Here ye find short introdutions of those talents who were involved in Denton Designs or in the game SHADOWFIRE.
Also I added more stories from their other projects, to fill this up. But there are still stuff missing here.
Please stay tuned for further updates.
Steven Cain began his career in the video game industry as Imagine Software's Art Department director in 1983 where he worked on titles like
B.C Bill and the infamous "Mega-Game" Bandersnatch. His background in Fine Arts from University of Liverpool, his love for games and his talent
at pixel art meant that he was ideally suited for the job.
After Imagine's well known financial issues led to its breakdown, he along with other Imagine employees Ally Nobel, Graham "Kenny" Everitt, John Gibson and Karen Davies created the software label, Denton Designs, based in Liverpool. The ideas for Shadowfire came from Steve. He was who went to Beyond and offered them the idea of an icon-based adventure to get the contract. Denton Design went on to win much respect and acclaim for their original work on such well known classics as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Great Escape, Shadowfire and Where Time Stood Still.
In Denton Designs, he helped build a working environment different from the one he knew at Imagine. However, his colleague, Ian Weatherburn
(who had also joined Denton Design), missed Imagine's working environment and never really adapted himself to that of Denton's, so he eventually
left to join Ocean.
Steve was involved with other Liverpool companies such as Canvas, again with Ian Weatherburn with Kenny Everett and his own GBA developer Tin Tiger.
Steve later joined Microprose as Art Director and subsequently went on to work with other well-known publishers like Rage, Acclaim and finally Silverback Studios.
Sadly, in 2004 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Despite the disease, Steve worked for another year in the industry. He died on July 19th, 2006. On July 25th, many personalities of the video game industry said their final farewell to Steve.
IN MEMORIAM OF STEVEN CAIN (1957-2006) (Simon Butler)
Steve Cain was a talented artist, aware of his strengths but also equally conscious of his weaknesses and humble enough to call upon others who
he knew could achieve something quicker or better than himself. He was affable, sociable and someone that almost everyone warmed to.
He led then as always, by example. He worked hard, applied himself totally, paid attention to the smallest detail and ensured that
everything went as smoothly as possible.
His dedication to his chosen field faltered at times but once he applied himself to a task, he would stick to a path until he reached his chosen goal. The success that he was truly capable of may have never reached his grasp but he rarely stopped the journey towards new and exciting parts of the gaming scene.
He mentored many people as he progressed from one company to another; some who have strayed from the gaming path as they matured and some who still practice some of the tenets laid down by Steve to this very day. There were times, I am privileged to say that I accompanied him in his endeavours, at other times we went our separate professional ways but he always remained my friend.
He faced his final years in typical Steve Cain style, with a philosophical shrug and his trademark laugh. This face may have been for friends and the facade might have fallen underneath the pain he suffered in his illness, but he never displayed anything other than the larger than life character I had known all my life. In his passing, the industry has lost a founding figure but is richer for his time and influence.
It is not easy to track down Steve's softography - especially for Denton Designs's productions, for which the authors' names are sometimes unclear. At least, Steve appears in the credits of the following games from 1984-2006. Hover ye mouse over the titles.
Reach for the Sky
(Nicole Segre zooms in on flight programmer Gibson - May 1984 Sinclair User)
LESS THAN two years ago, John Gibson was living on a remote mountainside in Wales and making a precarious living by installing suspended ceilings. Today he is a mainstay of the Imagine Software team of programmers in Liverpool, author of three best-selling games for the Spectrum, and the proud owner of a metallic brown Porsche 924. "I can't believe my luck," he says, "especially at my age."
At 36, Gibson is the oldest of the Imagine Software team, whose average age is somewhere around 19. Age, however, has not prevented any of his
games figuring in the charts within a short time of their release.
The first was Molar Maul, which was set, of all places, in a mouth where evil bacteria such as the green meanies and the DKs must be warded-off by means of weapons like toothbrush and toothpaste. "It sold well in spite of being in rather poor taste," says Gibson. His next game, Zzoom, was more in the classic mould of arcade games, except that it had a scrolling screen, then a novel feature, and that the enemy craft to be shot from the sky headed straight towards the player.
Gibson's present hit is Stonkers, a complex strategic war game which makes a complete break from previous Imagine Software games. Stonkers features a battle zone - "nowhere in particular but it resembles the northern coast of Europe," says Gibson - complete with marshland, river, mountains and open country.
The player's army is ranged against that of the computer and must try to over-run its supply point and military HQ to win the war. The ordinary screen display shows the battle terrain, with panels at the sides and bottom keeping the player informed constantly as to the relative strength of the two armies and individual units. At regular intervals, ticker tape messages run across the bottom of the map with the latest battle updates.
The truly original feature of the game is the way in which pressing the fire button permits the player to zoom in on any particular segment of the map, which is then displayed in fine detail, complete with whatever artillery units, tanks or supply ships happen to be in it. Within the limits imposed by the Spectrum memory, the game also incorporates artificial intelligence techniques, with the computer making rational decisions based on the player's moves. "A fair degree of strategic planning is needed all the way through," says Gibson. Stonkers represents a considerable programming feat, which is all the more surprising because Gibson entered the field comparatively recently and via a roundabout route.
Born and raised at Mitcham, South London, he studied polymer engineering at Manchester University and then applied for a post as a
trainee computer programmer with a multi-national plastics company. A promising career was nipped in the bud, however, when the company decided to
cancel the scheme four weeks before Gibson was due to start, sending him on his way with a month's salary.
Gibson drove a wholesale chemist's van for a time before deciding to settle for something sedentary and enter the services of the Department of Health and Social Security, where he was to remain for the next eight years. "I was always bored with the job," he says, "but one way of relieving boredom was to ask to be posted to various parts of the country." As a result, he worked in social security offices in Manchester, Cornwall and Wales, before he finally exchanged the uncongenial task of visiting people to assess their eligibility for supplementary benefit for that of erecting suspended ceilings on a self-employed basis. Seeing no glittering future in that career either, Gibson joined a TOPS computing course in Liverpool. "The course involved programming an IBM 43/41 in RPG II, which normally should have led to processing business data for a large company rather than working for Imagine Software," says Gibson, "but it also happened to put me in the right place at the right time."
Through the TOPS course, Gibson heard that Mark Butler and Dave Lawson, who had recently set up Imagine Software, were looking for machine code programmers. Although his course did not qualify him for the job, Gibson had taught himself machine code on a ZX-81 he bought in 1980. "I could not afford a 16K RAM pack in those days and with only 1K to play with, there was no choice but to learn machine code," he says. Called for interview, Gibson was asked if he could produce a fully-fledged game for the Spectrum in the next month. "I did not know what to say," he recalls. "I had no idea whether I could do it or not." After some hesitation, he decided it was worth trying and set to work on Molar Maul, an idea which had grown out of the dental treatment both Butler and Lawson were receiving at the time. The game did well and Gibson has never looked back.
Since he joined Imagine Software at the beginning of 1983, Gibson has seen the company grow beyond his wildest predictions. From the original
team of six, including himself and the celebrated Eugene Evans, it now employs 100 people, of whom 28 are full-time programmers, and has spread
to three sleek buildings in the centre of Liverpool.
Fast cars are almost a company trademark and a fleet of Ferraris, Porsches and Lotuses indicates the presence of top Imagine programmers or directors. Gibson's Porsche was a bonus for completing Stonkers in a gruelling two months. Imagine Software also boasts art and music departments to help with the graphics and sound of its programs.
