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INTERVIEW: MICHAEL ROOKE

Please provide a one-liner introduction
I made the sound effects for a couple of CBM64 Titles and Backlash (ST).

How long have/did you work in the videogames industry ?
Must have been 1986 ->
I'm not working in the Industry anymore. Perhaps with colour mobile phones there is some room to work, but the whole OS of such devices is a complete mystery to me - gone are the days of really bashing the metal. - I program microcontrollers for various home projects these days thats about as close as I can get to they rewarding world of strange registers & bit fiddling...

Which companies did you work with? Any titles we'd know ?
Novagen, I was busy cranking out sound effects. At that time Damocles was very much work in progress at Novagen.

How long did you work with Novagen ?
On and off from 1986 until June 1990. In 1990, I was working on "Transfighter" an ST game for Quantum Concepts. (Ian Davies & Emmerson Best) - I was responsible for the interrupt logic,opening titles, sprite movement routines (heavily optimised for speed) and the sound effects. I also coded some game editor utilities for spite path motion etc. Quantum had something to do with Novagen, I think Novagen was the publisher or middle man I dont have much recolection of the inner workings of the company I just banged out code, read data books and pressed the right buttons.

What exactly was your role ?
You mean besides making the Coffee for Bruce?

I started at Novagen to work on Backlash. This was previously called Encounter II. I made a proof of concept demo on the CBM64. This included basic graphics and sound effects.
My sound effects caught Novagen's attention. They decided to use them in Battle Island (Commando rip-off) and XTerminator both released on CBM64 by Novagen or Quantum Concepts (Emmerson Best et all).

I was given a 520ST and Mono (Luxury!) Monitor to "understand" - Armed with K-SEKA and a spare floppy drive I set to work on getting something out of the Yamaha sound chip in the ST.

What's your favourite anecdote of this time ?
Making Bruce's Coffee! He insisted on ALTA RICA which surprisingly is still going strong. http://www.nestle.com.au/nescafe/worldofnescafe/products/altarica.asp

My first wage from Novagen was 50 pounds! - this paid for my 1st SLR Camera. See: photo of the ST Developement system :-) Did you start to read "young and exploited" into some of the answers?


Asking for help from Bruce for the ST sound effects. This involved a visit to the GURU himself - Paul Woakes. I remember quite vividly watching him craft macros for K-Seka involving complex boolean bit operations. These were used for part of the sound chip control code. They were written in perhaps a couple of hours if that. I remember Paul mentioning Blakes 7 (Scifi) and how the Satelite system used to go off for 5 or 10 minutes at a time each day...

The smell of the 3M spray mount glue was always fun at Novagen - I cant rememeber why that stuff was used in vast quantities - maybe one of the packaging guys can tell more?

Are you still in contact with any other Novageners ?
I did speak with Paul Woakes back in 1993 asking a question somehow relating to integer routines and floating point precision. These were used in a multiprocessor neural network simulator the exact details of the coversation escape me, but I do recall he was very helpfull.

What's your all-time favourite computer or console ?
Early days the CBM64 - later on the Amiga.

What's your all-time favourite game?
Sinclair Spectrum. - Chuckie Egg, Jet Set Willy.
CBM64 - Monty on the Run, if just for the music!
Atari ST - Damocles - It set the standard.
Amiga - too many to remember.

Is there a particular developer (code, gfx, whatever) whom you consider as a genius / pioneer / extra-talented ?
Not in any preference:
All rounder - Mathew Smith, Software Projects.
Music - Rob Hubbard period.
3D games - Definately Paul Woakes.
Strange games - Yak - (Jeff Minter)

How do you feel about people considering the '80s as the videogaming golden age, and the associated hero-worship of some of the people that were part of this ?
I feel proud to have been involved in the movement. The whole industry was different back then - the games were very innovative. Every last drop of performance was obtained from the machines and then some more.

The controversial question - about emulation! Have you noticed the number of emulators on the net ? Have you heard about MDDClone the PC version of Mercenary made by a fan ? Does it bother you if such a clone is freely distributed ? What do you think when you see some of the other games you may have worked on freely available on the net ?
I think, "wow I was part of that" :-) more to the point where can I find more games :) Emulation is an excellent way to enjoy the old classics - As for legal aspects I can understand the need to protect the brand new product but do the bean counters still want to flog dead horses?
I haven't tried the MDDClone but will do. Freely distributed ? I don't really mind, in my opinion it would only serve to strengthen the interest in Novagen / Paul Woakes products whatever they may be in the future. The BBC should run a story about Novagen, I recall a program made about the early days of the Spectrum & Mathew Smith...

Have you visited The Mercenary Site? If so, any feedback ?
Yes, great work and really nice to see someone spending the effort in recording a part of gaming history!

What are you up to these days? What keeps you up at night ?
I work for the world leader in mobile communications as a Senior Systems Engineer.

Anything else to say ?
Does Bruce need any coffee?

27th October 2003

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