Tell us about the beginning of your computer career. How did it all start off?
I was always into drawing and comics, and it was my brother John who was into computers early on. He got a ZX81 for christmas when I was 11 and learnt to program on that. I learnt a bit too, but I was most interested in using it to create pictures on the TV which was a real novelty then. We even tried to make a movie by programming each scene on the ZX81, moving characters around with text at the bottom, and videoing the result. John got a job programming games at a developer called Binary Design, and I did work experience there just to get out of school.

And just eight months after you began to work for Binary, you became their graphics manager. That sounds like you had a quite heavy responsibility.
I quite enjoyed it actually. Although I was one of the youngest there at the time, everyone else was young as well so it didn't seem that unusual. Also, I knew the job better than anyone else. I think I was quite confident in my abilities at the time.

What kind of a company was Binary Design?
Quite a large Manchester based English developer in the mid eighties, did a lot of 8-bit computer games, and a lot of budget games.

How did a typical day at the office look like?
We would go and get a Bacon on Toast and be back at the office to eat it by 11:30. There didn't seem much point in doing any work as it was nearly lunch time, so we'd discuss what records we were going to buy or something.

12:00-13:00 We'd walk around the shops in Manchester.

13:00-14:00 Realise that we hadn't had any food yet, but convinced ourselves that we deserved a longer lunch hour because we were so great at making computer games. Go to Pizza Hut or something.

15:00 Get back to work and look really busy.

15:30 Pop out of the office for a haircut (seriously) or to pick up something from HMV or Virgin that I'd spotted at lunch time and now decided to buy.

16:00-17:00 It was nearly the end of the day so we didn't get much done at this time. We'd unwind by playing some games or planning what we were going to do in the evening.

17:00 Went to the pub to spend our wads, and moan about how we were being ripped off by Andy Hieke.

So when did you actually get the job done?
Good question. Erm... Games were a lot simpler then, and there was a lot less work involved, but even then we always stayed at work 'till late.

Andy was management, right?
He certainly was.

In what way did he rip you off?
Nothing outragous really, just paying a bunch of kids fairly low wages (compared to what the games were earning, but they were high wages for school leavers like me). My brother John wrote or designed most of the successful and critically acclaimed games while we were there (Zub, Amaurote, Feud, Glider Rider), but when he asked for a pay raise one time he was told he was costing Andy money because the games that should have taken three months took four months to write.

How did the the office look like?
It was a large open plan office space, with blocks of three desks evenly spaced. Each block of three desks contained three programmers, one Spectrum programmer, one Amstrad programmer, and one C64 programmer. This block of desks formed a 'team' who would ideally all be working on one project, with the three programmers each writing different platform versions of the same game. The artists and one musician were originally shoved behind a partition at the end of the room, and were responsible for all the graphics on all the projects. Later the artists were put into a separate room, and we had a ridiculous situation where the programming teams had to submit 'graphics request forms' for anything they needed in their games, which went on a pile and were completed in the order they were submitted. Artists weren't full time members of the team in those days, although usually one artist did all the graphics on a particular project.

Did you go to the computer shows in London?
Yeah, but I hated them after the first one. You never see anything exciting and your feet ache after one hour. There's nowhere to sit and the food costs a fortune. And you're surrounded by geeks! I now avoid those shows unless I have to be there.

How were the early years in general?
Good fun. We all pissed about a lot, but did work a lot of late hours when neccessary. A lot of us still lived at home, so we had a lot of money in our pockets, a lot for 16-18 year olds anyway. We had some good times and made a lot of good friends.

What about the years at Zippo Games, Rare and Creations?

Zippo was cool because it was our own thing. We did some very good games but didn't really manage the business as well as we could have done. I think if we'd stuck at it through a very difficult patch, we'd be thought of the same way as Westwood or Rare or somebody like that by now.

We were never really at Rare. They bought Zippo Games, so for a while Zippo became 'Rare Manchester'. It didn't really work out very well.

Creations was work. We brought a lot to the company when we joined, and had a hand in most of their successes at the time, but at the end of the day it wasn't appreciated. They're just a conversion house now.

What were the worst working conditions you had?
When I first started at Software Creations. They had a suite of tiny offices on Oxford Street (over the 'Spar' now), with about 20-30 people crammed in. I was in a room with about eight people in, which was really only big enough for two. There were two desks facing each wall, and each person had half a desk each, so there were four people facing one wall, and four people facing the opposite wall. If you moved your chair back you banged into the back of the chair of the person behind you. You couldn't stretch your arms to the left or right or you would knock one of the people sat next to you.

