2007 Interview with Stuart Goodwin

When did you first come across an Acorn machine, and what did you think of it?

My BBC Model A Micro was the first computer I owned. It was a Christmas present in 1981 which didn't get delivered until March 1982! Prior to this, I hand coded 6502 machine code for the school's Commodore PET on paper and had to type in code in hex!

At what point did you try your hand at writing a game for one of the Acorns? What did you think of the results?

Immediately! I recall writing a 'Scramble' type game in Mode 7 (Teletext) in a combination of BASIC and assembler! The BBC's inbuilt assembler ability was probably the best thing Roger Wilson (now Sophie Wilson) did with BBC BASICs functionality.

What were your early experiences with software publishers?

Good at first. My first publisher was Micro Power of Leeds, who were very professional. Other subsequent publishers (although not all) were 'fly by nights'.

Many BBC releases were also marketed as being compatible for the Electron. Were there any instances where having to write a game to be compatible on both proved problematic?

Nope - not really. The skills I taught myself back then, I still try and use. Virtualization. Using low level code to handle the hardware and the rest just falls into place! Good planning and a modular approach always work. Ask Microsoft!

How did Doctor Who And The Mines Of Terror come about?

Tony Sothcott wrote Castle Quest; a sideways scrolling platform game. Micro Power asked me (shortly after I turned 18) to write a similar game based on Doctor Who for the BBC Micro. The inside information was oblivious to me at the time, but being a young kid, I was happy to do it (during 6th form and first couple of months of Newcastle Polytechnic).

With Micro Power (in Leeds) being about 100 miles from home, updates were via post, motorcycle couriers and phone (300baud connection in those days cost a
lot of money!).

Was the move to utilise a ROM justified? What was Micro Power's take on this, and is it true that the game went a long way to the company eventually folding?

Without seeing the accounts of the period surrounding the Doctor Who project, it is difficult to state.

Certainly, it caused a financial problem with Micro Power; partially due to the advertising. Back then, advertising in magazines, covering a number of platforms was not cheap!

The usage of a ROM was required. The memory requirement was such that constant tape access (disks were not that common then) was impractical.

What do you think of the game now?

I considered rewriting it a couple of years ago when Doctor Who took off again with David Tennant...

Were you ever approached to program for the BBC B+ or Master? What did you make of these machines?

I wrote a number of games on both the BBC+ and the Master. I utilised the Sideways RAM and I used a 65C02 co-pro anyway to help with development even
for C64 games - but that is a different story!

I did modify Doctor Who to work with the BBC+ and Master, without the additional ROM.

Some of your games, particularly Psycastria, Sphere Of Destiny and Syncron, are renowned for the smoothness of their scrolling, but are also incredibly difficult due to the high speed they run at. How did you fare playing them yourself, and were you ever encouraged to slow them down?

Obviously, I played the games I developed, and got good at them. Psycastria was precalculated too so I complete every level. Sphere of Destiny had all
it's levels generated by a PRNG so was a little more difficult to complete. Syncron, like Psycastria was predetermined.

In those days, I had a 2MGHz CPU (less on an Electron) and no fancy hardware, so performance was paramount.

Today, in the embedded market in which I work, speed and power consumption is paramount.

Early game coding has set up many an engineer. 2MHz and less performing what nowadays requires a 'wet-behind-the-ears' graduate with a 400MHz ARM
variant; says a lot about the industry...

Peter Scott tells a great story about you getting Andrew Braybrook to sign a game, which turned out to be a copy of Psycastria, an incident which scuppered Peter's plans of getting permission to convert Paradroid. What are your recollections of this incident, and how influenced by the likes of Uridium were some of your games?

This is true... Acorn User show of 1987... Peter and I worked on the Audiogenic stand... It was funny at the time (Peter and I were about 20 years of age - we had been to school together for many years).

We spotted Andrew Braybook at the AU 1987 show and I went to ask for his autograph. As they say, the rest is history.

What are your recollections of Martin Maynard after he became involved with Audiogenic?

Hmm... He liked to spend money. His interests outside of Audiogenic are not for me to comment...

What's the story behind your aborted Star Wars conversion? Were you approached by any particular company to convert it?

I wrote Star Wars because the local cafe to our 6th Form had a Star Wars machine.

I wrote it, and was about a month from completion (being a A level student so coding was done in my spare time), but binned it when the official version came out. Much of the hardware abstraction layer became part of Psycastria.

I even bought the sheet music for the film to transcribe into the game!

How involved were you with Tynesoft at the point that they folded? Did any projects you were working on fail to surface as a result?

Tynesoft was one of the two PAYE positions I have held in my life. At the time, my self and Julian Jameson had just finished Barnum and Bailey Circus
Games for the NEC PC Engine (a 6502 variant console). Neither Julian or I got paid our bonuses or full monthly pay for that matter!

What did you think when you heard about the infamous fire?

Very suspicious... We all had a suspect, but never to be proven... Penguin?!...

At what point did you stop developing games for the 8-bit Acorns? What were your final games for those machines?

My last game for a 8bit Micro was Circus Games for the BBC Micro and Apple II. This was around 1989, I then wrote a game for the Atari ST, Amiga and Acorn Archimedes. My last game was 1993.

Nowadays I design/write software/hardware for embedded systems.

Was there any particular software house on the Acorn scene that you would've liked to have worked for, but didn't get the chance?

None really. I enjoyed the programming; and enjoyed the the income.

Which other programmers for the BBC and Electron did you rate?

Peter Scott (an old school friend!), Neil Raine (Planetoids/Defender, RISC OS Desktop, et al), and of cause David Braben and Ian Bell.

What are your favorite games for the BBC/Electron? And what's your favourite game for those machines featuring input from yourself?

Planetoids/Defender by Acornsoft (Neil Raine RIP). I even have a 1980 6" Defender machine in my study! Pure class.

My favourite game that I had input to? My earliest ventures into games. Simple but addictive. Wiggles, Catapilla and Maniac.

Interview by Stuart Goodwin, Autumn 2007.