"It's very pleasant," says Gibson. "I had only to produce the code for Stonkers instead of doing everything myself, as I used to do." The idea for Stonkers came from Lawson, who suggested it on the grounds that Imagine had never produced a war game. The emphasis was to be on graphics and real-time action to distinguish the game from simpler versions produced by other companies. Gibson's research on the project was limited. "I based it on TV and film documentaries, some war games magazines lent to me by a fellow programmer who is interested in those things, and plain common sense. The complexity of the strategy was in any case restricted to what I could fit into the computer memory," he says.
Gibson wrote the program on a company Sage IV, which has 1MB of memory. "It was wonderful to be able to store everything on one disc,
rather than many different ones on which people made their jam sandwiches," he says. Before the Sage IV, he was using an Apple 256K and says he has never programmed directly on the Spectrum.
To plot the map for Stonkers, Gibson and Imagine artist Paul Lindale used a sheet of graph paper, or rather several stuck together,
measuring 13ft. by 8ft. The graphics for the map and its large-scale segments took up 21K of memory and Gibson used every available remaining byte,
plus a few more which he was able to squeeze from the machine by juggling with sections of the program, for the strategy and action.
"That is why the game has no catchy tunes or fancy title screen. There simply was no room."
Gibson says he would have enjoyed writing Stonkers for the QL which would have allowed a more complex game than is possible for the Spectrum. He foresees a spate of games for the QL as soon as it becomes readily available. "Certainly Imagine would have no difficulty in adapting to the QL, although I do not think we or other companies would cease to produce Spectrum games. The Spectrum is still the chief money-spinner for software houses."
With another programmer, Ian Weatherburn, Gibson is working on a new Spectrum game, Bandersnatch, which is due to appear at the end of May. It is already being billed as a "megagame" and Gibson will say no more about it than that it will be several types of game rolled into one and that "it will look and sound fantastic."
In spite of the many changes at Imagine Software in the short time Gibson has worked there, he still finds it provides "a great working environment.
I am working with friends and being paid for something I am good at and enjoy doing. I also feel fortunate at my age to be at the start of something
so new and exciting." A prey to constant jokes on the subject of his advanced years and decrepitude, Gibson explains the fact that most programmers
are so much younger than himself by saying:
"They are the ones who like playing the games, so it is natural for them to be involved in writing them." He claims that he has no aptitude for
playing computer games - "a 17-year-old like Eugene Evans can play the games I have written better than I can," he says.
He attributes his programming skill to sheer patience and persistence.
Although Gibson thinks the games boom is bound to level-out in time, he sees no end to it in the near future. He also thinks that computers
like the QL will become part of people's homes - not just for filing, word processing, accounting and the like, but for things like controlling lights, television sets and central heating.
Gibson frequently works late into the night, sometimes for days at a stretch where there is a deadline to be met, so that he has little time for
outside interests, but he likes marquetry.
He recalls that while still at school he played with a rock group called Mud. He left the group to go to college, while they made a series of hits. "I often wondered whether I had done the right thing but it all seems to have come out right in the end," he says. "My mother would say it was fate. Perhaps she is right."
The 'incomplete' interview with John Gibson in sometimes about 2001
(By Darren McCowan for ZX Specticle)
1 • How did you get started in using computers, what was the first computer you ever saw and
what was the first computer you ever owned?
The first computer I ever owned as well as programmed was a Sinclair ZX81 back in 1981. I had a bit of spare cash and a bit of spare time so I bought one and started playing around with it. I soon got bored programming it in Basic but when I eventually bought a book called 'How To Program Your ZX81 In Machine Code', I was hooked!
2 • How did you come to meet Imagine's Mark Butler and Dave Lawson and how did they persuade you a career in the software industry was worth pursuing?
I'd just finished a government training course intended to turn me into a mainframe programmer and I went for an interview for a 'straight' job.
I didn't get that job but the guy who interviewed me said he could put me in touch with a new games company who were looking for machine code programmers. I duly went off to Imagine for an interview where Dave said, "Can you write 16K of machine code in a month?". I replied, "I don't know but I'll give it a whirl". Dave said: "OK. You've got the job". Many years later I found out from the guy who interviewed me for the 'straight' job that he'd taken one look at me and decided that he didn't want this long-haired hippy working for him which is why he packed me off to Mark and Dave. That guy was Ian Hetherington, millionaire founder of Psygnosis. And many years later, he did give me a job!
3 • Molar Maul was your first published Spectrum game - had you written anything previous to this on either the Spectrum or any other format that was not published?
I'd written a version of Space Invaders on the ZX81 and on the Commodore VIC20 but only for my own amusement. When I started work at Imagine, I'd never seen a Spectrum let alone programmed one.
4 • After cutting your teeth on the excellent Molar Maul, Zzoom and Stonkers you then began work on the infamous 'Megagame' Bandersnatch with Ian Weatherburn. Was the game all hype or did it have real potential to offer something different (for the time)?
Well, it wasn't quite all hype. There certainly was a game being developed and it certainly would have been something revolutionary for the time: a 176K Spectrum game courtesy of a 128K ROM add-on. At the time Imagine went bust the game was around half finished and we'd already used up all the ROM so a major design rethink would have been necessary to get it finished. Still that would probably have been academic as the projected cost of the game was £60. Would you have paid that much for a Spectrum game?
5 • How much of Bandersnatch was finished before the crash of Imagine, was there anything
at all to see?
There was plenty to see. The game was essentially about exploring the environment and interacting with other characters. The environment was a futuristic domed city with each dome connected by a glass tunnel. There was also an underground, mine area. The city was populated by lots of chararcters, each of which had particular idiosynchrasies. You could talk to the characters via speech bubbles and they could interact with each other in the same way. The character that always springs to mind is The Fat Man. He used to pop up in the most unlikely places but was reluctant to get into a conversation with you simply because he had so much useful information. There was also a giant worm in the mines; a bit like those in 'Dune'. I'm sure there was a lot more but my memory isn't what it used to be!
6 • What did the hardware dongle that Bandersnatch was going to use consist of, was it just a case of adding more memory to the Spectrum or did it offer anything else?
See question 4 . There was going to be more than just the ROM add-on. The game was to come in a BIG box containing lots of goodies like a T-shirt, character profiles, a map of the environment.
7 • While working on the Megagames, were you at all aware of the problems Imagine were having or were the programmers as shocked as the general public
at the time?
I for one was completely shocked but I think there were others who were far more astute than me. I didn't even get suspicious when the last salary payment I recieved came in the form of an envelope full of tenners. I found out later that, in order to pay everybody, Dave had visited just about every cash machine in Liverpool. I think the person who got the biggest shock was Mark Butler. He was so busy motorbike racing that he had little to do with the running of the company and had no idea that it was going down the pan.
8 • It was reported in the press of the time that Bandersnatch and Eugene Evans went to Fireiron (A company founded by Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington), was'nt you and the rest of the team tempted to complete Bandersnatch with them?
This is a very long story. Are you ready? Then I'll begin. When Imagine went pear-shaped, it split into two factions: one centred around Dave and Ian and the other around Mark and Bruce Everiss. Dave and Ian had managed to do a deal with Atari wherein they and the core development staff were to go off to the US to work for the aforementioned company.
This new grouping was to be called FireIron. At the last minute though there was a change in senior managment at Atari and all new contracts were cancelled. There then began the acrimonious battle between Dave/Ian and Mark/Bruce to keep the Bandersnatch dream alive with myself and the rest of the team playing piggy-in-the-middle. Eventually, Dave and Ian won the day, mainly because Dave was so good at selling a dream.
