Friday, 28 March 2014

Goodbye Blog!

Ok this time it is for real but don't despair! I've recently set up my own personal website to promote my articles as well as published extra content and exclusive features. I have already started to migrate material across to the site and will continue to do so over the next few months.

So please feel free to wander over to www.wizwords.net and have a look!

Thanks!

JD

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Retro Gamer Article Extras: Interceptor Software Part 6: Full Interview with Simon Daniels

Last month's issue of Retro Gamer magazine (115) featured my article on Hampshire-based Interceptor Software (also known as the Interceptor Group). As usual with any "From The Archives" feature, there are a few interviews that don't make it at all into the piece and others only a few snippets. Here's another one where unfortunately only a small portion made it into the finished article, with Simon Daniels.

Simon wasn't a programmer but he nonetheless had a key role at Interceptor as you will read. For the full story of Interceptor, issue 115 is still on sale and can also be ordered from the Imagine Publishing shop: https://www.imagineshop.co.uk/magazines/retro-gamer-issue-115.html




JD: What was your previous experience prior to joining Interceptor and how did you come to work there?
SD: I was in secondary school, about fourteen or fifteen when Interceptor moved its operations into a brand new building in a brand new office park (Calleva Park, Aldermaston) a short distance (literally through the woods) from my parents’ house. Interceptor has previously been based in the adjacent village of Tadley, described in the Urban Dictionary as an overgrown gypsy encampment with a nuclear weapons base in the middle of it. Calleva Park was about half way between my parent’s house and razor wire surrounding the base (the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment). Locally the Joneses were also known as the owners of the local video rental store “Tadley Video”. Tadley was home to Jeff Minter and Llamasoft, as you probably know the Minters had, for a short while, a relationship with the Joneses, which didn’t end well. But that was before my time with the company and it wasn’t a subject the Joneses ever talked about.

I was of course into computers, staring with a ZX81, but around this time had graduated to a BBC Micro (having sold my Vic 20) and my younger brother had a Spectrum. My first experience with Interceptor was in buying “reject” floppy disks from them which I reformatted and sold on at school and through ads in local newspaper classified, and soon after I started working (part time of course, as I was still in school) in the company’s packing department. Interceptor was pretty unique in that it had a full design studio, printing operation, tape duplication and a jewel case manufacturing operation. So they were duplicating both their own games and those for other companies, so there was plenty of part time work – putting tapes, inserts and instructions into cases. Over time I started play testing games, and writing reviews of the games submitted for evaluation by independent programmers. I continued working part time for a couple of years, and after a year at Basingstoke Technical College dropped out to take an almost full time job at the company (four days a week, so I could continue at college on a day release basis).

My full time job at Interceptor was “software co-ordinator” for the Players and later the Players Premier labels which basically ran the gamut of evaluating submissions, negotiating licenses (royalty rates and pre-pays) with most of the programmers, writing licenses, working with the design studio on the packaging (I would write the blurbs, take the screenshots) and provide input into the artwork and logo. I’d then work with sales team to co-ordinate a release schedule, send review copies and press releases to the press. Commission music (hardly any of the games we licensed included music). I’d also come up with ideas and basic story boards to share with the regular programmers. I also compiled the royalty reports and got the checks out to the programmers.

Interceptor hired a number of in-house programmers. Kevin Parker and Andrew Challis were the mainstays. Andrew Challis has developed Commodore (6502 processor) games on the Interceptor label (before I joined the company), and Parker was the Z80 (Spectrum and Amstrad programmer) who ported a lot of Speccy product to the Amstrad. Together, with the exceptionally talented artist Robin Chapman they developed Into The Eagles Nest a Gauntlet style burst-scroller set in Nazi occupied Europe as an in-house product for the Pandora label. However their day to day work was writing the game “loaders” and mastering the games (making the master tape or disk). Interceptor were innovators in this space, not only did they do pioneering work on the turbo loaders (an absolute requirement on the Commodore 8bit platforms which were notoriously slow) but also in developing “load-a-games” mini games you could play while the main game loaded. This was ground-breaking work, and something Interceptor didn’t really get the credit it deserved.

Surprisingly Interceptor also hired a number of programmers who worked on budget software in-house. Something that didn’t make economic sense to me at the time. A bunch of these guys rented a town house in Tadley from the Joneses. The in-house output wasn’t prolific but some interesting stuff came out of it.

JD: Were you into games yourself or have much experience of them?
SD: Like most kids at this time parents bought us computers so we could learn, but we spent most of our time playing games. I didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income so before working for Interceptor was pretty selective in buying games. I recall walking to Jeff Minters house and giving his dad eight quid for a copy of one of his games, can’t recall which one, probably Matrix or Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time. I think the one game that had the most influence on me was Elite, on the BBC Micro.

JD: When did you join/leave?
SD: I was there from 1985 to 1990.

