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An Interview with Henrik Wening

(This interview has been converted from German to English and the translation isn't perfect)

"Helicopter through the living room" - Interview with Henrik Wening the developer of Space Pilot

Foreword by André Eymann

The video slot machine Time Pilot has gone down in history as a legend and has thrilled countless players as a shooter time travel. Henrik Wening, who at the time was programming games for the German publisher Kingsoft , we owe it to us that the Adaption Space Pilot also provided a fulminant action on Commodore home computers. To date, only ports existed for the Atari 2600, ColecoVision or MSX computers. Henrik's account also includes two hits for the 264 home computer series. On August 4, 2011, we conducted an exclusive interview with him, which provides interesting insights into his oeuvre and the background of Kingsoft.

André Eymann: Hello Henrik, I am very happy that you are ready to tell us your own personal video game story first-hand. Which stations did you come to for game programming?

Henrik Wening: The real reason was that I had no desire to always put money in the machines. My first self-programmed game was Car Crash .

I just felt like playing the computer. But there were only slot machines and they were too expensive for me. That's why I tried to program it myself. It was just the appeal of using this device, though this office computer, the one I bought at the time, was not designed to play. Car crash was an adaptation that was reasonably good and I realized that I enjoy programming. But as a game, not as a word processor or calculation, but it should be entertainment. Car Crash was a slot machine that already existed. You always had the opportunity to change lanes in four different places in this car racing game. You drove in circles and had as Pac-Manleave all points. You could decide in the four places, top, left, bottom and right, if you would like to change one or two lanes. 

You could not turn around, but you could drive a bit faster. And that's pretty complicated when your opponent, who is on a collision course with you, always tries to get you on the track. The opponent was a computer opponent. Playing in pairs with the machine was not possible. There was only one joystick. The game is getting faster and faster and can not be won in the end, because you are no longer able to find the right lane. So it's over pretty soon. But the frustration factor is so high that one says: "Again!". It has an extremely high addictive factor.

Car Crash from 1981 for the PET was the first self-programmed BASIC video game by Henrik Wening.

The game is programmed in BASIC. The PET knew in the basic configuration only BASIC. With that you could already do a lot of nice things. My thought was: how do I get a move? For example, there was Night Driverby Atari (1980). As you drove through imaginary pylons left and right of the road. A very simple method was simply to print a new line on the screen, then everything was "pushed up". So you have a new row installed below and then you had to "drive" from top to bottom. Then the game went from top to bottom and not from bottom to top. That's how I built it. Now you had to realize that you collided. Sound you did not actually have in these computers, but you could invert the screen. But of course that had to happen within the shortest time and it does not have a system command for it. So I had to program a small piece of machine code in assembler, which I then started with a sys command.

The code has briefly set the screen attributes to negative and taken back. As a result, it has flashed and you had an optical effect. I have similar effects later in other games as wellSpace Pilot used.

André Eymann: If you say that you did not feel like sinking the medals in automatons, what were your first experiences in gaming that you collected at vending machines?

Henrik Wening: I thought Donkey Kong was very good and I also liked Pac-Man . Moon Cresta, Galaxians, Galaga, Circus Circus, Frogger . Then of course Zaxxon, Scramble, Space Invaders . So almost everything was very space-marked.

André Eymann: Where did you play these games? Was that in the snack bar around the corner, in the pool or in the department store?

Henrik Wening:There were already gambling halls. In my hometown there was one that had set up a lot of different machines. I had also flipped, but found that too mechanical. I liked more the virtuality. And you were proud of your high score. Besides, I always wanted to know: what comes afterwards? What's the next level? And I had to dissolve all the levels and then reimplement them. For example, Ms. Pac-Man : the game had not just one screen, but several that were switched in turn. Also, Ms. Pac-Man had lipstick and a bow on her head. I just called it Pac-Man 2 .

