Author Topic: Interview with Francois Lionet  (Read 840 times)

Offline 4pLaY

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Interview with Francois Lionet
« on: March 09, 2019, 08:09:30 PM »
Hello Francois Lionet, could you please do a small introduction of yourself to our readers?

Hello, I am Francois, a 55 years old programmer/geek, father of Christophe, who is a game designer today.

When did you get interested in computers, and what was your first computer?

There was no computers when I was young, I was born in 1963. The first device that could have been called "a computer", was a Texas Instrument TI57, 49 steps of programming, GOTO and LABELs. I discovered what would be my life’s passion. But the real first computer I had was a Superboard II from Ohio Scientific, in 1981. It was a 6502 based board, all in one, keyboard, video, tape interface, 4K of RAM (that I extended later to 8K), and 1K of video memory with only text. It also contained a good version of Microsoft Basic. What was great was the fact that this was a machine designed by gamers and geeks, the character set, above 128 ASCII, contained a lot of game-oriented characters, including a Star Trek vessel, in two directions made out of two characters (front and back). I immediately fell for this machine and started to program games in Basic. And as Basic was not fast enough, I bought a book on 6502, and made my own assembler in Basic, and started to program real fast games.

What Amiga(s) did you have in the past, and if you remember, what were the(ir) configuration(s)?

Nearly all of them. A500 with hard disk, A1000, A2000, A3000, A4000, and even a rare 3500, intermediate model given to me by Commodore. The A1000 was Jim Cuomo’s machine, on which the music of Defender of the Crown was written. But I never owned any A1200s.

The A3500T, can you tell us the story behind this one, how you got it, and where it might be now?

Well, it was given to me by Commodore to check that AMOS worked on it. Actually it was a very bad machine, and I never really used it. The case was terrible and it did not add many things to my beloved A3000. So after testing, I just put it on a shelve and forgot about it!

Do you still have any Amiga(s) or did you get rid of them?

No. In a moment of despair during my "great depression" period, from 2000 to 2013, I gave my whole collection to an Amiga fan in Lyon who could not believe his eyes.

Can you tell us how you got involved with developing software on the Amiga?

Before the Amiga and AMOS, I wrote STOS for the Atari ST. You have to understand that at the time, in 1986, the Amiga was VERY expensive, especially the French version, where the importer had to add a video conversion board so that the computer would work on the French TV standard, SECAM. Adding 500F to the price of the device. Such a board was not needed on the Atari ST, and it was (if I remember correctly) about 1000F cheaper. So I got an ST and wrote STOS, that was published by Mandarin Software in the UK. As the market for the Atari ST began to drop in the UK with the raise of the Amiga, they asked me to do a version of STOS for the Amiga. And at the time I could afford it with the royalties of STOS! :).

Did you ever have any direct contact with Commodore? did they ever try to hire you, or buy AMOS?

Yes, but only at the end. You see, AMOS has always been seen as a toy by everyone except the users. The whole Commodore company never heard about me, or even considerate me. Even in England, where it was a massive success. Had I written a serious and boring database system, without any colors and animation, respecting the display of the system to the letter, I would have been taken seriously. But hey, I was the author of LAmos. It is only at the very end, when the wind was changing for Commodore, that I got a little consideration from them. First from Commodore France, with Francis Poulain, with whom I became friends with, and created the Clickteam company together with later. And then even from Commodore international, I even got a made-up-specially-for-me prize at a Commodore conference "Best Development Language for the CDTV", Ha ha what a joke.

You are known to most Amiga users as the man behind AMOS, could you tell our readers how this all started?

With STOS!, STOS on the Atari ST was to be a complete DOS-like system, to replace GEM that I personally hated. So Constantin Sotiropoulos, who I was working with at the time, did the DOS command line, and I launched myself on making a Basic language. As a game programmer, I was making adaptations to live. Each time I had to work on a project on a new machine, the first tasks were to make a Sprite engine, a Sound engine, and an Animation engine. So I told myself, why not make a Basic with all that included? It would enable everyone to make games without knowing how to program in machine language. And STOS was born, and if you look at the history of computers, it was the first one of a genre that has become huge with the years. STOS was the very first game-engine ever. And then, when porting STOS to Amiga, I reprogrammed the whole graphical and sound system to take advantage of the machine’s incredible possibilities.

There was never any AGA support in AMOS, is there a reason behind this, or was it just too late by then?

