Mevlut Dinc / MD Software,
Added on June 2nd, 2015 (3796 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
My name is Mevlüt Dinç and I am originally from Turkey. My getting involved in computer games was complete chance, as was my moving to England to live. I moved to England after graduating from university in 1979 and lived there until the end of 2000 when I returned to Turkey to help launch the games sector there.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
In 1980, I started work at Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd., specifically their cable factory in Southampton. I had no interest in games at all and absolutely no knowledge of computers. I was very unhappy working at a factory and moaned about it all the time. A co-worker and good friend of mine, Vino Dos Santos, eventually convinced me to get this amazing new computer called the ZX Spectrum, presumably hoping it would occupy my mind and get me to shut up! Vino actually drove us to the Sinclair factory to pick up our beloved Spectrums, which were of the 16 kB variety. A few weeks later, we went back to the factory, and I somehow managed to convince the receptionist to let us swap our Spectrums for two of the 48 kB machines they had piled up in reception.
Since I had no real interest in gaming or computing, I accordingly did nothing with my Speccy for weeks. But Vino kept asking me if I liked it, had I played this game or that one, so in the end I thought I might as well set it up and start playing around with it. And that's how it all started for me.
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?
It was very tough at first to learn about programming, as there was very little in the way of resources. I couldn't really make head or tail of the information in the manual that came with the machine, and it was 1983, so there was no Internet – no nothing, really! So, to cut a long story short, it took me two years to learn how to program in machine code, all just from books and magazines. Popular Computing Weekly was my biggest source of inspiration and information.
I did a lot of demos while I was still learning. I remember going to a computer fair in London where I showed my demos to various publishers, including Tony Rainbird of Telecomsoft. I think he was quite impressed with my work.
My first game was Gerry the Germ, and because it was my first attempt, I wanted it to be unique, so I decided to base it around an anti-hero whose mission was to destroy a human body. I showed a demo of Gerry the Germ to a number of publishers, but only Tony Rainbird showed any genuine interest. Most of them found the subject matter too controversial; Mirrorsoft, for example, turned it down immediately, saying they considered the premise to be in very bad taste.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
There was a great rivalry between the ZX Spectrum and the C64, which I discovered a bit later on. When I realised that the C64 was also very popular, and that I somehow had to do my first game on it, I found a very good C64 programmer Edwin Rayner who lived locally in Southampton. The C64 had a few hardware advantages, such as its great sound, better colour resolution and faster hardware sprites, so I did a lot of support and development on the C64 pretty much from my very first game.
What C64 games did you work on? Please include a list of titles and as many details as you can recall about each of them (such as what it was like to work on each game, any sketches you did, what programs you used, fun anecdotes from creating the game, what the people were like to work with on the various games, the timeframes, any problems or headaches, etc.).
As mentioned, Gerry the Germ was my first game and also my first C64 title! It was a unique concept and a really difficult game to play. We did a disk version for the US market. It had quite a cult following in the US (though to this day, I don't know why), and I received a fair bit of royalties from that. This taught me the importance of always asking for a royalty rate for all my games. :)
My second game, Prodigy, was the first-ever isometric 3D scrolling game. Technically, it was very difficult to achieve, but Edwin and I did a great job with it. Again, it got rave reviews technically but the gameplay was very tough. So, I learnt a lot from my first two games about having a good balance between playability and difficulty.
Big Trouble in Little China was of course a major film licence, but also a rescue project for me, I wasn't at all involved in the design, we just had to do the programming. While doing this game, we also helped out on the fantastic Aliens game on the C64, for which my programmer Edwin Rayner did a lot of the important sprite routines.
Actually, this is quite a fun anecdote to share with your readers. We were always working to very tight schedules and under enormous pressure, so I was doing the Big Trouble game and at the same time, Edwin and I were helping out on the all-important Aliens game. The Aliens game was a vitally important title for Activision and had to be finished in time for Christmas, so we were in Electric Dreams offices working most of the time and just sleeping there on the floor. We were all very tired but also very determined to make the Christmas release. We had a project manager there from Activision who was trying very hard to co-ordinate everything, keep it all going, and encourage the developers to get things finished on time. As I said, Edwin was working on the all-important sprite routines for the Aliens game and at every project meeting, the manager would ask Edwin how long he still needed before the sprite routines would be ready, and Edwin would think a little and say something like: "I should think about an hour and a half." This routine (pun very much intended) of project meetings, sprite queries and Edwin's repeated answer of "I should think about an hour and a half" went on for a good few days or possibly even weeks. By now, we were getting awfully close to Christmas and everyone was feeling the pressure, including the project manager. We held one last major meeting to assess everything. The manager went from one contributor to the next, until he came to Edwin and said: "Edwin, I am going to ask one last time, but whatever you do, please do not f*cking say 'an hour and a half'!" Edwin paused a bit longer than usual, thought very hard, and then in a very quiet voice, and trying to look serious but already starting to grin, said: "An hour and three quarters." We all laughed our heads off!
My good mate Jon Dean, then head of Activision's development studio, also kept us going by buying us a lot of takeaway food.