The Assembler adaptation Pac-Man 2 from 1982 was Henrik's second version of the successful pill-eaters from the arcade The Assembler adaptation Pac-Man 2 from 1982 was Henrik's second version of the successful pill-eaters from the arcade

I have never officially sold the programs from the PET. They have actually remained free. About an ad in the CHIPI sold two of them myself. A company called Omikron has added my games to their catalog, selling four to five. That was not worth it. Except for the one license, which went to Mr. Fritz Schäfer of Kingsoft. And so it went on. But again: the claim was: I want to play my own games. And I wanted to play on my computer. I did get some other games in exchange, but I just pulled out the ideas of what you could do. I have only rarely looked at the source code. I had developed a monitor (disassembler) as well as assembler myself. And besides, I thought back then at Mnemonics. Machine language was normal for me. Had I been told NOP, I would have known what that means.

André Eymann: You have your first programming experience rather in the public environment collected?

Henrik Wening:The department store was a stopgap. Because I could not get up at school in the morning. At our school, in the grammar school at Hamburger Straße, we had a very motivated math teacher, Mr. Ahrens, who had bought four PETs for the school association. At the time, that did not even exist in the curriculum. That was the time when computer science was not yet known as a degree program. That was called numerics. And that numeric had fascinated me. And we solved small tasks in the math class. Modified mathematical tasks such as differential equations or matrices and implemented this as a BASIC program. And that was so fascinating for me that when the last hour was over at 1:20 pm, I stayed there until 3 pm. Until the cleaning lady threw me out. Turbo-Tape did not exist back then. It took forever until the READY finally showed up and I was able to continue coding my BASIC programs. So then the first game came about and I thought that's so great, you have to keep doing that.

Then BASIC reached the point where it did not work anymore. Instead of playing flow it just jerky and was just too slow. Time to orient from the basic interpreter to the much faster but also complicated direct programming of the processor with the machine language (assembler). Only with this one could ask the question: "How can I get even more out of the box". In the illustration, the screen had 25 lines of 40 characters as on a typewriter. That was too crude for some purposes. But in the fixed character set, all the characters were to represent this as 2x2 graphics. This quadrupled the screen resolution and enabled a more realistic feel for GALAGAhas fit perfectly and what I am really proud of, as I have seen it in any other game on this calculator. It runs super fluently, and has made the Galaga -Automaten amazingly similar. I had learned that by heart because I had played it so often. There were other programs I had built in Assembler, but Galaga was really great. Then I had told myself: this game you have to program on the C64.

But then I had the idea to call it not Galaga because the name is Namco. So I called it Galaxy . It is very boring due to the color caused by the HiRes mode in the C64 which exists only monochrome but the flow of the game has made it very nice.

The original cassette packaging to Galaxy. The game was distributed in 1984 for the C64 by Kingsoft. The original cassette packaging to Galaxy . The game was distributed in 1984 for the C64 by Kingsoft.

André Eymann: That means you did not have your own computer at home in the beginning?

Henrik Wening: Not at the beginning. I then worked for Eduscho for one month, earning DM 1,000, then spent a month working privately in a student job and earning another DM 1,000. And then I could buy a Commodore at Vobis in Aachen. That was the 3008. The PET. The smell then no longer PET, but CBM ("Commodore Business Machines"). "Personal Electronic Transactor" was already preallocated. The calculator had 8 KB of memory and so I have all the programs (first in BASIC and later in assembler), including Galaga , for example, programmed. I then upgraded the computer privately to 32 KB. Then a friend had soldered me a switchboard with another 64 KB, which I could upload another operating system. So I was able to load different ROMs from the 3032, 4032 and 8032. He became a 3064 with 80x25 characters, which actually did not exist. And on this "ancient" system, all programs have been written. On the C64 they were only executed.

