Harvey Kong Tin




Harvey Kong Tin








This is a retrospective overview recounting my early experiences as regards computers, Ataris, videogames, etc. and I hope it will be of some interest. It is personal - and I'd like to give thanks to Andrew Bradfield for being there at the right time, so that we were able to do something we never previously thought possible.

I live in Dunedin, New Zealand - it is a small, compact modern city that's probably much the same as others in this modern western world.

The 70s

I can't recall having much of an early interest in computers, not knowing much about the subject growing up - in the early 1970s at high school, there were no computers around. My interest then was in still photography, having first purchased a very cheap camera, and then buying something more and more expensive and capable (sounds like a PC?). Drawing was an interest I had for a long time - I did draw some local buildings around town - though while I did draw some sketches on location, I preferred using photographs. Photography became my central interest.

An early Canon calculator

Computers were not around, but at a local winter show, Canon had on display their desktop calculators with LED read-out - interesting to play with, although they were difficult to access because of other children around wanting to do the same. Wow, playing around with numbers, I wonder if the others had the same fascination? Mathematics was a subject I did extremely well in - I don't know why. When we started having marks for terms etc. mathematics was always my best subject. Being placed first in my class, in the first term of high school was a surprise that shocked everyone, including me!

I only attended high school to the sixth form and did not go onto university, mainly because of money reasons, and I did not have the desire for further study. I eventually got a job as a window dresser with a local department store - the varied work made it interesting. Then I went onto work in a colour film processing laboratory. I had hoped this would be a permanent situation but I didn't fit in well with the management there, and left voluntarily for peace of mind, and health. Thereafter I worked at two factory jobs for a while, then studied a one year polytechnic course that was supposed to prepare you as a prospective employee for the data processing industry. I studied communications, English, accounting, keyboard skills (I acquired these on my own, previously having self taught myself from a basic typing guide, using a typewriter), programming (BASIC and COBOL - I wasn't much good at either) and a general introduction to the data processing field.

The 80s

In the early 80s I remember going along to the Physics department of the local university, and seeing some personal computers up and running. I think the classic Star Trek game was running, which was just using text, running on a Pet (?) computer. A ZX-80 was present but you weren't able to do much on that. While on the Polytechnic course, I was looking at Personal Computing magazine at what computers were available in the UK. The Sharp computer was advertised, but I didn't know if it would be any good. At the end of the Polytechnic course I had arranged to go to the UK for a while for personal reasons and saved up enough for the trip and to shop for a computer as well. Not much was available in December 1981. The Atari 400/800 computers were available in Dunedin, but at a high price. I did type in a few BASIC graphics demo programs from Compute! program listings at the local computer shop,  to try it out (I purchased my Atari ST and Amiga from here, later on). I wasn't taken by the Apple II, because of the green screen. I checked out computers wherever I could, on route to London, then Northern England. I was briefly in LA - impressed by the Vectrex - and missed out on seeing any computers there, but met Bjo Trimble and Forest Ackerman.

It was out in Hammersmith, London, that I finally decided upon the Atari 800 (which had dropped in price a little at that time - I purchased a 410 tape recorder, with Shamus and Race In Space). The Vic-20 was no competition despite the smiling face of William Shatner (I knew he was lying in the advertisement) and the Apple II no match with the graphics ability of Atari Computers. I wasn't about to try coping with an Atari 400 keyboard, so the Atari 800 was the only logical and expensive choice.


Atari 800 and Star Raiders                                             

There was nothing else that could touch Star Raiders - so the superiority of Atari Computers was clearly shown.

Living in the UK 

I ended up living in Northern England, Hull for about 10 months - not doing too much except getting familiar with my Atari 800. I made friends with the Staff family who were very helpful and friendly. Harry Staff had an Atari 800 with 810 disk drive. I have to confess that I got into copying computer games very early, mainly because I did not have the money to purchase them.

I enjoyed playing the arcade games because of their graphics and eye-hand coordination skill. The text adventures were nice too - having to use your brain more.