Off we all went then to Dave's house in Caldy, Wirral to write some Bandersnatch clones. (We couldn't finish Bandersnatch itself because as an intellectual property it belonged to the Official Receiver appointed to wind up Imagine Ltd). It didn't take long for some of us to realise that the whole thing was going nowhere and we soon left to do our own thing. Those left behind (including Eugene) went on to form a company called...Psygnosis. But that's another story.
9 • Did Fireiron do anything with the game design at all?
Well, as I've said, FireIron became Psygnosis and the first game they published was 'Brataccas' on the Commodore Amiga. Although this wasn't the
same game as Bandersnatch, it clearly used the same game engine. Incidentally, that same game engine was used by Denton Designs for their first game:
Gift From The Gods which was very much more of a Bandersnatch clone. This actually led to threats of court action by Psygnosis but ultimately it was all
hot air and sour grapes.
10 • After the Imagine crash you went on to form Denton Designs with several key members of the Megagame team. How did this come about?
As I said earlier, we were all working at Dave's house on Bandersnatch clones and getting more and more disillusioned by the day. The first people to decide to call it a day were Ian Weatherburn and Steve Cain. It was they who decided to form Denton Designs. They invited myself, Kenny Everret, Ally Noble and Karen Davies to join them though not at first as partners.
I think Ian had visions of creating his own Imagine so he didn't find the idea of a 6-way partnership very appealing. However, he did come round to the idea eventually and thus Dentons was born. Incidentally, in case you're wondering where the name came from, we bought an off-the-shelf limited company and 'Denton Designs' was the most appealing of the names offered to us.
11 • Ian Weatherburn was reported to be a part of the original Denton Design Team but never appeared in any of the early publicity shots or
interviews. Did he leave soon after the team was set up?
Yes, he did leave pretty soon after the company was formed. You see, Ian loved the life at Imagine: fast cars, loadsa money, status. He was pretty shattered when it all came tumbling down and his idea was that Dentons would simply pick up where Imagine left off. The rest of us , however, didn't want to see Dentons go the same way as Imagine which meant no fast cars or luxury offices. There were also some differences of opinion over the final design of 'Shadowfire'. The original concept was Ian's and he didn't want it interfered with.
12 • What games did you personally work on during your Denton's period?
Gift From The Gods, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Cosmic Wartoad.
13 • How did you come to leave Denton Designs? It seemed at the time to be a great success story.
Well, yes it was. It was a bit of a struggle at first. Despite generous funding from Ocean, we all had to take a big pay cut and work very long hours to get the company on its feet. Eventually, there was too much work for just the 5 of us so we started to take on employees. Later on, these employees asked for a share of the company which we all agreed was right and proper, given the contribution they had made to its success. The problem was, they wanted an equal share. Both Steve Cain and I resented this.
The original 'Famous Five' had worked hard to build the company up in the early days and in recognition of this we felt they should have a greater share of the company than those who had joined it later. Eventually, I said I would leave if the company shares were going to be divided equally. And that's exactly what did happen, so I left.
14 • What did you do after leaving Denton Designs?
I went straight off to see David Ward at Ocean. He knew about the disagreements at Dentons and long before I left he had intimated that I need have no worry about finding work if I chose to go it alone. I spent the next 5 years working freelance doing conversions and original games for the likes of Ocean, Microsoft, Atari. In 1990 I joined Psygnosis and was there until 1998 when I became part of Warthog. 2004 worked at Evolution Studios which was founded by Ian Hetherington and Martin Kenwright and later sold to Sony Computer Entertainment in 9/2007.
During the nineties John worked for Psygnosis in several senior roles and was directly responsible for most of the code libraries used in all Psygnosis' internal products. Having moved to Warthog in 1998, John has been a support programmer on many titles, with a passion for AI and frontend work. John can grasp new systems quickly and he does like to write a generic codebase which can be spread across multiple projects.
According to Mobygames his last work was Driverclub (PS4) in 2014 as support programmer.
´If he is not gone, I still believe to this day that he would have stamped his mark on this industry...´ (Simon Butler)
Ian Weatherburn was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire in 1963 and was educated at Almondbury Highschool and Huddersfield New College, where he became fanatically interested in computer technology: so much in fact
that in 1982 he optained in Liverpool University on a computer science course.
It was during his time at University that Imagine Software Ltd. got wind of the exciting game he was writing. Imagine eventually manage to entice Ian away from his seat of learning and started playing to do what he most loved, "playing around with computers."
Ian´s game was eventually released by Imagine under the name Zip Zap and became an instant bestseller. Since then he has been the prime mover in many of Imagines exciting projects and has recently written and designed the best selling game "Alchimist". Alchemist was Imagine's first action-adventure.
At that time (1983) Ian was single and lives in a flat in Liverpool with his library of science fiction books. Asked what his hobbies are he replies "for my sins I support Huddersfield Town F.C., and my main physical exertion is struggling out of bed in the mornings."
The first concepts for Shadowfire came from Ian. He invented the game icon-based system when he was at Imagine and the team was slaving away on Bandersnatch.
Ian left Denton Designs shortly after and went straight to Ocean. But Ocean did not satisfied Ian that long, so he decided to found Canvas with Steve Cain and play the boss.
Steve Cain left the boat soon after he helped to setup CANVAS and new people (mostly ex-imagine) came onboard. At that time some of the Ocean Games were done by external software houses like Canvas.
But almost immediately after that Canvas proceeded to chrun out complete dross like Highlander and It's a Knockout and Legend of Kage.
Titles that actually sully the good name of shite.
We all knew what we were doing was crap...but we had no say whatsoever in the quality of the games...Ian and his partners made sure the games were done as fast as possible so they could get the cash and move speedily onto the next one.
It was somewhat foolishly that Ocean would never notice if the games delivered to them were below par. But Canvas also did some highlight-conversions, too (e.g. Leaderboard, Super Cycle or PSI-5-Trading Company).
Unfortunately, the employees at CANVAS didn't always take their boss very seriously because of his kind. He was surely their boss and they got all their paychecks, but nothing more.
Betrayed by his partners at Canvas, Ian bumbles along for a while. But once a seemingly endless line of repo men started turning up at the office and shame of shames at his snooker club in Soutport to demand the keys to his car...he threw in the towel, rented a car, drove to Hudersfield to go with his father to see the home side play and the same evening he passed away.
IN MEMORIAM OF IAN (1963 - 1989) (by Simon Butler)
Ian Weatherburn was a Spectrum games pioneer and a significant influence on the realisation of the Spectrum as a computer with real potential
to entertain. Weatherburn's early creation, The Alchemist (1983) was one of the first ever attempts at a collect and use arcade adventure,
a game mechanic that was refined and enhanced through the Spectrum's most successful years by other coders - in the shape of the Dizzy series
as well as many other Spectrum games.
Weatherburn's creative ability to tap straight into the imagination of a child was continued in games like N.O.M.A.D. and The Neverending Story.
His versatility beyond these can also be seen in the coding of the Leaderboard golf games for the Spectrum, which emphatically raised the bar for
Ian Weatherburn remains largely an enigmatic figure in the Spectrum community because of his reclusive nature and eccentric habits.
A persona that was magnified when news of Ian's tragic death hit the community (apparently he commited suicide in March 1989).
