For any wannabe 8-bit system connoiuseur, it doesn’t take long to discover amazing gems and developers, lots of surprising and even breathtaking achievements. Maybe it’s because of the longevity of these platforms, but in any case anyone can trace different trends and steps in hardware and software beyond their mere commercial life. In the particular case of MSX, beyond the memory of Konami and other big names, there was a great inspiration for young developers who grew up playing them and soon after started creating for their first computers.
ANMA is one of the best-known names in the so called “Dutch MSX scene” in the nineties, thanks to some games with crazy details and admirable production values. The name ANMA is taken from the two members, André Ligthart and Martijn Maatjens, both from Hoogkarspel, the Netherlands. André kept his name in the ANMA productions credits, and Martijn chose to appear as Knightram. Since its inception, ANMA brought to MSX users some of the best demos ever made for the Japanese standard series, and also a great collection of games. Squeek, quite an homage to the Konami classic Penguin Adventure, was created by André. The rest of the games were proper ANMA projects from start to end: No Fuss was an interesting mix of puzzle game and shoot’em up, Nosh came as a revision of the Pac Man concept with added adventure mechanics, Frantic was a great action and platform arcade with lots of puzzle ingredients; and finally Troxx, inspired by Gremlin’s classic Trailblazer –a game which also inspired Life in the fast lane, by Bytebusters-. The recent release of a collectors pack with all ANMA games makes the perfect excuse to speak to André and Martijn about an exciting time full of emotions, experimentation and discovery.
-How did Anma start?
MM: Andre and me were friends because we both had MSX computers and we swapped some games together. Then I stopped with MSX for a while and got an Amiga. On that computer I saw a lot of cool demos. Meanwhile Andre started himself on a game (Squeek) which he made entirely by himself. When I got fed up with the Amiga I started using my MSX again and Andre and me wanted to create some demos together.
AL: I think Martijn and I met somewhere in 1987 or 1988. He rang my door because he knew I also owned an MSX. We swapped games and also played MSX games together a few times, I believe. Later, I think in 1990, we met again and formed ANMA. Martijn had gained Amiga experience in the meantime. We decided to start ANMA, making cool demos first and finish Squeek under the ANMA brand. We did not really like the name ANMA, because it doesn’t sound cool. But we became more confident about the name after we drew our first ‘typical’ ANMA logo.
-And why did it stop?
MM: By our 4th game Troxx we both felt burned out with the process of making games and we kinda rushed the game out to sell it. We both needed a break I think.
AL: Until Troxx I felt that everything was growing: my experience, knowledge, programming quality, etc. But now it became more and more the same, while we saw the MSX community shrinking. There was less challenge, less room for improvement due to the limitations of the MSX system. Other systems grew and the MSX was dying. No new MSX computers were made. And also, I started with my study. While working on Troxx, we knew it would be our last product.
-What was it like, being a teenager developing demos and games and selling them at parties or by mail? Any feelings of accomplishment and pride back them? And now?
MM: That was a great experience, we felt we really made some of the best stuff out there at the time and we were proud of what we created. I am still very proud of what we did and it is still a nice thing to tell other people.
AL: It was such a great and diverse experience. Instead of doing the inventory in the supermarket, we did this as teenagers. In retrospect, it is almost a wonder how well Martijn and I complemented each other. I am also still proud of all that work we did in just a few years, with such limited tools. And the creativity we could express gave a lot of satisfaction. Also, we could slowly grow the ANMA brand. Or seeing young boys playing our games on a fair. Or a father sending a blank check for our next game. Or the fan mail from abroad, etc. But this was only possible because we really wanted to create, had intrinsic motivation and worked diligently.
-It almost seems a natural trend, going from demos to games development, or at least it can be seen that way in many other scene groups. What was first in your preferences? Are you happy with both or your release lines –demos and games-, or any in particular?
MM: First we wanted to create demos. I think we thought games was too much work. Then we just gradually moved over to creating games. I believe our last demo Relax was more work to create then the game Troxx.