At the CBM 3008 I had a green monochrome monitor. I was able to watch for hours without my headache getting from the flicker. For the C64 I only had a Loewe TV and no real computer monitor. Afterwards I had made myself through further jobs a Commodore double padding station at the Vobis Data Computer GmbH, which was more expensive with 3.345 DM including cable than the computer itself. There were also two CPUs in it. The bus system IEEE-488 was very advanced. This made it possible to connect several computers to a floppy. Thus, I could connect to my station 3008 and by means of an adapter and my C64. So I could address two drives per computer: drive 8.1 or 8.0. So I had my program on one disk and my results on the other. That was in 1983.


André Eymann: You had already finished games with Space Pilot and Galaxy in the drawer. How did you get into contact with Kingsoft? 

Henrik Wening: Fritz Schäfer (the founder and CEO of Kingsoft - Editor's note) contacted me and said he would like to have something programmed for me by the C64. He knew me by selling my pet games via Omikron. These games must somehow have arrived with him. He had sent me a C64 and told me: "Program the game for me. You can keep the calculator in any case. "I found fair, I did. Space Pilot was born in three months and I have kept the calculator. Including the adapter with which I could connect the C64 to the Commodore double padding station. The real financial success of the game came later. I only found out later - a learning effect for me. 

André Eymann: In what time frame did you work for Kingsoft? 

Henrik Wening: From 1982 to 1988, six years. After that, my studies were over and I had no time left. I studied computer science or mathematics first. At first there was no degree program in computer science. The computer science studies at that time was very boring and I hardly learned anything new. I needed something that I could do during this time. That's how I programmed during my studies. One had only 27 weeks to study as a student and the other 25 weeks were free. So I had enough time. 

Space pilot was created in three months of the semester break . At the end of 1987 I had to do more with my diploma thesis and the C64 was already out. The Amiga was in. Unfortunately it was difficult to program. 

André Eymann: How did you actually manage to get that close to Time Pilot's Centuri template for Space Pilot ? You probably did not own the machine, did you? 

Henrik Wening: I have always had the gift of not forgetting, once I had viewed or read. That's why I took over much of my memory for Space Pilot . Also, I probably put in a few hundred DM in the Time Pilot machines, or watched others play. It always had a social aspect. Time Pilot had only five game screens. Then it started again from the beginning. 

André Eymann: Which games came after Space Pilot and Galaxy ? 

Henrik Wening: After that came Space Pilot 2 . Here I wanted to incorporate the underground movement of Uridium . Then I discovered that you could use the existing color elements shadows and thus create a pseudo-landscape with light. Nobody had done that until then. Most of the games consisted of flat pixel areas. That's where I started, two out of eight screens-basically, there were only four different ones that were colored twice-sometimes with optical shadows. I have used this in Zyron then nationwide, but one of the screens of Space Pilot 2 works the same way. 

Space Pilot 2 alone was my idea. I wanted to try 32 sprites here and move the ground. Because in Space Pilot , there was only the sky and the clouds as an imaginary motive background. Only the spaceship turned, the rest stopped in the middle. I wanted in the second part a little more movement and functionalities. I actually think Space Pilot 2 is better than its predecessor. It is smoother in the game. The first part has more nostalgia. 

André Eymann: And then there is Zaga . That was the Zaxxon story? 

Henrik Wening: Yes, but without ball. "By helicopter through the living room" I had said at some point. The idea behind Zaga was to partially "cover" something graphically that made you feel something was behind it. Three-dimensional, so to speak. What I additionally thought up was - as I called it - the "mouse cinema". Zaga had a small screen in the middle. Everything was spent on that which influenced the game. The game logo, arrows in which direction you had to drive and information when the game paused. At that time I had never seen in the form that there is a "screen in the screen". I have never written a program for more than three months. In this period, I also programmed seven days a week for about 10 hours. 

André Eymann: How did you actually create the extensive graphics for your games? Was there already finished programs for this? The original kit of a BELL UH-1D SAR was the model for the helicopter in Zaga. 

