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Alive - Interview

Issue 05/2002
Author Sebastien Larnac

Alive Issue 5

An Interview with Heinz Rudolf

To some of you the name of Heinz Rudolf may not sound familiar still I'm sure your memory will be shortly freshened thanks to the following lines. Atari shooters fans surely had a great deal of fun with their machine playing Xenon 2, Wings of Death and others. Well Heinz Rudolf was responsible for all gfx plus some coding in the sequel to Wings of Death AKA Lethal Xcess. As a funny story I happened to play LX before finding out about Wings of Death! Actually the former had my preference thanks to its furious two player option which found me and my friends really addicted! Some time ago announce was spread that the official Lethal Xcess homepage was opened at http://lethalxcess.atari.org. There you can read lots of stuff about the game development, feedback, levels maps, music... No need to spoil the surprise, you'd better pay a respectable and nostalgic visit to the website mentioned above. Since Heinz kindly accepted to spend some time answering my questions, I hope this interview will get you even more nostalgic and wake up nice memories!

STS: Hallo Heinz! We shall start with the usual introduction: please tell us about your current status and responsibilities in the making of LX.

Heinz: Well, where shall I start? I am currently working as a freelancer in the, so called "IT business". Consulting, training, web-design just to mention some of the activities that where constantly requested from my customers. It's nice because I never do the same thing twice, there is a lot of new tasks every day and so the job never gets boring and last not least I am my own boss. The last three years I have been very busy, and there was not much time left for anything but my girlfriend and my two little children. If you want to know who was responsible for what, just look on the credits page of http://lethalxcess.atari.org.
Mainly I did the artwork for LX with two exceptions. The Spectrum 512 title picture and the little font from the main- menu were done by Tanis of TCB. Besides I was responsible for some editors and for the game design. In the current project LX 2002 I am responsible for nearly everything, because Claus has simply no time. But thanks to the internet, everybody could assist me with graphics or whatever. Some guys from France joined our forces and promised to do some graphics. You could assist too, if you still can draw with the great NEOchrome Master (thanks to Chaos Inc. AKA Till Bubeck for improving this great piece of software) just contact me. But you better visit the website, because I will tell you in detail what we need and what progress is made in the projects subdivision. 

STS: now for some history lesson. We would like to know how you came to work on LX especially when thinking that this sequel was developed by a different team. Why did the makers of Wings of Death didn't go on with the sequel? Were they bored with making games? Already busy with other activities? We want to know:) 

Heinz: LX was no sequel to WoD when the development started. We had been working on a jump and run, when Xenon II hit the scene. We kicked away all jump and run stuff and started working on a shoot'em up. The sprite engine and the sync scrolling where finished long before we visited Marc and showed him our engine. Marc had left Thalion and founded his own company (Eclipse) at this time and he was searching for new games to distribute. He would have done WoD II himself, but LX was the same genre, the engine was finished and lots of graphics had been painted. And nobody believed that we would get the permission to use the title WoD II, so why should he begin a new game from scratch, when another one is partially finished. 

STS: I read that you belonged to an ATARI demo crew before working on LX. What about it? Did you release demos? games? Was it when you met other people who were to work on LX as well? Btw is there's nice stuff we can get, don't hesitate to give us some essential URL.

Heinz: That's true, our demo crew was named X-Troll and consisted of Sunnyboy, Nexus 6 and the Cyclone. Claus Frein (Sunnyboy) and Mirko Mönninghoff (Nexus 6) coded lots of amazing(?) stuff on the ST. But we had been pretty isolated. Demos of other crews passed us mainly one year late, if they came at all. Claus main business was cracking and coding but he did it just for fun, we never spreaded anything. For example when we cracked Warp (one of the first Thalion Games) we called Thalion and visited them with our cracked copy. Michael Bittner seemed impressed, because his whole game was a mainly a copyprotection with scrolling and sound FX. If I remember right, Claus fixed a bug in his crack too, that crashed the original somewhere in the game. Nexus 6 did graphics, coding and sounds and he was involved in the early development of LX, but he decided to quit on LX and enjoy the nice summer instead, I think it had been a good decision, if you look on the money we earned with that game. The Cyclone, that's my nickname did mainly programming and artwork. We coded some Demos but we never released them ;-) There where some nice scrollers in the early days, a bob-demo with lots of sprites, distorters, the Longscreen (a scroller that is loading graphics from disk while they are scrolling on the screen). Most of our demos where technology studies for other programs that where coded afterwards. Claus used his fast diskroutines in the fastest copy program on the ST called Turbobooster. It had many advanced features I can't remember today. I did some demos on my own, (New Year Demo, Neo Show) and spent a lot of time with sync-scrolling and overscan research, but I never included the final routines in any demo. There was only one demo we released, it's called the AUDIOPAC-Demo. It had lots of chip tunes build in and you could play Pac-Man while listening. If you want to take a look try http://xtroll.atari.org

