RedBug December 2020News
The long wait is now over. Athanor 2 , the well-known game on Amstrad, is now available on Atari ST.
For the release, Eric Safar give us a great interview.
PS. Game is available from the Eric's website at safargames.fr.
RetroANA: Hi Eric, could you introduce yourself? (Where are you from, what is your IT background, …)
Eric: Hello everyone,
My name is Eric SAFAR, I originally come from a city in Normandy (France) and I got drawn to the world of computing in the mid-1980s, starting with a LASER 200 and soon after an ORIC Atmos.
RetroANA: What are your earliest computer-related memories?
Eric: I have vivid memories of me playing adventure games on Oric with my friend “Coco” (Philippe C.) during my youth. Having spent more than hundreds of hours playing games like Le Manoir du Docteur Genius or Le Mystère de Kikekankoi (both on Oric) and Mortville Manor or Maupiti Island (both on Atari) definitely shaped my interest and passion for adventure games, burning with equal intensity as of today!
It was around that time when I started to develop my first games, as I was using 6502.
RetroANA: You worked for Cryo a couple of years ago. What is your opinion on the current development of the video games industry?
Eric: Now, that is a tough question! I left the video game industry around 2008 and things have radically changed since then. As far as I am concerned, I find it worrying to see increasing reports about the extreme “crunch culture” taking place in some major video games companies. Personally, I have had wonderful years working at CRYO. Although some years had been tougher than others in terms of work, it allowed me to gain significant experience in the field and meet some amazing personalities, such as Remi Herbulot ! In reality, what we refer to as “crunch culture” nowadays already existed more or less 10 years ago but in a much lighter tone.
There were no formal restrictions or obligations imposed on the developers, but it cannot be denied that the final phase of production was so exciting that one could indeed spend countless hours in the office, working way overtime. What I find most troubling is that this “crunch culture” seems to have become an integral part of video games development nowadays, being present at every stage of production. It has become so trivial to the point of being explicitly mentioned to job applicants as part of the work atmosphere in the company!
That, to me, is an unacceptable and dangerous trend.
RetroANA: How long did it take you to develop Athanor 2? How easy was it to combine this with your family life?
Eric: It is important to divide the development phase in two stages, the first one being the production of Athanor 2 on Amstrad CPC and the second one, its conversion on Atari/Amiga. The latter phase alone took more than 2 years, which is a lot!
At the same time, there was a lot of work to be done!
Among others, the need to reconstruct a game engine through icons, script interpreter … using only a mouse, was quite time-consuming. In terms of graphics, the task was also immense! (François Gutherz can definitely concur). This extended development period can also be justified by the necessity to balance this work with one’s family life.
When you are fortunate enough to have a job, a family, children, a girlfriend, good friends and some pets, things generally take much longer to get done! Passion and pleasure, though, are constantly present throughout the process!
RetroANA: Do you have some fun facts to share about the development of Athanor 2?
Eric: Well, of course! As Athanor 2 was coming out on ATARI, Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted, The Last of Us) expressed their interest in acquiring adaptation rights and approached me to this end! My son, who is currently studying Law at the University of Oxford, had secured the legal end of the contracts for the deal but Naughty Dog was unhappy about the budget that was to be allocated for the TV show adaptation.
Standing firm, I decided to ultimately reject their offer!
RetroANA: Why has Athanor not been released on PC? This would allow more people to play your game series!
Eric: A PC version had originally been envisaged, as well as an adaptation on other platforms. Getting carried away by the all-consuming passion of “Homebrew” pushes you to look for conversion beyond the original game support. Reality, however, always catches up. Doing several conversions for ATLANTIS at CRYO taught me that, although the other platform looks technically similar to the assets you have already worked on for the previous one, it still is a huge task.
I found it often to be more reasonable to “do less but do it well” than try to start all kinds of conversions.
However, if a programmer approaches me to offer to do a conversion on a specific platform, I do my best to help him make this project possible.
Early on, François Gutherz joined me and later offered to do an Athanor conversion on Amiga. He did a fantastic job and I can confirm that the Amiga version will soon be available !!
On a related note, Philippe (nicknamed “6502man”) is currently working on adapting Athanor 2 for MSX 2! Hold on, MSX 2 lovers, you will soon be able to wander through the mysterious lands of Athanor 2!
RetroANA: Are you still making a living from developing video games?
Eric: Well … the answer is definitely no! I stopped working for the video game industry in 2008 and moved to a day job after that. Getting closer to 40 made me reconsider my priorities in life, after years of fascinating but extenuating work in various video games companies! I decided to give up a comfortable pay in order to spend more time with my children! Now, they are all grown up, but it was also a way for me to have more time to myself and to keep my passion alive by developing “homebrew” games.
For Athanor, my only aim in terms of profits and finance was to be able to reimburse my expenses with the revenues derived from the sale of the game. Indeed, quality packaging, notices, disks, material clues and so on are very costly. At the end of the day, the profits ultimately generated are minor! Moreover, I am more than happy to share these with the other members of the development team, who joined me in this adventure and are moved by the same passion! To name a few, François Gutherz, Mathieu Stempell, David Vandensteen, Angel Bautista, Vincent Jambut …
Without them, Athanor 2 would not have been possible!
RetroANA: What is your next plan? Athanor 3? Have you already started working on it?
Eric: A very interesting question, that definitely makes my eyes sparkle! (They do! Look closer ?). Athanor is intended to be a three-part game series and I would be now embarking on the development of the last game of the trilogy.
I would like to do something else first, in a totally different universe than the one of the Athanor saga. I have already written the scenario for a new adventure game and am looking to develop it before Athanor 3 comes out!
What could it possibly be about? …
Ok fine, I will tell you a bit about it! ?
In order to build its atmosphere, this new game takes inspiration from detective novel stories, as well as a mix of thriller and science-fiction, with the scene taking place during the 1950s.
Unlike Athanor 2, which was originally developed for Amstrad CPC and then adapted for Atari/Amiga, this project would be primarily intended for 16/32 computers, and thus naturally made for Atari/Amiga.
This project is quite ambitious and comes with a lot of new features, hopefully establishing itself as a landmark game for ATARI and AMIGA!
Here is all I can tell you for today! :D
RetroANA: Is there anything else you would wish to add?
Eric: I would like to thank you, Miguel, for taking an interest in our games. I hope we can meet someday in a retrogaming convention.
I would also like to thank my son, Ernest, for translating my answers from French to English!