AL: Actually, I made Squeek before our first demo. As a kid, I was inspired by a KONAMI programming contest in a Dutch MSX Magazine (1987) and decided to start making a game. I only knew MSX-BASIC, so it took way longer than expected to finish Squeek. Martijn and me formed ANMA when Squeek was almost finished. It was a time of many Disk Magazines and we liked to create cool demos, a bit like on the Amiga. So we made some ANMA demos first (Squeek demo 1 and 2, Antirip, DynANMA). But then we started making games and some demos (Source of Power, RELAX) in between these games. So there is no demo-to-game sequence. I think I liked making games and demos equally, and also found some synergy: like using demo skills for game programming. However, in retrospect, I am most happy with our games by far. A game can also be interesting to show to non-insiders, even 25 years later. This is not true for MSX demos. I start an ANMA game in my MSX emulator every now and then, I rarely do this with our demos.
-Many European MSX folks used to see the Netherlands as some kind of promised land, almost like Japan, but nearer. What was it like, being an MSX user in your country?
AL: The Netherlands had a relatively active MSX scene, but I became aware of that later. It meant that there were MSX users everywhere, especially in the early years (1986-1990). I did not see the Netherlands as the promised land, because all games I really liked came from Japan. During ANMA’s best years, we also saw the MSX community slowly shrink.
MM: In the beginning of MSX it was as big as the Commodore-64 scene I think. It was a nice big scene with lots of people and fairs. That was because a huge company in the Netherlands (Philips) was one of the big producer of MSX machines. After a while that dwindled down. I think it was because there was no big fast follow up machine for the MSX2. Meanwhile commodore and Atari came out with the Amiga and Atari ST. I switched to the Amiga too, cause that computer was so much more powerful and “cooler” then the MSX. By the time we started making demos I think the MSX was already a bit on its way down and Philips no longer was involved in making MSX computers.
-Later you jumped to the demoscene, with the famous users meetings. How was the mood in those events? Did you keep in touch with other groups at that time?
AL: During some club days and fairs, we chatted with a lot of people. I can remember these days as very gratifying and rewarding. But we were not really focused on keeping personal contact. I had contact with Ivo Wubbels, Bas Kornalijnslijper and some others. I have been to Ivo’s place in Doetinchem also (maybe even spend 1 night at his place). I also sometimes made a MSX quiz for the MSX-Club West-Friesland. There were so many other things going on, like letters we got, things to arrange, contact with editors of MSX Magazines, Disk Magazines, advertisements, dealers, questions, problems, etc.
MM: Mood was fun and busy. We saw the other groups at fairs. I was never really good in keeping personal contact, but Andre kept in touch with some of the other groups.
-Did you get more sales at the meetings than via mail order and distributors?
MM: Most of our sales were at fairs. Later on we sold some to a distributor. We once were at a fair where the distributor was selling our games and we were selling our games too. That was kind of weird.
AL: At fairs we sold a lot in one day. However, ‘a lot’ in a relative sense of course. Nosh was our first game that sold better than expected during the first release in Tilburg. We did not take enough boxes to the fair and copied game disks on the fly. Mail order, but especially the distributors became more important as we became more known. These dealer orders came bit by bit over a longer period (like 25 pieces for MSX Club Gouda, 20 for Club X, etc.). I think for our later games, we sold most via this route (distributors), but the margin per game was less of course.
-The MSX demos have a very distinct style, with long scroll texts and crude mentions to other groups. Any demo you remember because of its quality… Or its ‘messages’?
MM: Not really. Mostly I found the demos coming out at that time below par of what was possible. I was convinced and kinda still do, that our demos were the best of that time. Andre was imho the best programmer, able to get the most out of the machine. Nowadays some good demos come out as retro demos which are pretty amazing. But they did not come out at that time.
AL: I focused on the technical aspects. And then all of a sudden, we needed some scroll texts. Sometimes, it was already late at night and there was a deadline for the demo to be finished. Then Martijn said: ‘give me the keyboard’ and he just typed and typed. During fairs and clubs, we met other MSX groups and people (like MSX Engine, Impact, Steven Vanhetgoor of NDS, Bas Kornalijnslijper, Flying Bytes, etc.) and there was always something going on. We often were overly crude and critical. Maybe we didn’t want a soft image, but I myself was happy that Martijn was able to do most of this typing.
-And any scene game you liked particularly?
MM: Not really. I was not into playing these games anymore. I loved the Konami games.
AL: As far as I know, there were not that many scene games around between 1991 and 1993. But I do remember the games of Cas Cremers. Although I did not like his style of games that much, I think he was a very talented developer. I also had a lot of contact with Ivo Wubbels from MSX Engine and I liked DIX.
