Now on to your personal side;

Birth place and date: Born in Derby (the biggest village in England) on 17th January 1967.

Reside in: Sunny California, USA.

Interests: Doing projects with my son, computers, singing, driving fast.

Music taste: Jazz, Classical, Ambient and a little Techno now and then. Really anything thats good.

What makes you happy: My son Zack, my lovely lady, singing opera and lounge songs, driving my car fast and playing games.

Goal in life: To actually make some money in the games industry :) My real goal is to own and sing in a lounge bar, honest.

Tell us about your current job at Mass Media.

Oooo, top secret. If I told you, I'd have to kill you. :)

Aw, come on now...
Okay, the work I do at Mass Media is fairly typical stuff. I sit at a desk most of the day and stare at a computer screen. Not terribly romantic I'm afraid. Seriously though, I've lead a couple of projects at MM and helped out on several more. I get to play with all the latest hardware like PS2, XBox and Gamecube, which is fun, and I get to work with some great and talented people. And yes, I get to program video games, which makes everything worthwhile :)

Was it fun to program on the C64, despite the limits?

Very much so. After awhile, you got so comfortable with the hardware, it was like an old friend. By the time I did my last game on the 64, I could make that machine do crazy things with hardware and processor tricks.

Did you have any special coding techniques?
Back then, we were making stuff up as we went along. We were pioneers, blazing a trail... Well, sort of. The order of the day was to crank code out as quickly as possible, so I guess you could say that writing tight, fast code as quickly as possible was a technique of sorts. :)

Did you have a lot of freedom when you programmed your games, or were the bosses and designers giving you a hard time?
We did have a lot of freedom, much more than we seem to have now. Back then, the people running the show didn't really want to know how the things worked. They were simply interested in the end product and raking in the cash :) It was a bit of a black art I suppose. Nowadays, everyone from the cleaning lady up to the Publishers Mother wants to have some creative input or control in the project. This is inevitable of course, as budgets (and risk) get bigger all the time. Its a serious business now, with serious money involved.

Were you programming in the machine code monitor or did Gremlin/Core have a special program for this?
The first real game I did (with Rob and Andy), was Bounder for the C64. Andy and I programmed the entire thing on the Zoom Machine Code Monitor. We designed everything on squared paper and typed every bit of data in by hand. That game got us our first jobs at Gremlin, and we were quite surprised to find out that this wasn't a normal way to write games. Gremlin had a Mainframe and we all had Wise Terminals. We still programmed in assembly language, but it was all symbolic. It was amazing!

What was the difference between working on the many computer types?
Programmers back then were usually in one of two camps; C64 programmers or Speccy programmers. We would point fingers at each other and snigger about how crap the others machine was. I programmed mainly C64 games back then, but I did do some Spectrum coding too. The obvious difference was the processor, the C64 being 6502 and the Spectrum being Z80. Coding is 90% technique and the language is ultimately fairly inconsequential though.

The game companies were pumping out games every week in the old days. When it was set that you were gonna do a game, how much time did you usually have to finish it?
Speed was of the essence. We would usually have 3 to 4 months to write a game back then. We would do 3 or 4 games a year each, one programmer and one artist per title. I remember, one of the games I had to program at Core was a particularly short schedule of about 6 weeks, start to finish. I did it, of course and managed to program a freelance title for Codemasters at the same time. Ahh, good times...

Because of time limits, could you sometimes feel that you were not totally pleased with your work - but it had to go because of the deadline?
Absolutely. The games often went out buggy because we needed to hit a crazy deadline. As a programmer, this is something that has always bothered me, and something that never really seems to change.

Is it like that even today?
Yes. The schedules are longer, and the teams are bigger, but the projects are really complex and resource hungry. Its still common to have a mad, crunch time at the end of a project to get it done.

When you ran out of ideas, what did you do to get the inspiration back?
I would usually play games like Dungeon Master, or roller skate or break dance. To break the tension and relax a bit, we would get quite mental in the office at Gremlin and Core. We would scream and shout and surf around the corridors on signs. It really helped!

Did you ever come to a point where you felt that you'd master the machine and there was nothing more to do?
By the time I programmed my last game on the C64, I genuinely considered myself an expert, and felt very comfortable with the hardware. The reason for that of course, was the sheer number of games I wrote, and the length of time I programmed the system. It gets harder and harder to really master a system nowadays, as the lifespan of the hardware seems to get shorter and shorter. You just start to make the system smoke, and they bring out a new one, and you have to start all over again.

Looking back on the games you did in the old days, do you feel total satisfactory yourself?
Not really. With development times so short, it was difficult to do the quality of work you wanted to. I'm basically a very positive person, so having said that, the hack and slash days gave me an extremely solid experience base to build my career on. No regrets! Development really isn't that much different today. It's still a lot of fun and the industry is still full of great people who love games and are just big kids at heart. Development times get longer, quality gets better and the money is great! I owe all I have now, to those early apprenticeship days.

Fill in the following;

Your first game:
Pub Quest. A text adventure game for the C=64. Got good reviews from Keith Cambell and others.

The best one:
Very subjective really. I did some of my best work on Gargoyles for Disney Interactive.

The worst one:
Saint and Greavsy Football Trivia Challenge for C=64. An utter piece of shite, programmed in 4 weeks for Grandslam. This was one of the first games Core Design did (hey, even Core had to take what games it could get in the beginning). This game has to be the low point of my career.

The best arcade conversion:
Haven't done any arcade conversions (although I recently did some work on Galaga for N64). The closest thing is probably Action Fighter for C=64, programmed for Sega.