Simon Butler, who worked together with Ian on many titles, can tell more about Ian:
I met Ian way back in the mists of time at the Imagine offices and he treated me then with pretty much the same disdain he did until the end of our working relationship together. But that was just Ian.
He was a self-absorbed with few people skills, which worked to his detriment in the social arena but was one of his strengths in the games field.
This distance that was always present between Ian and the rest of the human race only brought him closer to the thing he was best at, writing games. His games were more than usually well-crafted with a lot of man-hours put into each. He was sarcastic to a point where it was almost painful to hear some of the things he said. His idea of humour was almost always at somebody else's expense...but again this was just part of Ian Weatherburn and you either got over it, ignored it or if you couldn't, then stay away.
We worked quite extensively, just the two of us in our freelance days and because of his intractable manner he always said exactly what he wanted and left no room for error. Would that other coders in years to come had been as blunt or as focused.
There was no room for niceties, he was a man of few words so whenever work started, work was all there was and you did it until you finished; then it was time to clock off until tomorrow. No shooting the breeze or winding down, just down tools, goodbye, see you tomorrow.
While other, younger people came into the industry and matured and grew, Ian stayed a kind of Peter Pan figure in the background.
His hands later came to hold the reins of his own company but he was always a figure on the edge of things and even though the whole ball
of wax was his, he never entered centre stage. His only true failing that led to his downfall was his trust in people he considered friends.
Ian was led astray and his financial dealings only got worse. It was sad to see but, Ian being the person he was, would not take kindly to being offered advice and told he had made a mistake. His judgement was absolute and no-one could tell him otherwise. We parted on far from good terms.
Ian could have, I can only conjecture, been a pretty damn good coder, but I believe his communications skills or lack of would have held him back. Most likely he would have gone Stateside and followed his first love, the almighty dollar. I can see him now, alone but unconcerned in a house with a beach view, a fast car in the garage and the world's dodgiest collection of 80s female rockers in his cd collection.
He could have been happy. But sadly he never was.
He wrote games for companies such as Ocean Software, Imagine Software and U.S. Gold.
Hover ye mouse over the titles and watch Ian´s works.
Over 35 years in business
As an veteran computer artist Simon Butler worked during and after the Spectrum's golden years for a number of software houses including the original Imagine, Denton Designs, Canvas, Ocean, Team 17, Vicarious Visions, Probe, Magnetic Fields, Atari, dtp Entertainment, Bigpoint and many others.. His ZX Spectrum includes over 30 titles plus many other on other platforms. Until today Simon did GFX for over 300 titles.
It was Simons intention to start his carrer in the advertisement industries.
One day his old friend Steve Cain from Imagine Software offered him a 3 days job to work for him on a new Imagine game-title
in 1983 (Pedro´s Garden).
In these days he knew not much about home computers or how the game industry worked. Like many others in these times Simon was a big arcade games fan. So he agreed this offer to take a peek in this new area.
After that little graphic converting job on the BBC Micro, he got his money for the work and left Liverpool to continue his carreer in the advertisement industry. As he said, he fell into this industry by accident. He was working down in London in Advertising in the mid 80´s and times were hard.
Again it was Steve Cain who asked Simon to come back to liverpool and join his new company: Denton Designs formed out of the bankrupt Imagine.
At that moment Simon was on job-hunting and the joboffer from his friend came in the right time (until he found a new job in the advertising industry). Simon never thought that this step would keep him 35 years in the game industry now.
Simons first computer was a Acorn BBC Micro Computer at Imagine. But once he found himself actually working in game development he would have to say that the Spectrum is my first choice. Not for any patriotic, it is British so it is better than the C64 reason, but mainly because when he wanted to draw somethingt the Spectrum did a much better job at representing what he had in his head than the 64 with those suitcase sized pixed.
Having paid that he does love all the 8 bit machines but the speccy just wins by a pixelated nose.
At Denton Designs he took part as a freelancer in Graphics, Game Design, Concept and Character Design works. At that time the ZX Specrum became his favourite 8-bit machine, cause it was the best machine to realize his visions.
Simon took part at the earlier hits of Denton Designs.
Personally the job at Denton Designs were something of an anomaly in the industry for him, because all were at least ten years older than all the pre-pubescent herberts that got snapped up and exploited by the corporate giants.
Simon left Denton Designs fairly early on and went to CANVAS. After that CANVAS experience Simon went straight to the dungeons of Ocean Software.
Simon Butler's involvement in the development of the games was not limited to graphics.
Besides graphics and design, he also offered creative support, music and concepts or storyboards.
His main graphic work includes sprite design, backgrounds, loading screens and animation.
Depending on what was needed for which version of the game he was working on.
Here we have Simon´s titles he was involved from 1984-2000. Hover ye mouse over them.
Ex-Imagine programmer John Heap joined Denton Designs after the collapse of Imagine Software.
According to "Games that werent" he was the developer of "Hero" (Spectrum), the 3rd game of the Megagame series from Imagine. Unfortunately there is very little know about Hero and what the game was about.
At Denton, Shadowfire (spectrum) was the first project he was involved in and did the programming. He joined Denton Designs when Shadowfire was already in the last design stages. Later he also did the spectrum version of Enigma Force.
John remained at Denton Designs with Ally Noble when parts of the original Denton Team leaves. From that time on further hits came from his quills: Great Escape, Where time stood still, Fox fights back, Eye of Horus, World Class Rugby or Wreckers were his impressive works for Denton Designs.
John remains at Denton Design and Rage Software for 25 years. Since then he went freelance and worked for various games and applications for others.
The following story of John Heaps making of "Alien" for the Speccy is really worth to mention here.
In 1984 film licenses were still something of a rarity on the home computers. Ocean Software hadn't quite yet cottoned onto the idea fully and generally they tended to be low-key affairs.
One game dramatically changed this: Ghostbusters. Activision's classic made their fellow publishers realise the potential of a good movie behind your game and one such software house was Argus Press. Under their Mind Games label, Argus released Alien, an adaptation of the film that (technically) most Spectrum fans would not have been able to see due to its 18 certificate.
Of course, many of them had seen it in one way or the other, but that's another story...
The Playstation game Resident Evil is generally acknowledged to mark the start for the phrase "Survival Horror", yet the genre had been around for years and the movie Alien represented a perfect template for this type of game.
Your task as player was simple: take command of the various members of the Nostromo crew, kill the eponymous xenomorph and protect Jones the cat. Each level was presented in an overhead plan style with all the locations of the spaceship present including those "you-go-first" air ducts. After a brief introductory period, the Alien would hatch from a hapless crewmember and the running around and screaming would commence.
John Heap, of Imagine and Denton Designs fame, was the designer and programmer of the ZX Spectrum version, and it also marked the first full debut of this talented coder.
"I'd been in the industry for about three months," recalls John, "and was working at Imagine Software on one of their Mega Games."
Readers who are familiar with the demise of the Liverpool-based software house will recall that these two games, Bandersnatch and Psyclapse never saw the light of day, having been quietly abandoned in the aftermath of the Imagine collapse.
"Some of the older hands, including ex-Imagine Paul Clansey," continues John, "set up a company called Concept Software and a short while later they offered me a job as they required a Spectrum programmer."
The game John was being recruited for (at least initially) was Alien, a conversion of the Commodore 64 original, programmed by Paul Clansey.
"The C64 version was already well on its way to completion when I joined," explains John, "so whilst I was sole programmer on the Spectrum version, a lot of kudos should go Paul's way.