JD: What was you impression of Interceptor, their offices and the Jones’?
SD: The fact that they did everything in-house was the lasting impression. I would often give visitors a tour, we’d start with the programmers, move to the art studio, the print shop, the tape mastering room, the tape duplication machines, and the packing room. In fifteen minutes a visitor could get a complete end-to-end picture of how a game was made. I think this is what made the company unique, so much fun and an excellent learning environment for someone like me.

Although Richard was the public face of the company, it was his dad Julian who was always present, from the early hours through late into the evenings. I would often show up at odd hours and on the weekends and he was almost always there, as was Janet who ran the packing department. I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Julian, and would often find myself in quite heated arguments. I genuinely felt the Players product I was responsible for was at least as good as what Codemasters and others were producing based on the reviews, and I couldn’t really understand why we were not able to shift as many units or have as many games in the charts. I got on fine with Richard, but during this time he wasn’t involved in the games side as much and when he was he focused on the Pandora label. He seemed to be looking at diversification and setting up new businesses, such as music duplication “My Music”, self-hypnosis cassettes (under the Nirvana label) etc. The Interceptor group letterhead was filled with the logos of these different businesses he was involved with.

JD: And what did you think of the programmers and other employees? How was your relationship with them?
SD: I spent a lot of time with Andrew and Kevin, and I had a lot of respect for them. It was a big loss for the company when Andrew left to go and work for British Telecom, seemed like a waste of his talents. My natural home however was in the art studio, and I set up a desk with the designers and artists working there. The studio was run by Mike Wood, and he hired a number of in-house and freelance people who I really enjoyed working with. Airbrush artist Peter Austin lived in Basingstoke but would always be around, and would hang out after hours with the programmers, he produced 90% of the cover artwork. The studio had a photo-typesetting machine, a Linotronic I believe and it would be used to produce the galleys, later I would write the blubs on an Atari ST using Calamus, print them out at 200% on a 300DPI laser printer which would then be photographically shrunk down to produce the artwork. It was in the studio that I started to build an understanding and appreciation of design and typography, which ultimately led me here to Microsoft (where I run the fonts and typography team).

I got on well with the other in-house programmers, and spent a reasonable amount of time with them outside of work. Lots of talent but I think ultimately a lack of oversight meant that they didn’t fulfil their potential. The sales guys, were sales guys, the accountants were accountants. I got on well with everyone.

JD: How and why did you leave the company (if not when it folded)?
SD: Around 1989 things were really starting to look bleak. My ability to license games, schedule and release them was being hit by the economic situation, and the games were not selling well. As I recall the Interceptor Christmas party was cancelled, and it was at that time I decided it was time to bail. I signed on with a few agencies in town and was offered a job doing dealer-level technical support at Frontline Distribution (a software distributor) in Basingstoke. I did this for a year and a half, earning couple of “A” levels at night school and leaving that job to go to University.

JD: How would you look back at your time working for Interceptor?
SD: I have no regrets about working there. It was great fun and a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s a shame the company wasn’t able to adapt to the changing environment. I’m glad I left when I did, I don’t think staying would have made a difference.

JD: Which games do you remember in particular or are particularly fond of?
SD: Into the Eagles Nest, was also a ground breaking game, the view from directly overhead graphics were really well drawn by Robin Chapman, and it clearly influenced Castle Wolfenstein and we know where that led. For its time I think it was the best of the Gauntlet style games on 8bit and 16bit platforms.

Joe Blade, and the subsequent sequels were a high point. I recall getting the evaluation tape around the time we were wrapping up Into the Eagles Nest, everyone was taken by it, and we were able to specify some updates that made it a much better game. It deserved the success it received. I think it’s a great example of what one talented person can produce, Colin Swinbourne not only wrote the came in pure machine code, but he also drew all of the graphics in an editor he wrote himself.

JD: How do you think working at Interceptor influenced you or your career since, if at all?
SD: To be honest after leaving Interceptor I was pretty much burnt out on games, and I never really recovered. I get to work with games studios at Microsoft all the time, commissioning and sourcing fonts for game and console use. My time at Interceptor certainly helps me in this part of my job. But mostly I think my time there helped me develop a passion for creating stuff, and shipping product, and I’ve always been happiest when contributing to the creation of interesting digital things that end up in the hands of customers. 

JD: Any other memories, stories or anecdotes you think would interest readers please let me know.
SD: When Codemasters launched they committed themselves to producing non-violent games. Players and Players Premier under my influence went the other way, the more excessive and over the top the weaponry the better, and I’d often have the programmer replace the space ship in a submitted game with an F14 or attack helicopter or replace a robot/alien with a mercenary. This provided a way for us to create more interesting artwork and stories that separated us from other game companies. We drew on popular culture, with obvious influences being movies like Commando, Platoon, Mad Max, Aliens, Conan the Barbarian etc., As such our games were almost always banned in Germany.

