In 1993, 2 demosceners finished their first game, as an answer to the Amiga hype that was Turboraketti. Utopos became one of the most successful shareware titles on the Atari STe. And now, almost 30 years later, creator Jani Penttinen is working on a remake of the game for the Atari VCS system. If you want to learn more about history of Utopos, the demo scene and the game industry from the good old days, read on!
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1) The first computers
2) The almighty Atari STe
3) 2 Atari fans meet eachother
4) Working with computers
5) Turboraketti and the Amiga
6) Memories of the demoscene
7) The history of Utopos
8) The orders start coming in
9) Joining demo team Aggression
10) The Agression version of Utopos
12) The sequel
13) Life as a professional game developer
14) Becoming an indie developer
15) Utopos games
16) Guntech - The Utopos sequel
20) Atari today
22) Last words
Bloodhouse was the first Finnish games company. It would later merge with Terramarque and become Housemarque.
Eventually, Jani sold about 2000 registered versions of Utopos. An amazing accomplishment. It was translated into French, and almost half of the copies went to France.
Jani went to work for Remedy after Bloodhouse closed its doors. Remedy was founded by members of the PC demogroup Future Crew.
Max Payne, the game that has put Remedy on the map. Writer Sam Lake's face was actually mapped to the game character.
Utopos Rocketship Game - that's what the PC version of Guntech is called. URG is a single player, Utopos-inspired shooter with beautiful graphics.
Raivo, another title from Utopos game, which is currently on hold. "It’s a massive game project that is heavily based on advanced machine learning and AI."
1) Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first get in touch with computers? At what age? And what was your first machine?
Jani: I got my first computer as a birthday gift when I turned 10 years old. It was an 8-bit computer called an Amstrad CPC 464.
Matti: I didn’t really get my ”own” computer before I bought an Atari STE at some point, maybe in 1991, already as a long time ST user. In the Spring of 1991 I turned 15 and I had met Jani, if I remember right, maybe a year before. I base this on that I remember that I would have been planning to buy the STE with Jani, and that maybe both of us did have the non-STE version before that, and when we met.
So Atari STE, with 4 MB memory, was my first own computer. However, my 7 year older big brother had brought to the house already around 1982-83 the first computer which was an 8-bit MPF-II — this was my first intro to computers, but I guess I got more interested when he upgraded around 1986 to an Atari ST. It was one of the first models, the pure ”ST”, i.e. no ”F” or ”M” in it. So our setup was with an external floppy drive and with a monochrome monitor! Even the power supply was external. For a 10-12 year old kid this was quite devastating: no games worked on our ST! I remember we had ordered the TV-modulator from Germany one summer, and it never came. I was waiting for it for the whole summer to see how games like Arkanoid, Silent Service, Barbarian and others would look like. Yes, I had received those games ”somehow” :-) as copies from people in the area. So my first years I was basically using the machine without much games, and learning tools like Degas paint, and a bit about GFA BASIC — and of course every game that happened to work on the monochrome monitor, and that was not much. Maybe 2 years afterwards we managed to buy a small 14” color TV and build a SCART cable that worked with ST and that TV. Oh the joy when I got the colors for it!
2) When did the Atari ST came into the picture, and why Atari?
Jani: I don’t remember the exact time, but I remember I saw an ad for Atari ST package that came with 21 games. I think the fact that I got an Amstrad instead of Commodore 64 may have influenced my choice as well, as I was not locked in the Commodore brand. Also, Amstrad had very few games for sale in Finland so I think the offer of 21 games may have been appealing. Of course, Atari ST had fewer games than Amiga, and they were not as readily available, so had I been thinking it through, I probably should have gotten an Amiga… but then again, the lack of games on Amstrad and later on the ST was part of the reason I got interested in creating my own games.
Matti: I believe Atari ST was chosen by my brother (in 1986) as it seemed to be a decent platform to work as a programming platform. He had already on the MPF-II built a small piece of software to handle the timing and results service for small cross-country skiing competions in the local area and wanted to have a newer better platform. Atari ST with the monochrome monitor was a solid choice back then for such ambitions. I think he made some money with the program as well!
3) How did you 2 meet?
