11/09/2019

๐Ÿ–ฅ️๐Ÿ’พ An Interview with Michael P. Welch "Pocket Tanks, DX-Ball and Commodore Love" ๐Ÿ–ฅ️๐Ÿ’พ @mikew_blitwise #GameDev #IndieGames

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If the name Michael Welch isn’t familiar to you, his games Scorched Tanks and Pocket Tanks almost certainly will be, especially if you owned an Amiga.

Through his company, Blitwise he has been releasing newer iterations of his titles, complete with new weaponry etc. For years. His newest title, Puzzle Catcher is inspired by ‘suncatchers, tangrams, and quilting’ a far-cry from the artillery genre that he is known for but keeping in tune to the simple, fun and accessible traits that flows throughout the companies history.

The below interview covers everything from Blitwise’s early roots and surprise successes to how Michael makes games to impress his wife and includes upcoming information on new releases (there’s a new weapon pack inbound so Pocket Tanks fans, rejoice!).

Blitwise (http://www.blitwise.com) is a small, independent company that relies on word of mouth to let people know of new releases, please visit the site/titles in the app store, they really are wonderfully addictive and playable for all.

Games Freezer interview with Michael Welch:

GF - Hi Mike, firstly thank you for taking the time out for this interview, it’s hugely appreciated as I’ve been enjoying your games for literally decades. For those uninitiated to your work, can you give an overview of when you started developing games and your story thus far?

Mike - I started writing games on graph-paper back when I was 12 years old.  All I had was a copy of "Compute's 128 Programmer's Guide" that I borrowed from the library and the hope that I'd get a computer that Christmas.

After writing a couple of unreleased but complete C64/C128 games, my parents noticed that I had a knack for programming, so they went way out on a limb and bought me an Amiga 2000 in 1989. 

After 3 years of programming little game demos in Blitz Basic, AMOS, Blitz Basic 2, and AMOS Pro, I finally wrote something that people started telling me that I should finish. 

I had seen a game called Scorched Earth on a PC, and after seeing it for only an hour, I was determined to make something similar for my Amiga. After a month of work, I showed a friend a scrolling terrain with tanks that fired and dirt that settled to the ground after. He was quite insistent that I finished the game, so I took the rest of my summer break from college and finished the first version of Scorched Tanks.

It was released as shareware, and I never expected to make any money, but I put my PO Box address in the game and an offer to send the registered version of the game for a donation.

To my surprise, I started to get multiple letters a day in the mail, and I started updating the game regularly for the next 2+ years. 

All that lead to a game in the game industry, and several others such as DX-Ball and Pocket Tanks. Writing games is quite the hobby, and everyone has been very supportive over the years, so I'm planning on writing games for decades to come.  :)    

GF - Personally I am a massive fan of Scorched Tanks and Pocket Tanks with Scorched Tanks especially being a defining part of my gaming history. I loved the effective, minimalist approach to audio as well as the wealth of weapons and the different tactics that they offered. What are your memories of developing these games?

Mike - Hot summer nights, clouds of dust from the road coming in the window, and simply writing code just for fun!

It was a humble beginning, but after I received my first letter in the mail with money for Scorched Tanks, I became very focused on making updates and shipping out copies of my game all over the world.

I was absolutely swamped with emails from Genie and letters in the mail with suggestions for the game, and I was very happy to make new weapons and upgrade the game. I still have all the letters that everyone sent and reams of printer paper with weapon ideas! 
Every day for 2 years, I'd be checking the PO Box for orders, talking to people online, and coding. It became a life long habit.

GF - How has the gaming industry changed for you personally since the 8-bit days?

Back with the Commodore 64, you know the entire machine like the back of your hand. It all fits very neatly in your head. In the '90s, you needed to write a game engine to make writing games easier. In the 2000's you needed to write a cross-platform game engine so your game could run on different kinds of desktop computers.  

Then mobile hit, and you had to deal with your game running on devices of any size and resolution, and support touch input! And these days, you have to change your game engine to be data-driven and support scripting for the modding community.

It's a lot harder to write games these days! I know that Pocket Tanks looks simple, but it takes all my free time to keep it running on the latest hardware. How many games do you know of that are running the same game code and engine from 20 years ago? 

After the Amiga computer faded out, I decided to write a game engine that would be cross-platform that could stand the test of time. 20+ years later, I'm still at it, and I'm keeping up with the times as well. I'll be working on my game engine 30 years from now, so make sure to look me up. :)

GF - Your website (www.blitwise.com) has a banner at the top that mentions clean, family-friendly fun. Is this is a big part of what you do and has it always been important to you that your games are accessible to all?

