What was the first thing you ever drew on a computer?
Probably a picture of the spaceship out of the comic strip 'Nemesis', on the ZX81, which I sent in to 2000AD magazine. They printed it and I got five pounds!

And the first thing you did for a game?
The titlescreen (and Amstrad graphics) for Ghosts'n Goblins. Strangely John did a graphic adventure a year or so before called Ghost Town which he sold to Virgin, and I didn't do any graphics for that at all. I can't remember why. He probably thought he could draw better than me!

The best one?
The best game is probably Wetrix, although there aren't that many graphics in it. I don't really have a favourite set of graphics for a game, there's something wrong with all of them. I was very pleased with the way Ken Griffey turned out. We did a really professional job which was technically very good - and on time.

The worst one?
The Amiga version of World Darts was embarrassing because it had some of the most atrocious graphics in it I'd ever seen. They weren't done by me, but I didn't want my name on it all the same. Same with Spiderman and X-men; a disaster of a game which I only helped out on at the end, but not one to be proud of.

The hardest one?
Converting all the graphics for Maximum Carnage from the SNES to the Genesis, virtually on my own in a few weeks, without knowing how they worked, and whilst fixing all the problems with the SNES graphics because the lead artist had done a runner.

The best arcade conversion?

I worked on a conversion of a virtually unknown coin-op called Motos, which was a great little game. Plok on the SNES was based on a game called Fleapit which we wrote on Rare's RAZZ arcade hardware.

The one that drove you completely insane?
Probably Spiral Saga which we were doing as a follow up to Equinox on the Playstation, because it was taking forever. Its since been cancelled.

The one done in shortest time?
All the old Spectrum and C64 games were done in a really short time by today's standards, but at the time we were always late so they don't count. I guess Wetrix has been developed at the quickest pace.

The one that took the longest to paint?
Equinox. It wasn't that it took that long, the game took about 1 and 1/2 years, but there was only John and myself on it for most of that time. The game took forever to get approved by Nintendo, and we had to keep making unnecessary changes. They finally let us bring the game out with a virtually identical version to the one we originally submitted!

But Equinox was the first SNES game you did and the first SNES game to be done outside Japan. Atleast that must have been exciting.
Definately. That's why we both moved to Software Creations, to work on the only SNES development kit available, but I think that put a few noses out of joint at Creations as there were some people who'd been there for years and resented John and I coming in and getting the plum job.

How did the working progress look like from idea to finished product?
Its hard to describe, except to say that you do need imagination to see the finished game in your head, as what you see on the screen mid project is not always encouraging. Inexperienced managers often think that projects are going disastrously wrong because they still look broken until very close to completion, but that's the way development works.

Did you ever ran out of ideas?
We've never run out of ideas, we just run out of time to develop them.

Let's talk a bit more in-depth about the C64 games you've worked on, starting from the top with 180.
I had a real soft spot for this game. It was the first thing I worked on when I started my job at Binary Design, and of course the hand is copied off my own hand. It was hard to do because I needed two hands to work the (keyboard) controls of the sprite editor I was using, so I had to keep lifting up my right hand and doing the dart throw motion, then quickly try to plot the right pixels using both hands while I held that image in my mind.

This one was a bit of a bodge. My brother originally designed Amaurote on the Spectrum, and it was based around an isometric 3D landscape system, and pretty much designed for the Spectrum full stop. At that time, virtually every game we did was for Spectrum/Amstrad/C64, so we had to come up with an adaptation of the game for the C64, which wasn't really satisfactory. At the time I was only really used to monochrome graphics. Most of the drawing I did in my spare time was black and white line art, and most of the computer work I had done was monochrome, so I didn't have much clue about colour, hehe, and I seem to remember Amaurote being a little ugly. I was quite proud of the font I designed for the game, although looking back its almost unreadable!

What were the difficulties and advantages in drawing graphics on the Speccy compared to the C64?
I hated working on the C64 - the pixels weren't square, the colours were random and washed out, the graphics tools were always terrible and the video output was awful, so I was always squinting at the screen to see what I was doing. I always worked on the C64 quite reluctently, probably explaining why I never did anything good on it. The Spectrum was better because I had a great sprite editor (written by my brother) and a great screen editor (Melbourne Draw), even though storage was a pain. The Amstrad was good to work on because it was the only machine with a decent monitor - not a TV.

What about Death Wake then?
I did nothing on this game except provide an 8x8 pixel font, as I was quite good at making readable fonts (which was a rare skill, believe it or not). This was my brother John's first project at Binary Design. I think he had eight weeks in which to design and write the game from scratch.

I have no good memories of this project. The 'concept' such as it was came down from above, from the publisher. Probably Ron Harris if my memory serves correctly: "We want a game called Defcom!!". So, nobody on the team actually wanted to make this game, or had any love of the idea or anything, and there wasn't really an idea as such. In those days (or at that company) there wasn't a position of 'game designer'. The project (in this case just a title) was given to the team to write, with a deadline. From a management point of view I don't think that there was any recognition that there was a development stage missing; that a game had to be designed, that the title itself didn't explain to the team exactly what the content of the game they were producing was. So, the programmers just started working out ways for spaceships to fly over a rotating earth, as that was the 'idea' of the game. I recall that the guy writing the C64 version wasn't the best programmer around, and used whatever the simplest technique was which got the quickest results, regardless of the implications for the rest of the project. Ultimately I suppose this was a rewarding project, as this was a valuable lesson in "how not to make a video game".

