If you've taken a look at the my old top ten list (used to be on a Geocities site) of C-64 games, you've probably noticed that there's a game there, called Frogger'93. It's a more modern version of the the classic Frogger game (i.e. you have to get the frog from the bottom of the screen, to the top, without being run over by a car or falling into the water). I used to wonder who programmed this game, as late as in 1993. Now I don't have to wonder anymore, because the guy who programmed the game sent me an e-mail and told me some stuff about it. I thought that was quite cool, so I decided to do an interview with him. Unfortunately, he's not programming the C-64 anymore, so there's no chance he'll make a Pacman'98 or a Galaxian'99. Anyway, here's an interview with Mr. A.B. Mensch. Enjoy!
First of all, tell us a bit about yourself: do you work or study, where do you live, what's your favourite food, drink, book, record, animal and so on, and what do you do in your spare time?
Male, 26 Dark-blond, 1.8m 70kg. At the moment I work for Rabofacet, which is a sub-company to the Rabo Banks in Holland. My favourite food is Junkfood, and my favorite drink depends on the mood I'm in. When I'm behind a computer it's definitely coffee, when I'm not it's coke or some sort of alcoholics. I like to listen to Metallica during every activity. I live in Den Bosch ('s Hertogenbosch) in Holland. I live in a 9 stories high buildng of which I occupy an appartment on the 9th floor. I have one whole room especially designed for my computers. This room has a magnificent view over some lake, and inspires me a lot. In my spare time I just hack along on my favorite PC (I have 4).
The main reason why I'm doing this interview is that you're the programmer behind Frogger'93... Tell us a bit about it. How did you get the idea to do the game, how long did it take to code it etc.
During the period when Frogger'93 emerged, I was married to Judith (the woman mentioned in the scroller). Her mother (Carin, also mentioned in that scroller) has a frog-obssesion. She collects everything (and when I say everything, I mean everything!) that has to do with frogs. One day I showed her Frogger on the C64, she liked the game but said it looked awful. I agreed totally and started thinking about doing an update. I wanted it to have the gameplay and the looks. So I started working on it. The code took me about two weeks orso. After that the tweaking, bughunting and testing began, after which I did the graphics. Ofcourse I used my mother in law to do the beta-testing and tweaked the graphics/gameplay to her likings. The total timespan of creating the game was about 6 weeks I guess.
In 1993, when your version of Frogger was released, most people must have left the C-64 already. How many copies did those games of yours sell? Did you make any money?
Well, that's hard to say. I sold everything I made to a company called "Magic Disk". MD was (is???) basically a software-company, but they had their own magazine. With this magazine came a floppy on which the programs were, which were reviewed in the mag. Every month they would publish a game, a util, a demo, etc etc. Once every half year or so, they'd also do a compilation-floppy (e.g. a game-floppy, a utility-floppy, etc.) As I understand, Magic Disk was one of the most popular floppy-magz and was exported to several countries. I do not have the exact numbers they sold, but it were thousands.
I did get paid for my work, but it was on a free-lance base (i.o.w.: only got paid once per product, I sold the rights for distribution and ownership). And let me tell you, they paid quite generously.
Tell us a bit about the other games you programmed, Plexonoid and Yahtzee. It seems you never aimed at creating something totally new and revolutionary, but rather make better versions of old games. Why is that?
The first game I sold was "Project S.O.L". S.O.L. stands for Save the Ozon Layer, which was a big issue in the 80's. This game had a plot: it was about some mad scientist who threatened to destroy the ozon layer, and you were in command of some little robot and had to stop this evilist. The working title was "Project D.O.L", which stood for Destroy the Ozon Layer, but given the public opinion in the 80's, I had to change it. Some features: powerups for your robot, parallax scrolling. Huge levels, ending sequence. This was also the only game I sold which had originality.
Plexonoid is my best creation ever. It took over a year to get this project finished, and was released some months before Frogger'93 (the only survivor it seems). Plexonoid was my "Arkanoid" version. It featured the same power-ups and aliens as it's original, but the graphics were in hi-res (16 colours all around) This one had approx twice as many levels as Arkanoid did, and had a much tougher end-boss thingy.
Yathzee was actually a bet I won. Some friends of mine dared me to create a version of this game which boosted something new and original and claimed I couldn't do it. Naturally I had to prove them wrong and released a game with animated dice (which were approx ? of the total screen) and speech (I modified/improved the routines for SAM, and used them in the game) I played the originals of the games I upgraded a lot and really enjoyed their gameplay, but was totally anoyed by the bad graphics/presentation those games had. After doing Plexonoid I made it my mission so to speak, to lift the really great games into the 90's (to try and make the c64 as popular in the 90's as it was in the 80's)
Sounds like a worthy mission! Now, let's just hope someone tries to make the C-64 as popular in the 21st century, as it's been in the 20th century... Tell us a bit about your C-64 history. Was it your first computer? When did you buy one? When did you start to program it?
