Interview with Antony Crowther (Ratt/W.E.M.U.S.I.C.)

I started coding in Basic, in the school library, we used to write educational software, then sell it to other schools to increase school funds. We got the occasional even out paid for. There were 4 of us, Ben Daglish, Nigel Merryman and Martyn Peverley ran by the library teacher Ian Warby. I was studying my A Levels at the time, A level Art, Engineering Drawing and Maths.

I had a Saturday job at Superior System, selling computers. The boss was called Mike Mahoney. I had played on some Pet computers, a Pet 8032, and I had a pet 4032 at home that my dad had borrowed. I saved up enough and bought C16, and showing off some software I had done on the C16, Mike offered me a C64, if I wrote him some games. Of which I agreed, My parents complained and said I was wasting my time, I wrote six games, and they were all released under the new software label Alligata. I ended up owning the C64, and a cheque for £500, this stopped my parents complaining :)

My first games were written in Basic, but Brands was my first experiment with assembly. I wrote a one line assembler in basic, that allowed me to edit and disassemble the code. Later I wrote an Assembly language version of the one line assembler, which I used for most of my early C64 games. It was used to disassemble in decimal rather the Hex. And I think if you type sys 49152, on my games it will run the editor. I think later I managed to write it so it can be moved anywhere and run. But I was very quick at writing code using this. I also wrote my own graphics editor, and early version was published in a magazine, called Three in One editor.

I was asked by Ian Stewart and Kevin (can't remember his second name), if I would like to start a new company, they were going to put in capital, and I put in Potty Pigeon. We formed Gremlin Graphics. I was about 18 at the time, and easily persuaded, and was asked to leave Gremlin, and form another company called Wizard Development.

Yes, cant give too much info here, as I have just done an article for someone on this.

There was a game called MUD, part of Compunet I think, and every time I played it someone killed me, so me being a little naive though I would pretend to be one of the game's animals, so I attempted to long on with the name “rat” but it said I could not use that name, so used “ratt”. Bingo, I can now play MUD with pretending to be a game character. But also they still killed me. But I did keep the name.

Yes, the idea came from David Bishop, I just went along with it :)

The C64 was the first version on the game, after the C64 version was completed, we were asked to look at doing an Amiga and ST version of the game. It was coded by a good friend of mine, Ross Goodley. I did the graphics, I was too scared to move away from the C64, as I feared I may not be able to keep up with technology.

David had the idea, while me and Lisa my wife, were stopping at his house for a visit, when I returned home I started work, and a week later, I informed him I have it up and running, we ironed out a few gameplay issues, and within a couple of weeks it was completed. I had created an editor, and sent it as many people I knew at the time, to create a levels for it.

So from idea to finished product was about a month, so we then attempted to sell the idea to ImageWorks who loved it, and started funding the Amiga version etc.

To me it made sense, if you were buying a magazine with pictures in (lots of pictures), that the better they looked, the better the impression would be to others. This is not saying the 3D version was bad, but I preferred the 2D for speed.

In the early days, I did my own graphics, music, sound fx, tools, etc.. I was a bit of a one man band, but 16-bit machines scared me, so I stayed with 8-bit for a bit longer.

It was just an I idea I had, and everyone agreed, as the level editor was nice and simple.

I have no idea, I had no idea they had done that :)

I don’t think I even saw a design. If there were plans, no one spoke to me.

Everywhere, it was hard for me and David to come up with ideas...

We did the C64 first, then then Amiga and ST at the same time. I just updated the graphics on the Amiga version.

Amiga and ST were the same, but ST lacked in hardware support for smooth scrolling, and Audio was a little weak on ST. The 8bit to 16bit was a big step, as I had to learn a new language, as I programmed in assembly language at the time.

Nothing special, just ensuring that the game play was fun.

I completely forgot about this, but I used to like to try out different things, adding test cards was a fad I had.

Based on other on games, like Salamander, these were hard to play too, so it was aimed at that type of player.

Can’t remember how I met up with them, but I had been working on Captive (Federation War) for about 4 months, and was looking for a publisher for it. As Mirrorsoft/Image Works were not allowed to publish it, due to contractual agreement with FTL.

It was written first for Amiga, but the engine ran on Amiga and ST, so ST version was working the same day a feature was added.

It was written for my brother, has he was into RPGs, but I remember captive being quick hectic at times :)

Captive world was full of borrowed ideas from Dalek based cameras, to ED209 type robots. I think one of the droid you could buy looked like C3PO.

Yes, correct. I didn’t feel like change the artwork when the name changed, but I did add the final monster into the game, when I saw the artwork for the game :)

This was all handled by Mindscape, I just followed the wave :) … the software was the only thing on my mind.

It was done in my spare time, just messing around with the hardware. It had the advantage of merging the ST and Amiga into a single file system. It could auto compress and decompress per sector, it was faster the AmigaDOS, and it was a little harder to copy. So I was quite pleased with it.

My favourite machine was the Amiga, ST was second best. Mainly due to the poor hardware for both graphics and sound.

