An interview with Guntech 2.0 Developer Jani Penttinen

The upgraded space-themed flyer releases this week on the Atari VCS

Veteran game developer Jani Penttinen has two games on the Atari VCS, Guntech and Utopos. This week he is releasing a revamped update for Guntech, Guntech 2.0 this week. The title is in the VCS store for $19.99 USD and will be a free update for people who own the original Guntech.

Jani, tell us about yourself and why you make games?

I’m a game developer for life. My first game, called Utopos, was published in 1993 for Atari ST and since then I’ve worked for successful indie studios like Remedy and Housemarque, as well as large international game companies like EA (Westwood Studios). At one point I even moved to China to start a mobile games company there. So, I’ve been around the block a few times.

Around 2007, I felt I had enough and I stopped making games for many years. Then one day my young kids found out their dad had been a game developer before they were born. For them, it was like finding out their dad had been a rock star or something! Suddenly they were super interested in my former career and they also wanted to become game developers when they grow up. For me, that was so inspirational! I left my job at the time and returned into game development once again. And this time, I would say, for good.

Currently I’m running an indie games studio called Utopos Games. I work from a home office and my office has desks and computers for my kids as well. While I work on my next game, they work on their first. It’s very exciting and I couldn’t be happier!

What is you favorite game/console of all time and favorite Atari game? (if different ;))

I really liked Nintendo GameCube, and my favorite game on it would have to be Super Monkey Ball. In general I have always enjoyed “couch multiplayer” style games, and Nintendo’s Wii Fit has been one of the family favorites over the years. Generally I’m a big fan of Nintendo and Miyamoto style games and I try to take influence from there to my games.

As for Atari, I spent my teenage years with Atari ST, which was a computer rather than a game console. That’s where my love with Atari comes from. Back then people either had an Amiga, or Atari ST. Where I lived, more people had Amiga, and Atari was always the underdog, so I spent my early days defending Atari. When I learned how to code, one of the motivations to become a better programmer was to do stuff on the ST that would make it shine compared to the Amiga. The reason for making my first game was because there was a popular game on the Amiga, called Turboraketti, that was not available for the ST. I wanted to show the Atari ST can run that too!

My experience with Atari consoles is quite limited. When I was younger, our family didn’t have much money and we never had a game console. We would sometimes rent an Atari console for the weekend from a local toy shop. I think it was the 2600, but I’m not sure as I was so young. One game that stuck in my mind as something I always wanted to play was Kangaroo. In the arcades, my favorite was Asteroids.

You just released Guntech 2.0 on the Atari VCS — first tell us about Guntech and what changes can we expect to see?

Guntech is a space shooter, where you fly a rocket ship through missions. Sometimes you rescue stranded scientists, other times your mission is to destroy as many enemy ships as you can. The main mission of Guntech calls for eradicating a deadly virus that has taken over the solar system — loosely inspired by what has happened in the world recently.

Guntech 2.0 is almost like a sequel, but because it contains many of the original levels as well, I decided to provide it as a free upgrade to everyone who already purchased the original Guntech. This new version adds so much more to the game. It has 5 distinct worlds, each ending with a battle against a mighty boss. I spent a lot of time optimizing the code so there’s at least twice as many enemies and a lot of action, while maintaining a smooth 60 fps at all times.

The original Guntech started out quite easy, maybe even boring to some as you didn’t encounter too many enemies during the tutorial. For this new version, I have revised every level of the original game, adding more enemies and making the levels more interesting. And of course I added many new levels as well.

There’s also a new game mode, called Arcade. In the Arcade mode you play for a high score. You choose which world you want to play, and you always start from the first level. You have a limited number of lives and when the game is over, it’s over. The classic Adventure mode from the original Guntech is still there. In that mode, you can play any level you have unlocked, and if you die, you can always retry, until you beat the level.

I also made the 4-player couch co-op easily accessible in the menu. I learned afterwards that many people didn’t even realize Guntech can be played with up to 4 players, because it was not clearly available as a menu option. In Guntech 2.0 you can’t miss it and I hope a lot of people will enjoy the multiplayer mode.

And finally — Guntech 2.0 supports the spin action of the Atari Classic Joystick! This is something that has been requested a lot. When playing with the Classic Joystick, spinning the stick spins the ship and pushing forward thrusts. It’s challenging at first but after a while it feels really natural. It’s a really different way to play.

Out of all the games you could have made, why this one?

Guntech is based on the first game I ever made, Utopos, from almost 30 years ago. This is my return to game development so I figured I should start by revisiting my first game. The original Utopos on the Atari ST never had a proper single player mode, it was a PvP game. I was building a sequel for Utopos called Guntech around 1995, which was going to have a single player mission style gameplay. This was never completed at the time, so I guess in a way I am now completing what I started.

And on the same note — I have another game in the Atari store, currently in early access, called Utopos. That’s the true spiritual successor to the original Utopos, as it’s an online multiplayer game. It’s quite a different take on the same concept. Now that Guntech 2.0 is out, my full focus is on getting Utopos finished. Getting both Guntech and Utopos to the finishing line will complete my 30-year mission with these games!

What is something cool in your game that is important but nobody really notices?

As I said before, it seems nobody noticed you can play Guntech with up to 4 players simultaneously! That’s been fixed in the new version though and you can’t miss it anymore. Technically, Guntech is a masterpiece, even though most people won’t really notice it. When technology works, it’s supposed to be unnoticeable.

For example, every projectile has a light source that lights up the surrounding scenery, and there can be hundreds of projectiles flying around. Every object in the game is a detailed 3D model, even though you never really see them up close. The intro sequence, where the ship flies through the Utopos Space Station, runs with the same Guntech engine as the game, using the same 3D assets — just to give an idea of the level of detail the game has.

These are nerdy little technical details that don’t really make the game play any better. What matters though is that the VCS is a lot more powerful than most people realize, and there’s a lot that can be done with it.

You also have the multiplayer game Utopos on the VCS — tell us about it and what can we expect in the future for the game?

Utopos is another take of the same concept. You fly a rocket ship in an arena, and your job is to destroy the other players. Some would say this is like a Quake DeathMatch using rocket ships. In a way that is the true spiritual successor to the original Atari ST game called Utopos. The original game was multiplayer based, and so is the new Atari VCS Utopos as well. It will have a single-player mode, but the focus is on multiplayer. It’s currently in early access release, meaning that the game you can buy from the Atari store is not finished, but a work-in-progress instead.

I’ve played the game a lot with people from around the world during this early access period, which has really helped me make it better. I have not made updates recently, as it got to a point where I know enough to be able to make the finished product. During the summer I’ve focused on making the final version (along with finalizing Guntech 2.0!) and I hope to be able to release it in September.

The full version of Utopos features 10 players simultaneously over the internet, new levels, all-new graphics, complete menu system, and all the possible little details that were missing before! The early version also didn’t quite run 60 fps on the VCS, but I’ve spent a lot of time optimizing everything to make sure everything runs smoothly in the full version.

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