STS: back to Lethal Xcess. Surely you remember lots of funny or not so funny stories about the game development. Did you have previous experience in this field? And what happened to the development team afterwards? Do you still work in the gaming industries? 

Heinz: That's a lot of questions, let's start with the funny stories. There is one story which is very hard to believe. When we coded LX we used a rather old font for the intro and end-sequence. It had been partially finished in summer 1990 and wasn't used because I wasn't happy with some of the letters, well truly I still hate the "R" and the "B" today. When we released LX in 1991 there had been a democrew called "Cybernetics" which used a very similar font in some of their demos. I can't remember that I have ever heard about that group nor their demos until May 2002, when I accidentally hit their Website. Looking at their logo I thought: "Wow, these guys ripped the LX font and improved it." But when I sent an email to Jerome Hubert AKA Metal Ages it figured out, that he created this font and logo totally independent. And to make it worse, the Cybernetics thought that we had ripped their font for Lethal Xcess. The Cybernetics mentioned this in the credits screen of their Relapse demo. They sent some greetings to Thalion for ripping their graphics. That's a funny thing too, because nobody at Thalion had been involved in LX, they only allowed us to use the subtitle WOD II for our game, which had indeed been very nice of Thalion. That's the only near funny story I can tell. There had been many stories in the past, but that had been a decade ago, I am not sure I could tell them correctly today, so I won't try. Let's get to our "previous experience" in the field of game design. Game development is very hard work, today it has become a real industry. In the 90s it had been mainly testing and modifying ideas. A good game should be fair but not too easy. In LX we pushed it to the limit, it's a nice game for hardcore shoot'em up professionals, but it's not nearly as hard as some old Arcade games. Before LX we had only played games on different systems (Atari ST / Amiga / Mega-Drive / PC-Engine / Neo Geo). LX was our first and last game. We earned only 4.000 EUR with LX, and since it had been one year of very hard work, we decided to stop wasting our time. At last it was not our decision, it had been the decision of the German Atari / Amiga users who decided to play some boring adventure or strategic games as well as RPG's, which used only 10% of the capabilities their hardware offered. And it had been the decision of all those guys who played LX without purchasing it. Today we are both IT-consultants and still good friends, even Mirko is in the IT-business, he is some kind of web-design-wizard and a great coder too (http://www.mouseattack.de). 

STS: This leads me to ask you why you decided to open an official LX homepage some time ago. Was it by pure nostalgia or were you kind of sick of the PC world where tons of brainless games are released every month?

Heinz: It's a whole lot of nostalgia and the fact that new ST(E) emulators, like STEEM showed up on the scene which allowed lots of people to play LX on their current machines. It took exactly one year from contacting the STEEM guys (Hi Russ) to playing LX on STEEM. Since STEEM 2.2, it's fully supported. I would love to see LX running on SainT, but today that's not working. Maybe I could motivate Leonard (Hi Arnaud!) to improve his Emulator a bit. It's true there are tons of games released every month that can be simply called trash. But there had always been a few good games and lots of trash. Just take a look at the software archives for the ST or Amiga and ask yourself how many good games where released a decade ago. And while you are at it, take a close look at the Amiga Version of the same game, and honestly ask yourself which one is better. It had been no big deal coding a technical excellent game for the Amiga, but it was very hard to do it on the ST. We coded 3 month for the ST version of LX, most time had been spent on optimising sprite routines and a sync-scrolling that works on all machines. The Amiga version had been done in less than a week, including the "Amiga on a wire tools", which allows us to assemble directly into the memory of a connected Amiga from the ST. In fact there is no Amiga-Source for LX, there is only one source for both versions. 

