Sue Denham discusses the show-biz world of software production with part-time philosopher Mark Eyles, Quicksilva's Creative Design Executive.
There was a time when the
term 'software house'
accurately described the
average Spectrum software
supplier - simply because
anyone who could put
together a good enough
package from home could start
their own company. That's all
changed now, especially with
warning signs that some of the
biggest names in Spectrum
software are going to the wall
- take Imagine, for example. |
An emerging trend is one we've seen happen on the other side of the Atlantic. From the many small software houses producing games a few years ago, the majority have been swallowed up by just a few mega-companies. In the UK, the most recent (and most publicised) example of this has centred on Quicksilva which, from its humble beginnings in Nick Lambert's back bedroom (yes, it's all true folks), has now become a division of Argus Press Software, which itself is a small cog in the wheel of BET - a major British company.
Tracking down Quicksilva's Mark Eyles at a recent micro show, the obvious question was asked ... "So, what's it like working for someone else?"
"What do you mean", came the horrified reply, "they work for us! But seriously, BET will give us the opportunity to develop the ideas we have for the company - we're still very young. We'll be moving offices over the next few weeks, and one of first projects will be to set up the Creative Design Studio, which will be spearheading our approach to the entertainment industry. We've got to come to terms with new technologies - such as the high street video disk arcade machines - and that means we're going to need the financial backing."
That sounded fine for the future, but how did he view the Spectrum's chances of surviving 1985? "Of the 70 or so programmers we have working for us, nearly a third are writing on the Spectrum - good grief, we're even still selling an amazing number of ZX81 games! I think it's safe to
say that the Spectrum will be
well supported for a long time. |
"The most important thing is to come up with good original concepts for games ... and that's where I come in. You know, a lot of great programmers can work wonders with the Spectrum, but they're always asking 'But what shall I do?'. And that's not an easy question - especially with the amount of competition that's around nowadays.
"Over the next year or so, you'll be seeing a lot of cartoon characterisations in games - characters that have been made famous through books and films, like The Snowman in fact. We've got quite a few things in the wings at the moment, but there's still some pretty fierce negotiating to be done yet."
Switching into a nostalgic mode, Mark was persuaded to tell the story of Quicksilva (not the one in the Game Lords fan mag, but the real one). "It all started with Nick's version of Defender for the ZX80 and his home-made RAM Pack. I helped him out when I could - after spending part of my working life teaching 'O' level Maths and biding my time in the unemployment queues, even soldering up PCBs can be interesting. It was all very friendly, with John Hollis and Caroline Hayon - old buddies - pitching in and eventually joining up full-time. Then Rod Cousens, an accounting friend- of-a-friend, was next up to form the nucleus of Quicksilva as it was. Oh, can I mention Susan Clifton - she's wonderful. (Sorry, there isn't room. Ed.)
"The old days may sound romantic, but they weren't at all. By ten o'clock in the morning I'd have a headache and for a year, the only thing that kept me going was black coffee and paracetamol.
"You know we were the first company to have coloured cassette sleeves and stories to go with each game. I remember getting back the proofs of the first covers and thinking 'Hey, what can we do with all this white space?'. So, I sat down there and then and wrote a story to go with each of the games. Now everyone's doing it."
So how does he see the
business of selling software? |
"I suppose I see our business as selling fantasies - an escape from the real-life deals. I don't see people playing games on micros as being a waste of time - it throws life into sharp relief."
Having got the philosophical bit firmly between his teeth, Mark's next comments were somewhat surprising.
"Actually, this all fits in with my personal theory of the universe (What! Ed.) - I believe there are separate universes inside each of us. Within each of our minds, there are parts of the imagination where anything's possible - and it's possible to tap into this collective consciousness. My aim, as a software creator, is to create fantasies that so many people believe in that it all becomes real - you've only got to look at Lord of the Rings, Superman and Peter Pan to understand what I mean. Anyone can produce the same ol' stuff - space adventures, Pacman rip- offs and the like - but if you don't believe in it ...
Having covered history and philosophy, it was time to get down to earth and the nitty- gritty of what Quicksilva is intending to do now. With Christmas looming, what are the company's immediate plans?
"Over the next few weeks, QS will be releasing a couple of games for the Spectrum - Battlezone (like the arcade game) and Games '84 (an Olympics extravaganza) - but they're a little bit later than we would have liked ... that's show biz, I guess. We're really excited about the new range of games you'll see in September though, so watch out. And we've just taken delivery of 10 QLs, so you can expect major QS QL product out in the new year."
So Mark maintains that neither the image nor the ideals of the company have changed despite the takeover. The days of back bedroom production and intravenous black coffee may be gone for Mark, but whether this corporate re-birth will be a successful one still remains to be seen.