Jani: We both lived in the same small town called Orimattila in Finland. Matti lived there first and I moved there when I was in the 9th grade I think. Matti was on 8th grade. There was only one school in Orimattila, so obviously we attended the same school. I don’t quite remember how we met at first, but it was probably due to both having an Atari ST (most other people who had computers, had Amigas).
Matti: Not exactly sure how we met, but we were in the same school (8th or 9th grade), not on the same class thought, and I heard through some friends that Jani had also Atari ST — it was not common! Some C64, MSX and a few Amiga users back then. Atari was not that popular.
4) Jani : At what age did you start programming? How did it start and what was the first thing you made and on which machine? Matii : You did graphics. What were the first things you did? Why graphics? And have you ever programmed as well?
Jani: The very first things I did with Amstrad was type in code listings from a monthly computer magazine called MikroBitti. They had these listings – you’d type in all the code and you would then have a simple game. I remember I typed them in with my dad – he would read and I would type, and then we’d switch turns. It was just fun dad-son time, but it also got me interested in programming. I figured that since we typed in that code and it generated a game, I could probably modify the code and the game would be somehow different. And then I started learning how it all works.
My very first game that I made all by myself was called Supercat. It was an extremely simple game where you would move your character, the Supercat, up, down, left or right by one step. Then a dog would move one step, to chase you, and a mouse would move one step, to try and get away. And then it was your turn again. It was very primitive, but I must have been really proud of it because I still vividly remember watching my little brother play it.
Amstrad had, like all 8-bit computers at the time, a BASIC interpreter as the main user interface. It was easy to do simple basic programs with it. Later, when I got an Atari ST, Matti introduced me to the world of demo scene, and I started actually getting interested in coding and started learning MC68000 assembly language. I think I got ST Internals (a book, or rather, bible, of Atari ST programming) which opened up the secrets of programming the ST. I remember the first achievements were about getting something drawn on screen, and then gradually it all got more complicated.
Matti: Well, I was ”nerdy” — liked to spend time with computers. We had GFA BASIC and I remember using STOS as well, but never got really interested in doing something with those from scratch. I had done lots of experiments with all possible programs I had received, so I could do some graphics and some musics/sounds, even though I’m not a talented artist at all. I just happened to be enthuastic with computers and try a lot of things. When I realized that Jani was really into programming and he started to do intros and demos I wanted to contribute and tried to provide something useful :-) Jani was actually much better as an artist, he draws very well with pen and paper, but I guess he was either very occupied with coding (demos/the games) or wanted to drag me along and give a chance to contribute :-)
Later on, as 20 year old, I started in Helsinki University of Technology to study Computer Science. I got a proper education to programming and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. And 25 years later I’m still doing some ”script level” programming as a senior ServiceNow architect/specialist.
5) In 1992 a game called Turboraketti was released in the Amiga scene. When I look things up regarding this game, at first it seems to be a very local (Finnish) thing. But others say this game actually spawned a whole genre. Do you know/can you tell the non-Finnish Atari Community something about the history of this game?
Jani: Some of my best friends at the time had Amigas. They were coding demos on Amiga and Matti and I were doing demos on the ST. I got a little late start to all of this, before I met Matti I didn’t know anything about demos, so I was mostly learning from my friends. One of the things I was doing is talking to them about cool things that had been made on Amiga, and then trying to figure out a way to do those on the ST.
One day I remember they were playing this new game, Turboraketti, and they were all over how much fun it was. And it was fun. I don’t remember how it all happened, but Matti and I started working on our own version of Turboraketti, because there was nothing like that on the ST. Sure, I had played Oids and Thrust, but those were technically inferior to Turboraketti’s 50 fps smooth scrolling and split-screen multiplayer. The split-screen multiplayer was the key I think, because it allowed us to play together.
6) Jani, so, you decided to make the game Utopos in 1993. However, what strikes me is that this game is not just an ordinary shareware game. It seems very sophisticated, with silky smooth scrolling. So by that time, you must have had already quite some assembly programming experience? In your blog you explain you and Matti already had made demos on the ST. Can you talk a bit about this time? What were the highlights? Matti, What is your best memory of this period?
Jani: Making demos was a fun hobby, but it involved a lot more than just coding. It was a social activity. We’d watch demos, talk about them, and attend these things called “demo parties” where little nerds like ourselves would meet up with computers and stay up almost the whole weekend. We once hosted a mini-party at Matti’s home, and at that party I had my first experience with alcohol. I think it was vodka mixed with some Coca Cola, maybe? In any case, this whole demo scene thing was a big part of my early youth. And yeah, we were very young.
