Interview with Pete Berg conducted by E. K. Virtanen for the online magazine PCOPY! issue 60 (January 2008)
If I say the name Pete Berg what comes to your mind? To some perhaps a lot of things, to others it might not even ring a bell. Pete Berg is probably known by just about any QuicKBASIC (and family of compilers) programmer that has an internet connection. Some of the more known things (that can be found online as far as QB is concerned is his website and a magazine started by him about 3 years ago called QB Express.
It's no secret that these two are visited and read by a lot of visitors and regular members if his site and forum. So exactly what got him into the QBasic scene? Who is behind this exhaustive website filled with QB and FB related contents? Who is behind this 3 year standing magazine? I not going to tell you that ourselves, there's an old saying that goes "if you want the right answer you have to ask the person in question" and this is what we did. Join me in this interview I did with the Pete himself and discover who Pete is and what makes him tick.
E.K.Virtanen: Let's start with a "stats". Who, where and what?
Pete Berg: Let's see... I'm a 22-year old guy currently living in Los Angeles, California — but I'm originally from upstate New York. I grew up in a town that has a population of a few hundred and not even one stoplight, so LA is quite the contrast!
Eventually, I want to produce documentary features and reality tv, and right now I'm working on a few reality shows while I try to start my own production company on the side. (Hopefully I can avoid twenty years of working my way up through the industry before I actually have my own show!) To see some example of my video & film work, visit http://www.peteberg.net
But the way all of you probably know me is because of Pete's QB Site, which I started when I was 13 and have been running ever since. As far as I can tell, it's been the most-visited QBasic & QuickBasic site on the net for the last few years — thanks mostly to our big tutorials collection and QB Express magazine, which I started in 2004.
EKV: I heard that you don't program anymore even though you still maintain a very successful website with most successful basic community magazine?
PB: That's true — I don't program in BASIC anymore, even though I run a site about QB and FB. The last time I've coded any significant project in QB was way back in 2001 or so, when I was working on a professional wrestling sim that was part fighter/part RPG, and focused on the "storylines" and drama in the sport. I also had a traditional RPG in the works for several years (so did everybody back then, heheh). Neither of these games ever got a release, because I'm a perfectionist and I was always too busy with my site and other real life obligations to get them finished. I suppose I've always been more interested in the QB community and helping other people share and promote their programs than in actually coding myself. At this point, I run my site and QB Express out of a sense of loyalty to the QB/FB community more than anything else.
EKV: There are hundreds of tutorials in your website. You think you can get them even more or are everything worth of publishing in there already? Do you find new QBASIC tutorials anymore from anywhere? Would you call your website now as an archive of QBASIC articles or does it still grow?
PB: The purpose of my site is to be a permanent archive, or library of the QB community. The majority of the old QB sites that were around back when the Qmunity was at its peak (1997 - 2001 or so) have disappeared, and my goal was to make sure as much of that content as possible was still available. Most of those sites were usually hosted by free services, and have since been abandoned, so every day more and more of these sites are disappearing.
I was worried that a lot of that content would get permanently lost, so when I relaunched my site, I spent a few days scouring every QBasic site I could find to collect all of the tutorials. I found close to 700 tutorials in all, and I must say, I did a very thorough job. I'm sure there are some tutorials that I missed, and new tutorials pop up every day, but the majority of the QB tutorials released on the web are available on my site.
That's also not to mention the 200 or so tutorials that have been published in QB Express, which I haven't put in the Tutorials section yet. I would say my site does have the definitive QB/FB tutorials collection.
EKV: How worried are you with the fact that number of QBASIC users decreases all the time and they moves to other basic dialects or even totally different programming languages?
PB: I'm not worried that users are gradually shifting away from QBasic — it was bound to happen, and has been happening for years. There are a lot of reasons why this is happening. Most importantly is that modern versions of Windows hardly support QB anymore (Vista especially), and Linux and Mac OS X systems take more of the market share. If you look at the trends in the QB community, a major recession started in 2001 when Windows XP was released, which had Windows NT architecture, and made it incredibly difficult to run MS DOS-based programs. (I, for instance, am running Vista on my desktop and I'm currently typing this in Leopard on my MacBook Pro — which does not support QBasic programs whatsoever.)
The other big issue is that QB is very well-suited for making simple, two-dimensional games, like what we saw in the '80s and early '90s. When QB was really popular, those kinds of games were still being produced for the mass market, and played on a regular basis all over the world. QB coders were motivated because they could create programs that were almost as good as the leading games of the time. In the past fifteen years, however, games have gotten way more complex, with 3D graphics, surround sound, gigantic worlds, online play, etc. — and users can no longer replicate "professional" games in QB like they used to. I think less young gaming enthusiasts are interested in programming and making their own games in the first place, because they no longer see the quick results that you can create in a 2D or text-based environment.
As for QB users switching to FreeBasic, I think it's very a good thing. FB is a more powerful and accessible dialect of BASIC, and it's almost completely compatible with old QB code. But now users have the ability to access tools like OpenGL, so they can make professional-looking games much easier. There are a lot of FB haters out there, but the way I see it — what's not to like?
EKV: QBE magazine is more and more as a FBE (FreeBasic Express) after every issue. There is also lots of talk about you should rename it. Can you clear now when and if you will rename it or is present name holy, and untouchable?
