Jeff Kurtz
(July 15, 2014)


Who is Jeff Kurtz? Give a brief personal presentation.

By day, I am a software architect and I spend a great deal of time writing code to integrate system and develop products for the company I work for. I have very little free time anymore, so when it’s time to relax and do something I enjoy, I usually spend a little time working on something Neo Geo related since it’s my favorite hobby.


When did you know the Neo Geo system?

I’ve been a fan of the Neo Geo since the early 90’s. I remember going into a computer store to look for some Amiga games – something new to play, and was blown away by the new video game system they were demoing. We played Baseball Stars Pro for a couple hours while we were there. A few days later, we went back and bought our first Neo Geo home system with Baseball Stars Pro and Nam 1975.

Do you usually play Neo Geo games? Which are your favorite games of the catalogue?

Neo Geo is the only system I really play anymore. Although I do have the Xbox systems, a Wii and other stuff, I rarely touch them. My favorite is the Neo so when I want to relax, I’ll dig out something from my Neo library and play. My favorite games on the Neo Geo are Baseball Stars 2, Neo Turf Masters, Metal Slug, Puzzle Bobble and Nightmare in the Dark.


What do you prefer, MVS or AES? Are you a collector?

MVS Jeff's collection

I prefer MVS now. At one time, I had an extensive AES collection, but knew that I would never get some of the games I wanted, so I started buying MVS and sold off all of my AES cartridges.


Why did you become interested in SNK system? How long does it take to master this programming language?

Since the Neo Geo was my favorite system and programming is what I do, and I have some 68K experience from back when I was playing around with the Amiga, I figured I’d see what I could do on the Neo. I started putting together a small set of tools and started writing my own libraries. Around the same time, I found a nice C library and started playing with it too. It was further along than what I was working on, so I adopted that library and started extending it to use in my projects.


Which were the first games you programmed for Neo Geo? Was it difficult to start with? Do you think it’s more difficult to program for Neo Geo than others 16 bits systems?

One of the first demos created by Jeff.

My first few projects on the Neo were merely tech examples – to see if I could manage sprites, etc. They were a learning experience. It wasn’t very difficult to learn since just about everything I needed to know was in MAME’s source code, and with the help of MAME, it was very easy to learn about the hardware registers.
I think any of the systems would be equally challenging to develop for – they all have their strengths and weaknesses.


In total, how many Neo Geo games have you programmed? Among all these games, is there one which has been especially successful? Which one are you most proud of?

Obviously the one I am most proud of so far is Knight’s Chance. It’s my first complete game on the Neo Geo. I have written numerous small samples, but I don’t really consider those “games” since they are just proof of concept projects – just to learn an efficient way of doing things.


Which advice would you give to anyone who wanted to start programming for the system?

Download the devkit and start playing around with it. Although the old devkit is rough around the edges, there is plenty there to make working examples and just enough missing to force you to learn more about the Neo.

Knight's Chance proto running properly.

When you create a homebrew game, how many phases are needed? How long does it take?

You don’t want to think of homebrew games in terms of how long it will take and the number of hours you’ll need. If you start thinking like that, you’ll never finish a game. Homebrew (indie) games are developed out of passion and you have to love what you are doing and devote time to the project. Knight’s Chance took two years to create, but not two years of solid programming. We worked on it in our spare time…


Tell us how NeoBitz was created... Does anyone help you? Is it your own project?

The name Neobitz comes from the early days of when I wanted to put up a site that had information about Neo Geo homebrew programming. Obviously it was Neo Geo related, but also had to do with other technical bits of information related to the Neo. So, I crammed the two words together to form “Neobits” but I didn’t really like it, so I changed the s to z and it just worked better. The domain name was available so that’s what I went with.
Originally, neobitz started out as my site and was just myself and had been that way for many years. Years later, and a plan to get back into Neo programming, the neobitz team expanded. Tim Johnson did the artwork for Knight’s Chance. My brother Jerry is also a programmer so he helped on the game too. Including myself, that’s really the core team on the games side, forming Neobitz Games, but we couldn’t have done it without help from a few other guys.
Robi Uppin provided some great audio tracks. Brian Castleberry provided fantastic voice work for the phantom in Demon’s Hold. Andrea Bellezza did an excellent job with Japanese translation (voice and text). And I can’t forget all the help from James Whalen (Xian-Xi) for hours of beta testing the game.

