Allan Shortt / Ocean Software, Origin Systems
Added on November 27th, 2012 (5638 views)

Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
My name is Allan Shortt, a computer games programmer since 1985.

How did you first get started with computers in general and the C64 in particular?
I first got started by reading various magazines like PCW and C&VG. I saved my money from working in demolition in the school holidays to be able to buy myself a computer. The first machine I bought was a ZX Spectrum, and I started coding little bits on that. Then the C64 took my eye, and I exchanged the Spectrum plus some cash for this machine. That's when it all really started for me.

Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit sample work to various games companies in order to procure jobs, or did jobs come to you?
I saw an advert in a magazine (it might have been Zzap!64) and I called up Ocean Software which asked me to send in any demos of work. I was asked to come in for a chat with Gary Bracey, I attended, had a good chat, and was asked to start work the following Monday.

What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? In your opinion, was it as special as we like to think it was?
Oh, yes! I think for me the thought of having real sprites and individual colours within them sort of wowed me. Also hearing the music it could produce was awesome!

What C64 games did you work on? Please be as detailed as possible.
In order of my development: Yie Ar Kung-Fu II, Mario Bros, Athena, Combat School, and Arkanoid II – Revenge of Doh. I also did the Terra Cresta high-score system and various other map/sprite editors specifically for the C64.

What companies did you work for, either in-house or freelance, and in what capacity?
Ocean and Origin Systems on the C64. Then on to Malibu Interactive, Time Warner, Candle Light Studios and Platinum Interactive.

Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Very messy! Or as we like to say, organized chaos, hehe. To this day, it's been the same.

When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to complete your work?
The time allocated was always yesterday. I can't ever remember have a specific time allocated whilst doing the C64 games. It was always: "here's your project, just do it."

What tools, development kits, etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to fulfil a need?
At Ocean, we originally used the C128 as a source machine that ported the code across to a C64. It was then upgraded to an Atari ST. They where only source editors and compilers, and there was no debugger. That was really challenging at times, but you learnt by your mistakes.

Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Yes, 2400AD was a game I worked on at Origin Systems. Everything was going well on that project until I was refused entry back into the USA, and a few months later, communication started getting crossed. I enjoyed very much working on this title and for Origin Systems.

Which game are you most proud of, which was the most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which ended up giving you the biggest headache?
I really enjoyed working on Arkanoid II, because it was easy and done in six weeks. I think most games of that era were challenging in their own right. We had to try copy arcade machines that had far more power/memory than the humble C64.

If you had the chance to edit your CV of past games, which ones would you add, edit or remove?
I don't think I would change anything, except I would have loved to have finished 2400AD for Origin. Sorry Richard and Chris.

Are there any particular games you would have liked to have worked on or converted from arcade?
The one that I really would liked to of done was Slap Fight. I loved playing it and it was a real challenge! John Meegan got that privilege, and a great job he did.

Did you get much of a chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
We got to play the arcade games as obviously we needed to find out all the areas needed to be coded. Then it was usually: "How the hell can we do that on the C64?"

What games did you feel were appalling and you could have done better, given the chance?
There was quite a few, but I don't want to mention them.

Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly inspired some of your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
There was a lot of talent around when I started at Ocean. We all sort of fed off each other.

Please share some memories from the old days! (Like something a colleague did or said, your time on the demo scene, crackers stealing development disks, going to computer shows, etc.).
In the early days of the C64, we never got to visit the computer shows. We were always working on a project that needed to get done ASAP. As for crackers/hackers, Dave Collier used to leave messages in the code for them. I loved the work the demo crews did and enjoyed seeing them compete. I still like to watch them on the emulators.

What made you eventually stop creating games for the C64?
The powers above, and because we were always looking at the new hardware and wanting to see what we could do on it.

What are you up to these days?
I have mainly been bringing up my son the past few years, and doing little bits of contracts from home. I still keep up to date with programming on various platforms as much as possible.

Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any parting comments with which to leave a final impression on our readers? Feel free to greet anyone you know.
Coding in them days was a lot more fun and personal as you was usually the only programmer on that project/machine, and it was only up to yourself how good or bad it ended up. I would like to thank Gary Bracey for giving me the start in the industry, and also all the people I worked with at Ocean. They were some of the best times ever!

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