Interview to Mikael Tillander

Raffox 28-07-2009.
Categoria: Interviste

078_mikael_tillander Knight'n'Grail

Regardless to what people may think, homemade videogames are still programmed!
Mikael Tillander, unknown coder that suddenly showed up in the scene, has just finished his first one on the C64: Knight'n'Grail, available for purchase on Psytronik's website.
We gave it a try and, enthusiastic for such a great work, got in touch right with its creator to gain some news, even about his future plans!

Tell us something about you (i.e. age, what you do for living, hobbies... your favourite pet, anything that fits)

Hi all, my name is Mikael, I live in Sweden and am closing in on my 40th birthday (it's a few years away, but anyway). Married and got a 2 year old boy.
I work as a mobile (phone) games developer, doing mainly poker applications.
I spend most of my free time coding different systems (FPGA, Assembly and Java). And I play a lot of competition pinball and just love pixeling. Time with my wife and son? That happens too...

How did it all start with the Commodore 64?

Way back in 84, I think. I got a VIC-20 out of the blue from my mom. Did a bit of basic programming, creating some simple text adventures. Without a tape recorder, I might add. So after an evening's work I fiddled the code down on paper. And then I retyped it all the day after. Ah, the days.
The year after I bought myself a c64 and main played games and learned a bit of Assembly. Didn't produce anything remarkable though, but I did send a crap game to Hewson that was kindly rejected. Got a total score of 2/10...I think.  Ahah!

When and how did you gain interest in videogames programming?

What really got me started in trying to do something was when Capcom launched Gun Smoke in the arcades (late 1985). Spent all of my spare cash on that machine, and got quite savvy on it. I then tried to recreate the feeling of the game on the c64 in a few attempts. All failed...
So I bought the arcade machine instead, and still play it from time to time. Best game ever! Period.

How did you learn coding?

I learnt Assembly through the C64 Programmers Reference Guide and listings in various magazines. The scene didn't exist in the town I'm from, so I was basically trying to figure this whole thing out myself. And I failed, miserably.

What's the story behind KnG and what inspired you?

I did a mockup of a game I've had in my head for quite a while and posted it at the pixeljoint site sometime last year. The picture kind of grew on me and I decided to try to make a game out of it. I knew I wanted to have a map just like the one in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, so I did that first. And the rest just followed, borrowing even more elements from CV:SOTN and adding a few of my own.

What tools did you use to make KnG? In particular what did you use to design the graphics?

I used KickAssembler for the actual coding and based my tool chain around it. Used it mainly because it was easy to get into but found out that it was extremely powerful when it came to the things I needed it to do.

For the graphics I used GraphicsGale and using my own png->character converter to get it into the game. One different thing is that I didn't use a tile-map editor of any kind, I just drew the screens as png-pictures and then my converter managed the tile and character separation. I did this because I thought it would be easier to add new graphical elements later on. It partly did help, but it also made other things harder.

Interesting, you've adopted an unusual way to design graphics! But the result is definitely of high quality. What about the music?

I asked a colleague at work if he'd be interested in doing some tunes for the game and he agreed to do it. Didn't know he was a scener when I asked him though, found that out after he delivered his first score. And I was blown away by all of his tunes. He still wants to make changes to the tunes, even after the release. How committed can one get?
I think I've managed to settle him down. But I wouldn't be surprised if he's making changes to them as we speak...

What difficulties did you go through while working on the game? And what was the most annoying bug you had to deal with?

Where to start? First it was this thing called Assembly language, which wasn't as easy as I remembered it...
But when all of the initial annoyances had settled and I was on a roll, suddenly I lost all of the motivation for it. So I released a preview of the game and the feedback was all positive so I decided to put some real work into it. Then a few designer-cramps sat in but I think I overcome those as well. I think I have Håkon and Kenz to thank for KnG being a product at the end.

Knight'n'Grail Mockup... promising nonetheless!

There were a lot of annoying bugs. All of them, I think, can be seen in the preview. Like color-flicker when scrolling and a vertical room-changing bug. But the most annoying one was a loading bug that took the whole project time to find. It was introduced when I added the coin-collecting. It turned out to be that the decimal mode flag was carried over to an interrupt causing all kinds of strange happenings.

How did you organize your days while working on KnG?

I was on parental leave most of the time, so I had some time during the day when the kid slept and some in the evening when his mom played with him.

Had an Excel sheet with all of the action points that needed attending and just worked them off one by one. It was hard work, but fun as h*ll.

How long did it take you to finish it?

Started sometime last December and ended sometime in June. So roughly 7 month in total. An average of 3 hours per day, maybe?

Equip menu from Knight'n'Grail preview

 Is there anything about KnG, now that it has been released on the market, that you wish you retouched/improved/changed?

In May I really wanted to scrap it all and start from the beginning. I had learnt so much along the way that it all felt old. This is from a programmer's view, design wise I wouldn't do much different.

Here's the list of the things I'd do totally different now:
- Speed. Ever seen such a slow knight before? I now know I can make the screen scroll faster without loosing so much raster time.
- Room data handling/tile handling. Takes up way too much memory. Could be shrunk and make room for more screens or other important things.
- Sprite multiplexor. This isn't actually a proper multiplexor, but one of those zone splitting ones. I've made a proper one for my next project. Allow for bigger enemies and less flicker.
- Small map handling. Could easily have been generated, instead of a painted screen as it is now. Would save quite a bit of memory for better things.

