Interview by Brian C. Bessemer

  • Sometime in 1998, what has probably become the most anticipated title for the Jaguar, BattleSphere, will be released. Brian Bessemer was given the opportunity to send interview styled questions to Doug Engel of 4-Play concerning the upcoming title.

    - January, 1996 -

    Brian: First of all, what are your full names? The only names I know at all are Doug, Scott, and Thunderbird.

    Doug Engel: Scott LeGrand, Tom Harker, Stephanie Wukovitz and myself.

    A little bit about yourselves ... can you tell us about the background of 4-Play and the team responsible for Battlesphere?

    Scott LeGrand and Doug Engel met in junior high around 1978 or so and quickly became friends. In the following years, they both became huge videogame fans. At the time Scott was teaching himself programming by modifying text-based computer games on mainframes. They both got involved with Atari thanks to the wonderful Atari 2600. In high school, Scott began writing videogames for the Commodore PET computers the school had, and Doug decided to learn programming as well, to be able to write games like Scott. Through high school, they both honed their game-writing skills by trying to "one-up" each other with each successive game. Due to over-restrictive computer guidelines set by well-meaning educators, game writing became verboten in the school, so Doug and Scott acquired home computers (Atari 8-bits) to continue the work.

    After High-School, there became less time for games, and the crash of the industry took away some of the appeal. Scott pursued a career in science, while Doug got a degree in electronics. Both Scott and Doug became Atari ST owners, using the computers for productive tasks as well as some games, and Doug even found time to write a commercial game on the ST, which was never released.

    Sometime in this period, Scott met Stephanie, who was studying mathmatics and also knew programming and just happened to also be a musician. They hit it off right away, and formed a relationship.

    Along came the Jaguar and the possibility of actually being able to write a console game for them was like a dream come true for us. Scott attended a private showing of the Jaguar and signed on as a developer. The money to finance a game was the only thing prohibiting them from going ahead. At this time Tom Harker (known to the Atari Community as the man behind ICD Inc., a manufacturer of high quality peripherals for Atari computers) became interested in producing a Jaguar game. Tom posted a message to GEnie, looking for programmers to write a Jaguar game. Scott and Doug responded, and they eventually formed a partnership known as 4Play.

    For those unfamiliar with this title, what is Battlesphere?

    BattleSphere is a space combat game, which takes all the elements from the best of the genre, and combines them into the ultimate game of this type. We were heavily influenced by the fun-factor in the old 8-bit Star Raiders, but wanted to add the realism of games like TIE Fighter as well. Add to this the networking fun of NeTrek, and toss in the fast-paced fun of Doom, and you get BattleSphere.

    The format...CD or 'cart?

    It will be a cartridge-based game.

    How many megs will the game be? (please specify megabits or megabytes.)

    We're shooting for 4 MegaBYTES (32 megabits) when done. Uncompressed, it's not determinable what that will be because it's not finished yet.

    I know the issue of networking has come up on the 'net a few times, and that Battlesphere is supposed to support JagLink networks up to 8 consoles. What about modem support? IF the Phylon Voice Modem ever comes out, will Battlesphere support in any capacity?

    Networking has been a very big priority for us. We believe it is the future of videogames.

      We currently support the following networking setups:

      a) 8-console networking, using the CatBox CatNet port.

      b) 2-console networking, using the CatBox RS-232 port.

      c) 2-console networking, using home made "JagDoom" cables.

      d) 2-Console networking, using Atari's "JagLink" cable.

    There are hardware reasons why 8 consoles cannot be linked without the Catbox, which I point out because a lot of people request us to do it with the Atari Cable, or their homemade cables. It's just not possible.

    In the next few weeks, RS-232 Modem support will be added to the game. We hope it goes off without a hitch, but that remains to be seen. There is little hope of using the Voice Modem, because it uses a proprietary command set, and is only 9600 baud. Atari has shown little interest in getting us to support it, and has not provided any prototypes for us to use. We want to complete this title soon, so I don't think that the voice modem will be a part of the game.

    Are the controls in the game set up similar to, say, a flight simulator (up=dive, down=climb, right/left=bank right/left), or do they include factors that exist in space? (things like positioning and air currents wouldn't effect your direction in space.)

    The control works very much like a modern "fly-by-wire" jet. We also allow the user to customize the joypad and buttons to several logical arrangements, depending on their preferences (i.e. up = climb, down = dive). There's no air currents to worry about.

    Does Battlesphere support the Pro Controller? If so, to what degree? (i.e. Ruiner Pinball supports it, but not extensively. Missile Command 3D supports the same buttons as Ruiner, but their use is much more integral to gameplay.)

