| 1984: Gremlin Graphics
Gremlin Graphics was founded around 1984. At first they
concentrated on games for the Spectrum, but soon realised
that the C64 had a games market potential. All their early
games had the orignal and 'classic' GG logo: a green gremlin
looking slightly angry, along with the text of Gremlin
Graphics in green. Indeed in 1984, came the first of what
would be a series of games based on one character: Monty
Mole. Wanted: Monty Mole hit the C64 in 1984, and it was
programmed by no less than Antony Crowther. Why the music
covered the Colonel Bogey theme, is unknown. Nevertheless,
sales of this on both C64 and Spectrum were promising
and there soon became many fans of the little mole. Early
on was also the game Percy the Potty Pigeon, which was
also one of the very first C64 tunes by Ben Daglish. Ben
would later on work a lot for Gremlin Graphics on their
10 Carver Street
The first offices Gremlin had, was located at 26 Carver
Street, Sheffield S1 4FS. Parkhead House, and they worked
here in their very early era. These days a multimedia
company Zoo own the building and their Z logo can be seen
on the first and second floors of the building. After
a while, this place didn't suit Gremlin Graphics, so they
moved on to... 10 Carver Street, Sheffield S1 4FS. Alpha
House. The Gremlin Graphics address we all know and love.
Usually a few companies share the building, but for the
majority of their C64 output, this is where they were.
1985 was a very good year for Gremlin Graphics in fact.
First off was the game Thing on a Spring, which involved
a little character much like Zebedee from the hit TV show
The Magic Roundabout. Thing and his Spring would bounce
around many levels of a toy factory, avoiding evil toys
as he went along with collecting jigsaw pieces to defeat
an evil goblin, oil to keep his springs healthy, and overall
was solid platform fun. It also was one of the earliest
C64 music compositions by Rob Hubbard, and its very cute
bouncy style suited the game brilliantly. Thing on a Spring
was indeed a popular game, so popular in fact that the
Thing character became one of the two 'margin' characters
who would frequent the pages of Zzap! 64 magazine (the
other one was of course Rockford from the game Boulder
Dash). And later in the year, we then had Monty on the
Run. MOTR had received critical acclaim on the Spectrum,
and the C64 version was very well done. Not only that,
but it had another classic Rob Hubbard tune which really
got you induced into a slight panic as you tried to get
Monty escaping. The high score tune was also very well
known and many C64 musicians have covered it.
1986, and more nice original concepts abound. We had Bounder,
in which you controlled a bouncing tennis ball. Now what
made it interesting was that you viewed the action head
on, and could only of course bounce around so that you
had to ensure that you timed your movements across platforms
etc. in time with when the ball bounced on the surface.
Even in 1986 computer games needed a breath of fresh air
and this was definitiely it. Also there was Trailblazer
programmed by Shaun Southern, where you controlled a ball
and had to get to the end of levels by either jumping
over holes in the ground or using coloured blocks to your
advantage and at times, to your disadvantage. The 3D like
effect of the board coming towards you was adopted by
many demo groups as a 'trailblazer' effect. So if you
ever wondered, you know now.
Way of the Tiger was also a big hit, combining many oriental
fighting disciplines in one game. And there was Footballer
of the Year, which had you playing a striker aiming to
be the top footballer. The novel goal shooting along with
the idea of buying cards to enhance your players' chances
pre-dates EA's Premier League Stars idea by ooh, at least
12 years. And who can forget Jack the Nipper, in which
you had to be as naughty as possible? Completely barmy
idea, of course, yet it worked!
Late 1986 also saw Gremlin Graphics change their logo:
they just had "Gremlin" in green lettering at
a slight 3D angle. Nevertheless, they were always known
as Gremlin Graphics and indeed their trading name was
still that and they owned the copyright. Just in case
of any disputes, you know.
1987 then saw a clutch of sequels: Auf Wiedersehen Monty,
in which Rob Hubbard and Ben Daglish famously worked together,
Re-Bounder, and Thing Bounces Back. Sadly to say, none
of them were anywhere near as good as their prequels.
And there was Krakout, a bat and ball game with clashed
with Imagine's far superior arcade conversion of Arkanoid.
