Computer Games

I've been programming computer games since about 1982, professionally since 1984. Yes, they have been around that long. I've had quite a few published in that time, as you can see from my softography below (if you really want to.)

I sometimes think that computer games are too much mindless violence that detracts from the soul. But then I like them too much, and they're not all bad. It's even rewarding to write them. There is no other occupation in the world where you get to create a universe from nothing, decide what it looks like, and populate it with creatures that display rudimentary intelligence. In that respect, it has to be the most creative job going. I may write something on the computer games - bad or good issue sometime - watch this space.

I don't like games (or sports) where the idea is just to hurt your opponent. I never play beat-em-ups, and suspect that they're not particularly healthy fare for children. I don't like excessively gory games - I remember growing out of the gore thing when I was 12. There are many games on the market which are nonviolent, which can be just as much fun. There are plenty of sports simulations around, and many good driving games.

Personally, I play PC games if I have any spare time - the one's I've played recently are mostly Command & Conquer type realtime srategy games. My wife tells me off for destroying tanks, helicopters, etc. My only defence is to say it's better than a similar game where you get to specifically blow away members of the clergy, sacrifice peasants or assassinate royalty (That one's called "Chess"...)

Yeah, yeah, ... but I was looking for Shadow Master

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Softography

This load of useless text only exists cos I occasionally get email from nostalgic Spectrum fans. Since I'd already typed it up for someone, I thought I'd stick it here as well. Instead of reading it you could do something constructive for the next few minutes instead. I'm feeling guilty now cos I should have gone to help out at the shelter for the homeless but didn't. Save yourself a guilt trip and do something good.


My mum had to point out it isn't spelled 'Subterrainian'

Title: Subterranean Stryker
 
First released: March 1985
 
Target platforms: Spectrum 48K, Amstrad CPC
 
Developer: Insight
 
Publisher: Insight
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Mike Follin, Mark Wilson, Peter Gough
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 62%

 

Notes:

This was my first commercial game - best described as "Defender in the caves". The gameplay was too hard really - in fact I'm pretty sure the last level was actually impossible. I blocked up a passage by mistake on my final session with the map editor. This was one of a handful of games that supported a hardware speech synthesizer add on known as the Currah micro speech. It was also Tim's first commercial music. He wrote the music driver himself in Z80.


Does anyone else still have a Grafpad?

Title: Star Firebirds
 
First released: October 1985
 
Target platforms: Spectrum 48K, Amstrad CPC
 
Developer: Insight
 
Publisher: Insight
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Mike Follin, Mark Wilson, Peter Gough
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 73%

 

Notes:

This was a rather perfunctory conversion of the arcade game. In those days you could get away with doing that without the license! Still, it only sold about three copies. There are some hidden messages in the high score tables, which was all about Star Wars as I remember. It also had some silly copy protection which means it doesn't run on all emulators. Tim had progressed to a 2-channel music driver by now, and the game plays a rendition of the opening to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. (Seemed appropriate.)

unlicensed conversions seemed OK in 1985


the lines went right into the borders

Title: Vectron
 
First released: October-December 1985
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K
 
Developer: Insight
 
Publisher: Insight (rereleased by Firebird)
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Mike Follin, Mark Wilson, Peter Gough
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 92%

 

Notes:

This game is based loosely on the Disney film "Tron". The gameplay is in first person 3D, with a mixture of vector and sprite graphics. I discovered some new programming tricks half way through development which doubled the frame rate. Unfortunately this means the game is just too fast for most people's liking. I still think this was a noteworthy game from the technical point of view. First, there was the scrolling text as the game loaded. I saw this on a C64 game and thought, I can do that. I also put a counter on screen showing how many bytes were still to load. Before this, I think the most advanced loader I saw was one that just printed a count down. (This was, of course, some time before "Technician Ted"). When the game finished loading, the title screen expanded into the border to give a full screen picture. I don't recall seeing this on any other game. Vectron was also probably the only program to use a hardware trick which stopped the screen refresh so as to make it dissolve. This is mentioned in the documentation for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Emulator 'Z80' - by G.A. Lunter. I also remember it fondly because I was cheeky enough to use it as my project when I did A level computer studies. Tim was up to 3 channels now, and produced some brilliantly atmospheric music.

is it true that Walt's head is in cryogenic suspension?


