Q&A

Christophe De Dinechin

EDGE - - THE MAKING OF... -

You were ob­vi­ously a pro­fi­cient coder by the time you made

What got you in­ter­ested in com­puter pro­gram­ming in the first place?

I got hooked with a Texas In­stru­ments cal­cu­la­tor, a TI-57, that I started pro­gram­ming at age 13 or so. It only had a nu­mer­i­cal dis­play. Part of what got me hooked is that it was a Christ­mas gift that ar­rived four months late. So I was a bit like Calvin from Calvin And Hobbes wait­ing for his pro­pel­ler hat. In the Dark Ages, un­less you wanted to wait for ten min­utes to get a lame game to load from tape at 300 bauds, the in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion was pro­gram­ming. Ini­tially, I was mostly in­ter­ested in math­e­mat­ics, plot­ting curves and this kind of thing. Over time, I learned Z80 assem­bly lan­guage, but even then the real game was un­der­stand­ing how to make the com­puter do things.

How did you get into mak­ing games?

I only be­gan cod­ing games when a friend got a TI-99/4A. That ma­chine had sprites, a joy­stick, even a floppy drive. So we started spend­ing our Satur­days writ­ing small BA­SIC games. I think I only be­gan cod­ing se­ri­ous games with the Atari ST. That ma­chine had a floppy disk and some real fun games such as Time Ban­dit and The Pawn.

What are you do­ing now?

I still do 3D. I co-founded my com­pany, Tao­dyne, four or five years ago and we do a glasses-free 3D tech­nol­ogy called Tao3D. Even to­day, I’m still cod­ing pro­to­type games, but mostly to test graph­ics ren­der­ing ideas. the New Age theme was a mis­take. It would prob­a­bly have been more suc­cess­ful with­out it.”

Fred­er­ick Ray­nal, the In­fo­grames pro­gram­mer who ported Al­pha Waves to PC, agrees: “Al­pha Waves was the first full 3D plat­former game. Ev­ery­thing was mov­ing fast on the screen and the game­play was very chal­leng­ing. I think In­fo­grames made a mis­take try­ing to sell it as a New Age brain-mo­ti­vat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­stead of an ef­fi­cient and mod­ern plat­former.”

While the Age Of Aquarius chic mys­ti­fied the wider world and might have caused the game to sink into ob­scu­rity shortly af­ter re­lease, Al­pha Waves’ in­flu­ence on Ray­nal led to big­ger things. “Al­pha Waves made me think in 3D,” he says. “While mak­ing it, I was think­ing about what could be the fu­ture of ad­ven­ture games with 3D com­puted an­i­ma­tion and skinned char­ac­ters.”

Fired up by the plat­former, Ray­nal be­gan work on Alone In The Dark, the Love­craftian 1992 sur­vival hor­ror that would fi­nally give In­fo­grames the hit it had been search­ing for. The game’s fi­nan­cial suc­cess meant that the pub­lisher could be­gin the process of swal­low­ing up ri­vals such as Atari, Ocean Soft­ware, GT In­ter­ac­tive and Grem­lin In­ter­ac­tive.

For De Dinechin, how­ever, Al­pha Waves was both the start and end of his game-mak­ing ca­reer. “At some point in my dis­cus­sions with In­fo­grames, I said my dream would be to buy a NeXT work­sta­tion, which at the time cost about 100,000 francs [£11,000],” he says. “I think they reg­is­tered that and thought, ‘As long as we pay him that much, he is go­ing to be happy.’ I had to send for­mal letters ev­ery few months to In­fo­grames for over­due roy­al­ties. In the end, when I put all the pay­ments to­gether, I had the amount for the NeXTs­ta­tion, prac­ti­cally to the franc.”

The lack of in­come from the game’s North Amer­i­can re­lease (un­der the name Con­tin­uum) also an­noyed him. “I knew In­fo­grames were try­ing to ex­pand over­seas and I asked, ‘Does it sell there?’ and it was al­ways, ‘Zero, zero, zero.’ I said, ‘That’s strange. You did not sell any there?’ They said, ‘Nah, it doesn’t work there.’”

De Dinechin grew tired of chas­ing his late roy­al­ties. “Af­ter a while, I re­alised I have other ways to make a liv­ing, there is more out there than videogames, and I sort of gave up – not nec­es­sar­ily for the worst,” he says. “I think Al­pha Waves was ahead of its time, but I did not know it at the time. I’d prob­a­bly have spent more time on per­fect­ing 3D tech­nol­ogy if I had had a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with In­fo­grames. But I spent some­thing like two years try­ing to get roy­al­ties from them and I said, ‘Never again.’”

Not that money was the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind mak­ing Al­pha Waves, the PC ver­sion of which is now avail­able to play on the In­ter­net Archive un­der its US ti­tle. “I was do­ing it be­cause it was fun,” De Dinechin says. “The true rea­sons for do­ing it were in­tel­lec­tual en­light­en­ment, learn­ing how things work with com­put­ers, and a feel­ing I had that at some point we would be able to cre­ate full re­al­is­tic game en­vi­ron­ments and 3D worlds. What made Al­pha Waves in­ter­est­ing was the physics more than the 3D graph­ics. It was one of the first 3D games where you could re­ally in­ter­act with any­thing you saw.”

Cre­ator, Al­pha Waves

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