AGA appeared at the end, and the market was already falling in UK. Europress, the publisher, was concerned about that, and pushed me to go to PC, but I wanted to finish the AMOSPro compiler first. I was very late on this one, and when it was over, it was time to move on to PC (remember that I am programming for a living, and even if you love a machine, you have to take these kind of decision to keep on eating!). Also some technical reasons, AGA palette, 256 colors, would not fit in the copper lists, and induced a massive 16 lines black area above every AMOS screen. There was though one easy solution to this, in AGA mode, only allow ONE AGA screen, the one in the back. Stupid me, only had this idea a couple of month ago.

Did you create anything else besides AMOS? Maybe even something you never released publicly?

Oh yeah, I created a lot of things in my career. "Klik and Play", in 1994, the first ever graphical game creation system with visual programming on Windows. A revolution at the time, published all around the world in 30 languages. In USA by Maxis (I met Will Wright at the time of Sim City, nice guy!), then "The Games Factory" and "Multimedia Fusion". Then I created my company "Clickteam", then Clickteam Fusion, still on sale today, with which you can create amazing 2D games for phones and PCs. There are many Fusion games on Steam, all made 100% with the mouse and not one line of programming.

Are you still coding anything today? if so, what and on which platform(s)?

Yes of course. I could not live without coding. Today I am making AMOS 2, the revival of the product that made my career. AMOS 2 is a compiler, that takes AMOS code and produces a Javascript / HTML5 application that works in a browser. The compiler works on every platform. Compiled applications work in a browser today, and later it will work as native executables on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android and iOS. AMOS 2 is VERY fast, as it takes advantage of today`s machine power. For example, you can display 3000 16x16 bobs at 50 FPS on a good PC. And when I implement WebGL rendering (soon), this number will reach 10s of thousands. This is a really exciting project. AMOS 2 will understand old .AMOS programs, extract the graphics and sounds in their modern equivalent, extract the source in ASCII so that people can "revive" their old creation. Be ready for a tsunami of thousand of games and applications from the 90s, in your browsers for the summer. More information on my Patreon page (please help me! :)).

Have you followed the Amiga scene at all since leaving when you did? If yes, what do you think of the state of the Amiga today?

No, when I left the Amiga, and despite the success of AMOS, I was very depressed by all the critics and the negative reception from "real" programmers (assholes?). So I did my best to forget about the machine and switched to PC. Then between 2000 and 2013 I had a very bad depression, so I was in "focused" mode, not really creative, day to day work (and got rid of all my Amigas). I did not even go to the first Amiga 30 in Holland, as I thought I would be mocked again, and I did not want to relive that. But the organizer of Amiga 30 UK, convinced me to come, and as it was in England, I had the hope that people would remember that AMOS was not a piece of shit code. I only came back to the platform after that, and I was so surprised by the people and the mood there, that the Amiga came back to my life. I still do not own any classic Amiga, and do not intent to buy any. For me, it is the past. Why limit yourself to 16 bobs when you can have 10000 at the same speed? Better be creative and rewrite the software that I loved, on the machine as close as possible to the letter and spirit, using the possibilities of today’s technology. The Amiga is in my heart, I love Amiga parties, but I do not think I will ever have one again.

What do you feel you got out of the whole experience of being an Amiga developer? for example, did it open doors for you in other places once you left?

Not really. You know, I have always been a kind of "loner", not fit to work in company with others. The Amiga was "game", the real world was "database", "Excel" and "servers". The Amiga did not really prepare you for a "real programming" career. So I stayed the one I was, the author of LAmos, programmer of toys that do not respect the system ;).

Is there anyone you would like to send some greetings to? Or perhaps you have some other last words?

Thank you, to all the people that actually BOUGHT AMOS in the 90s. And thank you also, to all the others who have pirated it and used it, you are very forgiven! :). Thank you to the people who are supporting me on Patreon for AMOS 2. Patreon is not only about money, I need testers, I need demos, I need critics and suggestions. I will open soon amos2.net, and it will be the center place for the product. You can also join the very active Facebook groups "AMOSPro Coders" and "STOS Coders" where I publish the progress regularly.

Thank you for the interview Ola. I miss your saturday evening parties.

That is the end of this interview, thanks for taking the time to do it Francois, I am sure our readers will appreciate it :).
« Last Edit: March 09, 2019, 10:09:00 PM by 4pLaY »