Thursday 29 September 2016

Arto Tenkanen Talks

'A new release? That's up to the users' 

Arto TenkanenAn e-mail interview with Arto Tenkanen, author of the computer game FourWinds Mahjong. This interview was held in the late 1990's, shortly after the release of FourWinds Mahjong 2.0.

Could you tell something about yourself?

I was born in 1959 in Helsinki. My basic education is actually more humanistic than technological as I studied comparative literature, aesthetics, theoretical philosophy, anthropology and Spanish philology - but also computer sciences - in Helsinki University. However, I bought my first PC already in mid 1980's and was instantly hooked - in late 1980's I already earned my living by writing programs in languages like Clipper and Clarion, soon to be followed by Visual Basic, C and C++, etc. (My father is an engineer, and I also liked math in school, used to play chess, etc. so the abrupt change in my professional interests is not actually as surprising as it seems - hopefully something of my humanistic interest is carried out in things that I do with computers, at least in Four Winds ;-)
My mate Jaana Jäntti (with whom I have lived over 20 years) graduated as graphic designer in early 1990's from University of Art and Design Helsinki. In mid 1990's we started a family business under the name of Lagarto. We do graphic design (mainly printed media), web applications, ActiveX and Java modules and also desktop applications and utilities.
We have a daughter who is now 11 years old, and live in Helsinki, capital of Finland.

How long have you played mahjong; where did you learn it, where do you play it now?

My first acquaintance with MJ was in late 1970's when I was still in high school - we used to play the game occasionally in parties. After a long pause my interest in the game was revived as I found P.E. King's PC Mahjong (©ProCon Software, 1986) - I used to play that a lot on my Amstrad 8086, or was it a 80286! In 1990's and thereon we have occasionally played the game when we see our friends.
In mid 1990's I learned to know graphic designer Jukka Aalto, the guy who created graphics for version 1.0. We worked in a same company for a while, and Jukka once happened to make an innocent comment of missing a computer version of classical Mah Jong - a couple of weeks later I surprised him with a demo written in Visual Basic - a prototype of Four Winds. I still have it, and it is actually quite recognizable!

Are there any games besides mahjong that you like to play?

I used to play quite a lot (all kinds of PC games), but lately I have mostly played just PS2 games with our daughter Veera (games like Rayman, Spyro, etc.).
Is mahjong a big thing in Finland?

Mah Jong is certainly NOT a big business in Finland, at least for us - only a fraction of our customers are Finnish! I suppose MJ was more popular, especially amongst students, somewhere in late 1970's, but less so today. On the other hand, there are clubs that are pretty active. Finnish players normally play with Chinese classical rules (ones that normally come with a commercial tile set), but classical Japanese version is also popular.

If there were ever to be a version 3.0, what improvements could we expect?

One thing that can always be improved is AI. Support for voice transfer (via DirectX) might also be a thing we see in future versions of Four Winds Mah Jong. But improvements like these are not alone enough to make a major upgrade, they are something to be supported in dot updates that will be released every now and then and that are free to registered users of version 2.0.
Going for 3D would also be one possibility but I am not sure - I do not think that Four Winds can benefit at all from 3D graphics. That might be something that is interesting only for me as a programmer.
Actually the improvements to be seen in the possible next major release are much up to the users - version 2.0 is much an outcome of the feedback we have received from hundreds of players around the world. YOU should tell us what improvements you wish to have in the next version!
On the other hand, before seeing version 3.0, it might be more realistic to expect that a simplified version of Four Winds will some day be available for a palm computer or a mobile phone.
But no promises - this must stay as a hobby…


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