A sister site to Lemon Amiga. Made in Sweden by Kim Lemon 1998-2013.
|An interview with Stephen Robertson (SIR)
Stephen Robertson did some awesome title screens and loading screens for C64 games back in the old days. Since I seriously dig his art, I asked him to do an interview with us and he kindly accepted.
Hi Stephen! Thanks for doing this interview with us! Why don't you introduce yourselves a bit more?
Hi, I'm Stephen Robertson; I'm 37 and live in the City of Sheffield, England. I'm currently working as a Games Designer for Argonaut Sheffield (Formerly the developer called Particle Systems).
Back in the mid 1980's I was an Artist on the C64 doing loading screens mainly for Firebird and Hewson. I signed my pictures 'SIR' - not because I'm an egomaniac, but because it's almost my initials.
Ok...You were in charge of the title & loading screens for a lot of C64 games. Can you please give us a list of the games your designs were featured in?
RMS Titanic, Freak Factory, Harvey Headbanger, Olli & Lisa, Warhawk, Happiest Days of Your Life, Twinky Goes Hiking, Microrhythm, Imagination, I Ball, Blazer, Ocean Conquerer, Eliminator, Scorpion, 5th Gear, Slayer, Exolon, Cybernoid, Golf Master, Tower Toppler (US version of Nebulus), Marauder and Gribbly's Day out.
With the exception of two games RMS Titanic and Blazer, these were all done for Budget (£1.99) games. Of course the above list doesn't contain all the personal pictures I drew at that time.
How long did each screen usually take to complete?
Normally 4-8 hours. Some took a lot longer; Warhawk for example took about 14 hours.
What tools did you use for designing these screens?
I used a Koala touch tablet with Koala Painter for all of my pictures. I couldn't draw with a joystick.
How was the Koala pad connected to C64?
It plugged into joystick port 1, and emulated the paddle controllers.
What were the steps you took for each drawing?
First thing would be to choose the background colour, which was very important as it was the one colour you could use anywhere without colour clashing problems.
Then I would block out the main outlines of the picture using Koala Painter's line drawing function - it was more accurate than drawing freehand.
After that the main areas of colour would be flood filled, and I'd go in using zoom mode to add all the shading and details pixel by pixel.
Logos were drawn separately, on the 'spare' screen (Koala painter had two drawing 'screens' you could swap between), then copied into the main drawing, with any colour clashes tidied up pixel by pixel in zoom mode.
Once the picture was complete I'd put it on a disc to send to the publisher, together with a version you could 'run' for preview purposes.
How good were you at C64 assembly programming?
Not very good! I could write simple programs, and did some hacking, but I just couldn't get the hang of interrupts, which of course was the key to C64 programming.
How much did the publishers usually offer you for each design?
My first commercial picture sold for £100. Firebird gave me £150 per picture, which was very generous. Later on Hewson gave me £100 for each picture. Remember this was back in the Eighties, and that would probably be equivalent to £200 to £300 now. Not bad for 8 hours work!
What made you choose to work in the computer gaming industry?
Money! Seriously. At the time I sold my first picture, I was earning £50 a week in a computer shop. When I realised I could earn more money doing something I really enjoyed, I seriously thought about doing it full time. However most of my early work was done part-time while working in a computer shop. That way I had some nice extra income, and a steady job. Later when the shop closed down I went into computer games full time.
Which one your artworks is your favorite?
Warhawk, because it just came together so well. I've always enjoyed drawing spaceships, and this one turned out much better than I expected. It also seemed to get the most attention of all my pics.
Which one of your artworks was the most difficult to draw?
Microrhythm. I really struggled to get going with that one. It took me a while to get into it, but now I think it's one of my most striking pictures, and it's original too.
Is that so? Actually Simon Pick in an interview with us said that game was the fastest and easiest game he ever wrote. Interesting, isn't it? Did you ever meet the guy?
