I was drawn to computers in the early 80s, when my father introduced in our household a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. All of my friends had a Commodore 64, and we endlessly debated about which one was better (I can admit it now: it was the C64). Later I moved to the Commodore Amiga. Then like now, most of the attraction was the ability to play videogames.
Unlike today’s overbloated videogames industry, most games at the time were made by single individuals, two at most. Thanks to magazines like Zzap64! (known in Italy as Zzap!) I knew them by name and worshipped them like rockstars.
I think that Andrew Braybrook’s 1987 journal chronicling the development of his game “Morpheus” is what made me want to become a professional programmer (you can still read it on-line here). My cousin Massimo, aside from making his own snowboard, had his share of success writing a soccer game for Amiga and Atari ST called “Football Simulation“. It contains one of my two contributions to the videogame world, a box of balls in the options menu (top left corner in the image below).
Here is a list of my favourite game creators from back then, with some links. None of these people, in spite of their talent, seem to have made it big in the multi-billion videogame industry, which is a testament to either their anarchic genius or their inability to adapt.
- Matthew Smith, author of Manic Miner, one of the first computer games I ever played. After his early success he disappeared, apparently to live in a commune in Amsterdam.
- David Crane, co-founder of Activision and creator of the Pitfall! series, Ghostbusters and Little Computer People (inspiration for today’s The Sims!). His current company makes such iPhone games as Arcade Hoops Basketball.
- Andrew Braybrook, author of such classics as Paradroid, Uridium and the aforementioned diary. Nowadays works as a software developer for an insurance company.
- Jeff Minter, whose innovative and psychedelic shoot’em ups never failed to include references to llamas an yaks. His company, Llamasoft, is still active and just recently released a new version of the classic Gridrunner.
- The Bitmap Brothers, with mirrorshades and tons of attitude developed some of the best early Amiga games, like Gods and Speedball. After disbanding in 2003, two of them went on to found Tower Studios, but judging from the website they haven’t produced much since.
- Team 17, still active with the same name and best known for the Worms videogames series. Their Amiga games were impressive both technically and design-wise. Alien Breed was my favourite.
In retrospect, I wonder why I didn’t even try to become a game programmer. I suppose it didn’t look like a “serious enough” job, and by the time I reached employment age there were so many other interesting things to work with, the internet above all. In the end I liked playing games more than writing them.
P.S.: In case you were wondering, my other contribution to the videogame industry is the italian voice acting for Combat Mission – Afrika Korps