Issue 19: May 2002






New Software from Poland


Tip of the day


Mouse of a Time


Stochastic Screening - Color Correction


8-bit Games Fair in Germany


Casting a light on DRAM


Atari in the USA 2002


6.5.02 Day


Game On

New Software from Poland

Thomas Raukamp interviews Rafal Kawecki


Thomas: Rafal, you are really one of the biggest Atari fans I know. How long have you used the Atari?

Rafal: Oh, thanks Thomas! I bought my first computer (Atari 800XL) with my own cash approximately 17 years ago. That was my first wage and I think it was well spent. Thus, that started everything.

Thomas: How did you come to the Atari?  What is your personal Atari history?

[Photo: Rafal with daughter, Pola]Rafal: It was about 1990. When I visited my aunt in Germany and earned my first wages there, too, I wanted to buy a computer. It was pure coincidence that I bought Atari. At that time I had no notion of computers and thought they were all the same - perhaps only looking different. Unfortunately I had earned too little money and could only buy a computer without storage media (tape or disk). For about three or four months I always typed everything from scratch (games listings). During this time I learnt a lot. I wrote my first programs in Atari BASIC, naturally those were quite simple. After approximately three years I bought a new computer, an Atari 520ST, this time in Poland! Programming on the ST was not so simple, however, and I also had less time. My ST was very good, though, for example, I wrote diploma thesis on it.

As a student I bought a new Falcon. Unfortunately that was also the last year there were more than three Atari dealers in Poland. Initially I did not make anything special with the Falcon, but then...

Thomas: In recent years the majority of Atari fans have shifted more to Eastern Europe. Why do you think this is the case?

Rafal: It is not like that, in my opinion. We have remained very faithful for some years. I mean the people in Western Europe have changed their favourite platform and therefore it is like it is now.

Thomas: How strong is the Atari community in Poland?

Rafal: It's really difficult to say. The 8-bit scene is particularly strong. These people have their own parties, web sites, books... The 16/32-bit scene is not so strong, but we also have our own parties and web sites. For both groups there is, however, only one newsgroup (pl.comp.sys.atari), which gets up to 30 messages daily.

Thomas: What kind of machines do you own in Poland?

Rafal: STs and Falcons as far as large Ataris go. These are mostly standard machines (no accelerators). All accessories are simply too expensive or not available in Poland but we need these. Only some of us can afford the CT2 or CT60 - for most of us it's a bit too expensive, sadly. Many people still have 8-bit Ataris at home. Some of them are used to make new productions, others use it only for games.

Thomas: Also the demo scene seems to be rather strong in Eastern Europe...

Rafal: Correct. In Poland we have only one active group, Mystic Bytes. They are really good - perhaps you have seen some demos of Sqward? They do work outside the demo scene as well, for example, Sqward develops all the drivers for Deesse...

Thomas: Now and then programs for the XL/XE still come from Poland. Why is there such enthusiasm for the old hardware?

Rafal: Nostalgia, I can only assume.

Thomas: Which interesting Atari projects are developed in Poland?

Rafal: MiNT is developed partially in Poland - Draco (Konrad Kokoszkiewicz) is responsible for that project. Those who use their Ataris for internet access may also know Marijuana Mail (MJM) by Grzegorz Pawlik. This mailer gets regular updates. I know the author and know he wants to develop it forever! The other ones are small but very useful applications. For example, Stroik (Polish name), GSM SMS. I must also mention my projects: Tales of Tamar and MyPDF.

Thomas: I heard there is soon to be a new Atari magazine in Polish?

Rafal: Yes, actually the dream came true! About two weeks ago I received the first issue. This magazine is about all Atari models (from 8-bit to 32-bit). It will be published four to five times a year with one extra CD. I wrote three articles for this magazine and will write more for sure. There is still, however, another old project named AtariFan - it has stopped for one year but it's not put on ice. I happily write articles for both covering different things one can do with Atari.

[Screen-shot: Tales of Tamar title screen]

[Screen-shot: Runestone game]

Thomas: Your main work seems to be the development of an Atari client for the role-playing adventure, Tales of Tamar. How is this progressing?

Rafal: The work is not as easy as I thought. I have already been coding for more than a year and I still can't see the end of it. Atarians cannot yet play fully - but only two screens are missing. I know there will surely be more screens and I'll have to port these later, too. Some screens are ready within a day, others need more work. The work is very hard and requires a lot of time (the first versions in particular were really time-consuming). However, Atarians have been able to play for some months already.

Thomas: How did you come to make this game?

Rafal: Quite simply - there was a news announcement on Place2Be! Then I wrote an e-mail to Martin Wolf. After few days I got my first task...