Feud was another game designed by my brother. In the light of projects like Defcom, John was pushing for the concept of 'game design' to be recognised at Binary Design. It was a real struggle to get across the idea that somebody should design a game before we start to write it, that the design itself was quite important to the quality of the finished product, and that the design was worth paying for. Anyway, he got the Feud design accepted, and he wrote the Spectrum version, which was quite good. The idea was that you were a wizard, having a 'death match' with another wizard. You both competed for resources (the spell ingredients) needed to fight each other. It was a simple concept, but centrally important were the two ideas that the map was real (i.e. each screen joined properly with the next, and you could learn shortcuts etc.) and the game kept track of items on the map (if you picked up a certain herb, it was unavailable to the other wizard for a while, and vice versa), and that the other wizard had proper AI to navigate around the map so you could really race him or he could beat you, and you could chase each other.

The C64 programmer was the same guy who worked on Defcom. Instead of using my map (which all joined up properly) he just created a list of 'screens', and plonked objects like trees, bushes, huts etc. here and there on each screen. He then just decided randomly whether or not the enemy wizard should appear at the edge of the screen you were on. So the wizard could walk off the bottom of the screen, then instantly walk back on the top. There was no map as such to keep track of the enemy wizard on, and no code to even attempt to keep track of your enemy. More valuable lessons: even with a good game design, it was still possible to make a game completely the wrong way.

Did the bosses care about crap ports at all and did you at any time point out to the bosses that someone wasn't skilled enough to do his job?
Erm, well John and I were never scared of speaking our minds, so we probably did mention it, but it wasn't our company, and we were both only young. The owner of the company was, understandably, primarily concerned with meeting deadlines and getting paid rather than with the artistic merits of each game.

Ghosts'n Goblins
It was actually the Amstrad titlescreen that I did. Before that I'd done tons of titlescreens like that for myself of existing games or game adverts, which nobody ever saw. I was just a computer geek. I did all the graphics for the Amstrad version and the titlescreen was converted to the C64 by Mike Webb who wrote his own converter program. I had nothing to do with it really.

Shite, maan! One of my favourite pics wasn't draw on the C64!
A lot of people are surprised by this. Like I said, I was never a C64 kid. I hated the blurred, washed out colours, and the fact that all the graphics editors required a joystick. It just goes to prove that the Z80 machines were better!

You really don't like the C64, do you?! Was there anything good about it?
The only good thing about the C64 was that it could move sprites around fast so you could have more 50/60Hz games.

And that's it?

Did you do any in-game graphics for Glider Rider or just the titlescreen?
As with Death Wake, I did nothing on this other than the font and the titlescreen.

My mind is completely blank!

How come you worked on Knight Games 2? I mean, it was not a Binary release.
This was something I did for Phil Morris of English Software (or Phil English as we called him), whose offices were right behind Binary Design's. Quite a few of us from Binary used to nip down there at lunch time some days and get 'foreigners' from him, short little freelance jobs that we would do in the evenings or weekends. I never met the programmer or had anything much to do with the game, I was just given some backgrounds to do. As with Amaurote, I wasn't really very good at C64 colour graphics, so this isn't really anything I have any great affection for.

Max Headroom
Same as Glider Rider and Death Wake.

This was a neat little coin-op we did a conversion of. No other memories...

Scooby Doo
Another foreigner I did for Mike Webb, who was previously one of the founders of Binary Design, and who went on to be one of the owners of Software Creations (my future employers), but who at the time was working freelance. I was in Binary Design working one Saturday (for free!) and he popped in and asked me to do some conversion work on some sprites from the Spectrum version, which I did. Nothing much really.

Another game like Feud and Amaurote designed by my brother, with the Spectrum in mind really. It was a game that we never properly finished as it needed some more gameplay features (pickups etc.) to round it out, but we didn't have time. I remember that the C64 version wasn't really satisfactory.

Who is your favourite programmer, artist and musician from the old days?
The guy who wrote Tau Ceti on the Spectrum, and the guy who wrote the Hewson games on the Spectrum. Artist would have to be Tim Stamper from Ultimate (Rare). Those first Spectrum games blew my mind and really inspired me. Musician? It would have to be Dave Whittaker. Not for the music (sorry Dave), but just because I liked him.

Were you ever involved in the demo scene?
I wasn't really involved in the demo scene. That was a C64 thing and I was always a Spectrum kid. We didn't have modems or anything on the Spectrum. Any demos with my name on were done by my friend HAL (who now works for EA writing FIFA games), a C64 programmer I met at Binary Design.

What is the most giving thing you've got through your computer interest?
Hmm, not sure exactly what you mean here... I've made some great friendships over the years with the people I've worked with, but I'm not sure that's to do with computers particularly, although this industry does attract some real 'characters' and interesting people. As I've gotten older, I think that the fond memories people have of the older 8-bit games I've worked on is very nice to hear about. Its heart warming to think that you've provided such great memories for other people.

Do you still have the old 8-bit systems lying around?
I wanted to keep them, but I never did. You don't really need them thanks to emulators. We have an old NES, including one with a disk drive built in, a PC Engine and an old MSX lying around at work.

How about doing something on the 8-bit machines again, just for fun?
Hell no! Making games is fun, but hard work and time consuming. I wouldn't go through the effort required to make a game unless I thought it was for a platform that people were actually using!

Despite hating the C64, do you have any final words for all of us who actually liked the stuff you did on this machine?

You were all wrong - the Spectrum was better!

» Go back to the first 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.

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