Welcome to the world of telecommunications on your Commodore 64. BOBSTERM PRO is a sophisticated terminal communications program designed to make interacting with other computer systems a simple and rewarding experience. This Program allows the user to control virtually every communications parameter that is likely to be encountered, and even offers adjustments and escape routes to handle some of the RS232 limitations of the C64.
The manual begins with information necessary to get you online quickly, and then goes on to explain, in depth, each command and feature. The appendices at the end of the manual discuss in detail telecommunication problems unique to the C64, and offer solutions around them.
Following is a brief overview of the features of BOBSTERM PRO. Do not be alarmed if some of the terminology is unfamiliar to you; everything will be explained in explicit detail in the following sections as we take a tour through the fascinating world of telecommunications.
Advertised Feature List
BUILT IN FILE CONVERSIONS
Program to Seq
Seq to program
Ascii Image to program
Program to Ascii image
Strip source code comments
USER ADJUSTABLE PARAMETERS
Character, screen, border and
status line colors
RS232 word length and stop bits RS232 parity and duplex
Baud rate up to 2400 baud
Adjustable baud timers for creating
non-standard baud rates
Default disk drive and device # Busscard switch
Printer device # up to device 7
Printer secondary address up to 31 Printer auto LF on/off
Ascii or Petscii printer output
14 character printer control string Tone or pulse dialing
Pulse make, break and digit times Carrier detect switch
Carrier detect phase
Line delay up to 900 ms
Character delay up to 90 ms
Char wait for echo delay
Char correcting wait for echo delay
CRCK or CCITT Cyclic Checksum
XON/XOFF and DC1/DC2 characters
XMODEM SOH, EOT, ACK, NAK, CAN and EOF characters
IMODEM block and character start #
Backspace, htab, clr screen and bell characters
Auto answer back character string
IMAGE ADJUSTABLE PARAMETERS
Actual/Two's compliment checksum
Offset start add = zero or prgm load add
Byte count on/off
Separator byte on/off
Bytes per record length
1 or 2 byte checksum
Header character string
UNLIMITED PHONE BOOK STORAGE
Auto dial and logon strings for each #
All program parameters save with each #
UNLIMITED MACRO STRING STORAGE
Programmable Macro strings can automate all program keyboard commands
ADDITIONAL SPECIAL MACRO COMMANDS
Pause 1/2 sec
Comkey prefix equivalent
All cursor movement equivalents
Run/Stop key equivalent
Carriage Return equivalent
Wait for next character
Wait for string
Jump to next macro
Wait for quiet line up to 9 sec
Start same macro again beginning
At character 0-9
Transmit following string
If-Then conditional wait
FULL FEATURED REMOTE MODE
Allows remote caller access to all DOS
commands and file xfer protocols
User definable entry code and welcome msg
Split screen Line entry mode for CB
8 programmable Function Key strings
Atari clock macro and logon delay start Online printer on/off
Commodore 1660 Modem 300
Commodore 1670 Model 1200
Hes I and II
Hayes Seart modem 1200
I Straight Binary
Seq Line with prompt wait
Entire Disk (C64 to C64)
All protocols are active to/from disk
or to/from buffer
All transfers may be viewed on screen
Fill from keyboard, disk or from
specified file byte #
Dump to screen, printer or disk
Adjustable partial dumps
Forward/Reverse page flipping
9 View Markers
Full Screen cursor control
On screen readout of buffer position
On screen Range settings
On screen Hex, Decimal and Binary
character value at cursor position
Direct entry of Hex or Decimal values
Edits Binary as well as Seq data
Add and Remove linefeed cmds
Insert Line mode
Delete Range mode
Zero Parity Bit cmd
Strip character cmd
Convert to all Lowercase cmd
Convert to all Uppercase cmd
Convert to Ascii cmd
Convert to Petscii cmd
Set Start Range cmd
Set End Range cmd
Instant on screen Help menu
Onscreen Status Line displays:
Carrier detect condition
Buffer bytes retaining count
Local Echo on/off
Linefeed In filter on/off
Linefeed Out filter on/off
Caps Lock on/off
Screen Format (Word Wrap) on/off
Control character display on/off
Transfer display on/off
Time of Day clock or stopwatch timer
10 CUSTOM CHARACTER SETS
7 built in fonts
3 user defined fonts
Info Magazine (May/June 1986)
