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  3. Fabien Marlier on his upcoming space shooter for Atari Lynx - Captain Harlynx

Captain Harlynx is an upcoming space shooter from a French developer, Fabien Marlier. It was announced back in 2017 when Fabien posted a video of its gameplay to YouTube, but then the project went a little quiet. That's changed recently and Atari Gamer had a chat with Fabien about the game, its development and what we should all expect. So lets check it out!

If you haven't seen the original preview video, Atari Gamer has published the updated gameplay video so check that out. The game even at this early stage of development looks amazing. There are parallax-like effects, explosions a-plenty, big guns, big ships - it's the kind of space shooter that the Lynx needs!

A huge thanks to Fabien for taking his time to answer all of these questions. Since English is not his first language some of his answers have been updated to flow better for the purpose of this article, but the original meaning is still there.

What is your inspiration for Captain Harlynx?

Harlynx is inspired by Harlock (Leiji Matsumoto), the idea is to use an existing post apocalyptic world that has appealing imagery. I like Harlock because he is a hero, more an anti-hero - not very cool and doesn't hesitate to destroy his enemies by crashing his ship directly into them. For a shoot 'em up, this is fantastic and a little new and innovative. In the video you can see whenever the 'B' button is pressed, Harlynx attacks to destroy an enemy exactly like in the Manga (by ramming them), and that works very well!

The second reason is that there is no game in existence based on Captain Harlock (it s surprise for me, perhaps copyright?). Which brings us to the elephant in the room - copyright might be something that could force the game to change its graphics, so until Leiji Matsumoto's agent/publicist confirms, development will continue as is.

Why do you want to make a game for Atari Lynx in 2019?

The story began when I bought a Sega Game Gear in 1993, I hesitated about buying the Atari Lynx, but the Sonic game was really impressive so Game Gear won. First lesson: the console buying choice depends on the quality of one or two key games, not more. ATARI didn't understand that I think.

After that, 4 years ago (2015), I found my Game Gear again and decided to turn it on. It didn't work. Problems with leaking capacitors made me recap the board, but this didn't work out well and so my old console was definitively dead. Consequently, I decided to buy an Atari Lynx to compare and see if the choice of the Game Gear in my youth was a good one.

I found several very good games like Shadow of the Beast, Slime World, S.T.U.N. Runner, and Zaku, but also many poorly made games. I was surprised by the big differences of quality between the good and bad games. Since this is a 16-bit console, it should have shined compared to other handhelds of the era - so, how was it possible to develop such bad games?

I decided at that time to start reading technical information about the Lynx, and so I found the famous Diary of a Lynx Developer and AtariAge forums. By seeing how sprites were managed on the console and the fact that these tutorials were very good, I decided to spend a few hours each evening trying to program something. So that's how Harlynx began.

Have you done game development in the past?

I'm a mechanical engineer by trade so coding is not my forte but I have played around with code when I was younger. At 7, I started to develop pictures on my first Thomson M05 in the BASIC language. At 10 I moved onto 3DStudio animation for video competitions, unfortunately I lost all animations from that time. In school I toyed with Turbo Pascal.

What tools are you using to make Captain Harlynx?

As I said earlier, I’m not a developer, and I'm more interested in high quality visual design and rendering to tell the story. I’m not familiar with Linux so I use Windows and Visual Studio for C++ to do my coding. There is no sound in the game yet, but I started to learn Chipper and I think I'm ready to implement music and sound (it's not the top priority at the moment.) GIMP is used for sprite creation (saved as BMP files.) For images I developed a specific technic so that sprites can be created with a very good rendering quality - this is a trade secret for now.

Is anyone else working with you on this project?

My son, who is 7, is beta testing the game for me. I've also recently had help from Karri Kaksonen. He helped me to manage pictures and sprites and reorganise code segments. With his help I was finally able to get past crashes I've been having with reading memory segments. This led me to find a strange solution in the code which I don't completely understand, but it works well. The game play is more stable now and I'm able to produce new versions of the game quickly, so a big thanks again to Karri!

When do you expect the game to be completed?

At this moment, I don’t know exactly. I don’t want to have the pressure to produce a result, but on the other hand feedback from the initial YouTube video were positive and encouraged me to do more. For the final game, I have several more stages to create and need to come up with scenario ideas. It took 2 years to learn how to develop the first level (with big breaks in between) but the game engine is now stable and implementing new stages will now be easier. So I hope to have something in 2020.

Any advise for others who want to start with Atari Lynx game development?

Read lots and participate in the forums. There are people who really want to help you along, but you also have to persevere. There will be issues to resolve in your code, but you will succeed. At the start you will run into many problems, just keep thinking that your vision is achievable. I think development on the Lynx console has a big success potential thanks to current work done within the community. My children play with the Lynx still, which is proof that great games can be timeless.

Thanks again to Fabien for taking his time to chat. His game looks very impressive and Atari Gamer is very much looking forward to playing the full version. If you want to show support for this game, leave some comments here or head on over to the official discussion thread and leave a comment for Fabien.

Update: Fabien has asked to share the updated preview video used for this article, so here it is in all its glory...

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