Welcome to John! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hi everyone! My name John Buckley. I’m 44 years old, married with two children aged 16 and 11. I have worked within the games industry since 1982. During this time I have worked for Century Electronics, Icon Design, and Software Creations. I have been self-employed for the last nine years or so.

How did you get started in programming and what inspired you?
I first started programming while in the 6th form at school. At that time, computers were the size of small rooms and were not available. Lucky for me a teacher was himself doing an evening course at a local university. He would teach us what he had learned the night before even though it was Fortran! As for inspiration, I have always been interested in games. As a child, I always liked going to the arcade and playing the slot machines and pinball tables. Not many video machines around though.

What were your first and last ever productions on the C64?
The first thing I did on the C64 was called Jeep Command. I did this in my spare time including the graphics and sound FX. If you have seen it, you will know I ain’t no artist! I sent it off to Bug Byte I think, and they put some music on it and shipped it out. The last thing I did was Solar Jetman, which never got released... until now.

Out of all the games you have worked on, which were you most proud and disappointed with?
I can’t say I am disappointed with anything I worked on. Most of them were conversions, some I wish I hadn’t of worked on but such is life. I liked working on Solar Jetman on the C64 but overall I am most proud of PLOK on the SNES.

You are famous for working on some top games at Software Creations, one of which was Sly Spy Secret Agent with Mike Ager. Which was a great James Bond style game. What was it like to work on a large game like this? And were you pleased with how the game got on with the public and magazines?
I enjoyed working on Sly spy but it probably caused me the most headaches. It was my first project for Software creations. I was drafted in to help with the C64 version, which was way off schedule. The only way to get it done on time was to take half the levels and work in parallel with Mike, hence a lot of loading between levels. I was working in a small room with four otherpeople so we had a few laughs. I’m not sure how it did in the Mags’ but it was an Ocean release so that would have helped.

Were there any particular games that you would have loved to have worked on yourself, or converted from arcade?
Hunchback, Zaxxon and Pang. I just loved playing these games.

In the late 80’s, Lothlorien released one of your titles, Psycho Hopper. There's a rumour that the game had the sub-title FMB, which stood for F**king Mad B**tard, and a series of games were to be released under this sub-label. Can you elaborate any more on the rumours and how this idea evolved?
Where did these rumours come from? But yes, it was known as Psycho Hopper FMB as you describe. I’m not sure why. I think we where all just a bit barking mad at the time! We were suffering from pay cheque withdrawal symptoms, even the cheques were bouncing! As for a sub-label, I think someone is pulling your pi^^er.

Out of all the work you’ve done, which game caused the most late nights and headaches to create?
I didn’t do late nights. I had a young family at the time and they came first. As for the headaches, see Sly Spy above.

Did anyone’s work on the C64 inspire you with your own creations, or was it from other fields that inspired you?
No, not really. There was a lot of good stuff at the time, especially some demos. I can remember when someone had got hold of a new demo, everyone would gather round and we would start working out how they were done. It seemed new things were being discovered all the time. The C64 was a machine that always had one last secret to reveal, I guess that’s why it’s still popular.

What was it like to work along with the likes of Martin Holland, Haydn Dalton, Tim Follin, and Geoff Follin? There are rumours of Software Creations being a bit of a laugh in the old days. :)
I think I was at Oxford Road for about a year before we moved to Park Place. It was a grubby suite of offices that we all crammed into, but as you say, we had a laugh. Surroundings were much better when we moved to Park Place and we still had a laugh. I was lucky enough to have worked with some great guys back then! I bet other people have similar experiences with other developers. The good old days! Or am I just gettin' old?

Alongside the late Martin Holland, you both worked on an incredible sounding game called Vale of Shadows, featuring some amazing sequences. Strangely for a game of such promise, it was never mentioned in the magazines, which seems a shame. What was the reason for the games' demise and how was the project shaping up before the axe fell?
Vale of Shadows was a working title. It was also know as Dragon Vale, but I never saw any dragons. It was an adventure type game with animating scenes and a pseudo 3D map section. Martin’s graphics were very nice, especially the faces. I had him drawing 16 faces, each face was split horizontally into four sections. Hair, eyes, nose, mouth, chin and neck. I told him I wanted each section to fit graphically to any of the other sections and I wanted both male and females. He told me in not so many words it couldn’t be done, and then went away and did it. And it worked. It worked so well that as I generated the faces I would give them a name suggested by their graphical appearance. His animated scene graphics were also excellent, probably the best graphics I have seen him do.