I then worked very closely with John Twiddy and Hugh Riley on The Last Ninja 2 – I did the Spectrum and Amstrad versions, John coded the C64 version and Hugh did the C64 graphics. I believe this was the best instalment in the Ninja series. After we had finished The Last Ninja 2, the three of us set up Vivid Image. As the team behind The Last Ninja 2, we wanted to do a great game as our first Vivid Image title. We signed a very good deal with Activision and started working on Hammerfist as our first title for Vivid Image. It was a very ambitious game and we achieved great things technically. By this stage, I was no longer involved in programming full time and was increasingly taking on the role of producer, helping out with many aspects from design to management. The C64 version of Hammerfist was very impressive, particularly considering the Amiga was the lead version.
Our second Vivid Image title was Time Machine, which again I thought was a very good conversion to the C64.
One of our biggest titles ever was First Samurai. The Amiga version was the lead version, coded by the great Raffaele Cecco. We were lucky enough to get to work with Jon Williams as programmer and Mat Sneap as artist on the C64 version, which was absolutely superb! Commodore Format gave it one of their highest ratings ever, 96 per cent, and it's considered to be one of the top ten C64 games.
The Commodore 64 Games System (C64GS) was Commodore's attempt to turn the C64 into a console, and Commodore Format's first issue cover story was about the C64GS. We had a very close relationship with Commodore, as we did some good work on both the C64 and Amiga. We actually created the development system for the C64GS and helped all the publishers with putting their games onto cartridge. I think we sold over 15 development kits, which is quite an achievement when you consider the number of publishers at the time. So, almost everybody supported the idea.
We were involved in the early discussions on the C64GS, and everyone thought it was a very good idea. At the time, the most annoying thing about the C64 was the loading times of the games, so the idea of a cartridge system with instant access seemed fantastic. Commodore wanted to pitch it against Nintendo and the NES, which is why it was re-launched without a keyboard, as a standalone console.
The idea was very good, and it had great initial support, but the main problem was that the original machine was never designed as a console, so launching it in this way was a mistake, I think. Also, almost everybody just did a quick port of their existing titles, with no improvements or new features, but an improved loading speed alone was not enough. Except for only a very few titles like First Samurai, most of the games were very poor and the publishers all seemed to just be trying to make some quick and easy money. It was a great shame, really, a good idea badly executed.
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
I started as a freelance programmer, working under the company name MD Software, up until I set up Vivid Image. As a freelancer, my first game Gerry the Germ was published by Firebird. My second game Prodigy was published by Electric Dreams. I then did Enduro Racer for the Amstrad, Big Trouble in Little China, and Knightmare, all for Activision. As mentioned, we then did Hammerfist and Time Machine for Activision as Vivid Image. After that came First Samurai with Mirrorsoft, Kemko and Ubisoft, and Street Racer and S.C.A.R.S. with Ubisoft.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer at that time?
Most of the time, it was very exciting and tiring at the same time. It was hard, but very enjoyable; trying to create something out of nothing on a computer was just so fascinating to me. I always felt very fortunate!
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
It varied from project to project, of course. Gerry the Germ, Prodigy and The Last Ninja 2, for instance, all took around eight months or so. I think we were pretty productive, bearing in mind we had to do everything from scratch, including level editors, sound drivers and many other things. Converting Enduro Racer from the Spectrum to the Amstrad only took me three or four weeks. I used a few clever tricks, and most importantly, I managed to get the original Spectrum code to run on the Amstrad with very little modification. I wrote some very fast buffer-to-screen copy routines and lastly added a little bit of colour on top. I finished the game in good time for Christmas. Activision were very happy indeed, particularly as it was a huge hit in France, where the Amstrad was very popular. Hammerfist took much longer than I originally wanted; I guess it was our first Vivid Image title, so we spent more time on it to get it right.
What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
I created many tools to help me create games, such as level editors, sprite editors, animation programs and sound drivers and editors. I also used quite a lot of third-party development systems.
One thing I am very proud of having achieved, very early on in my career, was setting up the Amstrad as my development system. I connected my Spectrum to the Amstrad with an RS23 card and could then do all my coding on the Amstrad and download the compiled code to the Spectrum very quickly. Editing, compiling and sending the code to the Spectrum took around two or three minutes, which was amazing in those days, especially when I discovered that it took some developers 30 to 45 minutes to compile their code!
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
The failure of the Konix Multisystem to ever actually emerge was a great disappointment for me, as I had been personally coding Hammerfist for the system. We were involved in Konix almost from day one, contributing ideas towards the hardware configuration. I nearly finished coding the whole game, and it looked really good, but then the Multisystem project collapsed. The only other game I had cancelled was Street Racer 2 for Eidos in 1999. We were doing the game for the PlayStation, and I think Eidos decided it wasn't commercially viable because of the imminent release of the PS2.
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?
I think all the games I was involved with were very challenging in one way or another, particularly as most of them were original titles. I had made a solid name for myself quite early on in my career, but I always wanted every game to be better than the last one, so I always tried to do something unique and include one or two features which were firsts. Prodigy, for instance, was the first-ever isometric 3D scrolling game, and Street Racer on the SNES was the first game to have four-player simultaneous gameplay.
