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INTERVIEW
Jean-Philippe (a/k/a Youki)


Jean-Philippe, also known as Youki, is one
of the Colecovisions best friends! He directs Coleco's machine like a conducter directs a symphony.
'Smurf Challenge' and 'Knight'n More' really show off his mad coding skills!

MT> Let's talk a bit about your background. I know the Colecovision was the first game console you owned, but did you have access to other systems back in the day? Play Atari at your friends home, perhaps?

JP> Yes, before I had my own colecovision, I used to play the Atari VCS, Hanimex , Videopac (Odyssey2) and Intellivision with my friends. In fact, I originally wanted an intellivision for Christmas, as the Colecovision seemed inaccessible for me being too expensive for my parents.  However, my parents surprised me and bought me the Colecovision and Trubo with the Driving Controller. I'd been infatuated with cars as a young child, so the combination was simply a dream for me. Best Christmas of my life!

MT> You've programmed on the Commodore 64, the PC XT, and the Atari ST. What other classic computers have you dabbled with?

JP> I wrote my very first program on a Texas Instrument Calculator TI 59, and I fell in love with programming. Then I wrote my first program in Basic on a Sharp Pocket Computer 1211 that we had at school, and then programmed on a French computer - the Thomson TO7. I later sold my colecovision to be able to buy a C64, as I wanted to make my own games.  Since then I have also programmed on PC/XT , ZX 81, Amstrad CPC, Oric 1, Vic 20, MO5 and the Amiga.  I wrote programs for friends and my teachers. 


MT> Your originally set out to convert Capcom's game to the Atari XL, but switched to the Colecovision in order to release the game on a real game cartridge. Why is physical media important to you in a day and age when digital download is becoming king?

JP>
Hard to say, I love physical format and mainly cartridge. You can touch the thing!Plus cartridges are really reliable in time contrary to floppy or tape.  When you use a cartridge you have no waiting time to play.  I hate digital download and all the things we have today.

I'm pretty sure with all these digital things there will be no trace of our civilization at all in few hundreds of year.  Nothing better than to write thing on a good old stone tablet! :)

MT> Why the love for  Ghost n Goblins?

JP> I love the C64 version of Ghost'n Goblins! I have to admit i'm very bad at the arcade game despite owning the PCB. What I love is the "universe" of the game... the Knight, ghosts, demons and sorcerer and other medieval things.


MT> Your Colecovision title Ghost'n  Zombies is not a direct port of the Capcom favorite. What sacrifices did you find yourself forced to make while demaking the game for an older platform?

JP> First Ghost'n Zombies was my really first program on the Colecovision.  I did not know the hardware, the dev kit  etc., etc.. So the first limitation was my skills. I quickly realized that it was not easy to do smooth scrolling with detailed graphics on the Colecovision. Having grown up with smooth scrolling on the C64, I could not tolerate the jerky scrolling. So I decided to remove the scrolling. then I discovered the other strong limitation of the console - that only 4 sprites of one color in row can be displayed at a time. For a horizontal playing game it becomes a big problem. So I had to limit the number of colors in the zombie sprites. Then there is the memory limitation, the Colecovision has 1KB of Ram and standard cartridge is only 32K max. So I had to scale down my ambition. In fact, the game is comprised of compromises.


MT> You spent more than 200 hours transforming Ghost'n Zombies to Knight'n More. What did this do for the game? How is it better?

JP>
The first thing I did was to migrate the game to a new compiler. For Ghost'n Zombies I used Hitech C , for Knight'n More I used SDCC. I had to do few adaptations for that. The end result was that the rom was a little bit smaller, but the game was running slower some times.  It forced me to rewrite parts of code to optimize it. I did lot of cleaning.  To be able to enhance the game I needed more free space, so I changed the compression/decompression routine.  I then reworked all the graphics. In fact, I wanted the game be less "Ghost'n Goblins" and something more original visually.  I also reworked all the sounds effects. and put original game music composed by my Friend Cyril into the game. But in order to do that, I had to first build a music composer tool for Colecovsion which allowed him to compose the music for me and generate the code.

I didn't want the game be just a graphical rework on GnZ , so I changed some gameplay element.  Like the final boss for instance.  I also fixed lot of bugs that were in the original.

I added a new introduction screen, and introduced some cut-scene animations, but a player will only see the latter if they are  good at the game!

Knight'n More is twice as long than Ghost'n Zombies, and does not finish with " To Be Continued..."

Then the Game was very seriously beta tested, I did lot of modification taking in account beta testers feedback. And one thing which takes me lot of time is the tuning to make works the game properly on NTSC console. We had a terrible slow down problem on certain screen on an NTSC console. It was very hard to find a solution. I had to rewrite again and again a certain part of code to succeed.

In the end, Knight'n More is really much better than Ghost'n Zombies.

MT> You must also be a collector, if you own over two hundred classic game consoles and computers. What are the platforms that continually give you a thrill?

JP>
My all time favorite plateform is the C64.  But I play often with my Atari VCS and my Dreamcast.  I also love all the old MS DOS games, especially the period leading up to Duke Nukem 3D.  I love CGA and EGA games. Recently I plugged in my Amstrad GX 4000 console and I really enjoyed it. I think one day I might do a homebrew title for it.

But in general what I love the most are 8bit computers. I would love to develop on each one!Unfortunately ther is not enough time :(

MT> Your second Colecovision game, while using a franchise very familiar to Coleco owners, was a completely original title. Tell us more about the excellent  Smurf Challenge!