Henrik Wening: With own editors that I have programmed myself. I also had to digitize. This was partly as a "blueprint" with the typical parchment paper that you put on an existing image. The funniest thing is actually the Zaga helicopter. This is a Revell kit. I have that too. However, I have never painted it, which is still plastic white and is still somewhere in the closet. And I simply pixelated this model "from the hip". In the game then the helicopter is a complete sprite of four parts.Everything else in Zaga is background artwork . 

André Eymann: Was there already a censorship for video games back then? Could you possibly not implement your games as you would have wanted them due to some limitations? 

Henrik Wening: No. I had also fulfilled no official commissions, but simply did what I felt like. It was then someday: "I have something new" and then "Oh give me. Yes, we can sell that. "And everything I delivered was sold. In the end, each game was only one position in the sales list. If there was no market, it did not have to be duplicated. Distributing software was not so complicated. Production was the bigger problem. I was completely in my own interest - "What would I like to have?" - produced. I was my own critic, so-to-speak producer, performer and director in one person. For that reason alone, I have not made a head for censorship. 

André Eymann: At Kingsoft, did you always talk directly to CEO Fritz Schäfer? 

Henrik Wening: Yes, exactly. I just told him that there is something new and sent him my new material by post on a floppy disk. The internet did not exist yet. Sometimes we also discussed in advance what you might need when. What should be shown to which fair maybe. Or what should be available for Christmas, for example. So we planned the "release dates" a bit. As a rule, two games have been created each year. That's what I used to finance my studies. I did not get rich from it, but certainly from experience. But on the bottom line, it was a good start to the professional life. 

André Eymann: Which fairs played a role at that time? 

Henrik Wening: At the Hanover Fair there was the CeBit Hall, which later became the CeBit trade fair, and the radio fair was held in Berlin. Both fairs had other products at the time. It was all in the making. The only fair I ever visited was the Hobbytronic in Dortmund. That was already a games fair back then. I also visited Fritz Schäfer. 

André Eymann: Did Kingsoft have an official booth here? What else was there presented? 

Henrik Wening: Yes, Kingsoft was an exhibitor and Fritz Schäfer, the only person on the stand. There I introduced Zaga . It was a demo version. There were also some interested customers. They wanted to know if they could shoot in the game. Unfortunately I had to deny that and explain to the people that this is a pure game of skill. One customer told me that he found the sound - the helicopter chatter - very well taken. I like to admit that. The helicopter rattles well! Even an English review wrote about it "Great sound". 

I had digitized the model by holding it up and looking at it from all sides. So, all the graphics I created were created with their own editors, pixeled together and fiddled with them until they looked reasonably good. Shooting the originals from the arcade was very difficult anyway because they had a different resolution. In addition, the machines usually contained a rotated monitor in portrait format, in which the games worked from top to bottom. Of course we had the landscape format for the Commodore systems. Therefore, the resolution of the monitors was different. To display different colors, two pixels were displayed side by side. This was convenient for vertical games, but horizontal games were not. So you always had to find compromises. That's why, for example, C64 games never matched the machine. They were always inspired by the machines, but not the same. 

André Eymann: Were your games actually tested before duplication and came out change requests? 

Henrik Wening: I always instigated my friends, who visited me, to play along. Also because they were curious. Apart from Pong and the usual video games for the TV, there were hardly any video games back then. Games on the computer were more interesting. I then watched them play with it. The game was good when they did not realize it was a game. When it became a reality for them and they maltreated the joystick, for example, or they got angry. If the game was an illusion, it was good. Everything else was free. If the game pulls you out of reality into the phantom world, then it's not good. 

André Eymann: Do you remember which games were the best for your friends? 

Henrik Wening: Space Pilot . That was logical too. Although they did not know the machine in part, they could imagine the scenario. I remember: if the plane did not turn as fast as they wanted, they almost broke off the joystick. I found that interesting to watch. 

André Eymann: At that time there were not so many game magazines in Germany yet. There were, for example, the Happy Computer or the 64er . Do you remember what ratings the Kingsoft games received in these magazines? 

