A little chat with Tony Goacher about Atari 8-bit and Red Rat Software...

Q.:  To those who don't know your name. Please introduce yourself - how are you related to Atari 8-bit ?
A.: Hi, my name is Tony Goacher. I worked as a freelance programmer for the UK software house Red Rat Software between 1985 and 1987. I was responsible for the development of Freaky Factory, War Copter and Death Races.

Q.: First of all, I hope you are fine. What are you doing nowadays ?
A.: These days I work as a software engineer for the UK division of the worlds largest manufacturer of fruit machines. It's interesting work as I am involved in the projects department and get to work with the the latest technologies.

Q.: How did you start Atari computing ?
A.: I got my hands on an Ohio Superboard 2 when I was 15, taught myself to program in BASIC and wrote a few simple games. After a year, I realised that I could do better than to 20x20 character monochrome display. I had only seen pictures of the Atari 400/800 in computer magazines and when I saw one in a computer shop, a quick look convinced me it was for me. I was already familiar with the Atari 2600 and of course their arcade games.

I read De Re Atari, Mapping the Atari and got to work on some games. Initially using BASIC, then a BASIC and assembler combination, then moving to pure assembler.

Q.: Did you also do some graphic demos / or hacking before you wrote games ?
A.: No, I went straight into games because I enjoyed writing them so much. The only demos available when I got my 400 were the official Atari demos and it
never really occurred to me to get involved in that sort of thing.

Q.: Did you also do programming on Atari ST / Amiga ?
A.: Yes, I moved onto the Atari ST towards the end of the 8 bit era. Red Rat got me trade price on an Atari 1040ST and I started work on a platform shoot 'em up called Red Ace.

Q.: Was Red Rat Software the first software company you wrote games for ? Did you had contracts with other companies later on ?
A.: I stopped writing games when I left Red Rat, although prior to them I had a game called Caverns released through a company called Titan Software. It was the first game I wrote on the Atari and was in BASIC. Not very spectacular, it got slated in reviews but was noted for it's unusual sounds.

Before Titan, I used to advertise in the UK magazine Page 6 and sold tapes of games I had written.

Q.: What was the situation at Red Rat ? Can you tell some interesting stories about that time ? Who was boss of RR ?
A.: Red Rat was run by three guys. Chas Partington, Harry Nadler and Don Rigby. They ran the business from a basement in Fennel Street in Manchester. It was slightly unusual in that the premises consisted of a shop specialising in Atari software and hardware, and in the back was a printing shop where they produced all the inlays for the games, in addition to printing menus and wedding invitations etc!

All three were  Atari enthusiasts, and Don Rigby wrote Astro Droid and Screaming Wings under the pseudonym of Paul Craven. The idea behind this was that potential distributors would not think they were dealing with a 'do it yourself' company!

Q.: Are there any unfinished projects from you, games that are finished but not published ? In case there are, would you share them to the rest of the Atari world ?
A.: I have a  few 8 bit games that I wrote prior to Red Rat. They were my first attempts in the field of pure assembler games. If I can find the disks I would be quite happy to release them.

I also developed an Atari ST game called Red Ace to witihn about 99% of completion. It was never finished as Red Rat went bust before it was released and the graphic artist put a block on the work that he did on the project.

I still have the source code and have been considering releasing it into the public domain for some time. I just need to find time to finish it! (I got my hands on an Atari 1040ST for 2UKP a couple of months ago so I have no excuse now!!)

Q.: Did you meet interesting people from the british/international Atari Scene at that time ? Do you know other famous Atari coders like Ian Copeland, Ivan Mackintosh or S.A. Riding  ?
A.: I went to quite a few shows with Red Rat, including one of the famous Atari Villages at the Personal Computer World Show in London. I've met a few people at such events, but the most memorable must be Jeff Minter. Only met him to shake hands and have a quick chat but he was quite a guy and just what you would expect!

The (in)famous Rob C (AKA Was (Not Was)) also used to come regularly to the Red Rat office. He developed the protection system for Technicolour Dream as well as a widely distributed musical games menu system.

I also got to meet Les Ellingham of the Atari magazine Page6 quite a few times. He was really nice and a true enthusiast. I don't know if any of readers remember the Page6 magazine but is was an excellent independant publication.
[Mr.Bacardi: visit Page 6 at : http://www.page6.org/ ! )

Q.: Were most of the Red Rat coders local Atari users from Manchester ?
A.: No. They were from just about anyware. Harvey Kong Tin (Laser Hawk) lived in New Zealand!
[Mr.Bacardi: see also http://members.tripod.com/~socialvolleyball/atari/ and http://www.ataritimes.com/computers/features/fea_laserhawk.html for some infos about Laser Hawk and the men behind it...)

Q.: Do you still have contact to the people from Red Rat software ?
A.: Not really, we drifted apart as the Atari scene dispersed. The only person I still see is Chris Delooze who was the musician for Astro Droid and all my works.

Q.: Do you have information about how many games Red Rat Software did sell ? What was their biggest success ?
A.: I never got to see the accounts! But without a doubt, Screaming Wings was their biggest seller.

