INTERVIEW: MIKE EDWARDS
Interviewed By PETER ELLISON
Mike Edwards is a programmer for BRAM,Inc. and has to his credit two excellent games:'Attack at EP-CYG-4' and the lastest 'ZOMBIES'.
Q. When did you first become interested in computer science?
A. I guess I have always been interested in computer science and I minored in it when I went to college, but my major was in mathematics. Later I went to graduate school in mathematics and found out that I didn't like mathematicians. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life working with people who I thought were obnoxious, so I switched to computer classes. Then the math school threw me out for doing that, of course. So when it was time to get thrown out of graduate school and get a job, I got a job in computer science.
Q. What was your first personal computer?
A. It was an ATARI computer.
Q. And why?
A. Probably just luck. I never wanted to have a personal computer because I used computers with my job at Boeing all the time. You don't want to do in your spare time what you do at work, but after a while I didn't do programming anymore, instead I did more analysis and hence I never got to play with computers anymore. So finally after not playing with computers anymore at work for a long time I thought,"Yeh, maybe I would like a personal computer." So my wife decided to buy me one for my birthday. So we said, "Lets go buy a personal computer." We ran out and the first store that we went into handled ATARIs and it did everything that we wanted. It did word processing, and you could even attach a printer. And when they put up 'Star Raiders' I was sold.
Q. When was BRAM,Inc. started and by whom?
A. It was started about two years ago when I bought my ATARI computer. I had only had my computer for about two months when Roy, who had been a friend for a long time came over and saw it. He'd only seen it for about half an hour before he decided he had to have one too. So he went out that weekend and bought one also. Then after a while I showed him some stuff I could program because I had done alot of programming before owning an ATARI. Roy said,"Thats really neat, are you ever going to program an entire game?" I said "Yeh, for sure." He then said "Why don't we sell it? We could form this company for a tax dodge." So that is what we did and I wrote a basic game that was really primitive and we put it in nice packaging and sold, I think twenty copies to places around town, and that was our tax write off. After that I was just fooling around, then in Assembly language and wrote another game, which is "Attack at EP-CYG-4" and we sold a lot of those, so instead of being a tax dodge, we were actually making money.
Q. What does BRAM stand for?
A. It is the initials of the first names of everyone that is in the company. Bev and Roy is one couple, and then Anita and Mike, my wife and I.
Q. Are there any other programmers, other then yourself who program for BRAM?
A. There are lately. Basically we've always been a small company not trying to expand to fast, it is a tough market place out there. Bram happens to be a way to market the games that I have written, but since we've gotten to the point that we have some money to get some other programmers involved and we're doing a nutritional package and some other things in the work. But we're still a real small family-owned, private company. We're not going to take on the big guys, we're just out there to do a little thing in a very good way.
Q. Is BRAM ever going to sell the copyrights to its' games or make versions for any other personal computers on the market?
A. As a matter of fact we're currently making a version of 'ZOMBIES' for the Commodore 64 and right now negotiating with some programmers to do the conversion. I guess there are some programmers that all they do is convert programs from the ATARI to the Commodore 64.
Q. Have you ever written any software for any other company besides BRAM?
A. Other then the Boeing company which was my job for many years, but I don't even write software for them anymore.
Q. Where did you get the idea for 'Attack at EP-CYG-4'?
A. I mostly just started playing around and it just sort of happened. I don't know that I really planned it much, I just got the spaceships, the player/missile graphics to move around and pretty soon I added the cities down below and it just sort of came into place a little bit at a time. It sort of combines ideas from alot of different games. The only thing that I really wanted, you see it in space games, you've always got to have your spaceship pointed at the ship you want to shoot. Well, that is straight out of W.W.I. In any sort of advanced culture you are going to be able to shoot in any direction. That is one thing I wanted. To be able to shoot in any direction and that is why I came up with the idea of a targeting cursor. This is not much different then what you have in missile command. You put it on board a moving ship and then it became nice to have the two-player mode where one player controls the ship and the other the firing cursor.
