ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

10 Feb 2010

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Dave Hawkins

Dave Hawkins
Dave Hawkins was active in the computer games industry during the 1980's working on the Commodore 64 and of course, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Dave recently who was more than happy to take us through his ZX Spectrum coding days when he developed classic games such as Starmaker, Wizards Warrior and Stranded.

Wizards Warrior ZX Spectrum

1: What was the first computer you ever programmed on? And how old were you at the time?
That would be the ZX81. I'd guess I would have been 12-13 years old. At the time I didn't have a computer of my own, the one I used to program on at first belonged to a friend of mine. We used to experiment with simple Space Invader type games, but he only had the 1k version so they were pretty small.

He and his family went on holiday and he lent the ZX for the week. I don't think I got off of it in that entire time. I guess my interest was apparent by then as the day my friend came back from holiday and I had to return the ZX my parents went out and brought me my own, complete with the 16k ram pack. I couldn't believe at the time how much memory it had!

2: How did you get into developing games? Did it start with BASIC programming before moving into other languages?
Well, I imagine like most people who write games it all started with me playing them. I was very interested in Dungeons and Dragons at the time but never really felt the early computer games covered what I wanted to play. So my real interest to develop went on from there.

I started out with BASIC and then moved onto Z80 and 6502. I was pretty lazy when it came down to anything complex at the time so most of my early games would be written in BASIC, only delving into machine languages when BASIC simply couldn't cope.

As time moved on, I guess I used BASIC less and less for the machines of the time, but it still remains my prefered language.

3: How was the Quill to work with?
I have to be honest and say I didn't really use the Quill that much. I'm guessing that this question comes from an error on the World of Spectrum site which states that The Wizards Warrior was written using Quill. In fact Wizards Warrior was written using PAW. So if you don't mind I'll tell you how PAW was to work with.

As I said, being lazy, PAW was a godsend for me. The ability to design your game with all of the grunt work already done was great. I found PAW to be an excellent and very flexible application and to this day still think of it as one of the best games design packages ever written. I think that after Wizards Warrior and the experiences I learnt from it's development, I was really able to began to push PAW to it's limits (or my limits!).

Something I really loved about the old Spectrum days was that it was so much easier to alter the main program code for your own use. I wrote another text adventure called Stranded which I felt at the time had many of the features I wanted to see.

I like to build core engines to base games upon and Stranded was the start of that. It had exits commands, the ability to push, pull, throw, stand on, lie on etc.. almost all objects. I tried to make the game as interactive as possible and I guess was quite pleased with the results.

There was a further refined version of the engine after this date which allowed for far more complex interaction but due to a very unfortunate accident all of my work was lost. After that I think I reverted to doing things the hard way but didn't ever get around to writing any further adventure games for the Spectrum.

4: The graphics on Wizards Warrior were very impressive. Did you draw the graphics for your text adventure games? If so - how did you create them?
Firstly, that's very kind of you to say. The graphics are obviously very dated now but I guess they were okay for the time.

As I said above, Wizards Warrior was written using PAW so the graphics were created using the internal system.I did draw them myself and although I tried to maintain a theme throughout I found memory constantly becoming an issue. So in retrospect it would have been nice to have improved upon them.

The sequel to Wizards Warrior, High Odds, which was sadly never released (and even I no longer have a copy) was written in 2 parts, this gave me a much greater range of options and enabled me to include graphics which changed with events. So, maybe it would have been better for Wizard Warriors to also have been written using that method..

Still... it can't be helped now. I pretty much consider Wizards Warrior as a whole to have been a good learning experience.

5: Did you have a favourite text adventure on the Spectrum and which of your own computer games were you most proud of?
I wouldn't say I had one single text adventure that was my favourite. I obviously loved the Hobbit and although I don't think it was as popular as many other games I really enjoyed Sherlock, again by Beam Software. I had many of the Level 9 games and still occasionally play them when I'm in a quiet mood.

As for which of my own games was I the most proud of? Hmmm.. Of the Spectrum games I guess at the time Stranded, mainly for the reason stated above, but having replayed Starmaker again recently, It seemed a lot better than I remembered and it was my first commercial game so it has some sentimental value as well. I can't really choose between them so I'm going to sit on the fence and say both Wizards Warrior and Starmaker equally.

6: I see you developed a game called Caterpilla which was never released. What kind of game was it and what happened to it?
Caterpilla was a Centipede clone and was my first full Z80 arcade game. I don't think it was picked up by anyone, but has been included in the World of Spectrum site for completeness. To be honest I think the gaming world was swamped with that sort of thing at the time and was really just a side project for me to improve my programming skills.