" The conversion process was not quite so simple in those days, however, as John confirms.
"The code was written in assembler and there were no cross-compilers. When you take into account the different strengths and weaknesses of the two machines, it was basically a total rewrite." Nevertheless, John was very excited
to be working on such a prestigious film license.
"To have it as my first published game was absolutely fantastic. I don't recall the constraints - if any - that Paul was working under, but I think we were more or less allowed to design the game as we liked."
In addition to the license, Alien had a number of other concepts that stood out. Always planned as a strategy title, the game had a slowburn atmosphere to it that
marked it significantly apart from the ubiquitous platform and shoot 'em up games occupying the shelves at the time.
"That worked incredibly well," says John proudly, "as having the door sound as either you or the crew moved around was a stroke of genius and was a lesson to us all: less is more."
There was only one drawback to this in John's opinion. "When you are finally confronted by the Alien - whilst it's an excellent graphic - it is kind of disappointing bearing in mind the tension that has been building up."
Alien utilised an icon-driven system for control. "I remembered from my Imagine days their Apple Lisa's all running spreadsheets. These computers had an icon-driven OS and I could see they were the future so we were keen to implement them into Alien."
Another novel concept was the emotion indicators:
"I wanted to show intelligence within the NPC's and player's character - or at least as much as was possible given the Spectrum's limitations." says John and this random element kept the player thinking about alternate actions, given the implications of their emotional status.
"Simply put, they might not do as they're told," he states impishly, "and it allowed man-management features to be added to the gameplay."
John went on to develop this idea further with some of his subsequent games such as Shadowfire (Beyond) and Where Time Stood Still (Ocean).
Does John think the Spectrum version was better? "Well, I liked the Spectrum more as a computer," he reflects,"because you had a blank canvas and never felt there were any artificial limits imposed.
I think the Spectrum version was graphically cleaner than the C64, helped by the fact that my pixels were square and I wasn't limited to a single character set."
And also, like many Spectrum games, Alien was a tough beast to master.
"I think perhaps I made the difficulty worse by allowing access to the air vents. That element wasn't in the C64 version and
I programmed the cat to jump into them!" says John without an iota of regret for those Spectrum gamers who tore their
hair out trying to rescue the pesky feline critter.
The level of difficulty was succinctly demonstrated by the end percentage score the player received. Echo the ending of the film (rescue Jones the cat, set the Nostromo
to self-destruct and escape in the shuttle) and you'd receive a lowly 2 or 3% score.
"It seemed that it would be a better ending for the company to kill the alien without blowing up the Nostromo," explains John, "so all you had to do was kill the alien, keep all the crewmembers alive and ensure the cat is ok." he adds with a
Despite this, there were a couple of elements that John wasn't happy with in retrospect. "I always tested the game on a keyboard and on release there were reports that with a joystick it was difficult to highlight the correct icons so I realised I should have put some debounce in." he says. "I was also a bit disappointed with the title screen; it was drawn on a very old fuzzy-screened colour television so when I placed the green attributes it looked subtle and glowed atmospherically. When I saw it on a big modern telly, however, I was appalled at how chunky it looked!"
Ultimately, John was very satisfied with the end result and the reception that Alien received in the gaming press. Sinclair User gave the game a "Gilbert Factor" of 7 and
said it boasted "tremendous tension".
Your Spectrum's Joystick Jury noted Alien's high difficulty level allayed with admiration for its diverse and original gameplay.
Best of all, however, was Crash magazine's coveted Crash Smash where the (anonymous) reviewer cited a "very faithful recreation of the movie's feel," and recognised the atmospheric sound effects before concluding "Hitchcock would have loved it".
High praise indeed!
Here we have the sum of John´s works he was involved in (1983-2011). Hover ye mouse over the titles and take a peek.
Fred Gray, born 1954, (not related to Matt Gray) did his first programming experiences through a Commodore VIC 20,
were he wrote a few games and tried to sell them to various local people.
Finally he showed his results to his friend Tim Best. He worked as a recruitment manager at Imagine Software at that time.
Tim Best was impressed by the music that Fred get out of the VIC 20. He offered Fred a job as an in-house-composer at Imagine. Soon Fred became friend with the C64 SID. The night when the Imagine bosses took ALL the staff to this big posh night club, atmospheres, for a meal and endless free cocktails were unforgetable. Fred was with his wife and they felt like movie stars, THANX IMAGINE. All in all for Fred it was in sum a good time there.
By the time Imagine went bust, thereon Fred made a way on his own and started working freelance for different game companies. Before Fred worked for for Denton Designs, he first went to Thor/Odin
The music he began writing for Psyclapse (Imagine Mega Games) - a bouncy 12/8 number - had a raw power that impressed the bosses at Imagine. Fred noticed that the 12/8 beat resonated well with listeners and kept it going. Fred drew his inspiration from the children's TV show themes "Terrahawks."
Some of his earlier stuff, as raw as it was, was really popular - Shadowfire, Enigma Force etc. Mutants is an obvious choice - especially the unsung high score tune - but loved Madballs also, especially as the software house that took it loathed it. Somebody did a hilarious cover with speech samples.
He rarely got to see games before writing though often got a rough spec. Working for Denton Designs was a nightmare because their game specs were positively surreal at times.
The big dislike at that time was obvious... no real-time input like today's MIDI software. Then there were filters of course, they varied from chip to chip grrrrrr! That's why Fred didn't bother using them, he only ever used them the once in the FGTH game.
"I had a cheap synth which I used to dream up melodies but I would start work on the backing first as that was the backbone and driving force. I would mess about on the synth with one hand while assembling one tune and new tunes would pop into my fingers (not my head) as I messed about the synth.
Enigma Force was a classic example of that - "Where the hell did that come from?" was what I thought when I first played it! It was that simple - although on Mutants I remember swapping the bass line with the melody in places - such an inspired move it turned out to be!"
Among the companies Fred worked for were Thor/Odin and Ocean Software. They paid top money for anything on offer and always paid on time - he was a happy bunny as they
were his main customer. Especially Ocean.
It was so sad to return to the old premises in Manchester to find it closed. He thought the room where all the arcade machines were was being used as a second-hand book shop. It is about time they had a museum dedicated to the British computer games industry - that building would have been absolutely perfect.
According to Wiki64 Fred´s last computer game he set to music was published in 1991. Fred Gray stated in 2001 that he had not had any good ideas for computer game music for a long time. That is why he retired from this activity. Most recently, he lived in Liverpool.
Here we have all those beauties from C64maestro Fred Grey. They are unforgetable tunes.
Enjoy the muzak in their original sound.
Hover ye mouse over the titles, then select Gametitle or Button for the tunes.
The "Enigma Force"- STOP Button is at the top right of da screen or at end of the list.
• AH DIDDUMS 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
AH DIDDUMS 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
• B.C. BILL 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
B.C. BILL 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
• COSMIC CUISER 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
COSMIC CUISER 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
• PEDRO 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
PEDRO 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
• JACK AND THE BEANSTALK 1984 (IMAGINE) C64
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK 1984 (THOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE) C64
• GIANTS REVENGE 1984 (THOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE) C64
GIANTS REVENGE 1984 (THOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE) C64
• SHADOWFIRE 1985 (BEYOND) C64
SHADOWFIRE 1985 (BEYOND) C64
• FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD 1985 (OCEAN) C64
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD 1985 (BEYOND) C64
• ROBIN OF THE WOOD 1985 (OCG) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
ROBIN OF THE WOOD 1985 (OCG)
• NODES OF YESOD 1985 (OCG) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
NODES OF YESOD 1985 (OCG) C64
• METABOLIS 1985 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
METABOLIS 1985 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
• IT´S A KNOCKOUT 1985 (OCEAN) C64
IT´S A KNOCKOUT 1985 (OCEAN) C64
• STAIRWAYS 1985 (THOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE) C64
STAIRWAYS 1985 (THOR COMPUTER SOFTWARE) C64
• THE NEVERENDING STORY 1985 (OCEAN) CPC / ZX SPECTRUM
Fred did that for Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum only.
