A sister site to Lemon Amiga. Made in Sweden by Kim Lemon 1998-2013.
|An interview with Steve Turner
Steve Turner and Andrew Braybrook were famous for writing simple but atmospheric and highly playable games. Their ability to take an ordinary concept and mold it into something special was amazing.
We had a chance to have a chat with them. This is the first part of the interview in which we talked to Steve. The second part which is the interview with Andrew will hopefully be ready soon too.
Hi Steve! Thank you for doing this interview. Please introduce yourself a bit more!
Hi, I'm Steve Turner, ex-Managing Director of Graftgold. I am now 50 which means I started writing games twenty years ago! I am happily married with 3 children. The eldest, Mark, is 22 and used to hang around our office playing our games.
What made you decide to join the C64 gaming industry? Had you always wanted to be a game designer, or did you stumble into your careers by happy accident?
I started off playing arcade games in pubs. I thought I could do a lot better than the games I was playing. I started off on the first machine I could get my hands on that was good enough to program games on, the Spectrum. I would have liked to have programmed the c64 in the early days but at first the Spectrum sales were funding the company so I had to stick with that machine. The C64 was clearly in a different league with its sound chip hardware scroll and sprites.
You were involved in many C64 games as a programmer/graphic designer/musician: Alleykat, Bushido, Gribbly's Day Out, Gribbly's Special Day Out, Intensity, Magnetron, Morpheus, Rana Rama, Soldier of Fortune and Uridium. Any other games we'd need to add to this list?
In the early days we did everything ourselves. In a way it was much easier being completely in control of every aspect of a game. Occasionally Andrew and I used to help each other out, I would do his music and sound and he would draw my fonts and some graphics. Your list is almost complete. I only did bits and pieces on Andrew's games and just did the music on Soldier Of Fortune...
We were always contributing ideas to each others games and pushing each other technically. "Wouldn't it be good if it did so and so?" Mostly though our games were our own creation and had our individual style. I wrote the first sound player so used to do the sound effects and music. Andrew did Paradroid as I didn't have time to do the music so he invented his robo babble.
How did you meet? What made you decide to start making games together?
We used to play arcade games together and played guitar in a local rock band. Andrew played bass and I played lead. I had already written my first Spectrum game at this stage and Andrew had started experimenting on the Dragon 64. He joined me to convert my games to the Dragon but they just didn't sell in any numbers. Andrew was already a programmer and had made some games at work in his spare time.
Most of your games have strange names (Uridium, Gribbly, Rana Rama,...). Which one of you usually chose the name of game? Who was guilty of this?!
We both chose our own names when we could. It was quite difficult choosing an original name that is going to be original and recognizable. They had to be clear of any licensing issues. I named my second game War of the Worlds after the novel about Hollywood rang Hewson up and said they owned the license even though the book was so old it was public domain. After that we deliberately set out to make them original and registerable.
Who usually came up with the original idea/designed the games?
The ideas were our own individual creations.
How long did each game usually take to complete?
At first it took 6 weeks. In the end we were taking 9 months for a C64 game.
Do you still have the source code and other original material of any of your C64 games?
I have some old disks but I don't know if they are readable. The C64 source was put on a CD so I have that somewhere. I've got our earliest documentation. In the early years everything was written down on paper as you didn't have room to note the source code.
What tools did you use for coding/graphics design/music?
We used to write our own tools. It meant we could get the data in the format we wanted to make it small and fast. Our first sprite designer was written on the dragon and printed out the hex code to type in. I wrote many music engines and tools, eventually Jason Page took over from me and went on to be the sound and music guru at Sony. We used to sell our tools to other companies.
Which one was more time consuming; backgrounds design or sprite designs?
The backgrounds probably were the hardest as you had to get many backgrounds out of a few graphics characters. That meant re-using as many as possible so we built map editors and block editors to make larger graphic blocks out of 8 by 8 characters. Sometimes the tools used to take up to half the time of making a game.
What was the first step in the process of writing music?
I used to make the tunes up on the guitar at first then encode them in the music tool. Later on I used a keyboard. I had a good ear for the notes but had trouble getting the encoding of the timing right. Especially on 12/8 pieces.
Did you ever use digitized samples?
Later when the Amiga came out we started using samples. They took up too much room in the 8 bit machines to be worthwhile. We gave priority to room for gameplay rather than set piece sound and graphics.
Which one your tunes is your favorite?
I liked Uridium but it was a bit short. I always wanted to rework it with an orchestra like the Star Wars theme.
Which did you enjoy more, designing graphics or creating the music?
I used to like it all. It was tough having to give up the music but Jason did a good job. There came a time when we couldn't do everything and be the best. We had to specialize. The technical programming was my favorite bit.