"With all these features, you might think BobsTerm Pro is complicated to use but its intuitive operation really impresses me. Both version’s ease of use, multitude of features and extensive but highly readable documentation prompt me to recommend BobsTerm Pro without qualification for beginning and power users alike.” Peggy Herrington
Commodore Magazine (November 1986)
“If you prefer to be on the calling end of the modem, you’ll need a terminal program like Proterm 128 or BobsTerm Pro128. The first will get you in the game with very few dollars invested, and the second will keep you in the game with style and professional options. The occasional user should consider Proterm 128, while the power user will probably be happier with BobsTerm Pro 128 (considered by many to be the best terminal program ever written (and for good reason).” Gary V. Fields
Guide to Computer Living (November 1986)
“BobsTerm Pro on the C-64 has established a reputation as one of the most flexible and able terminal programs around. BobsTerm Pro on the 128 translates that excellence to the increased power of that machine, giving access to the 128’s increased RAM, 80 column screen and other nifty features. Boot up BobsTerm and immediately realize that this program was built for efficiency. If this review sounds like high praise for BobsTerm Pro, consider it so. From its detailed and copious range of features to the well written spiral bound users manual, BobsTerm Pro for the C-128 sets new standards in Commodore telecommunications.” Bob Lindstrom
Commodore Magazine (February 1987)
“There seems to be an unwritten rule that requires productivity software to be either simple and easy to use, or powerful but difficult to master. BobsTerm Pro 128 is a wonderful exception to the rule. It is both powerful and flexible, yet simple enough for the first time user to handle. Telecommunications couldn’t be much easier, but to use just those few BobsTerm Pro 128 features would be like buying a whole orchard and tasting only one apple. What makes BobsTerm Pro 128 so outstanding is the fact that you can use only the features you need now and master others at your leisure. This means that the more you get into telecommunications, the more serious BobsTerm Pro 128 can be. Getting a chance to review the newest software for the 128 is always exciting, but when I get to review a product which is not only worth telling others about but I can use myself , the task becomes a double treat.” Gary V. Fields
Computei’s Gazette (October 1987)
"I had looked at other terminal programs, but never switched loyalties because they didn’t offer enough new features to justify learning a whole new set of commands. But BobsTerm Pro is so powerful and has so many options that I’ve made the switch. It is easily one of the best terminal programs ever offered for a Commodore eight-bit computer.” Todd Heimarck.
Commodore Magazine (December 1987)
BobsTerm Pro 128 voted THE BEST OF 1987 in the Productivity category.
Run Magazine (October 1989)
“Just over four years ago, Bob Lentini wrote what was considered to be the consummate commercial eight-bit terminal package- BobsTerm Pro 64. To this day many people feel that BobsTerm Pro 64 and its successor, BobsTerm Pro 128, are the finest terminal packages available for the 64 and 128.”
"Little Names Behind the Big Names"
By Gary V. Fields
Here's a quick quiz. Who wrote these four successful books: The Hobbit, The Once and Future King, The Thorn Birds and The Road? Chances are you knew most, but for those who didn't, the authors in order are: J.R.R. Tolkien, T.H. White, Colleen McCullough and John Ehle.
Now let's take the same quiz with software. Who wrote these four successful programs: BobsTerm Pro 128, The Bard's Tale, Gridiron! and Championship Golf. If you answered Bob Lentini, Michael Cranford, Edward Fletcher and co-authors Jerry Shurman and Henry Perkins your awareness is exceptional. I would be surprised if more than a few scored 100% on the second quiz. Instead of the program's author, it is usually the software publisher's name we associate with a title.
Contrary to what software pirates want you to believe, software does not just appear; it isn't birthed through spontaneous generation nor created by super computers. Each title is developed slowly, lovingly and laboriously by sleepy-eyed programmers. Many willingly risk years of their lives and even their futures on project ideas they believe strongly in.
