Interview with Steve Lamb
November 1997


How did you get started in computers?

I'd always been a fan of arcades. In fact, I virtually lived in them! So playing games on a home computer was a cheap way of gaming.

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

To be honest, I can't remember the first time I saw one. It was probably a friend's machine. I do remember wondering why games on my Oric ( cool, it goes 'zap'! ) were rubbish compared the Speccy games :)

What was your first game?

My first commercially published game was Gyroscope, which was co-written with Tony Mack. Before that, I'd written many simple games for Commodore PET, an ancient IBM APL machine, ZX81,Spectrum and Oric.

What have you done on the Speccy?

Ok, my spectrum softography is ( dredging up the past hehe )

Gyroscope (co-written with Tony Mack) published by Melbourne House
Paperboy (again, co-written with Tony Mack) published by Elite
Madballs published by Ocean
Typhoon published by Ocean / Imagine
Vendetta published by System 3
Flimbo's Quest (never published)

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

Generally they were all average, I think Typhoon was my favourite as I've always been a big fan of shoot-em-ups.

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

Well, I guess I left the Spectrum scene as the Speccy was superseded by newer and more powerful machines. Gamers I suppose were becoming more sophisticated by then. At the time I wasn't sorry, I guess most programmers want to work on faster and prettier technology.

What are you doing now?

I now work on Playstation games for an independent developer.

What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?

Programming in Z80 was the best. It's sheer simplicity was a real joy. Of course, I didn't realize that then :)

The worst had to be tape loading. I was forever adjusting the head on my tape deck with a tiny screwdriver!

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

Anything by Ultimate was always superb. I can't think of any of their games which was poor (before they sold out to US Gold that is)

My actual favourites were Wizards Lair and Lunar Jetman. I'm still looking for that damn trailer :)

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

It would have to be Ultimate, apart from their excellent games the air of mystery they portrayed gave their games an extra coolness.

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

I do use emulators for a blast of nostalgia, and also many many games are still supremely playable. I have only looked at my old stuff once, thought 'was my stuff really that bad?' and never looked again :)

What was the last Speccy game you wrote? Did you leave anything unfinished? (and if so is there any chance we'll ever get to see it!)

My last game I wrote was Flimbo's Quest. I'd already converted the C64 version to the Amstrad for System 3, but for various reasons the Speccy version was never published.

There might be the original source kicking around somewhere on an old CPC disk, so maybe I'll have a rummage around for it one of these days!

(Be our guest!)

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

Off the top of my head I would have to say yes. But there again, once I was actually doing something, I might get a different view on it :)

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

I think the situation is getting better, which probably has a lot to do with the whole retro gaming scene. A few years ago the state of games was appalling. The majority of games were either rendered cinematics glued together with a small amount of gameplay, tired old platformers with a film license theme or sequels to games which were actually worse than their predecessor.

Obviously, people got bored with these games. Nowadays, games seem to be crossing the excellent visuals of the new machines with the playability of the old.

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

Many things. The simplicity of writing games for one. All it took was one programmer to produce an excellent game. They did the graphics, sound and programming. Also, the accessibility of machines in the old days. Anyone could go out and buy a relatively cheap computer and start writing games.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Well I guess one of them would have to be about Gyroscope. This was written at a time when many games were 'inspired' by arcade games. Nobody really thought too much about copyright on these games as the home computer game industry was tiny. So, Gyroscope was written with maybe more than a passing resemblance to Marble Madness from Atari.

All of a sudden, Atari took notice, and threatened Melbourne House (Gyroscopes' publisher) with death by lawyer. Melbourne House immediately caved in (without a fight) and were forced to pay Atari compensation and also buy the official rights to Marble Madness (that's why Melbourne House released the 'officially licensed version of the game.)

What I found amusing about the whole affair is that Atari deemed a lowly spectrum capable of reproducing a game written on (back then) a state of the art arcade machine. Quite flattering really!

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

Don't forget the past, it helps mould the future.......


Thanks to Steve for doing the interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and Steve Lamb.