There was a very intermittent bug in the Amiga version of Into the Eagles Nest, which seemed to occur only on cold machines. To replicate the issue I would put an Amiga in a freezer for an hour or so. We never solved that one.

I also wrote a few of the inlays. Most of the stuff I wrote contained various in-jokes, as did the credits. Sound effects for one game were credited to Sonja, as we sampled them from the Red Sonja video. We also had fun with the “hall of fame” high score screens, type in “Richard” or “RPJ” (Richard Paul Jones) and the name would often resolve to “Boy Racer” or some such nonsense.

And I definitely agree with Andy [Severn, Interceptor extras part 5] that the Laser Tag battles were certainly a highlight. I remember the night the security guards busted us. Some were caught but others managed to escape, albeit by scrambling through a water filled ditch.

JD: What have you been upto since Interceptor?
SD: Since 1997 I’ve been working within Microsoft’s Typography group, currently I manage a small team that creates, licenses and maintains Microsoft’s international font library and helps product and marketing teams use fonts effectively.

My many thanks to Simon for his time and input.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Retro Gamer Article Extras: Interceptor Software Part 5: Full Interview with Andy Severn

Last month's issue of Retro Gamer magazine (115) featured my article on Hampshire-based Interceptor Software (also known as the Interceptor Group). As usual with any "From The Archives" feature, there are a few interviews that don't make it at all into the piece and others only a few snippets. Here's another one where unfortunately only a small portion made it into the finished article: Andy Severn, author of many a Spectrum Players games such as Xanthius, Powerplay, Blob The Cop, Street Cred Football and Anfractuous and, of course, the creator of the famous "Pac Loader"...

For the full story of Interceptor, issue 115 is still on sale and can also be ordered from the Imagine Publishing shop: https://www.imagineshop.co.uk/magazines/retro-gamer-issue-115.html

Anfractuos
JD: What was your previous experience prior to joining Interceptor and how did you come to work there?
Andy Severn: Like a lot of the game programmers in those days, my programming experience was all self-taught, bedroom coding. My first computer was a ZX-80, which really got me utterly hooked, then onto the ZX-81 where I just about dipped my toes into assembler coding. Finally, when I got my Spectrum (after several duff units send by mail order from Sinclair Research) I finally taught myself the dark art of assembler. My first ever published game was “Breakout” which was printed in Popular Computing Weekly Magazine in (1984?). they paid me the handsome sum of £15 for that and marvelled at the fact that it was PURE machine code. Readers had to type in reams of numbers from the magazine to play it.

I wrote a number of games, but the first ‘real’ game, Anfractuous (heavily inspired by Starquake) was my ticket into the games industry. I invested in a second Spectrum and a pair of Microdrive / Interface 1 units (later, a Discovery FLOPPY DRIVE unit). I would write the code on the first spectrum then squirt it across the ‘network’ to the second spectrum for testing.

JD: When did you join/leave Interceptor?
AS: 18-May-1987. It’s a date that I remember well. Martin [Severn, Andy's brother, aka Jabba - JD] and myself could hardly believe our luck – there we were writing games FOR A LIVING.

JD: What was your role there?
AS: Initially, I started as ‘programmer’. My first ever work there was to make a tape master for a game. I’d never really done that before, but I quickly figured it out. Later, I progressed to head programmer on larger projects such as “Dominion” that was one of the very last and ambitious projects that Interceptor undertook, and was sadly unreleased. I also had my hand in the duplication department, making masters for the various games that Interceptor duplicated for other companies. Often this involved writing code that would generate the loading signals to be recorded to tape. As technology progressed I was able to write code for the amazing disc duplication plant that consisted of rows of floppy disc hoppers. I’d devise various disc protection schemes that the system would be able to write, but would be uncopyable on a standard consumer disc drive.

One of the most fun tape loading systems that I wrote was ‘Pac-Loader’ which allowed the gamer to play Pacman on the Spectrum during the several minutes of loading. It was really tough to get this write as the code needed to consist of incredibly well timed instructions that would alternately listen for audio pulses from the tape recorder and process the game. It took many attempts to get this right. I remember coming in one morning to find my desk strewn with ¼” tape from the tape duplication department after the sound engineer had struggled with yet trial that failed to load. Simon Daniels, who was in charge of writing the copy on the inside of the cassette boxes snuck in a hidden reference to these in the back story of one of the games – I can’t recall which though.

JD: Which games were you involved in (if many, the most significant ones)?
AS: Many many games. Some games were those which I wrote. Usually there was one coder per project and an artist. I tended to work mainly with Martin. Others, I would lend technical assistance with.
Anfractuous, Xanthius, Street Cred Football, Powerplay (I think I liked that the best), Dizzy Dice. Later I went on to write Atari ST and Amiga games such as Outlands.