However, the project would never see the light of day. Icon Design was down on its knees, people weren’t getting paid. They went into liquidation, they reformed and immediately employed Doug Anderson (former director of A&F), Pete Andrew and myself. We were the programmers for the Amiga, ST and C64 versions of Vale of Shadows. For some reason they didn’t keep on any artists, so after we had got most of what we were owed, Pete and I left and that was that. Unfortunately I have no disks, code or graphics for the game. I’m not sure if Martin had any or not.

Were there ever any disagreements or problems encountered when creating any games?
All the time. I think disagreements and arguments are part of the game making process.

Recently, Haydn Dalton uncovered the once lost Solar Jetman conversion that both you and Haydn converted from the popular NES title. Although completed and a fantastic conversion at that, it was never released. After all that hard work and a great outcome, how did you react to it not being released on the market? Was Sale’s Curve’s belief justified?
I personally wasn’t that bothered. I was already gearing up to partner Tony Pomfret and Lyndon Brook working on Super Off Road on the SNES. Solar Jetman (original) was a strange sort of game. Some people loved it, others hated it. I loved playing it because I gave it time, but I wouldn’t of bought it. I still think it should have been released though. The C64, Amiga and ST versions were fully complete and the Spectrum version was well on the way. It could have been a classic!

Were there features or aspects you would have liked to have added to the Solar Jetman conversion, but couldn’t for certain reasons?
I tried to stick as close as possible to the original. It would have been nice to of had some more of Geoff’s music in, a new tune per level perhaps.

A mysterious game exists in the C64 world as a preview called Dreadnaught, which is credited to you. No full version has ever been seen, and no other information is really known. Was this ever completed and who was it being developed for?
As far as I am aware, Dreadnaught was finished. I think it was being developed for Argus Press Software. If I can remember, it was a eight way scroller, space shoot 'em up. It was an in-house original but not my spec.

In your time on the C64, were there any other games that you worked on, which sadly became scrapped or never quite made the light of day?
I converted Clue Master Detective (the American version of Cluedo). I’m not sure if that was released or not.

Out of all the games you’ve played what was your favourite game on the C64 and on other systems?
Hmm... I think on the C64 it would be Dropzone or Boulder Dash and Super Mario World on the SNES.

Who were your favourite C64 coder/s, artist/s and musician/s at that time, or even today?
That’s a hard one. I think there are a lot of good coders but if I had to single one out I would have to say Ste Ruddy (he promised me the most money). I couldn’t pick an artist, they are all good and they just have their own style. As for musician, I would say Tim Follin, but his brother Geoff was also very good.

What would you say impressed you most about the C64, and for what reasons?
At the time, I was most impressed with the video and sound chips. They were what programmers of that time were looking for, a base for their inspiration.

Would you say that the C64 was just a step in your programming life or was it a major inspiration for the future?
I would have to say a step, be it a major one.

Do you still own a C64 today, and if so, do you still play it?
No. Over the years, my stuff just seems to have disappeared. You haven’t got it, have you Frank?

What are your current activities?
I am still a software engineer. Recently we have done a SWP (skill with prize) pool game for the arcades/pub market. It’s a simple 2D pool game that you can win money on. It also has a national tournament feature. We give a car away every five to six weeks. It has a neat fingerprint recognition system for player identification. You can check it out at www.playpooluk.com if you’re interested.

If I was to tell you that with a C64, you can now connect a hard drive, a CD-rom, 20 Mhz accelerators, Internet connection (with a graphical browser) and also play Doom-like games, would you think I was totally insane?
No, C64 enthusiasts are all insane. I was once one of them. That was the buzz back then, I just didn’t know it still went on.

What is your take on the whole retro phenominon which is going on today with classic games and machines?
These machines have a place in history. Many a masterpiece was written and drawn from someone’s back bedroom. Playability is sometimes given a back seat with the modern consoles of today and I think this factor is beginning to fuel the retro scene.

Sadly, Martin Holland, an ex-colleague of yours, sadly passed away recently. Is there anything you would wish to say, or mark as an act of respect to him?
Just like to pass on my best wishes to his family. I knew Martin for a number of years and worked with him on many projects. I had lost contact with him since leaving Creations and was shocked when I heard he had passed away.

Please feel free to send any greetings to anyone you know.
I would just like to say hi to everyone who knows me from the good old days at Icon Design and Software Creations. There are far too many to name but you know who you are. Cheers Frank and thanks for all the hard work. Solar Jetman wouldn’t of been found without your persistence. A job well done!

Go back to the interviews »

» F.A.Q. - look here before you send off an email.

» Credits - the list of people who made all this possible.

» Links - to the top C64 sites out there.

Scene interviews - C64 sceners answer 20 questions about their time in the scene.