STS: now I can't resist to ask you this question: you rumoured a sequel to LX on your homepage. Is it some kind of crazy dream or are there actually people interested in this project? 

Heinz: I am a bit surprised to hear that question, especially from you, because you are one of these guys who can't wait for a new version of LX:). Well, it's definitely no dream. I get a lot of emails from people who liked LX and would like a sequel, even today. I'm actually thinking about a PC-Version of LX because I decided to learn C++ and converting LX will be my motivation to learn it really quick. It's unbelievable what you can do on a current PC, even if you use only C. Whether you like it or not, the PC had become an unbelievable powerful machine and thanks to DirectX you don't have to code for lots of different hardware anymore. But maybe we will port it to the GBA first, I am currently thinking about it. Marc converted WoD to GBA but it looks like it will never be released because nobody knows who owns the rights today. 

STS: btw, I'm now listening to that great TURRICAN soundtrack CD I bought from a German website. Do you know if there are such CDs featuring soundtracks from Wings of Death 1 and 2? Any plan to do one then?

Heinz: Some of the Soundtracks are still released on CD, you can download them from Alexander Hollands website (Thalion Webshrine) or you can order them on CD from the Thalion Source. I hope Jochen gets his part from the sales. But as you mention it, I will try to contact Jochen and see what I can do for you. BTW the CDs are called "Give it a try" (two tracks from Wings of Death) and "Jochen Hippel remixed" (Level 4 Track from Lethal Xcess), but there is no collection with only WoD and LX soundtracks on it. The "remixed" CD seems to be no official stuff, maybe it's a bootleg, but you better ask Jochen for that. Maybe we will sell an official CD from the LX site, and if that ever happens, it would be nice if you would really buy it instead of copying it. The price will not be very high and the profits will be shared between Jochen and the current development team. Our (small) part will be used to speed up development of LX, and if this happens to work, maybe Jochen will be motivated to do more afterwards. We are currently thinking of a way to manage all of this without much risk on the financial side. In fact I already have a good idea how to do this and I will try to put all information on our site ASAP. But 1st Jochen has to agree and deliver the sounds. I have already contacted him some days ago, and he told me that the rights for the composition still belong to him. He only sold the rights for a single version of each song, on a specific platform. If Jochen can deliver anything we will offer it to everybody who wants it. 

STS: how did you find out that the ATARI scene was not dead? Did you browse the net at random or did you feel the urge to know what had happened with the machine you had spent so much time on? 

Heinz: I have been always aware of the Atari scene, but I simply had no time left to get in touch. Today the retrowave catches most of the old coders. There are lots of people coding still on the ZX-Spectrum as well as ST or Amiga. One day I used Google and searched for "Lethal Xcess", I couldn't believe how many hits I got. I scanned through all the sites and found many mistakes and false information. I contacted some webmasters and sent in corrections. But some of them seemed to be too busy to answer, so I decided to create the official Lethal Xcess Website, that has been in February 2001. It had grown a lot in the last year, and surprisingly there's always something new popping out of the web that we never thought of.

STS: Future? Yep since we're not dead, does it make you want to contribute once again to our friendly community? Do you have any contacts with active sceners? What about sceners you met a decade ago?

Heinz: Well that contacts have been lost, except for the X-Troll guys, which where close friends anyway. Last month I called Marc Rosocha. If I have the time I do some chatting with Leonard (SainT / ST-Sound-Plugin) but have never met him so far. He seems to be the best ST Demo Coder alive and a very nice guy too. A lot of new contacts comes from the website, there is a lot of very nice mail and support coming from Atari sceners. And last not least I am trying to contact people which had been involved in Lethal Xcess. I found Richard Karsmakers that way, and he delivered me some nice stories for Lethal Xcess. I had never seen them before. For those who want to read them, visit the stories department of the LX website. 

STS: Have you already attended parties or not? What about attending one? Surely the current ATARI sceners would love to meet and talk to someone like you!

