So, starting off, how did you first get started with computers and programming in general?
In the late 1970's, computer games consoles first made their appearance, and you had to plug in a different cartridge to play a different game. I had one of these, made by a company called Radofin (what you might call a Poor Man’s Atari), and eventually they advertised Hobby Module which they claimed was a cartridge through which you could design your own games.

Although knowing nothing about computers or processors at that time, this sounded like a great idea! The price at about £85, was not so great. But curiosity and interest won the day, and it was only after I got it home that I realised what a mammoth task it was going to be to use it. The chip used was a Signetics 2650 (still used in arcade machines, I believe), and it had to be programmed in HEX, after hand assembling your instructions. That was bad enough, but to really make my day, the so-called instruction book contained so many errors that I am surprised that anybody got it to do anything.

Once entered into it’s very limited memory, the program could be saved by connecting a tape recorder. I also remember how easily it got corrupted by electrical spikes. Even a fridge turning ON/OFF was enough to wipe the lot! However, I did get it working, interrupts and all, and the first game I developed on it went on to become California Gold Rush on the C64.

Compared to most of the developers at the time, you seemed to have started late and was considered as a granddad of games development along with the likes of John Gibson. Do you feel that your extra experience compared to the younger generation of developers helped you to develop better games?
I don’t think age really came into it at the time. We were all self-taught, learning to program in machine code as an interest. I had no intention at the time of making a career out of it. One thing I was very proud of. When I decided the code was complete, and tested, it went to be mastered and I believe I was one of the very few who never suffered from a late bug being discovered, requiring an expensive remastering exercise. I’m sure sheer determination played a huge part as well. I spent many a very late night trying to work out why something wasn’t working as I thought it should.

One of the earliest jobs you had was as a developer for Imagine Software, before the famous breakdown of the company in 1984. What are your memories of working there, and also of when the liquidators came in?
I was only with Imagine for a few months, being taken on early in 1984, mainly on the strength of California Gold Rush which had been released the previous year. Unfortunately, the marketing company did a bunk, and I never saw a penny! I was extremely impressed with the offices in Tithebarn Street, and thought I had really landed on my feet with such a company. When the liquidators came in, we were all ordered to leave the building, and I remember having a dickens of a job convincing them that some equipment was my own personal property. The next few weeks were a bit of a nightmare. I had only just taken out a mortgage on a Liverpool property, and was now out of work.

Whilst at Imagine, did you ever have any part on the Mega Games? Can you remember anything about the Mega Games in particular?
I assume you mean Pschylapse and Bandersnatch, which the "A team" (as they were known) were involved in. By and large, they occupied their own offices and the rest of the programming team were not invited in, so I know very little about this.

You were briefly featured in the documentary of Imagine Software called Commercial Breaks, working on a C64. There is a game on the screen, but we can’t quite make it out. Can you shed any light about what you were working on? What happened to it after the crash of Imagine?
I worked on two projects whilst at Imagine. The first was a general purpose program, designed to make games programming easier. Originally written in a form of BASIC, the idea was to have a central framework to manipulate sprites etc., onto which individual routines could be added according to a games' requirements. I did complete it, but I don’t believe that it was ever used. The second project was not a game but a program aimed at providing toddlers around the three-four age group with shape and colour recognition tasks. This was almost completed, but all the source code was on the SAGE development machine, impounded by the bailiffs when the crash came. I have no idea what happened to it after that.

Soon after Imagine closed its doors, you joined Software Projects, where you worked on Dragon's Lair and Harvey Smith Showjumper. How was it like to work at Software Projects?
I considered myself very lucky to get a job with them. Probably three quarters of the recently out-of work Imagine programmers applied, only two or three were taken on. It was, of couse, a much smaller company than Imagine, but I had a lot of happy memories of my time there.

Dragon's Lair was a rather ambitious conversion, which you did an excellent job of. Although not featuring the Laser Disc features of the arcade, you managed to capture some of the game’s crucial elements and used good imagination to work within the restrictions of the C64. Were you pleased with the results of the game?
Dragon’s Lair was very much a team effort, with several of us working on different scenarios at the same time. We were very pleased with what we were able to do on the C64, and lucky to have an arcade machine at our disposal to work from!

