Issue 15: Jan 2002






Tip of the Day


My trip down the Champs-Elysées


'C'ing through the window 'pains'


Atari UK 2


Star Alliance - Battle for Earth


M: Interactive Composition




Calamus from scratch


Porthos 1.28


Put a Little Bee Under the Bonnet of your TT



Star Alliance - Battle for Earth
Interview: Lars Hannig


There has probably never been a better time to own a Jaguar. Since the official support departed, highly dedicated enthusiasts have taken the big cat's future into their own hands by writing their own games. The hardware and commercially released games thus far have never been more affordable, too. Given the choice between a KFC Bargain Bucket and a new Jaguar console, we know where our £10 would go.

Starcat Developments in Germany, formerly known as the Jaguar Development Club, recently announced the imminent arrival of its first Jaguar game for general release. MyAtari is pleased to have got the following interview with its founder and lead developer, Lars Hannig.

MyAtari: Welcome to MyAtari, Lars. Please tell us about your team and current projects.

Lars: Our team consists of three people at the moment, Michael Hartmann, Christiaan Bogtman and myself (Lars Hannig). Michael and I are from Germany and Christiaan is from the Netherlands.

[Photo: Michael Hartmann]We are working on a new game for the Atari Jaguar called, "Star Alliance - Battle for Earth". It is a 2D shooter with some static and some scrolling levels. I started the project with the working title, "JDC Invader" on Tuesday, 31st Oct 2000. Originally I just wanted to do a Space Invaders clone, but after it was finished I was not satisfied with it and I decided to continue the development.

In the middle of 2001 I first got in contact with Michael and I contacted Christiaan. They decided to help me with the development of the game. I am doing all the coding, most of the graphics, most of the design and other things that need to be done. Michael Hartmann is a very good German comic artist and he is helping me with design sketches, ideas and suggestions. He also came up with the name, "Star Alliance - Battle for Earth". Christiaan Bogtman is a good musician from the Netherlands and he is doing the sound FX and music. He also does additional graphics work, for example, the status bar, that displays your energy, score and lives.

MyAtari: Were you inspired by any other programmers or games for this project?

Lars: Yes, many other games inspired me for the Star Alliance project. Some of the were Raiden, Raptor (PC), Tyrian (PC), Raiden Project (PSX) and some others. The work of Duranik inspired me a lot as well. Their work on Native inspired me a lot for the rendered in-game graphics.

[Pencil sketch and CG rendering: spacecraft sprite]

MyAtari: What do you enjoy about developing for the Jaguar?

Lars: The Jaguar was always my favorite system and when I started learning programming my main interest was of course Jaguar programming. Jaguar programming is very fun, because you can already do quite a lot with MC68000 assembler. That makes it easy to start coding the Jaguar, later you can port the routines to the GPU or DSP to make them run faster and better. The object processor is also nice because it lets you modify the objects very easily.

MyAtari: Did you learn 68000 on the ST? What productions have you done in 68000?

Lars: I got my first computer when I was four years old... It was a C-64 and I started to write tiny BASIC programs, at that time. I never did more complicated programs in BASIC because I soon got frustrated and stopped programming. Many years later, in the beginning of 2000, I decided to look into programming again, because I was very interested in the Jaguar and wanted to learn Jaguar programming. Meanwhile I have done several Jaguar demos/programs including the JDC demos, the E-JagFest 2000 demo, the OP Tester V2 and others. I never really used any MC 68000 based computers, but I learned MC 68000 assembler on the Jaguar itself. :-)

MyAtari: What's the dream game you'd like to develop?

Lars: The game of my dream would be an adventure game. Adventure games have always been my favorite genre, I played most of the Lucas Arts and Sierra Adventures and I liked them a lot. I love horror adventures as well, for example The 7th Guest and 11th Hour. Although I think inventory and environment puzzles are much better than the mini game puzzles like chess or so, that you find in The 7th Guest. Newer horror games like Sanitarium or Blackstone Chronicles are very good as well. I think I'd like to do a horror adventure game, maybe something like Blackstone Chronicles. Something like Resident Evil or Silent Hill would be great as well. But at the moment games like this are only a dream for me, but maybe one day I'll be able to do something like that. :-)

[Photo: Christiaan Bogtman]MyAtari: Should large graphic adventures be easy to do, now that anyone can record their own CDs, or is it more complicated than that?

