Zinc Studios, BIOSFear

Who is Zinc Studios and why are many gamers patiently awaiting their first 3DO project?

Zinc studios is located on the second floor of an old brick building in Grandview, Ohio. The only indication that they are there is a small piece of paper taped in the window; it reads "Zinc Studios...open normal business hours...and beyond." Zinc studios is Neil Haldar, JT Milhoan, Mark Carey, Erik Kraft, and Todd Sines. Their first game for the 3DO, BIOSFear, will be released by Panasonic later this year. After speaking with them, it is easy to see why many are eagerly awaiting this game.

When was Zinc Studios formed?
JT: We got together roughly two years ago under the name of Sense/Net Corp. In late January of 94' we moved into our present location and changed our name to Zinc Studios.

Was 3DO your first platform choice?
TS: We thought about the Mac and PC platforms, then we thought about Jaguar, 3DO and even Nintendo. We finally settled on the 3DO after going back and forth between the Jaguar. We decided on the 3DO because the ARM RISC chip and the DSP were going to be fast enough to display all these polygons to create a pretty detailed game. The problem is that we are limited to the number of polygons that can be displayed...
MC: But even that changes from day to day because of the code. I do most of the 3D coding.
TS: (laughing) Sometimes it's forty, sometimes it's four hundred, sometimes it's four thousand. I think the problem with some of these new games is that they just try to hype the title and just give out numbers.
MC: I feel we are about to cross a threshold into unknown territory. We came up with some really great ideas; JT and I stayed up for about three hours one night and just started to brainstorm about how we could do this.
JT: We came up with a development method that creative people could be happy with because it didn't involve tedious methods such as graph paper and it would provide them with a format to do what they want.

Who are the main programmers?
JT: Erik and Mark are the main programmers. Todd does all the audio and music stuff.

Do you feel that, for the power, 3DO is one of the easier platforms to develop for?
MC: For the juice you can get out of it, yes. For instance, the compiler is good, we've only had an occasional problem with certain elements. The assembler is nice. I like 3DO's tech a lot better than some of the other machines we've been looking at.

(A week after the interview, Mark had crossed the threshold and was able to display and manipulate many more polygons)


What is BIOSFear?
EK: (laughing) Demons of hell come out of the night...
JT: It is a combination 3-D adventure and puzzle/strategy game. There is some shooting , but it is mostly a thinking game.

Is the music going to run off the CD or will it be generated by the 3DO?
TS: If we can get it to work right, we're probably going to try to create a good amount of instruments using the DSP, however that limits the complexity of the sound. I'll probably use samples for drum sounds or samples of instruments I can't create. We're not going to spool audio off of the CD because that takes up way too much room. The intro will probably be spooled.
EK: The background music won't be spooled, but we are going to have a few special sounds.
TS: We want to stick to using MIDI as opposed to using a sample because you can cut up sounds and play them back, and MIDI files only take up about 3K or 4K. You can also omit tracks and fade sounds in. I think MIDI has a lot of potential.
JT: With MIDI you can manipulate the sounds in real time, if you spool the audio you can't manipulate it. You might have an eight second loop, but all you can do is play it.

Will you have a demo at WCES?
[ed. note: this interview took place before the 1995 Winter CES.]
EK: It's a marketing thing, we want to show it at E3.
TS: We think that there will be more potential for recognition at E3 because there are more developers there.
MC: We could put something together.
EK: It's in good enough shape.
JT: The only problem is we would have to take time away from developing the game so we could put together a demo.

How long have you had the rights to develop BIOSFear?
JT: Actually it is our title. We have all the rights to it because we developed it ourselves.
EK: (laughing) Rights which we may or may not assign to other people.

When did you get the Panasonic contract?
JT: I think we got the Panasonic contract in October.

About how far along is BIOSFear?
JT: That's really hard to say because it's not just a steady progression where we're here and a certain percentage gets done, it jumps.
TS: I think we attack different things at different times. Currently I am rendering a part of the intro and that should be taking place almost last. I've also been doing a lot of the wall tiles and the music, which is done, but now has to be set with the MIDI.
JT: It's a lot of fine tuning. Every element has to be fine tuned, getting good results by doing something this way may redo something else. It's just going back and forth.