Like most successful authors through the ages, the efforts of a would-be professional programmer are not always as quickly acknowledged as he/she would prefer. As a result, most must endure some lean, hungry, even penny-pinching times waiting for their chance to be published. Thankfully, for each of the guys I talked with, those lean years appear to be behind them. To a man they began on their individual road to professional programming just like the rest of us computer owners — they had an unquenchable enthusiasm for computers and recognized the possibilities they possess. Each began his career with a different background, at a different age and ultimately achieved a different position in the industry. But they are all doing exactly what they want to do, all are successful and each has been financially rewarded for his contributions.
The best way to learn their story is from their own words. If you have any ambitions to program professionally, heed well their words, and perhaps you can avoid some of the pitfalls they had to endure. If you are a user of software rather than a doer, you'll probably come away with an elevated appreciation for the efforts and hours put into the programs you enjoy.
Brian Fargo is a 24-year-old programmer turned business owner. He is president of Interplay Productions, a California-based software company which employs a staff of equally young computer specialists like Jerry Shurman, Henry Perkins and Michael Cranford. In a four-year period they have developed nearly 60 software titles which are distributed by large publishing companies like Activision and Electronic Arts. Fargo grew up with a computer. His company is best known for graphic adventures and sports simulations.
Edward Fletcher, though three years older than Fargo, has been programming professionally for only two years. He is the co-founder of Bethesda Softworks in Maryland and the author of 'Gridiron!, the yet-to-be-topped football simulation for the Amiga. Fletcher became involved in computers while in college. His interests are in the entertainment and simulation fields of programming.
At age 37, Bob Lentini would be considered the dean of the group. His introduction to computers was quite different than most. He gave up a good paying job traveling the country, rubbing elbows with the top performing singers of the time to explore computers. In a very real way, he was drawn to computer programming both out of curiosity and for relief from boredom. Before his first successful effort, Bobs Term Pro, he paid the bitter, hungry dues of an artist seeking to be discovered. Lentini still lives in Las Vegas, but commutes to the east coast regularly to write for a company which has not only given him the freedom he needs to be creative, but also the financial rewards a true artist deserves. He has concentrated on developing productivity software.
Each programmer insists he doesn't view programming as a job, but instead a labor of love. All admit they wrestled with times of frustration when coding obstacles slowed them and each has resented the irritations of having to contend with the demands of the business side of marketing and selling their products. But each was drawn to the profession not in quest of financial rewards, but simply because he loved computers and the pleasures of working with them. Here are their stories:
How and why did you get involved with computers?
Brian Fargo: "I was still in high school when my father brought home the first computer. And as you can guess, I fell in love. I became a computer junkie. I'd wake up in the morning and sit at the thing until after midnight. All I know about them is self-taught. I bought every book I could find about computers and simply put hours and hours of hands-on experience into it That's how I learned my craft. Fra 24, and working on computers is all I've ever done. I worked in a ComputerLand store helping repair computers. While doing that I started a software company called Sabre Software where I did everything —programmed, manufactured, drew the artwork and distributed the software. So computers have been my life."
Edward Fletcher: I've been interested in electronics since the early '70's so I decided to go to engineering school to become an electrical engineer. While in school, I took a FORTRAN course which was required of all engineers. I loved it. Later, I moved in with a roommate who had one of the early self-built personal computers and I taught myself BASIC. I started writing simple games using that computer. In 1980, my sister and I split the expense of buying a computer so I had one close by on which I could practice BASIC. I continued writing simple adventure games. "These early experiences began my dream to create a game of marketable quality. While still in school I worked with a company which designed digital equipment, and I continued with them after I graduated. But I've only been programming professionally about two years. Until then I had primarily been writing debugging utilities for the digital hardware I was developing—nothing very serious."
Bob Lentini: "I was an audio engineer before I got interested in computers. I worked with some of the major stars like Paul Anka, Tony Orlando, Diana Ross and people like that. That kind of job requires that you spend many days in hotels, buses, etc. That was fine when I was 20, but I'm 37 now, and I know there is more to life than sitting in a motel room. I became very disillusioned with my position in the audio industry. I began looking for something else to occupy my time. The Sinclair ZX81 hit the market, the little computer from England. The size and price was right so I picked one up just to occupy my time. The needle was in. In two weeks of playing with that little computer I was hooked.