The vast majority of the Players games had myself as a credit for music. I had always been interested in computer generated music from when I was very young, listening to my Dad’s Tomita records. So, I wrote the Interceptor music system which provided sound and music for the AY-3-8192 chip systems (ie Spectrum and Amstrad). I later went on to develop a cross-platform music system of my own which ended up in a LOT of games with other publishers. The ‘vibes’ system would find its way into a lot of Codemasters Megdrive games (Psycho Pinball was my ultimate favourite) as well as Team 17’s Worms.

JD: What was you impression of Interceptor and the Jones’?
AS: Opinions of the Jones’ varied from person to person. It was clear from the outset that Richard was the self-made entrepreneur with his fingers in a lot of money-making pies. I never felt that he had a great deal of input in the games and would waft in and out of the development area with various motivational soundbites and return to his world of 80’s big business. Julian was definitely the hands-on type and would often be seen grafting in the warehouse or printing and duplication plant. Some saw him as a little fierce and his army background leaked through from time to time – but he had a tough job. We were a bunch of wild young things in our teens and early 20’s and it sometimes took a firm hand to keep us under control.

JD: How and why did you leave the company (if not when it folded)?
AS: When the company went into receivership, a few of us hung on to help carry things through to the phoenix company “Fun Factory”. Julian kindly lend a handful of us one of the office units to set up our own company “Synergy” in return for favourable development fees and the odd bit of technical help.

JD: How would you look back at your time working for Interceptor?
AS: Happy days. Really, these were rock-and-roll years when most of us discovered the outside world. We earned great money, and we all worked and played hard. I look back on those days and see it as an incredible privilege to have been a part of an exciting time in the birth of the games industry. Those were the days when it was FUN to work all night, eat Chinese takeaway over our keyboards and sleep under our desks.

Powerplay
JD: Which games do you remember in particular or are particularly fond of?
AS: We wrote some awful crap at times, games we would all pull together and write in a day, work all night and then have a completed tape in the morning. But some of those games still live on in people’s memories. Games like Joe Blade, Into the Eagle’s Nest and the like. I think one of the games that I wrote that I liked the most was Powerplay. It was a really simple board game in popular isometric style and behind that was a trivia game – the text compression in that game was pretty impressive for its day.

JD: Any other memories, stories or anecdotes you think would interest readers please let me know.
AS: We once all got chased around the industrial estate at night by the security guards. We were taking a late night break from work with a game of laser-tag. We took that game VERY seriously, and I think we really must have looked like a bunch of terrorists!

JD: Finally, what have you been up to since Interceptor?
AS: I spent a total of 25 years in the games industry. It was a hoot. I got to work with some amazing people meet various celebs, go to some MASSIVELY lavish parties courtesy of the likes of Ocean, Sony, US Gold, Empire, Codemasters. After Interceptor, I went on to work with some of the great developers and publishers such as Team 17, Codemasters, Empire, Pivotal, Rebellion.

I moved from lead programmer to Producer whilst at Codemasters and went on to work with some incredible teams on games such as Micro Maniacs, Conflict Desert Storm, Ghost Master, James Bond: From Russia with Love, Gun: Showdown, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and finally bowing out after the epic AVP reboot in 2010.

These days, I’m back to actually MAKING stuff. It’s my passion. I have my own company Oxford eBooks creating eBooks as well as publishing original stories by talented author. I’m able to express my love of all things sci-fi through the sci-fi-cafe.com imprint. I also design websites – because I still love coding!

… perhaps there’s another game or two in me we’ll have to see. The kids are avid gamers, they know about my history in games and are forever writing their own game designs.



My many thanks to Andy for his time!







Retro Gamer Article Extras: Interceptor Software Part 4: Full Interview with "Howlin' Mad" MIRAI

Last month's issue of Retro Gamer magazine (115) featured my article on Hampshire-based Interceptor Software (also known as the Interceptor Group). As usual with any "From The Archives" feature, there are a few interviews that don't make it at all into the piece and others only a few snippets. Here's another one that I unfortunately had to cut completely, with bonkers coder "Howlin' Mad" MIRAI, who has forged a successful musical career since programming many games for Interceptor back in the late Eighties.

For the full story of Interceptor, issue 115 is still on sale and can also be ordered from the Imagine Publishing shop: https://www.imagineshop.co.uk/magazines/retro-gamer-issue-115.html

Meantime, take it away, howlin'!

JD: What was your previous experience prior to joining Interceptor and how did you come to work there?
MIRAI: I had no experience whatsoever. When my first computer arrived (the Commodore Vic 20)
I spent a year mastering 'Basic' then went on to Assembler. I wrote my first 8 bit game "Wunda Walter"
during the summer holiday over a period of 4 weeks. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAHqs63lWY8

At school I didn't have to do any work during the computer science classes, as they were more than a year behind. I sold my first game to Interceptor just a few weeks later and then over the next 3 years produced another 12 games for them. In those days though, computers were new, so people didn't have any faith around me that you could earn a living by them. They soon became quiet when a cheque for £1000 turned up. I feel that reticence to new technologies is still prevalent today, but for me that is an advantage.