We had made some demos, or “intros” as the small demos were called. As I said before, I was often talking to my Amiga friends about demos, and we’d watch demos together on Amiga and ST and try to figure out how different effects were made. I wasn’t very experienced, but I understood what the ST was capable of doing, and understood the concepts like 50 fps (frames per second) scrolling. This is because the TV refresh rate in Europe is 50Hz, hence 50 fps and not 60 fps, which results in silky-smooth movement.
Matti: Oh, so many memories. We had a nice trip to Sweden, to computer demo party Mega Leif Convention in April 1992. We were under aged, both 16, but we had Jukka Henttinen (another ST coder from Finland) with us escorting us over the quite adult-fashioned ferry trip from Helsinki to Stockholm, and then by train to Uppsala. The whole trip was quite an experience for a youngster: how to survive it through without mobile phones and internet, and GPS… I wouldn’t nowadays anymore!
7) Can you tell us (in as much detail as possible) the history of Utopos? What tricks did you use to create it? Any fun facts for the fans?
Jani: Matti and I both had an Atari STE, and we didn’t consider stuff like potential market size. I was intrigued by the enhancements in the STE over the earlier ST models, which would make it possible to make Utopos equally good then the Turboraketti was on the Amiga.
I knew some demo scene hacks, like how to open up the top and bottom borders of the screen to increase the resolution from 320x200 to 320x274. It’s pretty well documented on the internet, but basically the trick was to very carefully time a change of display mode from the typical 50 Hz to 60 Hz, and then immediately back to 50 Hz. Then you did it right when the ST was displaying the screen, at the specific time, you would fool the computer to “accidentally” start drawing the display at the very top of the monitor (usually there was a thick border around the screen) and all the way to the bottom. It was quite a dramatic increase, and it made the split-screen much more enjoyable as the play area would otherwise be quite small (these effects were only possible when the game ran at the same rate as the display, i.e. the game absolutely had to run 50 fps at all times).
Another little trick was to carefully time a change of display memory address just when the CRT monitor beam was in the middle of the screen – this allowed the split screen scrolling without having to copy anything to the screen. Rather than copy data to the screen, I was moving the display memory address around in memory, if that makes sense.
I also used a bitmap trick for collisions. One of the bitmaps defined where in the terrain the ships would collide. This saved a lot of memory as there was no need for a separate collision map. It meant that out of the 16 colors (15 plus background, actually), half were "collision colors" and the other half were "background colors". And Matti handled that tech detail really well.
The level art consisted of 1 large bitmap. Each level is one huge picture, rather than made of blocks. That is why it looked so nice and detailed.
On top of that we had 8-channel stereo audio, meaning that up to 8 sound effects would play simultaneously, and real physics to control how everything moved. I was packing as much stuff as I possibly could into the STE, while making sure that the game would never under any situation slow down to below 50 fps.
I would think about the game during the day in school, then go home and code what I had designed during the school day, and then Matti would come to my home or I would take my bike and go to Matti’s and we would play the game. We played a lot. We played, figured what needs to be changed, did those changes and then played some more. It has been said Utopos was one of the best games on the ST, and the reason for that is that we played it all the time, and we fixed every little thing that bothered the gameplay. It was not an easy game, because we became pretty good at it and the gameplay was tuned for our skills, but once you understood how it plays, it would have been hard to make things much more polished.
8) After the release of the shareware version you received around 2000 orders via post letters. That must have been an amazing feeling of acknowledgment and accomplishment?
Jani: I have no idea how many orders there were in total, but I have tried to estimate it, and it might have been about 2000. I kept track of all orders back then, but all of that is lost. At the peak, there were 3-5 letters coming in the mail, every single day, 5 days a week, from all over the world. This continued for quite a while. The sales were remarkably steady – I don’t remember there were every much more than 5 sales per day, but there were almost never any days without sales either.
It was amazing to come back home from school, open the mailbox and see all those letters. First, they came from Finland, then from the Nordics, then around Europe, and ultimately, the US, Australia and New Zealand. You could see how the demo was distributed across the world in snail mail. It took months for it to travel everywhere.