Gremlin also went into licensing, with three games between
1987-88 based on the TV series Mask, and one on the movie
of Masters of the Universe. We also had Avenger, a kind
of sequel to Way of the Tiger, set with Oriental fighting
mixed with Gauntlet. Almost worked wonders, that one.
And another sequel, Jack the Nipper 2: Coconut Capers.
This time the little brat set about the whole of the jungle
with just a lovely bunch of coconuts to create much hassle
with, and sure he did. The coup de grace though was Alternative
World Games. Released a year after Epyx' classic World
Games, this spoof was lovingly done, and an original idea
to carry off the spoof so well. It really made you laugh
hard as well as play hard. I mean who would want to compete
in events such as boot throwing, pole climbing, running
up walls, jumping rivers and pillow fighting and not giggle?
1988 saw Gremlin Graphics' output slow a bit, but there
was still plenty of ideas. Technocop, a futuristic driving
game mixed with shooting was let down by some poor execution
and a bad multiload, a multi screen platform version of
Mickey Mouse with a nice version of the Sorcerer's Apprentice
music (as used in the film Fantasia) to guide Mickey along.
What was good was Skate Crazy. This involved much skating
around on roller skates around various obstacle courses
and the likes, and that hadn't been seen on a C64 to that
date. The novel control system took some getting used
to of course, but it was well worth it.
By this time Gremlin Graphics' output was slowing as other
formats were taking over the market. However, in their
later years there were many memorable games, even if most
of them were conversions from other machines: 1989 saw
Butcher Hill, a war based game that was actually quite
good fun to play, along with Gary Lineker's Hot Shot,
the third licenced game based on the famous English footballer.
In 1991, Super Cars, an overhead racer a la Super Sprint
really was good, you had options to buy equipment, but
also unlike Super Sprint wasn't full of bugs. There was
also Switchblade, a flick screen platformer with a hint
of Manga attached to it. The slightly unusual look and
feel definitely made things different, and indeed it was
also pretty tough to get through. The music on both original
Amiga and C64 versions was made by Ben Daglish, still
producing many tunes for most of Gremlin's games.
By 1992 things were very slow, and a version of Space
Crusade was one of the last games they ever produced for
In 1994 or so Gremlin Graphics changed everything and
became Gremlin Interactive. Despite making the Actua Soccer
series of games and selling quite a few copies of the
PC and Playstation versions, it was sad to see them bought
out by Infogrames to be part of their empire.
What people say about the Gremlin
Chris Shrigley: The Gremlin years were hard, exhillerating,
fun and completely insane. I served my apprentice-ship
in the games industry while at Gremlin. I got to work
with some of the best people and really learned my trade.
We pumped games out at an astonishing rate. We were expected
to write three or four a year (which we usually did).
When we joined Gremlin it was still a pretty small company.
They were in a couple of offices above the computer shop
that Ian (Stewart) also owned.
Gremlin started to expand and we moved to bigger offices
within the year. The mid 80s was really the boom for 8-bit
in England and we were at the heart of it. The typical
development cycle was three to four months, from idea
to it being on the shelves. We had a lot of freedom and
were able to be as creative as we wanted, with every game
being "original" or a least a derivative of
our favourite coin-op game.
Pete Harrap: Looking back on it we had a great camaraderie
going at the time. I even remember one day, the owner
was being particularly nasty - I think Chris Kerry (Auf
Wiedersehen Monty, Thing Bounces Back) had been threatened
with dismissal, so we all walked out 8-). Things got pretty
much back to normal very quickly after that. It's amazing
what fear will do to a manager!
Ben Daglish: The Gremlin years were work work work work
work! I'd stoll in, write music and then go home. Dull
dull dull dull! And they never payed enough, but then
I would say that wouldn't I? The equpiment I used was
a eight track Tascam, 16 channel Allen & Heath desk,
synth, TX81Z, reverb unit of some description - all being
run from an ST running Steinbergs Pro24. I left Gremlin
because I was bored with the office routine and I could
never be bothered to get out of bed. Music isn't a 9-5
activity, but they thought it was.
An old employee?
If anyone reading this ever worked for Gremlin, or indeed
produced any games for them, feel free to let
us know your experiences of working there.
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