Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Robert HC Leong

All the way back in early January, I featured a mini-review of Annihilator. This is a familiar retro shooter from Robert HC Leong, a much-respected name from the Atari ST homebrew scene.

He has developed four games - Annihilator, Missile Alert, Pac-Man ST and Space Invaders. Each one was released under the Budgie UK label and they were all hits with ST gamers. Plus I thoroughly enjoyed playing them all too! (links below).

To say I was surprised to find out Robert read my article -and- follows AtariCrypt is an understatement! We got chatting and it wasn't long before I threw out a few questions and we had ourselves an interview.

I hope you enjoy this interview. My thanks to Robert for being a great sport (and for being a fan of AtariCrypt!)

Robert HC Leong
- The Interview -

Hello Robert, please tell us about the guy behind Annihilator.

I am from Malaysia and I moved to Ireland in 1980 to further my studies. I bought an Atari 520STFM in 1988 while in Ireland, after graduating. At that time, I had already owned a BBC Micro and was looking for a new computer. I was impressed by the plethora of colours that the ST could produce, and the increase in speed and memory.

I tried to program the ST in Fast BASIC initially, but that was too slow, so it was a natural progression for me to move on to 68000 assembly language using HiSoft Devpac, especially since I was already familiar with 6502 assembly language from my time with the BBC Micro.

This is Annihilator and is stuffed with Galaxian action!

Tell us about the days when you made your 4 awesome games.

I have always enjoyed playing shoot-em-up games, so the first game I programmed was Space Invaders in 1989. I tried to keep the game as close to its original playability as possible, including the sprites and even its logo colours. It made the cover of the December 1989 issue of Atari ST User magazine.

I then moved on to do a simplified, 2-player version of Missile Command just for the fun of it – it wasn’t anything spectacular. After that, I challenged myself to do a version of Pacman. Many home computer versions of Pacman at that time had very small sprites. I decided that, for the cuteness factor alone, the sprites needed to be larger, and the way to implement this was to do a vertically-scrolling screen to increase the size of the maze. I tried again to keep to the original version and came quite close. I was not good at producing music so Gary Wheaton, a fellow programmer and musician, was kind enough to provide the music for version 2 and it sold quite well.

Annihilator was my final game for the public domain/licenceware label. It was a Galaxians clone, but this time, I drew my own sprites and provided power-ups and end-of-level guardians to spruce up the game as it was the trend in shoot-em-up games at that time. After this, I started programming a horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up but I did not progress much further because of a lack of time; I was spending many weekends and nights on-call while pursuing my medical career. This was the simple reason why I did not have a chance to release any new games for the Atari ST after that. In addition, the Budgie UK Licenceware scheme ended in December 1994.

It's Pac-Man and it's a cool version of the original arcade game.

Which of your games is your favourite and why?

I had no clear favourites but, looking back, I thoroughly enjoyed programming and play-testing Pacman ST because in my mind it was a step above the other Pacman clones at that time with gameplay approaching that of the original arcade version, and cute to boot!

Did you rake in enough cash to buy a sports car!

Budgie UK Licenceware was a public domain label started by Camy Maertens in 1987, where a group of software programmers shared joint royalties on all the games sold. It was a fun concept, gave us some camaraderie, and made us some pocket change, but certainly not enough to buy an inexpensive car, let alone a sports car!

Will you boot up Devpac and get coding again?

Unfortunately, when I left Ireland for the US, where I am now based, I sold off and gave away all my Atari ST stuff! Hence, it is unlikely that I will ever code anything new for the ST again.

An excellent and alternative spin on Missile Command. It's very, very difficult!!

Do you retro game?

From time to time, I still reminisce about the good old days of the Atari ST, when I’ll try running an ST game or two on Steem, an excellent emulator on the PC. Of course, I still check Atari ST websites like AtariCrypt and Facebook.

What do you think of the ST world today?

I am frankly amazed, but pleasantly surprised, that the Atari ST scene is still so resilient, considering that the machine was discontinued in 1993. For me, the ST had always been an integral and fun bit of my life, so I hope the community lives on! However, the ST presence appears much greater in Europe, compared to the US, though there is still an active Atari club near me in Davis, California, it tends to cater more to the 8-bit Atari consoles than to the ST. Check out: (I hope they change! -AtariCrypt)

What are your future plans?

I’m now based in the San Francisco bay area where I work as a consultant in the biotechnology industry. I remain interested in IT and programming, especially since Silicon Valley is just a short drive down the road. Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn, Google, Apple, Cisco, and Oracle are all around me. IT executives of all ages are driving Teslas.

When driving around in Mountain View, I give a wide berth to the autonomous vehicles that Google is testing out here. Even Atari had its corporate headquarters here on Borregas Ave, Sunnyvale, but that closed down in 1996 ( I have visited the location once or twice to reminisce, and to imagine how it would have been here during Atari’s heydey…

Space Invaders can run in a modern or classic mode and this is the classic spin.

All the links you need...
  1. Here is my Annihilator article which also features a cool video recording of extreme gaming talent! (Hmm)
  2. Take a look at this picture of Robert's Atari ST, yes the one he used for his coding magic back in the 90s!
  3. Robert's website has an Atari ST section to compliment the PC (boo) stuff he's working on.
  4. He is also featured on the mighty Demozoo website.
  5. AtariMania lists his four games within their awesome ST database website.
  6. 8BitChip has adapted some of Robert's games for hard drive installation. Very handy!

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