What was the biggest technical challenge you had to face?
For me it was interfacing the Spectrum and the C64 to a PC compatible so we could do cross assembling. I had to get chip tech sheets and work out how to do the hardware and write the drivers.
And what was the biggest design challenge you had to face?
On Bushido I wanted double height sprites that were all plotted in the correct Z order. This meant I could have large characters that could walk in front of each other properly with no tearing. I don't know any other game that did that.
Now generally speaking, if you could turn the clock, would you want to rewrite any of your games, and why?
At the end of each game we were ready to start again. You had to prise the game away from us to get it published. Often the next game started out as a rewrite of the last game. If we could place our last game and graphic engines in the earlier games they would be transformed.
Did you read the magazine reviews of your games?
Oh yes, and usually it was worth it. It was very depressing when a game got a mediocre review. It was not so much that someone didn't like a game but it felt unfair if it was obvious that the game hadn't really been played or understood. Generally the reviews were superb until the latter days when C64 reviewers were getting a bit jaded and really just wanted to play with the 16 bit machines.
Can you describe your typical day on as a C64 game developer?
I would walk the dog (or sometimes Andrew would). I usually started at 9.00 and left at 5.30 but Andrew used to start a bit later and liked to work in the evenings. My wife used to make us cups a tea. We worked very close with each other, heads down for a period then one of us would rant at the machine. Very often we would sit with pen and paper trying to work something out. It was quite intense most of the time till the game started to take shape. We spent quite a lot of time playing each others games and criticizing. There was a synergy between us, one of us would have an idea, the other would have another often tried to outdo each other in a friendly rivalry.
How much did you contribute to the tape/disk cover design of your games?
Not as much as we would have liked. We hated some of the designs and were ready to offer ideas but most of the time the publishers just did what they thought best.
Which one your games is your favorite?
Bushido was my best c64 game, sadly it was a little too late.
Which one was the most difficult to create?
Bushido was the most technically advanced C64 game I worked on.
Which one did the best in the market?
Unfortunately I can't claim any real market success on the C64. I just didn't
Specialize on the machine soon enough to make a classic game.
Please comment on the following statements about your games:
How does it feel to see people still love your creations so much after more than 15 years? :)
Gribbly's Day Out's random level order
Andrew was keen to give players something different. His games were about giving someone an experience rather than something to achieve.
The 'touchiness' of Gribbly's Special Day Out
Andrew was a master of playing it. He was encouraged by ZZAP to make hard games to defeat Julian Rignall. The reviewers there were expert players and downrated easier games.
The sheer simplicity but high playability of Rana Rama
A large part of the design was a direct progression from Paradroid. I spent a lot of time working out why Paradroid worked so well and trying to learn from it.
Soldier of Fortune being too damn difficult!
The author John was too good with a joystick. I couldn't play it but he said I didn't play enough games.
Zzap's %100 score for presentation to Paradroid
They were really nervous about reviewing it after doing the diary. They were genuinely bowled over by the game and this excitement shows in the review.
Uridium being considered one of the best games of 1986
Uridium was the right game at the right time. No one but Jeff Minter had achieved the arcade quality scrolling.
As new games were replacing old ones at an alarming rate we had no idea that they would last so long. It matters a great deal to us that people like them. We consider ourselves entertainers.
Did you play other people's games too? What were your all time favorite C64 games?
Yes we played others games when we could. We used to play Jeff Minters games as he was one of the foremost technical programmers.
Who inspired you the most?
Probably each other. I used to like the professionalism of the Ultimate games.
What is your best memory of the C64 days?
I used to really enjoy the press launches that Hewson did. He would hire a small venue lay on some food and beer. It was small enough to have time to meet the press properly and personally show them the games.
What is your worst memory of the C64 days?
When we learnt that Hewson was going bust and realized we had to take our games to Telecomsoft or risk getting no royalties if he went bust.
Is there anything about those days that you would change, had you the opportunity?
I would have liked to have published our own games so that as the industry grew we had a fairer share of the income. As it was the percentage royalties just didn't provide enough money to invest in the next round of technology.
So what are you doing now?
I'm in the RnD team at a commercial software house earning more money than I ever did when I worked round the clock at Graftgold.
Do you still play computer games? Any favorites?
I play more games now than I ever did. I was usually too busy. I like war games, flight simulators and the odd shoot'em ups.
How do you compare the games released these days to the ones released back in the old days?
While there are some excellent games around the emphasis nowadays is on looks rather than feel. I have always hated movie sequences . There just isn't the innovation there used to be, I'm sure the programmers are up to it, the publishers are too dominant and make sure the games all fit their mould.
Thanks for your time! Anything you'd like to say to the community?
Thank you for playing the games, like any entertainer it's the fans who make you.
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