Eric Bacher & Igor Barzilai
& Igor of the French company Ebivision,
creates & releases new software titles & hardware for
the Atari 2600!
Ebivision exists as an entity of two individuals. Please tell
us about your partner Igor Barzilai, and the responsibilities
and roles each of you play within Ebivision.
EB> Igor is a graphic artist, his real job is to do artwork.
In Ebivision, he designs all the artwork for the games we make.
But he also knows programming. He made Merlin's Walls
alone. He likes to do things on the VCS that have not been done
- just to prove that it can be done. All the projects you see
on the web site are from Igor. I prefer making classic games that
do not include new concepts but which give pleasure to people
who plays them. That's why we are "complementary".
Ebivision released Alfred Challenge during the 1998
World of Atari Show. You personally flew from France to attend
the event and premier your creation. Did you ever anticipate your
2600 programming would take you so far from home?
Of course not. The story with Alfred was the following one. About
4 years ago, I discover an Atari 800XL emulator for PC. I had
almost forgotten everything from my VCS and 800XL days because
I did not have enough money to keep all the computers I had. Each
time I wanted the new generation of computer, I sold the previous
one so I sold my VCS to buy an Atari computer, then I sold it
to buy an Atari ST, etc. After using this emulator, I wanted to
get the feeling of the real thing again so I bought 800XL stuff
and started to program a game on the 800XL with the assembler
(MAC65). The game was called Alfred Challenge and
was a platform game. In the meantime, a friend gave me a VCS and
I found the developement kit (assembler + emulator) for the PC
on Internet. So I stopped the XL version of the game to try to
program it on the VCS. And Alfred Challenge was
born. Another friend knew Bradley Koda who told me that I could
sell cartridges to the World of Atari Show. So I built about 50
cartridges and I attended the show to sell them. You can't imagine
the feeling I had when I saw all these guys waiting for their
cartridges. I met many VCS enthusiasts who are very friendly and
that's why I continue making game for the VCS. I have pleasure
to satisfy these guys with new stuff for the VCS. After that,
I didn't finish the 800XL version.
What was the typical reaction when you debuted Pesco
during the '99 Classic Gaming Expo?
If you are talking about the guys who bought the game at the show,
there were very friendly and they desperately wanted their cartridges.
Many of them were the same guys who bought Alfred Challenge
the year before. And all the cartridges were sold at the moment
we started to sell them. It was great for Igor who attended the
show for the first year and met the guys for the first time.
Rumor has it that Pesco was originally a perfect,
flicker-free version of Pac-Man on the 2600, and
that you made a few cosmetic changes in order to release the title
legally. What's the full story?
The full story begins with an idea from Igor. He has the idea
of desinging the maze with two colors (blue and white) intead
of only one color as you see in all the PacMan like
version for the VCS. He started to program it and gave it to me.
But he didn't wanted to go further (make the full game with sprites,
collision detection, score,...). The idea of making a much better
game than the original PacMan for the VCS and in
the same amount of ROM was a challenge I wanted to try. So I tried
to write a version with no flickering but there was something
bad with the sprites. For those who know a little about the VCS,
sometimes the beginning of a line on the screen is black, hiding
the real screen. This bad effect comes on the line where you change
the position of a sprite. I wanted to remove this effect but a
major rewrite of the code was neede and it was quite complex.
So, in January, I took one week of holiday to program the game
again. The new version has a perfect screen but I had not enough
room to include all I wanted from the original arcade game. I
wanted a presentation screen and intermissions... Anyway, I was
very happy with the version I had but the fact was I didn't have
a game to sell at the CGE expo and I didn't have the time to make
another one. So I turned PacMan into Pesco.
Same code but different maze, sound, graphics, colors, strategy,...
Pesco contains what is certainly some tight programming
on the VCS. With the title including such graphical detail, clever
enemy artificial intelligence, tight control, and as mentioned
before -- flicker-free. Do you think that today's technology makes
programming on the VCS easier than it was originally in the 80's?
