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INTERVIEW
Eric Bacher & Igor Barzilai

Eric & Igor of the French company Ebivision,
creates & releases new software titles & hardware for the Atari 2600!

MT> 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".

MT> 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?
EB> 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.

MT> What was the typical reaction when you debuted Pesco during the '99 Classic Gaming Expo?
EB> 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.


MT> 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?
EB> 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,...

MT> 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?
EB> 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.

MT> 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?
EB> 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 of course.

MT> 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?
IB> 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...

MT> The Syntheguit project sounds (excuse the pun) particularly groundbreaking for the 2600. Please describe this endeavor, and the hardware/software details.
IB> 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 hardware.

MT> 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?
EB> 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).

MT> 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.
IB> 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.

MT> Van Burnham is about to unveil 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?
EB> 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 our presence.



Ebivision's innovation of developing new technologies and creating completely new kinds of games for our favorite aging woodgrain box is most appreciated - Thanks Eric & Igor!

Have questions? E-mail Eric
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