On the left, Knight's Chance PCB's. On the right, English and Japanese AES inserts.


Tell us about Neobitz RGB encoder. Which improvements does it offer to the community?

Here in the US, we don't have easy access to RGB televisions and since us retro gamers are always trying to get the best gaming experience we can, the poor video quality of the Neo just doesn't cut it. To get the best analog signal we could get that works with mainstream TV sets, we designed and built the Neobitz Component/SVideo/Composite encoder. Although it was designed for the Neo (since that's all I ever play), it works very well with other arcade boards and consoles (so I'm told -- I've never used it on anything other than a Neo and an Atomiswave).


The game Knight’s Chance has had a great expectation since its announcement, what is the reason of its success? Why did you choose a so unusual genre?

I feel Knight’s Chance is a success because it was different than any other game on the Neo. If you want a fighting game, you have dozens to choose from. If you want hard-core action, nothing beats the Metal Slug series, and NG:DT is kicking ass with their shooters. But if you want something a little lower key to play, you don’t have many options. We took our favorite time period, medieval era, and to mix it up, we created a new variety genre for the Neo. We could have just released one game at a time, but we wanted to give the gamer MORE, so we put together four new games and packaged them into one. There’s nothing like it on the Neo so I think it was a success because it was something new.


Which was for you the most difficult part of Knight's Chance when you created it?

The most difficult part of working on Knight's Chance was finding the time to work on the game, but every indie developer will tell you that. When it comes to the Neo though, the hardest part for me was getting that Z80 sound driver working. I think I have written a dozen different variations, but it's a pretty solid sample player now. I've already made improvements for future projects. I think there's still room for improvement in the sprite routines too, which I will need to tackle for the next game. 


What do you think that the Neo Geo scene, related to hardware and games development, is far away from other systems such as NES, Atari 2600, SNES etc?

The Neo is a “niche” system. Most gamers didn’t grow up with the Neo so they just don’t care about the system. I grew up with the 2600 and Commodore stuff too, and although those hold a special place for me, the Neo made the most impact on me. I think it’s that lasting impression that draws people back to their retro system of choice. There are a lot of talented teams on other systems, but they develop for those systems because that is what they love. If more of those guys had Neo systems when they were younger, we’d probably have more developers on the Neo.


Do you know other programmers like Razoola, NG Dev Team...? Are you usually in contact?

Universe Bios, created by Razoola.

Yes, I talk with them on occasion – not as much as I would like though. They are all great guys and the Neo wouldn’t be the same without them.

Which programming tools have you used to program your games?

To make development easier, I wrote most of my tools myself:
- Neo Art Box: Sprite, S1, Tilemap and Palette manager tool. This application generates the C structures that are “included” into the game (no more extensive make files!) This application supports importing bitmaps and can also set up auto-anim attributes. Neo Art Box is also used to generate the Cx and S1 rom binaries.
- Neo Sound Builder: First, I’ll admit, I know nothing about FM, and next to nothing about the Z80. The initial sound driver I created for MVS Tracker was very basic and was lacking, but Ivan expanded on it and made it work (kudos to him!) However, this driver doesn’t work on real hardware, so I started from scratch – read more about the Z80 and wrote a new sound driver. Neo Sound Builder allows you to import WAV and ADPCM-A (raw data) and allows you to allocate these sound files to banks. Neo Sound Builder will output the Vx and M1 roms. There are plans on expanding this to include ADPCM-B, and if I can figure out FM & PSG, maybe that too. There’s more work to be done on the audio driver, but at least this one is functional and has already been used in other people’s projects too :)

On the left, Neo Art Box screenshot. On the right, Neo Sound Builder interface.


