Interview by Brian C. Bessemer

  • In the Spring of 1996, Atari's entry into the world of 3D fighters, Fight for Life, hit the store shelves. Fight for Life went up against some tough competition with the likes of Tekken, Toshinden, and Virtua Fighter 2 already out there. Although FFL subsequently fared poorly against its rivals and was blasted by critics, hindsight is always 20/20. One reason for optimism among Jaguar fanatics at the time, however, was the expertise of its programmer. Atari worked with Francois Bertrand of Sega's AM2 fame to design and produce this game. Brian Bessemer was given the opportunity to interview Francois concerning the title in March of 1996.

    Brian: First, Francois, a little about you... from what I understand, you were with Sega at one time. What did you do for them and what else had you done before working with Atari?

    Francois: Before going to Sega in Japan, I was working for a small 'coin-op' company in South of France.During my spare time, I developed a new interface between players and coin-op games. The French company I was working with was too small to handle this project so I did a videotape, then sent to SEGA in Japan. They contacted me soon after and arranged for an interview in Japan. Everything went well, and I began working with them soon after. Over there I developed the camera system and the collision system for the coin-op version of Virtua Fighter and did a little work on Virtua Fighter 2 (ported my collision and camera system to the new board, plus some stuff they didn't include (weapon...)). After 2 years in Japan, I joined Atari.

    Can you tell us about the progress of the Fight for Life project, when was the decision made to revamp it, etc.?

    I started working on Fight for Life in May '94 and finished it in December '95. I was Director, Designer and Lead (only) coder of this game. I know that some people were kind of thinking that this project was late and slow to come but I don't. 18 months to handle and code such a project on a platform you have never work on before is not bad. (I am sure that it will have been faster for me to have developed a 2D shooter or whatever.)

    ...The decision of 'revamping' the product is more a marketing expression than a real decision.What happened is that some people in Atari showed this product way too early (less than 6 months into development) and gave it to some magazine. We recieved a lot of bad reviews at this time (when we should have just seen previews...) and the people who made the mistake decided to say to the press that we were revamping the product, when we were just WORKING on it. So those people covered their asses by blaming our work... Just a normal day at Atari...

    ...I gave Atari the final version of the game a little bit late. I was supposed to give it to them December 15th, 1995, and receive my check at the same time. The check wasn't ready so I didn't give them the game... It took them 4 days to get my check.

    What's the storyline behind FFL?

    In FFL, the character you are playing is dead, and stuck between hell and Earth. If you win the tournament your character will go back to Earth. If not... directly to hell.

    Is the format CD or cartridge?

    The game is a cartridge.

    How many megs (please specify megabits or megabytes)?

    4 Megabytes (32 Megabits.) The latest count I did, after decompression, had a little bit more than 14 megs of data in the cartridge.

    How many fighters can a player choose from?

    The player can choose between 8 different characters.

    What are their names?

    Pog, Muhali, Kara, Jenny, Lun, M.J., Kimura, and Ian.

    Do they employ different fighting disciplines? How many special moves per fighter?

    At the beginning of the game, each character gets basic moves and 5 special attacks.

    Are they mainly projectile moves, special kicks, or what, and what about finishing moves... are there any?

    There are projectile attacks in the game but no finishing moves.

    Are there any bosses, non-playable fighters, or hidden characters?

    There is a 'morphing' boss that you can play.

    Presumably, this is one of the first titles to ever develop the idea of 'stealing' moves. Is this actually in the game and can you elaborate any?

    Whenever you beat one of the computer opponents, you can steal 2 of its special attacks, improving your character fight after fight. You can then use, via a password, your own designed character against the computer or any human player.

    While some polygon fighters are merely 2D fighters viewed in 3 dimensions, others actually simulate 3D environments. What about FFL? Does a player have freedom to move out of the way or attack from the side?

    In FFL the player can side step, giving him more control in the 3D environment.

    I've heard that FFL won't allow 'ring outs.' Instead, fighters approaching the edge are dealt damage in some fashion. Are there really no 'ring outs' and how does the fighter receive damage?

    There are no ring-outs in the game, but I'll let you discover what we did instead.

    How are the camera views? (I always thought the views in Toshinden were too far away.) Do the views change often?

    You can select your own camera view and customize it. If it's too close for you, just zoom out. If you don't like the angle, modify it.

    The major 3D fighters currently out there all control very differently. What about FFL? What type of button configuration is used and does it support the Pro Controller?

    The special moves in FFL are done via joystick/button combinations: motion, motion, ..., motion, action. We also do use some of the Pro Controller.

    Does FFL include a combo system and, if so, are combos achieved trough series of well placed attacks or are they pulled off more like special moves (a-la Killer Instinct)?

    Yes, there is a combo system. In order to pull off a combo, you must do a successful attack, then link it to another. In easy mode the combos are pulled off by repeating the same joystick combination after each successful attack of a combo move (there is a maximum of 3 attacks in a combo). The joystick combinations change in regular mode.

    Some of the most recent screen shots I've seen show off beautiful texture maps and colors. They're so dramatically different than what we saw 8-9 months ago that it has become commonplace in the Atari community to refer to FFL as 'Fight for Life Extreme.' What kind of color depth and resolution did you work with?

    The resolution in FFL is 320x240 in 65,536 colors.

    How polygons per second (or per frame) could you get out of this title?

    It's very difficult to tell you how many polygons there is per frame, because the polygon count is different depending on the fighter. Each fighter is between 600 and 800 polygons.

    What's the frame rate?

    The game runs at up to 25 frames per second.

    Is there music during game play? What styles?

    Yes. There is, if I remember well, 19 tunes in the game. You can select the one you like and change it whenever you feel.

    I've heard that the announcer's voice in FFL is incredibly deep and 'evil' sounding. Any comments?

    The 'announcer' is supposed to be the Gatekeeper... very evil.

    When FFL makes it out, it's going to be up against some tough competition. Toshinden, Virtua Fighter 2, and Tekken currently rule this genre. What advantages or disadvantages do you think FFL will have compared to those three?

    The main disadvantage of FFL, when you compare it to the competition, is the platform it's running on. I think that I really pushed the Jaguar hard with this title, but after just 1 and a half months on the Playstation, I can tell you that the Jaguar cannot compare on the 3D side. There is a lot of cool stuff on the Jaguar, but it's certainly not the 3D. Anyway, I am happy with FFL. From my point of view, I achieved the goal I had set at the beginning of development.

    In the many years that fighters have been around, numerous clones (both 2D and 3D) have made into this market. How much longer do you think fighters will remain popular? Isn't it time for the industry to move on to something new?

    Fighters are always going to be popular amongst players. I don't know about developers, though, as I am sick of them right now.

    Finally, you had previously mentioned that you're now with Activision. What kind of games can the industry expect from you in the near future?

    Activision is a great company. I am working on the PSX, not on a fighter, but still on a 'human being simulation' which is kind of my field now. The game is looking good so far, and should be out in march 1997. More information about that later...

  • We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Francois for his time in answering these questions and to wish him luck on future projects.
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