    BattleSphere will run with either Jaguar controller. Owners of the Pro Controller will have the advantage of easier access to some of the less used functions. The added buttons will allow for easier weapons selections or easuer targeting computer operations, that sort of thing. Also, the Pro Controller seems to have a much nicer feel to the directional pad, which causes lass fatigue for me when I play. The standard controller has keypad keys for all operations, so you can still use one to play.

    How many ships can a player choose from?

    Any one of a total of 21 known ships (3 ships from each of the 7 known races). (emphasis on "known.")

    How do they differ? Do they just have differences in their speed, armor, and power, or do they include unique characteristics such as handling differences and different weapons?

    Yes, yes, yes and yes.

    Graphically, are we talking about polygons, pre-rendering, or what?

    Gouraud-shaded polygons with texture-mapped detail (insignias, damage, etc.)

    What kind of color depth, resolution, and frame rate are we talking about?

    16-bit color at 320x240 resolution. Runs as high is 60 frames per second, but usually sits at around 30 fps. Up to 256 3-D objects (ships, projectiles, mines, etc) can be on-screen at any time.

    Will there be a soundtrack during gameplay? If so, what style music?

    Stephanie is composing the music, and it differs in style, depending on the race you have chosen to represent. The music is quite powerful, and we all like it a lot.

    With the new crop of software coming up, Battlesphere will be up against some hefty competition. How do you think it will stand up to the likes of Phase Zero and Zero 5?

    We're pretty good friends with the guys from Hyper Image, and we've even exchanged ideas from time to time. We don't think that their Phase Zero is really the same kind of game as ours, so we don't think of them as "competition". I'm looking forward to playing that one myself. As for Zero 5, we don't know much about it. I haven't seen much written about it anywhere. We did download the Falcon version, which sort of left us wondering what all the fuss was about this game. However, that could be mainly due to the lack of power in the Falcon. The Jag version could be much improved. We network, and Zero 5 doesn't, so I think we've got something big in our favor.

    What about Tempest 2000, Missile Command 3-D and Defender 2000? (I know those games aren't even in the same genre, but people are expecting alot out of Battlesphere.)

    I can't wait to play D2K and MC3D... Remember, that Jag titles don't come out 10 at a time, so people will be more inclined to buy all of the above, if the time between them gives them a chance to desire a 'new' game.

    Estimated release dates for Battlesphere, at least on the 'net, say first quarter 1996. Is this when we can realistically expect it? (that gives us 'til around March or April.)

    Remember that we all are working part-time on this because we are not getting paid to do this. It's a labor of love for us. We're really trying our best to get it out. People have been really great and understanding about this. Often, they are amazed that anyone could devote this much effort to something without any compensation. We hope to be done before the end of January, and that would put us on shelves in March. Keep your fingers crossed.

    We really don't want to compromise the game, just to meet some date.

    A lot of popular magazines (I'll leave out names. We all know the ones I'm talking about anyway.) have been saying, lately, things like the Jag is dead. How do you guys feel about that? What's your opinion on the future of Jaguar? (feel free to be as broad as you desire on this one.)

    I think that Atari knows that dropping the Jaguar is a bad idea, and would ruin their credibility in the industry entirely. They're probably planning on hedging their bets with PC games, because it looks like the whole 32-bit "Next Generation" is primed for a big fallout. In the best scenario, the industry has a huge fallout and Atari (being small) makes it through to the other side, they'll be in the same position Nintendo was in 1984-5 with their NES.

    I've just read that there's Jag projects coming all through 1996, which is a good sign, and I've even heard of some new projects they are starting up for the Jaguar.

    I'm pretty sure they are just not going after licensing existing "hit" titles, because of the huge amounts of cash they have to put up front. They'll continue to contract for inexpensive 3rd party titles, and hope to have a hit.

    My barometer for the Jaguar is Jeff Minter. If Yak starts another Jaguar project, then Atari is behind the Jaguar. if not, uh-oh....

    What plans or ideas are in store for 4-Play after Battlesphere, and do they include the Atari Jaguar?

    Of course, a lot of this all depends on how well this title does on the Jaguar, and what Atari's level of support of the Jaguar is at the time. We'd love to do a sequel to BattleSphere, because all of the intensive work (polygon engines, networking, etc) will be done. We could put all our efforts into new gameplay variations and play modes. We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

    I know we're all looking forward to this game. I would like to take this time to sincerely thank all of you (especially Doug) for this opportunity. I do appreciate it.


    I appreciate the time you've taken to write about our game.

    Now back to programming BattleSphere.

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