Sean Connolly / Imagitec Design,
Added on October 15th, 2015 (1639 views)
Tell us something about yourself (e.g. full name, age, place and/or date of birth, where you live, your current job and/or interests, etc).
My full name is Sean Robert Connolly. I'm 45 years old, having been born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 12th March 1970. I currently live in London and for the past 15 years, I've been working as a railway timetable producer and software developer for multiple railway operators across the UK. When I'm not on the computer or writing music, I spend my time with our dog, going places, meeting friends or playing with the other love of my life, my Rubik's puzzles.
How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
One day in 1982, I was walking to school with Dave Edwardson (later of the demo group Pulse Productions), and he was telling me he was getting a computer for Christmas. My question was: "What's a computer?". Well, in December 1982, he got a Sinclair ZX81 which was my first introduction to computing. In September 1983, I got my first computer. We went for a VIC-20, because it was colour and had some hires graphics and sound. In the winter of 1983, Dave and I joined the Edinburgh Home Computer Club which met on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Thursday of each month in the Claremont Hotel. It was there that I met Doug Hare (the coder behind IO) and his brother Richard, as well as John Cassells, the artist behind several well-known C64 games. Doug and Richard had just got a C64, and it was way more impressive than the VIC-20, the sound was far superior, and I was hooked. My parents made me live with the VIC-20 for another two years before they bought me a C64.
What scene handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
I was always known just as Sean up until 1989, then my love of the Garfield cartoon books by Jim Davis and in particular the lovable character Odie, and my love of dogs in general, made it an easy choice!
What scene group(s) were you in? (Please include full names and the order in which you joined them)
I was in Pulse Productions as "Sean" from 1987 through to 1989. We were all school friends, and most of us went on to further education in 1989, so the group sort of collapsed in the face of "real world" life. I had however met Jason Kelk, a.k.a. The Magic Roundabout (T.M.R.) of Cosine, in both 1988 and 1989 at the PC show which used to be held every September at large London exhibitions, and he liked that I was a coder and writing my own music players, so he introduced me to Marc François who was running the Sonix Systems division of Cosine, so I joined both in October 1989. I've now been with Cosine for nearly 26 years!
What roles have you fulfilled (e.g. swapper, coder, artist, musician, organiser, etc.)?
On the C64 scene, I have only ever really been a coder and musician. I've never dabbled in swapping because I prefer to avoid the piracy route and pay for what I use. I just exchanged data with Jason and Marc, mainly Cosine and Sonix Systems projects, and when the Compunet modems came along, we could exchange data that way at the expense of our parents' phone bills. I can't draw for toffee, so I was never an artist. As for being an organiser, I couldn't organise a piss-up at a brewery, so "no" to that too.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
My earliest memories are of Compunet here in the UK. You could create something, upload it to their server, and then others would download the demos you'd created. Sometimes they got good feedback, sometimes bad. By this time, the Edinburgh Home Computer Club had moved a couple of times and finally settled into a location used by Edinburgh University where I could abuse their phone line with my Compunet modem. Once Dave Edwardson and Duncan MacDonald started writing demos as the group Pulse Productions and needed original music for their demos, they asked me to join. In fact, Dave Edwardson and I were also both in our school's brass band from 1980. Dave dropped out in 1983 to concentrate on other pursuits, but I stayed on until the end of my school days and even participated in the school brass band orchestra and also the Edinburgh Schools Orchestras that were running around at that time.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer back then.
I'd first think about what I wanted to do the next day and plan it out on paper. That's how I did the first E.M.S. music player I ever wrote. The following day, I would sit down with assemblers, a machine code monitor, notepads and pens and code from about 9 a.m. I've never been a night owl, so it was always daytime coding for me. I'd stop around 1 p.m. for some lunch and then continue on until about 5 p.m. When I wrote the first version of E.M.S. music player, I started at 9 a.m. and it was playing meaningful music/sounds by 1:25 p.m. I had debugged quite a lot of it by 4 p.m. and carried on tinkering with the code until 5 p.m. After a break for dinner and other stuff, I continued from about 7 p.m. on through the remaining hours of the day, poking numbers into the memory with a machine code monitor to start making test music.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Well, my biggest C64 heroes will always be those from the C64 music scene. People like David Dunn, Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Fred Gray and Ben Daglish are at the top of my list of heroes, as the first games I ever purchased featured music composed by these guys. Later arrivals such as Matt Gray, Tim Follin, Chris Hülsbeck and Maniacs of Noise are up there too, either for churning out great music and/or for really pushing the boundaries of what the SID chip could do.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64? (e.g. a tool, routine, etc.)