I met him about a year or so after Microrhythm was released. We were both pitching to do work for The Sales Curve in London (just after they'd done Swiv on the Amiga), and were visiting their offices. He was a really, really nice guy. He said he liked the loading screen. I think it was a bit of a surprise for him to have that sort of a screen on his program.
Did any of your pictures drive you over the edge? ;)
A couple of times I lost a picture I was working on due to a crash, and had to start all over again. That was frustrating. Very frustrating - especially when you can't quite recreate what you did earlier. That happened with Harvey Headbanger. I'd originally drawn the overhead framework at an angle, like the box art, and it looked really good, but after I lost that version I couldn't get the framework right again.
Which was usually more difficult to draw, box covers or original images?
Original pictures, because it depended very heavily on inspiration from the actual game content. If the game was rubbish (Twinky Goes Hiking) the picture was usually rubbish! If the game was good (Warhawk) the picture was usually good.
Somewhere you said you were one of the unlucky Compunetter's satirised in ZZap! 64's Compunet article. What is the story behind it?
Zzap had a monthly column about Compunet, and I'd had a few pictures and demos featured in it. As I said earlier my coding skills aren't very good, so my demos weren't as impressive coding-wise as the others (though I like to think my graphics were).
So when Zzap did a Compunet article featuring the Partyline chat service they decided to take the mickey out of me. They had a user in their fictional Partyline chat log called 'SER', saying about his new demo that 'featured both a picture and a scroller'. I wouldn't have minded too much, but they then wrote something very insulting. I can't remember the details, but it essentially called me dull boring and stupid!
I was angry at first, but later I thought that I must have been reasonably famous enough for them to want to do it, so it's kind of flattering really.
Did you also do a game (Blazer for Nexus)? What was your role in it?
I did the game graphics and loading screen. I'm quite pleased with my work on the game, but I wish I'd had more time to do more varied graphics. I wasn't paid much for it unfortunately.
Did you play other C64 games too? What were your all time favorite C64 games?
I played lots of games! M.U.L.E. is probably my all-time favourite - along with Elite. I was something like the third or fourth person to get to Elite status on the C64.
Who inspired you the most?
Programmers like Andrew Braybrook and Geoff Crammond. Artists like Bob Stephenson, and probably the greatest C64 musician Rob Hubbard.
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
Going onto Compunet, and spending hours and lots of money chatting to friends on Partyline. Going to computer shows and meeting the Zzap crew (before they insulted me!)
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
Working for Andromeda software, and not getting anything major released. It was a bit of a waste of time working there really.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
I'd be more pro-active in chasing work. I think if I'd really made a go of it I could have been much more successful.
So what are you doing now?
I'm a game designer working in Sheffield for Argonaut Sheffield, working mainly on PS2.
I've worked previously on a Space-Sim series on the PC called Independence War (Known as I-War in Europe).
I'm married with 2 children.
Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
I can't stop playing computer games! I'm more into PC games than consoles (though I own a PS2). I love playing Battlefield 1942 and Counterstrike online. I like RPG and FPS games. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through Tron 2.0 recently.
How do you compare the games released these days to the ones released back in the old days?
Apart from a few exceptions, there's no comparison. Modern games are so much more fun and involving than older games.
It's amazing when you think about it - back in the Eighties home computers were much less powerful than the coin-ops of the time. Now the home computers are better than the coin-ops - there's virtually no reason to go play games in arcades anymore.
I do miss the short development cycles and small team sizes of the old days. It's very difficult to put your own personal stamp on a game these days when the average game has a team of 30 people on it.
Still, I think games like M.U.L.E. and the Ultima series on the C64 are still incredibly involving, and better than many modern games.
Well, thanks for your time! Any last words?
Thanks for your interest in me! It's great to talk about the old days again.
And remember, I have a gallery of my artwork that people can visit if they want to see what I did in the old days:
I also love to hear from anyone who knew me in the old days. They can contact me via my website.
Thank you and best wishes.
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