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Exclusive Interview with Arnauld Chevallier, Intellivision Programmer

A new Interview by Scalpel, from GAMOTEK.FR has been made available. Visit their website to view the original Interview in French. An english translation has been made available as well by AA user ghsqb.

Arnaud Chevalier, creator of Stonix is one of the important players in the Intellivision Homebrew community.
Although he maintains a low profile, the 37 year old Parisian has been programming for the Intellivision since the early part of the millennium.
There continues to be no end to the projects he is working on for this classic Mattel console.
What motivates him to program for a 30 year old console?

Q: How did you fall into the cauldron that is Intellivision?

A:  As a child, as did most of the people who are still interested in Intellivision today.
I was between 7 and 8 years old. My parents bought  an Atari 2600, and we resold that pretty quickly in order to move on to the Intellivision.
Early on, I really didn't understand how it all worked, but I was always passionate about it.

Q: What is it that you were passionate about, video games in general, or the Intellivision in particular?

A:  Video games in general. I always wanted to understand how they worked, how they were made.

Q: Back in the day, what games did you play?

A: Back then , we had very few games, and after the video game crash, we didn't have any more access to new titles.
The last one I bought was Burgertime.  There were still quite a few available in the US, but in France, there was nothing available.

Q: Any idea how many games you had?

A: Probably about a dozen. After that I pretty much moved on to computers. I had a Thomson because I caught the computer bug while I was at school, in college. After that I moved on to Atari , and then PCs.

Q: On the subject of the Intellivision, what was your favorite game?

A: It was always Burgertime. Because of this, I wanted to get into contact with the creator of Burgertime, Ray Kaestner. So I sent him an email, and subsequently, I was able to meet him in person at a convention in San Jose in 2004.

Q: Why did you wish to meet him?

A: Simply because Burgertime was my favorite game. On one hand, I simply wanted to meet him, but on the other hand, I had also reverse engineered the game. Meaning, I had taken the ROM image, and and I tried to recreate the source code so that I could modify the tables.

Since then, David Harley has used my program, created from this effort to create new levels. These can be found on the Internet.
As a result, I had a lot of fun discussing this program with Kaestner 30 years later.

Q: Seeing as it's your favorite game, any idea what you best score is?

A: I don't remember. It's gotta be about 300,000.

Q: We can't really label you as a collector, can we?

A: No. My original games are still at my parents home.
Here, I have a few games, but they are mainly Homebrews. King of the Mountain, two copies of Stonix.
SameGame and Robots and two copies of Space Patrol.
One copy of Minehunter and an empty box. 4Tris in the cardboard box, one of the first editions.
I also have a CC3 which lets me play all the games. I used to have an Intellicart. The CC3 is more practical, no longer need to turn off the
console to switch games, just press reset.

Q: I'd like to discuss programming with you if you don't mind. You are know as one of the most knowledgeable programmers for the Intellivision.
What pushed you to start programming for Intellivision?

A: As the years went by, I had completely forgotten about the Intellivison.
During my Military service, between 1998-1999 I was a scientist for the army.
We weren't exactly overloaded with work. As a result, I had time to browse the Internet. I happened to run across the emulator done by Carl Mueller.

Then, I stumbled onto what Joe Zbiciak was working on, and I began to realize that there was this Intellivision community out there that I never suspected.
That began to interest me, because I had always wanted to make games for the system.
So my first task was to figure out how an Intellivision game was programmed.
To help me figure that out, I relied on the documentation complied by William Moeller.
Subsequently, I discovered INTV Prog which is a Yahoo user group which remains very active today. At any rate, at that time, it was very active.

Q: How does your Intellivision Adventure begin?

A: It started like this: I knew that there were games that were going to be released, and I had to get involved.
The first thing I did was create an RPN (?) calculator, which allowed me to test the behaviour of the processor, and to understand how the system worked. On that subject, the Intellivison processor is very advanced for its time.
Even back then, it was a 16 bit environment which was not the norm for that period.
It was very rudimentary, but it still paced it ahead of many of the other processors of that era.
This work allowed me to familiarize myself with the tools at my disposal.
Next, I started work on Castle.

Q: This project started before Stonix?

A: Yes, one year before.
The project is inspired by a game that came out on the Thomson, Oric and other machines from that era called Golden Eagle.
I thought that this type of game could be realized on the Intellivision and since it was so enjoyable...

Q. Is the Rom available?

A: The game is not finished. To do so, I 'd have to start over from scratch. It was my first project, I'd approach it much different today.

