New Software from Poland
Thomas Raukamp interviews
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?
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
Rafal: Including myself, only three, shortly
to be five or six.
Thomas: Are you still looking for beta
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.
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
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
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
Thomas: When can we expect the final
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 http://mypdf.atari-users.net - 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
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
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!
This interview was
originally published in German by st-computer magazine,
February 2002, and is reproduced in English with kind