JP>
First of all, I wanted do a game for my oldest son. I have always loved the Smurfs. So, I created the game for him. I then proposed it to Collectorvision. They wanted to publish it, so we made 100 cartridges - the same number of Smurfs that populated of Smurf Village! The cartridges were blue and white similar to the Smurfs. There were two variations - Blue/White and White/blue, each with a different label. Fifty of each type. The end result was very nice.

The game is an original game, but each screenplay take inspiration from an existing game. It is really hard to create a real original game. In the new game I wanted do a very nice Smurf sprite. I had been always frustrated how the Smurf sprite looked in the game Smurf Rescue in Gargamel's Castle. I wanted bright colors and many different Smurfs toa ppear in the game. Asa result, a blue Smurf,  a black Smurf, Papa Smurf , Smurfette, Gargamel, and Azrael all make an appearance.  

If you are in the US, you may wonder why there are black smurfs. The fact is that in the original European comic books, the "bad" Smurfs were black. But in your country, they were changed to purple so as not to associate "black" people and "bad". I still wonder why Darth Vader is not purple in that case!

You may also notice that on the box of Smurf Challenge, there is an "Adult Content" warning. The reason why is that the game features an easter egg where you can see Smurfette naked! It is an homage to the "supposed" easter egg in the original Smurf Rescue to Gargamel's Castle. which in fact is just a visual bug.

MT> How is your Colecovision game The Way Of The Exploding Foot different from the 1985 Karate simulation The Way Of The Exploding Fist released on the C64, Amstrad, and ZX Spectrum?

JP>
The Way of The Exploging Foot is the game I am most proud to have done on the Colecovision. It was very challenging due to the machine's limitations. It is directly inspired from The Way of Exploding Fist and also International Karate. The main music is the International Karate theme and the first background is inspired from the International Karate+ game. The Game has 2 modes: a "Zen" mode that is more like what we see in The Way Of Exploding Fist or International Karate.  One hit puts the opponent on the floor and you get one point. If you win two times you win the fight. The other mode, is the "Street Fight" mode, where the players have a damage gauge. So you have to fight until the opponents gauge reaches zero. You can also choose two different speeds. So all these options add lot of variety to the gameplay. You have also a challenge stage where you have to avoid shurikens.

For me, this game is my best game until Knight'm More.  Curiously, there was not a lot of demand for it.  Only 50 was produced and sold.

MT> You ported the first  Star Wars video game, The Empire Strikes Back , to the Colecovision in a grand fashion. The Atari VCS favorite, renamed Battle of Hoth, plays great on Coleco's hardware. What improvements did you make to the snowspeeder game?

JP> The base gameplay is the same as the original. While developing and testing the original game, it become boring quickly.  So, I added a few new element to add variety without denaturing the game.  First I introduced a new tool, the Grapping Hook. Then a new enemy to shoot at - the Tie Fighter. But the most important addition for me personally was that I wanted the game to have a real Star wars Ambiance.  So I worked a lot on sound effect and music. The great rendition of the Battle of Hoth Music theme was done by Mystery Man and fit very well the game. I added other sound effects and jingles from the Star Wars films to complete the "immersion".  Also added is the digital voice saying "Use the Force". Initially I wanted to add even more to the game, but the digital voice took lot of rom space. Int he end I had to limit my ambition. My target was to do a 32k game to be more authentic. All my games (until now) could have been done during the original Colecovision lifespan. Using bank switching methods would have been possible at the time to have more rom available, but not have been commercially viable at the time.


MT> You are knee-deep in bringing Yu Suzuki's famous arcade racer  OutRun  to the Colecovision. Will the game support the standard controller in addition to the driving module?

JP> Outrun is my big long term project.  I work time to time on it.  It will support the driving module for sure.  For the standard controller I don't know now just yet. I'm not sure because I love to think my games are played on a real console with real hardware. And I love the idea that people would search for their driving module and play the game with it. In addition, the gaming experience will be surely better played with the driving module than a standard controller. On the other hand, I think the publisher would prefer to have support for both control options. Not everybody has a working driving module.

MT> Rumor has it that you are developing a vertical scrolling Commando style game to the Colecovision. Care to spill the beans? Any other projects in the works?

JP> I have put on hold the development of that game. It is 80% complete, but i'm not very happy with the result. I have to think about it some more, so for now it is on hold.  I am working on other projects. In fact I have many games I have started and put on hold for various reasons.


MT> In addition to Colecovision development, you have released other programs of interest to classic gamers. Tell us about your AtomicFE project.

JP>
I love arcade games, and I own arcade cabinets. Back in 2003, I decided to transform one of my cabinets in a MameCab. At the time, there were not many DOS frontends for MAME, and nothing very nice.  I wanted one able to display pictures of the arcade marquee instead of simply the name of the game in a list on the screen. So I created my own little frontend just for me. Later I shared it on a french arcade forum, and it received unexpected success. I received lot of requests to enhance it from users. As a result, the frontend AtomicFE grew in functionality until 2011. It becanme very popular. Nowadays there are more modern frontends that are much nicer, supporting new hardware.  Despite that, my frontend is still used a lot.

Its strength is that it is extremely customizable and it is able to run from a machine like a Celeron 500 mhz under Windows 95, as well as modern configuration up to Windows 8 and probably 10. I have not update the tool since 2011, but I still answer to support demands.

Good Deal Games thanks Jean-Philippe for keeping the Colecovision humming!
"His VISION is OUR VISION... C-O-L-E-C-O-V-I-S-I-O-N!"

Be sure to check out the Jean-Philippe's website
http://www.atomicfe.com
and give his MAME frontend a shot!

Have a question for Jean-Philippe?
He absolutely LOVES to hear from his fans,
So send him an e-mail right now: youki@atomicfe.com


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