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INTERVIEW: NEIL TOULOUSE

Please provide a one-liner introduction
Object/building designer for Damocles.

How long have/did you work in the videogames industry ?
Part-time for 4 years.

Which companies did you work with? Any titles we'd know ?
Only Novagen.

How long did you work with Novagen ?
Approximately from 1985 - 1989.

What exactly was your role ?
Started in the packaging department (which was one of the small offices!) where the role was to put inlays in the disk/tape boxes and box up the games to be sent to the distributors. Also making coffee for Bruce (very important!!). Eventually moved to object designer for Damocles.

What's your favourite anecdote of this time ?
The first day's pay was for a copy of the 8-bit Atari version of Encounter, my favourite game of the time! The job was packing up 1000 Targ Survival Kits. Also, as everyone there were heavy smokers you could not help but notice the tar/nicotine stains on the ceiling which were literally dripping down the walls. Needless to say the office was re-decorated quite regularly!

Are you still in contact with any other Novageners ?
Nick Bacchus and Ian Thompson-Yates.

What's your all-time favourite computer or console ?
Tricky one this! It's a close one between the Atari 800XL and the Atari ST. Let's just say I sold the 800XL in 1989, but I still have two ST's!!
However, I also own:
ZX81, ZX Spectrum, ZX Spectrum +2, Commodore C64, Commodore Amiga, Atari 7800, Atari Jaguar, Megadrive, NES, SNES, Atari Lynx, Saturn, PS1, PS2 and 4 PC's!!

What's your all-time favourite game?
In those days it was Encounter. Nowadays I like any type of strategy game, especially those of the Age of Empires type genre. Not that I get much chance to play anymore :(

Is there a particular developer (code, gfx, whatever) whom you consider as a genius / pioneer / extra-talented ?
Anyone programmer of the time I considered a genius looking back. No RAM, no/minimal hard disk, no decent graphics cards, no processor speeds...
I was always intrigued with Jeff Minter and had the honour of meeting him once at one of the computer shows in London. I was dead impressed with the way he had airbrushed the case of his Atari ST with some sort of space scene. He was playing with Tripatron at the time.

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 ?
The 80's were definitely it. You can hardly find an original game idea now. Graphics now take over from gameplay which is why I probably prefer the strategy genre (or I'm getting too old for the faster paced games). I do really miss the gaming experience of that period. It's a shame they look so tame compared to today's creations. And it's really only us 30-somethings who feel like this! Today's gaming audience just want to put a disc in and go. They do not appreciate any of the time and effort that goes into making the games, or how seriously limited in comparison the old kit was. It's no wonder there was a great deal of (deserved) hero worship at the time.

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 love emulation! When I discovered MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) I thought I was in heaven! It's just a shame that the big boys always try and put a stop to it as they must think there is still a market for the old stuff. But I will not pay 40 for say, the 'Atari collection' to play on the PlayStation as I see that as a rip off. Even if you enjoy the retro scene, you don't tend to play a retro game for hours on end. It's not that big a market as it's is only the 30-somethings that are really interested and they probably by now have families, jobs, etc - very time consuming activities. I have had a play with MDDClone - great piece of work! Emulation is great (if it's not for profit) as it keeps these great gems alive without taking up too much space! We need to think of it as a museum. I don't see much point in emulating modern consoles as these tend to have bespoke hardware so the games probably wouldn't work on even the most modern of today's personal computers. But the consoles are still readily available so I think that type of emulation is wrong.

Have you visited The Mercenary Site? If so, any feedback ?
Yes! I couldn't believe there are people out there still interested in this small piece of history - keep up the great work!

What are you up to these days? What keeps you up at night ?
Currently I am the senior programmer for a software development team that's part of Birmingham City Council, where I have been since graduating 10 years ago! I specialise in Visual FoxPro and SQL Server. What keeps me up at night? My partner Jackie as she fidgets a lot! We have recently taken up hill walking so most weekends/times off are spent in Wales which has wonderful scenery. I am also writing software for my GPS as we tend to get lost too often...!

6th March 2003

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