The hardest one to program:
Probably Footballer of the Year. It was the first game I programmed solo, in 100% assembly language. I also had to do many, many versions for Atari, Sinclair, Thompson and Commodore machines too.

The one that took a lot of time to program:

None of my early games took a lot of time as our development cycles were a few months at most. Development times are tending to get longer as complexity and consumer expectations increase. The longest project I've done so far is Gargoyles for Sega Genesis. That one took me over 12 months to program. My latest project has an 18+ month development schedule.

The one that was done really fast:
I've done several quickies. The quickest was probably Saint and Geavsie at 4 weeks, followed by Dominion at 4 weeks and Advanced Pinball Simulator and Hero Quest at about 6 - 8 weeks. Phew! You get really good quality games when you program them that quickly (sarcasm).

The one that drove you insane:
Weeeelll, they've ALL contributed to my growing insanity, but probably Footballer of the Year, as it had many firsts for me and I had to do many versions in a short period of time. Arrrgghhhhh!!

Andrew Green wrote Bulldog and you were credited Bits and bobs. What's bits and bobs?!
Okay, I programmed the interrupt handler and scheduler on Bulldog, also the scroller and map decompression stuff. I also programmed the title page if I'm not mistaken. Andy did everything else. We all had a hand in the tweaking of the game play.

There we just a lot of people involved in the making of Skate Crazy. Is there a special reason for that?
Skate Crazy was actually 2 complete games in one, so it required 2 programmers and a couple of artists. I did the game that scrolled around all over the place, in the parking lot, and Andy Green did the side scroller. It was simply a matter of short deadlines and too much work for one person.

Tell us about your involvement on Gauntlet 2.
My involvement was quite small. I programmed the front end, title page, character selection stuff and the Interrupt handlers. I also did the tape and disk mastering on the game.

Rebounder is obviously a sequel to Bounder, but was it done because Bounder was a big hit on the market or because you liked the game idea a lot? Or both?
Both really. Bounder was a pretty good seller for Gremlin, and they were keen to cash in on the popularity of it. The idea of Bounder was sound and we tried to take it a few steps further. I'm not sure we pulled it off though, and I personally don't think Rebounder was as good as its first incarnation. It was nice though, to try and expand on our original idea for Bounder and see how far we could take it for the platform. I'd like to do Bounder III for one of the new systems like XBox or PS2. You could do some crazy stuff on a machine that powerful.

What was the hardest part to code on Rebounder?

It was all fairly hard because it was only my 2nd solo all machine code game. It was laughably simplistic looking back, but at the time it was a real challenge. I remember I learnt an awful lot from working on the game, not just as a programmer, but in running a project too.

Krakout is a favourite of mine, you Derby guys really did well on that one. What was your involvement on the game? You were credited as Lodger Shriggzy...
I didn't do anything on the game (apart from play it and critisize a lot). We used to credit each other on all our games. We were all buddies and it was nice to have greets or credits in the game to each other. As far as "lodger" is concerned, I don't think that any of us will ever know what it means.

Future Knight is one of those early games you did. Tell us about it!
Future Knight was the 2nd game that Rob, Andy, Terry and myself collaborated on. We all loved platform games, and at the time "Ghosts and Goblins" was very popular in the arcades. In fact, Ghosts and Goblins was my favorite game back then, so I really wanted to write a platformer. Rob did most of the design work, and Terry did all the art. Andy and I split the coding between us. We started it fairly soon after finishing Bounder, and before starting work at Gremlin in Sheffield.

Tell us about your work on Masters of the Universe.
Master of the Universe was my first game in the Derby offices. It was also the first licensed game I ever wrote. The exciting thing about MOTU was the trip down to London to watch the movie before it was released. MOTU was another solo coding effort, and was completed really quickly in about 3 months.

What was easier, doing a game based on your own ideas and design, or as with MOTU, a game where most of the guidelines were already set?
Actually, we had free reign on the design for MOTU, although we had to base it somewhat on the movie. Personally, I prefer to write original stuff, as I like to come up with ideas, and develop them. That happens to some extent with a licence of course, but there are definitely more guidelines and things you have to adhere to. Luckily, the licensing frenzy of the mid 90s, spluttered out as Hollywood realized their business models didn't work the same in the Games Business. I think Game Players tastes have also matured, and original is the flavor of the day. The problem is, original titles are much more risky to finance and develop, so they're a difficult sell to publishers. So unless you happen to have a successful franchise, or work for a wealthy developer who can self finance development, you're probably gonna be working on licences or ports.

What is the most giving thing you've got through your computer interest?
Programming is incredibly satisfying to me. I can't explain it really, but when I get really engrossed and deep into coding something, everything else disappears. You hold this huge, incredibly intricate and complex structure in your head, which you know intimately. Its great for control-freaks and quite comforting in a way.

Do you still have the old 8-bit systems lying around?
Yes, of course. I have a C=64 and a C=128, an 8Bit NES and various Sega machines.

Will you return to do something on the 8-bit machines again, just for fun?
Maybe. The thing I loved about the old machines, was getting down and dirty with the hardware. Granted it was pretty simple hardware by todays standards, but after writing a couple of games, you could make that puppy really sing. I loved programming in assembly and having such tight control over the environment. Nowadays, things are a little more insulated (unless you're doing engine work), and its all in C/++. Not as challenging on some levels.

Any final words for the fans out there?
Keep buying and playing games. We appreciate it :)

» Go back to the first part of the interview

» Get his games - from C64 to Genesis to NES and more!

Softography - not only the C64 stuff.

» Pictures - three exclusive pictures from the early days.

» - Visit his homepage.

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