Putting the kids first with Ocean France coder, Michel Janicki

Researching the life and times of Taito’s 1990 arcade platformer, Liquid kids, and its hard-fought translation to the Amiga, raked up as many fresh questions as it answered. For a geek with an inquiring mind, the problem with unanswered questions is that they peck away at the back of your grey matter incessantly much like a solar-powered insomniac woodpecker living on the Sunshine Coast. All of which goes a long way towards explaining how I came to track down and pick the brains of one of the game’s exceptionally gifted coders to fill in the gaps in my knowledge.

Michel needs no introduction from me, because he’s in a better position to do that for himself…

Q. Firstly, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself, where your programming career began, and where you fit into the Amiga’s history?

A. My career began with the Tandy MC10, then the VIC20, C64, Commodore C128. And the Amiga arrived. I worked on Beach-Volley, Cabal, Ivanhoe, Toki and Liquid Kids for Ocean France. Thereafter, at Cryo on GameGear, GameBoy, MegaDrive, PS1, PS2. Once Cryo closed, I worked for InFusio Bordeaux on mobile devices (midp).

Q. What was it like working for Ocean? Was Gary Bracey a tough taskmaster?

A. Working at Ocean France was great at the time; the atmosphere between us was cool. We saw Gary Bracey very rarely; Marc Djan was the manager.

Q. I believe Liquid Kids had to be created from the ground up as you weren’t given access to the coin-op’s source code. It often appeared that arcade game developers went out of their way to be awkward by not providing any sort of support once the license to convert a game had been granted. Why do you think that was?

A. We’ve always ported arcade games onto Amiga without any outside help.

Q. Did Taito give you a list of criteria you had to fulfil when porting Liquid Kids? Were they at all interested in the quality of the finished product, or just the royalties and license fee?

A. For each game, and for Liquid Kids as well, we started by playing at the arcade game several days while filming us. Taito gave us no list of criteria.

Q. Level 5 (the tree stage) was cut from the Amiga port of Liquid Kids, and some of the backgrounds were switched for simpler designs. Was this due to memory constraints?

Were you instructed to make sure the game would fit on a specific number of disks?

A. I have indeed sacrificed this level for space disk reasons and development time issues.

Q. Not your department I know, but the music is entirely different from the coin-op version. Why was this decision taken?

A. We had ‘carte blanche’ to port the game, and Pierre-Eric Lauriot’s music suited us perfectly well.

Q. For a long time it was thought that Liquid Kids and Snow Bros. weren’t released because the completion deadlines had slipped so far they were no longer economically viable. We have since learnt that – complete or not – releasing them legally wouldn’t have been possible because Ocean UK failed to secure the publishing rights. How did the Ocean France team react to this misinformation, and did you try to set the record straight at the time?

A. No, Ocean France’s shutdown has already been announced, we had other concerns in mind 😉

Q. Was there any truth to the accusations that as a team your work was often delayed?

A. The deadlines were generally respected. We were rarely late, only to improve the final product.

Q. If so, was this a matter of striving for perfection while you were being pressured to complete titles to coincide with the holiday season even though they required more time to ensure a quality product?

A. Exactly, we were looking for quality above all else.

Q. How did you feel when you heard that Liquid Kids wouldn’t be published having dedicated six months of your lives to the project?

A. Oh, it didn’t bother me so much, I thought it was just a shame to deprive the fans from a good conversion 😉

Q. Why do you think the relationship broke down between Taito and Ocean when it had previously been so lucrative for both companies?

A. You should ask Gary Bracey 😉

Q. How did you come to learn of the Amiga community’s efforts to track down Liquid Kids and ensure its belated release? Did you approve of the cause?

A. Yes, sure, Amiga community was right to release Liquid Kids, and I’m grateful they did. 🙂

Q. You were also responsible for coding the port of the arcade platformer, Toki. How did the development of that title differ to Liquid Kids? Were the TAD Corporation any more supportive than Taito in terms of supplying the source code, artwork and so on?

A. Toki was a nice adventure, a treat. It was developed like the other projects, without any help, or source code, or graphics; simply by our commitment to offer highest quality portage.

Q. What are you doing now? Are you involved in the retro gaming community in any way?

A. Currently I’m finishing the Hardware of a (retro) video game (based on Arduino and some recycled electronic components) in 256-color VGA, FM-AM synthesizer; with a simple programming language that will allow everyone to develop and distribute its own games via internet and SD card.

Q. Do you have any pictures of yourself with the Ocean France team I could post alongside your interview?

A. I’m sorry, but the only pictures I have from that time are buried deep in my memory. If I could scan all those memories and share them, I would do it with great joy.

Sincere thanks go to Michel for generously agreeing to give up some of his valuable time to satisfy my curiosity, it’s much appreciated. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Putting the kids first with Ocean France coder, Michel Janicki

  • September 5, 2016 at 10:47 pm
    Permalink

    Wonderful interview dreamkatcha. It's a marvel at how reachable some of these people are. I always love hearing and reading behind the scenes stuff.

    Thanks again!

  • September 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm
    Permalink

    Bravo, Dreamkatcha! Aside from the minor ducking of your question about why arcade devs didn't share assets, he was pretty chatty! Thanks very much for the interview.

  • September 9, 2016 at 4:56 am
    Permalink

    My pleasure. Lots of the people in this industry need to make themselves traceable for work reasons, but obviously they're under no obligation to give up their time for nobodies like me. That speaks volumes. 🙂

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