Heinz: We had visited some local parties during the development of LX, I think they had been organized by a guy called Dirk Höschen AKA Captain Headcrash. But since we released no demos, we never achieved something like "fame" and so we never got any invitations, as I said we had been pretty isolated ;-) Things changed when we accidentally met Marc on a computer fair, soon afterwards we presented a cracked Version of Warp to the Thalion guys and after that we met a lot of the oldskool heroes like TEX, Delta Force, TCB, TLB... 

STS: What's your opinion regarding the survival of ATARI systems? Are you interested in clones? Would you like to see more stuff on the good old ST? Have you actually watched the last generation demos on ST such as Suretrip, Sweetie, Do Things, Breath to name a few?

Heinz: That's a lot of questions, let's start with the survival of Atari. Honestly, I have no idea. The ST(E) will survive as long as there is such a great community to support it. I can't tell how long that will last. Let's get to the clones, well what clones should that be? Atari as we know it is long gone, maybe you can create a new (Multi)-TOS based machine, I think the guys who build the Milan series own the rights to this OS now. But the Milan was quite expensive. Coldfire? Why not, but there is a small problem with sparetime projects (I can tell you:) And last not least remember: "Atari, Power without the price". What power could beat the performance of a low priced Athlon or Duron? (I hope nobody would hit me for that:) I am frequently buying old Atari hardware on German eBay from time to time. I would like to get a Falcon and maybe a TT, but they are rare and expensive. Would I like to see more stuff on the old ST? Yes why not, it's always a pleasure to see some nice demos on that old hardware. With 10 or more years and the internet as an information source it should be easy for the right guy to code cool stuff on the ST. Today the best kept secrets are available to all of us, on dozens of web pages. It would have been great if we would have had that resources in the old days. Even working together in a team is easier today, we simply knew nobody when we started with the ST. 
Suretrip? Breath? You are honestly asking me to comment these demos, I think you can give a better comment on them:) Since that newskool/oldskool debate on DHS I have watched a lot of those newer demos. Thanks to evil for putting the nice list together. Before that, the only recent stuff I had seen was done by Leonard, he seems to have a lot of time:) Beside Leonards demos I really like the "Odd Stuff" demo, which combines technical quality with nice visuals and lots of amazing graphics. It's the direction the Amiga scene went shortly before I left the scene. 

STS: Before I forget, please tell us about stuff we could send you to help you complete your homepage. What can we expect to find over there in a near future? Personally, I would love to get my hands on the gfx you made for the game. Can we dream of that?:) 

Heinz: Hmmm, we are always searching for reviews of Lethal Xcess we don't own, there is still a lot of stuff missing e.g. the review you sent in:-). There are some scans in low quality or missing. It would be also nice to get the original magazines but a 150-300 DPI scan in Photoshop format would do nearly as good. 
The graphics are already on the pages, just take a close look at the level maps. The bosses will be added to the gallery if I ever get the time and the other stuff will follow, bit by bit. 
What do we need then? Graphics are always welcome, because that's the most time consuming part for me. I would like some cool mangastyle comics for the intro and end-sequence. SH3 from the RGs promised to paint this stuff, I can't wait to see the drafts. The missing stuff it's not defined very sharply. If you think you can help us, just ask. That's what we've got an eMail-address for. 

STS: Do you still have contacts with these famous Sceners behind Thalion Software or Eclipse? Other contacts with extra people like Mad Max?

Heinz: I called Marc some weeks ago, and I chatted with Jochen last week, but otherwise I would say no. I will try to contact Erik Simon because of some permissions for WoD, maybe he can help me with some questions concerning the rights. But if I remember right Alex asked him about that too, and the situation is not very easy, because Thalion gave away the rights the last days before the company closed it's gates forever. I would also like to contact Till Bubeck and ask him something about NEOchrome Master. And I haven't seen Michael Raasch, who is also a nice guy, for an eternity. 

STS: it's time to get your braincells boiling with our "customized" brainstorming exercise! Fill in the blanks with whatever comes to you. 