The mouth twitched amusingly

Title: Future Games
 
First released: June 1986
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K
 
Developer: Insight
 
Publisher: Mastertronic
 
Programming: Mike Follin, Peter Gough, Tim Follin!
 
Graphics: Peter Gough, Mark Wilson, Mike Follin, Tim Follin
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: unknown - does anyone know?

 

Notes:

Back in a time when multi-event sports games were all the rage, someone had an idea to do one set in the future. There were about 7 different bits - I think 3 by me, 3 by the Gof, and one by Tim. The title screen features a very silly animation when the game's finished loading. This is perhaps noteworthy because it features a weird subgame by Tim - his only programming effort ever (excluding music drivers).


who wrote 'VICAR' on this?

Title: The Sentinel
 
First released: March 1987
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Firebird
 
Programming: Geoff Crammond, Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Geoff Crammond, Mike Follin
 
Music: Geoff Crammond, Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 97%

 

Notes:

This was my first project for fledgling Manchester - based software developer "Software Creations". I went down to see Geoff Crammond on a couple of occasions, where he gave me the code to the Amstrad version of his classic game. I was quite surprised that the Amstrad Z80 code had been converted from the 6502 source by a cross-converter he'd written. My mission was to convert it to the spectrum - in 10 weeks. All the other machines he'd written it for had the same size screens (320 wide) - and at least 4 colours. The spectrum version had to be monochrome because the pictures it generates need plenty of resolution. I simulated the colours by using stippling to give 4 distinct patterns. I was quite pleased with this program, although it was marred by a bug which crept in on the very last day (the background seems to occasionally displace by one pixel after absorbing something). The Sentinel is technically staggering, (I claim no part in this as I got all the tricky bits of code from Geoff). The only clever bit I put in myself was some text that scrolls about in the top border at the beginning. There's no music, except for a few jingles which Tim emulated in 4 or 5 "channels".

Geoff thought this was going to be realtime...


There might be some cheat for 'Super Bubble Bobble' somewhere

Title: Bubble Bobble
 
First released: October 1987
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K, (128K for music)
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Firebird
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Andrew Threlfall
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 90%

 

Notes:

This was such an amazingly playable Taito arcade game that all the conversions to date have been pretty enjoyable. I had trouble fitting all the 100 levels of the arcade game in, and had to settle for 80. Sorry. This was Tim's first attempt at writing for a sound chip (the good old Yamaha AY.)


Title: Black Lamp
 
First released: April 1988
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K (128K music)
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Firebird
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Andrew Threllfall
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 57%

 

Notes:

This was a conversion from an Atari ST game. Unfortunately, STs were new, and people were impressed by the pretty graphics. They didn't notice a profound lack of gameplay. Sadly, I got to convert this to the spectrum's monochrome glory. It wasn't very good. (sorry, Kenny).


Title: Bionic Commando
 
First released: June 1988
 
Target platforms: Spectrum 128K / 48K, Amstrad CPC
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Go!
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Andrew Threllfall
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 92%

 

Notes:

A conversion from the Capcom coin-op featuring a chap with an extensible cybernetic arm. This was written so that all 5 levels loaded in to a 128K spectrum, but only one at a time could be loaded on a 48K. Tim won an award for the AY chip music.


Title: Robot Attack
 
First released: 198?
 
Target platform: Spectrum 48K/128K With Lightgun
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: MasterTronic
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: John Tatlock
 
Music: Don't think there was any!
 