After Troxx (1993) I think we both REALLY quit the MSX immediately. We focused on our studies. Some years later, I started keeping track on the MSX news again, so I keep informed and the MSX can still warm my hearth.
-You released the Antirip demo just to clarify you used original stuff in your productions, and also wrote about the limitations of the MSX in one of the Source of Power scrolltexts. Did you think of demos as a way to express feelings towards the MSX scene, to make a point about something, or was it only text you had to write for them?
MM: The antirip demo was because someone else accused us of stealing a routine out of a Japanese magazine. Which we found ridiculous cause we did not even know this Japanese magazine existed plus our routine was so much faster and better. So we felt the need to stand up for ourselves. The other scroll texts were more a bit of fun and banter and their just to fill in the texts.
AL: We were not happy that Mi-Chi accused us for copying a special routine from a Japanese magazine. At the other hand, we were not so fragile that it ‘really’ hurt us. We took the opportunity to set things right, so we named our next demo after that topic (Antirip). To be honest, Martijn was much better in writing scroll texts: better in English, better in writing funny bullshit and nonsense.
As time went by, it became more and more obvious that the MSX system was so limited. The PC evolved and other systems were outperforming the MSX by far. The VDP (Video Display Processor) is quite slow. At one hand I liked this limited system, because I needed to be creative and very accurate to squeeze the most out of this system. But more and more it became a frustration also. So this might be the reason that some scroll texts did express this frustration.
-You can trace many influences in other Dutch scene musics, but the Anma tunes have a very different quality. What was the inspiration for your musical style?
MM: I just created what I found fun to make. I never copied a style or wanted to make a song in a certain “style”. I just created the music of what I thought sounded good. I would try to create a sound with a very strong and butch sound because I thought that was what was needed for demos to really come over in a good way.
AL: I think the musical style is Martijn’s personal style. But the characteristics of our tracker ‘RED’ helps to make the music sound more distinctive. After we started ANMA, there were almost no trackers available. I saw a tracker on Martijn’s Amiga, complete with slides, vibrations and more. So I made a tracker just for Martijn and used his input and wishes. I put a lot of special effects into this tracker, likes slides, vibrations, volume effects and arpeggio. I encouraged Martijn to use these effects (because I liked them, but also because I wanted to prevent that all my work was for nothing). MSX-MUSIC does not have very good drum sounds, so we used one of the three PSG channels to improve the drums. Combining PSG and MSX-MUSIC ensures a more full and less ‘sweet’ sound. I think Martijn’s style can be defined as follows: full, rough, relatively good drums and alternating instruments. Personally I like Martijn’s music over most other music made for MSX-MUSIC (FM-PAC). The music of the Nosh Intro, some No Fuss tunes, Frantic Job 3 and the Troxx Intro Demo come to mind as some music I especially like.
-Unlike other Dutch groups, you didn’t use Music Module in your productions, why the FM choice?
MM: Because the MM was something only a few people had. It was quite an expensive piece of hardware back then while the FM was something almost everyone bought and had. It was not really a choice back then. I wish ** it was.
(** Extra remark: The FM was such a poor choice of audio chips, I always found that the sounds all sounded too “sweet” if you catch my drift. The SID chip of the C64 was a much, much better synthesizer chip with which you could make so many more cool sounds. Alas.)
AL: We did not only want to make games and demos for the MSX fan, but also for the ‘regular’ MSX user without hardware extensions. That is the reason why we also supported the standard PSG chip and settled on MSX-MUSIC. The FM-PAC was very popular when we were active and MSX-MUSIC was built in the latest MSX machines. We wanted to support the broad MSX community. For the same reason, we kept making software for MSX-1 for a relatively long time, and we did not make anything for the MSX-Turbo-R.
Yes, MSX-AUDIO sounds better, but I believe that MSX-AUDIO became only more popular relatively late, after most regular MSX users already had quit. Note that Moonsound was launched in 1995. That is 2 years after we quit.
-Did any other platform have impact in your creations? In what way?
MM: I think me having an Amiga had impact in seeing things created in demos on that machine, which we wanted to create on the MSX too.
-Recently we’ve seen your music editor RED published on msx.org. Any other custom development utility you had to write back in your day to create your games? Did you use any third party solution?