Each letter had a payment from the customer, but the letters that came with the payment were for sure much more important for shaping my future. You see, nobody would just mail money – they would pen a letter explaining how much they enjoyed playing Utopos. I would then make a special registered version of Utopos in their name, copy it on a disk and mail it back to them. Just recently one of these old customers got in touch with me. He joined the Utopos Discord – the one we set up for the new version of Utopos this year – and told me he just bought the new Utopos, and included a couple photos of the original disks, with my handwriting on them, as a proof that he had also bought the old Atari ST version back in the day.
Handling the payments was kind of problematic as it was not easy to convert it to Finnish currency. It would cost quite a bit, and since I had so many different currencies to convert, I think quite a bit of the money received ended up in currency exchange costs. Some people sent cheques, which I could not cash as the cost of cashing a foreign check was more than the $10 price we asked for the game. But I would still mail them the game. I think I also spent quite a bit for buying disks and mailing them to customers, so it probably wasn’t a great business venture, but at the same time, it was the best school for me into becoming a game developer. I had done all the steps from an idea to completion to self-publishing to customer care.
9) After the 1993 release, you joined the demo team Aggression. Can you tell us a bit about Aggression to the absolute demo NOOBs (like myself)?
Jani: Aggression was the number one demo group in the later stages of the Atari ST demo scene. I sent a copy of Utopos to Xenit (Jan Achrenius), the founder and lead programmer of Aggression as I was quite proud of it as a technical achievement. I think I had met him at some demo party since I knew his contact info. There was no response. I waited for a month, still nothing. Then I called him. He said he hadn’t checked his mail, so he had not seen the game but he promised to take a look. He called me back the next day, super excited. They had been playing Utopos with the Aggression members and they loved it. We talked a lot and I became best friends with Jan. Aggression was just preparing to release Braindamage, which would become one of the most famous demos on the Atari ST, and one of the few that really pushed the limits of Atari STE, and they put an “ad” of Utopos right in the middle of the demo. You’d be watching the demo, and all of a sudden it says “BUY UTOPOS NOW”. I thought that was super cool.
10) Newer versions of Utopos got released. This time with the Aggression guys? I notice better graphics (the spaceship got sprites). Why?
Jani: Matti and I used to play Utopos all the time. We also sometimes would do other stuff. He tried to get me interested in running, but that didn’t work out well. Matti was playing badminton and sometimes he would be gone on camps. Then one day, after he came back from a camp, he was kind of serious and told me he had bad news. He had met a girl. After that time, we would hang out much less as obviously he was more interested in spending time with the girlfriend than with me. Fun fact: They’re still together and their oldest kids are already adults! Their youngest son, Mikko, has been actively helping out with this new Utopos. Neither of us could have imagined 30 years ago that 30 years later we are still working on this same game, and our kids will be helping us out.
So anyway, I was spending less time with Matti, but I got the new friends with the members of Aggression, all of whom were fans of Utopos. They had just learned how to do ray-traced 3D graphics, and Lancelot (Kiia Kallio) did a new title image, animated ships and bases and I included those to a new version of Utopos. There was no hard breakup between Matti and I by the way, he just got busy, quite understandably, and life took me to another way. With the Aggression folks we joined a newly founded game development studio called Bloodhouse, the first game studio in Finland, and I moved to Helsinki as soon as I graduated from senior high.
11) So a bit later you actually joined game developer Bloodhouse. When I hear the names like Aggression and Bloodhouse, I immediately think of the amazing tunnel sequence demo I got with the ST Format magazine (demo), and the STe game Stardust. Were you part in anyway with this conversion to the ST? Do you have any insighths on the development/release of Stardust you can share?
Jani: I moved to Helsinki to work at Bloodhouse together with Jan, Kiia and some others from Aggression. I didn’t even have a place to stay. I had a sleeping bag with me and I slept at the office floor. My godmother lived in Helsinki and I visited her maybe once a week to take a shower, and sometimes I visited other friends. Jan was also living at the office and we were living the dream! We didn’t get paid any salary, but we had been promised some royalties of game sales, which was enough for us as we were very much sure that anything we create will be massively successful.
