| Tell us about the
beginning of your computer career. How did it all start
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
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
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.
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.
was management, right?
He certainly was.
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
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.
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
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 got a job on the basis that he used to do teletext
graphics! Hehe! He wasn't around too long at Binary.
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
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.
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.
Hmmm... Wasn't the best game programmer around, as I recall.
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.
Don't see him any more.
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.
He was a real character, and a good friend at the time.
He looked like Hulk Hogan and drove a big daft American
Worked with us at Zippo for a while, and later became
a musician, but I think he's programming again now.
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.
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
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
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.
to the second part of the interview