I have put together a list of people you worked with in the past. Please tell us a little bit about them!

Andrew Routledge
Andrew became a very good friend of mine. He started at Binary about one week before me and we worked together a lot. We used to hang out together a fair bit, were in a band together, and had all sorts of mad adventures. He's still a good friend but he lives and works in the US now, so I only see him once a year or so.

Jeremy Nelson
Jeremy got a job on the basis that he used to do teletext graphics! Hehe! He wasn't around too long at Binary.

David Whittaker
My first boss. David taught me a lot, and was (and still is) a great guy. Went to the US to work for EA for a long time.

Pete Harrison
Pete started as an artist at the beginning of Binary Design, then later became a programmer. He worked at Software Creations with us later on, and I still speak to him from time to time, although he's not in video games these days.

Michael Delves
Mike became a good friend also, and we had some adventures. Mike still works around here in video games, a producer now, and we have drink now and then.

John Flynn
Hmmm... Wasn't the best game programmer around, as I recall.

Andy Hieke
He turned up running Nintendo of America's internal studio a while back, then the last I heard he was at Humungous, a studio bought by Infogrames.

Lee Cowley
Don't see him any more.

Pete Gartside
My main memory of Pete was that he used to carry a worn copy of Lord of the Rings around in his pocket, and was nearly always still pissed from the night before when he came to work in the morning.

"Sarge P.B.A."
He was a real character, and a good friend at the time. He looked like Hulk Hogan and drove a big daft American car.

Jason Brooke
Worked with us at Zippo for a while, and later became a musician, but I think he's programming again now.

Steve Hughes
Went to the US and had his own studio for a while, then worked for Zed Two for a while when he returned. Working for himself now I think, doing web stuff.

Paul Ranson
My brother's friend from school who started at Binary at the same time as John. Left to set up his own studio in Leamington Spa, I think. We still bump into him from time to time at trade shows etc.

How would you describe your relationship with your brother John? How come you've been able to create such great games together?
Well, we have complimentary skills, and we know each other well enough to 'get' each others ideas quickly, which helps when bouncing ideas around, and we know that even if we fall out we have to stay friends!

Today you got a development company together called Zed Two. Is there a story behind it?
Straight after Binary we set up Zippo and we did some great games but never made any money, and didn't stick it out. This is our second attempts - hence Zed Two - and we want to get it right this time.

Why giving it another try?
Because of an inability to get games written at the previous developer we were working at. The company was too big, which meant there was lots of bureaucracy involved, too many meetings etc., and the size of the company meant that everybody seemed to work slower for some reason. It was also becoming increasingly difficult to work on anything original.

Do you at times feel that things are tough because you've always prefered doing something original instead of, let's say, an arcade conversion?
Most definitely. It's hard to get new game ideas off the ground. It was hard then, and its only gotten harder since.

You've always worked for companies that worked for other publishers. What has been the advantages/disadvantages working that way?
No advantages particularly except that if you are working for a developer, your job may be a little more secure in that developing games is that companies main business, and they are not going to stop unless they go bust. If you work developing for a publisher then there is always the chance that the publisher will decide to stop developing and concentrate on publishing, their core business, and contract out their development. Most games are written by developers and not by publishers, and this will continue to be true for the forseeable future.

Let take care of some personal things before we move on to talk about the games you've worked on.

Birth place and date: 25th December 1969, Stockport, England.

Reside in: Manchester, England.

Interests: I enjoy playing good quality computer games of all genres, but Miyamoto's Nintendo games are my favourites. I support Manchester City Football Club, and play 5 a Side football with the lads from Creations. Occasionally paint, and I used to draw and write a lot of comic strips, and publish fanzines, but I don't have enough spare time for that any more.

Music taste: I've been bang into house, techno, hip hop and breakbeat since the late eighties but I also listen to indie, rock, funk and other styles. A selection of some of my favourite artists: Chemical Brothers, Derrick May, Sasha, Jimi Hendrix, Stone Roses, New Order, Ennio Morricone, Spacemen 3 / Spiritualized, Alex Reece, etc.

What makes Ste happy: Man City winning a home game!

Goal in life: To be able to produce work as good as we are capable of, without having to compromise to the whims of unimaginative marketing man or timid publishers. Any other rewards will come from the work we produce.

» Continue to the second part of the interview

» Get the games - he did graphics for. From the Speccy to the Amstrad, and yes.. erm.. the C64.

» Softography - not only the C64 stuff.

» - Visit Z2's homepage.

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