Monday, February 13, 2017

Scott Clifford

As many will know, I've been a friend of Scott's for a while now, even though he's from Yorkshire I've never held that against him! Anyhow, I've always been eager to know what he's working on, from those humble beginnings with a Turrican music disk to a near-perfect arcade version of Frogger. To think he's not been coding that long... Incredible.

Then he decides to take on the immense task of a Raiden conversion for the Atari STe. His plans are to make full use of the Blitter, DMA audio, hardware scrolling, and more. Such fascinating enthusiasm! Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, I asked for an interview in the hope it would be interesting to anyone who doesn't yet know the guy behind Frogger along with the upcoming Raiden project. My thanks to Scott for this interview and I hope everyone will enjoy reading it :-)

Tell us all about yourself

Where do I start? Heh.. Let's skip ahead to Christmas 1990, that's where the real fun begins with the introduction into my life of the Atari STe. I never really had any 8-bit systems, this was the first for me, bearing in mind my age. I turned on the STE, stuck in a disk and for the first time in my life was immersed in the world of Indiana Jones. (Kids these days... Tsk!)

From then on, I only really used my ST for games and some school work, but soon started looking into other uses as a teen. One thing I will remark on though was the ease Automation disks were very easy to get hold of... That is another story, by that I mean, wait for the Automation/DBUG DVD ;)

Coding hiSTory?

I only recently started “coding” on the ST, about 2 years ago, roughly 2014/2015 I started messing about in STOS and found it really easy to program and soon enough I was writing small routines, asking for help on the Atari forums, and generally messing about. At the same time, I was trying my hand at everything, music, games, art, programming and getting into the hardware side too. I now have an STe (Of which there is a certain unnamed person I should thank!!! - He knows who he is) and started coding in STOS full time before moving onto ASM for Frogger, which gave me credibility or notoriety.

The Turrican Music Disk was created simply because I am a fan of the game. I just wasn't very good at it, to be honest, and found it far too difficult beyond the “spaceship” levels so that kind of put me off... My music demo started because I did enjoy the tunes but didn't fancy loading the actual game disk each time, and what's more impressive is the fact that this is the first time STOS has used SNDH convincingly I might add. A point missed by a lot of people - the player routine was developed by me and might be the first time STOS has ever used SNDH (note big ego trip here!). As far as music disks go, I did have the idea for a UMD style music player but it never went beyond the ideas stage.

Frogger for the Atari ST is arcade perfect and possibly the best home computer version ever.

Why the peculiar handle?

A nickname was given by a dear friend who is no longer with us, referring to my overuse of the colour black, right down to the nails and eyes. Yeah, I was a goth, but I'm now more immature than anything. :) I suppose I tend to lean on the darker side of life, metal music, Gothic architecture (Prague is awesome, need to go there!) and other such “out of the light” topics. But there is the bonkers side of me too, the sort of person that is bubbly but not annoying... by that I mean I can jump down the stairs backwards when I'm bored. Well, I could but its been a while, I've been out of sorts over the last couple of years but that's long and boring and not very interesting, suffice to say I spent some time elsewhere at NHS' pleasure. (I'm not an insane joker, just was a little poorly), I say that because that last statement read as “insane asylum”. That is where I'll leave that little beauty.

You must be proud of Frogger?

Frogger, to me, is the epitome of a decent arcade game - full of colour, noises, damn hard gameplay, and it doesn't involve rescuing a princess or collecting gold. I wanted to write Frogger initially in STOS because as I was playing it on #cough MAME I realised that the ST was the perfect platform for it. The game itself is simplistic enough but not rubbish AND didn't require some glorious technical ability - there is no scrolling, no bullets, and nothing beyond the ST capabilities.

The fact that I got really close (using STOS) to releasing it just goes to show how easy, in terms of computing, the game was handled by the ST. Unfortunately, like all simplistic programming languages, BASIC was eventually thrown out and I started (with the huge help of Xia!!!) the process of writing the game in assembly - faster code, closer control over the ST and I could use the computer more reliably. STOS is great, but not for this due to too many things on the screen.

I'm so proud of Frogger. It might not be F1 by Geoff Crammond or Anarchy by Psygnosis but it's mine, and it's my first assembly program that works. At this point, I must thank all the people involved in its creation, there are so many who gave support, ideas and actual assets I could use, like music and SFX from Zerkman and Dma-SC. Immense support and patience from XiA too .. I did get some criticism for not making it 21st-century, but I always wanted to replicate the original and never to out-do it. Besides, Reservoir Gods beat me to it, check out their version. I never thought it was going to be massive but I did feel it wasn't the kind of game that would be overlooked by people. If I liked it, as a gamer, then others surely would... hopefully anyway!

You gotta check out this music disk, especially using the Atari STe!!

Raiden is humungous #retrogaming news!

It is!! I had the idea again from playing it on mameUi64 (Plug right there folks!) and looking at it, I wondered if it was possible. I wrote some routines, originally in STOS, and found it far too slow (this is before I started with assembly language and Frogger). So, after Frogger and after I'd gained some knowledge in ASM, I went back to it and had a look. I wrote some routines in assembly language and started to learn about the STE specific hardware scrolling. All of the music and sprites you see in Raiden are taken directly from the arcade but, because of the 16 colour limitation, I've had to look at the Megadrive version for the level's graphics. This means the levels are quite dark in colour and maybe a little too washed out - at the moment. As far as technical difficulties go, the oddest thing... the tanks are actually the most complicated, after the player, to write code for.

Do you get a break and play games?

Oh yeah, I'm kind of notorious for it in my house haha! Although I've recently been putting myself through the Forza experience on the Xbox One (a close second to pride and joy, the Atari STe). I do love the ST and Shadow Of The Beast 2 I have been playing a lot of lately, cant seem to get very far though lol. I'd say I'm not a huge fan of RPGs or fantasy stuff like Ishar, could never get into it, although it's very pretty. But certain consoles for me hold certain games, so for instance, Shenmue on the Deamcast, the Lotus Trilogy (yeah I have the actual boxset) for the Atari ST. I need to get some friends with STs and have a four-way … hahahaha obviously in Lotus :P

Raiden, a WIP conversion for the Atari STe... Will it ever see the light of day?

Who inspires you?

This is a strange one because most of my inspiration for coding comes from, not the current scene but from the days gone by. People like Wayne Smithson who, at the time, were cutting edge and mostly “on their own” releasing games like Anarchy. Even its title “it cant be done” says it all lol. The bedroom coders also hold a certain nostalgic feeling too, like the guys over at DMA or even some of the pirate groups like Automation and the Pompey Pirates, what they DIDN'T do for games, they did FOR the ST … if that makes sense? Those guys could certainly code, even if it's not to everyone's liking. I think nowadays it should be looked back on as part of the ST and not the reason for its downfall, Atari did that themselves. I also like niche programmers, those that don't tend to conform to whats expected, Excellence in Art is a prime example of what I'd consider coding for yourself and NOT for the masses. It's probably one of the reasons me and the leading guy there get on so well, even if we do disagree about binary - haha (in-joke)

Any future plans?

Haha, where Do I begin... Flashback (Delphine) is another do-able game, despite reservations from the “scene” ;) I'm also thinking Mortal Kombat... However, whatever I do, I think it will definitely be game related. I don't consider myself a demo writer and although I've put some code into demos I don't think I'd actually write my own. I'll leave that to the pro's like DHS, their “Sea Of Colour” demo is awesome!! Games require a slightly different process to demos and I feel like I'm more suited to the games really.

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