The Thalion Stallions

They may not release an avalanche of software but there's no denying that any Thalion game you pick up today is going to be hot, hot, hot, as Robert Smith once said. Simon Byron took one of those Seacat things across the Channel and chatted to the chaps who make the German software house tick.

Who? Just who are these two geezers, then? Where did they come from? Here's all you need to know...
Christian Jungen is 27, 1.9 metres tall, 87 kg with brown curly hair. Influenced by Pong, Chris bought a C64 and started programming in Basic "like everybody did" and, having bought Elite, became fascinated with 3D programming. He studied computer science at the ETH Zürich, but half a year into his course he decided that studying computer science wasn't as thrilling as programming 3D for games. After programming his first 3D kernel he joined up with Thalion.


  • No Second Prize (programming and game design)
  • Airbus A320 (ST conversion)
Erik Simon is 29 years old, 2 metres tall, bald and bearded. Although he was born in Hamburg, he grew up in the Pfalz, a German wine cultivation area, before moving to Gütersloh four years ago. At school he began studying communication engineering up until he was called up for National Service after which he co-founded Thalion. Since then Erik's been haunting programmers and graphic artists as 'chief' of the development department.


  • Dragonflight (graphics and game design)
  • Wings of Death (graphics)
  • Amberstar (some graphics and production)
  • Trex Warrior (graphics and game design)

Thalion was founded in October 1988 by Holger Flöttmann, Udo Fischer and Erik Simon, of which only Erik is still with the company today. Their first in-house project was Dragonflight, which began as Udo and Erik's private project a year before but was only finished after one and a half years of full-time development.

Since those humble beginnings they've released loads of products and many staff have come and gone. One thing which hasn't changed, though, is the company ideal: To push every machine they've written on to the very limits. No-one involved has become immensely rich or drives a Porsche but, as Erik Simon puts it, "at least we can look back at all of our games with the feeling that we gave our very best".

I spoke to Erik Simon and Christian Jungen about their personal hopes, their fears and, yes, their tears.

You've just started work on No Second Prize 2, can you tell us anything about it at this early stage?

We're hoping to make it far more realistic than the original No Second Prize. You'll be able to ride in the slipstream of the other bikes and that will obviously affect your speed, just like in real life. The computer-controlled opponents will behave more intelligently and we're hoping to include some strong personalities - some riders will be notoriously aggressive whilst others will be known for being a tactical racers, that sort of thing.

Visually, we're going to make the game a lot more complicated and detailed so the race tracks will look as true to life as possible. We're thinking about implementing a four player link using a split screen and/ or a modem link. Just like in the original No Second Prize, the sequel's 3D system will give an intense feeling of speed. Where other 3D games create a large distance between player and the simulated environment because of the slow screen update, NSP 2 really makes the player a part of the virtual world. Right now I'm still working on the 3D system for Airbus 2 but after that work on NSP 2 will begin in earnest.

I think Christian has covered it all, really. Everything is still at an early stage, so what we've said isn't definite. One thing's for sure, we'll have to do loads of research to get the tracks completely realistic. We're aware that everything should look exactly as it does in real life without losing what made the original game so successful, i.e. the speed. Lots of options and competition modes would be nice, and I'm personally looking forward for the possibility of linking machines together and splitting the screen. I'm anxious to see how Chris will manage splitting the screen without losing too much speed as it will require twice the CPU time for 3D calculations.

Surely the A1200 would be able to manage it quite well. How have you found the machine so far?

I can't call the A1200 a complete success. The 256-colour mode is an improvement theoretically speaking, but the blitter is not any faster than the one in the normal Amiga 500 and the amount of data which has to be shifted around has doubled. The screen memory could have been better organized, by giving each pixel one byte, a bit like VGA on the PC, or two bytes like the Falcon in true-colour mode. That's why the A1200 isn't really the ideal machine for polygon graphics or new techniques like Gouraud-shading or texture mapping. However, the processor speed is good, especially when you consider the price.

I don't want to sound greedy but I wish the improvements on the A1200 were a bit more substantial. There are some impressive technical details, but they aren't enough to make your head explode. A word-per-pixel realcolour mode like the Atari Falcon would have been ideal to whiz around with really amazing 3D stuff. There are more of these little details which spoil the A1200 a little bit.

But what the heck, I don't have to program the machine and from a game designer's point of view, I personally would love to do a special project for the A1200 only. Alas, we've got problems enough with our high development costs as it is so I fear we can't support the A1200 as much as we'd like to.

There are simply not enough people buying software for all Amiga formats, let alone the A1200 only. Nevertheless, we will try to do what we can. Ambermoon, for example, will feature special routines for the A1200 and turbo-board owners to speed up the texture-mapped dungeons and the option to display textures on the floor and ceilings.

Like other companies, we're forced to move more and more onto the PC. On the other hand, this gives us the opportunity to make use of the enhanced graphic features of the A1200 in the future because we can port over the VGA 256-colour graphics instead of drawing them from scratch for the A1200 version.

So you'll continue supporting the A500, then?

Of course, the Amiga is still an attractive market!

Yes, we'll try and release as much stuff as possible. It's probable that most of our games will be 1 MB only, though. We'll try to make our future projects play as smoothly as possible but a cheap harddisk or at least a second disk drive would be very handy. We're trying to match the quality of the big names in RPGs with Ambermoon, for example, and despite intensive packing methods we still don't know if we're going to use 6 or 7 or even more disks when the final version is released.

