"That, sir, relieves the Almighty of a great responsibility."
Horace Greeley to a Congressman
who described himself as a self-made man.
AN INTERVIEW WITH STEFAN POSTHUMA
by Richard Karsmakers
At the end of ST NEWS Volume 1, one of the people writing for ST
NEWS was Stefan Posthuma, whom at the time I didn't really know
at all. By Volume 2 he was doing bits of code and more articles,
and by the beginning of Volume 3 he had actually taken over
entirely (sounds like a coup d'etat, doesn't it?). That was the
start of two years of really intense and memorable ST NEWS
experiences, coding weekends, and lots, lots of fun. Then Stefan
got more involved in his work, time dwindled, and a time started
that was a bit less of the old stuff yet still immensely
enjoyable. And with Volume 9 he retreated completely from the
Atari scene. A year and a half ago he moved to Canada to work for
Gray Matter, a Canadian company. Except for one evening during
his two-week visit to the Netherlands late May, I haven't seen
him since. Reason enough to actually get down to an interview, so
you and I can get to know what the life of Stefan, one of the
most influential people on my people and a big influence on many
people in the classic Atari scene, is like now.
How did you get in touch with Gray Matter (or they with you)?
Stefan: I always used to read the ads in the back of "Edge"
magazine, just to see what kind of jobs there were available for
games programmers. When I noticed the one from Gray Matter I
decided to send my résumé to the agency in London that placed the
ad on Gray Matter's behalf. Shortly after, they got in touch with
me and a month later when I went to London to visit the ECTS, I
visited the agency and had an interview with them. After that I
didn't hear much for about two months and I more or less forgot
about it until one evening the phone rang and I found myself
talking to a Canadian from Gray Matter asking me if I was
interested in a telephone interview the next evening with him and
the president of Gray Matter, Chris Gray. The interview lasted
for about 45 minutes, and Chris and myself talked mostly about
the old days on the VIC 20 and the Commodore 64. It turned out
that Chris had designed "Boulder Dash", the original classic. I
was offered the job and when the called me back a few days later
I said yes.
Can you give us a short run-down of your life ever since you
moved to Canada?
Stefan: When I arrived I felt a bit lost, I didn't know anybody
and was living out of a suitcase in a hotel. But the people at
Gray Matter turned out to be very nice and I was taken care of
very well. The first two weeks I went out almost every evening
and met a lot of people. I found an apartment in downtown Toronto
on the 15th floor of a high rise building with a great view of
the city. I used to live in a small building in the outskirts of
a tiny and very dead town called Oss in the Netherlands and now I
was living in the club district of Canada's largest city. Quite a
change and I never really had a boring day since. Things became
especially good since I met Concetta, a charming Italian-Canadian
girl that I have been going out with since. I recently moved and
I am now in a nice house in the east end of Toronto, an area
called the Beaches since it's on the beach of Lake Ontario.
Summer is good here, lots of pool parties and barbeques.
What projects have you worked on at Gray Matter, on which
Stefan: When I arrived, they put me on a game called "Phoenix 3"
for the 3DO. It was basically a heavy troubleshooting job, the
inexperienced programmer had made quite a mess of things. But I
managed to fix it up nicely and even though it was never destined
to be a great game, it came together quite well. After this, I
was put in charge of the project I am still working on, "The Crow
City of Angels" for PlayStation, Saturn and PC-CD ROM.
The Crow is a 3D action/fighting/blasting game with polygonal
characters and pre-rendered backdrops. Published by Acclaim, they
want it to become the most violent/alternative game on the
market. So we're talking S/M characters in leather bondage suits
you can blast point-blank range with shotguns while listening to
a hard-core industrial-metal soundtrack. Since all action is
motion-captured, it looks disturbingly realistic. I mean you hit
a guy with a bottle on his head, the bottle breaks and the guy
reacts in such a way that it looks very painful. Good for many
laughs, extremely violent and exploring the limits of alternative
art direction when it comes to enemies, we have S/M bar patrons
in leather bondage, heavily tattoo'ed and swearing (!) bikers,
junkies and other realistic-looking scum. Acclaim sees it as a
big title so it could create quite a stir when it comes out at
the end of this year.