I think the coolest thing which I love about the SID chip is a much more recent invention, namely the ability to play 8-bit samples and play small SoundTracker modules, which I think was invented by SoundDemon. I have heard many different examples which really blew my mind. How such complex audio mixing is possible on a processor which is clocking less than 1 MHz is beyond my comprehension. I take my hat off to those guys!
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?
I did submit examples to some companies. The big PC shows which used to be held every September in London hosted lots of software companies holding stalls there, not only to showcase their products but also to allow naive young talent like myself to come along in person, hand in copies of our demos and hope for a telephone call or letter in response.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
The SID chip definitely was, for me at least! Also, although it had great graphics and tons of games being written for it, there was also this demo scene, so you could still write stuff and just put it out there. Sometimes, people would love your demos and comment on them, other times not. The only downside was that if your assembler and source code had to occupy the RAM too, you couldn't write large chunks and linking became necessary. I ended up building myself a custom Amiga parallel to the C64 user port lead. I would use assemblers on the Amiga, and I wrote small transfer utilities on both the Amiga and C64 side to transfer the data in either direction. The transfer programs on the C64 were small enough to fit into the lower stack RAM space, so you could fill the entire C64 RAM with ease.
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.
I've been involved in five commercial releases that I recall. The first was Turn 'n' Burn for Flair Software (later Microvalue) in 1990. I was given a couple of weeks to write just one piece of music on a freelance basis, but had no idea what the game was about, having had no briefing whatsoever.
The following year, I worked on Ninja Rabbits for Microvalue. I had about three weeks to write just two pieces of music and a few sound effects. I had it all done in about a week and a half!
The Elvira adventure game was probably my worst effort. I had about two weeks for just this one tune, but I was still recovering from a road accident and so struggled with this one.
When Turbo Charge came along, I was in better health, in new surroundings, and was given a decent timescale, so my head was just buzzing with ideas. We had about six weeks, but were done within three.
I've also been involved in many non-commercial, magazine and/or retro releases. In 1994, I did the music on Reaxion. I had plenty of time and free rein in terms of the style. I was also given plenty of time to do Cyberwing. I re-mixed my own OuterSpace tune for the titles, plus a few extra tunes and some sound FX thrown in for good measure. Blok Copy was originally composed on the Amiga using my One Stop Music Shop card and Bars 'n Pipes Pro. I decided to convert it down to the C64, which was a task in itself.
The Mollusk, released by RGCD in 2011, was part of RGCD's 16 kB game cartridge competition. Get 'Em DX and Wonderland were released by RGCD in 2012 as part of that year's 16 kB game cartridge competition, and Bellringer 3 and Vallation were released by RGCD as part of the 2013 competition; there is to be a full 64 kB version of Vallation at some point in the future. In 2014, Brilliant Maze was released by RGCD as part of the competition. Hammer Down has not yet been released but is complete and will hopefully be released by Psytronik/RGCD in the next few months. The music will be released along with this game.
What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
I worked in-house for Imagitec for a very short time, during which I worked on C64, Atari ST and Amiga audio. I worked freelance for Flair Software/Microvalue for about a year, writing music on the C64 and Atari ST. I did about three months of freelance music/sound work on the C64 and Amiga for System 3. I worked in-house at Creative Edge for three years, doing C64 music (for a game which was never finished/released), some Amiga music and additional game coding and also the Atari Jaguar as a game coder.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
The Turbo Charge project for System 3 took about two to three weeks in the end. Marc François and I were on the phone every day, and disks with masses of source code containing music data were flying up and down the length of the U.K. by Royal Mail. The title music for Turbo Charge was written in about two days, but then after System 3 had heard the first version of it, I refined it some more, into the tune everyone knows today. I wrote three tunes, Marc François wrote three as well, and I created the sound FX. We weren't under much time pressure on the project, we started and finished it in June 1991, in the knowledge that they'd be showcasing the game around September of that year.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
After ditching music editors like Electrosound, Soundmonitor, Rockmonitor and Future Composer, I found that taking the coding route gave you the flexibility to write whatever ideas popped into your head. Once my coding skills improved, being able to write my own editors helped, but I have recently drifted back to source code music composition so that I can build new things into my music players.
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
There are four which spring to mind. The first is Touchlight which was being developed by John Menzies (not the defunct U.K. retail chain) and John Cassells. The game used VSP and I think it was ditched because of the known compatibility problems with VSP on many of the Commodore 64c computers. Then there was Extreme Force which was actually being written by Marc François' brother Julien and his then-girlfriend. They were in their final year at university, and the game was still just a scrolling demo when they split up. The third one, Euro Soccer, was an Amiga game that I wrote the music for; it was going to be converted to the Commodore 64 by another coder, but the game never materialised. I don't know if we ever even saw the game, though I do remember that the coder complained that the music was over 5 kB in size and he wanted it to be less than 4 kB.
