Interview with Vulcan Software's Austex Team, Famous for Uropa2

Q: Who are the members of your team and how did you come to form Austex?

Paul: Austex Software has only two members, Stephen Smith and Paul Goulding. We have both been Amiga owners since 1987 and formed our own demo group in 1989, with two other members, called Aushax.

We coded a few demos (about four) and then decided to do a compilation disk with a number of demos, some utilities and a freeware game. This compilation disk was completed in 1990 and was titled "Genesis". The game was called Nebula and was later given some pretty good re-views in the Amiga Magazines. As we completed the genesis collection, we decided to leave the demo coding scene and commence a commercial project with just Stephen and myself.

As such, one of the demos on the disk was titled "End of Aushax". It was the death of Aushax and the birth of Austex Software. So, it was early 1991 when we first began planning the game we now call Uropa2. We had a talented graphics artist for Uropa2, Bruce Abel, but he isn't actually a member of Austex Software.

Q: Uropa2 is a very complex game containing a multitude of genres, did it evolve as you progressed or did you work to a set design?

Paul: A set design!! I wish. The game we planned and the game we released only have one thing in common, they were both 3D isometric, apart from that, it has completely changed.

Stephen: It was originally going to be called "Ulterior Colony" and based on a murder investigation aboard a space freighter name Vindicator. In the beginning of 1991, we had written down plans for the game and needed a graphic artist. We eventually approached a local guy by the name of Bruce Abel who agreed to do the graphics for us. He started doing some, but was not too keen on doing Isometric stuff. We wanted colonists drawn in Iso3D to roam around the freighter, but what we ended up with were robotic looking creatures.

Now, Bruce was starting to add his game input which started making it difficult to adhere to the original plans. As the design started changing, we ended up with gameplay that was boring, repetitive and difficult to code for. At that time, around 1994, the solution was to modify the game to incorporate features from the original Uropa 1, which we completed a number of years before. This made a tremendous difference to the whole project and allowed us to finish the game. My only regret is that the graphics could have been more modern. The surface section should have had textures, real-time light sourcing and more control for the hovars such as angled flying, height etc.. The base section would look better in hi-res mode, with larger than screen rooms and levels.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Uropa2?

Paul: Well, that's difficult, I suppose the original Uropa which we both coded on the BBC and Commodore 64 during 85 & 86 was an inspiration. The inspiration for the original Uropa was Elite on the 64 and BBC. I still think Elite was more ground breaking at that time then any of the Doom/Quake clones are today. But Uropa2 is nothing like Elite, so I suppose there have been a number of games that have inspired parts of Uropa2, but nothing that really stands out has having a significant influence. Has that answer confused everyone?.

Stephen: Yes! Originally with Uropa1, I wanted to write a game where you could travel about a planet via some sort of vehicle or ship and then go underground and explore various cities etc. Elite was great, but I wished that you could go down and visit the planets. Frontier sort of fixed that, but you couldn't go down and wander around inside buildings. Uropa2 allows you to fly about the moons surface and then visit a base and wander around inside. However, total freedom to go anywhere on the surface and have puzzles to solve became a coding nightmare, so the solution was to make it mission based.

Q: Uropa2 is huge! how long did it take you to develop it?

Paul: Oh, don't bring this up, it has taken too long. As I mentioned earlier, we started planning the game in early 1991. We commenced actual coding of the game in late 1991. So if my mathematics is correct, it's taken us about six years to complete the game. It was originally planned to be ready sometime in 1994, but we kept changing it so much, and then it required more features to be brought back up to date. This dragged it on a bit, plus in early 1996 we became very disappointed in the Amiga scene and gave up on it for about six months. Then after further thought, we decided the only chance for the Amiga to survive was for software developers to keep supporting it. So, we finished it.

Stephen: Also, the shareware release was a bit of a flop, so Vulcan came to rescue us. I suppose a lot of people would be asking, "why the hell did it take six years to write Uropa2?". I've asked that question myself, quite a lot. One of the major reasons for taking so long is that we both have other jobs and Uropa2 was a part-time programming project.

Q: What is your favourite element of the finished game?

Paul: It's not a "Doom/Quake" clone or a "Red alert" clone. Now, I really like Red alert, but that genre of game is very common at the moment and Uropa2 is very different to either one. We also put in a hell of a lot of attention to finer detail, there are a lot of aspects to the game that most people won't see unless they play around and try doing things in the game that arent necessary to complete objectives. Little things like, burn a few colonists and see what happens, another Centurion droid will transport into the main transporter room and start hunting you down.