"I expanded it to 64K and carried that computer around in a briefcase and learned and learned and learned. After two weeks of programming with BASIC, I realized that BASIC wasn't the answer. On that computer it was notoriously slow mainly because of the way it handled the video. That forced me into Z80 machine language. Within months I was doing some pretty decent Z80 routines with that machine. So I was totally self-taught. I just bought some books, got into the thing and went at it. I was forced by that computer to learn machine language.
"I continued on the road for another year, practicing on my computer in between working my audio job. You have to understand that I was making a very good living as an audio engineer. I was one of the top paid engineers out there. When I came to the decision to quit that job to become a full-time programmer it was very difficult. But I had a love for computer programming and I saw a lot more potential in that than going from hotel to hotel and pushing buttons for the stars."
Tell us how you became a professional programmer and what you are doing now.
Brian Fargo: "I really don't program anymore. I'm really sort of a director here at Interplay. We have a graphic artist here, a guy who is an expert with sound, we have a programmer who is the main guy. We have a designer who adds the real meat to our products. The programmer provides the skeleton of the product, so to speak, and the designer fills it out. We have writers because we need well-written text for our games. I sort of collaborate all of these individual talents into the final product. Interplay is my company so I get to do the more mundane things required to run a company, but 80% of my time is spent creating software. My background in software makes my job a lot easier. The company has been around for nearly four years and everyone here is under 30."
Edward Fletcher: "A friend, Chris Weaver and I formed a company called Bethesda Softworks. The plan was to design a game for the Amiga. We concentrated on keeping the overhead as low as possible. I did some consulting and contracting work for some engineering companies in the area to keep us alive and money flowing into the company. When I could find time, I was working on Gridiron! as much as possible. I did the majority of the game in an intense six-month period. Although programming is my primary job, I do spend part of my time working on hardware. And I like that. Being able to switch between the two keeps me from getting into a rut. So far our only program for the Amiga is Gridiron! which is selling pretty well. We are now porting it over to other systems. About 80 to 90 percent of the program is written in Lattice C and the real critical timing stuff was done in assembly language."
Bob Lentini: "I'm a programmer. I live in Las Vegas and work for a company on the east coast. I'm using company-supplied equipment that is incredible — hard disk, etc. I'm no longer programming on the Commodore line of computers although it was the 64 which got me started as a professional programmer. That's where I first began making money programming. I spend my days in a room surrounded with nine different computer systems including the Commodores."
How many hours a week do you program?
Brian Fargo: "Everyone is expected to put in at least 40 hours which has never been a problem. There are no set working hours, everything here is pretty relaxed. If someone wants to program at midnight, that's fine. Producing software is a creative process. Although outsiders may not see it, there is some method to our madness, but perhaps more madness than method. We are working with very creative people turning out creative programs — you can't just turn on the creative processes like machines on an assembly line."
Edward Fletcher: "I usually program an average of 45 to 55 hours a week. I usually work the traditional nine to five hours."
Bob Lentini: "Basically all day and all night (he laughs). It's a full-time job. I like to think of my work as creative programming rather than just turning out code. I feel that I an creating an environment for the user to work under. I see that as a very creative project. I've never been able to put a time clock on true creativity. I can't punch in at nine in the morning and quit at five and be creative just during those hours. There are many nights when the creative juices only flow from midnight until eight or nine in the morning and other days when they flow from seven to three. I just go with the flow. It's a wonderful way to work and I'm fortunate the company allows me to work that way."
Do you get mental writing blacks similar to those experienced by traditional authors?
Brian Fargo: "No, we really don't. We have so many people here with so many ideas we don't have to rely upon just one person."
Edward Fletcher: "Definitely. I think game programmers are really prone to this problem because games involve so many intangibles. They are not simply working out algorithms to do such-and-such. You have to evaluate what you are doing as to how fun it is, how easy it is to use and how good it looks. There is no set way to do these things. You just play it and see how it feels, and if it doesn't play just right you have to decide what to keep and what to change. After you've tried three or four approaches to a problem and it still doesn't feel just right, it's easy to feel frustrated. I remember sitting and staring at the screen asking myself *what in the world am I going to do?' I finally just had to get away from it for a couple, three hours to clear my mind. Then I came back with a fresh approach."
