INTERVIEW: ARTI HAROUTUNIAN
Interviewed By PETER ELLISON
Arti Haroutunian works for Tronix,Inc. and has to his credit two excellent original games for the Atari computer. The are 'Kid Grid' and his latest 'Juice'. He has also translated both of them to run on the Commodore 64. We at ROM were able to chat with him while he was at his office.
Q. Arti, when did you first become interested in computer programming?
A. I became interested back in 1978 when I bought a TRS-80 Model I.
Q. Did you go to school for programming or did you learn your programming skills on your own?
A. I have a Masters in Computer Engineering, however most of the microcomputer skills I have learned on my own.
Q. What was the first program that you sold commercially?
A. My first program was a Text Adventure called 'MicroWorld' for the TRS-80. It was published in 1980.
Q. When was Tronix started and by whom?
A. Tronix was started in September of 1982 by a gentleman by the name of John Reece.
Q. How long did it take you to program 'Kid Grid'?
A. It took me two months.
Q. And what assembler did you use?
A. The Assembler/Editor by ATARI.
Q. How long did it take you to program 'Juice'?
A. Juice took me four and a half months long, because Juice originally started out as a totally different game. I don't really like to sit down and define a game right down to the last detail and then find out the game, once coded, is boring. So I come up with a basic idea and start coding it, adding features as I code. With Juice I hit lots of dead ends.I would come up with a program like Basketball, but when I see a program isn't going anywhere I have to drop the past two weeks of work and retrace my steps, going back to the base I had which was the playfield of Juice. Then take it again from there. Designing new characters, new action and all those things.
Q. I noticed that Juice had more complicated graphics then Kid Grid. Was this because you spent more time in the designing of it?
A. Well,commercial programming for me was a whole new field. I started out with a text adventure, then I got my ATARI and Kid Grid was my first major graphic work. Being my first venture into graphics in general and after looking at Kid Grid I wanted to do something better then it, more graphically demanding. The next original piece of work I do on th ATARI or any machine would be even more graphically better then Juice.
Q. What one feature do like on the ATARI over all the other personal computers on the market?
A. The feature that I like best about the ATARI is that it is the best documented machine in its' class. Basically my attitude is that you can do wonders with every machine if you can program it, however, ATARI makes it much easier for you, because they document everything that the machine does, thus opening the field to you, not leaving anything up to guessing or trial and error.
Q. What do you like to do when your not writing programs?
A. I like listen to music, play the piano, and read. Anything I can get my hands on I read.
Q. What do you do to get all your ideas on writing a game?
A. First of all I look at what is out on the market. I look at was has been done on other computers or in the arcades, and also try to look at what traditional games, board games, kept people amused before there were computers. I often go into an arcade and play the games and then think to myself,"What did I like about it, or what I didn't like about a certain game." I then try to avoid those pitfalls when I'm writing a game because one of the main problems that as a programmer, usually the programmer has the attitude that whatever he's doing at the moment is the most perfect and best thing there is. He gets locked into thinking, "I have the perfect game." When it is really a piece of garbage. A programmer has to be very objective about his own work and it is difficult, especially if you've put in a couple of months of coding, to sit down and tell yourself,"This is not a good piece of work." You have to go back and retrace your steps and change things. Also what I try to do is get a lot of suggestions once I have started the game. These suggestions are good from people who know nothing about computers. They'll sit in front of a half finished game and say, "I don't like this color and this sound is too loud, etc." Most of the time what they say is not usable, but they steer me in the right direction.
Q. What direction do you see computer games going?
A. The days of where a single programmer can write a game in a couple of months and make a big hit out of it, those days are numbered. The reason for this is because most machines now come with 64K and soon to be 128K therefore, lots of people are going to start wanting games of this size. We're going to get to the point where 64K machine language games are standard and any one person in any appreciable amount of time cannot write a good 64K program. This means programs are going to be collaberated efforts between two, three, four,or a whole group of programmers. So I think the days of a single office are going to come to an end and producing software will become like producing any other product, one person cannot do it anymore. More people will have to pool their time and their talents to put applications and games together.
Q. What role do you see ATARI playing in the microcomputer world?
A. I'm looking forward to the ATARI comeback soon because I have looked at their new machines and their fantastic.I really hope that they get back to the point to where they were before.
Q. What advice do you give to someone thinking about writing a program to sell?
A. Most color computer type machines can be programmed similar to produce very good games. It is a lot like playing a piano. A composer might be a real good composer, but if his talents are limited on the piano, he is just going to write a work that he can perform himself. If he is not a very good performer then his compositions aren't going to be very good, and it is the same about writing an original computer program. You may have very grandiose ideas, but you may not be able to implement them and therefore you will cut them out of your program. I think a problem that most people are into this 'get rich quick' theme in which they write something in two or three months and think it's the ultimate, it is not. I think before anyone should sit down and write a program they should first have a very clear understanding of the language they are working in. It may be Assembly, Pascal, Basic, or any language, and then have a very clear understanding of the machine's capabilities. Then they should plunge into writing a game.