Crash mag rating: Probably didn't deserve one

 

Notes:

This was a game written as part of a package to be given away with a new "lightgun" that Amstrad had decided to release for the Spectrum - and other computers.  Almost all the programmers at SC got to do at least one lightgun game.  But that was in addition to whatever the main project was - in short, we had about a week to design and program something. So it wasn't terribly good. This was, however, one of the few Speccy games to ever feature in a TV advertising campaign. Amstrad actually tried TV advertising to sell the new lightgun packs including hardware and software; and Robot Attack featured in the ad.


Arpeggiated joy
Title: LED Storm
 
First released: February 1989
 
Target platform: Spectrum 128K / 48K
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Go!
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: John Tatlock/Andrew Threllfall
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 93%

 

Notes:

Based on a Capcom coin-op which never actually saw the light of day. We had a prototype arcade game to convert. An improved game was eventually released under a different name. This was a vertically scrolling driving game, with a quasi-3D element introduced by allowing your car to jump - and land on your opponents. The arcade machine had multiple parallax scrolling playfields. I managed to emulate this to some extent by animating a repeating background block and updating the screen at 25 fps. Some nice arpeggiated AY music from Tim.

Laser Enhance Destruction - without Lasers!


This pic is just for Gof

Title: Ghouls 'n' Ghosts
 
First released: December 1989
 
Target platform: Spectrum 128K / 48K / +3
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Go!
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Ben Thingy, John Tatlock, Andrew Threllfall, Gof (loading screen),
 
Music: Tim Follin
 
Crash mag rating: 92%

 

Notes:

This arcade conversion involved another Capcom/Go!/Software Creations collaboration. The coin-op was a sequel to the very popular Ghosts 'n' Goblins. The spectrum conversion of Ghosts 'n' Goblins had been a brilliant step forward in programming - a 2 pixel smooth scroll updating in 2 frames (or 1 frame if I can believe what I'm told). It would have been embarrassing to have produced something inferior a year or two later, but fortunately I had developed my own scrolling routines by then. I'd decided against using them (in favour of more colour) for Bionic Commando, but used them in LED Storm. Compared with the original spectrum game, Ghouls 'n' Ghosts had a slightly smaller screen area, but much bigger sprites. This was necessary because the arcade machine hardware had advanced dramatically between Ghosts 'n' Goblins and Ghouls 'n' Ghosts; but the Spectrum hadn't changed a bit. I regard this as technically my finest spectrum program - probably because I'd just about sussed the speccy by then. Tim again provided the AY soundtrack.

remember attribute conflict?


Title: Spot
 
First released: 1990
 
Target platform: GameBoy (32Kbyte)
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: 7-UP?
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Mark Wilson
 
Music: Geoff or Tim Follin

 

Notes:

This was my first attempt at a GameBoy title - it wasn't anything like the platform game you're thinking of. In fact it was a strategy game - something like Reversi/Othello or Go!. The same game was released on other formats under the title "Infection". I also saw a version using hexagons rather than squares. It wasn't very exciting. It introduced me to the horrors of Nintendo limitations - the Spectrum was a dream machine to program by comparison. No-one knew much about the Gameboy, and it turned out that my program didn't work on some of the first production GameBoys that about 3 people had in Japan. So Nintendo made me rewrite it all. The same thing happened to an Ocean Batman game at the same time. Nintendo relented a couple of years later, of course.


Title: Altered Space
 
First released: 1990/1991
 
Target platform: GameBoy (128Kbyte)
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Sony
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Anthony Anderson
 
Music: Geoff Follin

 

Notes:

This was much better. I'm still pleased with this game today. It got a nice front page of GamePro or some similar American mag. My brief was to write an isometric game for the Gameboy (as there weren't any). Software Creations had just had some success with Solstice on the NES, and so had some know-how of how to do an isometric game despite Nintendo hardware - which I gladly employed. I also (unusually) got to design this one, although the gameplay in an isometric game always consists of a few similar puzzles. I did an autoplaying demo mode which let you take control of the character whenever you pressed a movement button - which I still think is a good idea. Geoff contributed many ditties and jingles which add atmosphere to the game.


