RVG Interviews: Chris Stanley.

Here is another RVG Interview with Ex Psygnosis employee Chris Stanley, Chris is now actively involved in the C64 homebrew scene so we chat to him about his past and a couple of games he is working on, Exploding Fish and Mancave.

The Interview.

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Chris

Well as a teenager in the mid 80s I was very much immersed in the C64 scene right from the beginning, mainly as a gamer but with a strong desire to learn how to code and create my own content. Although I dabbled with machine code on that machine for a couple of years, it was actually the Amiga that I did the bulk of my coding on. I always fancied the idea of writing a game but ended up spending most of my time producing demos.

Zapiy

What was the first game you created?

Chris

Surprisingly it was many years until I finally got around to producing my first game and that game was Exploding Fish, the bulk of which was coded in 2017!

 

Zapiy

Can you tell us how you became part of Megastyle?

Chris

That was a very welcome, if unexpected turn of events actually. I’d been working on Exploding Fish for a few months and tweeting snippets about my progress every few days. Then one day, Roy Widding contacted me to ask if I would like to join Megastyle and release the game through them. Having a team to work with and bounce ideas off gave me the boost I needed to produce something I’m very proud of.

Zapiy

Do you actually meet each other at events? (Megastyle)

Chris

Not so far but I would very much like to. As far as I know I’m the only UK-based member which makes a meet up more challenging but I’d certainly like to have a get together with the guys in the future.

Zapiy

Mancave looks amazing, so a few questions for you, what limitations are you finding?

Chris

Surprisingly very few, my first game was quite a struggle as a novice coder but it taught me a lot. Mancave by contrast is one of those games that almost codes itself, everything seems to be flowing very nicely but that might be partly down to the fact I’m working to Roy’s excellent game concept which takes all the tedious design work off my hands.

Zapiy

Do you have timelines built-in to the management of these games?

Chris

Not really, I have ‘to-do’ lists in no particular order but no strict timelines or milestones. Sometimes I have to keep reminding myself that I’m doing this because I enjoy it rather than because I’m working towards a commercial release.

 

Zapiy

Exploding Fish, wow, how did it start out? How do you manage your time on the game? What limitations are you finding?

Chris

This began in a very strange way to be honest. The game sort of evolved from a few routines that I was trying out in an effort to rekindle my knowledge of 6502 assembler. I kept adding to it and experimenting until something interesting started to emerge. All the main design work on the game didn’t begin until the titles and game controls were coded! It was my first attempt at (very basic) sprite multiplexing, software collision and many other aspects so all in all it was a major challenge for a novice coder. I worked on the game whenever I could, around work and family commitments and just chipped away at it bit by bit until it was finished.

Zapiy

As your working on two C64 games at once, one would assume this is a good way if seeing how different games are to create for this computer.. Could you tell us a little about your thoughts on this?

Chris

It does seem like I’m juggling two games at the same time but no, the finishing touches were made to Exploding Fish back in late January this year. It’s due to be released on the forthcoming Reset64 mix-i-disk which is why it’s not quite out there in the wild yet. My intention was to take a break after that big project but then I heard Roy had a game concept which was just waiting for a coder. I had a read through it, loved it, and Mancave was born!

Zapiy

Whats next?

Chris

Well, perhaps that break I promised myself after Exploding Fish but who knows?

Zapiy

Will there be physical releases?

Chris

This is something we have briefly discussed, yeah. I’d certainly love to see Exploding Fish released on cassette. We have some potential artwork on standby for the inlay card and we already have the game working off a tape file, turbo loader and all. I guess we’ll just wait to gauge reaction to the game first and see if there’s any demand for it.

Greyfox

Working at such a high-profile company that was Psygnosis, what was the daily routine for you during your time at the company?

Chris

I started working for Psygnosis in early 1990, not long before my 18th birthday so I was very much the office junior! I was brought in to work alongside Nick Burcombe (one of your previous interviewees) on the QA side of things so we basically spent our days hunting bugs and giving our input on design and gameplay issues. Not the worst job for a young lad. During my years there I had quite a few different roles such as QA manager, IT support, BBS sysop, etc. I occasionally did a little bit of support coding and at one point they decided I was a dab hand with a camera, so I was the guy who took most of the screenshots that we supplied to magazines. Yes, all on colour slide film!

