Hello Richard! Please feel free to introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hi, my name is Richard Underhill. I am 37 years old and a father of one. :) I started coding in the early eighties and was a director of Walsall based Arc Developments. We set up in the late eighties and survived for nearly nine years, before finally closing our doors in 1997. I am now Senior Project Manager at Surrey-based Kuju Entertainment and I live on the south coast, around the Brighton area. Although I've given up programming full-time, I'm about to kick off a couple of emulation projects on the Gamepark handheld console, just for fun!

How did you get started in programming and what inspired you?
I never consciously started out to write games. I came through the old single board computers, where if you wanted anything – you wrote it yourself. Machine code was the chosen type of programming because it could be produced cheaply, no basic interpreters or compilers. It was just a natural first step to learn. I remember Rodnay Zaks Programming the 6502/Z80 was my favourite reading matter for many years. Sounds terrible, but I saw others making money from the business and decided I wanted some of that action. Seemed an exciting career and was in many ways, just not in the ways I'd thought. :)

What were your first and last ever productions on the C64?
First: I'm not going to own up to it – sorry! Last: Difficult one that. At Arc Developments I had to finish a couple of C64 titles (I was heavily involved in Amiga and PC then) as the programmers were unable to. It was one of the WWF games I think, but memory betrays me I'm afraid.

Out of all the games you have worked on, which were you most proud and disappointed with?
Most proud – erm C64? Probably Pang! We stuffed an awful lot of graphics into that cartridge. Going for a bitmapped display was a pre-requisite for me as I wanted to make the smaller balls software sprites due to the hardware sprite limitations. The ropes were a bit of a pain as well. Paul Walker, another fellow Arc Director (and superb 2D artist) managed to produce some really nice multicoloured bitmaps and I wrote a pretty sophisticated compression algorithm to squeeze it all in. If you ever wonder why the score text is in the standard font: it's because there wasn't any room for an alternative, so I had to use the one in ROM.

Given the limitations of the machine, I think we put together a pretty playable game. It's a pity it didn't get a bit more exposure. I can apologise publicly now for the map screen though. It was a very last minute thing, I ran out of time and they wanted to ship. Honest! :) I remember Ocean asking me if I could produce a disk version, to which I said no chance. It would have been too much work. Then a couple of weeks after release, I got hold of a cracked version with a disk turbo and bouncy intro. Proved me wrong eh?

You might notice that I never stuck my name on the credits and I've been asked why a few times. To set the record straight: I was working on an Amiga game for Thalamus at the time, that sadly died when Thalamus collapsed. It was called Restrictor, a cross between Galaxy Force and Outrun/Afterburner (kind of) and we didn't want them to know I was writing two games at once (due to money matters mainly). I think Ocean might have been a little peeved as well. Ah, those were the days!

Bart Simpson vs The Space Mutants is probably one of the biggest titles that had been seen from Arc Developments on the C64. How did you feel about the final outcome of the conversion? How did you feel about the press and reviews it received?
It was OK. We went to town to make it as colourful as we could. Lots of colour splits, Bart himself was made out of overlaid sprites. I seem to remember memory being a bit of a pain in that game and keeping everything in a frame.

Was Bart a particularly easy conversion from the NES or were there problems?
Wasn't too bad! Publishers were the problem really. I'll explain: The game started off at Mirrorsoft. We were about half way through when Maxwell died and the company shut down. That was a stressful time! Luckily, Ocean and Acclaim managed to come together and form a publishing deal and we eventually reached the finish line. Arc Developments could have quite easily sunk then, but we held on!

Are there any particular games that you would have loved to have worked on yourself, or converted from Arcade onto the C64 or other machines?
Doom I think, but I didn't know C then. :) I'm not of course suggesting that I wanted to port it to the C64! I remember a U.S. Gold games tester coming into my office all excited. "Rich, I've got the full version of Doom here." My reply: "What's Doom?" He loaded the game up and my jaw just dropped! Maybe Elite and Mercenary?

Forgotten Worlds also rates today as one of the best Arcade conversions ever created on the C64 and received high grades for its closeness and impressive graphics throughout. Was this a hard title to convert and did you get regular access to the original arcade for comparison and creation?
Forgotten Worlds was very much a milestone for us. It was our first game as Arc Developments after leaving Elite and the new company was set up on an advance payment for the conversions. I have mixed memories as I was violently ill with Gastro Enteritis halfway through the project and it took longer than it should have. It saw the first incarnation of my turbo tape and disk system Nitro that later went on to be use by many publishers, eventually giving us a nice sideline in mastering for a while. For a time, the development copies of FW had completely seamless loading from level to level – even the screen carried on scrolling – but U.S. Gold thought it was too risky to go into manufacture, so we simplified it. Pity!

