I was particularly surprised to hear about his past with regards to not only the Atari ST but also ZX Spectrum. Two great computers also form my own retro computing history. You know folks, Peter is a great guy and always willing to help out us ST nutters. I've mithered him many of times with game requests and he's always tried to help - but perhaps I should now apologise for Days Of Thunder? (lol). I hope you all enjoy this interview of the man responsible for hundreds of adaptations and lately several outstanding STe enhanced game upgrades. My sincere thanks to Peter for taking the time to chat. I don't think there is anybody else so active on the Atari ST scene today - thank you for the fantaSTic works!
What is your Atari hiSTory?
My history started in 1987 when I decided to upgrade from a ZX Spectrum to something much stronger and the Atari ST was my first thought. However, the Amiga had just arrived in the shops so I was in dilemma, but not for long, the Atari ST had far better quality of software and the prices were almost equal. Also, the Atari seemed a better platform for some serious activity. I soon upgraded the RAM to 1MB and also added another floppy driver and made an EPROM programmer (a must for anyone dealing with hardware mods).
I already had some experience with ASM programming with the Z80 so I soon started on the Atari ST. 68000 ASM is really nice to work with, especially with a good assembler like Devpac. I wrote utilities for my own needs with help from Atari Profibuch book and created a floppy copier combined with a RAMdisk. Most learnings was via books and magazines, unlike today with easy software availability. Pirates were pretty much active in these days, even during 1988's PCW Show in London. :-) In Eastern Europe, they were the only source for computer software, I must say. I also wrote some articles for Yugoslav computer magazines during these early years.
What setup are you using these days?
Currently, I have one Mega ST, one STe and a Mega STe. The truth is, I don't use them much because they are very old and fragile and I've needed to repair them a few times, except the Mega STe which is indeed best built. The extra speed is welcome, even for games, although Mega STe was never intended for gaming. I bought this some 9 years ago, and I've since replaced the hard drive. Now used mostly with UltraSatan - much easier data exchange, less noise...
I mostly use the Atari computers to test and to play but my main tool for adaptations is using Steem Debugger and, without this, development would be much slower and harder. This emulator, equipped with a complete overview of emulated computer status, may see all hardware at any moment and following the program flow (even with history). Steem is a very good emulator, and luckily, a couple years ago they released sources so I was able to do some modifications for my needs. On the real hardware, there are limited possibilities of tracing, especially with some software working in very low RAM. Older computers have too low a resolution with a small screen area but there are some things I can not do with my PC: GAL and EPROM programming - where I still use Atari and old programs.
History of your famous game adaptations?
Adapting games started during my Spectrum years actually. However, there was not much to adapt but POKE was popular to exploit the code which decreases a player's life count and the like. I also made a snapshot saving program which was in fact very-very simple and only needed to save the RAM and CPU registers to then restore from where we wanted to play. I did it with faster routines, so loading only took some 2 minutes instead 5. :-) Next step was when I added a floppy interface to the Spectrum and then I wanted to transfer all good games onto floppies. So, basically same thing as the Atari ST with game adapting, except that this was way easier because Spectrum software was singleparted in 99% cases and that means no further loading was required after starting the game. I transferred hundreds of games onto floppies very quickly - one disk could store over 20 games, using compression. Next step was adding hard disk like with Atari ST and I designed my own IDE adapter...
In case of Atari ST games, it was more time consuming, some 60% do not directly access the hardware but instead TOS functions for floppy access. This means it was sometimes simple but other problems might arise, like TOS version incompatibilities, RAM usage, etc. Again, it was easiest with singleparted games, so my first hard disk adaptations were with such games that didn't have any disk access after loading - like Stunt Car Racer and Sentinel. Afterwards, I made adaptations using a RAMdisk for faster loading before the later adaptations, like Formula 1 GP.
Incredible results achieved but why did you begin this?
I started all this because I wanted to get rid of unreliable and slow floppies. The real leap was probably the arrival of Flash cards, so we can now have small, silent, fast, cheap storage. I started to deal with them right at beginning - first one was 8MB Smart Media card in 2004. :-) I certainly did not plan, or expect, that it would reach a count of over 1000 adapted games!
What are your favourite games?
I first played Flight Simulator II which I bought together with Atari ST. Then I was playing Dungeon Master, Carrier Command, Millennium 2.2, Formula One Grand Prix and not forgetting Potsworth & Co.
What other stuff have you created?
My first serious software was MC Tracer, a debugger, for the ZX Spectrum. It could run any software, step by step, and there was a circular buffer feature to store the last 100 executed instructions. What's interesting is that I made almost the same relocating system (it must working at any RAM area) as what is used in TOS executables :-) Also worth a mention is my Spectrum modded ROM - for floppy and hard disk (all available at zx48.8bitchip.info).
For the Atari ST, I first made some floppy utilities and then a hard disk driver, which is still under development. I did some Windows utilities for accessing and transferring data with Atari ST formatted floppies and also hard disks. Soon after the Internet became accessible in our area, I started a website for my Spectrum and Atari ST projects. The site moved couple times during years, I hope that current place will stand for a long time.
Any current hardware projects?
I have many plans but things are moving slowly, especially with hardware. Mostly I would like to finish old projects, like the cartridge port IDE adapter and ACSI port CF adapter. No specific STE projects currently, but the cartridge adapter works better on STE and movies look much better. :-)
What's your favourite hardware creation?
My personal favourite ... hmm it could be the IDE hard disk adapter for Sinclair Spectrum because that was good exercise with GAL programming. For the Atari ST it would be the cartridge IDE adapter.
As a programmer, who inspires you?
I don't think that I was particularly inspired by a particular programmer but there are certain names I associate with high quality. Games by Costa Panayi, Andy Pennell for Devpac ASM and Geoff Crammond for his good simulations.
What about the Atari ST/e future?
My concern is that real Ataris will not last much long. More and more people will use emulators or clones like Mist. Still, adaptations can make playing a lot easier on both. I think doing STe-improved versions of games seems the right choice now. However, this can be very time consuming, I started Uridium couple years ago and simply disassembling it properly took a couple days. I then had to put it on ice because of a lack of time but, luckily, I was finally able to finish this recently.
Other problems are a lack of sources for better sound effects and corrupt or missing original disks. We need flawless images to work with for so many games, like Son Shu Shi, Jinks and others. Thankfully, we recently got Giana Sisters, the internet is a great thing and we need to work together. :-)
- I always try and link to Peter's 8BitChip adapted games and all are listed right here!
- There is also an 8BitChip Forum you should join and a YouTube Channel with lots of adapted game videos.
- Have you ever seen Peter's Atari STe versions of Xenon 2, Cannon Fodder, Dungeon Master, etc, etc??