Henrik Wening: The German market was not very good. There was little sales. The criticism was great, it was always always summer and winter games that came off well. In the German market I have rarely received any good reviews. If criticized at all, it was said: "Well it is so" or "one would have expected more". I was never happy about it. The English market, on the other hand, has generated incredible sales. They were excited and played well. I have never seen other markets. I've just learned that games have gone to America, where people are fascinated and still play. Of course, that makes me happy. In the German market, unfortunately, there was never a big stir around my games. It was a little sobering. 

André Eymann: That's interesting, above all, because Kingsoft was a German game maker. 

Henrik Wening: Kingsoft has also made enough advertising in the magazines. But apparently it did not quite like the testers, you have to attest. Some of them were really very critical and I had the impression that they could only do two or three games in one year. On the other hand: your own criticism is always difficult to accept. 

André Eymann: So England was a market where many Kingsoft games were sold? 

Henrik Wening: Yes. Space Pilot for the C64 was on the island for weeks the number one on the game charts. There was only Jet Set Willy in some hit parades at number 1, but that ran on the ZX Spectrum. I have never experienced the actual sales figures, but number 1 will not be sold with just 50 licenses. 

André Eymann: Were there any other European countries where the Kingsoft games were exported? 

Henrik Wening: With the exception of England (England was supplied exclusively by Anirog - editor's note), Kingsoft had the right to export to all countries worldwide. In Germany, companies such as Karstadt were supplied, which then perhaps also sold to Austria. Unfortunately I'm not sure. 

André Eymann: Do you feel that you have received enough credit from Kingsoft for your work as a developer? 

Henrik Wening: Not appreciated. Actually already paid. But nobody cared about me there. Absolutely nobody. There has never been any press release, event or event. However, even then I was not keen to become famous with the games and actually found it quite good to be listed as "further afield". On the Space Pilot , my name is almost not on it. Only on the home screen. But there, he was often replaced by "creative people" (here, of course, "crackers" - Note of the Red.) When modifying the game by other texts. 

André Eymann: Do you actually know who made the illustrations for the Space Pilot packaging? 

Henrik Wening: No. Nothing came from me. Only the text on the back and the blurb are original from me. I developed that. Finishing and packaging has been taken over by Kingsoft or Anirog. The latter has worked for the English market. 

André Eymann: Among C16 users, the name Kingsoft stands for a number of good software titles for the 264 series (C16, C116 and Plus / 4). Do you know why this focus took place back then? 

Henrik Wening: Kingsoft knew then about the upcoming deal with Aldi. The C16 lay like lead on the shelves. He came unfavorably only after the C64 on the market and was actually a light version of the C64 without Sprites. However, he had a slightly improved graphics processor, which enabled not only 16, but 121 colors. But he had no sprites and only 16 KB of RAM. The case looked a bit more chic black. This computer was sold at Aldi for about 150, - DM. 

Mr. Schaefer called me and asked me for software for the C16. That's why I wrote software for the C16. He wanted a C16 adaptation of Space Pilot . That's what happened. When I looked at the computer more closely, I found out that it was much more possible than just the adaptation of a Space Pilot and then developed Fire Galaxy . Without any specifications, I wanted to know how I could use the colors of the C16. And so a very colorful and magnificent program was created, which I later ported back to the C64.The game was actually very entertaining. It was a tactical shooting game. Here you had to shoot targeted, wegballern brought nothing. André Eymann: What was the main difference between the development of the C16 and the C64? Was that really just the graphics? 

Henrik Wening: You had no sprites on the C16, and even less memory. Less memory was not bad, because it was always a challenge to get along with the existing memory. You could also partially reload or overload. At that time I already had compression algorithms in use. I raised a virtual disk, so to speak, in which I expanded the things I needed. Because what I needed, I did not always have in memory. Basically, there was no graphics CPU on both computers, which could expect something, but only a video CPU for the output. There was only one processor and he had to do all the work. The ran at the C64, for example, only with a mega heart. 

