Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Annihilator!

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 actually developed four games which were all released under the Budgie UK label and each title was a hit. All I have thoroughly enjoyed playing (links below).

To say I was surprised to find out Robert read my article -and- also follows AtariCrypt is an understatement! We often chat and it wasn't long before I threw a few questions his way...
I hope you guys enjoy this little interview and my thanks to Robert for being a great sport.


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

I am originally from Malaysia. 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 model A for a few years and was looking for a new home computer to upgrade to. 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 way 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.


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, to include 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 playable 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.


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 a gameplay approaching that of the original arcade version, and cute to boot!


All of your games were released through Budgie UK.
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.


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, some 23 years ago! 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, but it tends to cater more to the 8-bit Atari consoles than to the ST. Check out: http://newbreedsoftware.com/atariparty/2016/. (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 for me. Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn, Google, Apple, Cisco, and Oracle are all around me. IT executives of all ages are driving their Teslas here. 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 (http://www.atari.io/back-to-borregas-ave/). I have visited the location once or twice to reminisce, and to imagine how it would have been here during Atari’s heydey…

- - - LINKS - - -
  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 which 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!