Q: Will Castle be released one day?

A:  I'd love that. I'd have to work on it. In addition, the way Golden Eagle works would have to be revisited.
There are only 3 exits, three entrances.

Q: This would limit the interest in the game?

A: It's a little constraining. I wonder if I shouldn't add a 4th?

Q: Next you began work on Stonix. How did that adventure start?

A: David Harley was in Germany, and had seen my demo of Stonix. He got in contact with me and encouraged me to develop the game.
I was on my way! On a whim, I decided to improve the table editor I had created. It took almost a year for me to develop Stonix.

Q: There are 106 levels, of which 6 are hidden, is that correct?

A: There should be a few more, there are some that we didn't keep. David and I worked on the game by mail. We exchanged a lot of mail.
We each did tests on our end. The game itself isn't that complicated, but afterward, there's a lot of fine tuning. The priority was the play-ability of the game. It had to be interesting.

Q: Have you ever made it to the 100th level in Stonix?

A: Not without cheating! But I did finish the 100th level without cheating! The only person I know to make it past level 100 is Cyril Denis, the author of Revival.
He did it without the use of any cheat codes, which must be available on the Internet. These codes allow you to have infinite lives, or to skip from one level to another.

Q: Stonix has been sold out for some time now. You must also be aware that Elektronite would like to re-release Stonix. What do you think about this?

A: David and I have an agreement, and without Davids OK, it's not going to happen.

Q: Besides Stonix, what other games have you worked on?

A: I worked with Joe on the music for Space Patrol (LTO) and a few other games.
I also worked on a lesser extent on the most recent game release, Christmas Carol, which uses my routines for the music.
It's really fun what they've done. The box really reminds you of the boxes from the era. It's some really nice work.

Q: Did you know that there is a Championship underway on Atari Age for this game?

A: Yes, until the end of the month. I'm not sure how it will be controlled, since it can be played on an emulator.
It should be easy enough to cheat...just mess a bit with the rom. I imagine this will be controlled.

Q: Defender of the Crown is a highly anticipated game. Certainly the most anticipated game at the moment. You have asked Valter to find a solution to finish the game. He alluded to a fundraiser (Kickstarter) to help find a programmer to finish the game. What do you think about this?

A:  I think they've already found one. It'll be Carl.
Right now, the game isn't playable. You can "play" with the menus, but none of the mini-games work.  
All the graphics and music are done. A good part of the main engine is finished.
What is missing is all the mini games: Castle Assault, Joust, I'm not too sure how to do this on the Intellivision for that matter.
It would surely be a 2D perspective, like on certain other machines, there's also the Catapult...
If I don't seem too eager to finish the game, it's because I've done nothing but ports/conversions and I really want to release an original game.

Q: You are currently working on a previously unseen game, which doesn't yet have a title, but for which the main game engine is already really advanced, is that correct?

A: Yes, the game does not yet have a name, or a story. The game engine is inspired by Dungeon Master on the Atari ST. On second thought, the ambiance is closer to a game like Doom 3.

Q: You want to make the most terrifying and heart pounding game the Intellivision has ever seen? How will you make that happen? Will it really be more unnerving than ADD?

A: It's based on that type of ambiance. But it will be even more scary.
An important point about this game. It will rely a lot on the Intellivoice.
Joe has developed a program that allows you to put almost anything through the Intellivoice.

Q: How far along is the game at this point?

A: Hard to say. The game engine is very far along. But it's not moving along very quickly. I need an inspiration to push me to move forward in programming the game.

Q: What is the project that you are working on that you have not yet revealed?

A: I'm working on an editor for the Intellivision Music Synthesizer.
There's already a game for the Synthesizer but nothing for those that really want to play music.
Regarding it's release, I have no predictions at the moment.

Q: There is a module which will soon be released for the Colecovision which will improve the capacity of the console. There were suggestions of doing something similar on the  Intellivision. What do you think of this?

A: I'm against the idea. There's no point. Technically, we can do whatever we want to do.
Already, the boards produced by Joe allow more Ram, so that's already a positive. There are also accelerator functions.
For example, the processor in the Intellivision is not capable of doing multiplications and division natively;  the new cartridges make it possible.
The most recent version of Space Patrol allows you to save your high scores.
If we never take it any further, it's already good enough. We shouldn't go much beyond this, to do so would corrupt (pervert the purity) of the console.

Q: What would you like to say to the fans of the Intellivision? Regarding the future of the console?

A: There are still lots of projects in the works, and as long as there are fans, there will always be more games, and not just games!

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