In the 1980s, a great revolution occurred in many of the homes with the arrival of the personal microcomputers; Spectrum, Commodore, Amstrad, MSX are brands that have become common, especially for teenagers, some of whom discovered a fascinating new world in which they programmed games to create virtual worlds. Those kids were the key to what is known as "the golden age of spanish software", with the publication of numerous games by companies such as Topo Soft, Opera Soft, Zigurat or Dinamic Software. In this last one I worked several years Marcos Journ, whose professional life in video game development was centered on the simulator
Journ came to the series when its greatest splendor began and lived those years of boom and braking, the closure of Dinamic Software and the attempt to recover it years later with Gaelco. It is an exciting story that we collect here briefly and that the book tells in depth Promanager: PC Soccer, drug in the kiosk (Eight carats), by Jaume Esteve
The computer scientist came to Journ's house, in Avils (Asturias), thanks to his brother who bought him his first ZX Spectrum 16K when he was studying first year of Baccalaureate (with 14 years old), and that changed his life: "Now less, but before was an introvert, and the computer world was a lonely world, individual, it was a world close to people like me, shy. I don't really know why I decided. I guess I was also influenced by magazines where you saw ads that they were looking for programmers. I see in games more than just games. More than playing them I liked to know how they were made, and I was dedicated to disassembling and seeing how things were done. I started writing machine code loaders for Micromana pokes and it was linking one thing with another. "
Journ started some collaborations with the magazine and other publications. An ad asking for programmers decided to Call the publisher Made in Spain and offered to make the conversion to MSX of Sir Fred"They asked me why I wanted to do that and I told them that to learn. Ah I convinced them and in the end I did it. "
After opening that door, Journ went into development and called Dinamic Software (created by the younger brothers Pablo, Vctor and Nacho Ruiz Tejedor). They commissioned the conversions of the Dinamic games to MSX but working from Asturias: "Vctor, who was a little older than me, not much more, spoke to my mother because he did not want me to leave the studies, although in the end I did not case, "he acknowledges. Most of that generation of young Spanish developers who created well-remembered 8-bit games they were also self-taught, formed with microcomputers and what they read in the Micromana magazine. Journ curs COU "but what I liked was developing games, which in the end has been what has kept me up to now with work and being able to live. "
In the end he went to Madrid with 18 years to work for Dinamic Software, It was in full swing and came to occupy three floors of the Tower of Madrid. Although his specialty until then had been the conversions of games from Spectrum and Amstrad to MSX, the first thing he did was the version of the recreational Phoenix that came out in Spain with the name of Mega Phoenix.
Later Dinamic started creating games for 16-bit consoles and the interviewee dedicated himself to bringing them to Atari and Amiga. But the move to 16-bit did not sit well with the company and in the early 1990s it went bankrupt not before. post with Jackson group Professional Soccer Simulator, the work of Carlos Abril and the Ruiz brothers.
Although his specialty until then had been the conversions of games from Spectrum and Amstrad to MSX, the first thing he did was the version of the recreational Phoenix that came out in Spain with the name of Mega Phoenix
Following the end of Dinamic Software, Journ participated in several projects in the following months, as a video strip pker for consoles to be played in hotels. "Removing that the theme is not what I like the most, it was an innovative idea because it was with an Amstrad board and a VHS video," concedes Journ. "We chose Amstrad because it provided good graphics quality and was cheap because Spectrum had limited color mixing." They created a piece of furniture with a television "which I think was 28 inches", recalls Journ, They created controls and a video was switched to show the girl in each phase. The video tape had markings on a certain frequency to know where the video had to be activated. This game came to be in some hotels, although it was not very popular.
Former colleagues from Dinamic Software also suggested that he go to Recreativos Franco, He started by creating arcade machines and then making slot machines, "a little bit different sector because arcades then didn't have screens, they were all mechanical controllers and a calculation program, of statistics, to generate the probability of the prizes," Journ says.
