An Interview with Stefan Gagne (Pong Kombat) from June 18th, 2000

by Darius Kazemi on April 20, 2011

in,games,Games I Love,history,interview

I used to co-run a website called, where we reviewed old DOS shareware games. It was a lot of fun, and probably the best part was that I got to interview the creators of some obscure gems. Here’s an interview I did with Stefan Gagne, who made Pong Kombat, a really silly Pong clone that parodied Mortal Kombat.

Here’s the interview text below. Originally published 6/18/00 on (now defunct). I was 16 years old (almost 17) at the time.

Me: I guess I’ll start by recapping a vivid memory: I’d sit around for days at a time playing Pong Kombat, learning all the secret moves and pretending to understand all the inside jokes. It was the only game that ever made me regret my lack of a sound card!

Stefan Gagne: It was the only game that made me ever regret the invention of the sound card. We had more problems with that chunk of code alone than anything else in the game! That’s the major change from 1.0 to 1.5, a totally new sound engine.

Me: Who did all the voices? In my opinion, the Kombat-esque announcer was the funniest thing in the entire game.

Gagne: I think there’s a hidden DIP switch that turns on the post-game credits… the little guy who pops up and goes ‘Whoopsie!’ (MK2 parody) was Nick Steele from my CS class. The announcer himself is Josh Saxon, who currently can be seen performing opera professionally as a bass-baritone in the Washington D.C. area. We still hang out on weekends to watch movies just like we did back in the PK era, although the video’s been upgraded from Laserdisc to DVD.

Me: I read that you did Pong Kombat for a computer science project during your senior year of high school. Did you get an ‘A’ on that project? And what in the world did your teacher say when he saw the thing?

Gagne: Here’s the deal:

I’d already taken their AP Comptuer Science class the previous year. Senior year, I needed some kind of computer class (mostly because hanging out with my friends was a priority) and there weren’t any left. So, I was put into a self-directed C++ class with a few pals. Self directed, as in we were given some three ring binders and left totally unsupervised for a few months.

Needless to say, I didn’t end up learning C++. Ehheh. But crunch time was coming, and if I didn’t have some kind of complete project to demonstrate at the Open House I couldn’t get a passing grade in the class. I got this silly idea from a game after joking around with my friends about Mortal Kombat, and asked my teach if it was okay that I’d do it in Pascal. He gave the approval.

Four weeks of VERY intense programming and design work later, Pong Kombat was born. Most of the programs on display at the Open House were basic high school grade CS projects… but off in the corner on the fastest machine we had (a 386sx/16) I was running PK. I kinda felt bad for stealing the thunder of the other guys in the class since I went WAY outside the lines on that one.

I can’t recall what my teach’s reaction was, but I think he was pleased with the end results. The fame it went onto after I uploaded it to (sigh, the old days…) was definitely pleasing.

I ended up liscensing PK2 to some guys when I decided it was time to let this go. It was okay for a klik’n'play game. But any PK3/4/etc. you see floating around are definitely not my thang.

Pretty extensive answer, but it DOES have a pretty extensive history…

Me: In exactly what language did you program?

Gagne: Turbo Pascal 7.0, with the SPX 1.5 shareware toolkit to handle all sprites and input and sound (for 1.0). For 1.5 we used a little bit of code hammered out by David Hunt which likely isn’t going to work on modern sound cards, since it was assuming you’d have a Soundblaster Pro. I evaluated a whole lot of kits before settling on SPX; I was looking for the ‘holy grail’ of the game developer, a robust and cheap package that would take care of the red tape so I could just sit down and make the freakin’ game.

To other aspiring game creators, I’d say don’t shun packages like these. We are beyond the age when one coder sits down and hacks out C++ until a complete game with graphics and sound coded to the metal pops up. My theory on game creation is that you should be more worried about making a fun game than making a tech demo. Use whatever code packs or engines you can get your hands on to take the gruntwork out of the picture, then concentrate on design.

