The Journey Begins...


Flying Shark (1987)

Commodore DiskUser, Issue 3, March/April 1988.

Review from Commodore DiskUser, Issue 3, March/April 1988 (click to enlarge)

After answering a random ad for Games Programmers in my local paper in 1987, I got myself a job at a company called Catalyst Coders; a strange outfit consisting of a ragtag collection of young coders eager for their first break.  I was immediately given the Taito arcade game Flying Shark to convert to the C64. I'd be the sole coder, there'd be one part-time graphics guy, and it would all have to be done in three months.  They'd set up a makeshift office in a couple of grubby rooms above a shop in Neath, South Wales.  Another guy, Bob Pape, was also there writing R-Type for the Spectrum.  We shared the building with a taxi company, and our equipment interfered with their radio, so we weren't at all popular.  After a couple of weeks, in a surprising show of self confidence (for the time), I refused to work in the office, and elected to work at home. Less chance of being eaten by rats. Bob has written an excellent book about the experience.

We initially had no arcade machine to use as reference, just a wobbly video we had secretly filmed in a nearby arcade.

There were a quite a few technical ballaches to overcome with this game: full colour scrolling in three directions, a huge number of moving objects on the screen at once (the C64 could officially display only 8 sprites at a time), and a lot of graphics in each level made the whole thing quite a challenge.  Also, back then, there was no Google, so if you had a problem you had to work it out yourself.

In the end, I managed it. It was far too difficult to play, but I had no time to tune the gameplay.  Not my proudest moment in retrospect, but it got a few good reviews.

Note: Dom Robinson and John Cumming actually wrote the Spectrum version, and were credited on the C64 cassette box (and therefore in the reviews). But I'm not bitter.

Maze Mania (1989)

After the near-death experience of Flying Shark, I was asked to write a maze game for Hewson Consultants. I would be paid a whole £1000 for it. It was to be called Maze Mania.

I came up with a simple concept for a typical maze-chase game. It took a couple of months to write (re-using my scrolling code from Flying Shark), but was a lot easier than 'The Shark'. As soon as it was finished, and the master was handed over, Hewson Consultants apparently went bankrupt, and the release was scrapped. The game was forgotten about, I licked my wounds and moved on.

It turns out, Andrew Hewson came back with another company, 21st Century Entertainment, and released the game any way without my knowledge.

He still owes me that £1000.

My first experience of the dark side of the games industry.

Unity Developer at 'If You Can' (2014)

During one of my 'resting' periods, between proper jobs, I took a contract at If You Can. I would be writing tools that enabled visual creation of stories for their educational game. The game concerned itself with the emotional development of kids (all very tree-huggy), and was set up by Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts.

The job consisted of writing a tool which ran inside Unity, allowing the designers to construct storylines visually using a tree structure of connected nodes.  The sheer tedium of the job, combined with getting up at 5:00am to travel from Cambridge to London, meant I didn't stay there for very long.

iOS Games Utilising Javascript and PhoneGap (2014)

Another 'Resting Period'.

I thought I'd better spend the time improving myself, and decided to delve into mobile game development; it seemed that was where the big bucks were!

After doing a lot of research, I reckoned the best way to go about this, and get more bang for the buck, was to teach myself web game development (using JavaScript and Canvas), and using PhoneGap to create apps for any phone or tablet from the web app.

Scrolling through the App Store, I noticed that there were a large number of casino/slot games there, where players could gamble with fake money. So I gave that a go. I wrote a suite of slots/bingo/poker games which worked very nicely on all the mobile devices I could get my hands on (playable demo shown on the right).

Unfortunately, the games were not finished as I urgently needed to:

  • Get a job.
  • Pay the rent.

This was all pretty good experience, and it eventually led to a very enjoyable stint writing casino games at Nektan.

Web Application Developer at 'AllYearBooks' (2015)

Another short-lived venture!

Through a friend of a friend, I was hired to create a web app which gave users the ability to create professionally printed picture books. They already had a reasonably successful business creating yearbooks for schools, but as this was pretty seasonal, they wanted to produce a more general year-round product.

The app used JavaScript and Canvas to create the layouts of these books, add filters and frames, etc. It involved backend work in Node.js, NoSQL database fiddling (MongoDB), and a lot of fancy Canvas animations and effects. Unfortunately, inevitable funding issues brought development to a sudden halt, and I found myself 'resting' again.

The app is lost in the ether somewhere, but it was pretty impressive, even if I (modestly) say so myself.