The game also featured an ingenious loading system, where as you played the first level, the second loaded in for you and so on. Sadly it was rarely used, and maybe could have solved many tiresome loading waits in the future. Did you develop the loader yourself?
I was heavily involved with the Turbo Loader, as we called it, spending a lot of time attempting to produce a loader that could not be copied by tape-to-tape machines. Piracy was a big problem even in those days. We did it too! But unfortunately, the professional copiers could not cope with it either, so we could not use it for mass production.

As well as coding games, you also found yourself composing the odd tune; most notably stepping in quickly to compose a new tune for Showjumper, after Rob Hubbard’s tune was dropped for possibly breaking copyrights. Was composing a particular pain for you, or a much-needed break from the stress of coding?
Although only an amateur musician, I taught myself to play the organ over many years, I have been known to compose the odd jingle or sound effect, and I did write the sound driver for Showjumper. However, the main tune was down to a guy called Mozart, his terrific Horn Concerto No. 4. Funny, I never heard that Rob Hubbard was involved at all!

Two things I do remember about Showjumper. Firstly, Harvey Smith walked off with somebody elses wife, and Boots and WH Smith etc. refused to stock it. Secondly, because of different TV systems, the American NTSC version suffered from flicker at the top of the screen. Could I fix it? Yes, I could, but it would have been a lot easier if I could have been given an NTSC machine to work with! As it was, I would make some changes, and zapp it across the big pond to see if it worked. Talk about judging a beauty competition over the phone! Took a couple of months, I seem to remember.

Moving onwards, you later moved onto Ocean Software. What was it like to work within the "dungeons" as it was so well known?
I think Ocean were one of the greatest companies I have ever worked for. I always felt that I was one of the team. Good bonuses were given for projects completed to spec and on time, and my colleagues were a really fun crowd to work with. Working below ground level, the crypt of an earlier church, was a bit off-putting at first, but you soon got used to it.

Your Ocean days put you behind possibly one of the greatest Commodore 64 games of all time with the C64 conversion of Head Over Heels, scoring a fantastic 98 percent in Zzap!64. How did it feel to achieve such high status with this conversion?
I was very proud of Head over Heels. It was always going to be an uphill struggle to reach the speeds required, and I spent hours and hours, pacing up and down (quite usual for me in those days) in an effort to cut execution time to the bare minimum. On some of the larger, busier screens I thought we were struggling, but isometric projection does require an enormous amount of processing time.

Apparently the conversion of Head Over Heels was quite painstaking to get up to speed compared to its Z80 counterpart. Did you really convert the code line by line?
I was very lucky to have the original Z80 code at my disposal, and the code itself was very well commented. Most of the time I could work out what the routine was doing, and decide how to do it in eight-bit code (the Z80 has some 16-bit registers). Where it was not so clear, I did indeed convert line by line. The problem with that approach is that large chunks of code were written without being able to test it en route.

Are there any other stories to tell about the conversion? Were there many late nights trying to get it finished?
As I remember, there were always late nights on every project that I worked on. I was always extremely conscious of projected completion dates, and was determined not to exceed them. To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the work as well, and what a feeling of satisfaction when a project was completed!

Another good conversion was Gryzor. Though one thing killed the game for many games players, was the use of the space bar to perform jumps and drop downs in the game. What was the reason for its inclusion, and was it something you felt hindered the game in anyway?
Joysticks in those days were limited to the four directions and a fire button. Where extra controls were needed, unfortunately there was little alternative but to use the keyboard and the space bar was less trouble than the others. It was something we were conscious of, and a lot of time was spent trying to avoid it’s use. Eventually, it was simply the best that we could do at the time.

Operation Wolf was yet another top class conversion from yourself on the C64, considered to be one of the best conversions of the arcade game on home computer. What was your experience of working on this conversion, and how did you feel about the outcome of the game?
I was extremely pleased with this conversion. The screen itself was required to scroll horizontally left and right for about three quarters of it’s width, the right hand part being devoted to ammo icons etc., and could not scroll. Those that are familiar with the C64 scrolling capabilities will know that this could not be done in a conventional way. Either all the screen scrolls or none of it does. I remember getting asked for years afterwards how it was done. Actually, the whole screen did scroll, but the character maps making up the "stationary" part were manipulated in the opposite direction in synch to give the impression of a static screen for that part. The vertically multiplexed "energy" indicator sprite hid the join. I think the graphic artists did a great job on that game, too.