• TRANSFORMERS 1985 (OCEAN) C64
TRANSFORMERS 1985 (OCEAN) C64
• BOUNCES 1986 (BEYOND) C64
BOUNCES 1986 (BEYOND) C64
• DANTE´S INFERNO 1986 (BEYOND) C64
DANTE´S INFERNO 1986 (BEYOND) C64
• ENIGMA FORCE 1985 (BEYOND) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
ENIGMA FORCE 1986 (BEYOND) C64
• HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER 1986 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
HIGHWAY ENCOUNTER 1986 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
• THE HUNCHBACK ADVENTURE 1986 (OCEAN) C64 / CPC / ZX SPECTRUM
THE HUNCHBACK ADVENTURE 1986 (OCEAN) C64
• INFODROID 1986 (BEYOND) C64
INFODROID 1986 (BEYOND)
• MERMAID MADNESS 1986 (ELECTRIC DREAMS) C64 / CPC
MERMAID MADNESS 1986 (ELCTRIC DREAMS) C64
• MISSION A.D. 1986 (OCG) C64
MISSION A.D. 1986 (OCG) C64
• N.O.M.A.D. 1986 (OCEAN) C64
N.O.M.A.D. 1986 (OCEAN) C64
• BREAKTHRU 1986 (US GOLD) C64
BREAKTHRU 1986 (US GOLD) C64
• WEST BANK 1986 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
WEST BANK 1986 (GREMLIN GRAPHICS) C64
• SLED 1986/87 (FRED GRAY) C64
SLED (FRED GRAY) C64
• A NEW KIND 1987 (ALLOY COMPUTER GRAPHICS) C64
A NEW KIND 1987 (ALLOY COMPUTER GRAPHICS) C64
• RENEGADE 1987 (IMAGINE) C64 / CPC / ZX SPECTRUM
RENEGADE 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
• HYSTERIA 1987 (SOFTWARE PROJECTS) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
HYSTERIA 1987 (SOFTWARE PROJECTS) C64
• MAG MAX 1987 (IMAGINE) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
MAG MAX 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
• ARMY MOVES 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
ARMY MOVES 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
• IMPLOSION 1987 (CASCADE GAMES) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
IMPLOSION 1987 (CASCADE GAMES) C64
• LEGEND OF KAGE 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
LEGEND OF KAGE 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
• MADBALLS 1987 (OCEAN) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
MADBALLS 1987 (OCEAN) C64
• MARIO BROS. 1987 (OCEAN) C64
MARIO BROS 1987 (OCEAN) C64
• MUTANTS 1987 (OCEAN) C64 / CPC / ZX SPECTRUM
MUTANTS 1987 (OCEAN) C64
• ROAD RUNNER 1987 (US GOLD) C64
ROAD RUNNER 1987 (US GOLD) C64
• STARACE 1987 (OCEAN) C64
STARACE 1987 (OCEAN) C64
• SUPER SOCCER 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
SUPER SOCCER 1987 (IMAGINE) C64
• ECO 1987 (OCEAN) AMIGA / ATARI ST
Fred did that muzak for ATARI ST AND AMIGA only.
• FOXX FIGHTS BACK 1988 (IMAGEWORKS) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
FOXX FIGHTS BACK 1988 (IMAGEWORKS) C64
• BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER 1988 (OCEAN) C64
BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER 1988 (OCEAN) C64
• BLACK LAMP 1988 (FIREBIRD) AMIGA / ATARI ST
Fred did that muzak for ATARI ST AND AMIGA only.
• FIREFLY 1988 (OCEAN) C64
FIREFLY 1988 (OCEAN) C64
• G.U.T.Z. 1988 (OCEAN) C64
G.U.T.Z. 1988 (OCEAN) C64
• HYPERACTIVE 1988 (OCEAN) C64
HYPERACTIVE 1988 (OCEAN) C64 - Game used the same muzak as FIREFLY
• TROLL 1988 (PALACE SOFTWARE) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
TROLL 1988 (PALACE SOFTWARE) C64
• ZONE TROOPER 1988 (CASCADE GAMES) C64
ZONE TROOPER 1988 (CASCADE GAMES) C64
• STAR GOOSE 1988 (AUDIOGENIC) AMIGA / ATARI ST
Fred did that muzak for ATARI ST AND AMIGA only.
• VICTORY ROAD 1988 (IMAGINE) AMIGA / ATARI ST
Fred did that muzak for ATARI ST AND AMIGA only.
• WHERE TIME STOOD STILL 1988 (OCEAN) ATARI ST / ZX SPECTRUM 128K
WHERE TIME STOOD STILL 1988 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM 128K
• EYE OF HORUS 1989 (LOGOTRON) C64 / DOS
EYE OF HORUS 1989 (LOGOTRON) C64
• RINGWARS 1989 (CASCADE) C64
RINGWARS 1989 (CASCADE) C64
• WORLD CLASS RUGBY 1991 (AUDIOGENIC) C64
WORLD CLASS RUGBY 1991 (AUDIOGENIC) C64
Megagames, Mexicans and Mullets
(Interview with Paul Drury from Retrogamer 53 / 2013)
Ally has been part of the Liverpool games industry since IMAGINE was hyping Bandesnatch.
Wirral-born Ally Noble co-founded seminal developers DENTON DESIGNS, danced with FRANKIE and got mobil with LARA. Paul Drury asks about her career as a graphic designer for computergames.
For a girl who´d grown up without a record player let alone a home computer and had not even seen a videogame until she got to art college, you might have expected Ally Noble to cautiously dip her toe into the world of game development. Instead she jumped in with both feet. Literally.
Ally Noble joined Imagine´s graphic art and music department in November 1983. Before arriving at Imagine she completed a 3 year course in graphic art at the Liverpool Polytechnic specialising in communications.
Ally was the publicity designer for Halewood Community Council and taught art and craft at the Wirral Play Council before joining the Imagine team.
"The first thing I worked on was Pedro ," she giggles, recalling the stomping Mexican gardener with pest problems.
"I did the tramp sprite and remember agonising about what to put in to those two frames of animation!"
Ally had been recruited by Imagine Software, who had recently signed a lucrative deal with Marshall Cavendish to produce a game for each issue of its Inputmagazine.
Ally´s degree in graphic design and predilection for the unusual caught the company´s eye and she was pleasantly surprised to meet up with old college friend Steve Cain at
Imagine saw their potential and took them on. Soon Ally was busy sketching out the cave for B.C. Bill on graph paper, before reading out the binary code for the programmer to tap into the target machine. "I´d be doing the sprites for six different machines and each platform needed some tweaking. Some had more oblong pixels, the Speccy´s were very square and the Amstrad had this lovely shade of pink," she recalls, wistfully.
Her talents were growing, as were Imagine´s ambitions. Despite the Marshall Cavendish deal dissolving in a financial mess, the company boldly announced it was moving its
best people into a special section of the building to work on first two ´Megagames´: Bandersnatch for the Spectrum and Psyclapse for the C64.
