Christophe De Dinechin
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