A sister site to Lemon Amiga. Made in Sweden by Kim Lemon 1998-2013.
|An interview with Jonathan Temples
Jonathan Temples (Smyth) was in charge of the graphics for many C64 games. He, along with his cousin Dave Clarke (and their friend Ashley Hogg) created many games which were not only a feast for eyes and ears, but also a lot of fun. We got a chance to ask him how he and Dave went about making so many cool games…
Hi Jonathan! Thanks for doing this interview with us! Why don't you introduce yourself a bit more?
My name is Jonathan Temples. I changed my surname since then, so the games will have Jonathan Smyth. I live near Belfast in Northern Ireland. I have always lived in the outskirts of Belfast. I have now graduated in graphic design. I'm now working as a graphic designer. I would have loved to work in the computer games industry still but that meant moving to England. At the moment I have friends over in Belfast so it would be hard for me to move. David Clarke is now living over in England and still programming.
You guys are cousins, aren't you?
Yes that's correct; David Clarke and I are cousins. We used to live around the corner from one another.
Ok...You were in charge of graphics in a lot of C64 games. Bubble Dizzy, Stuntman Seymour, Phileas Fogg's Balloon Battles, Cue Boy, DJ Puff's Volcantic Capers, Miami Chase, CJ's Elephant Antics, CJ in the USA, Spikey in Transylvania and Nobby the Aardvark. Any other games you may want to add to this list?
Well there's one other game - Spellcast, which featured on the zzap64 cover tape. This was a hack'n'slash game. It got a lot of good reviews and well liked all round. It's a pity it was never finished. David and I put so much time and effort into it.
Almost all of these games were release around 1991-1992. Those were the last years of C64…how did the industry look like back then?
Well I was only into the games for a short period of time. I was more or less plucked from nowhere into games. My cousin David was coding a space game and he can't draw or design graphics. He asked me to give it a go and to his surprise and his new boss at Choice Software in Carrickfergus said he was well impressed and very keen on me to give it a go sometime. That's how it started. The industry was still very nerdy and only for males then. You learned everything yourself and no college or course helped you.
All of your games were released by Codemasters except for two: Balloon Battle Phileas Fogg's s which was published by Zeppelin and Nobby the Aardvark published by Thalamus. Any reasons for this? Did Codemasters refuse to release these two games? :)
Well Codemasters were very good to us and always taking our games. We always had original ideas and were given freedom. Once my name got around I started getting phone calls. The few zeppelin games I did were good as well but David didn't code them so the 'genesis' touch that we had was never there with these ones. The Balloon Battle Phileas Fogg game got excellent graphics marks but not so for the game. Nobby the Aardvark was a game which David wanted to show that he could compete against any Commodore Amiga game out there. The game was a dream to work on and the whole game shines I think. The only problem was the space station level which could have been improved slightly. Nobby is a good game as I still play it on my old commodore 64. The Nobby game was just too much work for a budget label and the time spent needed more money.
Nobby the Aardvark was one of the best games ever released on C64…It pushed the machine right to its limits! How long did each game usually take to complete?
I think David spent 6 months or so on each game. When I was doing the graphics on the other few games I could spend around 3 months or so. The problem that I had was the amount of tweaking coders did when I finished. This meant doing one more sprite or fixing a sprite which the coder did himself which always annoyed me.
On the games you developed together, did you help each others at all? Or each person to his own job?
David and I were very good at bouncing ideas of each other. We're both completely different. He's more mathematic and I'm more of an artist, painter. We both had the same goal but coming at it from different angles. He always coded and I always designed the graphics. We both although designed layout levels and thought about characters and enemies etc.
What language did Dave use for writing the games?
I think Dave coded in 6502. He coded on the Atari ST and ported it across onto his Commodore 64.
What about you Jonathan, what tools did you use for the graphics design?
I used Tony Crother's sprite editor from a commodore magazine I got free. One brilliant editor indeed. For backgrounds we used David's own homebuilt block editor. It was a 2x2 8bit block editor which means I had to use 4 characters per block. The sphinx and the Eiffel tower in CJ's was one example of having to plan out on paper first before even trying to tackle the job.
