A sister site to Lemon Amiga. Made in Sweden by Kim Lemon 1998-2013.
|An interview with Simon Pick
Simon Pick's career spans over more than two decades. He developed many great games (such as Shinobi and Narc) for C64 and also NES. So when we got the chance to have an interview with him, we didn't miss it!
Hi Simon! It is such an honor to have this interview with you!
It's nice to be remembered… I seem to have spent a large part of my life making games in my bedroom to very little fanfare!
Why don't you introduce yourself a bit more to the readers who may be less familiar with you?
Full name Simon John Pick, I'm now 37 years old. I started programming on my ZX80 when I was about 14 and released my first game (Dare Devil Dennis) on the BBC Micro, I quickly moved on to the C64 and stuck with it for a good many years. I have a degree in Artificial Intelligence (which sounds far grander than it really is!). I am married with 2 children. I run a small development team PictureHouse Software which I put together following the success of PS1 Die Hard Trilogy (I was lead designer and programmer on that project). We're currently bringing a classic game to PS2 … which will be announced in the next few months (and don't worry, it isn't Mad Nurse).
Actually I'd love to play Mad Nurse on PS2! You wrote quite a few games for C64, didn't you? Shinobi, Narc, Dare Devil Denis: The Sequel, Gradius, Indy Heat, Micro Rhythm, Nemesis, Slimey's Mine, Star Control and last but not least, Mad Nurse. Did I miss any?
I wrote a game called "Revolution" that was never published - I was pushing for more cash from a couple of publishers and then got bored of the whole thing, so I gave it away as a cover-mount disk. There are copies floating around on the net… it's a cool game.
I also spent a while as a development manager at The Sales Curve (now SCI). I was there in the early days and had a hand in Silk Worm, Ninja Warriors, SWIV and St. Dragon.
Wow! It must have been a blast to work on so many games! Why did you choose to be a game developer in the first place? At what age did you release your first game?
When I got my ZX80 there were no games available, so I had to program my own! I rapidly moved on to the BBC micro, and started copying Arcade games. My loft is filled with tapes (I couldn't afford those brand new "disk-drive" things in those days!) of arcade game "clones" that I'd knock together with every spare minute. You name it and I've probably written a really bad version of it! I released my first game (Dare Devil Dennis on the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron) when I was 16.
I myself tried writing a couple of games, but I was only twelve back then and my assembly skills were lousy. The best I could ever do was a lame Space Invaders clone...Did you code all your games in Assembler?
At first I'd write everything in BASIC. As time went by I started writing little bits and pieces in assembly code to speed them up. Eventually everything was in Assembler, but it took 2-3 years for it to happen.
Ok, let's talk about your games. You did so many different types: Arcade (Shinobi), Shoot'em up (Gradius), Racing (Indy Heat), Education (Micro Rhythm), and Strategy (Star Control)…You were certainly a jack of all trades!
The whole notion of genres is one which I really dislike - I think it comes more from people who don't understand games, and need to put a label on them, rather than the actual game-players. If a game is fun, it's fun, and that's an end to it. While writing all of my games I have never once stopped to think, gee, I've written a shoot-em-up and platform-game a driving game etc. I'm just concentrating on doing fun stuff.
Which one of your games is your favorite?
I converted the (little known?) arcade game Rodland to the NES … that remains one of my favourites. The C64 version, coded by a chap called Snake, is really excellent too. As far as C64 games… I played Revolution, my unpublished game, the other day and really enjoyed it, so I'll say that's my favourite C64 game.
Actually Rodland was a hit on C64. Anyway, Shinobi is definitely your most widely known and most popular game. I adored it as a kid; to this day it is one of the most downloaded C64 games. With Shinobi you certainly set a new standard in porting arcade games to C64...How difficult was it to convert?
It was tricky. Getting the colour scroll to work was hard - I had help from Doug Hare (who wrote I/O) with that. Some of the bigger enemies (e.g. the helicopter) where far from easy … The artwork was great, it was done by Ned Langman, who's gone on to do lots of great stuff.
You did all the work on Dare Devil Denis: The Sequel almost by yourself. How did you go about writing the music?
