Behind you!! Sandy White gets a taste of his own medicine.
Overseeing the ins and outs of our competition this issue, Sandy White found time to rap about the fame and fortune of being caught up on the front page of the software scene.
Every now and then, the software market
blossoms and an incredibly different hybrid evolves. Always, just when you think
it's safe to banter about the banality of the
current software selection on the high
street shelves, something new comes along
heralded by the fanfare of enthusiastic
reviews from all and sundry. Such a program was Quicksilva's Ant Attack. Or
perhaps more in keeping with the recent
trend towards the 'software superstar',
one should say Sandy White's Ant
When asked about himself, Sandy modestly replied, "I'm hard to categorise really, but I do have a degree in sculpture." Indeed, Sandy is the first to admit surprise over the attention thrust upon him, for this time last year he was an unknown sculptor. After five years attendance at the Edinburgh College of Art, Sandy was happiest constructing electronic 'story-telling' gizmos which his lecturers were quick to tell him were not art!
A little disheartened at his progress in the art world, Sandy borrowed a friend's Acorn Atom to "fiddle about with a few graphics routines". After experimenting in Basic and machine code, he was about to give up . . . when inspiration struck. Excited by the computer graphics simulations in Walt Disney's movie Tron, Sandy set about using the routines he had created to emulate some of the features included in the big screen on to his monitor.
The knowledge to construct his soft-solid graphics certainly owed a lot to his college days. "I'd written big programs before, but Ant Attack was my first game - up until then all the software I'd written was linked to my work at college."
Not being a follower of arcade fashions, Sandy started to approach the game proper at a slow pace - having bashed out the code for the soft-solid graphics routines in an incredible two week period, he needed ideas on how to implement the results of his labours as a
popular game. So, after looking at a selection of 3D games already on the market,
"I went to a lot of people I knew were keen
on games software, and asked them about
the ones they enjoyed the most." |
It was at this stage that Sandy returned his friend's Atom and looked to the Spectrum's Z-80 to produce the miracles he had in mind. "The biggest problem with Ant Attack was making sure it was fast enough - some of the mathematical algorithms were really cumbersome. The game had to be fast enough to keep it reasonably exciting to play, while still maintaining the 3D aspects as well as could be allowed. Of course it's possible to do the most incredible 3D simulations on the Spectrum - as long as you're prepared to wait half an hour between moves!"
Indeed, it was 15 weeks of solid programming before Sandy was happy with the game. His close friend, Angela Sutherland, did a lot of the formatting of the structure for the final product; she was responsible for most of Antescher's design and also the characters who act out the adventure.
Completing the game was not, as one might suspect, the final hurdle in the game's development - for if Sandy knew little of the available games he had to compete with on the software market, he knew absolutely zilch about the methods by which an unknown could get software out on to the market. Where should he start? Difficult question ... easy answer (or so he thought!).
"Yes, it's true, I first sent a copy of Ant Attack in action on video tape to Sinclair Research," laughs Sandy. "And after a couple of weeks, I gave them a bell as I was really keen to see the game published by Christmas'83. A secretary there said she was sorry but they hadn't got a video tape machine so they sent it back ... unseen!"
Following the brush-off from his self confessed 'hero', Sandy was at a loss at
what to do with his programming masterpiece. Psyching himself up, he placed a
call to Quicksilva. "I phoned up Quicksilva," explained Sandy, "but I gathered
fairly quickly that they've obviously got a
lot of people phoning up and proclaiming
that they've written the best game ever.
The only thing to do was to go really over
the top about the game and hope that they
would listen. I ended up jumping up and
down on the spot while explaining what I
had done and eventually they said they
would have a look at my video tape. I was
amazed at how difficult it was to get
through to people -the only thing I can
suggest to new programmers who think
they've got something worth raving over is
simply to rave about it yourself ... and
Following Quicksilva's inspection of the video tape, Sandy was on a plane to Southampton the next day to sign a contract. And at 23, Sandy is in the enviable position of having his first foray into commercial games-writing heralded by most reviewers as the 'program of the year'.
Looking to the future, rest assured you've not heard the last of Sandy White. When YS spoke to him after the launch of Ant Attack, he happily chatted about his plans to write "a kind of adventure, not necessarily involving text - instead of entering a room and reading abut the contents and typing out what you want to do, how about actually interacting with the room's contents in real-time ... " How about that indeed! However, on a recent trip to the YS offices, Sandy was coy about his plans for the future. Yes, they did include writing a new game, but no, he would rather not comment on the structure or design of the program. Could it be we're in for another classic ... watch these pages for future developments.