Hicks - Hi Hwikaa! Since you are a newcomer on the CPC scene, can you introduce yourself? What was your first contact with this computer? And why did you come back?
Hwikaa - Hi Hicks! Thank you so much for your interest. :)
For starters, surprise!, “Hwikaa” isn’t my real name. It wasn’t meant to be my pseudo, though; it’s an acronym that I chose when I created my first email address, since the alias I wanted was already taken. I’m Mathieu Delaruelle, I was born on Halloween’s day in 1978 in Nancy, France.
Long as I can remember, I’ve always been into drawing, animation, and video games (so cliché!). To feed my passions, my parents made quite some sacrifices to buy me comic books, consoles and computers - even if secondhand ones. I was barely 12 years old when I had the chance to find a brand new 6128 under the Christmas tree. I fell in love with this machine, even though I quickly realized it didn’t have the superpowers of an Amiga. Fortunately, most of my comrades at school also had a CPC, so it was super easy to trade pirate disks. This allowed me to discover that my computer wasn’t as lame as I thought: amazing things called ‘demos’ were displaying images I thought impossible to see on my 6128’s screen. And though I didn’t know anything about the technique, I was dreaming of games that would have never been seen on my beloved home computer.
So, yeah. My parents passed on to me their passion for drawing, Disney made me want to make my drawings move, and Amstrad gave me the urge to produce graphics for video games. Unfortunately, when I was a kid (we’re talking early 80s, til mid-nineties), those were considered a hobby - at least in France - but certainly not an actual job.
At high school, I specialized in literature, arts and maths, then I studied English at college, worked as a supermarket cashier before being a soldier for two years. I then worked as a truck driver, a logistics manager, and even as an accountant. Eventually, in 2007, I decided to go back to school to study graphic design. This is when my career really started.
During all these years, I never dumped my CPC - I even bought a 6128 Plus - and I spent quite some time hanging around on the CPC forums, until that day when I saw a topic where BDC Iron and MacDeath (I didn’t know those guys back then) were discussing a possible upgrade of “HeroQuest” for Amstrad Plus. Being a huuuuuge fan of Fighting Fantasy books, tabletop roleplaying games, Warhammer Battle, and most of all HeroQuest (I have 3 boxes at home!), I thought I would propose something. BDC Iron wanted to see graphics similar to the Amiga game “Darkmere” by Mark Jones, and I felt it was my duty to do it. Iron liked it, and we started collaborating.
Left: Original HeroQuest CPC screen / Right: Graphics I produced for the Plus version
HeroQuest+: map and main characters comparison
Some time later, I was contacted by OffseT - Iron told him about me - who asked me some assets for Futurs’ part in the upcoming 30 Years Megademo. I also helped him with other projects, not necessarily Amstrad-related ones. And then OffseT told Roudoudou about me, so I created a couple of things for CRTC3 (including the Flower Corp logo and the weird, organic rubber bar).
Then Roudoudou told Chany about me, and I produced some graphics for Post Scriptum. And so on, and so forth... ^^
Lately, Roudoudou invited me to a mini-meeting at his place, where I had the incredible chance to meet him in person, along with other CPC sceners such as AsT, MacDeath, OffseT, TotO and Solorenzero... I felt literally blessed. :)
Hicks - I know that you are involved in the video game industry as a graphic artist and designer. Can you tell us a little more about your professional career? On what games did you work for and what was your role exactly?
Hwikaa - After graduating in Graphic Design, I joined Ankama as an intern for a couple of months before being hired as a web designer and an illustrator. There I learned animation, started working in video games, animated a couple of shorts (like this one), and I ended up being the Lead Animator on Ankama’s MMORPG: ‘Wakfu’.
This is when I decided to move to Barcelona to join King (Activision/Blizzard’s mobile game company). I worked on several casual games, but my main achievement there was leading animation for Bubble Witch 3. And since then I’ve been working as a Senior/Lead Animator in the video game industry. I’m currently working at MYBO Games, in the Art department.
Hicks - What do you think about graphics and design on CPC? There seems to be a gap compared to other platforms such as Commodore 64 and Amiga... Do you share this feeling? The beginning of a solution?
Hwikaa - I’m not really aware of what’s being done on the other machines. I’ve seen some graphics produced on the C64 - and I gotta say they’re often very good - but this is it. I should probably start being more curious, I’m sure it would be very beneficial.
