Interview with Fergus McNeill
December 1997


How did you get started in computers?

My parents thought there would be "no harm" in buying me a ZX81 and, seeing as that kept me quiet for a while, they upgraded it to a Spectrum 48k rubber keyboard when that became fashionable. They couldn't have imagined the consequences!

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

It was in a shop. either Boots or WHSmith (I forget) and my first impressions were that the rubber keyboard was pleasing to the touch ;-)

What was your first game?

Not sure which game I bought first, but my initial purchases included Hungry Horace, Psion Flight Simulator, Greedy Gulch and The Hobbit.

What have you done on the Speccy?

Erm... well, some games and a rather fetching teletext magazine thingy.

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

Ooh! Modesty forbids, etc. But if you insist, I thought some were absolutely dreadful and others... well, there were one or two that I was very pleased with. My personal favourite will have to be favourites - The Boggit and The Big Sleaze. I enjoyed them both, for different reasons.

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

A shimmering portal opened and I stepped through...

Actually, I left the Spectrum scene very gradually. It began with doing multiple format games, then after a time the publishers just weren't interested in the Spectrum versions. It was a sad thing to leave my favourite machine, but we all have to earn a living (cue sad brass band playing Hovis ad theme).

What are you doing now?

Well, I'm just in the process of leaving SCi (the company that brought you "Carmageddon" and the Delta 4-esque "Kingdom O' Magic" but I can't say what I'm going to be doing next. Visit my web site where all will be revealed shortly!

What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?

Best things: The Hobbit, Design Design, Ultimate Play The Game

Worst things: Dodgy add-on keyboards, ZX Microdrives that snapped

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

The Hobbit: When I first played it I knew what I wanted to do for a living. And I really believed that those characters were real, and living their lives inside my machine!

Dark Star: Top quality shoot-em-up action with proportionally spaced high score tables and a space invader in the border! How did they do that?

Anything by Ultimate Play The Game: always great fun.

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

Hmmm... now you're asking! I think I'll be diplomatic and say the people responsible for the above games (and Level 9, of course).

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

Indeed. A number of people at SCi still enjoy watching Thorin sit down and sing about gold.

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!)

Difficult question. In Delta 4's last days, we were writing stuff on an Amstrad PCW and porting it across to the various target machines. The last game was called (amongst other things) "The Smirking Horror" and was never ported to the Spectrum :(

However, a pre-release version was ported to the Atari ST and is available on the Delta 4 website if anyone wants it (and has an emulator to play it with).

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

In a word? No. Doing a Delta 4-style game these days would need to be something like "Kingdom O' Magic" but better, and that was much too big a project for me to do myself and much to expensive a project for me to fund.

Any plans for updates/sequels of your old games?

"Kingdom O' Magic" has been called an unofficial sequel to "Bored Of The Rings" and "The Boggit" but at the moment, no. I did start designing a Star Wars parody for Level 9 (sadly it never saw the light of day) and the ideas and characters from that are being lovingly recycled in a novel which I'm writing. Once again, check the website for details.

Is it easier to write for the PC than it was on the Speccy - less hardware restrictions etc?

Oh no. The Spectrum was much easier because there was only on Spectrum (well, for a long time anyway) and there is never a definitive PC standard. Before you've got half-way through development, the hardware has changed!

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

Hmmm... depends on the game. I think that, just like in the latter days of the Spectrum, truly great games are few and far between but they are out there.

Titles like Blade Runner, Full Throttle, Warcraft II, Carmageddon and Jedi Knight are all very enjoyable. Are they better than the old Ultimate Classics? I don't know... ;-)

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

Alcohol. You have no idea how much vodka I got through during the Delta 4 years!

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Near the end of the Robin Of Sherlock project, I was told that Boots had received a complaint from an morally upstanding parent whose son had been "sworn at" by Bored Of The Rings. Even though we pointed out that the only way to get the game to print up anything rude, was to type in something even more obscene, Boots were unhappy. So unhappy that they threatened not to stock Robin Of Sherlock.

So, I added in something to make the game reset your machine if you typed in anything remotely rude. Seems okay in theory, doesn't it? Not really.... At one point in the game, the player had to break a window. Which, as any Quill Adventure aficionado will know, becomes abbreviated to the first 4 letters of the verb and noun, i.e. BREAk WINDow This might have been fine, had I not added a fart section to the Swear'n'Reset routine which checked for BREAk WIND .

A number of people complained, but at least the puritans at Boots never hassled us again.

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

"Let me sell you this 286 computer. State of the art, mate - you'll love it!"

Thanks to Fergus for doing the interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and Fergus McNeill.