Which one was more time consuming; backgrounds design or sprite designs?
Backgrounds were harder as you had to look out for spaces and bugs were sprites would fall or stick inside.
Nobby the Aardvark was difficult as this scrolled colour and had huge levels as well. David and I sat for days just mapping out one level after another.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the graphics of the games were becoming considerably better. Can you explain why? Especially since the VIC chip stayed unchanged all those years. What was the most important reason for this progress?
Well like true artists, Picasso or Van Gough it takes time to experiment and push the boundaries. You must always try different things. I found I could push and improve the graphics by using a mixture of color mixing and shading. CJ's colors were very bright and the sprites had no black color in them. People used too much black. And as any artist knows black is not black - it's always a mixture of darker color. I was able to blend pixels by using color. I've always tried to push myself and get the most out of graphics. I always felt happy with my graphics in the end but by the end you always had in your mind a desire to go back and change something. It's a learning curve and that's about it.
At what age did you start working in the games industry?
I started experimenting with graphics as a teenager. But I didn't get a chance to do it for real for a good bit later.
What made you choose to work in the computer gaming industry?
It just happened. We were playing a game one day and we said to each other we could do better. We gave it a go and CJ's Elephant Antics happened. It was a surprise as well to get a medal from zzap64 for it. That being our real first published game.
Which one your games is your favorite?
It should be Nobby the Aardvark, but overall its CJ's Elephant Antics. That game was just how we wanted it. No one telling us that this is in or this is out. Although I'm out of the games scene now. David has always got a lot of response from that game.
Did you play other people's games too? What were your all time favorite C64 games?
My favourite games were:
Thrust - graphics basic but suits the game (oh what a game!)
Time tunnel - I completed that game, I loved this to bits. Very original lovely graphics and so different.
Exploding fist - Lovely graphics and ahead of its time.
Bruce Lee - That's just a classic.
David's favourite game or all times is Mastertronics' Big Mac: The Mad Maintenance Man and Myth.
Who inspired you the most?
I was inspired by someone called DOKK. I think its DOKK? It's a long time ago. His way to shade and sketch along with his composition was stunning. His work was always in zzap64.
How much did you contribute to the tape/disk cover design of your games?
None at all. I sketched my own cover ideas for CJ's and Nobby's. I always would have loved to have designed a tape cover. Never got the chance.
What about the music?
That was our friend, Ashley Hogg. I saw him about a year ago in Belfast when he was back over but that's the last time I spoke to him.
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
Running home from school and throwing my school bag and homework in the corner and turning that side black switch on and seeing the blue screen.
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
Having to go upstairs and put the commodore 64 onto the black and white small TV.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
I would have probably tried to set up a games company and moved into PC or Playstation. Well you can wish, can't you?
So what are you doing now?
David's a programmer on the playstation2 and myself, I'm a graphic designer - not computer games; more product/packaging design.
Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
I own a Playstation 2 and at the moment play and enjoy Dark Angel and Vice City.
How do you compare the games released these days to the ones released back in the old days?
Too much graphics and not enough game play. There's some good games out there if you look but very far between. The two I play are very impressive. I feel because games are like movies these days, hundreds of people involved the whole fun thing is starting to be lost. It used to be a fun environment.
Is it really true that you can use both hands at the same time? (Writing and drawing?) WOW!!
Well not writing. When I was studying at art college and sketching in the life drawing class we had to experiment sketching. We had to sketch with left and rights hands and sometimes both. I found that I could sketch better in my left hand and yet for 26 years or so I sketched with my right. If standing at an art easel I can sketch simultaneously left and right. I still enjoy sketching and at present attend classes at night.
I do miss the games scene and it's nice to see people are trying to preserve it. And keep the retro thing going.
Well, thanks for your time! Any last words?
Yes I would love to see the complete maps of CJ's or Nobby on Lemon64. And a sprite gallery.
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