Added on September 1st, 2010 (4905 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Alan Macfarlane, 39 years old. Born in Glasgow, currently living in Manchester. Been working as a freelance artist for the last 10 years working in games, advertising and TV. Currently working full-time for Playdemic Ltd on Facebook games. I like to paint and make massive sculptures out of concrete when not sat in front of a PC.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Gryphon, for no other reason than I thought it was cool (I was 13).
What group(s) were you in?
We didn't have a group name as far as I remember. It was just myself (Gryphon) and Barry Leitch (The Jackal) who did the music.
What roles have you fulfilled?
I knocked out graphics; background screens/sprites/fonts, and Barry would do the music and effects. One bored weekend I seem to remember we swapped roles for a demo, but I'm sure the results must have been so terrible we never released it.
How long were you active for?
On the C64 I guess between 1984-87. After that it became a job.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I was always sketching and drawing as a kid. That was my thing. I played games on the ZX Spectrum but when the C64 came along, I could see the potential of what you could do with the graphics. If you had a bit of artistic talent, you could do something half decent on it whereas before machines were pretty limited. Barry was a school friend, and at the same time, he was interested in what he could do music wise. So more as a hobby rather than anything else we knocked out a few demos together. We never knew any coders back then, although Barry was more technically minded than me and knew enough to knock things together. We had to rely on the music and graphics being good enough to stand on their own.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
In the mid-80's; sitting in Barry's dark loft at his parent's house mainly playing games with the odd period doing something constructive. In the late 80's; living in a flea-bitten office in the east end of Glasgow, working ridiculous hours on games that would never see the light of day, getting drunk a lot, sleeping on the floor, not getting paid, and loving it. In the early 90's; working in a nicer office in Yorkshire, for a proper company, working on bigger games, getting paid, but not nearly so much fun.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Not personally. But when I worked at Arcanum in the late 80's, Mark Kelly and Robert McGowan were the coders there, and they were able to write custom graphics editing and sprite tools for me. That was such a god-send. It's easy to forget the complete lack of development software back then; it was so hard to do the simplest of things. You either had to use really awful drawing packages or write your own.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
I haven't looked at anything. I suspect I'd cringe.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
The big one back then was Bob Stevenson, he did things you wouldn't have thought possible. Tony Crowther was another. He had a really original mind, something that's lacking in the more corporate world of today's games industry.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Robert McGowan's custom sprite editor. Nobody else in the world would have used it I don't think, but suddenly I was able to draw and animate quickly and simply. And I think he probably wrote it in an afternoon. Before that, the C64 hard drive, thus eliminating the need to wait seven hours to load Impossible Mission.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
My earliest experiences were at a fairly nerdy run-down computer club in Glasgow. One side was full of very serious bearded middle aged men in tweed swapping programming tips on their BBC Micros. The other side spotty kids pirating C64 games, with the occasional guy showing off some demo or other he'd knocked up, which would inspire us to do something more interesting than just playing games. The two sides never talked to each other as far as I remember.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
For me it was just the sheer creativity of it. It's hard to convey now just how amazing it was to be able to create graphics and little animations in your bedroom at home. These days it's easy for any 14 year old with a cheap laptop to make little movies, create music, or whatever else they want to do, which is fantastic. Back then it was all new, there were no tools, everything was so hard to do so it felt such an achievement to create the simplest thing.
What were the particular highlights for you?
Getting paid £75 for a loading screen while I was still at school. I felt like a millionaire!
Any cool stories to share with us?
Umm, the one I seem to be remembered for (if slightly embarrassed of now) is when Cataylst Coders set myself and Barry up in an office in Glasgow to work for them. To cut a long story short, I never got paid, so in retaliation I used their FedEx account to send a very large box full of bricks and rubbish to their offices in the south of England at exorbitant cost to them. Pretty childish, but did make me feel a lot better at the time. :) It was my first lesson in how dodgy working in the games industry could be back then.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
I've always kept in touch with Barry over the years, and I still stumble across people now and again. It's slightly surreal meeting someone face to face 20 odd years after you first heard their name. One of my bosses at the moment, Darren Melbourne, has been around since the early days and a fellow ex-demo coder, Rab Walker, from back in the nerdy computer club days works just across the road for a neighbouring games company.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
1984-ish? I think I went through several of them. I've no idea what happened to them, I discovered music, alcohol and girls around 1987 and lost interest completely for a good few years. My parents probably gave them to a jumble sale.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
I think it was. From an artist's point of view, it was the first machine you could draw something that vaguely approximated what you had in your head, and therefore show off a bit. There were also lots of tips and tricks to discover to get more out of it. I learnt a lot on it, things that can still be useful working on mobile or low-spec machines today.
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
Put me in touch with a coder and a musician Andreas and if I've a bored weekend, I'll see what I can do.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Only to pass on my commiserations and sympathies to anyone still working in the games industry.
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