Bounder - yes! How did the idea
for that game come about?
We were all really into playing Arcade games and programming
our own versions of them. We always wanted to do coin-op
stuff and computer games was the nearest we could get.
We used to roller skate and play tennis at the local
park and one weekend, while lying under a tree after
tennis, we came up with the idea (a top down scroller
featuring a tennis ball as the main character). We spent
all that summer working on the game. Andy and I did
the programming and Rob did the design. We got Terry
to do the art and after a year of hard work and lots
of fun, we had a (near) finished game. We mailed the
game off to Gremlin (the first company we tried) around
November time in 1985 and were asked up to Sheffield
to talk just before Christmas, I remember, we were all
so excited. We got up there and met Ian Stewart (a very
nice guy), who owned Gremlin. They really liked the
game and wanted to publish it. We were blown away! He
then offered all four of us jobs paying a whopping 6,000
pounds a year. :) We all started work in January of
'86, commuting to Sheffield from Derby every day. I
remember meeting Tony Crowther and Pete Harrap, who
were both quite famous in the 8bit games world. I was
really impressed and amazed to be working with them.
What was Terry doing by the time
you brought him in on Bounder?
Terry was the manager of our local computer shop and
hangout called First Byte Computers in Derby. He used
to "supply" us with floppy disks and software. I remember
I used to go to his house and play games with him and
his brother. Terry was a bit of a programmer at the
time too. He wrote a little Manic Miner clone on the
Speccy and did all the art. Terry also used to hang
out in Way Ahead Records, playing video games. I remember
we used to meet up in town and walk from place to place,
playing video games. We knew where all the best machines
were; fish and chip shops, taxi companies, record shops
etc. We asked Terry to do some art about a quarter of
the way through writing Bounder. He did a good job too.
It certainly changed the direction of his life. :)
How come you never worked with Tony or Pete on a game?
We pretty much kept in tight groups. Tony worked mostly
by himself (still does), although he used to work closely
with Ben Daglish on music stuff. Pete Harrap, Shaun
and the Kerry brothers were pretty tight and didn't
really want any other input. Rob, Andy, Terry and myself
made up the other camp. We always seemed to just work
like that. Pete and the others did mainly Z80 coding
and the Derby Lads did the 6502 stuff.
What did you talk about on the
way down to Sheffield?
Everything and nothing! We used to talk about the latest
arcade games and game ideas we had. We used to sing
Madonna songs and songs from the Top Gun soundtrack
(ahem). We used to drive fast to relieve the boredom.
We're probably all very lucky to be alive :)
Tell us about the Gremlin years.
They were hard, exhillerating, fun and completely insane.
I served my apprentice-ship in the games industry while
at Gremlin. I got to work with some of the best people
and really learned my trade. We pumped games out at
an astonishing rate. We were expected to write 3 or
4 a year (which we usually did). When we joined Gremlin
it was still a pretty small company. They were in a
couple of offices above the computer shop (that Ian
also owned). Gremlin started to expand and we moved
to bigger offices within the year. The mid 80s was really
the boom for 8bit in England and we were at the heart
of it. The typical development cycle was 3 to 4 months,
from idea to it being on the shelves. We had a lot of
freedom and were able to be as creative as we wanted,
with every game being "original" or a least a derivative
of our favourite coin-op game.
Yes, I really miss that in games
these days where developers had the freedom to put their
own trademarks in, just like the scrolly message in
Future Knight. It was like you were communicating with
I was part of the demo and early pirate scenes way
back (all very innocent of course) and I believe that
some of the air of camaraderie you got in those scenes,
was injected into our early games. It was extremely
cool to give a shout-out to friends, and we had the
perfect vehicle to do it. Nowadays, publishers don't
like people to know that the games are actually written
by a bunch of hard-working individuals, so the practice
has stopped, sort of. You still get messages and such
in games, only now they're hidden and usually can only
be displayed by entering an elaborate sequence on a
controller or keyboard. Every one of my games has had
something "secret" in it.
It must have been really exciting
to actually be there when things started off. What were
you thinking at this point? Did you think the industry
I was just amazed that I had such a cool job. I didn't
really think it would turn into a career, infact I don't
think anyone at the time thought it would be anything
long term. We were pretty much making it up as we went
along. I'm really glad the 8bit consoles came along
when they did because the computer game industry really
went through a few rough patches. I know they saved
MY ass and really injected some life into the whole
industry. I think basically, if you were able to adapt
and learn the new hardware, you were relatively safe,
and thats still true today.
