They feel anywhere at home, be it in deep dungeons or on the surface of alien planets: The programmers of FTL, who struck two 16-Bit-Hits with Oids and DM.
If you think about California and Computers, you tend to come up first with Silicon Valley situated south of San Francisco. Maybe one remembers dimly one or the other software company in Los Angeles. But San Diego, only a few miles apart from the mexican border, you might not hit on. At the same time there are couple of companies in San Diego that attend to highly modern Computer-technics. It is there, where you can meet the developers of a new Roleplaying System which makes good use of the capabilities of 16-bit computers at optimal level. We are talking about FTL Games, the creators of DM, Oids and SunDog - Frozen Legacy.
FTL stands for Faster Than Light, that translated being: Schneller als das Licht. Some roleplaying game- freaks had a different opinion on things, because they had to wait one and a half years for DM. But the success of the game seems to justify the naming, given that DM has hit almost instantly the top tier of ST-sale figures.
If you are picky about it the company really is being called Software Heaven, because that is the name under which Russ Boelhauf and Wayne Holder six years ago founded their own business under, which is as of today producing its own games by the Label FTL Games/Software Heaven.
What does Software Heaven do apart from Roleplaying Games? Wayne Holder, president and active programmer shows us with what he and Russ started earning money and still do up today: Spellchecker, programs that test Textfiles on correctness. These Spellcheckers are available for purchase for some Computers directly at Software Heaven, often it is the case that spellcheckers are being made for other companies that integrate these then into their own programs or computers. At the moment, Wayne is working on a spellchecker for a Magnavox-writing computer. In the course of this endeavour he even has a totally dismantled Magnavox-Computer laying on his desk.
While Wayne is guiding us through the offices of FTL, he told us that we are in bad luck visiting just now. Many of the programmers have gone on vacancies. In the last couple of Months everyone had abstained from vacancies, to complete the job on Oids as well as DM.
While promenading through the bureau's corridor we meet upon a young man who is grappling with a paper streamer, couple of meters lenght pouring out of his colour printer. Andy Jaros is the graphic artist, who created all the Pictures for DM. At the moment he is concerned with categorizing and printing all the graphics he painted for DM - therefore the paper streamer in his office. "It took me the best part of a year in order to finish the DM Graphics , because I had to get in terms with a computer first. At this time, all this would probably take me only a couple of months now. But a single monster at times makes me sit several days over my desk." Andy is sketching all graphics down on paper, before he then creates it on the computer screen. His graphic files for DM all together use up Memory Space far in excess of one Mega Byte. Even though, DM fits on a single ST-disquette(which is roughly only 400 KByte), and that is not only the graphics but also on this disk is the program and the digitized sounds.
Wayne comments on this: "The most labor for DM had been to develop methods in order to cram the whole stuff on the disquette and into memory. At the same time the unpackaging of data must really be quite fast, for DM planned being a real-time game. Doug Bell and Dennis Walker wrote the graphic routines and were taking every caution to make things go as fast as possible"
Project leader Doug Bell seems to be a glimmering Personality. He, however at this point, having been on vacation, yet his associates new to report couple of things on him. Doug is an "adrenal-junkie" and regards falling from high cliffs with a pair of long skiers to be a fun leisure thing to do. Doug allegedly openly confesses:"I do love the feeling to risk my life". Seven Years he and his father trampled through the West of America and did not dread to blast their way through rough terrain with dynamite. It is not for nothing he has aquired the nickname of "The Wild Man".
Dougs Job as project leader, technical director and Chief designer had not been a nouveau experience for him. He had also been responsible for the ST-version of SunDog: Frozen Legacy. Nevertheless, when questioned about what he considers to be his best program, his answer seems paradoxical, being: A data-compiler in Pascal which he had being made at the university. "I wrote it on paper, typed it in, it worked on the spot, I went home. And that is with a 500 line long program."