In 1993 Dinamic was reborn as Dinamic Multimedia by the brothers Ruiz, Carlos Abril and Jos Ignacio Gmez-Centurin (owner of the magazine publisher HobbyPress at the time). In that second stage, Journ recalls, there was no longer so much a self-taught programmer. "There were a lot of students; not with a degree because I hadn't given them time to finish my degree, but I do know that they were studying or, at least, they were in college," Journ says.
Dinamic Multimedia recovered Professional Soccer Simulator and Released PC Soccer 2.0 and then successive editions, with increasing success, all starting from a database and a simple game simulator. The game was "a system of interface User for the Jackson publishing group and Anaya Multimedia, which used it for book and magazine catalogs. Carlos Abril started designing a kind of framework so to speak, with windows and with a mouse, that already exist, but with a graphical interface of its own and from there it was derived in stages until it became the football database thanks to Gaby Ruiz, who was one of the brothers who was a sports journalist
The interviewee says that Carlos Abril, who was in charge of the programming and whom Journ knew, called him to help him. At first the experience was not very good since they programmed in C, according to Journ: "a language that I did not know. Now it is much easier to adapt to a new language, but not then, and the subject of competitions required a fairly high level of programming and I had Not that much. Developed a competition system that did not work very well and in the end I was left in control of the game database "and how that data was displayed.
It was the year Dinamic made a leap with PC Soccer 4.0, the first game in the series to be licensed by the Professional Soccer League, and more options were implemented; "PC Soccer I only had First Division and we expanded to Second Division, "Journ says. "I was in the database, in the manager there was David Galeano, in the Leonardo Zayas competition system and in the simulator was Pablo Arizal. Alberto Moreno, Emilio Serrano and Sergio Garca, who were the main designers, modelers and graphic designers, were in charge of the graphic part – not least. "
"I was in the database, in the manager there was David Galeano, in the Leonardo Zayas competition system and in the simulator was Pablo Arizal. The graphic part -no less important- was in charge of Alberto Moreno, Emilio Serrano and Sergio Garca, who were the main designers, modelers and graphic designers
The database contains the information provided by journalists, a documentation team that started with a single person but came to have more than 10 editors. In front were Pablo Aranda, Oscar Garca and Alberto Adeva, who were working in the game to evaluate all the football teams. Journ acknowledges that the evaluation of the footballers was a complex point of the game because some criteria, such as endurance or speed, could be measured, but then there were other "intangibles, which could be linked to the character of the player, and that is where objectivity can be lost depending on whether you like it more or less. less but basically we tried to make the best-known players more parameterized and then there was a percentage of more unknown players. When we expanded to the Spanish Third Division we had more than 327 teams, with an average of 20 players. There were many players who had to be given characteristics and it was impossible to do it in time exactly, especially at that time when there was no internet, there was not so much information. Knowing what a player from Arandina or Avils or a Third Division team from Galicia was like was very, very difficult. In some cases I was making a series of tools to automate parameter setting to the game based on templates ".
Journ acknowledges that on some occasions the coaches complained to sports journalists, but he claims they were specific cases and that some buyers of the game write letters claiming higher values for their team but adds that the statistics "at the end They worked well because they were balanced. Madrid is obviously better than a Second team, but it can happen that they win, and for that we had factors combining randomness and trends that made things change. If a team had several games with good results and faced in the Copa del Rey with Madrid, the synergy of facing a better rival and the upward trend led to positive additions and could tip the balance in favor of the least favorite team. "says Journ, who remembers that some coaches used the database PC Soccer in their clashes with other teams "Because there is a part of the database that was virtual for the game, but then there was another journalistic part that talked about what the players were like, their character, where they played, their trajectory, their history and many teams used it as a basis to find out what the opposite was like. "
During the long interview of over an hour on Skype, we asked Journ about another feature that defined the series and that was introduced in PC Soccer 4.0: Promanager mode, In which the player started in a club at the bottom of the classification of the Second Division and had to improve the results year after year, he could change clubs and was devilishly difficult to achieve the objectives set and reach the top. He acknowledges: "Now that time has passed, Promanager mode has not fully developed. Was not well balanced And sure enough, in the end, you're saying it. A game may be difficult at first because you have never played it, but when a game is well designed it is one that is difficult so that you don't get bored but that in the end you don't get frustrated. In the case of Promanager it was not well designed and it caused the player to become frustrated in the end. It was a love and I can't, it was already at the stage where you wanted to put many things, year after year, new things. "
In each edition you had to include striking features and did not always give time to implement them well and PC Soccer I always fought against time. The game should be out between the beginning of the League (September) and Christmas, but it took a long time to update the database, which was what "fed" the game, and when the deadline arrived, you had to be including the latest lineup modifications "to make everything as real as possible about what the league was going to be like, "Journ says.