Recently you shed light on one of the biggest game mysteries by naming yourself as the missing coder of Parasol Stars. Rumours were rife about the game being stolen from the developer’s home, but it was not quite true. What happened?
My wife and I had not been getting on very well (usually rowing about her drinking habits), and she decided to go back to her first husband of twenty years earlier. Before leaving, she broke or corrupted all the disks she could find, including all the Parasol Stars developments and back-ups. She expressed extreme remorse afterwards (she was two different people depending on whether she had been drinking), but the damage was done. I only had a disk previously shown to Ocean, about three months old, which had remained in my briefcase since showing it to them. They, unfortunately, could not spare the time for me to repeat the work. I really felt that I had let them down, but there was nothing else I could do. I am grateful that they were so understanding, but I didn’t get any more work from them.

Had the game been completed, do you feel you had a solid conversion there? Jason Page from Graftgold told us that they were going to handle the C64 conversion, but felt it was impossible to do because of all the sprites needed. Did you manage to overcome those sorts of problems?
The amount of movement required on the screen was daunting considering the C64’s limitation of eight sprites at a time horizontally. At times I was using characters rather than sprites to increase the number of moving objects available (I used the same approach in Operation Wolf). These take more processing time to animate etc. Although I intended attempting to make it a two player game, all the work done up to the finishing point was for a single player only. I’m not sure that two player was possible given the C64’s limitations, but I would sure have given it my best shot!

As we already know, Keith Tinman was the musician for the game, but who was to be behind all the graphical work?
I was doing the graphics myself, in a primitive way. No doubt the Ocean artists could have tweaked them somewhat once all the routines were working. Ocean were happy with my efforts in the first stages, certainly. I was, after all, copying from the original arcade version which always is easier than designing graphics from scratch.

Although destroyed, you mentioned a three month version of the game that survived. What are the chances of it ever being found?
About six months or so ago, having attempted to find anybody to take them off my hands, I disposed of all my Commodore gear. This included two C64's, a D128, several disk drives, two monitors and a printer. I certainly disposed of a lot of disks at the same time, and it is likely that the Parasol Stars development was amongst them. However, I have since found quite a lot of development disks, including Operation Wolf, Gryzor and Head over Heels so there is still a chance that it might turn up.

Were there any other games you worked on which never saw the light of day either on the C64 or other machines?
Finding myself out of work after the Parasol Stars disaster, I attempted to find other companies to work for. After all, I had a pretty good reputation. However, I was then heading for the ripe old age of 50, and I’m sure that worked against me. Having converted Head over Heels onto the Atari ST, (what a terrific processor to work with – and all those colours!) I toyed with the idea of a version two, with extra features to enhance the playability and toughness. Of course, I had no title to the original characters, but thought that Ocean might be interested if I managed it. I’m sure that I still have some of this development work about somewhere. I still have the ST up in the attic.

How did you generally carry out your C64 development and what tools did you use?
Ocean had its own "tokenised" assembler which assembled the code and transferred it to the target machine. Very efficient, but I remember having words with a colleague who insisted on using the ADD instruction (which used a clear carry instruction first) rather than the ADC (add with carry) instruction which did not. In many cases, the extra CLC instruction was superfluous, and simply used extra execution time which could be ill afforded.

What game were you most happy with on the C64 (or other system), and which was you most disappointed with, and why?
From a personal point of view, the Head over Heels Atari version gave me most satisfaction. It was on a new (to me) processor, with plenty of speed and plenty of colours. Starting with the Amstrad four colour graphics, I managed to increase the visual impact dramatically by using a 16 colour palette. I think Showjumper was probably the one I was most disappointed with. I didn’t personally feel that the game had lasting playability, and the difficulties with Harvey Smith’s behaviour, mentioned earlier, definitely affected UK sales.

What do you do these days? Is programming still a part of your life?
Since 1994, I have worked for the English Bridge Union in Aylesbury, and I'm currently administering their Master Point scheme. I program occasionally, usually in Visual Basic, on personal projects only. I don’t think I have played a computer game of any sort for years.

From your time on the C64, did you have any particular favourite games you played? Possibly even developer, musician or graphic artist who’s work you admired?
Two early Commodore games gave me a great deal of pleasure. Lode Runner from Broderbund which I introduced to the Imagine team in 1984, where it became something of a cult. And Boulder Dash which I never managed to complete. I think both were hard to beat for sheer playability, though Lode Runner seemed to wear out joysticks very quickly!

Any last comments?
I feel that fate dealt me a cruel blow making me leave the business when I did. I’m sure that I still had an awful lot to offer. But life’s like that. At least I have some wonderful memories to look back on!

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