Jeff Minter Remembers the VIC-20 - from an interview conducted by Rick Melick on October 31, 1996
GRIDRUNNER REVIEW: This was the game that really convinced me that the VIC 20 was a great games machine. It was created by the legendary Jeff Minter. Gridrunner is an intense shoot-em-up. While it has some similarity with Centipede, it has enough original ideas to stand on its own right as a brilliant original game. A centipede like creature snakes its way down the screen towards you. When you shoot one of the segments it splits into two and both segments continue down the screen in opposite directions. Each level sees the centipede creature get bigger and faster, then two appear and then three. Within no time there are segments flying all over the place. Every segment that you shoot leaves behind a mine that slowly grows until it shoots out a missile straight down the screen. Bad luck if you happen to be sitting right under the mine when it releases its missile. The other things you have to watch out for are the two laser-guns that move up and down the left hand side of the screen and back and forth along the bottom. The two laser-guns periodically shoot out a long laser, laying more mines wherever their two lasers intersect. This sure is one hectic shoot-em-up, just what Jeff Minter has always excelled in. The Vic 20 is quite limited with its sound, yet Minter has created some very good and gutsy sounds. This is certainly one of the best Vic 20 games. It was released on cart and tape. My Score - 9.5/10. -Tonks(RT#70, 6/2003)
> Where did you get your ideas for games? How did you plan a game?
ohhh, *anywhere*... play mechanic was quite simple in those days, largely coz of the constraints of memory and proc speed... I used to be into the idea of introducing new styles of control that hadn't been done before - like controlling multiple shooters at once in Laserzone and Hellgate, or the Llama/force field combination in Metagalactic Llamas Battle at the Edge of Time. I was also heavily influenced by the work of Eugene Jarvis on the Williams coin-ops, and from those games got a taste for games with bags of raw *speed* and big explosions... I never got the Jarvis-style explosions down as well on the VIC as Tom Griner did, he was ace at the bitmapped stuff like in Predator... but I redeemed myself in later games (hehe... check out my way over the top explosions in T2K. When I met Eugene a couple years ago he admired *my* explosions, you can imagine how chuffed I was :-])
> How old were you when you programmed the VIC-20?
Ummm... I was 2O when I got my first VIC. Although I did get experience on a Commodore machine when I was 17 - we had an 8K Pet (with the calculator keyboard and the built in tape deck) at school that I taught myself to code 6502 on and wrote my first games on :-)
> How many hours each day did you spend programming? Where did you do your coding?
Oh, most of the day, maybe breaking off to go down the pub with my mates at night, and hang out in the games room and listen to music and play coin-op Tempest and Star Wars :-). My VIC coding started out in the living room lying on the floor in front of the family telly - Gridrunner was written in one week lying on the floor in front of that telly. Then I got a cheap portable telly, and moved into my bedroom. Once Llamasoft started to make money, I had an extension built on my parents' home that became my computer lair - it had long benches down the walls for systems, lots of power points on the walls, and a 10-foot-long mural of Llamas in the Andes :-)
Not to mention a kicking stereo, an 8-foot projection TV, and three or four coin-op arcade games :-]
> What were some of the unique challenges to programming the VIC-20? How did you overcome them?
NO FRAGGIN' MEMORY! The only way around that was just to come up with clever designs and code 'em tight. Tom was a better Vic coder than I was, he had the bitmapped stuff down, and all those neat little proportional fonts. I just tended to stick to the char map stuff in those early daze. I was cool on the sound FX though - the FX on Laser Zone were jammin' :->... Mainly I just used to aim to try an' get a good solid playable game in the ram provided. (In fact a few years I coded up a version of Gridrunner on the Atari ST, in 3.5K, just to prove I could still do it ).
In terms of being the baddest-assed technical coder on the Vic though, in my estimation, that honor goes to Tom. :->
Oh, and developing using a hex editor and a tape deck was a right caution, too. I will never forget the first time I came out to the US to assist HES, and I saw this thing called an "assembler" where you could type in *words* for the op-codes and use these label thingies! No more working out relative jumps in your head! It was a revelation!
> Does the VIC-20 hold a special place for you, or was it no more or no less significant than the computer sitting on your desk right now?
hell, of course the Vic is very special to me... my first *real* computer (I don't really count the ZX-80 or ZX-81 hehe)... and the platform that launched Llamasoft and my career in the biz. I still have my original Vic with the square keys and the big Welsh expansion rack on the back that I used for most of my early coding... it's back in the UK now, but I shall never throw it out. I learned a lot coding that machine, and some of the lessons I learned - like being able to do decent stuff in not much memory at all - still stand me in good stead to this day.
