How long have/did you work in the videogames industry ?
On and off over a period of about 6 years.
Which companies did you work with? Any titles we'd know ?
Most of my work was with Speedlock Associates, who were (in)famous for their copy protection.
How long did you work with Novagen ?
Strictly speaking, a day. Now you know why the music sounds like that... I also mastered the Spectrum cassette at Ablex Audio with Alan Lewnes (see Targ map!) because I was part of Speedlock at that time. Later on I worked at Reflex Magnetics in London, and was involved in the duplication of Damocles. I remember standing next to Bruce as I was play testing it, commenting on how looking through the windows of the buildings with the night sky was just awesome.
What exactly was your role ?
It says "Music" on the Backlash box. That was epic: 24 hours to "do something" - no instructions, just a crazy piece of code that arrived in Swindon one morning from Birmingham. I had spoken to Paul the night before to get my mission brief. I remember calling him back the following evening, and playing him this. Of course he wasn't really interested in the music: instead he pointed out the curious waveform clipping that was occurring over the telephone line. Typical Paul. And he never used the high score jingle, sigh.
How exactly did you get to do the Backlash music?
I knew David Aubrey-Jones, and I suspect he let slip my musical background to Bruce and Paul. I was living in Swindon at the time, although was speaking to David most days. I remember a call being scheduled with Paul, we spoke, he sent me a developer disk and that's about it.
Do you remember why such a short time limit?
No. If I had to guess, frills such as music were something of an afterthought to Paul - but that's total speculation on my part.
Were you aware that your music was also used in Damocles?
I remember taking my ghetto blaster to master Mercenary Spectrum. That little mastering room had no windows, no nothing. It was a lonely place. Music was welcome... Ironically in a place creating music cassettes. And so in Damocles there's a ghetto-blaster object that plays my music!
Do you know who ended up doing the music for 16-bits Encounter?
No. (Note: it appears it might be Nick Bacchus!)
What's your favourite anecdote of this time ?
I'll tell you a funny story about the now defunct Ablex Audio Video (Harcourt, Halesfield, telford UK, tf7 4qr) and Bell's Whiskey.
David Aubrey-Jones (who ported Mercenary to the Spectrum and Amstrad) drove me up to Ablex, where we had to perform the mastering of the Spectrum version of Mercenary. The slight issue was that I had had about 2-3 hours sleep in the previous 2 days working on other things... I was almost in a zombie trance.
The mastering involved having the Spectrum save the data on a machine where the cassette output was fed into a digital cassette. This process was managed by Alan Lewnes, who is honoured in Mercenary (look at the Mercenary street names again!). Once recorded digitally - remember this was 1987/8- then that digital master was played and recorded onto a 1" master. From the 1" master, the system could then be played into high speed duplication spools - and rather neatly both sides (cassette side A and B) were recorded simultaneously at 64 times regular speed. Then the spools were individually loaded into machines that had a pile of cassette blanks at the bottom: these autoloaders would take the cassette (which normally started off with some plastic, splice in a predetermined amount from the spool, splice the remainder of the plastic, and eject the cassette. This process would repeat until the spool was exhausted.
Anyway, I was there with DAJ, and we had finally recorded a version to digital tape. We were waiting to hear that the 1" was successful and some samples had been produced. They always did this (i.e. creating 1 spool) to ensure that then the process for duplicating 100,000 would work OK. While we were waiting, and by now it was something crazy like 1am, Bruce asked me what I wanted to drink... To which I replied COKE. He got me a coke, and I was quite thirsty and needed to stay up, so I drank it back in one go. I just about managed to keep it down. A few minutes later, Alan came back and said it was all good. At about this point, my world went fuzzy and I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was in Bruce's spare room in Birmingham... Having slept off his coke and WHISKEY! :-)
About Damocles duplication - who brought the 1st disk holding the game? How was it done from there?
Bruce brought the master disk. The disk was scanned using Trace 1006 diskette duplication equipment, using a a format file that described the data structure of the diskette to help the equipment best analyze the incoming signals and create an image file. Once the image file was made, the duplication equipment could then dump that image on to diskettes. A few would be run off initially to check that the game would operate OK. Once that image was customer approved, the hoppers would be filled with blanks and duplication would get going. Once the disks were duplicated, they might be silk-screen printed or have a label affixed. Depending on the arrangement, there may be packing folks that would include the necessary (e.g. instructions, maps etc.) so that boxes of boxes could be shipped directly somewhere.
Are you still in contact with any other Novageners ?
I've stayed in touch with David.
What's your all-time favourite computer or console ?
I don't really have any one favourite computer, they all have their pluses and minuses.
What's your all-time favourite game?
Damocles. Much as the others were groundbreaking in their own ways, Damocles was where everything came together so well. I enjoy playing Halo on the XBox these days. Interesting... We always said "More action Paul!"
Is there a particular developer (code, gfx, whatever) whom you consider as a genius / pioneer / extra-talented ?
There are so many talented folks out there, then and now, and it's interesting how development skills have changed over the years. In the days of Novagen, every byte counted - and that tended to sharpen people's minds. These days, folks are spoilt with graphic IDEs, profilers and the like. The whole Novagen team was without doubt a gang of pioneers well ahead of their time... With the obvious exception of the music.
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 '80s and to some extent the early '90s were a particularly affluent time for videogaming. I remember being at the PC show one year where hoards of kids were frantically pushing their ways to the fronts of queues waving fivers and tenners to pick up the latest game from Ocean or U.S. Gold. It was inevitable that some hero-worship ensued - Paul was a classic example of this, and him shying away from publicity only served to increase his mystique.
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 ?
Emulation... interesting question. I've just done a few web searches and realized quite how many emulators and ripped games there are out there! Some folks have waaaaaaay too much spare time, particularly those guys doing the XBox emulator. I saw MDDClone up on your site. Personally it doesn't bother me whether it's freely distributed as long as it's not for profit, but it's not really me you need to be asking. I guess since Novagen is no more, the rights etc. fall back to Paul. Given that there's a double digit year period elapsed since that part of my life, I'm all for folks having a bit of non-profit retro-fun - enjoy! Like watching a black and white movie, it's a good reminder of where technology was even as recently as 10 years ago.
Have you visited The Mercenary Site? If so, any feedback ?
Yes I found the Mercenary site a while ago - I'm impressed that there's such a following! It would be nice to see some one-liner quotes from fans describing what they think of the games.
What are you up to these days? What keeps you up at night ?
I'm the director of technology at a PKI security company in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Different things keep me up at night from 10 years ago, that's for sure - these days it tends to be movie or a good bottle of wine... and just occasionally a whiskey!
If you want any other info, just let me know.
26th July 2002 - updated June 2012 and April 2020
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