MM: I believe we used Sony’s drawing program for the graphics. Andre had bought some text editor for his code. Most of the other tools we used were created by Andre
AL: For music, we have used the tracker from FAC (Federation Against Commodore) only in the very beginning (Squeek Demo 1 and 2, I believe). Martijn did not like the tracker and I did not like it either, because it swallowed too much precious processor time. We developed ANMA’s RED inspired by trackers on the Amiga and added lots of special effects and PSG support like PSG drum improvements. By the way, for our first game Squeek no tracker was used. The development of Squeek started before ANMA was formed and I worked alone on that. I got some musical notes in MSX-BASIC from Sjaak, an acquaintance. I manually converted these MSX-BASIC ‘PLAY’ statements to assembly code.
For all graphics we used Sony Halos: the graphics tool Sony shipped with my Sony HB-F700P MSX-2 computer. We did everything in ‘Screen 5’ mode. We also used this tool for designing sprites and MSX-1 graphics (pattern graphics, Screen 2 style). For sprites and pattern graphics we used our own simple converters, mostly just MSX-BASIC tools. These tools are needed because these graphics are stored in a bit-per-pixel fashion and have limitations on color use.
For coding, I used two tools: TED (version 2.6, made by M.J. Vriend), which is a text-editor and GEN80 (version 2.04, made by HiSoft 1987), which is a Z80-assembler for CP/M and MSX. In the very beginning, when learning machine code, I have used the obscure FLASH assembler. It was actually not me, but Martijn, who wrote a few lines of assembly code first (using the FLASH assembler). This was before ANMA was formed. I picked up, because I was inspired by the amazing speed of machine code compared to MSX-BASIC. As soon as I discovered GEN80, I found that much, much better, so all ANMA products are made with GEN80.COM.
Not really tools, but we used a bunch of our own standard routines for all kind of work, like fading color palettes, crunching/uncrunching graphics data, playing sound effects, standard VDP routines, etc. This collection of standard routines grew with each project. I believe that we did not use any libraries or standard routines from others (except the FAC tracker in the very beginning).
Finally, we needed to make a lot of one-time tools, like the level/stage editors for No Fuss, Nosh and Frantic. These tools work, but are not ‘polished’, because they were only used by me and Martijn.
–The Source of Power is considered by many the best MSX demo released. It almost works as an MSX equivalent to other systems Megademos concept. Can you tell us about the design and development processes?
MM: We just created lots of effects we could think of and Andre could make and put it all together.
AL: It’s hard to exactly remember how our idea’s got to live. I think it’s a combination of these: 1) thinking in terms of the limited MSX-hardware, like: how can we use/abuse this VDP processor to get something impossible done? 2) inspiration by other platforms, like the Amiga that Martijn owned. 3) Interaction and humor between me and Martijn.
For example, I can remember that the big scroll with little dots (called ‘BORING SCROLL?’) in our demo ‘RELAX’ was inspired by something similar I saw on an Amiga at Martijn’s place. Then I thought: ‘hey, this can be done efficiently on the MSX-2 in Screen-0 mode with a line interrupt’.
One day, when Martijn was at my place in the middle of the night, he saw a piece of plastic on my desk. It had a shape of a floppy disk and it was named as follows: “Head Vibration Protector For Use When In Transit’. We laughed at each other about this long and stupid name for this piece of plastic. In the meanwhile we were typing a scroll text for a demo, so Martijn included this ‘bullshit’ into our scrolls and later used the abbreviation ‘HVPFUWIT’. Maybe not humorous anymore, but at that time we had a lot of fun about this.
A lot of other idea’s seem to have ‘just’ popped up in our minds.
-Just for your information, when SOP was released in Spain, someone made a very, well, flexible translation. At some point you could read something like “well, with demos like this we all can say ‘Amiga, f*ck you!’”. Did you ever feel this kind of competition with Amiga –or any other platform-, and did you feel the need to vindicate MSX in any way with your productions?
MM: Yeah there was kind of a rivalry between Amiga and MSX, however the folks in the Amiga scene would rather say that the real rivalry was between Atari and Amiga users. Amiga vs MSX was not really a “thing”. It’s just something we did for fun.
AL: Not really, we focused on making the best we could for the MSX system. As a kid, I choose for the MSX system somewhere in 1986, before the Amiga was launched. Since that time, I slowly learned programming, so I became kind-of biased or attached to this system. This applies in particular for coders using low-level languages, because they have to know all internals (like CPU instructions, VDP registers, etc.). Another system is then like a complete stranger. I had my school and other stuff, so one system was enough for me to get knowledgeable about. Of course I saw that the Amiga was a better machine in many ways. Dealing with the limitations on the MSX was a challenge for me, at least until 1993.