The massive 3D levels in The Last Ninja 2 were tough to squeeze into 48 kB, and every aspect of the game as a whole was very challenging. Expectations were high, because the first version never came out on the Spectrum, so there was a lot of pressure on me, but I think I pulled it off and I was very pleased with the end result. It also got massive reviews in all the magazines. I remember joking with Mark Cale, the CEO at System 3, asking him if there was anything else he wanted me to put in the game, as I had a couple of bytes to spare. :)
I'm pleased with most of my work and achievements, but if I had to name particular games, I guess Enduro Racer, The Last Ninja 2, First Samurai and Street Racer would be my favourites.
If you had the chance to revisit any of your past games, what would you add, change or remove?
That's a great question! I'd love to go back and add/remove stuff in all the games I was involved with. Firstly, I would have made Gerry the Germ and Prodigy easier to play. In retrospect, I would have refused to code Big Trouble! :) First Samurai was a fantastic title, but the levels were too big, I should have kept the overall size of the game the same but split those big levels into smaller ones. Street Racer was again a fantastic title and great achievement, but I now wish I'd made the driving model a little easier and perhaps a bit more fun. The tracks on S.C.A.R.S. were beautiful but too difficult; I think it had one of the best driving models of its time, but the short and fast tracks with so many difficult corners unfortunately made it hard to really enjoy.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
I have had to say this so many times before, but it bears repeating here: to this day, I hardly play any games, mainly because I'm not very good at it. I did however play and desperately tried to master R-Type, it was such a great arcade game, which I really would have liked to have converted.
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
As stated above, I am unfortunately such a lousy player that I hardly played any games. I really enjoyed playing Arcadia, published by Imagine, which I thought was brilliant with its great sequences and all. I was influenced a lot by that game, as it was released around the time I was learning to program.
Were there any games you found so awful that you wish you'd had the chance to do a better job?
I am sure there were a lot of really bad games, just as many as there were great ones! Again, though, since I didn't play games, I didn't really get a chance to see the appallingly bad games.
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?
To be honest, I was not influenced by anyone in particular, but there were a few great people whom I had the good fortune to even work with. I became a programmer by accident and would like to think that I was destined to work in games. Looking back, I cannot think what else I could have done with my life other than making games.
I was always impressed with the people, and of course the games, from Ultimate Play the Game. There are some individuals whom I admire and was also lucky enough to work with and become friends with, such as John Twiddy, Hugh Riley, Raffaele Cecco, Paul Docherty, Jon Hare, David Braben, Andrew Braybrook, Rob Hubbard, Rod Cousens, Jon Dean, Charles Cecil, to name but a few!
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.).
I remember attending my first computer show in London. It looked so primitive and simple and of course very small. I realised that the whole thing was just starting, and I was there almost from the beginning. That gave me a lot of confidence, but it also scared me. It was great to show my demo work to people and get positive feedback, it gave me confidence and made me think: "Yeah, I could do this!" I was still working at the cable factory while I taught myself programming, and all my colleagues were taking the micky and saying I would never make it and was just wasting my time. I think that made me even more determined to make it as a decent programmer!
Apart from the C64, what other machines did you work on?
I touched on this already, but to summarise again, I started on the Spectrum, then moved on to the Amstrad CPC, the C64 and the C64G. I also had a little involvement in the CD32 and the CDTV. This was then followed of course by the Amiga, Konix, SNES, Sega Mega Drive, Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Game Gear, and then 32-bit consoles such as the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast.
What are you up to these days?
I moved back to Turkey at the end of 2000 to kick-start the Turkish games sector. I started a games development company called Sobee Studios in 2000, which I build up and then sold to Türk Telekom in 2009, though I stayed on as CEO and didn't leave the company until May 2013. Since then, I've been on hiatus. There's a sizable Turkish games sector now, and a lot of major companies from many countries are seriously thinking about entering the Turkish market, which at more than 22 million gamers definitely holds huge potential!
Once back in Turkey, I started from scratch, building up a competent and professional games development house. We created Turkey's first MMORPG title, the world's first eleven-a-side online soccer game, and Turkey's first children's superhero Supercan. I am also the founder and first elected President of the Turkish Digital Games Federation (TÜDOF in Turkish), which is also the first of its kind in the world.
I recently decided to move to Barcelona to recharge my batteries and start a new adventure. Although I don't have any concrete plans, I am hoping to get involved in some way in games development here in Barcelona. Helping young and enthusiastic budding developers with my 30+ years of knowledge and experience would be great! I am open to getting involved with professional or indie developers, incubation centres, universities and so on.
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.
Thank you for keeping the spirit of gaming going and of course for keeping our games and us developers alive and excited! There are a lot of very good Kickstarter projects out there involving old games and/or computers, which I also try to support and contribute to. I am even seriously contemplating launching a couple of Kickstarter projects myself, aimed at remaking First Samurai and Street Racer.
I would like to thank all the gamers who have played and continue to play our games. Without them, the games sector and those of us who inhabit it would not exist. I would also like to salute all the great people who have made such valuable contributions to this amazing industry, such as the manufacturers, developers, publishers and journalists.
back to the list of available interviews