Chris Collins / Binary Design,
Added on December 5th, 2014 (2294 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hi, my name is Chris Collins and I'm from Manchester. I'm 44 years old and have been in the games industry since I was 17.
How did you first get started with computers and the C64 in particular?
I used to mess around on my mate's Spectrum in the 1980s, playing games and typing in code (that rarely worked) from magazines. Eventually, when I was about 14, my dad bought me a Commodore 64.
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit work samples to various games companies looking for jobs, or did jobs come to you?
The way I got into the industry was, from my point of view, extremely lucky.
When I was 15, I used to work weekends in one of the first indie games shops in Manchester (Budget Software) selling C64 and Spectrum games. The owner had a great supplier who got all the best new games way before all the mainstream shops, so that was really cool. I started skipping school (even more than usual) and working at the shop during the week. Eventually, my school found out, but they thought that what I was doing was a positive thing, so they let me work there as long as I came into school for a day or so each week, to check in with them. I can't imagine getting away with that these days.
Over time, I got to know a lot of the people who came into the shop, and I started swapping games and demo tapes with them. I found out that some of them worked just down the road at a games company called Binary Design. I'd been playing around with art packages on my C64 at home. I used to draw a lot of album covers on my C64, because I was so impressed by some of the ones I'd seen being used on the demo scene, and I was also just interested in drawing anyway, so I thought I'd give it a go. Whenever it was a bit quiet in the shop, I'd spend some time drawing with my Kempston joystick, pixel by pixel. It was a great way to pass the time.
One of the lads from Binary Design, Lee Cawley, saw what I was doing and seemed to like it, so he suggested I should try for a job at Binary. I was drawing an Iron Maiden cover at the time (the Live After Death album). He told me to put a few bits of artwork together and maybe draw some animated sprites, which I'd been playing around with anyway, so that night I drew a few shuffling zombies with their heads exploding (I was obsessed by horror films, especially zombie films). I went into Binary a few days later for an interview and was asked to draw a loading screen as a test for the game Blind Panic. That went well, and I started the job more or less straight away, so my thanks go to Lee Cawley and Iron Maiden (and zombies).
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? Was it as special as we like to think it was?
There was no other option for me, really. I loved the C64 anyway, and getting offered a job drawing graphics on it was a bit of a dream scenario to start off with, so for me personally, it was definitely as special as I remember it.
What C64 games did you work on? Write a list with the titles and as much information you remember about each of them.
I worked on about 20 to 30 titles over the years, most of which I've probably forgotten.
The first game I ever worked on was Inspector Gadget and the Circus of Fear. The name was apt, as it was pretty scary for me because I'd basically got into the industry by pure luck and really had no idea how games were made or put together. I think that probably shows in this game. It didn't help that the programmer (Sarge P.B.A.) only let me have two frames of animation for Gadget's walk cycle. I also had no idea about character maps or how backgrounds were built, so it was the start of a long learning process for me.
I also worked on Bosconian 87, Motos, Double Dragon, Puzznic, Sly Spy Secret Agent, Gauntlet III, Energy Warrior, Magic Johnson's Fast Break, Roadwars.
What companies did you work for, in-house and/or freelance, and what were your tasks?
I worked for Binary Design until about 1989. When we started to have problems with getting paid, I walked over to Software Creations one lunchtime together with a good friend (Haydn Dalton), and we had a couple of quick interviews. I think we started working there within about a week, and I ended up working there for the next 15 or 16 years, right through the Acclaim years. After they shut down, I went to work at Rockpool Games (now owned by Eidos Interactive) for a couple of years, and then Eclipse Foundation.
My tasks were a bit of everything, really, from titles and loading screens to backgrounds, animation, sprites, etc.
What did a typical day in front of the computer look like?
I would arrive at work sometime in the morning and mess around for a few hours. After drawing something for an hour, I'd go get something to eat for lunch, which could sometimes take a couple of hours. Once I was back at the office, I'd do some work for half an hour, then mess around some more, and eventually go home. We were all very young and, looking back, frankly a bit irresponsible!
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to finish your work?
That depended on the project, generally, but I think it was around a couple of months per project.
What tools/development kits/etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to satisfy your needs?
It was quite basic for artists at that time, a joystick and an art program was all we needed.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Not initially, but in later years there were lots, most of which I can't remember now.
Which game are you most proud of, which was most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which gave you headaches?
I suppose I'm proud of all of them in some way, but they also all had their headaches. The fun ones were the ones that were finished on time.
If you had the chance to go back to any of your past games, what would you add and/or remove?
I'd remove all my graphics and replace them with something decent, to be honest. As an artist, you're constantly improving (hopefully!), so it's quite painful to look back at old artwork.
Were there any particular games that you would have liked to work on or converted from arcade?
Oh yeah, loads. I spent a lot of time in the arcades, so there's a lot of games I would have loved to have been involved in. I was obsessed with Space Harrier, Commando, Star Wars and Gauntlet, to name but a few.
Did you get much chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
That's pretty much all I did in my spare time. I loved all of Andrew Braybrook's games, and Jeff Minter's, stuff like Dropzone, Bruce Lee, The Way of the Exploding Fist, Bounty Bob Strikes Back, Boulder Dash, Beach-Head and Beach-Head II, Impossible Mission, Crazy Comets, and Delta. I have played pretty much most C64 games, but these were among my favourites.
Were there any games which you felt were so appalling and bad that you wished you had worked on to do a better job?
Not really, I never felt like I was in a position to make that sort of judgement. I loved games so much that I always took something positive away from them, even if it was just a particular colour scheme, a sound effect or the way a game played.
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly gave inspiration to your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
My art inspiration came initially from the demo scene guys, but over the years, I've got to work with some great artists: the late Martin Holland, Ste Pickford and Haydn Dalton really influenced me, and I learned a lot from them. Musicians, especially Martin Galway and Rob Hubbard, inspired me to get into writing music.
Share some memories from the old days! It could for instance be something you remember a colleague did or said, about your time in the demo scene, about crackers stealing development disks, or about going to computer shows.
I only went to a couple of computer shows, as I found them really boring. It's often a long journey down to London, just to stand and look at computer screens, which I could do perfectly well back in Manchester. I did however meet Jeff Minter at a show once. He was outside meditating in the middle of a bit of grass in the middle of the city, so I went over to say hello and have a chat. That definitely made that trip worthwhile.
We can't ignore the fact that there were other machines apart from the C64. Share with us the software and/or hardware you created on other systems.
I worked on the Atari ST, NES, SNES, N64, PS1, Gameboy and GBA. I worked on titles including Double Dragon, Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, The Tick, Target: Renegade, Foreman for Real, The Simpsons: Bart & the Beanstalk, The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror, Rugrats in Paris, Border Zone, All-Star Baseball 2003, and FIFA 99.
What are you up to these days?
I'm currently working freelance doing iOS/Android games, but I'm looking to hopefully get back into console development.
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any last comments to leave a final impression on the audience? Feel free to send any greetings to anyone you know.
You are most welcome, it's been fun jogging what little is left of my memory banks. :) Thanks to everyone on the demo and games scene for changing my life. Big hellos to Haydn Dalton, Ste Pickford, Mike Agar, Suddi Raval, Dave Stead, Dave Mac, Lorraine Starr, Mike Delves, Ste Ruddy, Jason and Lyndon Brooke, Tony Pomfret, Martin Howarth, Paul Gill, Lee Cawley, Andy Routledge and everyone I've worked with over the years.
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