JD: Were you into games yourself or have much experience of them?
MIRAI: I was a video game fanatic. My father loves new technologies (like myself) so we would always have the latest gadgets in the house. I had the first PONG and then the first ATARI game console. But I was always a regular at the game arcades so was pretty familiar with most games since the birth of the video game industry. I also had all the import video game magazines from the USA. My favourites being Eugene Jarvis at Williams (Defender, Robotron etc.) and games from our British hippy derivative: Llamasoft.


JD: When did you join/leave?
MIRAI: 1984. I lived in Kent at the time, so I was freelancing with them. And the last thing I did with them was the Commodore 64 game music for "Into the Eagles Nest" in 1988.

JD: What was your role there?
MIRAI: I basically programmed and designed the games. Art was my forte at school but I had to learn how to compose music. In those days though, there was no 'photoshop' or 'Cubase' so you had to program both the graphics programs and music sequencers by yourself. It was quite a slow process.

JD: What was you impression of Interceptor, their offices and the Jones’?
MIRAI: I think I only went there once - I met the Jones' a couple of times but as Richard was only 3 years older than me, it was kind of bizarre that we were making a products at such an early age. But that has become the norm again now what with iPhone apps. I think I was probably a bit nervous in those days as I was still a kid, and it was my first real job.

JD: How and why did you leave the company (if not when it folded)?
MIRAI: I went back to college, as the 8 bit gaming period was waning, and the Atari ST and Amiga was making an appearance. I'd also got bored of programming, and because of the games, turned to writing electronic music. A few years later I moved to Tokyo, Japan and got work as a game composer for a large gaming company.

JD: How would you look back at your time working for Interceptor?
MIRAI: My first and last games were the best, and I had actually written at least another 40 games which were all half finished. I think I wrote the published ones in a bit of a rush, and wish I had had more time to focus on better game designs. For example I bought the Commodore C16 for £50, programmed and sold 4 games with it, and then sold the computer again for £50. It was a bit of a factory process near the end.

JD: Which games do you remember in particular or are particularly fond of?
"WUNDA WALTER and AUTOZONE were better received, and someone actually reprogrammed WUNDA WALTER on the PC years later, but my personal favourite games of Interceptor were things like CHINA MINER and the WALLIE games. You can watch here though, the funny reactions of one particular gamer, of my AURIGA game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-oko06evQ0

JD: How do you think working at Interceptor influenced you or your career since, if at all?
MIRAI: I spent many long nights programming 8 bit games over a period of 5 years, which enabled me to listen (and learn) about electronic music. I became a professional music composer and digital designer, and that all came from the experience of game design. I have worked for various other game companies and software houses since, both in Europe and Japan, and was even a game character in a Japanese fighting game. Around 2000 when they released the game engine for Tomb Raider, I was one of the first to develop a professional User MOD for the game, (due to my gaming experience) and that went on to be globally voted the top Tomb Raider MOD for a couple of years, with over 10,000 downloads, and was later released in Germany with the Lara Croft movie DVD.

JD: Any other memories, stories or anecdotes you think would interest readers please do tell.
MIRAI: While at Interceptor I met another game designer there from Manchester (Richard Robinson) who, to this day, is still one of my best friends. We started a band together "Intelligentsia". We even shared a house above a music studio in London. That band is still alive today and is one of my main focuses. As Richard was an 'Adventure' or Text games designer he still writes lyrics and slogans for us and is an excellent wordsmith.
I think his Interceptor games were very intelligent and edgy.

JD: What did you do post-Interceptor?
MIRAI: After Interceptor, I worked in Japan for Enterbrain/ASCII (Famitsu Magazine, RPG Maker etc.), Kaze Pinball (Necronomicon etc.), Arkaos VJ (Belgium) and freelance work for Square Enix & Codemasters. And I set up a record company in London called "Earth Academy" (named after 'Star Trek'), and have written over 8 albums of music.

more info here:
EARTH ACADEMY RECORDS - http://earthacademy.org
INTELLIGENTSIA - http://intelligentsia-music.com
RPG MAKER - http://www.rpgmakerweb.com/products/music-packs/zonderland


My many thanks to MIRAI for his time.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Red Dwarf - My Amazing Favourite Jokes

Along with Blackadder, Red Dwarf is my favourite sit-com ever. The humour from the show came from some brilliant writing that extracted the soul of each character before mercilessly and cleverly creating hilarious situations from them. These are my best ten jokes from Red Dwarf but be warned, my sense of humour has often been called odd, so some of these might not be too obvious. But I still love them.