PB: A few months ago, I was thinking of changing "QB Express" to "FB Express" because usually around 70% of the content is FB-related these days, and I had gotten some complaints from people who mistakenly thought that it was still just a QB magazine. Then I realized, "What's in a name?" The magazine will still have the same content, regardless of what it's called. I also didn't want to alienate the QB users by making it sound like it had become an exclusively FB magazine. Maybe in a few years, when the QB content has dropped to zero, I'll consider a name change again... but for now, I'm going to keep the name.
EKV: Your website still seems to be mostly for QB users. New comers show up day after day. Time to time they ask help for things that are easier to create with FreeBasic and sometimes there is a reply "Use FB". How you see this pattern?
PB: It's true that my website is mostly about QB, and that's because I haven't had the time to update it to both a QB and FB website. Aside from QB Express (which is pretty substantial), there's hardly anything on the site that is FB-related. Also, most of the sections on the site haven't been updated since 2004 or so. If I had a few weeks of spare time, I would definitely go through and add quite a bit of FB content. It's not that I'm anti FreeBasic, it's just that I don't have time to do an overhaul on my site.
As for the "Use FB" issue, I've posted my feelings in this thread on my forum I don't appreciate it when a QB newbie posts a question, and the other users make no effort to answer the question, instead just recommending them to use FreeBasic. Here's my official policy:
"You can ask questions about, or discuss ANY programming language here — QBasic, FreeBasic, FORTRAN or LOLcode. Any and all are welcome. I would appreciate it if you guys would stop arguing with each other about which programming languages are allowed, and maybe try to answer each other's questions for once."
I would much prefer if it people either answer the question being asked (no matter what language it's in), and don't criticize people for the programming language they've decided to use. (Basically a "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" policy.)
That said, I also believe that FreeBasic is a much better language than QB at this point, and I think that the people recommending new users to switch to FB do have a good point. If I were a new BASIC programmer, I certainly would start with FB — for compatibility and user support issues alone.
EKV: If you could have time to program, which game genre game would you try first? Is there some favorite game genre for you and perhaps some favorite QB/FB programmer?
PB: If I had time to develop a game, I would probably try to make a 2D Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil game. I really like 3rd person action/adventure games, especially ones that are heavy on puzzles, and where your player isn't invincible (you have to outsmart, rather than overpower the enemies in both of these games). I also much prefer narrative games, especially very cinematic ones, and actually prefer linear to open-ended games for the most part.
As for a favorite programmer, I have to say I think that I'm most fond of DarkDread's games (Mysterious Song, Secret of Cooey, Lianne in: The Dark Crown). Of all the people to ever contribute to the BASIC games community, he was one of the most prolific and talented programmers ever. I couldn't believe the quality of game he could churn out in just a few days... and every single one of his RPGs was impressive in one way or another. More lately, I've been especially impressed with Syn9 and Cha0s/Josiah Tobin's work in FreeBasic — just like everybody else.
EKV: What do you think is the impact of a community around a compiler project? Can compiler such as FB be success by itself or are colorful, productive or other kind of persons around it necessary to have? Is "friendly and helpful" harmony just a dream or does community need a good fights time to time, just like married couples needs to refresh air with a good argue in every few years?
PB: Well, without users, computer code is just a bunch worthless bits and bytes. The fact that FreeBasic has developed a great community is one of the primary reasons people code in it. No matter how small your project, you can share it and receive feedback from a group of your peers who are just as interested and dedicated as you. There may be better compilers out there, but few of them have the tight-knit, helpful and colorful community FB has... and that's why it's so successful. After all, people coded in QB for YEARS even though it was one of the least powerful compilers available. I believe that has mostly to do with the community that surrounded it, because the technology was definitely not anything groundbreaking.
As for the flame wars and the arguments that always happen in the FB community, it's inevitable, and perfectly healthy for this type of thing to happen in any sort of community. Not only does it add interest, but it creates a sense of competition and one-ups-man-ship that encourages innovation. Where's the fun in everyone always just getting along and complementing each other? You need dissenting voices, and critical people who are not afraid to speak their minds to have a functioning society. Otherwise it starts resembling some kind of totalitarian regime where a few people make all the decisions, and everyone just follows blindly.
EKV: Would you like to play a game called prophet? Where is and what does Pete Berg do at year 2010? What has happened to your website and remaining users of QB and FB users of today?
PB: Well, at this point, 2010 is just two years away, and I think the QB/FB scene will be pretty much the same as it is right now. My website has been online for nearly a decade, and I plan to keep it online indefinitely (though I can't promise I'll always update it).
I'm sure that QBasic will continue plugging along for the next two years, with a handful of users posting at a handful of forums. People have been predicting the death of QBasic ever since I joined the community in 1997, and it's still alive and well. As for FB, I think the community will stay small and tight-knit. I don't see FB ever hitting it big and becoming a major compiler, at least not in its current form, but I'm sure it will continue to have a moderate following like it has right now.
As for me, I'm hoping to have a job producing documentaries or reality tv shows by then — not an entry level job, but something more substantial where I have some degree of creative control. And who knows, one of the production companies I'm working to start in my free time might actually take off... that's something I'm working toward. I really don't like the idea of spending my life making other people's dreams come true, when I've got just as many dreams of my own. If you want to be successful, it's very important to go against the grain and take risks, even if they don't all pay off — and that's why I'm trying to start my own television production company. It might not go anywhere, but at least I can say I tried!
EKV: Would you like to say something for BASIC programmers who are reading this interview?
PB: Don't let anyone tell you your programming language is dead. If you are still using it, it's alive!