I work with a team of 12 people on this game. I am the lead
programmer/producer which means I have to manage the entire
project. A very busy yet satisfying job. There is Gard Abrahamsen
(see the ST NEWS encyclopedia in this issue) who works as
programmer on the PSX version, doing background maps/editor, and
collision detection/blood 'n guts generation. For this game it's
a big job! There is two programmers for the PC version (a
Welshman who did "Lemmings 3D" for the PC and a guy from Hong
Kong), a Saturn programmer, a character model builder
(Englishman), a texture artist, three environment artists, an
animator and a tools programmer. Then there is another lead
programmer for the PSX (Englishman) plus an assistant producer.
Can you say something interesting about the platforms you
Stefan: The 3DO is way too complicated for its own good. It took
me weeks to figure out its sprite engine with its millions of
options and flags. Very powerful and versatile, but hopelessly
complex when it came to the OS. It was designed by the same guys
who did the Amiga. Go figure. Only on the 3DO there was no
bypassing the OS. Also, its development environment was on a Mac,
and you have to be a non-programmer to use that thing. I always
used to get lost in the windows and pop-up balloons and stuff
like that. But the 3DO is utterly dead, annihilated by the
PlayStation and Saturn.
The PlayStation is a wonderful piece of hardware, fast and
simple, exactly the way you would like it. Too bad they only put
3 megs of RAM in it, for a game like "The Crow" with all the
motion captured animation and hi-res backgrounds and 3D models,
you really want 4 or 5 megs. Also, the PSX development
environment is GNU C on the PC, nice and easy to work with.
The PC version of "The Crow" runs under "Windows 95" with the
new DirectX libraries. Despite the skepticism that exists about
"Win95's" ability to run fast games, "The Crow" runs fine in hi-
res mode on a P100. Also, the Microsoft "Visual C++" environment
is extremely sophisticated with a dream of a debugger. I pity the
poor guy who is doing the Saturn conversion, he has no debugger
What do you think about the growing tendency to have loads of
sampled sound and oodles of animated digitised films with games,
i.e. the CD ROM blitzkrieg? Do you think it will have a lasting
change on the mentality of developers and/or game players? Won't
games that are TRULY 550 Mb (not 100 Kb of game and the rest
filled with digitised stuff) be way too expensive if designed
Stefan: Gray Matter has actually dismantled its live-action
division after a few expensive bombs involving lots of digitised
film footage. It looks nice but people watch it twice and then
click through it impatiently to get to the game. So it's not
really worth the amount of money that a live-action shoot costs.
Almost two-thirds of the "Phoenix 3" budget went to the extensive
live-action shoots involved. In the end it's game play that
determines the success of a game. Some nice film stuff makes it
prettier (a good example is "Command and Conquer", an excellent
game with some short and cool film sequences) but again, game
play makes a game! TRULY 550 Mb is actually not that hard to
achieve. "The Crow" has hundreds of high-res Silicon Graphics
rendered backgrounds to provide lots of cool camera angles to the
game and these take up a lot of space. An artist spends a few
weeks modeling an environment like a biker bar (where you wipe
out every single patron) and can then render a lot of camera
angles for this environment. At 128Kb per background, the
Megabytes are quickly filled up. So for this purpose, CD ROM is a
blessing, this game would not be possible on a standard Ultra 64
since Nintendo made the strange decision to have it cartridge-
Have you seen an Atari at all since you arrived in Canada?
Stefan: Yes I have, Gard brought one with him. It was nice to
see the old GEM desktop again. Too bad none of the old demos
worked on his weird add-on video card.
Do you have any computer hardware at home? If so, what?
Stefan: I have a very old and trusty 486 DX2-66 with the usual
goodies, CD ROM drive, soundblaster, and so on. I use it to play
games ("Command & Conquer", "Warcraft II" and "Civilisation II")
and to use "Quicken" (home financing software), "Excel" and
"Word". It's getting old and slow though, in bad need of a
replacement by a Pentium-166 or something...
Can you give us a description of where you live, the scenery,
the city, its nightlife, its people?
Stefan: The area of Toronto where I live now is quite green, and
can best be compared to a small beach town. A boardwalk, beach
parks, lots of stores selling summer clothing and rollerblades
and stuff like that. I live a two minute walk from the beach, so
on the weekends I stroll there and lie on the sand and watch the
pretty girls rollerblading along the beach trail. Or I go cycling
with Connie in the hills east of here. I cycle to work, about
half an hour along the lake to downtown Toronto. At night I go
out and sit on a patio and drink Corona and eat tacos or any
other kind of food you can imagine from the many, many
restaurants over here. There is also about 20 cinemas in the
downtown area alone, so I can see about every film that comes
out. The people are an amazing blend of immigrants from all over
the world. This makes Toronto a very colorful city, and there is
some kind of festival or party every weekend during the summer.