Q. I noticed there was a large gap of time between the release of 'ZOMBIES' and 'Attack at EP-CYG-4'. Was this because of the amount of time required for 'ZOMBIES'?
A. I got 'EP-CYG-4' finished about June and then there was a lot of stuff, like writing documentation, making a cassette version(that took a month or two), and then a cartridge version that we licensed to ROMOX as they were first starting out. So that took up all the time clear up until September when I started thinking about a new game. It took a while for 'ZOMBIES' to even come up. I personally don't think of them right off the bat. Actually, like I said in the instructions, it started out as a football game. I was one day home from work sick when I was just thinking about it and the idea of 'ZOMBIES' came. I don't know how it came but by the end of the afternoon the concept of ZOMBIES, dropping crosses, and going and retrieving the crowns all hit home at once. But it was still going to be a two-dimensional game. It wasn't until much later, actually a suggestion from Roy, that I make it 3-D in some way, and then it took months to work out the graphics. Now you have a 3-D game which is essentially a 2-D game with a bleak projection but the tough part was to work out all the details of how you know your running into a wall, going down a ladder, etc.
Q. Did you have someone help you with the designing of the rooms in 'ZOMBIES'?
A. No, actually I designed all of the rooms myself. Other then the fact someone suggested an M.C. Escher type thing might look real nice in that particular graphic-character set and the last dungeon set has some M.C.Escher mindbenders in it. And that was kind of fun to do, hard though.
Q. Did you write the music for ZOMBIES?
A. Yes, I did. I don't know if anyone is going to like the music because frankly I think it is a little wierd, but I think it suits the game.
Q. In both 'ZOMBIES' and 'EP-CYG-4' you made it possible for two players to play at the same time. Do you ever see yourself writing one for four players cooperative?
A. Yeh, I would like to. I would have done four-player cooperative in 'ZOMBIES' if I could have managed it technologically, but I only had, using the available snip techniques of taking one player/missile, snipping it, and using a display list interrupt and having multiple incarnations of it on the screen. Taking it to the maximum and how many 'ZOMBIES' and other sort of creatures that I wanted chasing the Protangonists I only had two-players left, unless I wanted to cut the players in half, but that didn't look very good. I think its important to have cooperative games because I like to play against the computer but I have a son, who is eight years old, and we like to play computers together and we don't like to wait for each others turn to be over. Especially when Eric is doing so good on certain games and I get tired of waiting around. So it is nice to have a game you can both play together and on the same side.
Q. Which assembler do you use for your games?
A. Well, I started off with the Assembler/Editor cartridge when making 'EP-CYG-4', but that was hopeless when I got to the point where it wouldn't work anymore. So, then I went to OSS's assembler, but it was just to slow and just to ponderous. Then I heard that Synassembler was fast and 'ZOMBIES' was written entirely on Synassembler. I really enjoy its speed and everything else in it is really nice.
Q. What do you do when you're not programming?
A. My wife says that I have more hobbies then anyone in the entire world. Primarily, I'm into playing rock instruments, tournament bridge, and I'm a soccer coach. I also enjoy geology and reading about quatum mechanics.
Q. Would you like to ever program something other then games?
A. As a matter of fact, the next thing that I program might not be a game at all. I'm the one, since my wife is a professional accountant, who gets stuck with the budgeting. You know the saying 'What you do at work, you don't do at home'. So I'm the one in charge of writing down all of the cheques, and it is a real pain. So in terms of what is out there on the market right now for personal finance packages, there isn't anything that keep track of everything the way I want to keep track of them.
Q. What program or programs are you working on at this time?
A. Actually none. I have been goofing around ever since I've been done with 'ZOMBIES'. The last little bit of doing 'ZOMBIES' was really testing it. I had to really work hard to get it done in a reasonable amount of time. There were times when in the middle of 'ZOMBIES' that I thought it would never get done. I've been taking some time off until I can get back into the mood of programming. That is the nice thing about BRAM, when your doing it the way we are I can get around to it when I want too.