Interview with Michael Putz / BongFish
Could you please introduce yourself: Who are you and what is your educational / computing background?
First of all, thanks for this interview. I'm Michael Putz, one of the two founders of Bongfish Interactive Entertainment. We are a game-development company with roots in the demoscene and are still actively working with people from the scene. Currently we are working on Stoked Rider featuring Tommy Brunner, the first game dedicated to Big Mountain Snowboarding. This game uses techniques found in demos like procedural content creation. Check out a first demo at www.stokedrider.com.
For me it all started with doing small assembly language intros back in the times of Atari ST. The Motorola 68000 assembly language and the tools on the ST were quite ahead of their time, resulting in a very fun coding experience. From what I can remember the workflow has never been more smooth since that platform. I wish today's Visual Studio is as responsive and fast-compiling as the now almost 15-year-old ST...
After school, which also marked my switch to the PC-platform, I quickly lost interest in intro-coding mainly because of the awkward x86 assembly language. That same year I also started studying Telematics at the Graz University of Technology. The background from scene-coding techniques helped a lot with my basic understanding of computer architecture, and made the studies somewhat easier. In 2003 I finally graduated and, together with Klaus Hufnagl, we started our own company.
What has your professional career been like? What games have you previously worked on?
Shortly after beginning the technical studies at the university in 1993, pure technical knowledge seemed quite boring for me so I started looking out for the more creative parts besides pure software engineering. This resulted in starting to produce multimedia stuff (like CD-ROMs and Websites for quite a different range of clients) together with Klaus. Spending lots of time in Macromedia Director, Flash and Photoshop taught me a lot about visual design, typography and usability. Together with the technical education this seemed like a perfect fit to get into video games. This happened when we were working on a multimedia campaign for the snowboard brand FLOW. We wanted to spice up the campaign by including a small game featuring an alien character snowboarding in endless, real-time generated mountains. This game got quite popular and laid the foundation for today's Stoked Rider game.
How long did it take to work on Stoked Rider?
Motivated by the success of the ad game for FLOW in 1999, we re-engineered the technology, renamed it to Stoked Rider and released it again as freeware. The reason distributing this game as freeware was mainly to get more feedback from gamers all around the world and to learn more about game development. This first title in the Stoked Rider game franchise got downloaded more than 500.000 times in 2000-2001, and gave us enough confidence to start working on a commercial successor. This new game now will feature a real life pro snowboarder instead of the alien character and is titled Stoked Rider featuring Tommy Brunner.
How did you plan the project?
Detailed planning of Stoked Rider featuring Tommy Brunner started in 2002 and was mostly done as part of our master thesis. We again decided to go for a procedurally generated mountain, but this time we wanted to simulate all gameplay interactions using an external physics engine. At the same time a new startup company from Switzerland called Novodex entered the game middleware market with a new physics engine, and we got a deal in using their technology in exchange for allowing them to demo their software with our game. Note: Meanwhile Novodex has been acquired by the makers of the first dedicated physics hardware, AGEIA.
Is gamedev a good job in your opinion? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
For most people, game development is their passion and the reason why they are pursuing a career in this industry. You have to be somewhat prepared for long working hours and lots of iteration steps of your work. But in the end you can be proud of your own product, which entertains people all around the world.
What is your relation to the demo scene?
I am still in touch with old friends from the scene like Nuke/S!P (//editor's note: obviously), and just right now we are in the process of releasing an update to Stoked Rider where Conspiracy (greets to BoyC!) supplied visual-effects for the game's user-interface. This should be available within the next few weeks at the game's website.
Have the skills you gained in the demo scene proven any useful?
Absolutely. Especially when dealing with computer graphics programmers coming fresh from college it's easily noticeable if they have any scene roots. Fundamental knowledge about the inner workings of graphics and effects are mostly not learned at universities at all, so if it were up to me, I would make demo-scene'ing a mandatory lecture.
What are your future plans?
Back in March we released a first version of Stoked Rider featuring Tommy Brunner on our website for electronic purchase. So we are proud of having defined the new category of Big-Mountain-Snowboarding Games. At the moment we are putting all our efforts into improving the game, listening to feedback for making this game a great experience for everyone interested in the thrills of racing down a real big mountain.
NuKe & Michael Putz