Interview with Peter Verswyvelen (Chatterbox/BS1)

Before I made games, I used to make demos on the Amiga, and I did not have a nickname yet in the group. I had to quickly choose one for the credits of our first demo, and in the room on the shelves was a book with the title "Chatterbox". My English wasn't very good, and I did not know what the word meant, but it sounded cool, so I picked it. The funny thing is, I was a very silent and shy boy then, but when I grew old(er), I became a real chatterbox, I talk way too much now :)

Before programming games, I used to play a lot of console and arcade games. Looking back, I can say I was really addicted... I didn't know anybody who knew anything about computers at the time, and to me, game consoles were very mysterious, they seemed to be alive. We didn't have internet back then you know :) As a kid I was very eager to learn, and of course I wanted to know how it all worked internally. The father of a friend of mine had a company (called "telerex"), and he had one of the earliest IBM PCs. In the evenings we used to sneak into the office (I don't think his dad knew...), and I experimented with BASIC. I found out this was even more exciting than playing games, I could create "life" myself :) My mother bought me a Philips Videopac console (my dad died when I was 2, so he couldn't help me with my computer explorations), and since the console had a keyboard, I could do some programming myself at home. But it wasn't until I got a Commodore 64 that I really started. From the C64 Reference Manual, I started to write programs in machine language (defining the program with numbers in BASIC like .DATA 169, 0, 144, 0, 4, 96 or something, then poking them in memory). At school I met some other guys that had a C64, and we formed a demo team. They knew about assembly language and tools, so I quickly dropped programming with opcode numbers :) I was the main programmer in that team, and we made lots of demos, showing off at the local computer club. At school I was good at math, so that helped a lot.

I wasn't good enough yet to program games on the Commodore 64, but when I got an Amiga, I performed my first real steps in game programming land...

Anyway you could say I'm mostly a self-made man, since nobody taught me how to program :)

Yes very popular, I really miss those times to be honest; times bursting of creativity and activity in the Amiga scene. Actually all of my best friends are from the Amiga scene, so without the Amiga, my life would have looked really different. Maybe the name "Amiga" was correct, it was a machine that made it possible for shy nerds like me to make some real friends ;) ;) ;)

The Whiz Kidz was just a name created by "The Software Business", the company that wanted to publish Ziriax. The only members in The Whiz Kidz team were Erlend Robaye and me. The company had the intention to make many more games with us, but that never happened... We did start a new game called "Superfly Guy", with the idea that the music would be made by S-Express. Erlend actually made a bit of graphics for the game. But for some reasons still unknown to me, the company "vanished", I wasn't able to contact them anymore... It was rather frustrating...

I still had the rights to Ziriax, and Hewson wanted to publish it instead, but I had to make some modifications. While making changes, my brand new Amiga harddisk crashed (I got that Supra harddisk by selling software I made for the C64 Expert Cartridge to a Dutch company named Cat&Korsh). Luckily I had backups on floppy disc, but for some mysterious reason some of the essential floppies were corrupt. Maybe it had to do with the new carpet at home, we constantly experienced painful static electrical shocks, I don't know, but that was the day Ziriax died... 3 years of hard work vanished... I must admit that period is a bit blurry, it was very painful and I guess my mind suppressed the details.

Mostly arcade games: Konami's Nemesis, Vulcan Venture, Sky Shark, and mainly Thundercross. And a bit Terra Cresta and R-Type.

About 3 years, but since I also had to go to school (I was a teenager), that wasn't fulltime work.

68000 assembly language, using only close-to-the-metal programming, so no calls to Amiga OS whatsoever :)

Yes, I was really addicted to Nemesis and Thundercross, and I wanted to make a game that pushed my own limits. I must admit the game might be a bit too difficult: I was only able to complete Ziriax two times from start to finish :-) And I played it a zillion times. But I knew others that were much better players - like Eric Mielonen - and they could also finish Ziriax, so at the time I assumed that for the pro-shoot-'em-up-players, this would be an okay game.