There are web pages that explain this very high detail, but the general gist, was to try to produce a level, that looked man made, rather than computer generated randomness. This caused the code to be re-written many times, until I was happy with the final results. But the levels had to feel harder, as it generated 65536 levels. Level 0 would be simple, and as they advance levels become harder and harder, but introducing different game elements, like fire and super strong fast aliens. I think some of the monsters don’t even make an appearance until very high levels. Same with the hardware you can buy, by having ranked version of each weapon, it was possible to delay these.

Yes, even the location of the planets was based on a seed. I did have to check that no rude words could be generated from the system :)

There is an end sequence where you find Trill, only for him to be re-captured and you have to go look for him again. I think this was ever 10 or 12 planets.

All the artwork was done using Dpaint ... how I loved that program.

Mission disk? New to me.

The engine was re-used in Knightmare, but there were no plans to produce a Captive mission disk.

Yes I had seen it a few times.

I don’t remember having any issues. They were either happy with what I had done, or they were never shown to them for them ask for a change.

Ben wrote the music, I refined all the samples used.

Don’t know why, but I thought it fitter for the licence.

These levels were designed around gameplay, if it felt wrong it got changed, but the game did borrow some gameplay elements from other games like Mario (head butting blocks), Boulder Dash (pushing boulders).

Lol, can’t remember.

If I remember this correctly, the bundle was arranged before I was asked to write the game, and we only had 30 days to write it. So it was a bit of a rush, but I'm pleased to say the product does not looked rushed, I think this was the first time I worked with an artist. Prior to this I had done all my own artwork.

If you don’t know, then I don’t :)

It was written with the licence from day one, as Tim Child the man behind Knightmare, was a fan of Captive, and wanted me to write the new version of Knightmare the game. The artwork was all done by Jan Thwaites, She was an artist who worked on the TV show. I was given 1000’s of pages of scripts to pick ideas for the game, and Tim asked for certain things to happen in the game.

Yes love them, Prometheus was the latest film to give me my latest fix.

Yes, Captive was re-skinned, and the levels were man made, rather than generated. The attack system was re-written, and the animations system upgrade to make the bad-guys look nicer. As they were built out of small moving parts, rather than a fixed image.

I think I was just trying to think of things to add, that were not in Captive. I don’t think the mine cart worked as well as the boat, mainly because you were not in control of it.

Because Knightmare had a plot, i.e. was scripted with challenges, and it’s not easy to control the flow when it's random. Random may have sped up development, because I sent a long time on generating those maps, and testing the game play.

I can’t remember if they were involved in the audio, I think it was just the artwork and scripts.

I thought it was a cool idea, as games were coming on many floppy disks. PlayStation took it to the next level.

Always wanted to do another Captive, this time I teamed up with a friends Ross Goodley, and Kim Blake, I had worked with these before, as Kim did the scripts for the story in Gobots. And Ross had done the K-Ring, Gobots, Centurion and Bombuzal conversions for me. The plan was to push 3D to a new level, thanks to Ross, because I had no idea how the maths worked.

Ross worked on the Inventory System, the Chip System, the Pub Name generation, the 3D polygon rendering, the random script along with Kim. And I worked on the world rendering, the city layout, the traffic system, route finding, the house internals, and the Intro sequence. I remember Ross doing the converting the animation player, but can’t remember what for :)

It was 3D vectors, it could draw polygons with a pattern texture... at the time it was pretty ground breaking :)

I didn’t think the Amiga was fast enough to do it. And there was still a quality level it had to pass, for me to pursue it. PCs were fast enough, that’s why Realms (ROTH) and Normality were written.

Changed due to Ross’s influence, he took the lead on the plot, and it was based around a random story generated by the game. My English was never good, so I took a back seat on this, as I couldn’t really help :)

Yes, this was the originally plan, and was written by Ross.

I think there was only me, Ross and Kim, working on the game ( I think the speech involved other people. ). The intro sequence added more people to the list.

No, the CD32 was added later, we originally wrote it for Amiga, and I suspect ST was dropped due to speed problems. CD32 came about and we went mad with Audio... Graphics were only better because we had disc space.

Yes, but I was not involved in that.

Too long, The levels were auto generated, so can’t remember what the ceiling was.

The Audio was chopped, and the texture generations were prebuilt on the CD.

That I don’t know.

No. I did lots of picture on the Amiga using dpaint, not all were shown.

Because PC's were bigger than Amiga, and software houses wanted PC software.

I live in Sheffield always have and always will, and Gremlin were in Sheffield so it was easier.

I wrote the 3D engine, I was involved in the video compression for ages, I wrote the editor. And did the final pass on the levels, adding and fixing gameplay. I remember at the end throwing away a level, and creating a new puzzle level (the level with the mirrors).

To me they were no different, I like to find new roles in the company, and I did just that. I got to travel more, as EA is an American company. I was an enjoyable experience. But if I didn’t enjoy it I would not have stayed with them for seven years.

I’m back at Sumo now :) ... I think it’s because people at the top change, and they like to make things happen, some bad some good. But games/software is still a big market.

No, I think newer games are more and more impressive, I wrote the games then to be impressive, and today's standard has moved on, I just moved with it.

Never say never... I don’t know, I’m currently very busy on other things, but when I get free time, I may indulge myself.