What does your apartment look like?
Stefan: It's the ground floor of a big Victorian house with a
deck in the front, a nice living room with a stained-glass window
that everybody seems to find amusing. A rather standard toilet
I'm afraid, large kitchen, sun room, you know, the usual stuff.
Lots of little paintings and things I pick up at African-
Egyptian-Asian-whatever stores, my surround sound system, stuff
If I were ever to visit you, where would you take me for a night
Stefan: Err...how about "The Sanctuary", also known as "The
Vampire Sex Bar", a severe Goth hangout where they play retro
eighties like Joy Division and Bauhaus all night long? I have no
idea, there is many places to go, from the hard-core to the super
kitch. I went to a Latino drag queen place once, extremely
Have you bought any pets in Canada?
Stefan: No pets.
What do you do in your spare time these days (when you have
Stefan: Usually I go shopping/dining/cycling/sitting on the
beach with Connie, or when she is working or something I go out
after work with my friends and drink lots of Upper Canada Lager.
I see movies, play the occasional computer game and that's about
What music are you into? Do you ever play the 'old stuff' still?
Stefan: The alternative rock scene is big in Canada. Lots of
Soundgarden, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains. There
are also a few good Canadian bands like The Tragically Hip and
The Watchmen (I'm playing their latest CD on the CD ROM drive
right now as I type this) I definitely play the old stuff, still
my all time favorite Fields of the Nephilim and other stuff like
Sisters of Mercy and The Cure. Metallica, Jarre, Vangelis, and
stuff like that as well.
What is the last concert you've been to?
Stefan: The Watchmen, nice Canadian rock.
What is to you *the* music release of 1996 so far?
Stefan: The CD I play the most is "Sixteen Stone" by Bush X. I'm
not sure if it was released in '96 though. "Down on the upside"
by Soundgarden is a good runner-up.
Could you mention a few of the best books you've read since you
left the Netherlands?
Stefan: "The Diamond Age" by Neil Stephenson is quite amazing.
It's about the future of nanotechnology, and he has some
fascinating ideas about what you can do with it. Certainly the
best cyberpunk novel of the last year. Another book, utterly
different from the previous, is "An Anthropologist on Mars" by
Oliver Sacks. Sacks is a neurologist who describes some of his
more fascinating cases. This books makes you realise how
amazingly complex the human brain really is. For example he
describes a guy who has this compulsion to paint pictures of his
childhood village. The paintings are of minute detail, every
window in every house, every stone in the walls is correct. The
thing is, the guy hasn't been there in over 30 years. Or the
autistic boy who takes one causal look at St. Paul's cathedral
and then draws in from memory, to the detail. A very gripping
book, he has a very passionate and human way of describing the
lives of his patients and it really makes you think about the
human brain in a completely different way. Another of his books,
"The man who mistook his wife for a hat" is more anecdotal, with
bizarre cases like a pair of autistic twins who communicate in
prime numbers, or a guy who lost all his sense of associative
vision, he only sees things as mathematical shapes and when in
the office of the doctor, mistook his wife's head for a hat...
What is the computer game you play most at the moment? What's
your all-time fave game? (Name a few if you want to)
Stefan: "Civilisation 2", a game of such complexity and depth
that it keeps me up sometimes to 4 in the morning. Definitely a
winner, a great game. Multiplayer, "Command and Conquer" has been
played many hours by people in the office. And let's not forget
"Doom" and it's rather stunning sequel, "Quake". No fave-list can
be complete without the Jeff Minter classics, I played
"Gridrunner" on the VIC 20 and "Revenge of the Mutant Camels" on
the C-64 to bits. On the ST I would say "Llamatron", "Bubble
Bobble" (Acclaim is releasing a PlayStation, Saturn an PC version
soon) and "Plutos". But I really spent more time writing demos
than playing games on the ST.
What is the film you've been to recently that made most of an
impression on you?
Stefan: "Twister" blew me away with the special effects of the
tornados. Extremely spectacular, and the digital THX sound is
Do you remember a film that struck you as being especially crap,
a film you was tempted to get a refund at the cinema for
Stefan: I saw "Species" quite a while ago and was struck by its
utter crapness. The only interesting thing is the pretty actress
who constantly gets naked before she changes in to the Alien-
ripoff and eats her lover. Bheurgh. I usually avoid really bad
Suppose you could be Aladdin for a while. Which three wishes
would you make?