Q.: What is the story behind "Byte Back's" Mad Jax ? The name on the cover says "Mad Jax" the game shows "Death Races (??!!)" Did you know that Byte Back released your game ?
A.: I finished Death Races just as the popularity of the 8 bit systems ended. The '??!!' is because I didn't approve of the title! That particular loading screen was from a development copy. I didn't think a production version was ever released.

I was not aware of the existance of Byte Back until I came across Mr. Bacardi's web page. It would appear that it was a last ditch effort by the Red Rat team to put some life back into 8 bit sales. I didn't got any money from it though..... :o(

Q.: Do you have infos about the other british companies like "English Software Company", "Zeppelin Games" or "Hitec Software" ?
A.: I only had dealing with English Software. They too were based in Manchester, about 5 minutes walk from Red Rat and had a similar setup with a software shop and software house combined.

Early on I tried to get them to take on some of my assembler/BASIC hybrid games but they weren't interested. Got my revenge though. I used to buy my blank tapes from their shop, and by mistake they sold me 30 unlabelled tapes with Airstrike pre-recorded on them instead of blanks!

Q.: When did you quit Atari programming ? Or are you still using your XL from time to time ? What programs do you use ? What was / is your equiment nowadays ?
A.: I quit the Atari scene when I got my first PC (25MHz 486SX). I still keep my trusty Atari 400 under the desk for reminiscing, but I tend to use emulators on my PC to play games on. I used to use a combination of Synassembler for code generation and the fantastic Atari Assembler/Editor cartridge for debugging (it's a terrible assembler though).

These days I'm a C/C++ man and primarily use Microsoft Visual Studio. At home I run a home built Athlon XP2100 system with GeForce 4 8460 graphics. I enjoy playing the latest 3d games and can't wait for Doom 3.

Q.: Do you think Atari users can expect a new game from Tony Goacher in the future ? :-)
A.: I'm afraid that is rather unlikely. The nearest I've come to games from the old days are Javascript versions of the arcade classics on my web page (www.javascriptarcade.com plug plug :o)).
It's a nice simple scripting language and a reasonable challenge to write games in. I'm working on a javascript version of Moon Patrol at the moment.

Q.: What do you think about this "retro-hype" ? Are you also a collector of old video-games ?
A.: Not sure about retro-hype. All I can say is that personally, I still enjoy playing games from the 80's as much as I do the latest direct X8 based games. It's what I grew up with so I feel entitled to enjoy them. If others can enjoy them too then great....

The only video game I ever had was an old 1942 machine (Used to be in the Red Rat shop :o)). But space requirments meant I had to sell it. I now keep my retro addiction fulfilled with the excellent emulators that are widely available such as Atari800Win, MAME and STeemEngine.

Q.: What do you think when you see all those Atari 8-bit sites on the internet ? Is is a nice feeling that people still remember the "good, old" time ?
A.: I very much enjoy all the Atari nostalgia I see on the web. It's great to see such time and effort put into genuinely interesting sites. I would like to think that the golden days of Atari and the first steps into home computing in general of the 80's will not be forgotten.
Let the good (old) times roll.....

Q.: Are you still familiar with Atari software / games ? What's your favorite game on Atari XL ?
A.: I must confess I was not aware that Atari games were still being developed but would be interested to see anything that has been created since. I have to confess that I have two favourite games of all time: Drol and Necromancer. Drol because it was the first time I had seen mode 8 used (and used well at that) in a game. Necromancer simply because of the frenzied gameplay.

There are, of course, many, many other games that I have enjoyed on the Atari but I have to put these two at the top.

Q.: I've sent you the latest Atari Demos "Numen" and "Pacem in Terris". What do you think of the polish / eastern europe games / demos ? Did you know the polish Atari games/demos before ?
When was the first time you've heard about the polish Atari scene ? Would you like to visit an Atari party in Poland ? :-)
 I've just came back from this years ABBUC meeting in Herten. Have you ever heard about the ABBUC ?
(Btw., you can see some pictures from the meeting at : http://rawthings.anoweb.cz/8b/mrbacardi/jhv2k2/abbuc_jhv_pics.html)

A.: As before, I was not aware that any further Atari software development was ongoing, but from the demos you sent these guys really do know what they are doing. They have my utmost respect, especially when so many others are getting a name for themselves on the PC. I may program in a high level language these days, but I will never forget the sheer effort required to code in raw 6502!!

I looked at the pictures of the ABBUC meeting. It certainly looks like the sort of club I'd like to visit, and I was amazed at the amount of Atari gear still available, but the arrival of my baby son on September 18th has limited my travel options for a few years!!

Q.: Do you know if there is still an english Atari club existing ?
A.: I'm not aware of any regular meeting of Atari enthusiasts in the UK. Most people have moved on to PC and console base systems leaving

Q.: What else would you like to say ? :-)
A.: Wow!! I don't think theres much left to say after that lot! except that I'd like to thank all those making efforts to keep the Atari scene alive. May your Power be without Price :o)

Thanks a lot for answering all those (silly) questions !

- Mr.Bacardi -