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Matthieu Isorez

Matthieu Isorez

Introduction

In 1993, Matthieu and his friends witnessed Alien Breed on the Amiga. They wanted this game on the ST, but Matthieu had only programmed in BASIC. This wasn't good enough, so he started to learn assembler, and slowly, Alien Blast was created. It took a whole 3 years but by 1996, the game was released as shareware. Want to learn more about the details of its creation? Look no further.

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Credits

Alien Blast
Programming

Matthieu Isorez Interview

Written by ST Graveyard

October 6, 2021

1) Introduction
2) First computers
3) The Atari ST comes in the picture
4) First creations
5) Alien Blast
6) 1996
7) Francois Wunshell
8) An Alien Breed rip off?
9) Sound effects
10) Level of difficulty
11) Greatest technical achievement
12) Epileptical
13) Shareware
14) Magazine reviews
15) Real life
16) Are you a gamer?
17) Have you played Atari today?
18) Words of Wisdom

1) Hello Matthieu, please introduce yourself to the people who haven’t heard of you before.

I am French, born in 1976 in Strasbourg.


2) When did you first get in touch with computers and which machine was it?

My first introduction with a computer was around 1985. I was 9 years old when my father bought a Tandy TRS 80. At this time, games and software were loaded from tapes. With this computer came a book on how to program in BASIC. As I was just learning to read at school, I carefully dived into the book and ... created my first program.


3) When did you buy an Atari ST and why?

I do not remember exactly when it was, I think around 1988-1990. We had to replace our TRS80 and after going back and forth between an Amiga and an Atari my father chose the Atari, because he was able to connect a ‘high’ resolution (monochrome) screen to the machine.


4) What was the first game you ever created?

It was with the Tandy, I was looking for a Flight Simulator, but it was not available. So, I tried to create one … I think that nobody would want to see the end result! It was slow, ugly and I am pretty sure it felt nothing like flying a plane, but it was fun to code.


5) It seems to me you created only 1 game on the Atari ST, Alien Blast. Can you tell us a bit about the history of the game? You got the idea from Alien Breed on the Amiga, I suppose? And where did you learn how to program like that? I guess Alien Blast is coded in Assembler?

Before Alien Blast, I (we) created few others thing on the Atari, mainly demos, but nothing was really released.
The whole story started when I went to see a friend, he had an Amiga and we played Alien Breed. Everything became clear to me! I needed to be able to play this on my Atari. But I did not find anything like it, so together with my high school friends we decided to make a clone of our own. At the beginning, we started coding it in BASIC. But that was too slow, and completely unplayable! Even with a binary build. Pretty much at this time I bought a magazine with the 'dummies guide' for assembler. I did the tutorial, and it was proof that we needed to code our game in assembler. That was the real start of the journey. Hopefully I was able to convert the map editor I did in BASIC.


6) Why did you create a game in 1996 for the Atari? Atari was almost completely dead by then. What motivated you and why didn’t you release it on other platforms?

The project started somewhere around 1993. As we needed to learn everything (mainly me with assembler) and also as we were doing everything by ourselves, it took a while to get something working like we wanted. In the end we decided to complete it even if Atari was completely dead, just for us and not to ‘lose’ all the work that was done.


7) The graphics in the game were created by Francois Wunshel? Can you tell us a bit about him and how you two met? You both seem credited as the game designers.

François went to the same school as I did. I did not hear from him ever since, as our paths changed after high school. François did most of the graphics, but I did my share as well. I also created part of the maps for the game using the sprites that François created.


8) Alien Blast is a really nice looking game, but the graphics look almost identical to the ones in Alien Breed. Did you rip them from that game?

No we created all of it from scratch. Alien Breed did inspire us a lot, but we did not have an Amiga so we did it all from memory, mimicking Alien Breed. We also took a lot of inspiration from the movie Alien and Aliens, and the artwork from Giger (the Alien designer).


9) Another thing that strikes me is the very dark and atmospheric music, and the crystal clear sound effects? Can you tell us a bit about that? When you pick up ammo, keycards and health, we hear a voice. Is that you?

To be honest, I was in luck, one night while coding I turned on my radio and they were playing these kind of nature sounds. I took a tape and recorded 2 or 3 hours of these crazy sounds. We extracted a few samples from the recording and re-used them as a base for the background sounds.
I am not sure if they are all in the final release and are still working, but also one of our friends did the music which you can play in game.
The soldier samples were actually François' voice. We tried to manipulate it a little, so it sounded more like a real soldier, without success I'm afraid. Maybe that is even the worst part of this game...
Another funny fact, the sound effects when the alien’s mother smashes the robot at the end of the game - that was me kicking my trash can!


10) At first, I was a bit disappointed about the fact that the Aliens in the game move so slow. But luckily, this is only in the first levels, after a few levels, they move faster and faster. Why did you do that? And weren’t you afraid that people would immediately think you made a slow game (compared to Alien Breed)?


Maybe… To be honest we were just trying to have a nice progression in difficulty. When I was testing the levels, I was able to change the number of aliens, their speed and their life making them a little bit more difficult. But I agree that the first level is too simple with no aliens to shoot.


11) What do you consider the greatest (technical) achievement of this game? What are you most proud of as a programmer?

Well, one of the biggest achievements was to do the game completely in assembler!
Technically I think that one of the challenges for a computer from this age was to handle the big maps that we would like to use for the last levels and keep the scrolling smooth. With an Atari Falcon we were able to run it at 50fps. With Atari STE there were some spikes over the 50fps and then we decided to reduce the refresh rate to 25fps and turn it into a more constant experience for the player.
Another thing I'm really proud of is the 2 player mode. We had long discussions before deciding that 2 players would always stay on screen simultaneously.
One thing that I really like in Alien Blast are the Pong and the Tron mini games.


12) You called yourselves ‘Epileptical’. Why? And what does it mean to you?

We needed a name, so why not? This was the same name we were using as a demo team. I don’t remember where it comes from ... Maybe because we were spending so much time on our Atari that we were afraid of having an epileptic shock? ;-)


13) Alien Blast was shareware, I think. If you wanted the complete game, you had to pay. Did you sell a lot of copies? And have you ever considered releasing it as a full commercial game?

No we did not really sell any copies, maybe 2 or 3. If we had been able to complete the game few years earlier, it would have been a different story I guess.


14) Was Alien Blast ever reviewed in any of the big ST magazines? And if so, do you remember which ones?

I don’t think so. Or I do not remember. I did not see a single one.


15) What do you do professionally for a living? Are you still a coder/game designer?

I am still working in the IT industry as an Infrastructure/Cloud manager. As an (ex) technical person I am still writing scripts to automate my job.
Beside my real job, I am still coding, mainly web sites. And funny thing is that recently was asked to work for an escape game room, in which there is a small game with a boat and pirates. This was the first time since Alien Blast that I have spent coding a game.


16) Are you a gamer? If so, what is your all time favorite game, retro or new?

I would not define me as a gamer, but I like to play from time to time.
My 2 favorites games are Tempest 2000 (Atari Jaguar) and Zelda (all of them, but specially the last one on the Switch)


17) Are you still into Atari today?

Not really. I have an emulator on my laptop that allows me to play Alien Blast now and then.
And another emulator to play Tempest 2000. That’s it.
I know that Romain who did the music has revived his Atari ST and is back using it.


18) Do you have any last words of wisdom to share with the Atari community?

I am really pleased to see that there is still people making this great computer survive. And more than that, there are still people playing the game we created 25 years ago! Who would ask for more?
Now that I have finished this interview, I’d like to play it again.


Thanks Matthieu.

Full documentary available here!

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