So the 5-a-side team of Ally, Steve Cain, John Gibson, Karen Davies and Graham ´Kenny´ Everett strode out onto the pitch as Denton Designs.
They´d bought the name off the shelf (Ally favoured ´Selectomatic´) and decided on a two-pronged attack. A publishing deal was struck with Beyond while Dave Ward of
Ocean showed his belief in the team by buying the Bandersnatch development system from the receivers and renting offices in Liverpool´s Rodney Street for them, in return for a
game in time for Christmas 1984. Dave´s faith was rewarded with the impressive ´Gift From The Gods´, a game that shared more than just its hardware with the ill-fated
"They both came out of John Gibson´s head and Bandersnatch would have been a sideways scrolling game, too," says Ally. "There was no physical code but the main character came from what I´d learned on Bandersnatch.
The development system was a SAGE computer with a four-and-a-half inch floppy drive and a green screen display. You could pump the graphics down this cable and see what it would look like on the target machine. We used that system at Denton for years...
"Meanwhile, Kenny, Steve and Karen were delivering Shadowfire to a delighted Beyond. The highly innovative icon-driven adventure not only showcased Denton´s technical prowess, the squad-based mechanic and inclusion of a strong female character in Sevrina shows some prescient, out-of-the-box thinking. Which may explain why it was happy to take the unusual step of turning a band into a game.
"We battled to get the Frankie Goes To Hollywood game," laughs Ally. "It was an organic growth. We did´t have a main character until near the end.
The idea of the shadow, the elements of his personality and using the symbols came together late. In those days you made it up as you went along!
And when it came out, it knocked
Shadowfire off the number one spot in the Gallup chart. That´s the best moment of my career so far.
"Yet, just as Denton Designs was riding high, cracks began to appear. The original five directors had run the company like a co-operative, each having an equal say and share holding, but success had led to expansion and the necessity of taking on employees. Ally recalls the meeting where things came to a head.
"We all met at someone´s house and discussed everything. The employees wanted to be part of it, to have shares, but my feeling is that the other directors didn´t want to give them that. The outcome was that the other four left and I stayed with the employees.
"We were all in it together as far as I was concerned, to make the best product we could."The noble thing to do, and true to her word, Ally was soon working with coder John Heap on one of Dentons´ high points - The Great Escape.
"We both liked the board game when we were kids. John Heap thought the routine of the camp would be cool to program,
then the other stuff underneath where you had control of somebody who could do things of their own free will."
With its ingenious structure and distinctive isometric graphics the game remains a Spectrum classic and led to a further collaboration on Where Time Stood Still,
which saw Ally taking on a great design role, agonising over the layout of its tricky swamp section.
There was to be a third instalment in this loose trilogy, Wreckers, but though development began on the Spectrum, Ally feels sure the code was never completed - which makes the complimentary review which appeared in Crash issue 88 something of an anomaly...You may have noticed that RG has politely concentrated on Ally´s triumphs, but not everything Dentons touched turned to gaming gold. The game Transformers was a missed opportunity and Roland Rat is best forgotten, but even when ideas didn´t gel, their titles usually showed a willingness to try something new.
Tying a Viking and a knight together with bungee rope in Bounces or the evolutionary concept behind
Eco were certainly novel, though one can´t help wondering if
Ocean´s Gary Bracey was on the money when he suggested development of the latter was "fuelled by mind-altering substances".
"Erm, there was some general imbibing, but I couldn´t possibly say with what," laughs Ally. "In office hours? We did eventually put a stop to that..."
As the Nineties dawned, Dentons moved up to the 16-bits, finally releasing Wreckers through Audiogenic. Its output remained admirably diverse, ranging from the Egyptian-themed Eye Of Horus to a plucky conversion of Mortal Kombat 3 for the Game-Boy.
"Rage told us it was still selling a year after release," remembers Ally. "Typical - we weren´t on royalties! At Dentons we´d always had critical acclaim, but never really made any money. It was to be the final release under the Denton name."
By 1995, Ally and her long-time collaborator John Heap decided they were stretching themselves too thinly and became part of Rage PLC.
Ally increasingly took on a more administrative role and soon became a producer, overseeing such projects as Wild Wild Racing and Space Debris for the PS2.
When Rage collapsed in 2003, Ally moved into mobile gaming, enjoying the small teams and short development times, and is now with Distinctive Developments working on FIFA 09 and Tomb Raider 8.
So, after a quarter of a century in the games biz, we wonder if she still gets pointed at for being a girl.
Ally thinks for a while. "Yeah, there were times when I was treated differently, but I wouldn´t let that get to me.
It´s still a boy´s club and you know there´s nothing wrong with that. I like them!"
Artist in disguise
"We still had the original team and they wanted to do creative stuff," says Ally of the terrible Transformers. There was a lot riding on it, but they didn´t want to do the licence. Nobody got on with it till it was close to the end! I remember I was supposed to go to Amsterdam and there was nobody to do the Speccy graphics. I didn´t go and sat for a week and did them all. It was a high point personally, but a low for the company.
People wanted to be more creative than they thought they could be with that licence. Everyone was so into being an artist and
not selling their soul. That´s partly what split Dentons - the pull between commercial pressures and wanting to be artists.
We were being asked to do more commercial stuff, especially by Ocean, and [the original directors] didn´t want to do it.
My position? I was trained as a graphic designer and you´re there to sell product. I was happy to work to a brief and a deadline. That´s where I get my joy. Doing something good with those restrictions. That´s what I enjoyed about the Speccy - the restriction. Very twisted!
In the attic
"In the early Eighties, I was still doing my graphics on graph paper," explains Ally. "I remember keeping my Bandersnatch work because I was really proud of it - the logo and some original artwork. It´s all in the attic of a house I used to live in which I rent out now." She´s also kept copies of all the games she´s ever worked on, including some that were never released !
Ally would like to dedicate this article to two fellow directors of Denton Designs, Steve Cain
and Dave Colclough, who are
tragically no longer with us.
"Dave was a gentle giant programmer. He just wanted to do a good game and he loved programming and his motorbike.
Steve had such an unusual view of the world. I still find it hard to imagine that someone with such a huge love of games,
graphics, birds and Rembrandt is no longer here. He was so enthusiastic, so larger than life. They were both talented, creative people and it´s really sad that cancer took them long before their time."
Here we have the sum of Ally´s works she was involved in (1983-2018). Hover ye mouse over the titles and take a peek.