In the modern age we’re fortunate to have systems as wicked as Quake 3 and such to tinker with; hobbyist game development has flourished thanks to those tools, even if it means a stream of fairly similar stuff. Once someone implements a game using these systems which doesn’t revolve around shotguns, frags, PKing, lewt, experience points or slaughtering monsters, I’ll be thrilled. :)

Me: What did you use to draw the background screens?

Gagne: For the 2-D art, I used Autodesk Animator. An ancient DOS program that could only handle 320x200x256, but at the time that was enough. For the 3-D artwork I used Autodesk 3-D Studio, another ancient DOS program that’s been superceded by 3DSMAX.

One of the important things about the graphics in PK is that they’re dead simple. Even someone with as little ‘real’ art talent as me could do it, because the game was designed to capitalize on what resources I did have rather than leave gaping holes where I couldn’t cover up. Can’t do code to the metal graphics and sound? Use a toolkit. Can’t code complicated gaming engines? Make Pong fun. Can’t draw human figures? Paddles are pretty easy to handle.

Me: What was up with that secret comic book?

Gagne: Another project I was starting up which unfortunately went nowhere. I had a cyberpunk humor series I was working on in high school, and wanted to do an interactive comic series of some of the stories. Problem is, as stated above, I can’t draw. I had my sister working on the art but a whole comic run was too much for any one person. So, the franchise pretty much ended before I got the first one out. (That’s the problem with forecasting your next big thing — vaporware becomes the norm. Same thing happened to PK 2.0.)

Also, it was a parody of… I can barely remember, but one of the MK games had a flag that would enable/disable an advertisement for some related product. Possibly a comic book. So it makes sense on a parody level too.

Me: What was your favorite shareware game for DOS?

Gagne: I’d have to say One Must Fall. Maybe it wasn’t the most versatile fighting game in the world, but the sound was awesome with a subwoofer, and most importantly the characters were fun. I’d play the game near-endlessly just to see all the ‘quotes’ the characters would use to greet each other; every combination of two people had a different dialouge! I can’t think of any fighting game to date with that amount of specialized written text.

That’s why I emphasized the (admittedly ridiculous) story of Pong Kombat; I’m a writer by hobbyist’s trade rather than a gruntwork coder, and I’m more keen on the creative design aspects of a game than the technology behind it. Pong Kombat is the content over technology theory made flesh. At its core, it’s a lousy game of Pong made with shareware Turbo Pascal libraries to handle all the techie matters. But the heart of the game is the absurd parody that makes it funny enough to cover it severe technological shortcomings.

Me: So, what are you up to these days?

Gagne: I’m a federal webmonkey in my daylight hours, but at night I morph mystically into the almighty Twoflower, anime fanfic author supreme!… bleah, ego. Mostly I play around with fanfiction based on japanese animation. I run a co-op community of authors ( that are experimenting with different forms of writing. We’ve even got a story based on text adventure games there, a Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter parody series called ‘Furniture Warriors’ and a megacrossover between nearly every fighting game known to man, ‘mtcff Ultra’.

Was that a cheap plug? It’s relatively relevant, I swear!

Me: When I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter (snail mail) to you, but you never wrote back! Why did you ruin my life?

Gagne: Honestly, I uploaded the thing to the Internet because I figured maybe six of my friends would like it. I tossed in a ‘mail me for codes’ thing hoping I’d get a letter or two. Made a few offhand remarks about a PK 2.0…

1000s of emails later and 100s of letters I realized I’d made a little mistake. There was no way I could support all those requests, and PK 2.0 was light years beyond my ability at the time. Whoops. Well, to anybody who never got a reply: scope out the FAQ online, it’ll tell you all you need to know.

It’s a common story in the Internet boom years… you start out with this cute little idea, and it balloons until it bursts in your face. However, I won’t be held liable for your child therapy bills, spud.


Malgayne April 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I had no idea you worked on I loved that site.

Darius Kazemi April 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Haha. Yep. I started it in high school with a friend of mine.

Rob April 20, 2011 at 6:00 pm


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