If you were Mr Commodore, where would you take the Amiga from here?

The software should go more in the direction of sophisticated simulations because this type of game has hardly been touched by consoles. The hardware should be improved to make these kind of games possible...

...Yes, the perfect Amiga would be one which is technically so advanced that it is able to create the fascination there was a long time ago when all the C64 owners switched to the Amiga. I know this is a very difficult task, especially at a reasonable price point, but this fascination is the only thing to motivate large groups of people to buy a new machine and perhaps forget about their cheap 50 MHz 486s.

You haven't mentioned CDs. Do you think that the supposed CD revolution ever take off?

I've got mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the capacity of CD-ROM opens a whole new world for gamers and game-designers but on the other I don't think it pushes the standards of entertaining software forward beyond playing minutes and minutes of raytraced or digitised picture sequences. Okay, at first it's impressive, yes, but what you've got in the end is a low-quality, short version of something you could have rented from your local video store for a few quid.

The massive amount of data on a CD should be used to make games that are incredibly deep and atmospheric. Imagine having a whole fantasy world with thousands of different creatures. A world so vast that you can get lost exploring it, just like in real life. As far as I can see, there's only one problem: Nobody can afford to produce CD-based software that really uses the medium for things in ways other than sound and graphics. Obviously things will improve as CDs become more commonplace, which they appear to be doing.

And I'd like to say that there'll be no revolution until the CD hardware incorporates fast decompressing chips (JPEG, MPEG, etc) which allows the host computer to receive large amounts of data in a very short space of time. It's all very well having a storage medium which can hold vast amounts of data but if you can't use it fast enough then it ruins the machine's potential.

In what ways would you say the German Amiga market differs from the British?

If you want to get rich quickly in the German games market you'll have to write either a football management game or an economics simulation. Our problem is that we find them dead boring so I guess we'll have to stick to racing and flight simulations and huge role-playing games. Both of these genres are generally well accepted by most German games players. Action games are almost a stillbirth, although Lionheart did fairly well for a short time here.

This doesn't mean that no German players buy action games, just that it's less than in Britain.

What about piracy in Germany?

It's constantly pushing us towards the PC, it's that bad. Although I love playing and designing action games like Lionheart, from a personal point of view I'm also interested in complex RPGs and more involved games like that so if we did have to totally move across to the PC, it wouldn't be too much of a personal problem. That said, though, I do love the Amiga and it would be a shame to be forced away from it as some of the action games the Amiga is renowned for are truly excellent. Maybe there's still hope for it with the A1200 and future Amiga models and, as I've said before, we'll continue to support the Amiga for as long as possible.

It's odd when you consider that there's hardly a country with a larger pirate scene than Germany, yet it's the country with the toughest laws.

So how is Thalion trying to combat piracy?

By making more complex games with more extensive manuals. Nowadays copy protection and legal procedures are useless.

That's right, we didn't even bother protecting Lionheart because there's no point in simply delaying the pirates from cracking the games and sticking them on bulletin boards. If the Amiga users don't change their way of thinking about pirating games, the machine will disappear from the market. We're trying to offer a fair amount of quality and we don't copy protect our games because we don't want to punish honest customers with funny protection methods. Copy protection won't change people's minds.

Why do hackers spend so much time cracking copy protection?

I can understand why people get a buzz out of cracking but to be honest I don't think that the crackers are the real problem, especially with the on-disk copy protection being gradually reduced. And I'm not entirely convinced that swapping a few pirate copies in the schoolyard is a huge problem. Obviously it damages sales but the real pain in the what's-it-called are the people who are professionally distributing pirate copies as a large scale business.

I disagree. Pirates are people who satisfy their basic instincts. They experience gratification when they are able to cause software companies financial damage with relatively little effort.

Will piracy ever be wiped out?

Certainly not. There is piracy on all formats, including PC and even consoles. But on these machines it hasn't surpassed the point yet where it's getting dangerous to invest a lot of money in expensive projects.

And anyway, has the drug problem ever been solved?

On that sombre note I bid you farewell and wish you success with your future projects.

Thalion: The Story so far
This might be all well and good, but what have Thalion actually done? Over, once again, to Erik
"Our first RPG which took us three years to finish. For the standards of that time, it was a massive game with both 2D and 3D sections. It began its history as the hobby of two (2!) people - what a good way to show how naive we were! If it had been published one or two years earlier, it would have caused quite a sensation; but when it came out it was 'only' an up-to-date RPG."
No Second Prize
"Another project which took us a long time but we think it was well worth the effort. Show us a faster vector-graphics racing game on the Amiga and you'll receive a giant cask of German beer."
"Technically, we tried to do with the Amiga what we did with the ST years ago (that is, to kick butt). In terms of playability it hopefully shows that we are now experienced games designers. And when it comes to graphics and size, all there is to say is that we barely managed to cram it onto four disks."
Trex Warrior
"In our opinion, this is a highly-underrated 3D vector-graphics shoot-'em-up. Despite the fast 3D, we put lots of effort into the playability area."
Airbus A320
"Our product with the highest sales figures. Programmed by Rainer Bopf, a German Luftwaffe officer, its main fascination is the extreme realism of the flight physics."
"Our second RPG. It didn't concentrate too much on flashy graphics but its depth, complexity and weeks of adventure still haven't been put to shame even by current RPGs."

The One 58 / Juli 1993