• PEDRO 1983 (IMAGINE) C64 / ZX SPECTRUM
• GIFT FROM THE GODS 1985 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM
• FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD 1985 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM
• TRANSFORMERS 1985 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM
• THE GREAT ESCAPE 1986 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM
• THE GREAT ESCAPE 1986 (OCEAN) ZX SPECTRUM
• WHERE TIME STOOD STILL 1988 (OCEAN) SPECTRUM 128K
• TROLL 1988 (OCEAN) SUPPORTS
• EYE OF HORUS 1989 (LOGOTRON) PROJECT MANAGEMENT / AMIGA / ATARI ST / PC / C64
• WRECKERS 1991 (AUDIOGENIC) DESIGN
• WORLD CLASS RUGBY 1991 (AUDIOGENIC) AMIGA/ATARI ST/CPC/C64/SPECTRUM
• WCR - 5 NATIONS 1992 (AUDIOGENIC) GRAPHICS
• BATMAN RETURNS 1993 (GAMETEK) AMIGA
• POWERDRIVE 1994 (US GOLD) AMIGA / CD32 / PC
• ELITE SOCCER 1994 (GAMETEK) GAMEBOY
• MORTAL KOMBAT 3 1995 (GT INT.) HEAD ARTIST / GAMEBOY
• MILLENIUM SOLDIERS: EXPENDABLE 1999 (RAGE) SUPPORT
• WILD WILD RACING 2000 (INTERPLAY) ADDITIONAL SUPPORT
• SPACE DEBRIS 2000 (SONY) PRODUCER
• OFF-ROAD REDNECK 2001 (INTERPLAY) LOCALISATION
• EUROFIGHTER TYPHOON 2001 (TAKE2) ADDITIONAL SUPPORT
• INCOMING FORCES 2002 (HIP) PROJECT MANAGEMENT
• TOTALED! 2002 (RAGE) LOCALISATION
• ROCKY 2002 (UBISOFT) LOCALISATION
• MOBILE FORCES 2002 (MAJESCO) LOCALISATION
• GUNMETAL 2002 (RAGE) LOCALISATION MANAGER
• DAVID BECKHAM SOCCER 2002 (MAJESCO) LOCALISATION
• RUGBY NATIONS 2010 (DISINCTIVE) PRODUCER
• RUGBY NATIONS 13 (DISINCTIVE) PRODUCTION DIRECTOR
• CHAMP MAN 2013 (SQUARE ENIX) PRODUCER
• RUGBY NATIONS 15 2014(DISTINCTIVE) PROD. DIRECTOR
• RUGBY NATIONS 16 2015(DISTINCTIVE) PROD. DIRECTOR
• SHENMUE I&II 2018 (SEGA) PRODUCTION/QA/DESIGN
• OVERKILLS WALKING DEAD 2018 (STARBREEZE)SUPPORT
The Commodore 64 was the biggest challenge for me...
Karen Davies was born 1960 in Liverpool and is a graphic designer for computer graphics.
She studied at Liverpool Polytechnic textile design where she met Paula Cain and became good friends.
Paula introduced Karen her husband Steven Cain, who was also attended Liverpool Polytechnic but who studied graphic design. After the leaving the Polytechnic in Liverpool, she went to France/Lyon and then back to London where she worked in textile design studios. Her contacts with the Cains still remained.
Textile design and computer graphics were not as far apart as you would normaly think. Karen came to computer graphics programming via a circuitous route. She had previously designed clothing using a computer program.
One day while in London she got an call from Steven Cain who told her about a game company in Liverpool called Imagine Software. Steven worked there as the artist director and told her that they are on search for a graphic designer with computer knowledge. So Karen followed the call and returned to Liverpool. She got that imagine job in their new art department. Her first works at Imagine was a game for the Dragon computer and later an education game. Although that she never thought that the Game and Educationalprogramme was ever published. Later on she continue worked on the Speccy and C64 there.
In the beginning she had used Graph Paper to draw the images and work out the animations and then typed in the graphics using binary code, later mainly in-house programs
of the game companies. For loading screens on C64, KoalaPad always remained her most important hardware-tool of choice. A favorite method of Davis was to design on box paper
and calculate the 8-bit values in advance.
In the largely male-dominated world of computer game developers in the 1980s, she stands out as one of the few women. Karen was one of the first real graphic designers who
were exclusively responsible for graphics in a computer game production. This was also a novelty for a gamesoftware company at the time.
So in most cases, she was responsible for the entire graphics of the game, i.e. loading screens, backgrounds and sprites.
In some cases, she also designed only the title or loading screen. It was usual at that time, that the artist signed their images, but not so Karen - she has never signed her graphics visibly for the viewer, in some cases
she hid abbreviations like KAZ, KAL or KED in the images.
The time at imagine was a real crazy time to her. She was involved in the Megagames Bandersnatch and Psyclapse. She worked very long hours seven days a week and drew many graphics on Graph Paper but it was really good fun as everyone was really into doing the games.
When Imagine went broke in 1984 she left Imagine together with Steve Cain, Ian Weatherburn, Ally Noble, John Gibson and Graham 'Kenny' Everitt to form the a new software company Denton Designs. They worked in commission for big software houses. Like Byond, Ocean or US Gold Her first published work at Denton Designs was Spyhunter (Spectrum 48k) for US Gold. The project she was very proud of was Shadowfire, the way it looked and the way it was received. Shadowfire was good fun and at the time among with Frankie goes to Hollywood. The works at Enigma Force did her the most headaches.
Karen described the C64 in retrospect as her greatest challenge. She was not particularly fond of the ZX Spectrum. Her work on the Amiga and PC was much easier, but more tedious than on the 8-bit Commodore. On the Amiga, she did ports of RoboCop 2 and The Untouchables, among others.
1986 Karen left Denton Designs and joined Special FX founded by ex-Ocean Software Paul Finnegan and Jonathan ´Joffa´ Smith. 1991 she worked at the new established Rage Software until around 2000/2001.
Since then she had done no more game graphics since leaving the industry. Karen left Rage Software and moved with her Family to Gilbraltar.
Here we have the sum of Karens wonderful works from 1984-2000. Hover ye mouse over the titles and take a peek.
Kenny Everett also had an Imagine past. He worked there as a system designer for the
Sarge IV development system, which Imagine used for game development. So Kenny's job was to develop and deliver the software for the Sarge system.
At Denton Design, he continued his work as a system designer on the Sarge IV development system and was also able to demonstrate his talent for game programming.
Unfortunately, there is little information about Kenny's further career.
Here we have the sum of Kennys works he was involved in (1985-2003). Hover ye mouse over the titles and take a peek.
Dave Colclough worked on Imagine Software to the 3rd part of the MegaGames. According to gamesthatwerent.com Dave was responsible for the
C64 version of "Hero".
Like the other megagames, it was never finished because Imagine went bankrupt beforehand. Dave soon decided to join Denton and became a valuable member of the team.
His programming skill on the C64 was truly proven with hits like Shadowfire, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Bounces, Foxx fights back and Enigma Force. Everyone who knew Dave associated him with Shadowfire.
Unfortunately, it's unclear when Dave Denton left Designs. Probably after the Amiga version of Eye of Horus. It is unclear what his other paths were. Presumably he then joined Software Creations. What is certain is that he was reappeared at System 3. For Marc Cale he developed the Amiga version of Myth. After just a game, he joined Electronic Arts Bright Light, where he designed those legendary FIFA soccer manager games.
Besides being a passionate programmer, Dave had another passion. That was his heavy motorcycle with appropriate appearance. The bike was his life.. Dave had a mighty stature (Big Dave) and liked to wear his huge black motorcycle boots. He liked to take other programmers on his bike and ride with them in any weather, whether it was thundering or snowing. It was quite exciting.
And there's one more thing. If you ever see a black, fuel-injected death on wheels whizz past you, shout ´hello´ loudly to the programmer clutching the tank. That makes him happy for the whole day.
Sadly, Dave passed away very young from cancer. At EA, Dave had created the concept and design for the FIFA football manager games. In his honour, the programming team of "F.A. Premier League Manager 2002" dedicated their game to him.
Unfortunately, there is very little information about Dave's career,
It was not obvious in which game he was involved. In some cases, more precise developer information was missing, but he was involved in the development of at least the following games
between 1985 and 2000.
Hover ye mouse over the titles and take a look.