Before I left I purchased an expensive Atari 810 disk drive because tape loading and saving was always very slow and unreliable. I was aware of the TV differences between the UK and New Zealand, PAL A and PAL B respectively; UHF and VHF. I got Atari to modify my Atari 800 before leaving.

A new partnership

After some months back home in New Zealand, Andrew Bradfield was keen to meet me. His sister attended the local Science Fiction meetings, which I attended also, and I had taken my computer along to show them. He had an Atari 400 and was keen on any games I might have. New Zealand Atari prices were pretty horrendous - there was a mark-up with everything coming via Australia, via an Australian distributor Ozisoft. Or was it Dick Smith? I was getting into drawing using Micropainter. Andrew was very much into arcade game conversions - he never played the coin-op arcade games, he would be saving his money to buy the Atari game cartridges. He realised soon enough it was getting too expensive. He was keen on programming his own computer videogames. He tried out Atari BASIC to find out the language was too slow for the kind of games he loved. I did get him a copy of 'The Arcade Game Machine' which was supposed to allow you to design your own arcade game, but it wasn't well designed, nor versatile. Andrew was just out of high school, and his only source of income was from an after-school milk run. I got copied games sent out to me, from the UK. The quality was amazing, as too the quantity!

Andrew realised that the only way for him to write his own arcade games was to learn assembler language. He self taught himself through a tutorial book - I think it was from Compute! Always on hand with helpful advice was Todd Gramstrap - a local Atari enthusiast whose first purchase was the Operating System manual for Atari computers. Todd could answer any question that Andrew had, whether it was to do with assembler language, the Atari computers graphics or operating system. Todd seemed to know almost anything. Andrew quickly got into writing some very simple routines, so that by his third little program he had a small game up and running. I believe it took him only about a year to get ready to write Laser Hawk. It was his own version of Tail of Beta Lyrae, a game that impressed him (similarly Choplifter). Andrew designed Laser Hawk all by himself - it was initially called Hot Copter. Red Rat came up with the flashier title of Laser Hawk. I designed the graphics just before he needed them.

Laser Hawk by Andrew Bradfield and Harvey Kong Tin

Andrew always had a clear idea of what he wanted - he designed the title and high score screens by himself. You can see he was impressed by Boulderdash. We both felt the player should be rewarded for finishing the level (or game), that's why the end of level (game) animation screen was there. We felt strongly about continuity and a storyline, so that's why the copter took off on it's mission, and why we had our end-of-level targets.

We did things matter of factly, using common sense.



I'm to be blamed for the overall game design of HawkQuest - insisting upon a grandiose game in scope, heavily influenced by Xevious, Gauntlet, Shamus and other games. I was playing around with Fontbyter from Compute!, which allowed me to design landscapes easily - without which HawkQuest would not have been possible.

I made some test screens, which Todd Gramstrup has kindly displayed scrolling -  still a very nice graphics demo. He scrolled down different landscape screens, along with different re-defined character sets, and the join between the sets scrolled as if it was one.

I was never into programming - but the only program I've written was my own version of the computer drawing different subjects - like an Atari 800, 130XE, a portrait and a lighthouse (taken from AtariArtist images). Other people can do likewise - take something and change it, improve upon it. For instance, some people may recall there's a really nice BASIC animation demo of a helicopter taking off. This is from a book (I think the same one that has the hi-res drawing of an Atari 400?). I did change it, so that it displays an Antic 4 graphic of a helicopter. Someone could do it better, by using Paul Lay's Graphics 9 character re-designer, to do a beautiful Graphics 9 helicopter.


Hawkquest by Andrew Bradfield and Harvey Kong Tin

I've always ended up co-ordinating things, getting involved with this or that.