I started the work on Utopos 2, which was slated for Amiga 1200, and an Atari ST platformer called Elvis – the King of Lizards. Neither were ever finished. Jan, Rene and Tomi were working on Stardust for Atari STE. I wasn’t involved with that game, but once it was completed, I sent letters to everyone who had bought Utopos, telling them of Stardust. I can’t remember for sure, but I think we sold like 500 copies of it directly. Bloodhouse had self-published the first version of it, so they had retail boxes at the office, and I mailed everyone a copy of the game on disk along with a retail box (it was folded so it would fit in an envelope though, we couldn’t afford mailing them as boxes).
Coincidentally, that would be all the money we made off of Stardust. There was a publisher for the ST version in the UK… I believe we sent them 5000 retail boxes. At some point they asked for more, but we had nothing left. I believe they found a way to still keep selling it, so it must have sold well over 5000 units in the UK alone. Then, the publisher just vanished. I’m not exactly sure what happened as I wasn’t involved in the business side of things, but it was pretty crushing.
12) So about Utopos 2 and Elvis the Lizard King? Was there anything ever created? Did it get any further than an idea? Is there anything more you can share about these games?
Jani: Elvis was in a prototype stage. It had an animated lizard made by Kiia, a really cool one. But I got busy with Utopos 2 so that got never any further. It was end of days for Atari ST, so we started looking at other platforms. First, Amiga 1200, but pretty soon it turned out that will die too, and then PC.
Utopos 2 on Amiga was still being written in assembly language and it was a big and ambitious project. I think it was too big and too ambitious. At some point we moved on to PC. One of the best versions of Utopos ever was the first PC version, which was never released. At the time we had rented an apartment and the whole Aggression was hanging at the apartment, and we were playing Utopos on LAN. I don’t remember if it supported 4 or 8 players, but it was really great as an experience. Kind of like the ST version, but networked multiplayer.
Unfortunately at the time the industry started shifting towards 3D, and it was not easy to find a publisher for a 2D game.
13) After Bloodhouse, you wanted to quit the game scene in search for a ‘proper’ job. However, you worked briefly for Remedy, here you continued work on Utopos 2 (before it got cancelled again), you did some impressive things at Westwood (building a 3D engine), you started a mobile game companie in China and you were in social media and translation software. What do you consider was your greatest achievement from that long period and where did you have the most fun?
Jani: After Bloodhouse, I decided to quit the game industry, but Samuli Syvahuoko (Gore /Future Crew) called me up and told me about a new game studio he had founded. It didn’t have name as of yet I think, but it was later named Remedy. Remedy found a publisher for Utopos (which was renamed to Guntech) so for a while we got paid for the work we did. The publisher, Virgin Interactive, then got into financial problems and canceled half of the external games they had in the works – including Utopos. Remedy focused their efforts in another game they had called Dark Justice – later known as Max Payne – while I was in a situation where I could no longer keep working without salary so I joined Housemarque (successor of Bloodhouse) when they offered me a salaried job.
I worked at Housemarque for 3 years and created 2 games. First was an isometric shoot’em up called The Reap, and the second was a 3D snowboarding game called Supreme Snowboarding. This happened to be one of the first 3D accelerated games, and a really slick one too, which paved my way to Westwood Studios, which was the number one game studio in the world. They were the makers of the Command & Conquer games, and they were working on a first person shooter called C&C: Renegade. They didn’t have much experience in 3D programming so they hired me to take over the project.
Westwood Studios is still the best place I have ever worked at. I would get to work with some industry legends, people who created games I played when I was growing up, and everyone was so nice. It was amazing. I worked there until EA closed down the studio to consolidate operations in Los Angeles. That’s when I moved to China and started a mobile game studio together with my former boss from Westwood. He was in the US and I was in China. This was just before iPhone was launched, and making games for Nokia phones was not fun at all, so I ended up leaving the game industry and doing something completely different. I would still return to EA in Los Angeles once per year to optimize games for Christmas market and enhance the engine (they kept using the 3D engine I co-created for many years) to support the latest 3D cards for a few more years.
14) About 3 years ago the game creating itch returned and you started working again on the remake of Utopos called Guntech. You worked 3 years on this game after hours. This must have been intense. Can you tell us about this development?