I learnt a lot from it and still use many of the techniques I developed then in my current programming projects.

7: Were you an adventure only player or did you play arcade style games too?
I was far from being a adventure only player. I really enjoyed writing adventure and strategy games, which is why most of my published work went down that route, but I played many different types of games.

If I had a favourite Spectrum arcade game it would have to be "Escape from Krakatoa" which I played endlessly.. (and again, I played it just the other day and enjoyed it just as much.).

(I must agree it is a great arcade game)
Funnily enough I'm working on a remake at the moment of it, so I guess it did inspire me a great deal.

8: Were you given free-reign to develop your games or did other people have input too?
I mostly had a free-reign over my work as almost all of it was written on a Freelance basis. Once a game was accepted by a publisher they would obviously want little changes, so there would be input from them then, but mostly I got to put in what I wanted and most of it stayed as written.

9: Starmaker was an enjoyable game and something quite different when it came out. Where did the inspiration come from?
As well as being playing adventure games I was a great fan of management games at the time, and pretty much like the adventure games I felt that many of them didn't have what I wanted.

Don't get me wrong, there were some truly excellent games out there, but at the time, most companies were happy with pure text, often black and white with the occasional splash of red or green thrown it to highlight the important bits.

Even towards the end, many management games had almost no graphics and hardly any sound. So, the intention was to write a fun game which included these brighter elements. This game was also the only one of mine that you could say was co-written as most of the design came from my older sisters.

So, it was more of a family effort. I guess that was where the inspiration came from and apart from the obvious, music is the next big thing in the lives of most 14-15 year olds, so I was writing a game about something that I thought I understood (naive fool that I was).

Starmaker on the ZX Spectrum
10: What did you get up to after the Spectrum scene dwindled away in the early 1990's?
A quick potted history of the last 20 years:- Well, I've always continued programming as a personal hobby, after the Spectrum and the Commodore 64, I moved onto the Amiga and then the PC.

But as we all know the computer games industry didn't have much need for freelancers at the end of the 1980's and having left home in 1989 I was surprised to find that if I wanted to eat I had to find work.

I had quite a few jobs, starting out with working in a garage in the forecourt and delivering cars, and then various temping jobs. I like many people at the time went travelling around Asia during 1991, which was an eye opener and after that took an NVQ in business management which quite frankly has been almost no use what-so-ever.

I pretty much carried on in various long-term temping jobs until around the beginning of 2003 when I started work for the UK government, firstly promoting Sustainable Transportation and then working as a Highways Technician. (Which in short meant that I made sure housing developers build roads correctly).

My very understanding wife and I left England to live in France around the end of 2007 where I've continued to write small PC games, some of which I publish on my website for free to anyone who is interested and I am currently around half way through writing a novel. (which hasn't taken 3 years to get this far, but with all the other things I want to get done is taking a while!). That's about it, 20 years of life in 12 lines...

11: With Spectrum retro gaming (and new releases) being popular - any chance you could create another adventure or strategy type game for the Spectrum now?
I guess it's tempting, I only recently realised how popular new Spectrum software has become.

As you may have guessed I'm a great one for starting new projects and then finding it's taking an age to finish, mostly because I get another idea and then put the previous project to one side for awhile only to pick it up 12 months later.

I'm currently working on a remake of Starmaker for the PC, the "Escape from Krakatoa" remake, a version of the classic game Breakout/Arkanoid (I like classic games and would like to include more on my website for nostalga.), a "Son of Blagger" remake (which to be fair isn't that far away from being finished), another scrolling platform game, which is sort of a sequel to a game I wrote for the PC called Lost Caverns, which in turn was inspired by all of the old Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy type platform games.

I'm also working on a 3D puzzle game based around the real world Labyrinth game, where you navigate a metal ball around a wooden maze by tilting it. All of this in addition to attempting to finish my book. So as you can see I've got a few projects underway at the moment and probably shouldn't start another yet.

However, that said, it would be nice to have another go at writing for the Spectrum, but not for the moment I'm afraid.

Many thanks for the questions, it's been entertaining reminiscing and it's good to know that even after all of these years there is still a healthy interest in the whole Spectrum world and those involved not only at the beginning but now

Many thanks Dave for taking the time to do this. Please let us know how your remakes go too!

Dave's website is at http://jimjamsgames.yolasite.com/

ZX Spectrum Games and Classic Games

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