Actually, that was done by my girlfriend at the time. We found some copyright free music & she converted the music into numbers and I typed it in. It's fairly dodgy. I improved with Indy Heat - I wrote a decent music driver and "composed" (if that's the right word!) the music on Indy Heat.
In Nemesis, is the creepy 'Nemesis, the final challenge!!' your voice?
Yeah. I also feature in Eyeball and Jail Break.
How about the swearing in the Slimey's Mine? ;)
Yep. That's all me too.
How did you digitize the speech for your games?
I had some sampling hardware that plugged into the C64 that converted sounds into numbers. I wrote the software to grab the numbers and save them away! At the other end you just chuck the numbers back at SID and it does the rest - not quite that simple, as you need to set up a timed NMI (sounds technical, huh) to make sure the samples arrive at the right time.
Somewhere you mentioned Micro Rhythm was the quickest game you've ever written. It certainly was a huge success. What is the story behind it?
I borrowed a drum machine from a local shop, sampled everything and put together the user interface. I didn't really know what I was doing until it was finished - it took about 3 days I think - I sent it off to Firebird & they snapped it up.
And finally, Mad Nurse! Was the game concept your idea?
I'm afraid so. At first the guys at Firebird refused to publish it - saying it was in really bad taste (true!). Then a new head of development arrived (Colin Fuidge) and decided that Firebird should be in the business of making games, not deciding what moral code people should follow, and so he got it released.
These days not many game designers can feature stuff like frying babies in front of power sockets without activist groups giving them crap...did you get into any trouble for the game contents back then?
A couple of high street chains banned it, but other than that it went without any comments. I'm not sure I'd attempt anything like that today (closest I got was in the driving section of Die Hard Trilogy you can run people over and their blood gets wiped off the windscreen).
I really loved Mad Nurse! Playing it was a good stress relief.
It was perhaps a one joke game though, with not much longevity!
Did you play your own games a lot? Or did you prefer to play other people's games?
I have difficulty playing other games for enjoyment; I tend to spend my time figuring out how they've done everything! I try to play my own games a lot while I'm developing them, if something annoys me I fix it - it's the only way to get a smooth game-play experience.
Which C64 game was your favorite?
The Sentinel blew me away. I though it was awesome… and it still is, even today!
Did you have any C64 game-developer heroes? Who inspired you the most?
No one person inspired me - I was always keen not to be a "one hit wonder", so I guess that makes me inspired by the people who failed.
People who know me also know about my extreme passion for the Last Ninja series. I have to ask you this question just to get it out of my system...did you play any of the LN games? What did you think about them? (There! I feel much better now!)
They were great games… I worked for a while with Gary Liddon who was involved with porting this to some other format (MegaDrive I think).
How much did you contribute to the tape/disk cover design of your games?
Not involved at all. As I remember most of the artwork was rubbish (sorry to the artists!) but I think that was par for the course in those days.
You worked with so many different publishers (Firebird, Konami, Ocean, Virgin Games, Accolade and Silverbird to name a few). How did they approach you? Did they hire you for each game you wrote for them?
For my earlier original games I would approach them with the game 90% finished, and find the highest bidder. For the later games I was sub-contracted through a developer who would be doing other versions of the game (e.g. Spectrum, Amstrad), they would generally approach me.
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
When I first found out about sprites, it was really exciting.
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
Working all night to meet deadlines on Nemesis and then having to go into college the next day.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
I would have stuck at Revolution and got it published.
Maybe someday you can release it on PS2! Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
Favourite games… hmmm, don't get much time with 2 kids, but I'm a real retro-gamer. Give me Joust and Defender any day of the week!
I, on behalf of many C64 lovers, want to use this opportunity to thank you for the countless hours of fun you brought us. How do you feel when you see your games are still so popular and people are still talking about them?
It's nice to know that all the hard work was for something - they certainly didn't make me rich!
Well, thanks for your time! Any Simon Pick shrines on the web you can point us to?
Nah, even the PictureHouse web site is down at the moment.
Any last words?
These days I've 32MB instead of 64K, and I still run out of memory.
Hahaha…Thank you Simon. Best wishes.
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