He’s such a legend here in the UK that me (Dylan) and Keith were too scared to talk to him at Play Expo London! He’s converted pretty much every game under the sun to the Speccy, so much so he’s become a bit of a ‘poster boy’ (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this) for the Spectrum Next. So, time to revel in his amazing career and read about what he has planned for all of us in 2020! Here’s the one and only Jim Bagley!
How did you first enter the video game industry and do you remember the first game you ever worked on?
I first got into the games industry, by asking a local games shop that I frequented if there was any local games companies (not knowing the North West of the UK was a huge part of the birth of the games industry in the UK). There was and he got me a contact number, I called them and got an interview, and started the next Monday. So two weeks after leaving school I was in the games Industry.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of a video game programmer and how much has it changed over the years?
Well, back in the day, once you got into work, you basically got on with the game you were doing, as we didn’t have any meetings to go to, because we knew we had to get the game done and knew what we had to do. These days, you have to have meetings and discuss what you did yesterday, and what you plan on doing today, and have stuff checked thanks to middle management.
What is your favourite game you have ever coded/been involved in?
Oooh that’s a difficult one. I’ve been really lucky and have enjoyed pretty much all of the games I’ve made for various reasons, the different challenges in getting the game done, arcade conversions, fitting it all in etc… Or having to learn new processors and new machines as each new machine came out like the 32X, Saturn, and PSX having to work around the pipeline and mix up the instructions to avoid CPU stalls.
Or do you mean which game I enjoyed playing the most? That’s a hard one also as I’ve enjoyed so many of the games I’ve made: Midnight Resistance; Cabal; because of the size of the games and fitting them into the Spectrum 128K for a single load, and then squeezing them into the 48K with loading each level. Then there’s DOOM for the Saturn as the original PC version was such an ace game, then there’s the challenge of Dragon’s Lair for the ZX81, and getting a Guinness World Record for that one being the largest arcade game ported to the ZX81 (that was just phwooaarrrr – Ed).
Then there’s Apple Bob for iOS and PC because it was my own IP and design expanded from a game I designed and wrote back in 1995 for the Mega Drive (which I kept for myself, as I didn’t want to release any of my games through Rage who I was working for at the time). I got a Game Boy dev kit and to get used to it I wrote a Space Invaders clone, and then asked the boss if we could get the rights to do Space Invaders for the Game Boy…he said no, it’s an old game nobody would want it, then many months later another company released Space Invaders for the Game Boy and it was number one for months. I was gutted so decided to keep the game designs for myself.
I used to love playing Cabal as a kid, what was it like working on this particular title and do you feel there is room for new remastered version of this game?
I would love to make a revamped Spectrum Next version of both Cabal and Midnight Resistance, but I’d have to get the rights to be able to do those now sadly, even though I wrote the original Spectrum versions.
As for Cabal, I loved working on it, it was a great arcade game. But it wasn’t an easy project, because there was an immense amount going on, with loads and loads of baddies, being able to go in front of and behind background and being able to destroy buildings etc. But it was an enjoyable challenge.
Striker was one of the first football games to adopt a 3D viewpoint – was this a difficult game to code and were you happy with the final results?
I was really pleased at the time with how the Mega Drive version of Striker turned out because it was quite a pleasing look at the time for a 3D pitch. Yes it was a difficult challenge, how to get the pitch to work in 3D and have the screen colours change without causing distorted pixels when it changes colours down the screen.
You helped program DOOM on the Saturn. How did you get this great opportunity to work on this particular title and did you feel a lot of pressure?
I was playing DOOM in my lunch break at work and the boss came in and said “Jim, you like playing DOOM don’t you?”, “Yes” I replied, then he said “Would you be interested in porting it to the Sega Saturn” and I replied “Hell yes!”
I knew there would be a lot of pressure doing it as it was a BIG title, then even more so when I was told I couldn’t use the 3D hardware to render the screen. I had to use the CPU to do it because John Carmack didn’t like the way the Saturn drew polygons (harsh, but maybe fair – Ed).
Yeah it was a little harsh especially at the time, but looking back I think he was right. The Saturn’s rendering was mainly just textured rectangles, which was awkward with DOOM’s rounded rooms etc. Although maybe walls done with hardware polys and floors and ceilings done with CPU may have been the best result. Anyway, I’m over it now, and happy to leave it as it was. I have been asked by a few people if I would do it my way, but I have so many other things I’d rather do, especially now with the Spectrum Next!
It’s often regarded as the best FPS ever made. Do you personally agree with this statement, or do you feel there is another game that deserves this title?
DOOM was amazing, but if I’m honest when Half Life came out I preferred that as the storyline was amazing. When Counterstrike came from a mod of Half Life, well that was the best team based multiplayer game.
I loved your work on IK+ for the PlayStation, as it is a perfect port of the Amiga classic. Was there ever talk of remastering the game or adding new features and how do you personally reflect back on this classic title?
Thank you. Basically, Ignition had been let down by their developer, and when I joined they had a few months to get 9 games out: 4 for Gameboy Advance and 5 for PSX, so it had to be a direct port. There was no time to modify, nor did I really have an artist, as I converted all the graphics myself. It would have been nice to have had the time (and an artist) to expand on it a bit.
You have programmed games for a number of different platforms but which platform is your favourite to program for?
I get asked this question a lot, and I’ve really enjoyed coding on all of them for each of their strengths. They are all amazing machines that I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to code on over the years.
Which game did you have the most fun working on and can you explain why?
I would probably say Apple Bob, because it was my game design so I had full creative control over it, so could take it in any direction I wanted to.
What projects/games are you currently working on?
Work wise, I’m currently working with Antstream, extracting the scores from all the games, so we can have high score tables in Antstream for them to challenge your friends etc… I will be back on challenges when I’ve finished the current games high scores.
If you could give one piece of advice to anyone who wanted to program video games, what would you say?
I would say, don’t give up, and don’t start with something big. Start simple, like Pong or Space Invaders, and then add things and do bigger games as your skills improve.
Did you ever start work on any video games that were never completed, and if so, what titles do you think would have been a success?
Yes. There was an Amstrad console game that I started getting to grips with just as it died. And there was Striker for the Master System, which was dying before I got the dev kit, so it ended up getting shelved. I think the Master System version could have been a success because football sells really well and it was shaping up greatly.
There was the 32X version of Striker too, which also could have been a great game, it was looking really good. And there was also WarDevil for the PS3 which got cancelled.
What is your favourite retro gaming title of all time and why?
I’d have to say Scramble. I love its simplicity and have history with it. A local store had a sit down cocktail cabinet of Scramble and had a competition on for the first person to complete all 6 levels (they’d win £10) and I won it.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character who would you choose and why?
I would have to choose Gordon Freeman, I bet he’d have a few good stories to tell.