Mike - Early on, with Scorched Tanks, I found that parents appreciated that my game was lighthearted and upbeat. I tend to avoid violent video games in general, and I challenge myself to make my games interesting in a way that makes them a classic.

Anyone can make a shocking game gets people's attention, but it takes patience to make something that is so simple and elegant that it's unforgettable.

GF - Your site also mentions creating C64 / Amiga style games for the new generation, what do you see as the defining characteristics of those systems?

Mike - The Commodore 64 was the computer that featured games where the programmer's name was listed on the title screen. Right from the beginning, the C64 open the door for would-be game programmers to try and make their own games.

This is where DIY game development started, and the C64 was at the front of the pack but it took a lot of technical skill to write software for the C64, so it was not as accessible. As for the Commodore Amiga, it had the most amazing computer graphics ever! And after owning one for just a short time, you got the sense that MOST of the people who owned an Amiga wrote their own software, and it was a lot easier to write good looking software on the Amiga. 

Very quickly, you would adopt the attitude that if the tool or game did not exist in the Amiga, then you would write it yourself and share it through online services (before the internet). The C64 was the people's computer, and the Amiga was for the graphics programmers and game players.       

GF - The music in Pocket Tanks has always been a real highlight for me, the relaxing, bubbly tones have been stuck in my head for years (Jon Gomm’s Passionflower also reminds me of it, weirdly) do you write all of the music and is there somewhere it can be downloaded from?

Mike - Chronoton (Aka DNA-Groove) writes all the music for our games at BlitWise. He's been helping us for years, and his musical talent ties all our games together with a common thread.

You can find his music at:
https://chronoton.bandcamp.com/
https://soundcloud.com/chronoton
https://soundcloud.com/eliranbenishai
https://soundcloud.com/dna-groove
https://dnagroove.bandcamp.com/

GF - Do you play many games yourself and if so, which ones recently have had an impact on you?

Mike - Before I had 5 kids, I played a lot more games. These days I research games, buy the quirky indie games for my kids to learn what 'good' games are, and then once every couple of years I play a game.

The last game I was really hooked on was FTL - Faster Than Light. I'd love to write a game like that someday. I have plenty of other games since, but games like FTL really stick with you.
GF - Obviously I’m more familiar with your games in the Artillery genre but, whilst researching this, I came across DX Ball which looks right up my street, are there any particular games you’ve created that you are proud of?

I am very proud of my newest game, Puzzle Catcher.  Its graphics style is based on my Super DX-Ball game, but it's using all my latest technology to make a very simple and compelling game.


I used all the colour theory, art research, and graphics algorithms from Super DX-Ball, then circled back around 10+ years later to make the ultimate tile sliding game. 
I'll always be making artillery games, but I made games like DX-Ball, Super DX-Ball, and Puzzle Catcher for people like my wife. I'm always trying to impress her.

GF - Your games tend to have expansion packs and be worked on for quite some time after the initial release. What can we look forward to next from Blitwise, expansions, ports or perhaps a new game entirely?

Mike - I took a 3+ year break from Pocket Tanks to write Puzzle Catcher. That's a long time to be away from Pocket Tanks, so I'm back to writing weapons and updating the game.


It takes most of our time to keep the online play servers running and do regular maintenance updates but you can expect a free 5 weapon Puzzle Pack for Pocket Tanks in the next few months, to celebrate the release of Puzzle Catcher. After that, we will be releasing another 5 weapon pack (free) and 15 weapon pack (for-sale) soon after that. 

We have big plans after that, such as a PC/Mac release that supports online play as well and the next time I get a chance to write a new game, I'll rewrite Super DX-Ball for mobile and PC/Mac.

The world needs for breakout-style games, and Super DX-Ball deserves to look awesome on a 4K television.  

GF - It seems to me that your games would translate very well to modern consoles, especially the Nintendo Switch. Is there any possibility of this happening?

Mike - I would love to write Pocket Tanks for the Nintendo Switch! I'm spread a little thin to support iOS, Android, PC, Mac and consoles, but we have the technical chops to pull it off. It's just a question of time and money, but I'd be thrilled to port to any and all consoles. Two programmers can only do so much.

GF - Finally, if you HAD to choose one, what would you say is your favourite game of all time?

Mike - Company of Heroes is my favourite game of all time. I just love RTS games.

Britt

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