After around three years at Gremlin,
you and the guys from Gremlin Derby formed Core Design.
We made Gremlin a lot of money and I guess as a reward,
they opened an office in Derby so we didn't have to
commute every day. The industry took a nose dive in
'88 and Gremlin actually decided to close the Derby
office down and lay us all off. We all got called up
to Sheffield and Kev Norburn gave us the news; "...the
bad news is, we're closing the Derby office and you're
sacked. The good news is, we're starting a new company
and want you on-board...". So, Gremlin cut us loose
and Kev Norburn and Jeremy Smith took over the office
lock, stock and barrel. Another programmer, Greg Holmes,
from Sheffield was brought down to manage us. The original
team was Rob Toone, Andy Green, Terry Lloyd, Simon Phipps,
Dave Pridmore and Me. We had a meeting to come up with
a name and the favourite one was Core Design. Simon
Phipps designed the logo and we were in business.
How did a typical day look at
When we started Core Design, we were based in a conservative
office building, surrounded by "proper" businesses.
We were told-off many times for rowdyness and assorted
tom-foolery (some things never change). We used to surf
down the coridoors on Gremin Graphics signs and have
chair races everywhere we could. It was, and still is
Were Kev Norburn and Jeremy Smith
the only ones that owned Core or were you given a share
when you hoped on-board?
There was a 3rd partner; Greg Holmes, who was the programming
manager and a top lad. The founding employees were promised
a share in the company, but this never materialized.
Jeremy is very shrewd and an excellent business man,
and he quickly saw the potential for Core and decided
early on that he wanted it all for himself. He bought
out his 2 partners and it became apparent that the shares
he promised us were never going to happen.
How long did you stay at Core?
I stayed for about 10 months, which was just long enough
to write 2 games and get completely disillusioned with
Jeremy and the company. I actually left to set up Eurocom
Developments with my good friend Mat Sneap, developing
NES games for the Japanese and American markets.
In my interview with Pete Harrap,
he told me that he was fairly certain you were sacked
from Core. What happened?
This is a good question, and one I can answer simply.
I quit Core to set up Eurocom. In reality, it's a bit
more sketchy than that, and I actually quit about 30
seconds before Jeremy tried to sack me for rabble rousing
and spreading unrest amongst the other employees. As
I said, we all pretty much realized that Jeremy had
no intention of sharing Core with anyone, so I let my
feelings be known (something I often got in trouble
for), and started to stir things up a bit. During this
time, I was working with Mat Sneap to get Eurocom going,
which was good timing on my part, as I couldn't see
much of a future with Core. I was really pissed off.
I remember calling a meeting with all the guys (all
6 or 7 of us at the time) at my house. I voiced my concerns
and pointed out that we were in the process of being
screwed (boy, did I call that one). Jeremy found out
about the meeting and was pretty pissed about it. I
remember he called me into his office and told me he
didn't like my attitude and said he wouldn't stand for
anyone causing trouble. I quit, he sacked me, I moved
Tell me if this is true or not:
Eurocom was started up by a bunch of friends (Mat Sneap,
Hugh Binns, Neil Baldwin, yourself and a few more) who
all knew each other from Compunet and one day decided
that they had enough experience and talent to start
a company on their own.
It's true. Mat and myself were good friends on Compunet
(he was also my Best Man at my wedding). Mat had written
a game called Knucklebusters I think, and we liked to
call ourselves "The Procoders". I'm not sure
how it came about, but we started talking about setting
a company up, and luckily Mats Dad owned a small electronics
company (Zycomm) and was in a position to finance the
venture. We recruited Tim and Neil and Hugh to complete
the team. I designed the first game called Magician
and we went over to Japan to try and sell the game to
Taxan Kaga. They liked it and we got the gig. I remember
my first job was to figure out the NES hardware, and
start building some tools. We didn't have actual offices
at the beginning, so I had to work in the conference
room at Zycomm, on a cardboard box (all very high tech).
It must have been great to work
with a bunch of like-minded people and being able to
call your own shots and not have to worry about executives
who hardly have no knowledge about how a game is developed.
It was great to begin with. Mats Dad was very hands
off, and everything was new and we were having to figured
out everything as we went along. I personally love that
kind of environment!
You're not even mentioned as one
of the founders on the Eurocom webpage!
I know. I moaned at Mat about this a few years back,
but it really isn't a big deal. I was a bit hurt when
I was a younger man, but those guys really did all the
hard work. I was only there for the first 2 games, so
I wasn't really instrumental in their eventual success.
