to-end cinematic in Dr. Floyd's games, so it's worth to make the extra effort ... or cheat! ;)
12) Have you ever wanted to start a group with Xerus by the way?
Yes. We thought about it a few times, maybe in a few years, who knows ;)
Xerus coded in assembler language on the Falcon030 a long time ago and he’s quite polyvalent. He acts as a true artistic manager and is ruthless when criticising. Once, he made me completely redo a graphic for a demo! O_o
He often has interesting ideas and helps me in the sound departement of my projects, as well as other aspects such as translation or level mapping, for example.
13) In your games, you are also responsible for graphics. Which tools/software do you use?
For sprite animations I use Pro-Motion on PC. For the backgrounds, some sprites, introduction screens, texture and images, I use Photoshop. Finally, for colour palettes on the ST and STe, I use Deluxe Paint. I started my graphical adventures on the ST in 1988 with Spectrum 512 and Cyberpaint, but I do not use these tools anymore these days.
14) Do you attend coding parties from time to time? If so, which one is better?
No, unfortunately I can’t because I've been in prison for 11 years for a murder that I did not commit ... Na, I'm kidding!
My current situation does not allow me to move, but if I could do it, I would like to hunt mosquitos in Sweden at the Sommarhack or face the legendary cold of Silly Venture.
15) Are you planning to release a new game? If so, can you already tell us a bit about it?
You are curious! Yes, I'm working on a new game. It's an official conversion of an awesome XL game. It will be released for the Mega ST and will be compatible with the 520 STE.
A playable demo should be shown at the Silly Venture 2018 exclusively. The full game should be released soon after if I manage to get everything organised because I also have to work on a demo with Dune for the Falcon030.
16) Do you have any tips or tricks for those who would like to code on the Atari ST?
Do not be afraid, get started! Whether you are a graphic designer, musician, baker or hairdresser, coding is accessible to everyone (except perhaps for Biff Tannen). ;)
The ST is a fairly simple computer by design. It has many very user-friendly tools which makes programming much easier, therefore it is very accessible for a beginner.
Today it's even easier - with the internet you can find tutorials, high-performance libraries and get help on forums dedicated to the Atari.
For C coding, you have really nice libraries like AGT, GodLib, GLCB and Paradize. There are also many sources for GFA including the Paradize site. We are able to make excellent games in Basic, with the productions by Tobe and Cooper being good examples.
For the more daring, there are also a lot of resources to code in Assembler, including the DHS site, not to mention Lexomil and Féroce Lapin lessons. Atari-Forum also has a section for programming which is very well stocked with info.
Of course, if you want to make arcade games with smooth scrolling, choose computers equipped with a Blitter (Mega ST, STe and Falcon), or scrolling hardware (TT, STE, FALCON). The ST is able to handle it, but deeper experience of the hardware is required to make a decent product.
17) What are your hobbies besides programming?
RC modelling, computer graphics, gardening, picking mushrooms in the woods (which was introduced to me by Xerus not so long ago), etc.
18) What are your "all-time" favourite games? And if there was someone in the world of video games that you would like to meet, who would it be?
I'm not a fanatic, but I have completed Unreal 1 and Half-Life 2 on PC many times because of their exotic world. Day Of the Tentacle is cult, too, and Doom 3 is great, too, even though I did not like the first one.
In ARCADE: Galaga, Double Dragon, Ninja Dragon, Street Fighter 2 and Sega Rally.
On NEOGEO: Art of Fighting 1 / 2 and Magician Lord.
On MEGADRIVE: Streets of Rage, Shadow Dancer, Castle of Illusion and Earthworm Jim.
On XBOX: Halo 1/2, Driver 3, Burnout 2, PGR 1 / 2, Splinter Cell and Ninja Gaiden Black.
On SATURN: Sega Rally and Athletic King.
On PLAYSTATION: Ridge Racer Type 4 and Resident Evil 2.
On DREAMCAST: Shenmue, 24 Hours of Man, Street Fighter 3 and Virtua Tennis.
On AMIGA: Battle Squadron, Z-out and Hybris.
On NES: Punch Out.
Actually on ATARI ST: Karate Kid 2, Manhattan Dealers, Carrier Command, Starray, Starglider 2, Stunt Car Racer, Dungeon Master, Shufflepuck Cafe, Vroom, Nebulus, Eliminator, Loom, etc.
The person from the world of video games that I would like to meet, without hesitation... Phillipe Ulrich the creator of Captain Blood!
He has an overflowing imagination, an a-typical experience and a very unbridled personality. He would certainly be a very interesting man around a table. :)
19) What are you doing in life? Are you also a professional programmer?
I am no longer working in the IT field, but for a while I have been a webmaster for a company that specialised in journals and trade fairs on medicine. I was also an interface designer for knowledge management software packages in a software company. Finally, I was a graphic designer in the video game industry on the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS for years!
For the record, when I arrived at that company, there were 2 famous artists from the Atari demoscene in the team ... Babar and Goldfinger!
The video game sector is very small in France. There is a big shift in employees, so we have the chance to meet or work with a lot of ''stars'' of the 80s / 90s. These people worked for those great companies of yesterday like Titus, Cryo, Ocean France, Delphine Software or Infogrames, for example. So I had the chance to work with guys who worked on Pang, Flashback, Mr Nuzt, Jim Power, etc.
20) If I was a genie in a lamp and I gave you a wish, what would it be?
Transform my mother's cat into a dog but I think she wouldn’t agree, so I'd like you to turn the sun into a red giant... just for the madness to see the Eiffel Tower melt! But as you wouldn’t agree because your lamp would melt too, there is another way to achieve it.
I would like a time machine, Tardis, Delorean or Chrono-WC, no matter. Before attending the end of the world, I would visit the Cretaceous period to see if the dinosaurs had feathers! Imagine the T-Rex with feathers, a big chicken with teeth! Funny, isn’t it? :)
21) How would you like to end this interview?
I would like to thank all those who continue to perpetuate the continuation of all things Atari, the Atari Legend team, of course, but also the members and people who take care of AtariMania, Atari-Forum, AtariAge and Yaronet, for example.
But also, important people in the small world of Atari like Evil / DHS, Gray / Mystic Byte, Leonard, Douglas Little, Mikro, AtariCrypt, Rudolph Czuba, GGN, Orion_, Patrice Mandin, Thadoss, Steven Seagal, Klapauzius, PPRA, Reboot , the FARC (Revolutionary Atarist Forces of Creteil), Germaine for her pasta Lustucru, the demoscene and so many others that I forget (sincerely sorry).
Atari once, Atari always!
Entitled 'Go To Maupiti' (a tribute to Maupiti Island), this picture was drawn for the 'Sea of Colour' demo.
'Espresso' is the name of this picture drawn for the 'C++ is Forbidden' demo. The demo reached the 1st place at the Silly Venture 2012.
Templeton designed the graphics of Tere Ra'i demo, which reached the 1st place at the Silly Venture 2014.
Probably one of the most beautiful screens ever made on Atari ST appears on the 'Sea of Color' demo.
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