Jani: So, during my time away from the game industry, I got married and got 4 kids. As the kids grew up, one day they found out I had been a game developer. For them it was like finding out that their dad had been a rock star. They were just super excited. They wanted to know more, so I downloaded Unity, I asked my daughter to draw something (she loves to draw and she was already really good at it even though she was just 7 years old at the time) on a piece of paper. I then scanned it, and replaced a character in a Unity sample game with her art, so that she could see her art jumping around on screen. She was super-excited and the next day when she came from school, she said she wants to make games with me.
But then it hit me that I didn’t know anything more than that. I had never used Unity before, and I could not easily make anything with it. So, I thought maybe I should try to learn some, because the kids were so excited. They all enrolled in coding school, so that they can also become game developers, so the least I could do was to re-learn how to make games again
I figured the easiest way for me to learn is to do what I have always done – self-learn by doing. I thought doing a remake of the old Utopos would be easy and it would teach me all I need to know to do something small with the kids. Pretty soon I realized how much I had missed making games. I was a CEO of a startup company in the language translation industry, and making games was just so much more interesting to me. So I talked to the investors and we made a plan for me to phase out over the next couple of years once a replacement is found.
I didn’t have much time to focus on game development during the transition, it was very hectic time and sometimes there were months when I could not do any programming, but finally I was free and back in games industry full time!
I released Guntech for iOS mobile phones and tablets in the summer of 2020, but it was quite hard to break through in the mobile games industry. While I was trying to figure out how to market the game to get more downloads, I bumped into an opportunity to create a launch title for a new game console from Atari, called the Atari VCS. This seemed like a dream come true, so I abandoned the mobile efforts and started creating a console version of Guntech, which launched along with the VCS console in December 2020.
Since then I have released Guntech (under the name URG) on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux, and my new game is called Utopos and it is now in early access on Atari VCS and Steam.
15) In 2019 you bumped into former Westwood buddies and started your own game development studio ‘Utopos games’. Utopos seems to run like a thread through you life (which is cool). More so, there are currently 3 games available/in development based on Utopos. We have the aforementioned Guntech, than you mention URG (Utopos Rocketship game) and you are currently working on a multiplayer game called ‘Utopos’. Can you explain a bit the difference between all these games for newcomers/old schoolers like myself?
Jani: Guntech the same game as URG. I started the project as Utopos, and my youngest daughter, who was just 2 at the time, would always just call it the “rocketship game”. So, the working title ended up being Utopos Rocketship Game. But since the company is also called Utopos Games, I thought that might be confusing, and I went back in history and renamed the game to Guntech – which is the name of the Utopos sequel that I was working on at Remedy back in the day.
But, Guntech is a little problematic name – searching for it on Google, YouTube or social media gets you in the middle of gun enthusiast discussions. It was kind of hard to “own” that name, so after the VCS release, I decided to go back to the original name and released the Steam version as URG.
You can think of URG/Guntech as a single player version of Utopos, and then this new Utopos as the remake of the original multiplayer version. A third installment is planned, and it would be a racing game in the same setting, but we’ll see what happens. Also, all of these games are coming out on the Xbox as well. So, for now, everything I do is more or less related to the world of Utopos. Now that Matti is also involved in this, history is even more important and I think it’s really cool that this is something we started back in high school, and we’re maybe finally on the verge of realizing what we really created.
Utopos Games started out as one thing but during the pandemic we gave up our office and moved to working from home and the whole thing has morphed into something more centric to the world of Utopos, which also involved my kids as they work on their first games (they’re building a game called Soup Cat in Roblox, as we speak, which kind of funny given that my first game project was called Super Cat…) More of a family operation I guess. I hope, and I believe, one day soon I’ll be doing a game together with my kids.
16) So you are actually back on Atari releasing Guntech (and Utopos) on the VCS system. This system has gotten quite some flak in the Atari community. Do you believe in it?
Jani: I like the VCS. There are some purists who say Atari is dead and the new Atari is not “allowed” to create new hardware. Obviously I’m not one of those. The VCS has a real “Atari” feel to it and I hope it succeeds. I love making games for it and I will keep supporting it for as long as Atari is serious with it. It’s a small market for now – the console is not even official released yet, it’s just in limited release until at least summer – but for the time being I am the best-selling game developer on the platform.
