Mark Greenshields / Enigma Variations,
Added on January 14th, 2011 (4407 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
My name is Mark Greenshields and I have been in the games industry since 1981. I currently run a games developer called Firebrand Games which specializes in racing games on consoles.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
A friend at school showed me a ZX81 and I thought, "Cool! I have to have one." So after much pestering my parents (and many paper rounds), I bought one. I quickly realized it was not that good and managed to get a Saturday job at a Glasgow computer store where I convinced them to give me a VIC-20 and I would pay it out of my wages. I used this to learn to code and wrote a game that I self-published in the stores in Glasgow. I caught the eye of the Scottish distributor for the C64 before it was released and agreed to write their store demos. In exchange they gave me a C64. It was PAL serial number two! If I had that now it would be awesome! It failed in three weeks and I got number eleven. That went too later on unfortunately.
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit sample work to various games companies in order to procure jobs, or did jobs come to you?
My career started with teaching myself to program and starting to sell games in local stores. I also visited a computer fair in Edinburgh and met Tim Hartnell (an author of computer books in the late 70's and early 80's) and convinced him I could write a better book than him (the confidence of youth). He believed me and challenged me. I ended up writing three books on programming the CBM 64 as well as one on the Amstrad CPC. All C64 books were published.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
I loved the machine. The SID chip was AWESOME! Try playing two C64's with a Martin Galway tune (or others) just out of sync and it sounds even better. I became good at coding the machine and getting it to do more than it was designed. Although the 6510 was a weak processor, I reveled in pushing it beyond the limits. I just liked the challenge.
What C64 games did you work on? Please be as detailed as possible.
I wrote over 30 published games. All were not on the C64, but notable games I wrote on this machine include: Split Personalities, Hades Nebula, Blazer, CounterForce, Power Pyramids, Slug, and 19 Boot Camp. I wrote some real fast and dirty games too, but I won't admit to them here!
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
Other than Enigma Variations, I was always freelance, whether I worked in-house or not. Usually, I was the sole programmer on the game, except in the case of 19 Boot Camp where I was one of two and responsible for all the high speed tape and disk loading systems as well as half the events.
I first worked for Domark as a programmer on the Bond games and then Split Personalities. I subsequently worked for Nexus (Hades Nebula and Blazer), CRL (CounterForce), Quicksilva (Power Pyramids), Cascade Games (19 Boot Camp), and Enigma Variations (Slug and many others).
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Work, work, work. I would start sometime in the morning and finish sometimes after the birds got up. Those were the days of 24/7. People nowadays have it easy! We had poor pay, ridiculous hours and no benefits, but we loved the machine and what we did.
One thing that made me different from other coders was I had a photographic memory of my code when I was writing a game, so I had and needed no notes whatsoever. I could be asked to change something anywhere in the game and knew instantly which file and variable to change. It helped with very rapid development. I still find it frustrating with other programmers today that don't share that skill. I was lucky I guess. In the earlier days, I wrote everything from scratch each time as I was so fast it was quicker re-writing than re-using code from older games. As time went on, this changed but not really until after the C64 finished for me. I found the development environment a bit difficult having to assemble and run the game on a C64 which became a huge challenge trying to fit source code, macro assembler and game code, art, etc, into a 64k machine. So I designed and built a parallel interface that allowed me to use Machine Lightning on the C128 and squirt my code down to a C64 at high speed. This was such an advantage and it allowed debugging too – until PDS came along which was way ahead of its time.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
Usually less than needed, but enough. The most I ever had on a C64 game was three months, the least two days!
What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
Initially Supermon, and then onto Machine Lightning. I designed a lightning fast parallel interface for the C128 that allowed me to compile code (assemble it really) on a C128 and push it down the parallel cable to a C64 and run it and debug it. It was pretty revolutionary in those days. I should have marketed it! I then got PDS and used that until I moved on to other platforms.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Yes, Live and Let Die. This was due to the failure of the artist to produce almost any art! Kick Off on C64 (I was responsible for all Nintendo console versions after that). There was also a Code Masters game that never came out (I can't remember what it was called).
Which game are you most proud of, which was the most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which ended up giving you the biggest headache?
Hard to say. Hades Nebula was my first shooter and I loved it! It had some bugs, but the second version released on budget by Cascade was properly balanced. I loved Split Personalities and do to this day. 19 Boot Camp was technically far beyond anything of its day with more sprites on screen than I have ever seen, plus scrolling bitmaps, detailed landscapes, zoom through rifle scopes, etc. Mainly headaches happened when people did not deliver their bit (artists sometimes) or clients reduced the dev time by more than half not long after I started. That happened quite often.
If you had the chance to edit your CV of past games, which ones would you add, edit or remove?
Watch this space. Two of them are being resurrected on the iPhone and other digital devices!
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
Super Sprint or Pole Position would have been great to do.
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
In those days I played a lot. I loved the games from Rabbit Software, Jeff Minter, and Gremlin Graphics. In fact, there was a lot of great stuff around then.
What games did you feel were appalling and you could have done better, given the chance?
Yes, of course and I won't admit which ones other than Hades Nebula. I would have loved a week more to finish it before it was released.
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly inspired some of your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
No, but I had a great many friends in the development community and we worked together to create some great games. I keep in touch with quite a few of them to this day.
Please share some memories from the old days! (Like something a colleague did or said, your time on the demo scene, crackers stealing development disks, going to computer shows, etc.).
Some are a bit dangerous to admit, so I will be careful. Barry Leitch and the Chicken Song will never leave my mind. Martin Galway and his music was awesome. Actually, most were great including Barry Leitch, Dave Whittaker, Rob Hubbard and many more. I do recall playing lightsabers with friends and basically trashing the office. Not responsible, but what fun!
What made you eventually stop creating games for the C64?
It is impossible to program and run a business, and I chose to defect to the dark side. The C64 had died commercially by then though so I was really on the platform throughout its life.
What are you up to these days?
Currently I run Firebrand Games (www.firebrandgames.com) which is a AAA racing game developer developing on all consoles, but specializing on Nintendo.
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any parting comments with which to leave a final impression on our readers? Feel free to greet anyone you know.
The C64 was not just a computer. It was a world and a lifestyle! I made a great many lifelong friends from that computer and I owe my career to what the C64 encouraged me to do. I still love the music that can emanate from a C64.
back to the list of available interviews