Another game we did the music for was ReadySoft's Guy Spy which was originally released on the Amiga; we had been commissioned to do the C64 music too, but the C64 game likewise never appeared. If you visit Frank Gasking's website at http://www.gamesthatwerent.com/gtw64/guy-spy/ you can download the SID file and play it back. It somehow got overlooked on the previous update to HVSC, as it has been available for download on the Games That Weren't site since early May 2015, after I discovered the source disks and found they were still working after 23 years in storage.
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 am most proud of Turbo Charge, mainly because in the June 1992 issue of Zzap!64 magazine, they voted its title music the best they'd heard that year, knocking Turrican II off the top spot! Also, to put the record straight, System 3 were the people who quoted "five-channel sound" from a method I was using to interleave more instruments out of the channels. The SID only has three channels, but you can trick the user into hearing more by using the interleaving method. I'm sure they only said this to raise interest in an attempt to sell more units! The only games that ever gave me real headaches were the Flair Software/Microvalue releases, because their intros didn't call the music player correctly, resulting in glitches in playback, and on their Ninja Rabbits release they even managed to corrupt some of the music data! Fortunately, the HVSC collection holds the corrected version.
If you had the chance to revisit any of your past games, what would you add, change or remove?
I would re-work the music on Elvira. That was the project I worked on shortly after a serious traffic accident which nearly killed me. It was the first project I worked on during my long recovery, and my mood wasn't great at the time.
Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
I would have loved to have done the original tunes for the game Outrun. I think Jason Brooke's versions weren't that great, and it is my all-time favourite arcade game, even now! The C64 game itself is a lesson in the dangers of porting a good game very badly.
Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
I played games very early on in my C64 period, less so later on. I loved games like Forbidden Forest, Archon, Ghostbusters, Daley Thompson's Decathlon, Commando, Finders Keepers, Chiller, Action Biker, Loco, Suicide Express, Paradroid, Hyper Sports, Sanxion, Monty on the Run, The Last Ninja series (except that I've never played The Last Ninja 3 on the C64 or even the Amiga – go figure!), Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Green Beret. As you know, if a bad game had music by one of the best musicians (e.g. Knucklebuster), it usually sold really well.
Were there any games you found so awful that you wish you'd had the chance to do a better job?
Although the ZX Spectrum version of Manic Miner was great, there was just something a bit nasty about the C64 conversion. I think the code wasn't based on the ZX Spectrum's game logic and the detections were a bit dicey; also, not all of the graphics were the same as in the Spectrum version.
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?
Around the time I started writing music players for the C64, the Maniacs of Noise were around, and the new sound they brought to the C64 was quite inspiring. They wrote very complex tunes and music players, and the sounds were cutting edge in my opinion. I used to listen to their tunes and try to figure out what their code was doing. I'm not that great at reverse-engineering someone else's code, mainly because programmers often have different ideas about how to achieve something.
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 absolutely loved going to computer shows back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they got progressively smaller and not so much fun to attend. Being tall, it meant traipsing around with backache for me, but also having a laugh and talking with people who could also communicate with you in hexadecimal! Another thing I did at a computer show was to deliver the Cosine game Reaxion to the Commodore Format stand for Jason, as it was going on their magazine's cover tape. I had written a custom tape loader system which had an animated star field and knocked out the top/bottom border during loading. When the game was released, they had used a cartridge to freeze the game and bypassed my tape loader, opting for one of their own. Then a few months later, another game was released with a set of familiar "border loading stripes" and the top and bottom borders knocked out too! Jason swears he's seen this game but can't remember what it was. I haven't seen it, so I can't comment any further. As far as we were aware at the time, disabling the top/bottom border during tape loading was a first back in 1994. I may be wrong, but I had never seen it before.
What are you up to these days?
I am still active on the C64 scene, the charm of the SID chip has never left me. I still get through two or three projects a year. Cosine have got a number of projects in the pipeline, some of which are complete and soon to be released, plus some more upcoming demos, so watch this space!
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.
I'm so happy that the C64 scene is still alive and kicking, long live the C64! If this isn't your point of view, then you're probably not a 40-something who remembers their teenage years being full of fun, all delivered by a computer lovingly referred to as the Beige Breadbin! Back then, people knew what to do with their computers and loved every single minute of it. We also didn't have any interweb-type things (only Compunet and BBS sites) and our lives weren't overrun by Facebook or dodgy porn sites. Why can't we wind the clock back 35 years and have that sense of fun all over again?
back to the list of available interviews