-Some of your games are homages to 8bit and/or arcade classics and well known game mechanics, was it intentional?
MM: Not really, we just wanted to create our own games. Of course there are resemblences with other games, but not intentionally. However I believe Troxx was really inspired by Squeek which in turn might have been inspired by Trailblazer / Penguin Adventure.
AL: I think that ‘No Fuss’ and ‘Frantic’ are our most original games. These game ideas did not exist before. And yes, Squeek was indeed inspired by Penguin Adventure. Squeek development was started way before ANMA, maybe in 1988. I came across a KONAMI programming contest (MSX Computer Magazine, Dutch, no. 18, page 36). That article inspired me to create a game. I started in MSX-BASIC with all kinds of experiments, but failed in the beginning. Later my MSX friend ‘Walter’ from ‘Lutjebroek’ made some graphics of a Ninny. Probably, this graphics combined with inspiration from Penguin Adventure, led to the decision to make a game like Squeek.
Nosh was our first MSX-2 game. I can remember that I wanted something doable and realistic. So the idea of a ‘kind-of pacman but with lots of extra concepts’ just popped up.
Troxx is like ‘Squeek Blazer’ which is part of our last demo ‘RELAX’. For this demo I figured out a very efficient routine to smoothly move 3D tiles. Only after that, it began to look like the older game Trailblazer, so we probably were inspired by that game on the fly. Because these moving 3D tiles worked so well, we decided to build Troxx on that same idea, but with better controls, more items and enemies.
-Did you want your games to ‘last’ more in terms of gameplay time, or did you want them to have a more arcade-like approach?
MM: More in terms of gameplay time. It was never the idea you had to play the same level over and over and over again.
AL: I think our games are not really arcade-like, but do have many arcade-elements. The arcade-element is that you need to master the joystick and often being able to do precision moves or jumps. At the other hand, games like No Fuss, Nosh and Frantic all have puzzle-elements also. Nosh is also a bit adventure-like. Nosh and Frantic have big Worlds/Jobs, so you need to play again and again to get through. Many people were willing to invest this amount of time in ‘90s, but probably not anymore now. Or at least people need more hints and encouragement nowadays. Classic arcade games often just increase difficulty by increasing speed or other parameters, resulting in a never ending game and ultimately impossible to play.
A big adventure game or RPG game, with tons of different game concepts, was not something feasible for us to make. I once saw the end demo of Vampire Killer on YouTube: 18 different Japanese people have worked on this game. We did everything with only two of us. So we had to balance between the amount of game concepts, playability and available time.
-Any specific genre you couldn’t bring to your games? Any unfinished project?
MM: No unfinished projects. Lots of unused music of myself, but we used up all the graphics as far as I know. We wanted to re-create No Fuss for the gameboy and we did come very far with that project, but we stopped that because we could not sell it. (Memory is vague here).
AL: Somewhere in 1991 I worked on a project called ‘Softomaat’. It was a project of Jaap Boomsma, owner of a MSX-shop called ‘MSX Centrum Amsterdam’. He wanted to create a Vending machine for software, called ‘Softomaat’. I would create the software for the Vending machine itself. I have been a few times at his place in Amsterdam, where he lived with his little son.
Martijn and I have also worked on a port of our game No Fuss for the Gameboy Color, around the year 2000. This game was ‘almost’ sold to Midas Interactive Entertainment. But Midas offered so little for our game, there was no deal. This GBC game is still not released, but it is playable.
-What was the game that took the longest to develop?
MM: I think Squeek cause André did everything himself. After that I think Nosh.
AL: Squeek took the longest to develop. I was still a kid and had to learn everything from scratch. How to play sound effects in machine code? Where do I get music from? How to code a routine where a bullet must go from enemy to player? Etcetera, etcetera… I struggled with the pattern-based graphics (only 2 colors for every 8 horizontal pixels). I struggled with sprite animations, so it would look natural. Everything was new and I did it for the first time. During school days, I often lost my attention, because I was pondering a coding problem that needed a solution. It felt like a constant brain teaser in the background.
In the beginning I used the obscure FLASH assembler. That became so messy… Once I discovered the GEN80 assembler, I had to convert everything and restructure everything. There was no Internet, only a few books I had. So there was a lot trial-and-error too.
