Jason Page / Graftgold
Added on April 8th, 2010 (5744 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
I'm Jason Page. Pleased to meet you.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
I was one of those children who were at a certain age (about 10-ish) when the whole home computer era took off, typing listings in from magazines like Your Computer and Popular Computing Weekly. These magazines had black and white adverts for computers that would seemingly appear one month and vanish the next. (Colour Genie? TRS-80?) Myself and my two brothers nagged my dad for a long time. We ended up with a Dragon 32 – complete with migraine inducing green screen – which I learned to program on. The ZX Spectrum was also available, which we had access to via a friend of one of my brothers. From that point, I was pretty much addicted to games and programming. Later on, my brother had a Spectrum and I had an Oric Atmos (huuuge mistake) which I got rid of before finally seeing sense and getting a C64. Over a few years – and a number of combined birthday and Christmas gifts – I had a disk drive, printer, and The Final Cartridge which I used for many years. I learned to program 6502 using it, and wrote all of my Compunet demos with it.
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?
A bit of luck was involved here. I left school at 16, but this was only due to me trying to get a job at Graftgold (I would have gone back and done A levels or some such had this not worked out). At this point, I knew a number of people from Graftgold due to there being a computer club in my home town along with Graftgold also being based there (see, this is the "luck" bit). This was just the time when people were moving over from 8-bit machines to 16-bit. Even so, there was a need to fill the 8-bit games gap. So with all of this, and the fact that I knew my way around a C64 pretty well, I joined Graftgold as a trainee.
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 was attracted to it as it had great games. I then started to see various demos. Synth Sample 2 and a number of music tracks by The Mighty Bogg spring to mind as something that made me think that computers were more than just games or glorified calculators. Here was something that was fun! It was art. There was a community of people who liked to try to do things that nobody else had done before. You didn't get that with the BBC or Spectrum. There was certainly an attitude (well, my attitude) of "well, if they can do that, so can I". There were many people who were far better than I was, but at the age of 13 or 14, it was something that I spent a lot of time playing with.
It was here where I started to move into the audio side of things too. I was fascinated by the likes of Thing on a Spring, Rambo, the Ocean loader, and The Last V8. How did someone make this machine sound so great when it was obvious that it couldn't be done "out of the box"? Remember that prior to these titles were games that just sounded like you'd expect three channels of saw tooth and white noise. Listen to High Noon by U.S. Gold and then Thing on a Spring just to get an idea of what I'm on about here.
Finally, Zzap64! added to the whole community feel of the C64 by putting faces to people; Rob Hubbard, Gary Penn, Martin Galway... the list goes on. This is when it also felt to me that I could do this as a job, that people did actually get paid to do this.
What C64 games did you work on? Please be as detailed as possible.
1. Orion (music and sound effects)
2. Head the Ball (programming, music and sound effects, budget title that was released with a bunch of other games)
3. Rainbow Islands (music and sound effects)
4. Bushido (music, bits and pieces, Steve Turner did most of it though)
5. Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road (programming, music and sound effects)
I think that was it for the C64. Well, there was one other that I refuse to mention!
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
I worked in-house at Graftgold. Following this, I worked freelance doing music with Richard Joseph for a year, but this was after the C64. I then went back to Graftgold for a while before finally heading to Sony in 1996 where I've been ever since.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Blue screen, light blue text, and flashing borders with Post-It notes stuck to the screen. We'd draw pencil marks on those to be able see if processing time was getting better or worse. Working on PC's (connected to the C64), using PDS. Oh, and if you got in after 10 am, you had to make the tea.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
Between six to nine months normally.
What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
PDS was used as the programming environment, and it allowed us to program on the PC and then dump the compiled code down to the C64. This was pretty amazing at the time. Other Graftgold tools and code were used. There was a great graphics tool/API called Lego which allowed us to create char sets and then create "lego blocks" of these that could be placed anywhere within the game world. All of this meant that the actual writing of the game was so much easier when all of the dull bits were taken care of already. It was at Graftgold where I learned the need for tools and utility libraries.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Not at Graftgold. Only since that time.
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?
Head the Ball. It's rubbish, but it was my first game to be released, so I did feel like I'd made a dream come true. I quite like the music still, and it's available on that C64 joystick thing too.
The games were all fun. I think working on Rainbow Islands was probably the most fun, just due to me being part of a great team and seeing how everyone could work together to create such a great game across so many platforms. As for which game gave me the most headaches... It's probably a rose-tinted glasses moment, but compared to the length of development time things take now, I can't think of anything that was a real problem then.
If you had the chance to edit your CV of past games, which ones would you add, edit or remove?
I'd remove my name from one of them. I'd take all the tricks that I learned over the years of playing with C64's, go back to before Rob Hubbard wrote anything, then write the Maniacs of Noise music system and copy a load of their music before they actually wrote it. Failing this, I don't think I'd change anything really.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
There's no particular game that I'd have liked to work on. Yes, there's many great games, but I don't think me being involved would have made them any better. Never getting the chance to work on various genres, especially on certain machines, is what I miss. I would have liked to work on a beat 'em up and also written something along the lines of Commando.
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
Ikari Warriors, Uridium, Pitstop 2, Tapper, Nebulus, Cybernoid, PSI Warrior, Spy vs Spy, and IK+. That's the tip of the iceberg. I played a lot of games!
What games did you feel were appalling and you could have done better, given the chance?
For one game, I wish I had more time to do a better job. For another, I wish I knew what I knew when I had finished the next game so that the previous game would have been better. I think that still applies to just about everything I do today too though!
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?
Andrew Braybrook, Oliver Frey, Rob Hubbard, Sensible Software, Martin Galway, Ash & Dave, Compunet, Steve Turner, Jeroen Tel, Charles Deenen, John Phillips, and all of the Graftgold staff members. All very inspirational to me during those difficult teenage years.
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.).
The smell of cabbage. Graftgold was based in an office above a green grocer. It was an old, run down building with uneven floor boards and drafts in the winter. Not very posh, and as I said, for a lot of the time – especially in the summer – the office smelled of cabbage. We also had a phone number that was very similar to that of the local pizza shop. We'd sometimes get calls from people wanting to order a pizza. Once, Steve Turner answered the phone, put on a very bad Italian accent and took the order.
For learning how to do things on my own, my good friend Gary Foreman (he wrote Rainbow Islands on the C64) taught me the invaluable lesson of RTFM. Strange moments of surrealness: Sitting at my desk when Gary Penn & CO walk in to have a chat (this was when he was in charge of The One magazine), and then going down the pub with them all at lunch time.
What made you eventually stop creating games for the C64?
The public stopped buying 8-bit games.
What are you up to these days?
I'm managing the audio team at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe R&D division. I joined in 1996 where I was in charge of audio for Playstation (both programming and music/sound effects creation). I wrote the music for a number of well known games, Gran Turismo amongst others, but have since moved back into programming and management. Basically, I'm still doing the dream job that I always wanted to do when I was 13.
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.
Hello everyone! That's about it. Most of those I knew then, I still know today. Guess that's the wonder of Facebook, eh? Oh, and Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Jeroen Tel and Tony Crowther are on my Facebook friends list. How weird is that?
back to the list of available interviews