Great Gurianos was another title you developed before Arc Developments for Elite Software which never made it to a full price release. The game was heavily slated in the press. Do you think this was justified and did this all add to the game never making full price?
It deserved the ribbing it got. I told them that having large characters on the C64 was going to be a mistake. I spent most the time trying to workout the melee bits with sprites sliding all over the place and moving split flicker. The original arcade machine was awful and my conversion was from completely the wrong approach, I'll admit! Like where did they expect me to store loads of animation frames?

Did anyone's work on the C64 or other machines ever inspire you with your own creations?
Not really. I suppose Knight Lore on the Spectrum inspired us on Pentacle (see later question). I guess Paradroid and Delta had a hand in Quanta (see same question), but I was generally a work for hire coder. Original games were difficult to get off the ground when there were so many conversions to be made just to keep the money coming in.

What was it like working with Arc Developments and Elite Software? Were both friendly and fun working environments to be in or as some past workers from Ocean have commented on their workplace, a "dungeon"?
They were OK. We were always constantly reminded at Elite how little money was being made. I think during the era I was there, the projects were fairly uninspiring. Think Overlander, A Question of Sport and Mike Reid's Pop Quiz and you'll realise what I mean. I made some good friends at Elite that I've lost touch with and met my partners to be at Arc. Arc Developments was born mainly out of frustration and the fact we felt we were being completely undervalued at the time.

Arc was an experience. To have to carry on programming and also help run a business at the same time is hard I can tell you. There were four of us and none of us gave up programming/art until a few years had passed, and to be perfectly honest, I believe that was a mistake. We should have farmed out more work to freelancers rather than try and do everything ourselves. I visited Ocean a few times and can confirm that it was a bit of a sweatshop – not something I would have felt comfortable working in!

Were there ever any disagreements or problems encountered when creating any games?
My God, yes! I can't remember any specifics off the top of my head. I think the thing that always 'amused' me the most was the fact that artist would deliver their work in a completely unsuitable format or too big or...

Overlander was another creation by you for Elite. What (if any) inspirations were taken for the game's creation?
I'm not sure I was particularly inspired. I was handed a design document and told to write it. Me and a guy called Mark Haigh-Hutchinson created the road algorithm that was supposed to run on all the different platforms and it kind of did. Unfortunately, the C64 was far too slow, I guess we could have spoke to Dave and Bob Thomas about Buggy Boy, but Elite wouldn't let go off wanting hills and 'multiple horizons'. I thought it sucked, I didn't want to write it. I wanted to work on my other project Quanta that me and Paul Walker were putting together, but Elite wanted multi-format titles and... I think you might be getting close to why I wanted to leave Elite? The only funny memory I have of that, is watching musician Mark Cooksey humming a tune while tracing his finger through a load of hex digits. Good musician and I remember threatening to kill him if he put any trumpets into the Overlander theme. :) He really shouldn't have written his own music player though. ;)

In 1992, Arc Developments were developing Beavers for Grandslam on the Amiga. The game was also being converted to the C64 and was previewed in most C64 magazines of that time. Although the Amiga version surfaced, the C64 conversion sank without trace. Can you help us solve what happened to this conversion?
Beavers was the brainchild of Jon Harrison and Julian Scott. It was, I suppose the first original game Arc had produced and wasn't a bad little game in the end. Unfortunately, we found ourselves at loggerheads with Grandslam pretty much of the time over development funding. I pulled all of their projects one afternoon after one particular phone conversation. They were always trying to pull a fast one! We seem to end up doing a few of their games though in the end: Nick Faldo's Golf, Beavers, and Liverpool. I think that was it! (Sorry, a bit off topic there.) We never did a C64 version. I can only assume that Grandslam commissioned one after we broke off relations, thinking they owned the IP (which I'm pretty sure they didn't). Oh well, ancient history.

Recently you told us about Arc's involvement in the C64 conversion of Bart vs The World. Although not much was started at all on the game, had it been finished, do you think it would have converted well?
What can I say? The programmer we hired wasn't up to the job. Myself and Chris Coupe (the other C64 programmer at the time) were far too busy. We terminated the C64 version by mutual consent with Acclaim. You haven't missed much, please believe me. We shipped Amiga and ST versions though I think.

