1) Can you introduce yourself to the people who haven't heard from you before?
My name is Laurent Kermel and I was born in 1973. I am also French and spent all of my youth in the sunny south of France. But despite the great weather, most of my time as a kid got wasted, as some people would meaningly say, in front of a computer or a piece of paper writing stories or drawing fantasy worlds. Video games and computers have always had this great attraction to me, even today.
2) What were your first steps into the world of computers?
My first steps into the world of computers, like a lot of people of my generation, happened really early, when I was eleven years old. We had a huge square IBM PC at home and this is what I used to write my first games. The machine was, for today's standard, amazingly simple: no hard drive, no graphic card and a speedy 1 MHz CPU. It was the perfect time for kids like me to learn programming, everything was much more simple back then and it was easy to grab lines of codes from computer magazines and write simple games. Because of this, and this is really important, I think I managed to learn and understand the basics of programming and game creation.
3) Which computers did you ever own during all those years?
So, the first one was the heavy IBM PC. Then my parents bought an Atari 520 STF in 1987. The grey machine stayed with me until 1996. After that I have mainly been using PC computers which I usually build myself... I'll have to give up on that one day as I always have configuration problems ;)
4) You have programmed some very professional games in the late 80s / early 90s. Why have you never released them commercially?
I am still asking this question to myself today. But the answer is simple. I was a kid and for me the world of video gaming was an unapprochable goal. Nowadays, because of the internet, it is possible to share work with thousands of people or contact professionals from your very home. Fifteen years ago, I could only share my games with a handful of friends and the only way to send one of my creations to a game company was through the post.
5) Why did you want to program games?
The first reason was probably because I couldn't afford the real games so I would try to create my own versions at home. Who, in the 80s, didn't try to create their own Space Invader or Pac Man clone on their home computer ? Then I have always loved drawing and story telling and computers allowed me to mix all of this. As a kid, I also wrote many role-playing adventures, short stories and comic books. Video games are part of this.
6) This year, you got back to your ST roots. Why did you decide to start programming for the ST again?
I am not 'really' planning to start programming for the ST again... this may change in the future, but so far I just want to release my old Atari ST games. I still think it would be a shame if they got lost and games are made to be played, this is why I don't want them to end their life in a dusty box in my attic.
7) You finished and released the shooter "Bold". Why did you decide to create a shoot 'em up, and what inspired you to do so?
I have always loved shoot'em ups and this 'genre' disappearing is a terrible thing. Bold started because of Capcom's Side Arms. I have spent a small fortune playing the arcade version and it was one of the only games that didn't get converted for many current consoles or computers at the time, unlike games like R-Type. But I didn't want to only copy Side Arms, so I added personal options like the transformations and the powerup system. Over the years, I was also inspired by Irem's R-Type but also the amazing Bitmap Brothers'
8) It's a horizontal scroller, which is supposed to be one of the hardest thing on the ST. How did you manage to make it so fluent?
The horizontal scroller in Bold is just a huge cheat, only a small portion of the screen is actually moving. And, as you'll probably have noticed, most of the action is happening on a black screen so I could avoid displaying sprites with a mask. This is the rule of video games, even today, you have to cheat and make the player believe you do much more than what you really do.
9) Now you just released another beauty, "Wiliness 3". This looks superb. Why a Dungeon Master clone?
This is a long story. I have also always loved adventure games and some of my early games were just text-based adventures. One of my first games for the Atari ST was an adventure game and it was called Wiliness. It was a top-view adventure but my dream has always been to create a game where the player could see through the eyes of his character. I remember experimenting a lot using vector-based graphics to draw corridors, another test was to use pre-defined graphics where you could click on the screen with your mouse and trigger new events but this method was not flexible and needed a lot of memory. And then Faster Than Light's Dungeon Master appeared and I realised that the game mechanics I had been looking for years was there. I hope Wiliness 3 is more than a clone and I have tried to add a lot of my own elements and story.
10) There are links to a lot of other games, like SpaceNoid, Dragoon Twins and many more. Will those ever see the light of day? Tell us a bit about them.
Some of them definitively will. All in all, I have probably created around 30 games for the ST. But not all of them are playable, Malstorm for instance is no more than a prototype. But other games like Dragoon Twins or SpaceNoid are virtually finished so I will probably fix a couple of bugs and translate them into English before releasing them.
11) Did you create the games all by yourself? Graphics, Programming, Sound?
Yes. Except maybe for some of the sound effects. Usually, I would use sound effects from other games before sampling my own. But in Wiliness 3, for instance, I never had time to do this so some of the sounds effects are still re-used from other games like Dungeon Master...
12) You seem like an incredible talent. Yet, when I look at your impressive CV of today, you moved on into the special effects business. Seems like a dream job to me. Yet, one would expect you to have become a professional game creator. Why the change of course?
I've been tempted to work for the video game industry a couple of times. I even had a couple of interviews with major game companies but it was every single time to work on sport or racing games. I love to play and write video games but I am not sure if I will enjoy working for today's industry. Doing computer-generated special effects and feature films is amazing and I still don't regret my choice. But, in the back of my mind, I still want to see worlds through the eyes of my virtual characters and this is still something I'm working on today.
13) Have you created games for other systems as well?
Not really. I started a simple shooter for PC computers 2 or 3 years ago but didn't get very far. But I am still doing a lot of research on procedural generated worlds and artificial life. My dream is still to finish Malstorm: more than a game it would be a living universe where the player could spend his life visiting an infinite amount of worlds.
14) What is your all time favorite computer game?
Tricky question...It has to be FTL's Sundog. This is the sort of game that I played and played again. Some more recent games, like Katamari Damacy, are also on my list of great games.
15) What do/did you think of the Atari ST in general, compared to other machines
The Atari ST was a great machine and I see where you are going... I won't compare it to the Amiga ;) All the machines in the 80s and beginning of the 90s had a special soul which has disappeared today and I will talk about all of them, not only the Atari ST. I miss the time where any kid could sit down in front of his computer and create a bouncing ball with ten lines of code. Most of the machines back then came with a simple ready to use BASIC. This time is over and I think this is a terrible loss. Furthermore those machines could fit in your backpack and you could easily ride your bike and meet at your friend's house for big evening parties ...
16) What is your favorite system?
I love Japanese gaming and my favourite system has to be NEC's PC Engine. This console is pure genius, small, powerful (for the time I guess) and the CD-Rom support is amazing.
17) What are your future plans?
I'm planning to release more of my old games for the Atari ST and the next one will probably be the platform game DRAGOON TWINS. As I mentionned I really would like to get back to some of my old dreams and create the worlds of Malstorm and the creatures of Beagle using today's realtime 3D technologies. It is a great challenge but all the tests I have done so far are really promising. But I am also reaching an age where family really counts and my future plan is also to have kids :)
18) Would you like to share something else with us? Some final thoughts?
I think what Atari Legend is doing is great and the Atari community is amazing. I would have never released any of my games if I wouldn't have found so much support and trust. I still can not believe that all of this started nearly 20 years ago when the Atari ST was released. Damn! 20 years already...
Thanks again Maarten :)
No, thank you for this great interview, Laurent ... I'm really looking forward seeing more of your work in the future!