Interview with Alec Smith

Believe it or not - Harold was the first (and only) game I ever tried programming. I'm a graphic designer by trade but grew up in the pre-computer world so my real desire in computing was to design my 'own thing'. Having spent a fortune in pubs every lunch time and as many evenings as I could afford playing the old arcade classics (which they are now), I ventured into the home computer market with a Commodore 64. I did a load of simple things for the kids on this and for my own enjoyment, then when the Amiga 500 came along I was already hooked. So I basically re-did a lot of the same sort of things on the Amiga, that I had on the '64 but ventured into slightly more daring things.

Basically, everything except the sound - I conceived the idea, produced all the graphics and animations and coded the game.

Kevin was suggested by Rasputin to collaborate and produced all music and sound effects. I would tell him what was coming in a particular level and suggest some sound effects. I'd send him a demo and he'd send back the level music and effects which I then programmed in to the game. There's an overall music track, plus different music for each level and of course the various sound effects from dripping water to footsteps.

This is where you're going to have to forgive me because the year is now difficult to remember. I know it was between 1992 and 1994 and I THINK it was late 1993 through to 1994. If this isn't accurate, I apologise but the memory is one that I have pretty much discarded for personal reasons (see below). I spent about 6-8 months developing the game for Rasputin and only stopped when they disappeared.

Harold was written entirely in Amos (1.3) and compiled with the Amos Compiler. There was also an AMOS Map Editor that was written as extensions to AMOS. I used this to design, animate and move the (sometimes) rather large backgrounds in 'Harold'. When Amos Pro came out I used this to develop a Map Editor of my own but the writing was already on the wall for Commodore and the Amiga so this sadly died. Although I think it was brilliant (but I'm biased) and I am a little sad now that I dumped it all a couple of years ago. I also used DPaint (Deluxe Paint) for all the original graphic development and animation sequences for all the sprites and tiles for the backgrounds.

There was an AMOS Club that I think was run by someone by the name of Aaron Fothergill, and I think he also programmed the Map Editor (again if my memory is wrong here then apologies to those concerned). Through this club I communicated with other members and it was one of these members who saw my demo copy of 'Harold' and suggested he send the demo to a 'friend' of his. This turned out to be the MD of Rasputin. I went along to see them and was commissioned to produce the game on the basis of this demo.

Obviously I didn't consider myself a programmer and suggested they pay me a royalty fee or something for the idea and get someone else to program it. Their insistence on my ability, based on the demo along with my somewhat ballooning ego at this point meant I took on the task. The next 6-8 months of my life were frantic, nerve wracking and at times downright painfully frustrating (not to mention financially risky). Ironically at roughly the same time I was made redundant, so I convinced Rasputin to pay me a monthly retainer to do the development. After 3 months development and only 1 month's money things started heating up. I continued to develop (the version that is available is testament to that), they paid a further 2 months money and then disappeared. Solicitors, legal aid, nasty letters etc. all ensued but to no avail. I had no further contact with Rasputin (except a chance meeting with the MD at ECTS in I think 1994 which wasn't really very enjoyable).

The experience with the publisher probably answers this. Also the fact that I was broke meant I couldn't continue and the Amiga was already showing serious signs of being a dying breed (with the then imminent demise of Commodore). So basically Rasputin disappeared, my money stopped, the Amiga pretty much died at the time and therefore so did 'Harold'.

'Harold' was a labour of love. I designed the character and did some animation for him. These were loosely based on the antics of some platform games of the time. An example of this is the way he takes off his hat and scratches his head when you leave him just standing around too long (he gets bored you see). Another one was playing with the movement of his abundance of hair as he moved. It was from these 'antics' that the demo I did grew.The main demo elements formed part of what became Level 4 of the game.

Having developed a character with certain antics for the demo, like walking, rolling, jumping, flying, swimming and ducking etc. this really formed the basics of the game engine. My own personal circumstances then probably played a part in the structure of the game. A bit like song writing I suppose, which is frequently very personal, the history of Harold was that he was totally fed up with where he lived and what he represented, where the world was going etc so he took his trusty Dalmation, D'for (dog) and disappeared into the mountains. Here he evolved (devolved?) into a hermit and lived happily in a cave with D'for. Until having become pregnant and given birth to pups, she fell asleep one day, and to Harold's dismay the pups decided to go walkabout. Harold decides to go find them all and return to the cave before D'for wakes up. This is why the last level was 'The Caves'. Originally you had to jump on top of a pup (basically hide it under all your hair), but Rasputin thought this was too difficult so I changed it to be as long as you are touching a pup and press the fire button, then you caught it. This was however far too easy so I introduced the need to have a 'Netting' ability. If you didn't possess this icon you couldn't catch a pup even if you could find one. This meant having to go off and find 'Net' icons to collect and then go back to find the pups again. So you see it sought of evolved really. The only solid thing that existed throughout the whole process was the need to rescue the pups and get back to the cave (on the last level). Then it was a matter of devising the route, the obstacles on the way, and the puzzles on each level to get extra points and capture the pups.

I didn't create any other games for the Amiga, just the AMOS Pro Map Editor I mentioned above and I don't have this any more (sadly). I did, and still do have a number of ideas for games, all of which are of course quite unique. I've never seen anything similar to these ideas out there but I'm 53 now so maybe a little old to consider taking up the task again. But you never know...

I kept along the track of my design roots with various roles in Advertising and Marketing agencies. I'm now working for myself again using my design and marketing knowledge. I spend 2-3 weeks at a time in Switzerland doing the design and marketing for a company that builds and manages chalets, and the rest of the time I spend working from home in the UK as a designer, for print and the web and database developer (using Filemaker)

Until you contacted me a little while ago, my Amiga gaming was non-existent, with my trusty Amiga relegated to the loft. The Amiga is still in the loft but I've now installed an emulator on my Mac and reliving some glorious memories. Thank you for that. I now hope that someone (other than me) can get a little enjoyment out of Harold. Then I'll be much happier as well because the graft I put in won't have been in vain. Have fun folks!

Kindest Regards

Alec (father of...)

Harold - the Hairy Hermit