Coding in the ’80s and ’90s – Part 4

by | Dec 7, 2022 | Gaming, Interesting, Programming

My colleague Laszlo Nemet is a senior backend developer at Sponge Hammer. His job title doesn’t give away the vast amount of coding knowledge and experience he has been gathering over the staggering 34 years since he started game development, beginning with coding.

In the previous post he spoke about the first AAA game he was involved and as part of the team he wrote the 3D engine of the game.

How were games published in the ‘90s? What was different from the publication processes today?

In ’97, Fatal Abyss was ordered by a publisher. Funnily enough, the company that employed me for that project had taken me on board without me having an official education or any papers of reference.

There were publishers and studios, but for us to connect to them from Hungary was almost impossible. A basic issue with Fatal Abyss, for example, was that the office had a 14400 modem and eight of us were using it. We were only able to use it for an hour a day or so, because the usage was limited. When we worked on Screamer 4×4, we had a 56k modem through which we needed to send everything to the UK once a week. That always took an hour or more. We had a friend at the BMI (Budapest University of Technology and Economics) and we gave him the CD to send to the UK. It was done within five minutes, and we were blown away.

Screamer 4×4

How did game development change over the years, especially with regards to easier access to hardware and information?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not sure I like the way game development has changed in the last two decades. In general, programmers seem to have focused on one or two areas instead of having broader knowledge. And that limits their expertise to one field only. The tool programmer makes tools, the physics programmer writes physics and so on.

Why do you feel that is a problem?

I can’t say it’s good or bad. Today, if the game doesn’t have the best graphics or enough content, it won’t make enough money for the studio to survive. Gamers spend a fortune on their hardware, and they expect the game to be sparkling, beautiful and good in terms of playability. A single person can’t achieve that.

The first tree

Having said that, there was a game called The First Tree. One person developed it for more than three years, and it became a success for him. But that is very rare for a solo dev.

How did you manage to stay in game development for more than 30 years?

Well, a lot happens in a lifetime. I’ve always wanted to make games, and I’ve never wanted to do anything else. Unfortunately, I have a fridge to fill and mortgage to pay, so despite my love for video games, I couldn’t do game dev for all of that time. After Fatal Abyss, I took a six-month break because I didn’t have a project to work on. I then joined Clever’s Development, where my next project was Screamer 4×4, which was a success. The tech we used in that game was way ahead of its time. We had a project cancelled and published another one, Terminator 3: War of the Machines. By the end of my time at Clever’s, my job wasn’t very hands-on, mainly managing the project and the team. I started off as a programmer and ended up being the MD.

After that, I became a solo developer, but without publishing anything. Half a year later, I joined a company where I mainly did 3D development for Nintendo DS games, mobile games and a few smaller projects. I liked the mobile development elements. I basically worked in short sprints where I needed to copy flash games to mobile, and I enjoyed that challenge.

Nintendo DS

What do you think about all the information available online today?

I think it makes everyone comfortable and lazy. Well, on one hand it’s great to have access to a vast amount of information that allows us to individually solve a lot of problems, just using the internet. On the other hand, working out a solution on your own, without any help, gives you that feeling of achievement, and that experience will stay with you, and you will never forget it. We don’t use our brains to solve problems anymore because we can search and apply the solution to the case at hand. What I feel has always been missing from education were matrix multiplications, and that kind of knowledge I was missing wasn’t even taught at university to the level I needed for making the games I wanted.

I hope you enjoyed of Laszlo’s journey in the early ’90s. In the last post he will talk about the changes happened over the last 30 years, so stay tuned!

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