Interview with Ste Cork
How did you get started in computers?
A couple of the lads at school had Spectrums, they looked like
fun, so I asked my folks to help me buy one at Xmas as I was in
the last year at our school not to have computers provided there.
When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions?
1983. Seemed like a good laugh, but the fact that the
programming language seemed so easy and you could get results up
on screen really fast impressed me. Many a night was spent
writing useless and highly simple "games" back then.
What was your first game?
Erm... ahem, cough cough, er, actually it was a rather
embarrassing budget thing called CaGara. It actually had some
pretty good features in it and needed a lot of thought to play,
unfortunately it looked and sounded so awful that only people who
knew me bothered to look at it for more than a couple of minutes,
and since I'd been writing it for about a year (with a friend at
school) we'd got really good at it, so made it hard enough to be
challenging to us, which meant new players just got slaughtered.
Most of the good bits on the maps were hidden in places that
you'd never find in a million years, and there was a fatal bug in
one maze screen caused by some tosser who worked for the
publisher "cleverly" hacking off our turbo loader and
putting their own loading screen, forgetting the fact that since
the game had stuff stored all over the system area as well he
corrupted a lot of the data. Oh well, it was pretty embarrassing
What have you done on the Speccy?
Errrr... of the top of my head, CaGara, Wibstars, Colony, Rescue, Canyon Warrior, Deadzone, Psycho Pigs UXB, Star Paws, Sector 90, Elephant Polo (very few people would even have heard of most of those), and a couple of aborted wargames.
Nothing famous really, almost everything I did on the Speccy
was employer-controlled, and the company I worked for did loads
of projects for people like Argus Press and the then
Mastertronic. Hardly Crash-Smash stuff. Argus Press was a weird
company, they paid for us to do loads of games, then almost never
released them, or only sold them in about 2 shops in the whole
country. We vaguely joked about them being some kind of tax loss
or money-laundering operation since there was no way we could see
them making money at it. Still, it paid our wages.
What do you think of your games? Which is your personal favourite?
I think they're fairly playable, well, the ones I had development control over anyway, not the contract ones (which were awful). Several times I'd find people playing my games after hours or during dinner breaks at A&F and Icon..... which was nice <g>.
My personal favourite is easily Rescue, it got loads of
letters in magazines, and sold quite well (around 35,000 copies).
I later ported it to the MSX and Einstein computers under the
name Starbase, with the permission of Virgin who'd taken over
Mastertronic by then.
How did you leave the Spectrum scene?
I was lured back from Software Creations after only being
there 6 months (I'd done Psycho Pigs UXB and Star Paws on the
Spectrum there) to work for Icon Design again, but this time on
the PC. Software Creations weren't interested in doing PC work,
and even now they're mainly into Nintendo, so I jumped at the
chance, I re-joined Icon and did the PC conversion of Nebulus,
from there I never worked on the Spectrum again, other than doing
a couple of quick shoot-em-ups (Deadzone and Canyon Warrior) as
private royalty jobs.
Were you sad to leave?
No, the format had just about died out by then. It was a nice
machine while it lasted but you couldn't really make much money
out of it by then.
What are you doing now?
Working on PC and Playstation. Just finishing off the
networking on a first-person perspective job for Psygnosis.
What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?
Best - very good display for the small amount of memory it used, good cpu power to screen size ratio as regards the amount of data you could move, good price, well-written tape routines.
Worst - why on earth couldn't they (on the 48k) have piped the
sound through the TV cable? By the end of the Spectrum era people
like Tony Williams and Tim Follin were doing things with the
sound "chip" (ha ha!) that people couldn't have dreamed
of in '82, but having that tiny speaker was stupid, especially
when most people probably had their Speccies on the carpet right
in front of the telly, so it was all muffled anyway.
What were your favourite Speccy games and why?
Lords of Midnight, Rebelstar, and Nether Earth. Good long
strategy games that just had so much in them. Of the arcade
games, probably Atic Atac, Halls of the Things, and Starquake -
lots of things going on at once and plenty of action.
Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?
No-one in particular. I may really like a game by someone, then not like anything else they do.
As regards artists, Mark O'Neill, Martin Holland, and Peter Gough (when you could get work out of him) were pretty good.
I guess Tony Williams and Tim Follin that I mentioned before
would be the musicians I most respected.
Do you use an emulator to play your old games (or any others)?
I don't tend to play my own much on any format, (including the
latest 3DFX turbo-nutter-speed PC games), because by the time
you've spent all the time coding it you know it in and out, and
have played it thousands of times while writing / testing. I did
use Gerton Lunter's Z80.EXE emulator a lot though to play
Rebelstar ( a great game), and Nether Earth, but I haven't loaded
one up now for a couple of years.
What was the last Speccy game you wrote?
Canyon Warrior, for Virgin Mastertronic.
Did you leave anything unfinished?
I think everyone does, there were several earlier games that
got put to one side for a while because of work demands on other
projects, then they were never picked up again. There was a huge
starship-deck-plan type strategy wargame that would have been
quite good (provisionally entitled Encounter), but that got
"temporarily" shelved many years ago.
... and if so is there any chance we'll ever get to see it!
Don't you ever feel like writing another Speccy game nowadays just for old times sake? ;-)
No. I can't be bothered doing even reasonably-paying PC
shareware games (eg a follow-up to "OverKill") out of
hours nowdays, never mind a spectrum game.
What do you think about modern games? Can they compete with the classics? Aren't they all presentation and no gameplay?
I really like about 2 or 3 games a year, the rest I can take
or leave. Comparing modern and old games isn't really that
relevant IMO, the old 8-bit machines couldn't do games like
Quake, and no publisher would release something the equivalent of
(say) Boulderdash or Galaxians nowdays because they couldn't
compete, and people expect so much more for their money. In the
early 16 bit days of the Amiga and ST there was certainly a lot
of stuff with all graphics and no gameplay, all padded out with
fancy intro FMVs, but nowdays I think things are ok.
Is there anything you miss about the old days?
It was a much nicer industry to work in back then, the suits and bean counters have taken over though nowdays, and the whole thing is far too corporate IMO. Working for an external developer studio is certainly better than working in-house for a publisher (albeit for less wages probably), but even then there's still too much hassle given to you, like having to produce demo disks every week, making sure every last sentence and/or WAV in the game is multilingual, supporting (on the PC anyway) umpty-9 million different hardware configs, not putting in anything that anyone objects to, having people sticking their oar in when they don't know their arse from their elbow, and certainly know FA about games as a whole, things like that.
I suppose one of the other nice things of the old days was
having a standard machine (without extras such as super sound
cards or video accelerators) which gave you a chance to judge
other programmers on their merits since it was a level playing
field, whereas nowdays if something's too slow, just wait a year
and the hardware will get around it for you.
Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?
Not really, though I gather Mike Fitzgerald (the F of A&F)
got let off for speeding on the M1 years ago when the traffic cop
found he had a whole boot full of Spectrum Chuckie Egg tapes he
was taking to a show or something, apparently it was the only
thing that had kept the guy's kid off the streets the last few
weeks, and he was so pleased that Mike got let off with a caution
(dunno how much of that is true).
Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?
Not really. It's nice in a kind of eccentric-Britishness way that people still are, and at the end of the day a Spectrum (or most other 8-bit machines) is still perfectly capable of doing things like encoding morse for radio hams, or operating simple switches / relays / alarms etc with a hardware port out the back, so anyone can get hold of a (simple) computer for about a tenner if they really want to. If I want to play the odd game of Rebelstar or something myself though, I'd just do it on the PC in a window. I haven't even unboxed my speccy for many years now (though I do still have it, modified rom and all).
Thanks to Ste for doing the interview.
Ste asked me to put his email address as it is; it should be pretty obvious what it should be...
Interview composed, conducted and edited by Philip Bee.