And then came crunch and delivery delays of up to three months. "I think several PC Soccer we took them out the same Christmas day. I remember Christmas dinners from one of us who, after have dinner on the 24th, return to the office to continue the project. There were many days, a lot without sleep. Because there was no planning. We were a team with a lot of heart and courage and desire but we were very young. The bosses were also very young. "Journ especially remembers that with a variant of the Eurocup game" that was a bit the same but with teams instead of players, we were confined for seven days, without going home. In many cases we don't even go out to dinner or eat anymore, we just eat food. "However, good memories win
In the following years the game grew with other competitions like the King's Cup, international trophies, leagues from other countries, each new game was adding content, getting bigger and bigger. His image was almost always associated with that of the recently disappeared former footballer Michael Robinson, who at that time was succeeding on television as an analyst in the program El Da Despus on Canal + with presenter Carlos Martnez.
The interviewee says: "Many people joined who were the ones who gave the heart to the product, such as David Galeano or Pablo Ariza, which was the one that made the interface PC Soccer was much friendlier and the simulator was in 3D. " There were up to 25 people on the team of development the last years of the game.
Thanks to this, PC Soccer came very close to the idea of how the players imagined it would be to lead a football team: a sports director, coaches, a stadium that could be expanded, sign players or sell them, negotiate with them
Today developers can directly collect the opinions of the players on social networks, but before the Internet this communication was much slower and came via postal letter. After each launch the team read the hundreds of letters that arrived and they were writing down the suggestions for the next game. Thanks to this PC Soccer He came very close to the idea of how the players imagined it would be to lead a football team: a sports director, coaches, a stadium that could be expanded, sign players or sell them, negotiate with them Journ says that at the beginning it was "more than an arcade game, an RPG, a football manager where you didn't really control the players like in a FIFA You controlled the team from a managerial, financial, director and president point of view, "says the interviewee. It also grew the simulator part of the matches, which became 3D.
The success of PC Soccer aroused the interest of fans from other countries where the football triumphed and Versions of the Italian, Argentine and British leagues came out. "That was a ball, selling a game in England was difficult, the English are very demanding, especially if it is a product that comes from Spain," says Journ. In each case the game was adapted to the tastes of each country and they were located
In 1999 everything changed when Jos Ignacio Gmez-Centurin, Dinamic's majority partner, suddenly fired Pablo Ruiz and his brothers and Carlos Abril decided to go with him. "I lived with Carlos Ab ril and we arrived one day at the office and they asked us for the cards, they would not let us pass," he says. The creators of the product left and the team that developed it stayed. Journ acknowledges: "Jos Ignacio acted a bit with despotism and a checkbook and relocation. In my case, I have to admit it, it was positive because I was promoted, They gave me a more relevant role and I was able to do more things, but this way of running the company led to what it took, that at a time when the cows became skinny, there was no capacity to react. "
The company grew from 40 to about 150 employees and created a large internet department -it was the moment of the dot-com bubble- in which the benefits of PC Soccer.