I started out with the c64. It was actually my first home-computer. I had a few cartridge-systems before, (atari, philips, coleco) but I do not call that a computer. I got it for my birthday back in '85. I started collecting games and stuff and did that for about a year. Meanwhile learning basic. Then I got my hands on a list of the machine-code commands and their meaning. I started translating these commands to Dutch, so I could understand (more or less) what they did/meant. Not long after that I coded my first demo and started hacking other demos to understand their workings. This went on for about a year and a half before the serious coding started.
Were you ever involved in the demo scene? What do you think about the C-64 scene? Demos and diskmags are still being released, when will it stop?
Yep, I was involved in the demo-scene. I started out with Sander van den Bergh (ABS 3001/SPHINX) as TMT (The Mega Team). TMT was groundbreaking on some things. We just had a lot of fun kicking .ss all over the place. We loved to make fun of the rulers in the demo-scene and than lay back and search for reactions. SCOOP was one of the first who noticed us, to name but one. Later, when ABS 3001 joined SPHINX, I teamed up with TRC (The Ruling Company) and did two or three demo's with them. During that time with The Ruling Company I started coding games, and lost interest in the demo-scene. I didn't even know they were still releasing demos and diskmags. Probably won't last that much longer I guess.
I'm not so sure that the C-64 scene will die... When, why and how did you leave the C-64? Was it because you considered it a dead system, or did you just get tired of it? Why didn't you continue to program games for it?
Right after Frogger'93 I left the scene. I got a job, raised a family.. I don't know.. Guess I just out-grew the C64.. Lost track of it, so to speak... Till now. Emulators rule!
What computers do you use nowadays? What do you use them for(except for playing Frogger on C-64 emulators)? Are you still programming?
I now own 4 pc's (P2 333, P233mmx (2x), P166mmx), I carry a notebook for my job (Toshiba 233mmx) and I have a Sony Playstation for relaxing. I use every computer for my work (Network-engineer/operator). So I simulate NT cases at home.. And I play games a lot. (Quake2!!!) I no longer have time for programming.
What emulators are you using? What are the differences between playing games on an emulator and on the real thing?
I really don't know... I think it's quite good (uses the T64 and D64 images) The real thing actually runs smoother. Just look at the scrolltexts. On the emulator they just seem to choke along the screen, while viewed on the actual machine it runs smooth like hell.
Which games, except for the ones you've programmed, are your favourites? Why do you like them?
Quake2 is my alltime (network) favorite. I like it so much because I'm so damn good at it. ;-) Killing your friends and laughing at them when they try to get you back rules! No, just kidding.. I think the excitement and the adrenaline-kicks it gives me make it such a winner. I also played StarCraft/Command&Conquer stuff a lot, but get tired of that very quickly. All LucasArts adventures rule! No other adventures even come close.
As a programmer, do you pay much attention to the technicalities of the games that you play, and think about how you would could do something similar or better?
In the old days: yes.. Nowadays: No. I'm absolutely out of the programming business nowadays, and haven't got the slightest idea on how to program todays standards. I do however, think that it would've been neat to do a game like Doom (or Wolfenstein) for the 64. (I think it should be possible)
How popular was the C-64 in Holland? Here in Sweden, everyone had a C-64 in the eighties. It seems the MSX was very popular in Holland. Do you have any experience from that computer, and what do you think about it?
I owned a MSX for about two days. I won this thing in some contest. After fingling with it for two days I sold it and bought some extra's for my 64. The 64 was huge here in Holland too. Some of the best groups came from Holland (Sphinx, SCOOP, 1001, ...)
Anything else we ought to know about you, your games or the C-64?
I could give my opinion about computers and gaming nowadays.. Nowadays people in the business of making games no longer put any effort in developing games for the current machine-standards.. Doesn't run?? Well, just say you'll need a minimum of P166mmx to run this game and we're off! Unlike the old days when there was nothing but the 64. You just had to figure out a way to make it run.. Upgrading the machine wasn't an option. Now that was the spirit of real game-programming. Plus nowadays it's too commercial. Sometimes up to 50 people work on a game. On the 64 we had those companies too, ofcourse, but the majority of the real programmers worked alone, or in pairs.. Much cooler.... I hope these days will come back... I'll be back than...
That's all for this time, folks! I definitely like the last point there, about modern games. In my opinion they're all just bloated, with sorry gameplay. We need more games in the style of Frogger'93! I may do more interviews, if I find someone interesting enough to interview, but I can't promise anything right now. Just bookmark this page and come back later, or do the smarter thing: forget about the whole thing, then just stumble across this page some other time, and (hopefully) get surprised by all the changes.