Stefan: Well, I'll be really unoriginal and wish for let's say
10 million in the bank so I can stop working and start traveling
around the world for the rest of my life. I would wish for an end
to human suffering and cruelty, plus the ability to time-travel
so I can see what it will be like in the future.
Which famous person would you like to have at a party?
Stefan: Errr...Stephen Hawkings maybe, but conversation will be
difficult. Would love to have drunken discussions about
singularities and other weird products of astrophysics...
If you were ever to have the opportunity to have your own
perfume cosmetics line, what would you call it?
Stefan: Old Fart.
The almost ritual last section now, the words to react to. First
word is 'Atari'.
Stefan: Very dead.
Stefan: Very alive, especially now the new line of 3D
accelerator cards is coming out. A PlayStation bashing-card for
your Pentium is a very interesting piece of hardware.
Stefan: Just listen to Cannibal Corpse's "Butchered at birth".
3DO is deader than Atari. The M2 is a very powerful piece of
hardware about 4 times faster than the PlayStation, but too late,
missed the bus, fell between the cracks, you know.
Stefan: Extremely large, quite boringly so actually.
Liquorice (Dutch "drop").
Stefan: I was in Holland recently and brought about six bags
with me. Hard to live without. I found a place in Holland that
will send me a kilo a month for about $25, but that will take
away its special value. Now it's associated with visits to
Holland or visiting Dutch people whose only requirement to stay
at my place is a kilo of Drop, a kilo of spicy cheese and a
bottle of Plantiac...
Nintendo Project Reality.
Stefan: Very nice hardware, very late though.
Stefan: Questions, answers, an interview. Or as the "From dusk
till dawn" trailers used to say, "Vampires, no interviews".
Errrr... I'm trailing off here am I not?
The Crow (the first one).
Stefan: Great film, great comics, tragic story. Brandon Lee's
death is somewhat depressing but then again, the comics are also
rather bleak. I've seen parts of the second film, different but
Stefan: C64 command to load stuff into memory. I used to write
games using a one-line assembling monitor and a cassette tape
recorder. Talk about good old days...
(Interesting to see how Stefan utterly and completely fails to
see the connection with the new Metallica album?!?! Or was that
The old Atari scene (TEX, TCB, TLB, etc.).
Stefan: Romantic past, crazy days of writing hard core assembly
code, days in Gütersloh, Alfa Romeo, Bittners, Ashtrays.
Stefan: Not in Canada, Much Music it's called here. 23 hours of
crap, mildly interesting for one hour.
The Canadian French-English problem.
Stefan: Boring, uninteresting, stupid nationalistic French gits.
Stefan: Little brother of the PlayStation, struggling to keep
up, some upcoming projects at Gray Matter are already not
scheduled for Saturn conversion, I wonder what that means...
Stefan: Love. Beauty.
Stefan: Little brother of ST NEWS?
Stefan: Nice box, lots of units out there, lots of money to be
made. Boy, that sounds like a marketing babble. Nice to program
too, lots of good game potential.
Stefan: Died with Cobain, it's now a mixture of hardcore, metal,
rock and industrial. Listen to the Smashing Pumpkins "Mellon
Collie and the Infinite Sadness" or NIN's "Downward Spiral" and
you know what I mean.
Euro '96 football championships.
Stefan: English bastards. ;-)
Stefan: Very, very dead. Soon it will be a goodie in a box of
Stefan: Great memories, great times, a great thing to have done.
Too bad the ST is gone and I didn't have the time for ST NEWS
anymore. But it's a part of my life really, it brought us into
contact with wonderful people...but I should save my sentiments
for the eulogy.
Which question have I forgotten to ask, and what is the reply?
Stefan: Let's see...things I miss about Holland. The answer
would be obvious, of course, Plantiac, cheese and liquorice. But
I also noticed how green and pretty Holland actually is when I
was there for the first time in 15 months. Good beer too,
Hoegaarden Grand Cru and stuff like that.
Things I don't miss about Holland are the stupid shopping hours
(although I noticed that is changing now) and the ridiculous
prices of cars, CDs and consumer electronics. A CD here in Canada
costs about $15 as opposed to the $30+ in Holland. And BMW's are
cheaper here than they are in Holland.
Well, that was an interesting glimpse in the life of the ST NEWS
ex-editor and ex-ex-master correspondent who now seems to be
having the time of his life on the other side of the planet
(well, just about the other side).
I have to say I am looking forward to a spare copy of "The Crow
City of Angels" when (and if) Stefan can allocate a copy for
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.