As for art on the CPC... Hm. This is quite a tricky question. I wouldn’t want to make enemies. (^.^') For many years I thought art in general could improve quite a lot on the CPC. I couldn’t understand why people were so much into graphics that I personally found pretty weak. For instance, many people keep saying that Gryzor is a graphical masterpiece. I honestly believe it’s not. It’s OK, it’s way better than many things I’ve seen on this computer, but it could have been so much better: just take a look at Barjack’s take on Gryzor to get a glimpse of what it could’ve been. Now, talking about more recent stuff... Hm. I’m in love with the title screen that Vanja Utne (“Mermaid”) produced for Magica (amazing C64-ish palette!). Even though I don’t think he’s ever released anything, I kinda like what Carnivius does (especially his “latest” mockups for his Robin Hood game). I also like rexbeng’s style and palettes.
In general, recently released games do have nice visuals; for instance, I find Operation Alexandra is well polished (I think Rafa Castillo did the art), so is El Tesoro Perdido de Cuauhtemoc. That being said, I’m not a huge fan of all those platformers that show a little bit too ostentatiously that they’re based on a tile system. Everything’s so excessively rectangular! On top of that, most time they tend to display a small window for the game, next to an unnecessarily giant HUD. I really think that in 2020 (the year of this interview!) we could do much better from a visual point of view.
As for demos, I know it’s not very original, but I worship the works from Beb, Barjack, Ced... Those guys know how to handle pixels.
Hicks - What productions have you ever been involved in? Were you involved in the creation process or did you only give specific graphics?
Hwikaa - Not many as of today! For Back to Futur’s part in the 30 Years Megademo, OffseT asked me to work on small tiles that would repeat seamlessly; I did clocks, lightnings, arrows and LCD screens in the style of the Back To The Future series.
The tiles I designed for Futurs’ part
CRTC3 (Roudoudou/Flower Corp) was my first collaboration with Roudoudou, and it was really fun, because he would always ask me stuff with a lot of constraints (and I gotta say it’s the kind of challenge I like); this is how I designed the FLC logo (and its short animation), along with the rubber bar and other additional stuff. From this moment on, we never stopped working together. ^^
The FLC logo and the rubber bar I designed for CRTC3
Talking about constraints, Chany asked me several small assets for his Post Scriptum one-screen demo. I had a limited palette, forbidden colors, and not much space. (^.^') Again, it was pretty fun to do. Except for the palette and the big palm tree picture at the center, I was totally free to design whatever I wanted; so I inserted many nods to myself, like the French and Catalan flags, my zip code, the name of my ‘group’, or the infamous Motorola MC6845P that can be found in my own CPC. ^^
The full palm tree image... And all the different parts put together
Hicks - On which productions are you now working on? Of course, don’t talk about the secret ones!
Hwikaa - All right. Hm. At some point, BDC Iron and I realized that we wanted to do more than just an upgrade for HeroQuest; so, building on top of what we already had, we started designing a completely new game, that we call EpicQuest. It’s obviously a tribute to HeroQuest (both the board game and the CPC version), but with much more features. Iron and I work together on the game design, and I deal with all the graphics.
Then... I’m currently working along with Roudoudou on a new game that deals with an incredible amount of animations. I can’t say much more about it, except that we already have a working engine, and that everything’s going according to plan. :) On this project, I create all the graphics (environments and characters) and animations. It’s a huge lot of fun.
I’m involved in the creation of a “triple A game" (according to its creator) for the Plus range, but then again, I’m not allowed to say much more for now.
I just sent some graphic assets for an upcoming thing from... someone. XD Holy shit, worse than politics.
Also, I was recently contacted by a well known programmer, and we agreed to work together on a new game in the future. It gives me quite some time to finish my current projects.
And finally, I’m also working on something very personal, a top-down action/RPG game set in a French village, in the 1940s. I plan to do pretty much everything on this game, so it’ll take a looooooot of time. (^.^')
Hicks - Are you as interested in demos as you are in games?
Hwikaa - It’s hard to say. Because I really love the interaction, the feelings that you have when you play a game. The story unfolds as you make progress, so you’re part of the adventure. This is also why I don’t really like casual, match-3 games (even though they’re what I do for a living!), as I tend to get bored very quickly with them.
As I previously said, demos used to literally amaze me when I was younger, because, as an ignoring kid, I couldn’t even imagine the technical challenge, code optimizations, or constraints that were behind them; to me, demos were nothing but the jaw-dropping proof that we could have had amazing games on our machines, way much better than anything we ever had. But I must say that, once passed the wow effect, all I was seeing was infinite lines of text, greeting some sceners or trolling others... And I just wouldn’t get the point.
Now, I found some of the latest ones more than interesting. Of course, Batman Forever set the bar at a pretty high level, wrapping all of its different effects in a story line of some sorts. Other prods like Isometrikum, Logon's Run - 3D Meets The Aging Bits, or Square Roots, from a certain point of view, also tell a story, and it’s nice to just watch them unfold and listen to the music. From a spectator point of view, they’re total eye-candy.