So the game will probably be done for Christmas 1995?
JT: (laughing) As far as official release dates...I think the official word from the official here is to officially contact Panasonic...
MC: (laughing) And they will officially tell you who to contact, which is officiallly us and we officially don't know.
JT: (laughing) We get calls from people asking us the deadlines and we eren't sure exactly what we could say. We are the guys who work in here and Neil is mostly...
MC: (laughing) The connection to the outside universe. He's the businessman. He's the one that takes the axes and Nerf guns away from us.
JT: We're hoping to get it out in the second quarter of 95.

That soon!?
JT: It's not like we just started on this a week ago and we're cranking to get it done. We've been working on it a long time.

Is BIOSFear ever going to be programmed for other platforms?
EK: We are completely open to do it on any other platforms we decide to do it on.
TS: (laughing) We're looking at the Timex Sinclair.

On M2

Will you be developing for the M2?
JT: We plan on developing for it.
NH: We can't say much about the M2. The only thing I can say, is that it looks very nice.

On School

TS: Acedemics can't keep up with industry. They can't develop a program fast enough.
JT: Plus, with the budgets of the schools, by the time they get enough money together to buy some outdated equiptment it'll be ten years before they can buy something else that is outdated. Then they have to keep that for ten years. One school said they got a "good deal" on some discontinued Sun workstations. What about that is a good deal, they may save some money? I guess the savings is that the students won't get a chance.

Do you have any suggestions for someone who wants to pursue a career in software development?
EK: It depends, what platform? Most people start off on IBMs because that's what most people have. And it's a lot easier to program for than the Mac. Well, although I would even disagree with that. There are a lot of books written to help you get through the development process for the IBM. If they're good, throw a demo together and send it out; game companies are always hiring. They won't hire them, though. I'm not going to lie to you. Game companies will not hire you if you have less than a year of experience in the field. Start your own company, that's what we did.
TS: School is not necessarilly the way to go.
EK: It's a good start, though.
TS: Yeah, it's a good start. I don't think I would be doing this if I wasn't in school.

So you have trained yourself up and above anything that would be taught in school?
TS: I don't even know what classes to take next quarter, because I don't know what will push me any farther. I've been trying to take graduate classes, but they won't let me in because I am an undergrad. It really takes a lot to step down because I don't feel I will learn anything.
EK: I started in high school. They offered two years of computer science, I took four. I started off with BASIC, then went to Pascal, then advanced Pascal and early C. I was also playing around with 6502 assembly at the same time.

On NeXT Hardware

Do any of you have an original NeXT computer?
EK: I do.
MC: I'm waiting to buy one.
EK: I've sold one for a thousand dollars, that's the cheapest price I've ever sold one for. I've seen them for ridiculous amounts of money. The lowest I've ever heard of anyone buying one for was $125 at a school auction... and that was for a NeXT Dimension...
TS: NeXT Dimension?!
JT: Get outta here!
EK: Yep.
MC: That is so wrong.
EK: That is very wrong. I find it funny that id has a NeXT on every desk.

Have you done any of BIOSFear on a NeXT?
JT: Not to date.
MC: We're seriously considering it.
EK: (laughing) I've put the word BIOSFear into my NeXT, so the answer is... yes.

On Future Projects

What is the next project after BIOSFear?
MC: We were thinking about Pong.
EK: (laughing) Yeah.

Pong 2?
MC: (laughing) Nope, just Pong.
JT: There are a lot of ideas, a lot of different things we can do. BIOSFear is...
TS: Our albatross. It's been in development for so long, in whatever form it was, that we just want to get it done so we can do something else.
JT: The technology behind it has been....
MC: Developed over a long period of time.
JT: As for the next title, we haven't really decided on what we want to do next. This tech, though, is pretty cool as far as what this game can do. We had to learn a lot about the machine to get it to do what it is going to be able to do, what we are doing now.
MC: (laughing) They made me do 3-D. When I signed on they promised that I wouldn't have to do 3-D.
TS: I think something that we would like to persue for the next game is sort of a sequel, but have it networked.
MC: (thinking out loud) Maybe it is more like a phoenix...
EK: I think albatross is pretty right on...

Thanks for reading, I hope you are as excited as I am. If you have any comments about this interview please send them to Game Zero at team-0@gamezero.com. We're waiting to hear from you.

Happy gaming,


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