I looked to see what editors were available for us to use for Laser Hawk and HawkQuest - typing in listings, if necessary. When Andrew saw something running in a game he would try to figure out how it was done. e.g. with countdown numbers displayed while loading. I'd type in graphics demos and let Andrew see them, to see if there was something there he could use. I made contact with Paul Lay, and his Graphics 9 character designer came in handy for use in HawkQuest. There was always the problem of having too few players available (as in Player Missile Graphics). Stewart Lees - a programmer living in Wellington whom I made contact with - overcame this problem in his unfinished game. Once Andrew saw it was possible, and was roughly shown the technique, he wrote his own version that did the same thing. Stewart Lees was heavily into Cyberstudio and the Atari ST. I think he got some work overseas in that area?

I made all sort of contacts with Atari enthusiasts. One was Graham Codd, known as 'Hack-Atari' - someone deeply involved with hardware and software hacking. 

Dunedin Atari User Group

I recall that the Dunedin Atari User Group started up in the bedroom I was staying at, in 333 Castle Street. It started with a few people - Graeme Wheeler, Todd, Andrew and myself. These were the people and meetings which saw the development of HawkQuest, in our spare time. It took a very long time: 3 years. Laser Hawk took only a year.

I eventually became president of the Dunedin Atari User Group - but not a very effective one, because I was never one to run things up front, always preferring behind the scenes. I was shy, quiet and didn't like public speaking, etc. My presidency wasn't very effective or long lasting. I did put out one and a half issues of the local Go Atari! magazine, and managed to get various contributors involved, with some local sponsorship.

I was always at the Central City Computer Group meetings - taking along my Atari 800 computer and showing it off with all the latest demos and games. Eventually I took my Atari ST, then later my Amiga 500.

Other Computers

With the decline of the Atari 8-bit computers, I got around to purchasing a used C-64 computer, an Action Replay cartridge and disk drive.

The C-64 was a very good computer for it's time. When I first saw one running in England, there were few good games available for it. By the time it got really popular the limits had been pushed far beyond initial expectations. Wasn't it Paul Woakes who first discovered how to make the C-64 turbo load off cassette such that it was "smokin'"? Next there were turbo loaders which showed graphics and played music while the game loaded. Having more independent hardware sprites made the C-64 seemingly more capable than Atari computers for arcade shoot 'em ups. Atari player missile graphics were not as versatile, because of the limited number.

It was never an option for Andrew and myself to develop for C-64 computers. We weren't sold on buying a C-64 computer and we didn't have access to anyone who knew anything about the operating system, etc. While it required the same 6502 assembly language, getting information about the hardware capabilities would not be easy. The only reason to develop for the C-64 would be the huge market out there at the height of its popularity.

Andrew and I were justifiably proud of having worked on Laser Hawk and HawkQuest. I think we were the only people at the time who created and produced commercial computer games in New Zealand. There was a retrospective display of computers at the local Otago Early Settlers Museum last year, and Laser Hawk was shown via an Atari 800 emulator running on a 386 PC. There were some graphic glitches at the top of the display though. It was sitting in a corner area with some text information. Around the large display were an Apple II, a 2600 running Battlezone, and all manner of archaic desktop and 'room' sized computers of the 60's and 70's, through to the 80's.

Andrew went on from the Ataris to the Amiga, and learnt 68000 assembler. He was keen to write an Amiga game based around a sideview of a man, with platform shooting. There were no editors around, so he started writing one in assembler (he wasn't into high level languages). Needless to say it took a great deal of time - a project which didn't eventuate into something because it didn't look like it would ever be completed. Andrew went from a keen arcade games player, to programmer and back to games player - this time into strategy and simulations.

We were always interested in hardware and video games development, such as the Sega MegaDrive (Genesis) and Super Nintendo, when these captured the mass market. Andrew enjoyed playing "Legend of Zelda" on the Super Nintendo and "Alien vs Predator" on the Atari Jaguar.

Alien vs Predator (Atari Jaguar)

I purchased a 40MHz 486 PC around 1993. Andrew was very keen on a Looking Glass 3D dungeon game at that time, and when Doom appeared he was totally impressed by the technology and software. He was altogether convinced that the Amigas were in their decline and the total supremacy of the PC was obvious. He left arcade gaming to be more interested in simulations, and 3D games to strategy games. He purchased a 300MHz PC and regularly upgraded his PC every 2-3 years.