Bob Lentini: "Yes I do. I reach points when I just can't create anymore. I just start short and can't get past a particular part of the program. But there are other times when the thought will just flow and the program will make tremendous strides in just a matter of days and friends are amazed at how much I can do in such a short time."
Is there an advantage to programming alone, rather than working for one of the large software companies?
Brian Fargo: "The worst part of running your own business is taking care of the mundane tasks like paying taxes. Before our contract with Electronic Arts, one of the worst parts was negotiating contracts and convincing people to trust us to do good work. That takes time and a lot of just banging on doors. Hopefully, that's behind us now. The most enjoyable aspect of the job is being able to work with a group of creative, intelligent guys and turning out a creative product. The tough part in the beginning was not getting paid — that's a real disadvantage."
Edward Fletcher: "I like having total say about the way a product is created. I wrote Gridiron! almost entirely alone so I was free to let my creative instincts go. I can work flexible hours if I want to. There is no pressure to conform to anyone else's ideas. The greatest advantage of working alone is being able to use my creativity to its fullest extent. I've always felt a little stifled working according to other's specifications. So writing Gridiron! allowed me the chance to work the entire project from start to finish. Don't get me wrong, I had input from other people as to what they did and did not like. But the concept was mine. I really enjoyed seeing my ideas become a reality.
"The worst aspect of working alone is the absence of other people to bounce an idea off. It would have been nice to have had more people around to get their input on how to tackle a problem or fine tune critical aspects of the game. I involved as many people as I could in those decisions but none of them were programmers so it wasn't the same kind of input you would get from a fellow worker. Another disadvantage of working alone is loneliness. During the six months working on the first project, I found myself just wanting to get away from the computer and talk to someone. So I'd just stop and call someone, just to hear another voice."
Bob Lentini: "The greatest advantage is working on your own schedule. There is no time clock on your creative juices. I personally could not work on a nine to five schedule and come up with the same quality of programs that I have done. I can only work well on a project which means something personally to me. I can't be told what to create and be given a deadline and turn out top notch code. I did Bobs-Term Pro because I needed it first. In the process of creating it I realized that the rest of the world needed it also. That's the kind of project I like working on. The word processing and secretarial work station that I'm working on now is such a program. The company I'm working for needed the program, but I did also. I needed it for me first, but we're finding out that other people like the concept the way I like it. That's the way I work. I work on projects which are interesting to me, not things which are assigned to me. As a result, I think my products are better. It may work differently for other people. They may be able to take assignments and deadlines and turn out good code. It just doesn't work that way for me. My projects are labors of love."
Is programming profitable and would you advise young computer enthusiasts to follow in your footsteps?
Brian Fargo: "I think so. You can't deny the fact that computers are going to be everywhere in the next 10-20 years. They are going to be in every walk of life and anyone who doesn't have a computer and doesn't know how to use it is going to be at a real disadvantage. I know some of the colleges actually demand that you have a computer with you. Programming is a great profession, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for those who know how. I also recommend that you do a lot of hands-on work and don't rely entirely upon school because a lot of what is done in this industry requires skills that are not taught in the school system. It's important that you learn the machine itself and not just how programming works in general.
"Yes, programming can be profitable, but it is tough to survive. Trends are constantly changing. If you are good at hitting a moving target, this is the industry."
Edward Fletcher: "I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this profession to others. There's no question in my mind that programming is one of the best ways for a person to express his creativity. There still seems to be a strong demand for good programmers, so the money is good. At the same time this isn't a job of drudgery. Each day offers new challenges to face. There's a lot of satisfaction derived from getting a computer to perform the task you want it to."
Bob Lentini: "It can be, but it hasn't been as good for me as you might think. The two versions of BobsTerm Pro have been very successful. It has become quite a standard in the Commodore industry, but because of my deal with the distributor, it didn't change my life financially. It gave me some "play* money in a sense. But I couldn't go out and buy an expensive car and sit back and invest my wealth. If I had to rely on my income from those programs to survive, I would be a bum in the street. Programming for me now has become profitable due to the company I am now working with. But just getting a program published doesn't mean the wealth everyone used to dream of in the old days when people would have a hit game and go out and buy a Ferrari. Times and market have changed. If you can get that deal, good for you. I didn't get it."