Do you consider hacked games (like The King of Fighters Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2003, etc) as a part of the homebrew work?

I’ve never really played them so I don’t know if they are “programmed” or just hacked. If they are programmed from scratch, then they are homebrew/indie/unlicensed games. If they are just rom hacks to change character capabilities, etc., then they are just that – hacks.


What do you know about the creator of Diggerman? In Europe and South America nobody knows almost anything about it. At that time, were there tools to create a homebrew game yet?

I don’t know the developer personally, but I do know the game was not developed by Face as some people believe. I have no idea on what tools would have been used to create that game, and I don’t really recall when that game came out, but I know I was working on my stuff before 2000, so I’m sure others were working on stuff too.


Why do you think that people like Jeff Ferrier ended up cancelling their projects, while others like NG Dev Team are more successful every year?

Tommy K screenshot.

I think it comes down to money. I would assume that Jeff F. made his game(s) on the Neo to make money, not because he has a passion for the Neo. If there’s not enough return on investment, then you move on to something else. For us little guys, we’re doing it because we like to. We already know we’re not going to strike it rich. We just want more games for the Neo.


Nowadays the ¡Arcade¡ team is well-known for their different works. Did you ever meet them? What do you think about their work related to conversions and MVS to AES converters?

No, I never have met the guy(s) from !Arcade!. I have seen their conversions and they are top-notch. Their Phantom! converter really brought the MVS->AES converter market to a new level of quality and compatibility back when it came out, which I think is a great thing for Neo gamers.


Will any of your old titles be released again?


Neo Pac-Man demo screenshot.

I’d like to finish off the Neo Pac game I started a long time ago. It’s already very playable. I’ve thought about adding audio to Columns to finish it off sometime too. I also have a couple other titles that may surface someday… ;)


You are well-known among the community to share the Ghost Lop prptotype. Tell us a bit more about that.

Actually, the truth is, I didn’t share it. The cartridge was sent to me and I was asked to provide the owner(s) of the cart with the rom dump of their game. What they did with it is their business.



What do you think about the great increase in the price of Neo Geo titles in the last three years? Do you think it will stop or on the contrary prices will keep on rising?

The Neo has a finite and obtainable library. As more people collect the games, they will want to complete that collection, and the only way to do that is to pay to get them. So, the more people that try and complete a collection, the higher the prices will go. I don’t see any down turn in prices any time soon. A lot of people are really getting into the Neo classics. Look at Magician Lord. At one time, it was a $25 cartridge. Now, you’d be lucky to find it for $100.


Which consequences may have the increase of prices?

A lot of younger gamers will never know about the Neo because they can’t go out and buy games for $5 to $10 anymore. So the Neo will always be a niche/taboo system because of the very limited supply.


Tell us your opinion about fake SNK games. Have they got any relation with the increase in the price of original games? Who benefits with this counterfeits?

The only people that benefit from the counterfeits are the ones that make them. 


More and more people are buying homebrew or indie games as an investment because they are revaluated in a short period of time. Do you think these sales may influence on the quality of future releases?

I think so. Look at NG:DT's games - they seem to get better and better with each release. I can also say our next game is going to be better too. I can't wait to share details about the game -- we're very excited about the story and design.


Can you tell us some exclusive news for What’s your next project?

It’s an action game that mixes science fiction with medieval era.


Knight's Chance - Screenshots.

Bienvenidos a Culturaneogeo, una página de habla hispana dedicada exclusivamente al sistema Neo Geo. En ella encontraréis información de todo tipo
relacionada con el sistema de SNK, así como un foro donde podréis encontrar gente aficionada a Neo Geo con la que podréis compartir vuestras experiencias.