In your time on the C64, were there any other games that you worked on which sadly became scrapped or never quite made the light of day?
Two: One was called Pentacle that I co-wrote with the programmer of C64 Gauntlet. It was a Knight Lore-style game and was a real looker! Personal differences (mostly my fault) meant it never saw the light of day. The other programmer went off to Gremlin, I went off to Elite. We made it up a few years later when Arc had a strong relationship with U.S. Gold. The game was the real casualty there though!

The other was called Quanta. I was at Elite at the time and struck a friendship with an artist called Paul Walker. I'd started on the "let's see how far we can take the C64" ramblings again. A real fast sprite multiplexer, parallax starfields, huge opponents in a side scrolling shoot'em up (which were basically animating backgrounds over a starfield), but it looked incredible for the time. We had a second stage where you would land on giant cruisers and then go into a Paradroid style arena to disable that ship with a lovely full screen eight-way scroll. I would have loved Elite to pick it up, but no, they wanted Overlander instead. They weren't interested in single format games. A crying shame! We could have continued I suppose but it would have been a lot of part-time work and Arc was already on the horizon.

Apart from A Question of Sport and Mike Read's Pop Quiz, were there any other titles on the C64 that you played a part in?
Yes, a few. Enough said! :)

Out of all the games you've played, what was your favourite game on the C64 and on other systems?
Let me see... Wizball, Iridis Alpha, Paradroid (didn't like Uridium much, sorry Andrew), Delta (for a while), Pitstop 2, Racing Destruction Set, Archon and all the Ultima's (my favourite style of game). It's strange to play them again though when I run them through the Frodo emulator on my Gamepark. :)

Who were your favourite C64 coders, artists and musicians at that time or even today?
Coders: Tony Crowther, Andy Braybrook, Stavros Fasoulas, Mr Minter, the guy at Software Creations, and the Rainbow Arts guys we worked with in later years. Artists: I don't like artists, but I still regard Paul Walker as one of the best 2D artists I ever worked with (hope he never reads this). Musicians: Mr Hubbard, Galway, Mark Cooksey. :)

What would you say impressed you most about the C64 and for what reasons?
What a mess the VIC chip was! You could do loads of things by throwing it into a state of confusion. I remember a Gremlin coder showing me the sprites-in-the-border trick for the first time. I'll admit I was startled (used it a few times of course afterwards). When you think off all the tricks with display delaying later on that the demo guys came up with – cracking stuff!
I spent most of my messing time with the CIA chips and running things on the 1541 drive really, I guess. It was just a machine with a character totally unique. How powerful was SID compared to anything else when it first came out? In some ways I feel quite privileged to have worked on it when it was popular and in the same measure hating it for it's under 1 MHz processor (with the screen on). :)

Would you say that the C64 was just a simple step in your programming life or was it a major inspiration for today?
An important step, but just a step really. I have fond memories of it, more than any other platform I've worked on.

Do you still own a C64 today, and if so, do you still play it on occasion?
Only in the form of the emulators. I played Pang the other day and that brought back a few memories. :) I'd love to talk to the guy who was doing the other version. We never knew a thing about it.

What are your current activities these days?
I work in a production role where I manage other developers. My last couple of games were Reign of Fire (PS2/Xbox) and Warhammer 40.000: Fire Warrior (PS2/PC). The coders here regard me as a quaint dinosaur, but I find I still have an edge with the technical background I have. It's different now. As a programmer, you're part of a big team usually working on specific components. I don't know if I could have worked like that. I guess it's what you're used to.

If I tell you that with a C64, you can new connect up a hard drive, CD-ROM drive, 20 Mhz accelerators, Internet/broadband connections (with a graphical browser) and also play Doom-like games. Would you think I was totally insane?
There are some true nutcases in the world and it would be a sorry place without them! I'd have liked to have the 20 Mhz accelerator in my day though. Yes, that would have been very nice!

What is your take on the whole retro phenominon which is going on today with classic games and machines?
I think it's great! As I mentioned before, I'm about to join the emulator writers myself, perhaps regain that buzz I once had? I have a lot of respect for the guys behind MAME, ZSnes, Frodo, Vice et al.

Thanks for your time Richard, and for all the help you have given to the retro C64 scene. And also a big thank you for some very memorable conversions in both Bart Simpson vs The Space Mutants and Forgotten Worlds which many rate highly even today! Please feel free to send any greetings to anyone you know.
Hello to all retro fans out there really! I can't believe people are interested in games that got canned, but still, nothing surprises me these days.

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