We really don’t do enough Spectrum features despite our fascination with the computer/games machine. I’m pleased to say that Adrian managed to track down the legend that is Steve Turner! 3D Lunattack, Avalon, Quazatron and of course the outstanding Dragontorc were all developed by him. Enjoy the read as we pay homage…
Steve, great to have you here. We know some of the background but could you explain how you got the opportunity to enter the video game industry in the first place?
When I started it wasn’t so much an industry, more a load of magazines with programs to type in and lots of individuals or fledgling companies selling games. I worked for an insurance broker as a computer programmer and systems analyst. There was a guy at work that had invented a board game that was published. That started me thinking that if I wrote a computer game then maybe I could get it published. When the Spectrum came out I seized the opportunity and wrote a game and sent it to three companies that were advertising for games.
What was the game you ever worked on?
My first ever game was a submarine game written in BASIC on the ZX80. I ran out of memory before I finished it so decided to learn Z80 assembler. I remember being disappointed that I could only have static screens. I saw a Space Invaders game that actually had moving graphics by carefully timing code so that it ran in between display frames. I started to write my first true arcade game, a copy of asteroids. I managed to get the first asteroid moving when the ZX81 was released making my efforts redundant as the ZX81 could easily move graphics.
How do you look back at your time making Spectrum games and does it bring back your fondest gaming memories?
I could not wait to get a Spectrum when I saw the first review. It seemed to be built to write games for. It was such a step up from my ZX80, even the rubber keyboard seemed a luxury. I put in an order as soon as possible and started writing a game. It was a very special time. I used to program in the evenings with a little black and white television on a coffee table. It was both scary and exciting I gave up work and employed Andrew Braybrook. The royalty cheques rolled in each month taking the pressure off and we had a very creative time together.
Out all of the games you have worked on, which one are you most proud of and why?
Over the years the answer has changed but looking back I think that the Avalon/Dragontorc system was the biggest step I ever made. It was a breakthrough, something completely new and original. When I think of the limitations of the Spectrum I think it was a great achievement (it was! Ed).
Are there any games you started work on but never managed to release?
Over the years there have been many that did not get past the design prototype stage. Perhaps the most significant one of these was the follow up to Dragontorc called Dragonwrath. It was signed by Warners but they pulled out of the deal before we really got going. We were to develop it on Playstation and PC. Our demo stopped work at the Warner office, it was very impressive. It had a similar viewpoint to Dragontorc but rendered in detailed 3D in a unique display system not involving polygons. That allowed us to present a high resolution 3D scene that all moved in parallax as the scene scrolled. I remember one room with ivy hanging down mid space. The parallax effect was really effective and far more detailed than games limited by polygon counts.
We would have loved to see that! You have worked for numerous developers and publishers. What company was the most fun to work for and why?
The early days with Hewson were the most fun. We were making money and that allowed us to pay for the development ourselves. This meant we were not “cap in hand” to a publisher and pretty much did whatever we wanted. That was our most creative period. Hewson would of course give an opinion on our games but did not try to dictate to us.
If you could travel back in time and work on any video game, which game would you have loved to be involved in?
I would to have loved the chance to work on a real arcade machine in the days when new genres were being invented. I loved the Star Wars sit in machine and would have loved to have programmed and play tested that.
Great choice! If you could give one piece of advice to anyone looking to work in the video game industry what would it be?
Learn your trade before approaching an employer so you can show a portfolio of real work. A uni course helps but there is plenty of opportunity to self train by reading articles on the web and trying things out.
What are your top three favourite video games of all time and can you explain why?
That is a tricky question, as my favourites change. For out and out shoot em up experience I still love the speed and immersion of the Star Wars vector arcade game. I never got the same feeling with later shooters.
The game I have probably spent the most time playing is Steel Panthers World at War. Although at times I hate the way it seems to cheat, I find the campaigns totally addictive. They are so hard but when you start winning it is so gratifying. For my first choice I would have to say Andrew Braybrook’s Paradroid. The game should be used in classes of how to design a game. I spent a long time analysing why it worked so well and learnt a lot from it. It is a masterpiece of balancing risk and reward. Its gameplay stands up today just as much as when it was released.
If you could go for a drink with any video game character, who would you choose and why?
Well that’s got to be Lara Croft. I would ask her if she would like to star in a game that combines action sequences with intricate adventure sequences. Funnily enough the lead character in Dragonwrath was a similar character that explored ancient temples but she wielded a two handed sword. It is coincidence that we had showed a early video demo of Dragonwrath to EA but it always made me wonder. Perhaps she could tell me a thing or two.