-Did you ever have any help in your creations?
MM: I remember we asked in our demos for some help in the graphics department. We got some pictures sent to us and we might even have used some if they were any good. Cannot remember if we actually did use them tho. I believe a font for text.
AL: A few things were made by others. A man named Sjaak gave me (in 1989?) musical notes (BASIC PLAY statements) that I used for Squeek. There is also Walter Meester, a graphic artist and coder, who drew the Body Builder used in the Troxx intro demo. I teared the body builder photo from a magazine and tried to draw it myself first. I failed and later asked Walter. He drew it pixel by pixel in Screen 7 mode (512 x 212 pixels, 16 colors). Also in Troxx, we used the calligraphic font made by Convex. Finally, we also got the copy protection technique from Ivo Wubbels, MSX Engine. With this technique we could create a special ‘bad sector’ on the floppy disk.
-All your games present well built and designed main characters, even with backstories like Frantic and Troxx. Did you want to progress with every new game in this aspect, or was it something you found right and different for every game?
MM: We found that there needed to be some background story to every game. We felt that it had to be there.
AL: Yes, I think we made progress on that. Frantic and Troxx do have more extensive backstories than our earlier games. I think we just did what we thought was possible (given the limited time) and what people would expect. For example, the early MSX games (1983-1985) are mostly simple arcade-style games with no real intro or ending. But we had played newer games, like Nemesis 2, Metal Gear 2, etc. These were our examples. All our games have a beginning and an end. It is possible to complete the game, although it is not easy. There is no endless game loop. We just made what we thought was normal for a game at that time (early ‘90s).
-In your Gamasutra interview you refer to Troxx as a dissapointment. What would you do to improve it if you had the chance again?
MM: The whole game concept, lol. I think at the time we thought it was “Ok enough” But now I think that game was missing some crucial game concepts. Not entirely sure what tho, just something that would make it more playable or fun.
AL: I do not know how to improve Troxx. But it is the game we are less proud about. The reason is this: we were less motivated. We already had ‘Squeek Blazer’ (part of our demo RELAX) with the routine for efficiently moving 3D tiles. We did not have much time and we knew it would be our last game. So we put together this game relatively fast without too much new game concepts. We also saw more people leaving the MSX. But I also learned many people like Troxx (for example FiXato, see YouTube).
-Were you surprised with the users reception at the time? How was the ‘dealing with fans’ part like?
MM: It was always nice to get letters and reactions at fairs of people. Lots of people wanting to buy our game made me very proud. Proudest moment for me personally: a little kid at a fair dancing on my music blasting through the speakers at a fair.
AL: Seeing the reactions at fairs was the most tangible feedback and credit for me. The fan mail was also nice to get. But honestly, I appreciated these letters more 10 years after we had quit. I have kept a collection of these letters. The father sending us a ‘blank check’ for our next game is also still funny for me. We also got letters with technical questions, like requests for code routines or need for feedback, complete with printed code samples. Sometimes I answered these letters, but sometimes not, because it took too much time. I think I was better at time management back then compared to nowadays!
-How was the relationship with Sunrise? And with other distributors?
MM: Andre can answer this better than me. Andre deserves all the credit for the relations and the stuff around this.
AL: When Squeek was finished, I was still very young and did not have many contacts. Somehow and somewhere I met Bas Labruyère from GENIC (in 1990 or early 1991). Bas showed interest and Squeek, because he wanted the MSX club GENIC to publish MSX software. Ultimately GENIC bought Squeek from me and Bas came to Hoogkarspel (my place) to sign a contract together. As we were both under-age, our parents had to sign too. Later, GENIC became Sunrise. I am not sure, but it seemed that GENIC/Sunrise was not ready for publishing software, because it took a while before Squeek was available. We have put some critical remarks in our demo’s about this, but we did not have much contact with Sunrise. Sunrise has sold Squeek for a brief period and then sold Squeek to Steven Vanhetgoor (New Dimension Software and owner of MSX Mozaik Magazine). It all took very long. Ultimately, Steven published Squeek as a ‘cover disk’ together with MSX Mozaik number 35 (in 1993). Because our second game No Fuss was already published together with MSX Mozaik number 34 (in 1992), some people think we made No Fuss before Squeek, which is not the case.