10.Eating Rimmer’s Dad (Better Than Life)
When a mail pod arrives at Red Dwarf, Rimmer gets a letter from his mother (“Dear Rimmer,”) explaining his father’s unfortunate demise. Of course he’s dead; with the exception of the slovenly Dave Lister, the whole human race has expired. But receiving this letter causes Rimmer and Lister to have a touching moment in the mining ship’s observation booth (which is strangely never seen again in the series). “Owwwwwwww! Oooooh! Eeeeeeeeeeh, I’m hungry, feed me!” punctures the sad atmosphere as the cat announces his arrival in his customary manner. “Cat, Cat, Rimmer’s Dad’s just died!” exclaims a perturbed Lister. The cat looks indignant. “I’d rather have chicken.”

9.Deathday Treat (Thanks for the Memory)
When the boys celebrate Rimmer’s Deathday a smidgen more enthusiastically than they should have, Lister offers up his special hangover-cure: a triple fried-egg sandwich with chilli sauce and chutney. “You what?” mutters a delightfully morose Holly. “It’s a state of the art sarny!” claims an excitable Lister. “It’s the state of the floor I’m worried about.” comes the laconic reply.

8.Pleading with Vegetables (Quarantine)
When Rimmer contracts a dangerous form of holovirus, he imprisons the rest of the crew in quarantine as they return from a stricken spaceship. Eventually revealing his true colours, the crew have this brilliant exchange:-

RIMMER: I can't let you out.
LISTER: Why not?
RIMMER: Because the King of the Potato People won't let me. I begged him. I got down on my knees and wept. He wants to keep you here. Keep you here for ten years.
CAT: Could we see him?
RIMMER: See who?
CAT: The King.
RIMMER: Do you have a magic carpet?
LISTER: Yeah, a little three-seater.
RIMMER: So, let me get this straight. You want to fly on a magic carpet to see the King of the Potato People and plead with him for your freedom, and you're telling me you are completely sane?! I think that warrants 2 hours of W.O.O.
LISTER: What's W.O.O?
CAT: You had to ask.
RIMMER: With ... out ... oxygen. No oxygen for 2 hours. That will teach you to be bread baskets.

And then to finish the gag off…

LISTER: What do we do?
CAT: I think our only hope's the Potato King.

7.Quagaar Warrior (Waiting for God)
This hilarious exchange exemplifies for me how clever the writing was in early Dwarf. There isn’t even really any punch line or joke, it’s just simply funny and extremely well written. When Red Dwarf encounters what Rimmer assumes is some sort of alien craft, the hologram finally breaks in the face of Lister’s incessant musings on the fate of the cat race. “LOOK, I'M SICK TO DEATH OF HEARING ABOUT THESE STUPID CATS! MY CONCERNS ARE SLIGHTLY MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT KIND OF STUPID, SMEGGING CARDBOARD HAT I'M WEARING! I'M TRYING TO DECIPHER THIS! THIS IS SCIENCE, LADDIE!” explodes Rimmer and how he kept a straight face I’ll never know. When Lister belittles his studies (“Never mind this tot…”), his colleague goes quite literally mental. “Tot? Tot? TOT! WE'LL SEE HOW TOTTY THIS IS, LADDIE, THE QUARANTINE PERIOD'S NEARLY UP! ....BASTARD!”

And of course the final joke is on Rimmer: “IT’S A SMEGGING GARBAGE POD!”

6.Never one when you need it (Psirens)
The Psirens are luring the crew to their doom, and whilst I’m not a particular fan of the episode in general this bit always makes me chuckle. When the boys discover something gruesome (“The poor sucker must have written it using a combination of his own blood, and even his own intestines” says Kryten), Rimmer asks who would do that. Lister, completely missing the point (maybe deliberately) chimes: “Someone who BADLY needed a pen.” in a suitably grim tone. Horrible – but funny.

5.Milk (Kryten)
When supplies begin to get low, Holly gleefully (well, as gleefully as Norman Lovett could be) informs Lister they’ve been running on dog’s milk for some time. “Nothing wrong with dog's milk. Full of goodness, full of vitamins, full of marrowbone jelly. Lasts longer than any other type of milk, dog's milk.” Why’s that? enquires Lister guardedly. “No bugger'll drink it.” replies the maudlin computer.

4.One Hell of a Night (The Last Day)
When Kryten is served notice of his impending replacement, the dwarfers celebrate at a party with Holly providing intoxicating liquor even for Kryten. The next morning Lister awakes in the company of a strange object: “We're on a mining ship, 3 million years into deep space. Can someone please tell me where the smeg I got this traffic cone?!” The joke is take one step further by (of course) the cat and his new-found apparel: “Hey, it's not a good night unless you get a traffic cone! It's the policewoman's helmet and the suspenders I don't understand!” This totally ludicrous scene is never explained, making it even funnier.