But then again, since I don’t have the eye of the coder, I can’t look at demos and analyze them, asking myself what trick, what routine, what optimization lie behind the screens, so their interest is quite limited to me. I’m not clever enough for that! Still, it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a lot being part of a production, whatever it is.
Hicks - What is the difference between your professional work and your hobby for the cpc? Is your state of mind the same?
Hwikaa - My mindset is exactly the same. What differentiates what I do for professional games and what I do for the CPC (apart from the fact that one of the two makes me earn money) is the destination machine. I always start with traditional sketches, then move to the animation itself, which I design in general using vector graphics. From this step, it’s very easy to export my frames to different formats, depending on the constraints that come with every machine/engine/design...
But I try to be as focused and involved on a professional production as on a production for my good old 8 bits. One thing that I enjoy more than anything when drawing for the CPC, is pixel art itself. Adding small bits of colour, one pixel at a time, patiently, to build up a whole picture... It’s a delight (particularly on the real machine, using AsT’s iMPdraw v2!) that I can’t experience with my professional projects.
In any case, I always start with loose sketches before moving on to the final piece itself, so I know pretty much where I’m heading to.
EpicQuest’s title screen sketch
Hicks - I had the opportunity to see some of your animations and it was very successful. Can you tell us how you work? In terms of animations, what do you think of what exists and how to improve it?
Hwikaa - Thank you so much! For the game you’re talking about, since I need to produce a huge amount of animations, I design them with Adobe Animate (yes, I pay for my license every month ^^) and then export them to a compatible CPC format. I have to make some adjustments by hand, but it’s still faster than producing everything from scratch on the CPC. Animate (formerly Flash) is a very handy and powerful tool, as it allows me to use a “puppet” for a cutout animation style, and draw directly on top of that when needed. I can work at a comfortable scale, and easily place a second instance of my animation on the scene scaled down to the CPC screen ratio. It allows me to real time check if my animation works, if I didn’t put too many details, or not enough...
What I would love to improve, when it comes to animation, is the usual misconception that most people have that animation is good when it’s suuuuper smooth, like at least 60 fps. But every animator knows that a good animation is more than anything good key poses. You can have the possibility to display 60 frames per second, if your poses are bad, inexpressive, or inconsistent, your animation won’t look good at all. On the contrary, if you have strong, solid, meaningful, expressive key poses, even if you animate at 6 fps, your animation will look awesome. Think about Prince of Persia: its frame rate is rather low, still we consider its animations as the best ever made on the CPC. At least, until now... ;)
Hicks - I would like to ask you the same question about the current CPC games. It's tricky to give advices when you're new on a stage, but it's your job so we probably have a lot to learn. Are there any games you particularly liked and why? What tips would you give to CPC game designers?
Hwikaa - I tend to be very picky, and what I want to create, as a game maker, is a full experience. With a beginning, a middle, and an end. And tell a story throughout that whole experience. This is what I like in games, and very few of those I’ve played on the CPC brought me that feeling. I can name two of them: Prince of Persia, and Orion Prime. In both these games, every single little tiny detail was carefully thought to enhance the experience. Whether it be the font type used, the colours, the music... There’s not one single element that pulls you out of the universe in which you’re immersed. Even Orion Prime’s catalogue conveys the same atmosphere as the game itself!
So if I were to give an advice to CPC game designers - and who the f*** am I to do so? - it’d be this one: do not solely rely on a perfect piece of code or beautiful graphics, craft your whole game with care and passion, so when the players will finish it, it will leave them with the feeling that they’ve just lived an incredible adventure. And they will want to go back to it.
Hicks - We read your report of the Glop Meeting on Memory Full. It seems that it was your first contact with the CPC scene, and it's nice to see someone so motivated! What impression does the scene give you in general?
Hwikaa - At first I was really nervous. I've always been intimidated by the exchanges I could read between sceners, whether it be in demos or on the different forums... They always gave me the impression of being extremely talented people but also pretentious, conceited, and provocative. Not really the kind of people I'm surrounded by. ^^
But when I found out that it was more of a game, a style, a tradition, and that they're actually adorable people, I immediately felt in my element. (Am I allowed to consider myself part of them now? (^.^') )
Hicks - Thank you Hwikaa for those answers! How can we contact you and when will we have the chance to see you soon on our screens?
Hwikaa - Thank you, Hicks! It was a blast to answer this interview. You can contact me by mail (email@example.com), or you can leave me PM on Twitter (@Hwika_Asid) or Instagram (@hwikaa).