Dave Rogers (sometime credited as J Dave Rogers) developed arcade games such as Flatman and Money Grabber for the ZX81 before moving into ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC development.
With his musical background he went on to create many excellent and well known theme tunes (featuring some of the best AY Music) for arcade style games from companies such as Hewson and Firebird.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Dave who was more than happy to reminisce with us about his coding days...
1: What was the first computer you ever programmed on, and how old were you at the time?
The ZX81, and I was in my mid 20's.
2: How did you get into the games development scene? Did you have an interest in programming as well as music?
During the 1970's I was designing audio processing circuits and writing articles for electronics magazines. It was all analogue stuff, so I knew nothing about digital. I would occasionally see adverts in the magazines for early home-build computer kits, but I remember thinking "what would I want one of those for?"
Then a guy who happened to be working across the road, name of Colin Hogg, heard that I was into electronics, and he asked me if I could fix up a graphics extension board for his ZX81. I didn't have a clue about it, but he left the machine here for a while, so I gave it a try, and was instantly hooked on programming. I bought a ZX81 and put it into a larger case with (gasp) real keys!
3: Can you tell me a little about your musical background and knowledge?
My dad played guitar in various bands, playing the clubs, I joined in on Bass. Then I was in a few local bands, on Bass and Keyboards, playing mostly in Liverpool.
4: How was it working with the single channel Spectrum Beeper?
What can I say? Incredibly limiting would be an understatement. I always did the best I could with the 128k sound, trying to overcome it's limitations, but the beeper just felt like a waste of effort. The only time I did anything specifically for the beeper was for Cybernoid - a three channel tune for the 128k and a completely different one for the 48k.
The rest of the time I took the lazy way out and just squashed the three channel AY-chip data down into one channel for the beeper.
5: What other machines did you work on besides the Spectrum?
Mostly the Amstrad CPC series, and the Atari ST, then later with the Code Monkeys various consoles, Sega Megadrive, Gameboy, etc.
6: How good was it when the AY chip was utilised within the Spectrum 128?
Well anything was better than the monobeep.
7: I see you developed some games on the ZX81. How did you go from games programming to also creating game music?
Colin and myself started off writing games for the ZX81, as "type-ins" for magazines such as ZX Computing, My Computer, etc. Then we wrote a few games for the Amstrad CPC. Then Colin moved to Leeds, where he started up The Code Monkeys software house (which is still going strong). The prospect of doing a complete game by myself seemed a bit daunting, especially since Colin had written the graphics engines, so I sent a music demo to Hewson, and went on from there.
8: Which title (on any machine) are you most proud of?
Cybernoid, Netherworld, and Bear-a-Grudge. The latter was a free cassette on the cover of Sinclair User magazine, written by Chris Wood who was working at Hewson.
The rest of my games music I was never really happy with, apart from a few odd sections.
One thing I was quite pleased with was my driver, which filled as many sound channels as possible at any given time from the Speccy's available three. There were levels of priority, but no sound effect was ever completely overridden, and some would spread out to more channels if they became free. Some parts of the music would duck out, but then come back in at whole-bar divisions, so as not to sound too fragmented.
One channel of the Cybernoid music was actually just randomised notes, but timed and enveloped to sound like a percussion track, which made it sound a bit different every time it was played.
9: Which programmers or musicians impressed you most at the time?
There were so many great programmers pushing the limits of those early computers, I particularly remember being amazed at Sandy White's game Ant Attack. It looks simple now but at the time it was brilliant.
My favourite from all the music by other musicians that I converted across platforms was Universal Soldier. And speaking of which, I'd like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
Some people have said that this game was "a rip off of Turrican 2". In fact, what happened was the game and the music were being developed AS Turrican 2, but when it was almost completed the title was changed to take advantage of an available movie tie-in. So it actually WAS Turrican 2 all along, not a rip off "of" it.
10: How was life at Hewson during the 1980's?
I worked entirely from home, so I had little contact with them. It was just phone calls, and video tapes arriving by post so I could watch the games and see where the sound would fit in. Then I'd post tapes back to them with the drivers and music.
There wasn't much discussion of the music and sound, most of it was just used without change. I only met Hewson once in person, and none of the programmers. I didn't make much money from it. I heard via one of his staff, that Hewson once said of me "he's very cheap for what he does!".
11: Finally - are you still active in the games industry today?
No, not at all. But I'm very happy to have been involved in it. It was a very interesting time. A unique period in technological history. I look back on the time I spent in speccy land with great pleasure. And it's great to see so much continuing interest in it.
I recently found a guy on YouTube who has re-made some of my music with better sounds. I love what he's done with Stormlord. If you go to YouTube and search for;- "Cybernoid 2 chip music" by CoolDudeClem "My Renditions of retro game music Part 2" by CoolDudeClem.
I'd like to thank "retrogamer" Keith Ainsworth for putting me in contact with Martin.
Cheers,Dave Rogers, Liverpool, March 2010.
Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to do this
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