3.Colour Blind (Queeg)
Holly is going (or gone) mad. Or senile, or both. Either way, this scene is a great set up to the computer’s April fool joke. Everyone is down in the computer room. The scutters have gone crazy and Rimmer has been separated from his legs. When Lister picks up a yellow lead, he naturally consults the computer. “Oh yeah, that joins up with the white cable.” it replies. After the very best the BBC Pyrotechnics department has to offer transpires, the camera pans back to a confused-looking Holly. “Or is the yellow cable? Yes, it should have been the yellow cable.” seemingly unaware of the pandemonium he has caused. Norman Lovett’s confuddled style fits the scene perfectly.



2.It’s a B… (Camille)
This isn’t one of my favourite episodes by a long chalk, but I love this opening scene. Lister is trying to break Kryten’s programming by forcing him to lie. By holding up fruit. “It’s a banana” mutters Kryten when Lister holds up a banana. After several attempts, Kryten finally gets it: “It’s…It's a b... It's a b... It's a small, off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden!” “It’s the Bolivian Navy on manoeuvres in the South Pacific!” Of course, when the cat wanders in and the duo demonstrate to him, Kryten can’t repeat the trick and goes back to correctly identifying the fruit. “You taught him that?” says the cat sarcastically, “That’s terrific! You two should audition for “What’s my fruit?””

1.So What Is It? (White Hole)
This scene is so finely tuned, so expertly written, it gets the honour of my favourite Red Dwarf joke. The mining ship has encountered a white hole which is causing all sorts of messing with the time-space continuum. This scene is so finely tuned, it gets the honour of my favourite Red Dwarf joke. It’s made even funnier by Kryten’s attempt to explain the phenomenon and represents the Cat’s finest hour.

So here it is, in its entirety…

CAT: So, what is it?
KRYTEN: I've never seen one before -- no one has -- but I'm guessing it's a white hole.
RIMMER: A _white_ hole?
KRYTEN: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the universe: a white hole returns it.
LISTER: So, that thing's spewing time back into the universe? (He dons his fur-lined hat.)
KRYTEN: Precisely. That's why we're experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
CAT: So, what is it?
KRYTEN: I've never seen one before -- no one has -- but I'm guessing it's a white hole.
RIMMER: A _white_ hole?
KRYTEN: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the universe: a white hole returns it.
LISTER: (Minus the hat.) So, that thing's spewing time back into the universe? (He dons his fur-lined hat, again.)
KRYTEN: Precisely. That's why we're experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
LISTER: What time phenomena?
KRYTEN: Like just then, when time repeated itself.
CAT: So, what is it?

They all stare at him.

CAT: Only joking.
LISTER: (Suddenly upright, and minus his hat, again) Okay, so it's decided then. We consult Holly.
CAT: Hey, wait a minute -- I missed the discussion!
RIMMER: (Suddenly on the bench, where the CAT used to be sitting) We all did.
KRYTEN: (Suddenly on the table previously occupied by LISTER) Time is occurring in random pockets. The laws of causality no longer apply. An action no longer leads to a consequence.
CAT: (Back on the bench) So, what is it?
KRYTEN: I think we've experienced this period of time before, Sir.
CAT: Only joking.
KRYTEN: And that one. Since we're no longer affected by the laws of causality, we can override these time jumps if we concentrate.
RIMMER: Look, the only way out of this is to consult Holly.
CAT: (Snaps fingers) I'll go with that.
KRYTEN: Gets my vote.
LISTER: Okay, so it's decided then. We consult Holly.
KRYTEN: Ah, I think we've just encountered the middle of this conversation!
CAT: So, what is it?
LISTER: Ooh, someone punch him out.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Revival Retro Gaming Show 18/19th May 2013 at Wolverhampton


Here's my pics and comments for the fantastic retro gaming show Revival that I attended last weekend.


This marvellous wall of gaming goodness greeted each attendee.

Next to it was an Atari 7800. The game is Ninja Golf, a fantastic game where after taking each shot, you had to battle your way to the ball!

Next to the 7800 was the dear old Jaguar, here showing off the impressive Missile Command 3D.
Into the next room now, and an Intellivision and Atari 2600. RetroRik (and close relative I assume !) are having a go on Soccer.
Into the main room now, and there weren't many pinball machines, but they still proved popular.
This grand old arcade machine entertained me still.
RCM were present with an impressive display of rare machines.
A Spectrum +2 signed by various luminaries of the time.
The classic Amidar.
I'm not sure if they were an official part of the show, but I spotted these board games in a corner.
I am still in awe of the divide. Had to try a few classics on it.
30 years ago I didn't "get" Maze-a-Tron on the Intellivision. I still don't.
There were many sellers including this one, Rockrabilia. The Spectrum resting on its polystyrene was a rare early model and fetched an eye-watering £150!
The Halo ring was back.
Some classic arcade machines. I'm still useless at them all!