Other contacts with distributors went very smooth, like MSX Club Gouda who often needed our games to resell. Then there was Steven Vanhetgoor, a distinctive man who we appreciated nonetheless. Flying Bytes did everything for us concerning the Takeru adventure. They kept us well informed all the time.
One day, we got a ‘warning letter’ from ‘MSX Händler Gemeinschaft’ (a Swiss MSX Club). They informed us strongly not to sell Nosh or Frantic to customers in Austria and Switzerland. It was because of agreements we made, but we (as ANMA) were not aware of this agreements.
-You developed your demos when Clubguide, Sunrise, Quasar and others had their Picturedisks and newsdisks. What was the work dynamic –if any- when you submitted some contribution to them?
AL: I cannot remember much, but as far as I know there was mainly functional contact, with a smooth and efficient work dynamic. For submission, we had to take some technical rules into account. When we did something special (like the Frequency Selector for a Disk Magazine), there was a little bit more contact needed. In the beginning we probably initiated most contacts, while later on, the newsdisks contacted us, asking for new demos. It seemed that all too often new Disk Magazines were started, like for example NMC-Disk. It was a vibrant period.
-How did you end up selling your games via Takeru? Do you have any sales figures –Europe and Japan if possible-?
AL: A group called ‘Flying Bytes’ contacted us. They had the contacts in Japan and they did everything. We did almost nothing, except signing a contract for each Takeru release. It was a nice experience, mostly the idea that our software was sold in some Vending Machines in Tokyo City!
The amounts of Takeru sales was not very high, but nice to have. For example, they sold 65 pieces of ‘ANMA’s Amusement Disk’ in December 1992. This went down to 33 pieces in February 1993 and only 9 pieces in October 1993. For example, Squeek was sold 16 times in October 1993. I only have a few statements left, so I cannot give a complete picture. Also, our products were released to Takeru one at a time, with some months in between.
-Why the revival with MATRA? And why the limited release?
AL: I contacted MATRA after I saw the announcement of a new MSX-1 game, named Ghost, sold by MATRA. I was amazed that still new software is being developed, even on cartridge for MSX-1. I contacted MATRA and told him that I could make our stuff freeware. But instead of that, maybe he is interested to make a game collection box. That started our conversation and resulted in a collaboration. I think the man behind MATRA is a nice and honest person. Most details (like the limited edition) were his suggestions I agreed upon. There is a second limited batch and still a few available I think, so there is enough for the collector/enthusiast. What I also like about this little project is that we finally get professional box art and a nice manual! Our original products had very ugly box art. We were not talented and it was an afterthought, something we often did one day before the release on a fair.
-You wrote a demo to keep Dynamic Publisher from freezing in Turbo-R, and also released Relax –which can be patched to load on MSX2-, but nothing else for TR. Did you ever have any intention to develop more stuff for that platform?
MM: Not really, at the time there were only a handful of people who had a Turbo-R so we did not see a reason to create something specially for a system that was hardly used.
AL: We did not want to develop for such a small group of users. We tried to build games and demo’s for a MSX community as large as possible. We supported the most common MSX hardware, like MSX-1, MSX-2 and FM-PAC / MSX-MUSIC. A simple MSX-2 with only 64kB RAM can run all ANMA software.
-What did you think of the evolution of the MSX standard –MSX2+, TR-? Are you aware of the current MSX scene all over the world, with new hard and soft releases?
MM: I thought at the time that the MSX2+ and Turbo-R were a mistake. Seeing what the Amiga and the Atari could do.
AL: Each generation of MSX hardware was adopted by less and less manufacturers. Finally, only Panasonic made MSX machines. Each generation had less users too, and less software to choose from. There are many MSX-1 games, almost no Turbo-R games. A lot of respect for the ones who designed the standard (in 1982?), but the world changed too quickly and the MSX standard was not flexible enough to survive. It was the 8-bit era, and most who lived through this era have nostalgic feelings about it. But when the MSX-2+ and Turbo-R were launched, it was clear that these would not survive as mainstream systems.
But there still is a MSX community worldwide. There is still activity and news. Also new games, although I do not have these myself. I especially like what 8bits4ever is doing (Zemmix FPGA MSX, Carnivore2 cartridge). I am also impressed by the emulators we have, like openMSX and WebMSX.
-In your opinion, what made the MSX appealing? What in the system did you have the most fun with? Anything that bothered you about it?
MM: Not really anything other than that my father bought the MSX computer and that I grew up with it. It bothered me that the soundchip of the C64 was so much more superior then what came out. The Amiga was really superior in all fronts albeit much more work to create something for it.