Stephen: I like the duality of the game with the base and surface sections. I think that it breaks up the game from just being one style.

Q: What other Amiga projects have you been involved in?

Stephen: I worked on a number of projects involving the Amiga at the University I worked for. These included a VHF radar system, of which I designed and programmed the A/D card, firmware and radar software.

Q: What is the Amiga scene like down under?

Paul: A bit sad really, there are still dedicated Amiga shops in about four or five of the major metropolitan cities, but out in the regional cities like Townsville there are none. I guess there are still a number of enthusiasts around and we still talk to them on IRC, but it needs a major injection of enthusiasm from Gateway 2000.

Q: Has it been difficult developing for the Amiga during these turbulent times?

Paul: In the early days it was very exciting, this gave us the needed push, but once Commodore went crash in 1994, it did become difficult. We became very annoyed with a number of the people that we thought were responsible for the Amigas downfall. You will be able to guess who by playing the game, they get a few disguised mentions. The surprising part is the renewed interest in the Amiga over the last six months, companies like Vulcan, Phase 5, and others are pushing it, this is good to see.

Q: What would you like to see happen to the Amiga?

Stephen: The Amiga obviously needs an overhaul, in both the OS and hardware. The OS is all that the Amiga has going for it at the moment though. When the Amiga came out, it's custom chipset astounded everyone. The push nowadays is to go with the flow and use "off the shelf" parts. However, an interesting trend at the moment is that some companies are just designers and leave the actual chip making to other known companies. I can't see why this couldn't be done with the Amiga, design a new chipset and get some large semiconductor manufacturer to produce them. This has happened with Chromatic Research and their MPact chips.

Paul: Become a new, modern, powerful and wonderful computer again (nostalgia kicks in). I still remember the days when we could look at other computer owners, especially PC's, and really pity them. The Amiga was better in every feature back in the late 80's. There are still some features about the Amiga that are better than the only other two (Macs & PC's).

Q: What is the best part about being Amiga developers?

Paul: Not having to code on a PC. Lets face it, Windows is the most bloated piece of software I have ever used.

Stephen: I like the Amiga, and I like coding for it. The fact that it has survived through two bankruptcies is testament to it's original concept. I have never coded on the PC and never will.

Q: What advice would you give to other people who want to develop Amiga games?

Paul: I have 3 tips.;

1. Don't code in 100% assembly language.
2. Don't code in 100% assembly language.
3. Don't code in 100% assembly language.

Seriously though, when we coded the demos, we were quite happy to use assembly language and hit the hardware. However, games are an application that should obey all the operating system rules. Such a large application is too difficult and time consuming to code in assembly. The next project we do will probably be an 80/20 mix, 80% will be C, or C++, or a similar high level language and the remaining 20% will be assembly.

Make sure you find some dedicated beta testers that are serious about testing and not just trying to get hold of a game for free. We had a few good testers and they were excellent while others basically told us nothing and just wanted another free copy as they became available (may their chooks turn into Emu's and kick their dunny doors down). Look after your good ones and get rid of the useless ones.

Stephen: My advice would be to never program a game part-time (nowadays anyway). Also, make sure you have a team of people organised so that each person knows exactly what they're supposed to do.

Paul: Also, if your writing a game part-time, it will take you take you at least two to three years to complete. You need to realise that computers are advancing rapidly and the base computer at the time of release will probably be the mid range computer of today.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

Paul: Play other peoples games for about six months, and then plan and commence another project. How does Uropa3D sound??

Stephen: The idea for Uropa3D has been around for quite some time. It would be a Quake2 type game but with a Uropa2 theme to it, although it would be more mission based. I have some plans for some hardware and software that requires a lot of work, which I'm looking forward to.

Q: Do all Australians drink xxxx beer and call women Sheilas?

Paul: Well, I drink Sub-zeros and like to say "please don't hurt me mistress".

Stephen: Calling women "sheilas" doesn't happen much anymore, except perhaps, after consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol...

Please note:

The views expressed in this interview are not necessarily Vulcan Softwares own views.

Kind Regards
Paul Carrington BA (Director) Vulcan Software Limited

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