H:  [H]ighlander a nice fantasy movie from the 80s. I liked only the 1st part.
E:  [E]ric Simon that's my son, the name accidentally reminds me of ...
I:  [I]nvincible Spirit, some kind of hardcore electronic music from the 80s.
N:  [N]iclas Thisell a great coder which didn't only belong to TCB but did some great games and demos for the ST.
Z:  [Z]1, a very nice German car from my customer BMW.
R:  [R]otator, a tank game with a rotating playfield which had never been finished on the ST. Same thing with the [R]oman Empire which had been a strategic game like Nectaris (PC-Engine). I painted all the graphics but the coder Klaus-Peter Plog AKA Plogi AKA Blue Devil never finished it. You will find them in my website soon.
U:  [U]nreal Tournament, nice ego-shooter, even if I prefer Quake III Team Arena. We had lot's of fun with some clan members of MTW, hell these guys where good :-) (http://www.mymtw.de)
D:  [D]esperado, my favourite action movie, gets 11 out of 10 ;-) otherwise [D]elta Force.
O:  [O]pen Source, which should be the future of coding, if M$ and others don't succeed in trying to change the rules (e.g. DCMA II). And maybe a nice demo called [O]dd Stuff.
L:  [L]ea Katharina, my sweet 5 years old daughter. Or more Atari related [L]eonard one of the best coders alive and a nice guy too.
F:  [F]lashback, the last demo of TCB with a very strange scrolltext. I wonder what mushrooms Tanis had tasted when he wrote it :-)

STS: thanks for giving us some of your time. We surely appreciate it a lot! Now do you have some sort of message you would like to spread out to our last words. I REALLY want to thank you for bringing us what is still my favourite ST shoot'em up (long hours spent killing the bastards and working out my thumb :)

Heinz: That explains why you exhaust all your lifes in level 1, the thumb is too slow, use a different triggerfinger if you want to win ;-). 
Ok, it's up to me to say some final words now. Thanks for thinking that I am important enough to do an interview with me. Thanks for all those nice emails from the ST community. And thanks to all the ST coders, artists and musicians and last not least the webmasters who kept the scene alive in the last 10 years (50 Hz or not, who cares:). Keep on with your excellent work! 

©2002 Alive (STS)

Some notes on the CD "Jochen Hippel remixed"

A few days after the interview had been published, Gerald M.-B. mailed me about the CD "Jochen Hippel remixed". I have no time to translate it, but here is a brief summary: Gerald M.-B. assures that the CD "Jochen Hippel - remixed" is no bootleg. He further writes that Jochen Hippel gave him the permission to distribute this CD. Here is the original statement in German language:

"Mit Interesse habe ich das ALIVE - Interview gelesen. Danke, dass Du meine CDs und meine Homepage erwähnt hast. 
Deine Vermutung, die "Jochen Hippel remixed" CD sei eventuell eine Bootleg-CD, möchte ich aber gerne korrigieren. Mike Weling, der die Tracks neu eingespielt und mir zur Verfügung gestellt hat, ist ein guter Kumpel von Jochen Hippel. Mike hat Jochens Musik neu arrangiert und mit verschiedenem Midi-Equipment neu aufgenommen. Jochen weiß von meiner CD (ursprünglich hatte ich auch den Titel-Sound von Lethal Xcess auf der CD, habe ihn aber auf Jochens Wunsch hin wieder von der CD genommen). Des weiteren habe ich die Erlaubnis bekommen, die CD über meine Homepage zu verkaufen. Die "Jochen Hippel remixed" CD stellt daher keine Bootleg-CD dar."


©2002 Gerald M.-B.

Lethal Xcess aka Wings of Death II a classic shoot'em up for Atari ST(E) and Amiga computers was developed by Claus Frein and Heinz Rudolf, Music by Jochen Hippel, Producer Marc Rosocha.


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All files on the Lethal Xcess Website copyright © 2001 Heinz Rudolf
Lethal Xcess copyright © 1991 Eclipse Software Design.
Wings of Death copyright © 1990 Thalion Software.
ST/Amiga Soundtracks copyright © 1990/1991 Jochen Hippel.
Cybernetics Font copyright © 1991 Jérôme Hubert.
C64 Graphics © 1992 Oliver Lindau
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This page has been updated 10.01.2005