Why did you leave the company?
I left because I couldn't afford to stay. After we finished
James Bond Jr (or John Smith: Special Agent as it was
called at the time), we couldn't find a buyer for it,
and we were seriously running out of money. Mats dad
put us onto a 3 day working week, which just brutalized
my income. I'd just had a baby, and bought a house,
and simply couldn't afford to stick with it. The other
guys were younger, single, and more flexible. I started
looking for another job, and ended up coming to America
(a good move). Its a shame I missed out on the later
success of Eurocom, but that's life I guess.
I have put together a list of
people you worked with in the past. Please tell us about
them, just very shortly:
James North Hearn
I don't remember James very well. I think he was some
sort of marketing guy who pissed people off a lot.
What can I say, he's the guy who gave me my start. I
always had lots of respect for Ian and he was always
fair and honest. I remember one time while working on
FOTY, I was exhausted and stressed trying to meet the
deadline for completion on multiple versions. I can't
remember what triggered me, but I freaked out over something
and started tearing the kitchen apart at Gremlin. I
was kicking the refridgerator and shouting and throwing
things around; I was really pissed about something that
I can't remember now. Ian intervened and I told him
to f**k off. Ian immediately dragged me into his office
and said something along the lines of "...you can come
to me and tell me to f**k off anytime you like, but
if you ever do it infront of other people again, I'll
sack you immediately". I never said or did anything
like that again and it gave me a great deal of respect
Kev was Ian Stewarts partner at Gremlin. Kev was a gental
person, softly spoken and a really nice guy. I liked
Kev a lot. He was one of the original three partners
in Core Design, Greg Holmes and Jeremy Smith being the
other two. Jeremy brought Kevs share out pretty early
on. Kev stayed there for a little while longer and then
left. He started a small company in Chesterfield, doing
animation software. I have no idea what he's doing now
Jeremy (or Jezabel as we called him back then), I believe
started as a salesman at Curries or Dixons or some such
store. I think he joined Gremlin as a sales manager.
Jeremy was obviously very ambitious and knew exactly
where he wanted to be. I don't know how him and Kev
got involved together and decided to set up their own
company, but Jeremy was the architect and original project
getter for Core Design. In my opinion, Jeremy is a genius.
He took Core from 6 guys to a hugely successful company.
Sure he walked on a few people on the way, but you have
to admire the man.
Good, fast programmer, nice guy and good friend. He
blazed the trail to America. He works for EA Canada
now, on the Need For Speed games.
Rob went from designer to programmer and is also a really
nice guy and friend. I'm actually working with him at
Mass Media here in California (small world).
Terry is another really good friend. He's an artist
and now works for Atari Coin-op in San Mateo. Terry
is unique in every way. One of the nicest people you'll
meet and PASSIONATE about games.
We always gave Greg a hard time because he was our manager
at Core AND he was older than any of us. Greg was kind
of a mentor to me and taught me a lot about maturity
and being humble. He had excellent taste, introduced
me to all kinds of good music and ideas. I lost contact
with him when I came to America. Last I heard, he was
married and writing a screen play.
Chris was a good programmer but I was never really good
friends with him. Gremlin was quite cliquey, with the
Derby Lads keeping to themselves. Chris, Steve, Shaun
and Pete were a very insular little group.
Chris' brother. I liked Steve and got on well with him.
He had an evil sense of humour though. Chris and Steve
went to America and were doing pretty well at Ocean
US. I don't know what they're doing now though.
Nice guy and great programmer. I remember hitting on
his dancer girlfriend at a Gremlin Christmas party :)
He threw some good parties. I think he still programs
games or manages the production of them somewhere in
London (can't get much vaguer than that).
Mark was Jasons side-kick and always seemed to live
in Jasons shadow a little. Mark became a good programmer
in his own right but I have no idea what happened to
him after we left Gremlin.
Marco annoyed everyone at Gremlin. He was an artist
(not a very good one) and had a relative who owned a
gym in Sheffield. He spent a lot of his time (when he
should have been working) body building. I don't believe
he's in the games industry any more.
Ben was a good friend and I wish I'd kept in contact
with him. He was a marvelous musician who didn't get
the recognition he deserved (Hubbard and Galway stole
his thunder most of the time). I used to sit in his
office listening to him jam on his bass, talking about
music and stuff. Nice bloke.