Lars: No. Games like Resident Evil would be impossible because the Jag is not powerful enough to handle it. But even graphic adventures like Myst are almost impossible to do on the Jag now, because the JagFree CD feature of Protector SE gets past the CD encryption, but the CD development is still the same. The problem is that I have no JagCD dev kit (development CD drive with Atari Falcon and CD emulator hardware) and as far as I know none of the current Jag developers has one. That means that you would have to burn a test CD for each tiny graphic, code or sound change. You should also keep in mind that the Jaguar is not able to read CD-RWs. Burning a test CD for each tiny change is not only way too expensive, it is also much too time consuming for real game development. The only real way to use JagFree CD is writing a BJL based program that you burn onto the CD. JagFree CD is able to load a BJL based program from a CD to RAM and run it. So JagFree CD is a simple and good way to publish BJL based games.

MyAtari: What existing games do you admire or wish you had developed?

Lars: I admire a lot of adventure games, especially the classic graphic adventure games, but also newer adventure games. I wish I had worked on classic graphic adventure games or games like The 7th Guest, Sanitarium, Blackstone Chronicles, Resident Evil or Silent Hill.

MyAtari: Do you plan to acquire and finish unpublished games from the Atari era, like Songbird has done, or are you concentrating on original titles only?

Lars: I am concentrating on developing my own games. It is very difficult to find unpublished games from the Atari era and sadly a lot of them are not complete and the source codes are often lost. Developing your own games is much more fun, because you can put your own ideas and feelings into the game. And I am programming for fun, not just because I want to do games for the Jaguar. I program for fun and if something cool gets finished and others are interested in it that's fine. :-)

[Screen-shot: Star Alliance]

MyAtari: How will you manufacture and distribute your game? In the UK, two of the major high street games stores (Electronics Boutique and Game, which are actually under the same ownership) have started selling Jaguar and Lynx hardware for incredibly low prices and new, shrink-wrapped games for the same or even less. Would you consider trying to distribute your games this way and therefore perhaps sell more?

Lars: I'm not sure how I will manufacture or distribute my game. I think I'll look into details like that when the game is finished.

MyAtari: If the Jaguar could be re-designed, what features would you wish for?

Lars: This question is easy to answer :-) I think the most important features would be more bandwidth, more RAM, less or no hardware bugs and texture-mapping hardware. Of course, faster versions of Tom and Jerry (code-names of the Jag RISC chips) would be cool as well. :-)

[Photo: Lars Hannig]MyAtari: What is the situation like regarding development tools and libraries? Do you use the original systems supplied by Atari or have you spent a lot of time creating your own?

Lars: I do not use the original Atari routines. I wrote everything myself except the object list build routine for the GPU. That was done by Duranik (developers of Native, the most impressive Jag underground demo game so far). I am also using the Sinister Developments mod player and the ICE compression de-crunch routine that was also ported to the Jag by Sinister Developments. Everything else was programmed by myself. I am using an official Atari Jaguar Development Kit (2 MB Alpine Board with development Jaguar) to develop Star Alliance.

MyAtari: Do Jaguar developers support each other?

Lars: Yes, of course, most of the remaining Jag developers support each other.

MyAtari: That makes sense, as it helps games get finished quicker. Do you ever think the lack of commercial deadlines might cause games to take longer than they should? Jaguar fans are hungry for new games!

Lars: No, I think commercial deadlines are some of the worst things that can happen to a Jag project, because deadlines might cause frustration, frustration kills the fun and fun is one of the main reasons why somebody should develop for the Jaguar.

MyAtari: Do you think Sony "borrowed" the idea for the shape of PS2 from Atari's (circa 1994, unreleased) Microbox? The offset, two-tier design and ability to stand upright, seems too much of a co-incidence...

[Photo: Atari Microbox]

[Photo: Sony PlayStation 2]

Lars: Hmmm, I guess the idea of the Microbox was similar. But I don't think that the designers of the PS2 knew about the Microbox. I think they simply had the same idea.

MyAtari: Thank you very much for the interview, Lars. We look forward to the finished game with great anticipation!

Useful link

[Star Alliance logo]Starcat Developments

Keeping the first 64-bit video game system, the great Atari Jaguar, alive.


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #6, January 2002 


Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine