Interview, October 2000

Paul Shave wrote programs for Acorn machines under the HOPESOFT banner. In remembering his past in the 8 bit world, he includes a particularly gory account of the problems posed when Atarisoft noticed the similarity between his Castle of Gems game and the Atari coin-op, Crystal Castles - the end result being the withdrawal of C.O.G. by MRM Software. What makes matters worse is that Gems was actually better than the official conversion released a few years later!

I left university in 1967 with no clear idea of what I wanted to do. My first job was as a trainee programmer, and I took this because it offered more money than the other jobs (£1150 a year!). I was a mainframe operating systems assembly programmer for ICL (as it became), and in those days you wrote your programs on coding sheets and sent them off to the punch room, whence they would emerge in due course as a deck of punched cards. I soon got into software development management, and did less and less programming, which I really missed.

So in 1981 when the Acorn Atom came out, it seemed a wonderful opportunity to get back into programming (but obviously not giving up the day job). I splashed out on the top-of-the-range model with 12Kb of RAM and taught myself 6502 assembler. Later that year, Hopesoft was born.

I'd recently come across the original Colossal Adventure on the mainframe and was fascinated by it. I started doing text adventures and arcade games for the Atom, but the adventures were my real love, with the challenge being how to cram the maximum amount into my 12Kb.

When I'd got a few programs ready, I put a small ad in one of the computer mags, and it all grew from there. I started off buying data cassettes from WH Smith, and spent the evenings saving the programs onto the tapes as the orders came in. When the BBC Micro came along, I moved on to that, and sub-contracted the duplication of the tapes. I got the local computer games shop in Newbury to sell them too.

With its 32K of RAM, the Beeb opened up lots more possibilities. In 1984, my eldest son Tom started raving about a new game in the arcade in Newbury: Crystal Castles, from Atari. (Heck, he was only 12 - what was I doing letting him play on the arcades?) He persuaded me I had to do a Beeb version, so Castle of Gems was born. I knew this was going to be a winner, and that it needed some proper marketing. Although the other games were selling steadily, they weren't really making me much money, and I couldn't afford big advertisements. So I took it along to a computer games trade show at Olympia, and on the MRM stand I persuaded them to load it onto a Beeb. They liked it and wanted to take it on, but I told them that it was very similar to the arcade game, and the issue of copyright on look-and-feel wasn't clear at that time. Ron Wylie, the MRM manager, came round to my house, and we went down to the arcade with Tom, who demonstrated Crystal Castles to him. He didn't think there would be a problem, so they went ahead with marketing it and gave me an up-front advance of £1000.

As soon as it went on sale, in October 1984, Atari realised what was happening, and a letter from their solicitors was delivered to MRM on 26th October. It said "… It is absolutely plain to us that in making Castle of Gems you blatantly copied the game Crystal Castles… Unless you confirm to us by noon on Tuesday, 30th October 1984 that you will forthwith cease offering for sale and selling any copies of Castle of Gems [and] submit proposals for paying damages to our clients, our clients will issue proceedings for injunctive relief, damages and costs…". Scary. MRM's solicitors responded robustly, but Atari were putting all their guns behind it and although the copyright issue had never been tested in court, MRM couldn't afford to contest it. On 7th November, Ron Wylie wrote to me "It is with great regret… if we lost then the claim for damages could be in the region of £50,000… our solicitor has negotiated a "no costs, no damages" agreement with their solicitors. With regard to our losses in this case, we enclose a short list of our expenses and receipts in this matter [they showed costs of £3932.20, including the £1000 advance, and sales of £2845] and perhaps you would care to make an offer to help with our costs. Whilst we could be "very nasty" towards you in this matter, and our solicitors have advised us that we could claim any damages from you if we so wished, we are not that kind of company… I hope that this matter will not separate our association as I know you are capable of writing some top class software; perhaps in future they will be original ideas." Ouch! I don't have a record of my reply (if any), but I know I didn't give them any money.

Atari eventually released their own version of Crystal Castles for the Beeb, which in my view was nowhere near as good as Castle of Gems. I also have a letter from a company called CDS dated 16th August 1985, which says "We have just agreed terms with Atari to allow us to release Castle of Gems on the BBC in this country and would now like to formalise our agreement with you". I don't remember anything about this, so it must have fallen through. They were offering royalties of 20p per cassette and 45p per disk.

Meanwhile, computing was moving on and the Archimedes came out. I wrote a programmer's text editor (Architext) which didn't sell well, but the days of one man writing games in his spare room were over, never to return.

As for me, I continued in software management until I was made redundant in 1996. This was a great opportunity to get back to doing what I enjoyed: programming. Since then, I've been working as a Visual Basic and ASP programmer, initially as a contractor but now permanent, doing commercial web development.