There was only one native Mega-CD game provided and it happened to be one of my favourites!
The horrible mushroom on top kind of ruins it, but here's the otherwise sexy Mega-CD/Megadrive Mark 1 combo.
A couple of shots of the TI-99
A poor Virtual Boy, sitting unwanted and unloved in a corner, its games lying beneath it liked spewed detritus.
The fruitcade was back (courtesy of Videogame Carnival), although not sure Track and Field games were good for the fruit.

There was an awesome VR unit present at the show into which anyone could climb. Pushing the top bottom on the "gun" made you walk forward.
The small screen on the left shows what the user can see.
Wall Pong was popular again as part of Matt Brown's Videogame Carnival.
As were the giant gameboys!
Overall it was a great show.  A big thanks and well done to Chris Wilkins (Boyo) and his team.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Retro Gamer Article Extras: Interceptor Software Part 3: Full Interview with Karl Hornell

Here's another full interview from my Interceptor From the Archives article, this time with Swedish programmer Karl Hornell. Karl did a whole bunch of Commodore 64 Players games for Interceptor such as Clean Up Service, Toadforce, Fungus and Fruity.

Retro Gamer Issue 115 is still available in most branches of WH Smiths or from the Imagine online shop.



Fungus
Jdanddiet: Hi Karl. So how did you come to work for Interceptor?
Karl Hornell: There was me and another kid in my neighborhood who were fans of Interceptor back in 1983 and liked to dabble a little in game development ourselves. Together we worked up the courage to contact them and ask the usual fan questions. (They sent us some free games in response, which we thought was pretty cool.) As my programming skills improved, I started sending them C64 games I'd made. Later on they informed me that they were starting a budget label and wanted to include my games in it. That was a dream come true.

JD: What was the relationship like?
KH: Mostly sporadic, because I lived in a different country. Typically, I'd mail them a game on a floppy disk and they would send me back a purchase contract. But in the summer of 1986 my family went on vacation to the UK and stayed in Tadley for a week. Richard Paul Jones very generously let us borrow his house. (If I remember correctly, he had recently moved out and was in the process of selling it.) While my parents and brothers were sightseeing, I spent my days in an office at Interceptor, putting the finishing touches on the game "Fungus". Then I also got to meet Andrew Challis, Kevin Parker and Julian Jones, but at the time I wasn't very fluent in English, so we didn't talk much.

JD: What did you work on for them?
KH: Just freelance stuff. All my Players games: "Fruity", "Ronald Rubberduck", "Velocipede", "Clean Up Time", "Velocipede II", "Fungus", "Toad Force" and "Clean Up Service", plus "Melonmania" for Interceptor.

Clean Up Service
JD: Which games in particular did you like?
KH: Early on I was very fond of Ian Gray's work. The games he made were simple but elegant. I spent countless hours playing "Get Off My Garden!"

JD: When did you stop working for Interceptor?
KH: It's hard to specify an exact time. The idea was that when the C64 eventually became obsolete, I would make games for the Atari 520 ST instead. The company gave me (and presumably some of the other developers) one of those machines, along with a very heavy and completely incomprehensible box of photocopied technical reference manuals. Unfortunately, the 520 ST was a lot more complex than the C64. It was also a lot harder to find informative programming articles about it. I had to start from scratch and didn't know a single person I could ask for help. To make matters worse, I had recently started studying Engineering at the university and didn't have nearly enough spare time anymore. It was a hopeless situation. I got as far as a half-finished "Fungus 1.5" before I gave up.

JD: What did you do afterwards and since?
KH: In some ways I've been trying to relive the late 1980s. When Java was released for the web, I developed a lot of clones of old C64 games. And when Mophun and Mobile Java came along, I did the same for those platforms. Currently I work as an iOS developer, with occasional hobby projects on the side.

Toadforce 
JD: Any other memories that could interest readers?
KH: At the beginning of our stay in Tadley, my family was shown around the office at Interceptor. We were introduced to the software development and graphical design departments. Richard Jones was highly enthusiastic about their new airbrush tool (an actual physical device -- this was before Photoshop), which allowed for photorealistic illustrations, and wanted their in-house artist to demonstrate it with whatever he was working on. That turned out to be a softcore pornographic painting. Oops! But this was a more innocent time. Today I think it would have felt rather awkward if the head of a company had included something like that in a tour for a family with children.

Perhaps a little undeservedly, for a short while Interceptor made me the poster boy for their Players label. After "Fungus" was released, they managed to get a three-page article about the game and a short interview with me in the magazine Computer and Video Games. I'm sure it was good PR, but to this day I'm still embarrassed at my stupid responses to the interview questions. And to top it off, they illustrated it with a horribly ugly cartoon drawing of me and my pals I'd sent to Interceptor years earlier.

My thanks once more to Karl for his time.