17) Your latest project is a game called Raivo. Can you whet the appetite for the readers/viewers? Can you explain in simple words what this game is about? When do you expect it to hit the public?
Jani: Raivo is currently on hold. It’s a massive game project that is heavily based on advanced machine learning and AI. I would say the earliest that it will come out is 2022, but more likely 2023. We’re not in hurry with that, as the world is not quite there yet. In a year or two the state of ML and AI should be much closer to what it needs to be to implement the Raivo vision.
18) Are you still into retro gaming at all?
Jani: Not really, at least when it comes to collecting old consoles. I do like to play retro-style games though, but mostly new games that are just retro style.
Matti: Retro gaming: Of course! But… not currently with any old devices thoughI very often search Appstore for retro-ports for my iPad. I like the simplicity, and the memories they bring. I value anyone with some actual old computers or consoles with the old games. However, there aren’t very many good retro game ports :-)
19) What is your all time favorite game (retro and/or new)
Jani: Civilization - I’ve played it since the Atari ST days.
Matt: Difficult! The games I’ve played and liked have changed over time. At some point during my university studies I purposely chose to decrease gaming, as I saw it just could take too much time! I’ll name three very different games that have made an impact:
- the first game was a text-only football manager game on Atari ST, which was probably called just ”Football Manager”, which had no real teams or so, but we just started to play it with four friends, including Jani, Antti and Jussi. The few times we played this, took quite long days and nights :-)
- The second is Settlers. I think it was Settlers 2, which I was playing with my girlfriend on PC, split screen with two mice connected! We spent some nights just playing this game! :-)
- Then the third was like 15 years later, the experience I had with Super Mario Galaxy on Nintendo Wii with my 7 year old son playing with me it in the co-op mode. I just then felt that the game design is so cool and well done, and that the co-op experience was so great, that it was a master piece.
20) Do you still play Atari? Do you follow the Atari ST scene these days?
Jani: I am a member of an ST group in Facebook. I also have two Atari VCS dev kits which play VCS games, so I have “played Atari” recently.
Matti: No, I don’t play those old games anymore. I probably did if there was some multi-player games to try online on those platforms! I do follow the scene a bit from Facebook groups for nostalgic reasons.
21) Who do you look up to? If you could have a beer with anyone, who would it be? And what would you ask?
Jani: I mean, these days, I would have beer with just about anyone. It’s been a while! Seriously though, I’ve met so many of my heroes in the game industry, and they are all really cool people. These days I look up to some of my childhood friends who are behind successful companies like Remedy and Supercell. I have a lot of respect to people who have started from nothing and created successful companies – after years of hard work. But I’m in a position where I have been in the industry for a very long time, so if I have a question and I want to ask it from anyone at all, I can just get in touch and ask them. If I don’t know them personally, I usually know someone who knows them well and will do an intro. And I do that time to time. The industry is quite small, and people are really friendly.
Matti: Interesting, that I’ve not thought this too much earlier. I don’t have that kind of idols, I choose my own path with my own dedication focus points in myself, well-being, friends, family, work, hobbies — I’m keen on learning from multiple persons, as I don’t think there’s a single person that would have the same goals as I have. I would like to sit down for a beer with multiple different persons, though :-) Dull answer? Anyone who is willing to share a bit of his/her lifestory and lessons learnt.
22) Any last words of wisdom to share?
Jani: Don’t read reviews, just do your thing. People on platforms like Steam can be brutal, and entitled. It’s much more fun to do the initial versions of games on platforms like Atari VCS, where you have an enthusiastic and friendly community.
Matti: To achieve good results, be passionate and intense in what you do, believe in yourself when doing it — and most of all, get to know your weaknesses and don’t be afraid to tell those to others. Then you probably know your strengths and can focus working with those!
Do note that as Jani’s nowadays a fulltime indie game developer, I’m only involved as a very part-time hobbyist, and a sparring partner to Jani. My daily job is an IT consultant in ServiceNow technology. I spend also a lot of time in voluntary work for helping people move by playing badminton, being a chairman of the board for a major club, and a board member in Badminton Finland. I have an entrepreneur background and do also some investing. I’ve always had an interest to gaming business but never actually worked in it although many of my friend do. This Utopos remake has been a way for me to also learn this industry a bit more deeper!
Thank you both for the interview.
See our full Utopus documentary as well.
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