André Eymann: Did you realize then that the 264 series would not have the resounding success on the market? 

Henrik Wening: At least I knew that my games would only be sold together with the C16. I am amazed that this attracts so much interest again and that people who know the C64 may find the C16 even better. The only advantage of the C16 was the graphics. Perhaps it is also because he had a charm that his older brother did not have. It was probably the ugly duckling, what you used it. I still own a C16 with the VC1581 floppy. Incidentally, I also found the darker case of the C16 more stylish than the C64's. 

André Eymann: Most of your games were in space. Have you also processed completely different topics? 

Henrik Wening: Sports games have never interested me so much. I liked shoot-em-up games and always racing games. Only these were difficult to realize. The graphics were not made for that yet. In space, nobody knew what it looks like, that could be beautifully abstracted. That was programmable with simple means. That has always been the trick. I had to deal with small resources and my small time dimension with the product. I could never have done anything bigger. 

André Eymann: Is there a game idea that has been slumbering in your drawer for years and that you have never been able to realize? 

Henrik Wening: I have no unfinished ideas in the drawer. That would have annoyed me too. I did not hold anything back because I could not do it in terms of time or program. I did not have delivery schedules at Kingsoft and always delivered when the game was really done. Mr. Schäfer of Kingsoft was always happy when new games were delivered. 

André Eymann: Can you still remember personal encounters with developers or entrepreneurs at the time? 

Henrik Wening: I can not remember because these encounters did not happen. I did not meet any other developer at the time. I only have names in the head of people I do not know personally and have made good game music. That was what I really could not do. That's why I find Rob Hubbard and Chris Hülsbek impressive. What they composed for Turrican and Uridium is really great. You can actually listen to this on an endless loop on CD. They are masters of their craft. 

André Eymann: Were you involved in marketing by Kingsoft? 

Henrik Wening: Not at all. Nobody knew me for a long time. Only when I made some advertisement on my homepage , there was a little more through the press and the forums. My homepage went online 12 years ago. 

André Eymann: It's amazing that Kingsoft has worked with so many freelance developers, but never cared to connect these people or form a community. 

Henrik Wening: According to today's criteria, it has been really outrageous to let people work on their own. Nowadays you would make an offer to these developers, integrate them into a team, into a group and bring them together in one building. There would certainly be a lot of creativity. I would have liked something like that back then. But that was not offered at the time. 

André Eymann: Are you still often referred to your time for Kingsoft today? 

Henrik Wening: Nobody knows Kingsoft. Nobody ever spoke to Kingsoft except you today. They ask me about Space Pilot , but not about Kingsoft. I also have nothing negative or positive to say about Kingsoft. Kingsoft was my sales channel. Not more. 

André Eymann: Do you still play video games today? 

Henrik Wening: Yes. I like to play car racing games like DiRT 2 or Need For Speed . FPS never fascinated me. Role playing also not. Car racing games are really my thing. I play on the PC, not on the console. I would like to play under Linux. 

André Eymann: At the time, you were the focus of Commodore developers. Did you also deal with Atari? 

Henrik Wening: No. At that time it was actually like the Mercedes and BMW drivers. Although mutual technology has been rewarded, it has by no means been touched. I found the 8-bit from Atari bad. I thought the Atari ST was cool, but that's about it. 

André Eymann: Is there anything you would like to share with a junior developer, perhaps also in the games industry, today? 

Henrik Wening: A good idea does not need a super elaborate implementation and wears alone. You can still have good ideas. Not everything has been invented yet. Therefore, I can only advise everyone: think of something good and implement it simple. Unfortunately, many products today only consist of terrific packaging. They are made-up, tuned and well-marketed, but they become boring after playing twice. 

André Eymann: Henrik, we thank you for this insight into your work and wish you all the best for the future! 

Interview published on March 24, 2012
Written by Andre Eymann

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