Is there any other videogame that influenced your design, sfx, playability and concept choices?

Not apart from CV:SOTN, no. You could argue that Metroid had a part in it, but that was indirect through CV in that case. When it comes to the sfx, I was just happy to get the machine making noises in the first place. So I couldn't say that I was inspired by some other game, no.

Can you give us some tech infos on the game? (I see you've raster split screens to increase colors like in Creatures, for example)

It was crated without any special tech-tricks. Except the color splits, but that isn't very special as you mentioned. As said earlier, not even the sprite multiplexor is a proper one.

You decided to develop KnG mainly on your own, why?

Never expected anyone else would be interested.
And besides, it was such a small project that having more people aboard would only lengthen the development time.

What does Hakon Repstad graphic help consist of?

The whole "Archmage Pass" (hence the name, since Håkon go by the alias Archmage) area is his. I did the background but all of the enemies in it are his creations. If you look at them you can clearly see that as well. Exquisitely animated and superb designs on them all. Unlike the rest of the game...

And all of the ending pictures and not to forget the box cover art. He also touched the title screen up a bit. Now here's a guy that really knows how to tame the c64s graphical capabilities.

How did you get in touch with Psytronik Software and Binary Zone Interactive?

Kenz actually contacted me after I released the preview in January. Marvelous chap!

On your website there are two more wip (geo Six and a v-scroll shot'em up). Tell us more (a lot more if you don't mind!! Pics, pics, mokups, mokups!!) about them!

Geo Six has been in my head since 1992. Gone through some revisions as time has gone by, design wise, but the main story has remained intact. You could say that KnG was just a test bed for it.
I get a little bit closer to start this project with every day that goes by. But I think it's a bit too soon and I really don't have any spare time now that I've started work again. Maybe if my wife presses me for a sibling to our kid I get the time again...

Mockup of Geo Six

The vertically scrolling one is just a mockup, been a while since I got any more inspiration for it. Think I'll lay that to rest soon, if nothing really interesting pops up in my head that can be applied to it.

There's also a Secret project in the main menu in the site... but that's still secret. I could say that you could complete KnG in a special way to see a glimpse of that project. But I'm not saying anything like that. I could also say that it will be my next project and it's already started, but I'm not saying that either.

What are you favourite C64 games? Also, do you like other 'vintage platforms'?

I play anything by Andrew Braybrook. IO is a masterpiece. Armalyte happens every now and then and I just can't get enough of Agent USA. Now there's a game that deserves everybody's attention.

I would love to make a game based on any of Capcoms early arcade platforms. Also I would actually like to try to do something for the CPC. But I guess that's just because of the saturated palette, in contrast to the c64 one. Sometimes I really hate the c64 palette, but most of the times I just love it. Strange mix of feelings this retro business has.

But no, I've never tried programming for another vintage platform so I wouldn't know if I like any or not.

Are you in touch with any C64 scener? More in general what do you think about the scene?

Håkon and Hans are both sceners, so yes.
Apart from them I've had sporadically chats with others and they're all a bunch of nice guys.

The scene is the only reason for the c64 still being alive. Mainstream retro or not, the scene still exist to preserve the platform. I just love the scene! Cheesy? Hell yeah!

What would be your reaction if your game got cracked and released on the scene right after?

Like a KnG++200% with extra levels, faster character, more enemies and more pickups? Can't wait!
But somehow the scene seems to regulate this as well, waiting until it won't hurt the sales. The scene loves Psytronik!

Thanks for your time! Any last words?

Thank you for asking so many fun questions! If anybody isn't content with KnG, please let me know. I'll rectify it somehow.



Publisher website: Psytronik
Mikael's website: Wide Pixel Games

Commenta gioco Ci sono 5 commenti per questo articolo. Registrati se vuoi lasciarne uno.
Intervista interessantissima, tra l'altro Mikael Tillander conferma alcune impressioni che ho avuto giocando K'n'G. Speriamo davvero che arrivi un altro bebè così saremo sicuri che potrà dedicarsi al prossimo titolo :)
# - postato da Wizkid - 28 July 2009 [18:54]
Ottima intervista, non ci sono "blackout mentali" che lasciano le domande senza risposte soddisfacenti, molto apprezzati anche i dettagli tecnici e i progetti futuri nonché il finale di KNG che lascia indizi sui nuovi lavori. Un plauso al buon Raffox che ci ha regalato questa chicca.
# - postato da doyle - 28 July 2009 [20:15]
finalmente mitico c64 otima intervista interessantissima mikael tillander non stanca mai ! c64 viva !
# - postato da stefano3 - 29 July 2009 [19:44]
Gran bella intervista, come al solito. E complimenti a Mikael anche per aver citato un gioco singolare come Agent USA.
# - postato da ABS - 06 August 2009 [19:43]
Davvero una bella intervista, gustosa da leggere. Cosa dire su K'N'G? A mio parere, il miglior videogioco per C64 realizzato da qualche anno a questa parte...
# - postato da Oge - 10 September 2009 [14:47]
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