Well, I had some "beta" testers, and one of them "lost" a copy.. Since I was young and naive, I didn't make any signed agreements with the beta testers :(

See answer in previous section :)

No as far as I can tell just a few samples were made, but I wasn't able to communicate with "The Software Business" at all, so I don't know. On the other hand, I was told that some people that actually *bought* the game... So if anybody can confirm they really bought Ziriax, then I know I was ripped off, like so many game developers at the time.

No since I lost all source code, that wasn't an option.


Erlend was very fund of Thrust, the original game on the Commodore 64. He wanted to make a better version of it on the Amiga, and made a lot of graphics. When he showed me the graphics, I could not resist to start writing code for it. However, we did not have the rights of the original game (Firebird had those). Hewson was interested in publishing our game, and I was told they purchased the rights, but they also wanted to rename the game to Zarathrusta. Erlend didn't like this, because he had to adjust his beautiful "Thrust" logo picture...

Some of the development overlapped with Ziriax, but I guess it took about a year and a half.

Again 68000 assembly, and again only talking directly to the hardware.

Yes, it recorded the original moves and played them back, and I also made sure that the game started in exactly the same memory state. However I noticed that using the Amiga emulators on PC the spaceship sometimes crashes in this auto-play mode, I don't know if the Amiga version also does that.

At that time it seemed very complicated to me, but now it all looks trivial. I was able to figure out most of the physics myself, except some parts of the rotation, I had to ask that to Michael Peeters, a brilliant young engineer. I felt stupid because I had to ask Michael for help while I was one of the better math & physics students at high school, but now Michael holds a leading position at the R&D department of Alcatel, so I guess I shouldn't have felt that way ;) Currently I teach that kind of math & physics & programming at the University of West Flanders, in the game development / technical artist program

Yes, I started writing that level designer for Ziriax, and it evolved for Zarathrusta and Deliverance. Both Erlend and myself made a lot of levels with it. I remember it being a lot of fun to play his new levels, getting lost in the maze while he was making fun of me :)

All the levels we designed were in the game I think. I find it a bit of a missed opportunity that we did not ship the level designer so people could make their own levels.

I don't remember exactly, but as far as I know every level had a code, and the inverse gravity levels have reversed codes :)

When I finished the last 3 levels of Ziriax, I sent a video tape to a lot of companies. Most companies did not want to work with external freelancers, but Hewson and The Software Business replied. I really liked some of Hewson's games, like Uridium, Stormlord and Nebulus, so to me, they looked like the perfect company. And working with them was an okay experience actually.

Yes it was horrible. Hewson told me everything was looking good, I was even informed that Commodore even preordered thousands of copies to bundle with the Amiga. But a couple of weeks after I gave away all the rights of the game to them, they went bankrupt. After the disaster with Ziriax that was devastating. Being young, naive and reckless can be dangerous isn't it...

Initially I didn't want to continue with games, I was already doing 3D stuff together with Kim Goossens, a friend of mine who also made the intro picture of Ziriax. Kim was obsessed with 3D graphics and animation, and I found the math behind it very interesting, and the work of Kim amazingly cool.

One day 21st called me that they were looking for a graphics artist for making the graphics for the Stormlord II port on the Amiga. I knew Kim needed money so I informed him and he took the job. However, the programmer for the port quit, and 21st asked me to do the port instead. Initially I refused, but then they offered to pay me the money Hewson still owed me for Zarathrusta as a bonus, so I accepted the job. It was supposed to be a simple conversion job, without royalties, paid after we reached each milestone, so I expected it to be a short programming task.

However, Kim was always a bit of a rebel and pioneer, and he started to make his own interpretation of the game, with huge amazing graphics that were rare on the Amiga platform. Although Kim's graphics were not in accordance with what was asked in the contract, Hewson didn't seem to mind, and they even decided to rename the game into Deliverance.

