The Story Of ANMA: Two Schoolboys And A Game Development Dream
June 1, 2011 Page 2 of 3
However, the pair is proud of the game design and programming of their games, which are considered to be among the strongest semi-professional releases for the system.
"I was inspired by programming on the MSX," says Ligthart. "On one hand, because I could challenge myself and express my creativity. On the other hand, I wanted to be technically the best. At that time there were many very cool releases from Japan, especially the Konami games.
"But there were only a few professional Dutch software makers. We were semi-professional, because it started as a hobby and we have never worked full time on our projects. We strived to reach the Japan-like quality. Also, we wanted to build a 'cool' image within the MSX scene, just like many groups did on many other systems."
"The MSX system is a typical system technically as there are so many restrictions in what a programmer can do," he says. "By knowing all ins and outs of all the internal systems/processors a programmer can 'tweak' the system to make the impossible possible.
"That was personally a challenge for me. I started with MSX-BASIC when I was 14 years old. To master programming in machine code was a big hurdle, because it is much more elaborate and difficult than MSX-BASIC.
"The first machine code routine was just to move a sprite from left to right on the screen. I thought that I made an error, because when I started the routine, the sprite was already on the right side. A few moments later, I realized that the routine had executed so quickly that I could not see the sprite moving! That moment I released the potential of machine code programming. It was a special moment for me, after which my creativity started working to imagine what I could make with such a fast language. Today we laugh about that speed, of course..."
Between 1991 and 1993 ANMA released five games: Squeek (1991), No Fuss (1991), Nosh (1992), Frantic (1992), and Troxx (1993). The pair traveled to computer fairs around the Netherlands selling their games. "We would have mini-crunches as we tried to get a game finished before the next big event," explains Martijin. "We were extremely busy the last few days before the fair to get everything done and make the game error-free so it would be in a state where we could release the game and sell it. Most of the time we didn't plan too well, and spent the last few weeks working overtime a lot to get the game finished."
"We did everything ourselves," explains Maatjens. "We even travelled by train to Amsterdam to buy empty video cases to put our games in from some shady guy. And we copied the artwork for the boxes ourselves. Most of the time the day before the fair we had to put the disks in sleeves, put stickers on them so they would stay in the empty video cases, put a color copy in the sleeve of the video case and slip in the instructions. We'd even rope our parents in to help."
Of course, not everything always went to plan. "One time we discovered a fatal bug in a game while we were at a fair, selling copies," he says. "We tried to fix the bug there and recreate the disks on site. Boy, that was some shitty situation! We probably sold lots of games that day that were faulty…. But we had our contact address always in the booklet and in the game so people could contact us and get a working copy."
For the pair's second title, No Fuss, ANMA even offered a prize incentive to the first player who could prove they beat the game. "In the instruction manual we promised to bring the first player who could prove they completed the game a big pie. A few weeks later we received a postcard from a player with the correct code, so we went out and bought this pie and drove it to his house. A journalist from an MSX magazine came along and took a photo of us presenting it to him."
Takeru monthly statement
Soon enough, word of ANMA's games had spread across the Netherlands and, even though the MSX scene was fading, the pair attracted interest from publishers wanting to distribute their games across the country, and even overseas. "Several dealers approached us and sold our games in the bigger MSX clubs and through specialist magazines," says Ligthart.
"In the beginning we had trouble selling our games. From our third game onwards, things changed. We became popular and very well known in the scene, partly because of our demos, which were released on many MSX club disks (which were sent to all members of that particular MSX club) and because more MSX magazines were writing about our products. From that time onwards, people called us out of the blue, or spoke to us on the big MSX fairs. So we did not really invest a lot of time in marketing or public relations. We just became a well-established software producer because of the products we made."
One distributor had in-roads to Japan and in 1992 ANMA's games began to be shipped to Tokyo and sold in MSX vending machines across the country, something the boys never thought would have been possible when they first started making games. "The vending machines were run by a company called Takeru," says Ligthart. "Buyers would put the money in and in return receive a piece of low-budget software on a 3.5-inch diskette and a manual which was printed directly."
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