The series changed the numbering and adopted the year that corresponds to the end of the league. I left PC Soccer 2000 in a market where there was more competition in managers and in simulators. Journ explains that the game could not confront others in that regard as FIFAalthough he claims it was "still a good product". The project director, David Galeano, left, "well, they gave him what is called a push" and Journ was in charge of the series. The next game, PC Soccer 2001, it also had good sales "but they had already cut the aorta, it was bleeding and, for much blood that was coming in, There was no way to save life anymore, " says the interviewee.
PC Soccer 2001 also had good sales "but they had already cut the aorta, it was bleeding and, with a lot of blood coming in, there was no way to save life," says Jouron.
An attempt was made to remove PC Soccer 2002 with a way to play leagues online, but the company could not stand it. There was an attempt to finish it with the help of the study Enigma Software, because there was no longer a template, but in the end the game did not see the light.
After closing the stage of Dinamic Journ he went to an unusual project commissioned by a group of golf fans who want to create a peripheral that measures the movement of a real golf club and with that the distance and speed that the ball traveled to be applied in the game was calculated. The project was carried out and sold "not very successfully, but it was integrated into some games that at the time were leading, which were Lynx and PGA Tour"says Journ, who reverse-engineered the games to see how the hardware. Once again, the lack of money had to do with the project not taking off because there was no "economic strength so that it would reach all the sites and could be sold, "says the interviewee.
The story does not end here; Years later, Gaelco, an arcade manufacturing company founded in the 1980s, created in 2003 a division for PC games and Luis Jonama (partner and founder of Gaelco) I contacted Journ to translate it into a video game an innovative idea taking the competition around Scalextric to football. In toy cars it was fashionable for fans to come together to form circuits with various teams and tracks, each carrying their cars tuned at home and compete. Nothing to do with PC Soccer but a kind of virtual coach. "If I had not been head and I would not have been led by inertia to PC Soccer maybe it would have been better than it was ", Journ admits. The idea was: "You are the coach and you had the football team on a floppy disk and you evolved it in your house, on your computer with some tools, which would be the game, to do visual training by doing things with the joystick (rounds, balls, ball passes …) and then another part in plan manager. The player will compete with that team in online leagues.
Journ points out that many managers Online they have followed similar models in which it is not about having Real Madrid, but about competing with a team of their own in which even the players are invented, but Journ "came from spending almost seven years doing a project model in which it was very important to have real names, that things were real, that everything was based on a reality and not based on something virtual. "To form the team, the interviewee resorted to people he knew and, therefore, had the same experience with PC Soccer and in the end this inertia of the known was remarkable. "At the end there was a hybrid between one thing and another ", says Journ, who was the game's lead designer.
To this we must add that Planeta DeAgostini was in charge of the distribution and I wanted sales figures rather than product innovation "so it was easier to drag them into the idea of PC Soccer and not Luis's. Unfortunately, in the end I chafed his idea, which was not so bad, seen afterwards ", explains the interviewee.
We did everything we could, updates, all the arrangements that had to be made. One of the most famous anecdotes that remain is that Etoo came out white because they did not change it in the database "
Journ rates that return of the series, PC Soccer 2005, like "a mess. Now I say it lightly, but He was a Frankenstein: feet on one side, head on the other, hands on the other and, in the end, it didn't end in time. He took the cake out of the oven when he still had an hour to cook. "Journ says he called him Sergio Rincn, from Planeta,
Journ alleges in his download that the team was too small for what he intended to do: "I think we got to be seven people when that project was done in Dinamic by almost 30. Among some things and others, we did it wrong. Let's mend the mistakes in the PC Soccer 2006 and people started to like it more because we did some good things like a universal competition system, There were practically all the leagues in the world, the database was more extensive and had more options and the simulator had won because there were much better graphics cards and people who were both in 3D modeling and programming were good people, but it was not all spun and, not being, the circle was not perfect. It did not sell badly either, but between Planeta on the one hand and Gaelco who was not entirely happy either, I left because of disagreements with Gaelco. " In the following decade there were a couple of attempts to get the series or concept back, but none succeeded.