The third Master of Dungeons is Mike Newton. He is responsible for huge parts of the gamefield as well as many puzzles, he also wrote some helper programs like the Dungeon-Editor. With help of the Dungeon-Editor you are able to construct a complete dungeon with all monsters, treasures and riddles on screen. Out of this the Editor program automatically creates data which in turn can be merged into program code of Dungeon Master quite easily. The Editor is not for sale, because you still need a programmer to put the Dungeons together into a game. The point of the Editor program being to get people who are no programmers to work for FTL and devise Roleplaying games with it. Because there will surely be more RPgames alike DM.
Wayne Holder outlines the near future of FTL games a bit more in detail. " We set a high goal. We want to become on the field of Roleplaying Games the counterpart to what Infocom has achieved in the field of Text-Adventures: The best technically, who also got the best game-principle and - on contrary to Infocom- also the best graphics. Therefore we spent several months just working on completion and improving/detailing the interaction for DM. We let dozens of guys playtest from the complete pro to the ones who had never seen a computer nor Dungeon before, we listened to every proposal and modified the user interface several times. We did think about things that do not appear in DM at all , which we however will need in other RPGs and have programmed them along the line, too. Now we got a complex Program-system that enables us to program relatively quickly RPGs with a user interaction control similar to DM´s. And it won't stop at Fantasy- titles alone. We do think about Science -fiction games, detective stories and about a couple of new Things nobody did to this day."
At the same time FTL released with Oids an action title of epic porportions. Wayne opinion on this: "we want to stay open towards every direction and do not at all want to nail ourselves down to RPGs alone. Dan Hewitt wanted to program an action-game for us really badly, so we had started the experiment Oids. If it sells well, we are going to make more action-titles.
The on-time-completion of DM was being threatened by the emerging first Oids-version: All programmers prefered to play another round of Oids, to finishing their project. Wayne had to threaten to ban Oids from the office, to make sure that work continued. Wayne tells with a little smile: " It would have broken my heart to really prohibit it, but damn they played damn much Oids!"
Although FTL consists of only close to a dozen Guys, the games here are not only being programmed but also copied, packaged and sent by mail. This means even Wayne won't be able, despite his president title, to escape from copying diskettes for a couple of hours. Lucky that FTL is owner of a copying machine of the Type Formaster, it enables them to peu a peu gradually put 100 diskettes there. The disk machine then does the swapping on itself.
For us it had been a great surprise to see the start of a german language translation for DM. "Its not that much work really", tells Wayne "and apart from that the german market is one of the most important in the world. After all there are almost as many STs in germany as there are in America and the Amiga too is selling well over there at your place".
Given that DM is now being re-developed for Amiga and Apple IIGS, is there safe reason to believe in versions for 8 bit computers? "Under no circumstances, no way! With less than 512 KByte RAM there won't move anything at all and you also really need a fast processor like the 68000. Alas, the British company that distributes DM, keeps asking every other second week if we really are not planning on doing a cassette - version for the Spectrum." To prove that there is really nothing that can be done about it, Wayne shows us the complete source code to DM: a computer print that is bigger than many a telephone book. It is allegedly about 100000 lines of assembler code all in all.
The many work that has being put into DM seems to have payed off. While we where gossiping with the programmers at FTLs office, the phone rang on occasion. DM players from all over the USA called and asked about how to progress on a certain puzzle or inquired how to defeat a particular monster. And practically every single one that calls congratulates FTL on this game and say how great it is. That the programmers are happy to hear is for sure and they then provide bits and pieces of hints, of course. If, however even more people are going to call them, then FTL will have to come up with another method to help out the players, because the programmers are due to code the next RPG-hit. (bs)
How should the Dungeon look like? The Dungeon Editor of FTL
Battle with the paper streamer (ed:in german this is paper snake)
Hiding is in vain! PowerPlay will find every programmer, so it happens with Andy Jaros, FTL graphic artist
We want to be just like Infocom
Wayne Holder, president of FTL, puts in person diskettes into the copying machine
A huge tome: the source code of DM
Mike Newton programmed FTL´s Dungeon Editor and other Tools.