Well only the contract was based on that, and the fact that you played a walking knight that had to free and collect fairies, that was about it :)

I guess so since Kim played Gods a lot, so it must have been hard not to be influenced.

It was the name I used for our 3D projects, and we also used it for Deliverance.

It was supposed to be quick and dirty conversion job. According to the contract it should have been finished in 6 months, but it took us more than a year if I recall correct. Unfortunately we did not get any more money and no royalties :)

Yes it was, Deliverance was first developed on the Amiga by Kim and me.

No, both the Atari ST and Macintosh versions were done by a old friend of mine (Hugues de Jonghe, a very smart engineer)

If I recall correctly we arranged the color palette in such a way that we did not have to copy all 5 bitplanes. And we halved the framerate. And of course we had to apply compression to fit it all in memory. Originally Deliverance was supposed to fit in the memory of a 512KB Amiga 500, but that was an impossible task, so we were allowed to use 1MB of RAM.

I don't know, you would have to ask Kim, but we never made a big deal of it really, it was just art, and it was never meant to be provocative in any way.

21st came up with the themes. Regarding the box, I never understood why 21st didn't ask Kim to do the graphics... Just like the Zarathrusta box, also made by Hewson themselves, I hated that one, soooo ugly

Well it was mostly Kim who made a lot of animation frames. Regarding code, I used standard techniques really: each tile in the level map had a code, and every sprite knew which tiles it was touching/seeing, so the movement of the spiders wasn't a lot different from the movement of the other characters.

I don't recall, but I guess it was Kim who came up with the idea. Not sure it was actually used by anyone :)

Not really since I already wrote similar animation for Ziriax. It is just a combination of forward and inverse kinematics, using many lookup tables to speedup things. The main problem at the time was the lack of information. Without the Internet, everybody was reinventing the wheel, I had to invent myself how forward and inverse kinematics worked, I even did not know it was called that way. But because of the lack of the internet, we didn't know that we were just reinventing stuff, so it felt very original and satisfying :)

I don't remember exactly why, but we originally had to make 10 levels, and finish the game in 6 months. That turned out to be impossible, and we ran out of budget, so I guess it was decided to finish the game with an end level where Stormlord was riding the dragon he freed in the spider level. It sounded a cool idea back then. But we didn't had enough time nor budget to tweak the game. I didn't use any code from Ziriax, because as mentioned before, I lost all that code.

I don't know. I made my own file system that crunched more stuff on a disk than regular AmigaDOS. I also used a trick I learned from Kris Clynhens: he discovered an illegal sync word that made it impossible to copy the disk, although writing it from the original data worked. Maybe that caused disk duplication troubles, but I was not informed of that.

It was called Superfly Guy, named after the song of S'Express, and was a combination between Ziriax and Zarathrusta: you could morph your ship into different types, and you had to fly through very wide corridors. But this was just a very early concept, although Erlend already made some very nice graphics IMO.

No, but I did program some tools that were never released: CarryCAD (a 3D modeling/animation/rendering program that made use of the Harlequin 2000 32-bit frame buffer, I used it to generate some high quality logos and to explore 3D programming techniques), Flink (a very fast linker I used for speeding up the development of my games), Panther (a 32-bit painting program, used by Kim), ANI (a tool for generating 2D animations for my games), and a level map designer for Ziriax/Zarathrusta/Deliverance. And I probably forgot a lot of small tools.

In a sense I already did that during the development of my games, since game development requires a lot of tools. Also after the bankruptcy of Hewson where I lost Zarathrusta, I had it with game publishers really. Maybe I should have continued game development, and actually from 2001 I worked a couple of years on 3D games for Playlogic Games Factory.

I was more of an arcade game player really, and I spent most of my time on the Amiga programming. But I really liked to play Xenon 1, Lemmings, Nebulus, and Sidewinder.

Today I work as a freelance business IT consultant, and I teach one day a week at a university that has a video game development program ( I used to do a lot work in the animation, multimedia, and graphics sector before that.