That's where Marcos Journ's relationship with video game development and went on to telework slot machines at Bally Wulff, a company based in Berlin that develops and manufactures Slots Machines, until 2014 when it was signed by another company in the same sector, Amatic Industries, from Austria. "Now the slot machines They increasingly resemble a video game. Developing a project for slotrs It is very similar to a video game, but of course, obviously, it is less complex than this. "Journ does not rule out going back to video games although, he says," I think it is difficult because the world of video games is going like a Formula 1 and I think that I no longer have the necessary agility. Or maybe I will. "
1- When you think of those years when you developed video games, what do you remember most?
Well, it is a mixture of many things, but above all illusion, motivation -because then there was no internet-, you had to investigate and draw conclusions yourself. When you discover how to do something new you feel like the happiest person in the world. For example, when I worked for Dinamic from my house in Aviles (Asturias), before coming to Madrid, I took care of everything related to MSX and at that time the compilations of various games on tape or disc were beginning to be styled. and I was disassembling the MSX rom to be able to see how to access the sectors of the floppy disk and thus be able to create a formatting routine that took advantage of almost 15% more space on the floppy disk. This kind of thing made you feel like Bill Gates at best!
2- The crunch That you lived in the closings of each game was intense, and today it continues to occur, is it an inherent evil in the development of video games?
What of crunchs in those game closings I really don't think they are inherent in that we were video game companies. I think it is due to the wrong way of planning, the lack of good sense and the lack of sincerity and that can happen in any sector, but that maybe it is easier for the "disease" to develop in creative sectors because it is also more "abstract" and difficult to define. Planning was something that before, no matter how much we said, it did not know how to do it because it came from an individualistic world where the games were made by two people at most and nobody planned, therefore, in the proper way for a medium or large team. Sensibility because we thought with the heart and not with the brain, so we always believed that everything would work the first time, and sincerity because – although you wanted to be honest – as much as one determined a realistic date they would always anticipate it, so why say the right thing? Now things have changed and there are many production tools in addition to specific positions to have a more global vision of the project and observe the deviations from outside.
3- Are you still a video game player? What is your favorite game?
I would love to answer this question in the affirmative, as it was before, but for a long time now, in my case, I have taken up the time you need to play with other hobbies. By that I don't mean that I am not interested, because it is something that will always be part of my life. Maybe at some point I would get hooked again and not care at all. Although the truth is that for that I already have my son who updates me on all the news regarding games.
My favorite game? the PC Soccer Hahaha. No, I have a lot of affection for that one. As I say, I am not a player in use for a long time, quite a long time, but a game that I loved in all aspects was Metal slug, all the versions for me have been beastly and I have played them and, if I remember correctly, until completed, with some help, that is.
The last relatively modern game I've spent quite a bit of time on is Ori and the Blind Forest because it is a very delicate game in all aspects and very well developed. Now they have released a second part, maybe I will be encouraged.
4- You have returned to play years later some of the PC Soccer what did you develop If so, what opinion did they deserve?
Good to play, what is said to play, no. But I know that I have installed some version with the Virtual Box out of curiosity. And man, the truth is that, seen with hindsight and nostalgia, it did not look bad. I think the truth is that it was a great saga, with many flaws but also many virtues that entertained many people.
5- Now that it is easier for a single person to develop a game and publish it directly, have you thought about trying that option?
I believe that, with desire, it has always been possible and not extremely complicated to develop a game. What is true is that now, by certain means, the publication has been greatly simplified. Currently we have (R.A.D) tools such as Unity, Unreal or -in my case- a very powerful Open Source tool called Godot and which is gradually becoming more popular. All of them greatly simplify game development and portability even to all possible formats on the market.
I always, always think about it, how much I would like to reorganize my time and be able to dedicate it to creating something, but I still have not succeeded and I do not give up trying, so, by probability, I think that at some point I might try . But not only, of course, with the help of my coworker, Daniel Rodrguez Rubio, who is an incredible designer, in addition to doing his thing in programming.