Could you describe the steps required to start, finish and market a program?
Brian Fargo: "You'll need to come up with a good idea and a very strong prototype before showing it to the publisher. If the product shows some promise you may be able to get the publisher to front you some money to finish it. Or you may need to finish it completely before you show it. We've done all that ourselves, but now that we've proven ourselves with some of our better selling products like The Bard's Tale II, Mindshadow, Borrowed Time and Championship Golf plus about 50 others, we sell the products differently. Now we'll sit down, spec the product out, do a story board, bring up some screen shots, really try to think the product through. Then we'll talk to our publisher and tell him what we want to build, how long we think it's going to take, and we'll get an advancement which is treated as advanced royalties. There'll be some milestone checks with the publisher along the way to satisfy him that what we are creating is what we agreed upon."
Edward Fletcher: "First you must have a good solid concept for your program. Think about it a long time before you begin writing. Then build the shell, the outline of the program and then begin filling in the detail. Get everything you want in the code and then begin letting people see it and give you their opinion — their feedback. The last thing and most time consuming chore is getting rid of all the bugs and making the software elegant. Most people fall short on this last phase. The program must be easy to use. That's why I like a mouse interface; it's so easy for the user to handle. I can't over-emphasize how important it is to make the program look and feel slick."
Bob Lentini: "The time required is long, the final version of BobsTerm Pro 128 which you see on the shelf is two and a half years of struggle. I'm getting faster and better now. My newest project, a word processor, has taken only a year. But it just takes time to develop a serious piece of code. To design, beta test and get feedback from people just takes time. Then you have to find out what's wrong with the initial concept and modify it. I write entirely in machine language which makes for much faster, tighter code but it also makes it harder to convert between machines.
You put a lot of time in every product, how can you be sure it will be marketable?
Brian Fargo: "No one is ever sure a product is marketable, but you learn to depend upon your instincts. Hopefully, everything works out great. It usually takes somewhere from eight to 15 months to bring a product from conception to market."
Edward Fletcher: "I've always depended upon what I thought a program should be. I just go by a gut reaction as to whether a program will be marketable or not. I've been a computer fanatic for a while now and I've been buying computer games from the beginning, so I have a feel for what I expect and want in a game. The hard thing is trying to design a game that most people will want. If you can create a program no one has ever done, your chances of marketing it increase dramatically."
Bob Lentini: "I create programs that I need. If there is something I need my computer to do which I can't go to the store and buy, that is usually the birth of an idea. If I buy a few programs which are supposed to do a task and they don't perform well or the user interface is ugly or they are just impossible to learn that usually gets my dander up. That starts me thinking too. Whether I follow through and write the thing depends upon if I think it is worth a year or two out of my life to create. That's a tough decision, and it comes slowly for me. I can't be sure the stuff I write will be marketable other than I want it. I always talk to people in the industry and get their feedback about what I am thinking of programming. But I won't rush a product to market. I'm very proud of my work and won't put my name on just anything. I like to see a project through from beginning to end and that means a good year of my life. That's a full year of 16-hour days just eating, breathing, living and sleeping that project."
How do you go about selling a product to a large distributor like Activision or Electronic Arts?
Brian Fargo: "It's not likely you'll be able to sell them an idea alone if you are un-proven. The key is showing them a finished product. But it is very important to get the company to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect both you and their interests. If the product is good, it will get to market — I have no doubts about that."
Edward Fletcher: "I think the best strategy for success in the gaming industry is to try to publish and market your own product. At least that's what we tried to do with Gridiron! If you enter the industry planning on a distributor paying for your development, you are going to lose out in the long run. Even if he can sell ten times the number of games you can independently, you still won't make any more money than you would going it alone. You must be prepared to sell the product on your own. Keep your overhead low, and know what is the minimum number of units you must sell to break even. Then if you have a good product, the distributor will come to you rather than you going after him. You'll get a better deal and be better off in the long run if you can do it that way. That's what we've done, and as a result we have been pursued by some of the larger companies." (NOTE: Just after this interview and months after Grid-iron's successful release, Fletcher and Bethesda Softworks signed an agreement with Electronic Arts to distribute the game.)