I thought it was much easier for me than for the programmers in
the 80's, but I discovered that is not true. Last year, I asked
a well known programmer (I don't remember if it was Rob Fullop
or someone else) who told me that they had all the facilities
to debug (put breakpoint, inspect memory,...). I was quite surprised
to hear that but it means that we have the same facilities now
as in the 80's.
Ebivision currently has a contest offering a free unreleased Ebivision
game to anyone that can clear all 9 rounds of Pesco,
and answer a few questions pertaining to the ending. What is this
mysterious unreleased game?
I am going to stop the contest because nobody has answered it
(at least for Pesco and Merlin's Walls).
But Jeff Rothkopf has found the hidden level in Alfred Challenge.
So he won the unreleased cartridge which is...PacMan
Ebivision created the first realtime 3D game for the Atari 2600
-- Merlin's Walls. Did you discover any programming
secrets or 'angles' in order to get the 2600 to perform in a manner
that it was never meant to perform?
The answer is completely given in the book sealed with the cartridge
of Merlin named "3D for VCS - why and how" which is a kind of
making of Merlin's Walls. I used a principle found
by searching a way to ask to the VCS to do 3D as fast as possible.
This 3D doesn't use meshes or things like that for the objects.
The trick to making the VCS able to do that is that the 3D world
is maximum simplified to have the less computings to do. The walls
are in a 16 x 16 grid, the mathematic computations are made on
1 byte precision and the graphics have been turned of 90° to be
nearer to the TV system (which scans horizontally)... everything
have been done in that way to communicate as quickly as possible
to the 6507 chipset. And hopefully, it could be possible at 60
frames/second. Since this time, I've found other ways to do 3D,
to have the picture right (not turned of 90°) and to put textures
on the walls. This means to have only 12 frames/seconds and a
very low resolution of 40 x 24. It works on paper, but it needs
a lot of time to program it... so maybe one day...
The Syntheguit project sounds (excuse the pun) particularly groundbreaking
for the 2600. Please describe this endeavor, and the hardware/software
The hardware is very simple. I use a guitar like an Atari paddle,
using the string like a "electric variable resistance" (in fact
the resistances are in the neck of the guitar). Actually, only
one string works. The software exists on a Atari 800XL. The conversion
for VCS is only software, I mean that the guitar doesn't need
any changes. The software just reads the paddle and plays the
right note. There is a possibility to analyse which string of
the 6 is played, but that hasn't already been implemented in the
A great deal of your future development seems to concern hardware,
as opposed to software. Do you believe that there is greater demand
for hardware related items?
No, in fact, all the projects on the web site are from Igor who
likes to use the VCS in a way that has never been used. So these
are just ideas that we find funny but when we attend a show, we
come with a cartridge that is playable (at least we hope).
You are currently working on a Four Joystick System. Please explain
the details for this project, and any future plans Ebivision hopes
to implement for the apparatus.
Like each project I do for the VCS, I try to do something technologically
new. So I write a lot of ideas on paper, in the way to find the
hardware and software possibilities to do it. The four joystick
system is an idea that stopped on paper. It uses the four paddles,
each one turned into a joystick (the fire is still the fire ;
the "electric variable resistance" is replaced by four or eight
"non-variable electric resistance" for each direction). Everything
is incrusted in a classic Atari joystick.
Burnham is about to
your newest game, Escape From Supercade! The game,
being used to promote the upcoming hardback historical book on
classic Gaming, "Supercade: A Visual History of the
Videogame Age 1971-1984, is a fabulous idea. What was
it like working with Van Burnham?
Well, we never met her and we didn't know anything about her before
March 2000. Even the magazine (Wired Magazine) is unknown
in France. She was very friendly. In fact, Igor and I didn't have
time to make a game this year because we were both very busy with
our real jobs. She asked us if we could make a game for the promotion
of her book. It was perfect because we didn't have to build cartridges,
make boxes, and documentation. Just the game and that's all. So
it was the perfect way for Ebivision to be here this year without