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INTERVIEW: SIMON BERRY

Please provide a one-liner introduction
I composed the music used on Backlash, and for the ghetto blaster in Damocles and Dion Crisis. (note: actually the ghettoblaster was only used in Damocles)

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...

What exactly was your role ?
It says "Music" on the Backlash box.

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! :-)

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.

Simon
26th July 2002 - updated June 2012

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