Bob Lentini: "I was naive when I went about selling my first product and I didn't get the best deal. But it did open up some doors. The general procedure that I was told was that you send a copy of your product to these companies and you try to get them to sign a non-disclosure form and take a look at it and see if they are interested or not. Instead, I would try to demonstrate the product in person if I could, without physically handing it over to them. Or maybe write them a letter to see if they are interested in the type of product I am developing. If they are interested, be sure to get the non-disclosure signed before turning it over so your work can't easily be stolen. At best, this is a bad situation for the programmer. The companies have the upper hand. Most will offer a non-disclosure, but in turn they expect you to sign a form saying you won't show the product to another company for 90 days. This is their decision-making period. Now for the programmer this is a nightmare because he's got a hot product ready to go and in order just to show it to someone, he's got to say he won't show it to anyone else. Then if the three months go by and the company isn't interested you've lost valuable marketing time. Who knows how many other products have entered the market while you were waiting so you could offer it to another company? I think that's an ugly method and I won't follow it again, simply because I've reached a point where I have some sort of name and hopefully I can get more respect than that. But the first time out I was against that wall.
I live in Las Vegas, and the Consumer Electronics Show is held here once a year. So I made appointments with the heads of the software companies exhibiting there and demonstrated my product on the spot. I was able to get immediate feedback. But I still got tied up in the system, and there was a delay in getting my product to the market. I did not get the best deal I could have gotten, but I was starving at the time, I was in debt up to my ears, I had absolutely no income. I learned a lot, but I definitely would not want to go through that ordeal again."
Can you describe a typical financial arrangement between a programmer and the distributor?
Brian Fargo: "We work on a royalty arrangement. We sell them an idea, they advance us royalties to begin production and when it is finished we receive a percentage of every sell. We are the manufacturer of software and they are the distributors. By the time they copy and begin marketing our products, we are already working on the next project."
Edward Fletcher: (NOTE: At the time of this interview the financial arrangement between Bethesda Softworks and Electronic Arts had not been finalized.)
Bob Lentini: "Well I can only speak for my deal. But it appears the general proceedings are that they will offer you a few thousand dollars front money as advanced royalties. The average royalty payment today appears to be somewhere between seven and 11 percent of the net sales, which isn't that good. For instance, if a program like BobsTerm Pro markets for $79.95 they might sell that to a distributor at about $40. Your percentage is based on the wholesale price not the retail. It's not big money. I think the split should be more even."
You all have had successful, acclaimed titles; what do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
Brian Fargo: "I hope I'll be doing the same thing only on a grander scale. With the CD-I (Compact Disk Interactive) technology coming along I think it is going to be really exciting when we have computer graphics as good as what you see in the movies along with real actors and true sound track and animation. That is really exciting to me. So I'm hoping entertainment will continue to be as popular as it is so the market just keeps going and more and more people get involved. This is what I want to do. I love this business."
Edward Fletcher: "I plan to stay in the entertainment industry as long as possible. I'd like to do some simulation if there were commercial applications. I enjoy doing just what I'm doing and I don't want to quit. I think the keyboard will become less important and other types of input more important in the future — like voice recognition software. People will be able to relate to computers better in the future because computers will begin behaving more like humans. The sights and sounds coming out of computers are going to be more pleasing and sophisticated, and people will begin to appreciate them for their artistic value. That's why I think this industry will always be a growth industry and I plan on being a part of it."
Bob Lentini: "I can't begin to answer that. If anyone had asked me four years ago what I would be doing today, it sure would not have been programming for a living. My past has been filled with changes. My career has jumped from one extreme to another. I can't speculate on what I'll be doing even a year from now. I may try to mix computers with my former interest — audio." After listening to each man's story it be came apparent that the difference between success and failure was neither luck or fate but timing and dedication. Although all three entered professional programming with a different background, their love for computers propelled them to the same professional level. And perhaps the most surprising truth to surface is that all learned the bulk of their programming skills, not in school, but with hands-on experience with a personal computer. For them, the time spent with their nose pressed against the monitor's screen and the hours of sleep lost exploring their computer's memory has finally paid off with big dividends.
Have a look around and enjoy your journey into my crazy world where doing things differently is the norm.