ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

1 Jul 2011

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart
Colin Stewart worked on the ZX Spectrum back in the 1980's creating the platform game / arcade adventure Castle Quest before going on to create the playable and quirky platformer Frank N Stein.

Colin's follow up game to Frank N Stein was to be called Dracula but unfortunatley it was only partially completed and the project was shelved...

Now, all of these years later Colin is working to complete Dracula (which should excite us Spectrum gamers!) and was kind enough to reminisce with us about his days making those classic games for the good old Speccy...

Frank N Stein was a deserved big hit
1: Hello Colin. What was the first computer you used and how old where you at the time?
Hello, thanks for talking to me today. That would be a Sinclair ZX81 and I was 14 years old. I remember the whole experience vividly and from that moment on, I was completely hooked.

2: What did you like best about coding on the ZX Spectrum?
The ZX Spectrum has it’s limitations, such as poor colour resolution and virtually no sound, but it was fairly cheap and I could see huge potential in it. I guess the thing I liked best was bringing very simple graphics to life, a Spectrum screen is so recognisable, even today.

3: And what did you not like about coding on the ZX Spectrum?
Well that has to be saving my work to cassette tape, before I got microdrives.

4: Which programmers or software houses impressed you most back in the day?
Ultimate Play The Game made my jaw drop every time, even their logo was amazing. I remember seeing Jetpac running in W H Smiths and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and it was running in 16K!  It was so playable too and introduced some physics to the player movement for the first time.

5: Was your game Castle Quest fully published? It is hard to find any reviews of the game from back in the day.
Castle Quest was my first real attempt to break into the games market. I sent it off to lots of software houses and got limited response back. PSS did reply however asking if I had any other things in the pipeline, as they liked something about it. My understanding is that it was only ever released in Spain.

Colin's first game Castle Quest
 6: After the success of Frank N Stein what happened with your next game, Dracula?
PSS were very keen to follow-up Frank N Stein with another horror related title. I came up with Dracula and started work on the game based in a hotel with lifts between floors. I got about half way through I reckon, but it was never finished.

Games were becoming very graphically rich and I didn’t think the simpler Dracula format would be able to be a success in the market. It was very time consuming and I also got a real job.

7: I see you have the original source code for your unfinished game Dracula which you are planning on completing (which is brilliant!). Can you give us any idea when it will be ready for us Speccy fans to play?Yes, I have recovered everything I created and I intend to finish it off and release it. I’m not going to bring it up-to-date, I’m going to release it in the style I had originally intended, so it may look kind of simple compared with titles that followed Frank N Stein.

I hope to have it ready for special previews in about a month.

8: How has it been coding in Z80 assembler again after all these years?
To be honest, I’d forgotten it all, but it all came flooding back as soon as soon as I looked at it again. The worst bit is remembering all the ZX Spectrum quirks like the weird screen memory mapping and the need to the interrupt vector table.

9: What was life like working for PSS in the 1980's?
I was very young so it was a massive experience. I worked from home in my bedroom and they provided all the necessary sales and marketing support. I did visit them in Coventry on several occasions and I was offered the opportunity to work from there, which I didn’t take up.

10: Do you have any favourite games on the ZX Spectrum?
Yes, Manic Miner, Penetrator and Jetpac.

11: How do you find modern games compared to those of the 8-bit era?
I don’t play games computer anymore, they’re all a bit too realistic now and the plots are too complex. The quality of the graphics and general game-play is amazing though.

12: After Frank N Stein and Castle Quest what did you move on to next?
I got a job working as a programmer for a company who manufactured computerised milling machinery. I mainly worked on the machines user-interface and some early PC based CAD software they developed.

13: Can you tell us what you are up to now?
I’ve spent my whole career in IT, designing and developing software. I mainly programmed in C and still do some development work using C#. I’m currently the IT Development Manager for a large UK company, designing and developing in-house systems.

14: Finally, the retro gaming scene is booming. Once Dracula has been completed would you consider writing another game for the Spectrum? Go on, you know it makes sense! ;-)
I would consider it. I found the beginnings of another game when looking for Dracula, called The Goblin Caves, so I may finish that off. The problem is, with new games, players expect so much and my rather simple platform genre may not be good enough anymore. Better to go out on a high rather than a low.

Many thanks to Colin for taking the time to talk to me.

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games


Deadpan Flook said...

Another great interview! Looking forward to Dracula and hopefully The Goblin Caves too! :)

Michael Evers said...

Great stuff, thanks.

Arjun said...

Go for it Colin!

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Com domein said...

Interesting to see and hear what those people are up to today. It's such a long time ago and making games wasn't so rewarding and good business to bein in those days.

NMarte said...

Go for it Colin! Do not mind if your games seem dated. This is one of the charms of the spectrum games, thats why it is called retro gaming. We want to see other games like Frank N Stein 1984!

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