Title: Spiderman and the X-Men
 
First released: 1992
 
Target platform: SNES
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: Acclaim
 
Programming: Mike Follin, Ste Ruddy, Kev
 
Graphics: Craig Houston, Anthony Anderson, Andrew Threlfall, Jonathan Smith, Dave, James
 
Music: Tim 'n' Geoff

 

Notes:

I'd hoped my first SNES project for Software Creations would be a low-profile affair where I could learn to get to grips with a seriously unfamiliar machine. It wasn't. After a few months of slow progress, the game was changed from the X-Men to Spiderman and the X-Men (a plethora of stupidly dressed Marvel comics characters), and expanded from 4Mbit to 8MBit. The doubling in size and a strict deadline meant we suddenly had an extra 2 programmers brought in, to work on independent sections. I did "Cyclops", "Storm", and "Wolverine", Ste did "Gambit" and Kev did "Spiderman". Tim and Geoff did some excellent tracks, including some "70's" style stuff on the audio side. The SNES is the most unpleasant computer I have ever worked with. So there.

I think American superheroes are all just a little bit silly


No. 5

Title: Thomas the Tank Engine
 
First released: June 1993?
 
Target platform: SNES
 
Developer: Software Creations
 
Publisher: T*HQ
 
Programming: Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Phil Bretherton, Chris Collins, Anthony Anderson, Andrew Threlfall, Gavin Eagleton
 
Music: Tim 'n' Geoff (mostly from the TV series)
 
Game Design: John & Ste Pickford, Mike Follin, Dean Belfield et al.
Notes:

My last project for Software Creations was rather nostalgic for me as I remembered being read the stories as a child. The Rev. Awdrey's creation had been bought by Britt Alcroft, and a computer game was required to complement the TV series. Unfortunately the game was designed to look like one of the books. Oops. The resulting product was compromised in the ensuing fracas, but I think it should have been enjoyed by the youngsters who were bought it. It was a nice change for me to do a project which was non-violent, child friendly, and generally cheerful. Tim did a note-perfect version of the TV theme music, and took a day out to record some sound FX at a railway exhibition or something.

why have iconic buttons?


This is probably copyright Nintendo/Disney, which frightens me!

Title: Toy Story
 
First released: March 1996
 
Target platform: SNES
 
Developer: Traveller's Tales
 
Publisher: Psygnosis/Disney
 
Programming: Chris Stanforth, Mike Follin
 
Graphics: Andy, James, Dave, Bev.
 
Music: Psygnosis
Notes:

After a long break, I  joined Traveller's tales just in time to help out on the SNES version of Toy Story. You may remember this one. At least it was this decade. The Megadrive version came first, programmed and designed mostly by Jon Burton. It had nice, big, rendered graphics based on the film. Pixar supplied some of the "Woody" frames; the rest were from models built in-house, contrary to the press at the time. This game was deservedly very well received at the time.


Title: Shadow Master
 
First released: Q1 1998
 
Target platform: PC
 
Developer: Traveller's Tales->HammerHead
 
Publisher: Psygnosis
 
Programming: Chris Stanforth, Paul Hunter, Mike Follin, Ste Cork
 
Graphics: Andy Ingram, Allan Wales, Simon James, Jo Daly, Bev Bush
 
Music: PC Music
Notes:

This received a "stealth launch" in early 1998. See my Shadow Master page for more details. It's a 3D shootemup on the PlayStation and PC (using D3D).   The game does look nice, running at 30 fps @640X480 on the latest video accelerator hardware. You can get a demo version from here

A recent picture from PC ShadowMaster (65536 colours)


Title: Quake 2

 

First released: Q4 1999?

 

Target platform: PlayStation

 

Developer: id / HammerHead

 

Publisher: Activision

 

Programming: Chris Stanforth, Paul Hunter, Ray Donnelly, Mike Follin, Darren Fahy, Ste Cork

 

Graphics: Andy Ingram, Allan Wales, Simon James, loads of other guys too numerous to mention.

 

Notes:

WWhat do you mean you haven't heard of Quake?

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