Fungus was a very unique individual. We always called
him Fungus (at his request). One day, he came into the
office and said he'd changed his name legally to Fungus
The Bogeyman. He made the national newspapers and was
quite famous for a little while. I remember we both
got our American Express cards at the same time and
he was extremely proud that his had Fungus T. Bogeyman
embossed across it. He was a good drinking buddy and
had a taste for fine malt whiskey. :)
I never got on with Shaun. Shaun was the head programmer
at Gremlin and he didn't really like me (I never knew
why) and I had several big shouting matches with him
in the offices at Gremlin. I had and still do have a
lot of respect for his talents though. He went on to
start (hmmm, what was that company called?), which later
became Krisalis, with Pete and the Kerry brothers.
Pete was Shauns second hand man and so followed his
lead. We got on okay, but not great.
Davey was just one of the lads. Good programmer and
very humerous (once you got to know him). He was really
into fast cars and was obsessed with his VW Golf (or
some such fast car). I believe he now works over at
Eurocom with Mat and the rest.
Mat is a top lad, and a really good friend (although
I talk to him rarely nowadays). I first met him on Compunet,
which was a hangout for nerdy programmers and artists
at the time. He was one half of the dynamic demo team,
"Mat and Psy". We'd spend hours online or
on the phone, talking about programming and games. I
discovered he lived really close by, so we started to
hang out together when we could. Mat was a really good
artist, but what he really wanted to be was a programmer
and write games. I was already doing just that, so I
helped him where I could, and he did pretty well.
Psy the Hero. Psy was a really nice guy who always wore
pink clothes. I met him through Mat, they were sort
of a demo team at the time. I didn't actually realise
that Simon and Psy were the same person for a few days
after he started at Gremlin. You can actually see half
of Simons head, with Ben Daglish in the background on
one of the photos I'll be sending you :)
Your favorite programmer, artist,
musician and game from the old days are?
My favorite programmers were Tony Crowther (Thing on
a Spring, Blagger), Andrew Braybrook (Gribbly's Day
Out, Paradroid) and Jeff Minter (Matrix, Psychedelia
and everything Llamas). My favorite artists were Mat
Sneap, Bob Stevenson and Terry Lloyd. My favorite musician
was Ben Daglish because he was a really nice guy and
would let me listen to him jam in his music room at
Gremlin. Other musicians I respected were Neil Baldwin
and Rob Hubbard.
Are you in contact with some old
C64 people today?
I'm still good friends with the people I worked most
closely with; Rob Toone, Andy Green and Terry Lloyd.
In fact Rob, Andy and myself all work for the same developer
here in California, and my office is next door to Robs.
Strange. Unfortunately, I lost contact with many of
my old friends from England, after I moved out to America.
For a while I would meet with some of them at the Game
Developer Conference or CES (Consumer Electronics Show),
but slowly I lost touch with most of them over the years
Any cool stories to share with
us from the old days?
I used to be in the demo scene and on Compunet and met
lots of really cool people on there, Stoat and Tim,
Mat, Psy, GIJoe etc. etc. (I later set up Eurocom with
Tim and Mat and worked with Psy at Gremlin for a while).
I remember we all met up at a trade show in London in
'87 (I think) and had a blast. Jeff Minter rented out
the Lasarium and put on a show for friends; music by
Pink Floyd. They projected the landscape from Drop Zone
all around the edges and graphics from Psychadelia on
the roof. We all got very stoned. We all ended up in
Jeffs hotel room, playing games on the Speccy and C=64
and talking all night. We were all very young and the
energy and enthusiasm for what we were doing was incredible.
Fond memories indeed.
Who else was there?
A bunch of Jeffs friends (he had an entourage) who I
didn't really know. GIJoe, Mat and Psy and a few other
people whose names I can't remember now, people came
and went. I remember lying on one of the beds listening
to Jeff talk to us like some sort of Guru, about his
pets and the games he was working on. I think he really
liked the attention. We all played Jeffs new games too
(something to do with llamas, go figure). :)
Did you often go to the computer
Back in the C64 days, everyone used to go to ECTS in
London. It was an absolute blast to meet up with all
your mates from around the country. I used to spend
a lot of time on Compunet back then, as did a lot of
programmers and artists, and we'd all arrange to meet
up down there.
What was your name on Compunet?
I had several as you could change it to anything once
you were chatting. The most frequent were; Shriggzy,
Shriggs, Chigley, Schatzi (10 point bonus to anyone
who can tell me where that name comes from). My default
name was CPS10 (I think).
to the second part of the interview