Thomas: What is so special about Tales of Tamar?

Rafal: Hmm... We all know games where one human plays against the computer. That is very boring, because AI (Artificial Intelligence) of a computer will never beat the intelligence of a human. Then there are also games, where one can play against another person. Those are also mostly not so interesting. In Tales of Tamar one plays against many people and against a computer (server by Eternity). Presently, about 100 people are participating in the game (Amiga, Atari, PC, Mac and Linux). When it is finished, thousands of people spread all over the whole world can form coalitions, lead wars and act like in real life.

Thomas: How many Atari owners are participating already?

Rafal: Including myself, only three, shortly to be five or six.

Thomas: Are you still looking for beta testers?

Rafal: Yes, always. At the start I had about 30 testers. Unfortunately most of them gave up although they never participated in the game. That is very sad, because many users say there are no new games and software for Atari, however, when developers look for testers nobody is willing to help.

[Screen-shot: MyPDF]

Thomas: Another project is a PDF reader for the Atari named MyPDF. There is already a good product for this in the form of Porthos, why are you developing another reader?

Rafal: Good question! I began my work before Porthos was available. When the first version of Porthos was published, we (Eric Reboux and I) had got too far to put it on ice. Additionally we developed totally independently from the developers of Porthos.

Thomas: How far completed is the project?

Rafal: We're working on the page rendering now. We can display some of the PDFs (text, vector graphics and bitmap pictures). But we have to work on the speed, precision and other things. There is still much work to do.

Thomas: Do you work alone on the program?

Rafal: No, as I said I work together with Eric Reboux, he's also known for FindIt and Direct.

Thomas: Do you program all your own routines or do you use some from GhostScript?

Rafal: Everything is written from scratch. If one wants to use the
routines of GhostScript, everything must be read exactly even if rewritten. Sometimes it's really hard to understand source code even with comments, or how to use a routine. But we are using other freely available libraries for decompression. For me, and also for Eric, it was better to write everything completely from scratch. Adobe has very good documentation (about 700 pages as a PDF document) containing everything we need.

Thomas: When can we expect the final version?

Rafal: This year, for sure. I hope to publish the first version in the second quarter. At home I have a working version, but there are so many bugs and problems to solve we can't publish it now!

Thomas: When we can expect the first beta version? Is there a web site for the project?

Rafal: The first version will be finished in a month or two. We still face many problems, which we have to solve as good as possible. The web page is already uploaded. The address is - I have to update it.

Thomas: Do you work on any other projects?

Rafal: Yes. I try to lend my knowledge to the Highwire web browser project. Because of my commitments at university, I have not yet done much. Of course, I also work on my web site, the Polish Atari News Page. This is known by not only Polish users but also German, French and Swedish.

Thomas: What do you think about the xTOS project?

Rafal: xTOS - that is now a hot topic. We need for sure new hardware with PCI, ISA, USB, FireWire and all that. xTOS will be in my opinion the only possibility to put all the new solutions in an Atari clone. Milan seems to be dead, Czuba Tech doesn't produce computers, we also don't see any possibility with PowerPC. I think, however, only true Atarians will buy an xTOS machine. The others unfortunately use emulators...

Thomas: Do you consider emulators as an alternative to native Atari hardware?

Rafal: No. For me an emulator is like a back-up woman (how do you say this in English?!). One can compare Atari with a woman - you cannot live with it, but also not without!

Thomas: I have the impression that the freeware and shareware market is growing very fast. Almost every week, interesting programs and projects appear, while other developers release the source code of their programs. Is the Atari becoming a platform for open source?

Rafal: Yes, although we'll always also have commercial projects. It makes me happy that so many new projects are in development (like HYP_view for example). The best thing for me is that some of the developers are making the sources for free for other Atari programmers. I find that really good. There are, however, still many software whose sources should be released or should be further developed in the future. I know that sometimes it's really hard to get the sources (NVDI, ST-Guide, CAB...) - that's really sad for us. In such cases it's hard to develop such software but it's possible - someone just has to find a motivation for it!

Thomas: You care for so many projects, it looks like you're working 24 hours a day for Atari. What else are you doing?

Rafal: Hmm, no I can't work 24 hours! I organize my time very well. This year I should finish my Ph.D. thesis and find a good job. I work on it intensively almost eight hours per day. At weekends I spend more time with my wife and my little three month old daughter, Pola. She needs a lot of attention, but she is a great pleasure. I must also mention she likes to work on Atari, as you can see in the picture! Her favourite system is MiNT and her best game is Chu Chu Rocket!

[Photo: Pola, young Atari expert!]

This interview was originally published in German by st-computer magazine, February 2002, and is reproduced in English with kind permission.

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