I will never forget the Vic, and there will always be a huge soft spot in my CPU for the ol' thing :-)
> Would you say that you have a Llama fetish? If so, how did that all start?
Oh, yes, most definitely! There are not many people on this earth who love Llamas with quite the passion that I do :-)... I've always had a particularly heavy thing for ungulates in general and camels in particular since I was 13 or 14, and since Llamas are both camelid and absolutely gorgeous, it didn't take much for me to become besotted. I have been to Peru twice, to be with them in their homeland, and I am glad to be doing my bit to promote universal Llama-awareness :-)
> How did you get published with HES?
I met Jay Balakrishnan at the first show I exhibited at, in London. That was with Defenda/Andes Attack, which was a pretty poor and buggy game, but it was written in machine code and not BASIC like 99 percent of the crap on the market at that time, and it caught Jay's eye. He asked me if I could put it on ROM, and I said "yeah!" (while internally thinking "I wonder how the hell you go about doing that then?")... so I signed up to do games for Llamasoft in the UK/Europe, and ROM versions for HES. Did a couple for them before things took off really big (with Gridrunner). I bumped into Jay on the Internet a few months ago - he's still in the biz, doing fine, and has been busy adding new Balakrishnans to the world too :-)... one of these days we are going to meet up for curry.
> Describe your relationship with those who published you?
HES were always honest and fair, which was a relief, since prior to Llamasoft I had got burned a couple of times. HES were always straight up with me and made me somewhat wealthier than a 21-year-old kid can usually expect to be, so I have no complaints there. Post-HES, I can honestly say that the guy who I worked for for most of the time was the most decent bloke I have ever met, as charismatic as Jesus, cleverer than Turing, the best coder in the known Universe, and should have won the Nobel Prize for game design. (I was self employed. ).
Seriously though... apart from HES and being self employed, I have only really worked for Atari, which was cool, since I was actually *hanging out* with some of the people who had designed and made that very same Vic 20, and my old VCS, and fully 90 percent of all the computers I owned over the years... it was every kid Vic coder's dream come true, to have the guys that actually made those machines know and like you personally, and appreciate your work. Of course in the light of what happened to Atari, ultimately it was disappointing what happened, but I enjoyed my relationship with Atari and the Tramiel crew a great deal, I did some good work there, and I don't regret a minute of it.
My current employers I can't say a lot about, but they're an excellent bunch we are doing some *amazing* things, and there are a few familiar faces around from the old days too :-). The body of Atari may be departed now but there are some portions of the soul which yet survive :-)
> without being specific, describe the payment for your published work (EG., good bad unfair, fair, etc...)
Good. whenever I have fallen in with good people, they have always paid me fairly and well. I can't complain.
> Did your work on the VIC-20 help you to get where you are today in your career? what are you doing these days?
Yes, definitely. I really can't talk at all about my current work, but if I were to say that I have just coded quite a complex piece of transformation/clipping/scan-conversion code in 2K, you would get some idea of how much that old discipline of being able to get a lot of goodies in not a lot of space still stands me in good stead today :-)
> what do you think about the VIC-20 emulators and the effort to preserve your works for future generations of historical computer enthusiasts?
I think emulators are a wonderful thing. It means that now our old games and systems are in the digital domain, and proliferating across the planet - they are *immortal*. Somebody, somewhere, will always have a copy and will always be able to run them on an emulator of an emulator of an emulator or whatever... Being digital, they will never erode by being copied... perfect copies of our old games will be around in the datasphere, *forever*. Somebody 1000 years from now will be able to do research on the early days of computers, and they *will be able to play Gridrunner*. I think that's amazing, and for that reason, my personal take on the emulation scene is: if code is old enough that it can run on emulators, then it should be in the public domain, because I am certainly not going to be making anything on it by that time! So as far as I am concerned, as long as they are freely distributed and not sold for profit, all old Llamasoft game images for use on emulators can be freely uploaded on any site anywhere, with my full permission. I hate it when you go to download an emu and there are no games because everyone is so scared of getting busted by some selfish old dinosaur. So - emu sites everywhere, feel free to use my Llamasoft game images.
well, have a happy Halloween - I know I will, I am going to Hawaii for the weekend :-)
cheerz an' cya on the wirezzz...
\ (:-) - Y a K /