Interview with John Dale

A few of us who were all at university together in Bristol had written various things on earlier platforms - BBC Micro, Atari 400/800, that kind of thing. We'd all got Atari STs, as I remember, and we started out with that and then did Amiga ports at the request of our publishers.

It was fine, as far as I remember. Those were the days when developers wrote games on spec and them sold them to publishers once they were finished, so there would have been no involvement from Audiogenic while we were writing the game. They may have asked us to make cosmetic tweaks like changing the title screen, I guess, but other than that I think they just took the finished game from us and ran with it.

No idea. It would have been either because somebody somewhere thought it would sell better, or because there was some kind of pre-existing product or service which mean that the original name couldn't be used.

It was a pseudonym used by my co-developer because he also had a day job at the time.

Four of us had all written games in various permutations, and it seemed like there was enough mileage in it that those of us who had day jobs could quit them and we could work for ourselves as a group instead. We'd done Impact and Helter Skelter by then, and we were part-way through E-Motion, Pipe Mania, Interphase and probably some other stuff that I've forgotten. So there was clearly enough work about to keep us all busy, and it was appealing to us all to share an office and pool our resources rather than all working from out of our spare rooms, I think.

Very serendipitous as I recall. One of those ideas which just seemed to arrive fully formed, and the coding for it was dead simple, so much so that the first version was done in a weekend. Everyone we showed it to seemed to like it, and it's had a great shelf life as games go (partly because it can work on any platform and is easy to program, I guess).

It changed a bit from the first version to the one that eventually went on sale, but we come to that a bit further down.

I do remember this vaguely. I think Empire wanted to call it Pipe Dream everywhere, but in Europe they couldn't, because there was a... Sinclair (?) computer of some sort, maybe? which ran an OS called Pipe Dream, and so Empire weren't allowed to use that name and had to go with Pipe Mania instead.

Funny. I didn't know that was available anywhere. That's the original version in the form that we first sent it to Empire. They liked it, agreed a deal with us, and then licensed it to LucasArts in the US.

LucasArts were very, very smart about ways in which the game could be improved, both graphically and in game-play terms, and they worked with us to provide all the graphics which appeared in the final game, and helped us polish and refine the game. For example, originally I had two sets of pieces which you could choose from, one blue and one red, and you got more points for using consecutive pieces of the same colour.

LucasArts thought, and in hindsight I think they were quite right, that this made the game less accessible for the first time player, and we should pull it out. Another thing we got wrong in the first version was that when the green stuff started flowing, we stopped letting you lay pieces down. You just had to watch and wait to see if you'd done enough to win the level. That was obviously nuts, and when we changed it so that you could continue putting pieces down even while the green gunk was flowing, it made the game much better and more exciting.

I designed and it and did its laughably simple graphics, I think.

Not really. I've only really ever done one successful puzzle game - Pipe Mania - and one failed one, Rotoplex. I've done more arcade games than I have puzzlers, and I'd have to say that Pipe Mania was just a fluke really.

No further than the version which appeared on a magazine demo disk.

It just wasn't a good enough game, as I recollect. It wasn't intuitive and obvious in the way that Pipe Mania was, and people didn't love it at first sight in the same way. The combination of rotating pieces and swapping them just felt kind of arbitrary, and moving from smaller to bigger boards didn't really feel satisfying as a game-play progression. Looking back with hindsight, I think we were maybe trying to do something in the Bejewelled or Tetris Attack vein, but we didn't get to anything as elegant and playable as either of those games.

There weren't any, I don't think. We just didn't see enough potential in it after we'd coded the demo (and again, it was a very quick process) to plan how it might develop.

I don't think so. It's a long time ago, and I may be mis-remembering, but I *think* it was actually the other way around; we showed it to publishers, not with any huge enthusiasm, and nobody bit our arm off to buy it or try to work to improve it, so by the time somebody asked us for a magazine demo, we were already quite sure that we weren't going to do anything else with it. I very vaguely recall that at the time there was some discussion about the idea of a charity compilation disk with titles from various developers included on it, and we would happily have donated it to that (and probably done some more levels) if it had materialised, but nothing came of it.

Yep; I did Impact, Helter Skelter, Pipe Dream, E-Motion, Vaxxine, and Rotoplex. I was very slightly involved in Cybercon III and in the early development of Stunt Island too, but those were almost entirely other peoples' titles.

I loved Lemmings, of course - who didn't? - and I also thought Loopz, from Audiogenic, was very good.

No, I work in the IT department at a university. Every so often I see something that makes me want to give it another go - Line Rider, say, or Peggle (I'm a casual gamer nowadays, as you can probably guess) but I'm nobody's programmer or designer any more, so it's pretty unlikely, I suspect.