I was still firmly rooted in arcade games with their flash graphics. I didn't have the time or interest to read through manuals before playing a game. Andrew didn't mind doing that at all, as required with the complex simulations and strategy games. He did like playing around with an editor that allowed you to design your own architecture in which to go roaming around - Unreal, or was it Quake? - and to set up puzzles (like shooting things so as to make things fall into place, and open up new areas).

A Difficult Time

Andrew was in steady employment since he left High School - working at a local engineering firm, as a sheet metal tradesman. He attended some night classes at polytechnic as part of his apprenticeship (around the time of HawkQuest). He was into sports coupes, and purchased his first - a Subaru car - after working lots of overtime. Part of his work was with welding, and he got qualified for that. It is unfortunate that after many long years of hard work, he developed leukaemia - which no one knows the cause of. Some of the work environments that Andrew worked in would have been none too healthy - doing factory upgrades, and a lot of welding.

After being diagnosed he was hopeful of being able to have a bone marrow transplant, but that was not possible as the conditions/requirements to ensure that it would work for him were not satisfied. He was accepted for the trial of a new drug, Gleevec, that has worked wonders for some leukaemia sufferers. He had to go over to Australia to be on the drug treatment program, the first time he left the country. It ended up not curing him, but helped him live an extra year.

Andrew was into driving fast cars, and had his Japanese import for some time before he purchased a Porsche Boxster - his dream car - about a month before his untimely death. He was a confident and able fast driver. I didn't see that much of him as the years passed by, and was taken out on only 2 spins in his fast cars.

It was sad that Andrew, a long time planner - especially with his finances - suddenly had his life shortened. He was very logical in his thinking. We would have very long discussions about almost anything. Because of my long term interest in the unexplained, I tried to prepare him for his journey. He had to live through a very difficult time, and had to accept what life had dealt him. I hope he understands now what I had been trying to tell him.


The Unexplained

My real interest is in the unexplained - which you can call getting to the truth of things (life, reality, etc.). Or call it an awareness of the changing consciousness of this planet, which started in the late 1880s and has been accelerating since the 1970s.

If you want the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you have to re-examine everything because things are not as they seem to be.

Religion and politics in particular come to mind. They are concerned about 'power' and the control of power - distorting truth and facts to retain this power. Religion is distorted by power - the control of others (being the public) and those directly under their control (the congregation). Sadly the major religions have become 'establishments' and they seek first to keep themselves in control. 

It is said of a writer that they live and breathe the words they write. If you examine what is basically dogma and rhetoric - that which passes for religion, and that is recalled endlessly by religious preachers - you can see plainly in the text used, this isn't true at all. You can see a message that is tainted and spun in such a way that it doesn't add up to reason or logic, nor to its claims. 

This is not to say that there isn't good in religions - there's still good values mixed in with their distortions, if you can recognise those which are good and decent human values, and those which are not true.

I'm all for discussing things clearly, simply and logically; to speak of things plainly and see the overall picture; that one piece of information supports another, and another. 

You can apply exactly the same techniques and reasoning for everyday things as you can to religion and politics - and insist upon truthful information. If necessary, kill the messenger with ice cold logical words - if the message is distorted and untrue. The more information you have, the more convoluted the universe seems to be. It would be nice if there was a simple answer to everything, but the more you know, the more you know you do not know!

I can only say that truth is far stranger than any science fiction. And what many people believe is true, is just a story, made up for one reason or another.

Exactly what do I believe to be true and correct? I will state plainly now. That everyone survives death, and that there is life afterwards, even if you do not believe in it. That the human body is animated by the human spirit within, and is ultimately released from it - that one form of matter changes to another. There are so many accounts and stories which support this view of the universe. The information is out there. You can read, view or listen to it.

Harvey Kong Tin, October 2003