An informal interview with Peter Fokos, programmer of
various classic video
games including "Alien Blitz," "Cloudburst" and "Spiders of Mars" for the VIC-20.
[Ward made his first contacts with Mr. Fokos via email. He introduced himself as a fan and historian of the Vic20 and asked if Mr. Fokos would mind answering questions. To show he was serious about Vic20 preservation efforts, Ward mentioned his web site.]
"Yes, you do have the right person. I got a kick reading the reviews of my old games. Wow, it's been 17 years since I first got one of the first VIC-20s. The best $300 investment I ever made."
[Ward asked Mr. Fokos about UMI, the VIC-20 company that had published his games.]
"I actually didn't work for UMI. My two partners ( Tom Giguere and Tom
Arranaga ) and I formed "Tensor Technology" in 1981 to start writing computer
games. Tom Arranaga meet up with a man named Russ Bedord who had started UMI. I
had already decide to write games for the VIC 20 when I first heard about it. I
went out and bought one when it first came out, took it home and started to play
around with it. UMI provided us with some tech info on how we could develop for
it. UMI did not get our (source) code, so they never did anything but burn carts
or copy tapes. You might want to contact Russ Bedord, he would have more info on
UMI. I have not kept up with him, last I knew he was working for Cosmi but that
was a long time ago."
[Ward asked about Mr. Fokos' older software, for VIC-20 or any other machine.]
"Tom Giguere and I wrote Alien Blitz in about a month and sent it over to UMI who started to sell it. We continued to produce new games: I wrote Cloudburst and Spiders of Mars and Tom Giguere wrote Outworld. We were also were writing games for the Atari 400/800 and TI home computers and sold them through MicroD which later became Inghram. They published my very first game in 81 called Alien Blitz for the Apple II. Lot's of Alien titles huh?" [He lated added...] "Sorry, I misspoke. I wrote Alien Ambush for the Apple II as my first game. I keep getting all the aliens mixed up. Alien Blitz was never converted to the Apple II."
[And of course Ward was curious about Mr. Fokos' more recent software experiences.]
"In 83 the video game market crashed, too many titles at too low a price. UMI
died off owing us a lot of money, no hard feelings just a mess trying to pay off
everybody we owed. I continued on working as a contractor for Creative software
and then Activision, Disney Interactive, Saban Interactive and now The Learning
Company." [Later:] "For Creative I did a spreadsheet and a database
program. Not real exciting but it payed the bills after the videogame crash of
84. Joann Lee worked on a project we started for Creative called Alien Hotel. I
don't think it was ever finished because of the 84 crash, that's when we closed
Tensor. She was one of the best programmers I've known. Last I heard she was
living in Europe with her husband."
[Ward asked about the tools used to write VIC-20 games back in those very early days. As is more common then you might guess, the memory of those details was a bit fuzzy.]
"I can't remember all the stuff we used. I know all the games were written in assembly language. I remember using HesMon to debug. I believe we used tapes for a while and then got some diskette drives. I think we edited and assembled on the VIC-20 and then ran it on a cartridge emulator. The cart emulator let you load code into like it was a cart. I don't remember what the difference was between the tape and cart code; probably just the addresses." [Later:] "You know I think we used the Apple II to compile our code and then burned EPROM's that we loaded onto a cart. So every time we reassembled the program we had to burn EPROMS."
[As any digital archaeologist would, Ward asked if any interesting trinkets still exist.]
"I do still have all the source code on disks and printed out, some of the
boxes and carts. I also have most of the equipment I used but it's all buried in
our storage unit. I don't have any original art for the games. We did all the
art ourselves (Programmer art, ugh!) and wrote it directly into Hex code so it
was never actually drawn."
[Ward asked Mr. Fokos if he admired the code of any of his contemporaries.]
"I admired Bill Budge's work. He wrote Apple II games back then. He did some
great stuff. Last I heard he was working at 3DO."
[Some time passed. Around November 1998, there was a big legal crackdown on pirated ROM distribution on the I'net. Many moral debates quickly followed. It occured to Ward that perhaps he should ask Mr. Fokos if he would consider granting Ward permission to upload the Vic20 games Mr. Fokos once wrote, so that others could play them legally.]
"I assume that I am the Copyright holder since I came up with the ideas and wrote them and put copyright into the code. I don't mind if you want to post the ROM image for non-commercial purposes. I don't want to sign any documents or anything because that's when lawyers get involved. If anybody hassles you about my stuff send them my way."
[Ward wishes to thank Mr. Fokos for his patience and generosity in granting me the opportunity to ask him these questions. I am especially grateful for his kindness in letting me upload his games, so that you modern-day Vic20 users out there can enjoy them!]
Interview conducted by Ward Shrake via email from September to December of 1998.