Interview with Paul Holmes
December 1997

 

How did you get started in computers?

I was about 14 and my parents Hi Fi broke, and as it happens a card had been put through the door saying "we fix Hi Fi" or words to that effect. Said bloke comes round, discovers I'm interested in computers and says 'oh you can come round and use mine if you like'. Sounds dodgy as hell doesn't it?!? But he was a really sound bloke - used to write for some of the mags, was an electronics genius, even hand built things like memory cards for his Apple II.

I mucked around on his machine and got hooked. So, if anyone happens to know a bloke called Richard Lawrence who fits this profile, let me know. I owe him a beer. A lot of beer!

When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions?

Blown away. It's funny how those little steps forward were so huge at the time. These days it's like "oh, right, full resolution VR widget on line surround thingy. In shareware. Oh." There's so much innovation you get blaze.

What was your first game?

Coo... ummm... first proper one was Wild West Hero - a Robotron inspired mass shoot out. A couple of years ago Dave Green from Radio 1 wrote a piece in UK Wired about how this little speccy game is the best thing he does with his two grand Power Mac. I still get a kick out of that.

What have you done on the Speccy?

Wild West Hero, Dustman, Bomb Jack and Bomb Jack II (the latter two co-written with Andy Williams from Elite. Andy, if you're reading this, mail me you old git!). Plus design work on a load of Elite stuff including Frank Bruno's Boxing.

Robotron 2084 was my best work. It was a commission from Atarisoft that ended up doomed after they went under before release, as did a few others it got signed to. I think Your Sinclair's closing issue described it as one of the lost treasures of the Spectrum. So so sad - still it's alive now thanks to emulators, so I'm happy, if no richer ;-)

What do you think of your games? Which is your personal favourite?

After Robotron, it has to be Bomb Jack. We did some very funky coding to get the game 100% smooth - the only way to do the coin op's game play justice. I did the screen/sprite update stuff, Andy did the gameplay control. Sadly the sneaky code screws up my emulator so I can't play it!

How did you leave the Spectrum scene? Were you sad to leave?

I burnt out - quite a few I know did. I went in to management to get out of coding and that didn't really work, so I left the industry. In hindsight I think it was a was a good for me to have a change of scene. It's a very nerdy environment - getting out gave me the chance to meet more people, have a load of new experiences. That said, I've got terrible coding itch these days. Who knows... ;-)

What are you doing now?

I've done a few things since getting out of games, but mostly it's been to do with marketing creative products. Video/Multimedia/Web software and hardware, that kind of stuff. A big hobby thing for me now is club DJing - I'm working my way up the rungs.

In many ways getting decks and learning to mix is the modern day equivalent of buying a speccy and writing code. These days you'd typically be looking at 10k plus on development hardware for games. In those days you got your speccy, no different than the pro, and challenged them head on. You can't do that with games these days, but you can with dance music. It's democratised thing. I heard that decks outsold guitars this year.

Unashamed plug: Mail me and get on our club mailing list. Perhaps I can carve a niche as a bizarre micro-celebrity DJ. :-)

What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?

Best? Z80 processor, stacks of memory, bitmap graphics.

Worst? Sound, keyboard, bitmaps graphics.

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

Mine. No, no, just joking. Ultimate's stuff was cutting almost til the end. I looked at their stuff and thought 'I couldn't do better than that. Just couldn't'.

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

Difficult. A bloke called Mike Stockwell taught me early on about optimisation, and attention to detail. It stood me really well. If he'd have finished his version of Defender it would have totally blown people away - totally.

A mate to this day is Nig Alderton was also an optimisation whizz, so I really respected him. He wrote Chuckie Egg don't you know!

Mark Haigh-Hutchinson - a great coder and total nightmare to work with. :-) He's chilled with age though - we keep in touch.

Do you use an emulator to play your old games (or any others)?

Yup - I've got some widget for the speccy that's brilliant. Apart from Bomb Jack incompatibility, obviously.

Don't you ever feel like writing another Speccy game nowadays just for old times sake? ;-)

What, 6+ months of mental hell 'for old times sake'? Not in million years. :-)

What do you think about modern games? Can they compete with the classics? Aren't they all presentation and no gameplay?

Apart from the coin op driving games, I'd say gameplay really hasn't been surpassed. Watch an old school Defender wizz play to the max and it's like watching a master pianist - poise, expression, body movement in sync with game. Show me a game like that these days. Well, don't. There isn't one.

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

The shows. These days shows are just work, but back then you'd all bugger off to London and meet your mates - with your work all done behind the scenes you could spend an entire three days just mucking around with your mates, drinking beers and generally being a menace to your publisher.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Zillions. Now you've got me thinking about shows - at one show we had a bit of a sesh in the Hilton by Olympia, with the boss around which was unusual. Things went great, more and more drinks, then the bar shuts at some unearthly hour. Steve then proceeds to tell everyone to go up their (company) rooms, empty the minibars, and return the goods back to the bar. One by one we cleared every minibar. Then the munchies set in so we did a raid on the hotel kitchen. I got caught making this massive knicker blocker glory. It was about that time we decided to call it a day. :-)

Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?

Well, if you're using a real one then you are probably either ultra cool or ultra sad. You decide!

 


Thanks to Paul for doing the interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and Paul Holmes.