AL: For me the MSX-BASIC programming language made the MSX appealing from the beginning (at age 13 or so). Before I got my own computer, I stayed a few days at 2 cousins who owned a Commodore VIC-20. There I learned some BASIC programming and I was intrigued by the possibility to let a machine do work for you, like calculations. Then I collected some brochures of home computers sold in shops nearby. I fell in love with the Sony MSX for two reasons. First, I found the Sony MSX much prettier than a Commodore-64 and also than other MSX brands, like Philips. It had a much nicer keyboard, for example. Secondly, I really liked the MSX-BASIC language, based on examples I saw in brochures. Yes, I can draw lines and circles and much more!
-What are André and Martijn up to these days? Anything related to game design?
MM: I am working as a consultant for a data ware housing company. I play games but that’s about it.
AL: I have worked for many years for an insurance company, as a software engineer and later as a software architect. Due to a jungle expedition to Borneo, I got nasty health problems that are still not completely fixed. Besides working on my health, I now do some work for a friend’s company, I care for my 7 year old daughter, and I do some little hobby projects.
-In all these years, we’re sure you have been contacted by MSX enthusiasts, any story you’d like to share about it?
MM: Andre can answer this better than me. Andre deserves all the credit for the relations and the stuff around this.
AL: Well, our old friend Ivo Wubbels (and others) of MSX-Engine continued developing game software within a new company named Engine Software. Nowadays they develop for consoles, but also made the popular game Terraria on Apple’s iOS. Somewhere in the year 2000, Martijn and I visited this company in Doetinchem. Ivo and his team were developing games on the Gameboy Color, a popular handheld at that time. He showed the company and we were impressed. We learned that this Gameboy also had a Z80 CPU and other similarities with the MSX. So at the end of the day, we decided that we should port our game No Fuss to the Gameboy Color. Ivo would send us all necessary ‘classified’ Nintendo documentation and a few guidelines. While we also had a fulltime job, Martijn and I created No Fuss for the Gameboy Color. This version of No Fuss became better with much more game concepts that the original on the MSX. The game is playable and finished for 99%.
Later, in 2004, there was a start-up company BAZIX VOF, specializing in retro-gaming. They asked us to participate and we did. The goal was to make old games available on modern platforms, using emulation technology. Unfortunately, this initiative never matured.
In 2017 we were contacted by the ‘Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’. They wanted to archive all our stuff and asked for permission. This public institute archives all Dutch radio and TV programs. Since 2016, they also archive other materials, like Dutch computer games. We agreed on this.
-Is there anything you would like to see in the future regarding your productions?
AL: It would be nice to see one or two of our games being ported to a modern system. For example, I think No Fuss can be implemented as a nice casual game on mobile. It has to be adapted. Our Gameboy Color version has some nice game concepts that could be used.
It may also be interesting to publish a free ‘Community Edition’ of a few of our games. With that I mean: the same game, but with new levels / worlds, designed by people within the MSX community. I think No Fuss, Nosh and Frantic are the three games that could be used for this. For example, suppose that 5 people are interested to design a Nosh World, and they design one World each. This new Nosh Worlds, combined with the existing code, graphics and music would be the free Nosh Community edition. I have level/world/ job-editors for No Fuss, Nosh and Frantic, but these are not polished, a bit obscure and the user should not be afraid to see HEX numbers. It’s not very difficult to use these editors, but it may not be for everyone…
-Do you still have your MSX at home – and working-? Which model(s)?
MM: I still have 2 MSX2 Sony HPF700 both no longer working
AL: I own a MSX-2 Sony HB-F700P which has a few minor problems, like a defect cartridge slot 2. This is the machine I used most during the ANMA period. Last year I used the Retrobright method (hydrogen peroxide with UV light) to whiten it, because it had become very yellowish. I also own a MSX Turbo-R Panasonic FS-A1ST, working 100%. Both machines have replaced floppy drives (a modified NEC FD1231H). However, I use the openMSX emulator most of the time instead of these real machines.
-Any words of advice -or encouragement- for the people who still use and develop stuff on MSX?
MM: Have fun in what you are doing!
AL: Yes, having fun is the most important when using a retro system like the MSX.
One last suggestion: if you are a Dutch game developer or developed in the past, you might contact the ‘Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’ if you want them to archive your games.