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INTERVIEW
Carl Forhan

Songbird Productions is dedicated to the support of the Atari
video game consoles, especially the Jaguar and Lynx.

MT> You definitely have a love for all things Atari. What are your leading motivators for all your time contributed to programming, licensing and maintaining Songbird?
CF> Certainly a lot of it comes from simply enjoying Atari systems. I loved the 2600 as a kid, and amazed to find out when I got on the net back in 1994 that people still collected for these systems and that Atari was actually making new systems (the Lynx and Jaguar).

MT> Carl, you've been in the Atari scene for quite some time, how did Songbird form and become involved in Jaguar & Lynx publishing? What inspired you to start creating new titles?
CF> It had been years since I had worked on a video game (back on the TI-99/4A), but I got the urge to mess around with a game on a semi-current platform. I found out several years ago that there were several active Lynx hackers, and one was working on a port of a C compiler for the Lynx. I write C/C++ code for a living, so it sounded right up my alley.

My first effort was a really dinky Pong clone with no sound and no options. (It's still floating around on the web as freeware.) Next I started hacking my own audio tool called SFX. By the time I was done with it, I realized more people than just me might be interested in such a program, so I started taking pre-orders for new Lynx games. Ponx was also originally an exercise in "how to" for the Lynx, but the end result was such a nice, attractive, fun program that I knew it would be worthwhile to publish. Ponx has been the most popular Lynx title to date with Lynx customers.

In the meantime, I started investigating various leads to see what it would take to publish "orphaned" games for the Lynx and Jaguar. After several months of work and negotiations, I had quite a nice list of titles I could work with -- Lexis, Skyhammer, Protector, and so on.

MT> Your website mentions Songbird support for hobby developers, who may have the skill to develop a beta-quality game but need some help in certain areas (audio, graphics, playtesting, etc.) or even to release a quality game, but don't have the contacts or funds necessary to get a game published for an Atari system. What type of support have you provided?
CF> Not very much, admittedly. There are a couple of Lynx-hackers who'd like me to provide my music routines and I intend to someday -- just very busy for the past few months! :-)

I have certainly helped playtest and promote games like BattleSphere on the Jaguar and several hobby games on the Lynx that eventually became SIMIS.

MT> Hasbro recently "freed" the Jaguar platform. Did this open new doors or opportunities?
CF> I'm very grateful that Hasbro has opened up the Jaguar to fans such as myself. We can now freely pursue new software for the Jaguar without any Atari licensing or legal concerns. Now, if only the encryption key had been so easy to obtain... =)

MT> What technical difficulties (possibly encryption problems) have you confronted?
CF> Learning each console is a huge feat in and of itself. Learning someone else's source code and picking up where they left off, as I did in Protector, is yet another substantial hurdle. Finally, yes, the Jaguar encryption was and is a problem, but at least I've been able to partner with Scott Walters, who developed a hardware workaround to defeat encryption.


MT> Certainly it required a great bit of footwork to track down who had possession and the rights to certain products? How did you begin?
CF> That's classified. =)

Really, it all boils down to how much effort you're willing to put in, and (especially for the Jag) how much you can withstand disappointment and rejection. Not every company has been willing to work with Songbird, but I've been very pleased with the ones that have.

MT> Technically, you create your source code in C and 65C02 Assembly languages. How exactly do you create your Lynx creations? Hardware? Software? Toolkits?
CF> I write code in C, 65C02, 68K, and GPU/DSP assembly. I do all my development on an IBM PC and download my programs to real Lynxes and Jaguars. For the Jag, I use a 2MB and 4MB Alpine boards, as well as a few flash carts. For the Lynx, it's simply a real Lynx with a BLL cart and a Songbird-made Lynx/PC serial cable.

MT> Please tell us about your upcoming Crystal Mines II: Buried Treasure project? The level editor sounds great! Does the Buried Treasure expansion require the original Crystal Mines II for operation, or does it function as it's own product?
CF> It is a very exciting product, and one that Lynx fans will enjoy. You need your own Crystal Mines II cart and a Lynx, plus the CM2:BT expansion disc, and a Lynx/PC serial cable.

You can then create, edit, trade, and download brand new CM2 levels onto your very own Lynx. The levels are downloaded into RAM, so naturally they disappear when the Lynx is turned off. But getting to make new levels for this game has been a lot of fun.

MT> So Crystal Mines II: Buried Treasure isn't a cartridge, it's the expansion disc itself?
CF> That's correct.

MT> Does the CM2:BT expansion disc come packaged with a Lynx/PC serial cable? If not, where does one purchase or create such a cable?
CF> You can purchase a cable direct from Songbird Productions. This same cable also acts as a "developer's cable" for a BLL or SIMIS cartridge on the Lynx. In fact, I use one myself when doing Lynx development.

MT> Through your ventures with Songbird, have you encountered any remarkable individuals, interesting encounters, or humorous dealings that you may wish to share?
CF> CGE '99 was a great experience. It was wonderful to meet so many people face-to-face. Thanks to all the Atari fans who have supported and continue to support Songbird Productions into the new millennium.


MT> How'd you become such a nifty and innovative guy?
CF> :-) I'm just an Atari fan who's doing what I can to get some new and lost titles out for two great platforms -- the Lynx and Jaguar. Thankfully, the Lord has blessed me with a supportive wife and the talents I need to develop, license, and produce new software for these platforms.

Any Atari fan can help sustain these Atari systems by purchasing one or more of the new games from Songbird.

MT> Good Deal Games supports & carries Songbird Productions games, as well!

Good Deal Games would like to thank Carl for all his hard work and diligence:
To learn more, visit Songbird Productions or E-Mail Carl Forhan

 

 

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