It’s Behind You: The Making Of A Computer Game

It’s Behind You: The Making Of A Computer Game

Back in the 1980’s it was a very different time for the computer games industry. Here in the UK, the console wars were arguments between school children in the playground over which home computer was the best, the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64 or the Amstrad CPC464.

Sir Clive Sinclair had started this home computer boom by releasing the Sinclair ZX81 which had monochrome block graphics and no sound capabilities with just 1k of RAM for just £99. A short while later in response to competition from the other computer manufacturers he released a computer with higher resolution graphics, sound and more memory, the ZX Spectrum 48k.

This machine was bought by many a parent believing that it would help their children with their education whilst in reality it was being used to play any one of many hundreds of games that would be released for the ZX Spectrum.

Many young men were so interested in the machine that they decided to learn how to code and create their own games. Many of these games were purchased by publishers and sold in high street shops.

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One type of game that was very popular on the Spectrum were the arcade conversions. It was amazing to see how programmers took these arcade games with many sounds, music and beautiful graphics and managed to create a faithful conversion (or sometimes not) for the home computers.

One of the most memorable conversions for the Spectrum was of the arcade game R-Type which was released in the arcades by the IREM Corporation in 1987. Here’s the original arcade game.

And now here’s the Spectrum version.

You may scoff and laugh but back when this was released, the game earned a lot of praise and was highly scored in the dedicated Spectrum magazines of the time.

I recently discovered that the programmer of the Spectrum version, Bob Pape, has written a book detailing his memories of how he came to write the game and the struggles he had not only with the game itself but the company he was working for and their boss, the publishers Activision.

This was a time when games were created usually by one man sitting at home with a few computers. There weren’t huge teams working together on one game with mega budgets like there is now.

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I read the book in a couple of evenings and found it very interesting. It does get a little technical at times with regard to ZX Spectrum hardware and coding but stick with it. I know this is only of interest to a limited few, eg. thirtysomething male nerds who grew up with the ZX Spectrum, but I recommend it.

Here are some choice quotes,

“It was an…interesting…position to be in. If I delivered the finished game to Wainwright then Activision would sue me but if I delivered the finished game to Activision then Wainwright would sue me.”

“If I was lucky when I arrived in the morning and climbed the stairs I’d be greeted by the remains of kebabs and empty beer bottles, if I was unlucky it would be vomit and full beer bottles –  only it wasn’t beer that was in them any more.”

You can download the book for free as a PDF or Ebook from Bob Papes website [Link]


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.

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