Greyfox

Being a part of the team on some great Amiga titles, what was your creative input to these games?

Chris

I had a certain amount of input on most of the titles we produced back then but occasionally we’d bring the coder in-house when deadlines were tight and I’d sit alongside some of those guys day in, day out while we tested, tweaked and fettled the game until it was right. Nitro, Matrix Marauders, Bill’s Tomato Game were three such games but there were many more. We pulled quite a few all-nighters in those days.

Greyfox

Were you a part of any titles that didn’t make it to release during your time with Psygnosis?

Chris

One such game that comes to mind was Superhero. We put quite a lot of testing into that one and it was very close to release before it just seemingly disappeared. We all wondered why, but no information was forthcoming for weeks until we found out there had been a police raid on the developers office and all their computers had been seized! Oh dear.

Greyfox

Which other software house did you admire as been on par with Psygnosis?

Chris

Without hesitation that would have to be our friends at the other end of the M62, Ocean. I’d say they were every bit as iconic as Psygnosis back in the day and we all had a lot of respect for those guys.

Greyfox

What type of environment was it like during the 90’s in the company?

Chris

A good mixture of hard work, a lot of overtime, some legendary parties and so many amazing memories that I would honestly say it was the most fun I’ve had in my career. Plus getting to meet a lot of interesting people over the years. I remember one time I was trying to coax our old photocopier into life when a larger than life character burst through the door, walked over to me and said, “Bloody hell, this place gets bigger every time I come here!”. It was Rick Wakeman who had come to discuss the music for Microcosm.

Another memory I have is of working at the Psygnosis stand at one of the computer entertainment shows in London and having a bunch of lads asking me to autograph their t-shirts, caps and posters despite me trying to tell them I wasn’t a famous coder or musician! They didn’t care, I worked for Psygnosis and that was enough for them. Crazy days.

Greyfox

With Shadow of the Beast 2, which parts of the game did you feel worked or didn’t work?

Chris

Beast 2 was quite a large departure from the first game which was a fairly simplistic run-and-punch affair. It added multi-directional scrolling, lots of puzzle elements and a memorable FMV intro by our in-house artist Jim Bowers. Although a difficult game, it rewarded perseverance and a good memory for enemy sequences and puzzle solutions. I suppose one criticism of the game would be its rigid linearity and it would have been good to have a choice of alternative routes and puzzles in order to complete each level.

Greyfox

Did Psygnosis ever consider at any point think about releasing their games on Atari Jaguar or handhelds?

Chris

Although I do remember overhearing some discussions about the Jaguar back then, I don’t think we were seriously considering developing for that platform. Especially as it was around the time of our acquisition by Sony I would say the likelihood of that happening were reduced from slim to none.

Greyfox

Although Sony took over Psygnosis as Sony Liverpool, what was it like when Sony took over?

Chris

Whenever a buyout happens in any company there will always be concerns over job security and that was definitely the case back then despite assurances from management. It was certainly a big change for us going from a multi-platform publisher to a single platform one but as the market was swinging decidedly towards console gaming then I’d say those changes were extremely positive ones for the company.

Zapiy

What do you work on now at Sony?

Chris

Currently I work in the mastering lab at Sony Interactive Entertainment in Liverpool. Obviously I’m not allowed to go into any detail, but we’re pretty much responsible for receiving all the incoming code from our licensees, handling the QA cycle and ultimately the mastering of completed Playstation titles for Europe, America and Asia.

Greyfox

Do your feel that Psygnosis could have continued in today’s video game market?

Chris

Realistically, no. Look at all the iconic companies from back in the late 80s and early 90s. They’ve either been acquired by the bigger players or have fizzled out. The Psygnosis name may be long gone but the spirit of that company is still alive and kicking and many of the original people are still working in the industry. In a market dominated by the big manufacturers I think at best, Psygnosis would have been another one of a million indie developers had it even survived this long.

Greyfox

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Chris

If someone had told me 30 years ago that the C64, Spectrum, Amiga, etc. would be enjoying a surge in popularity in 2018 I would have thought they were crazy! I think it’s fantastic that not only people like me get to relive their youth and revisit the computers they grew up with, but they’re also being embraced by a younger generation as well. Here’s hoping that it continues for many more years!

Finally

A huge thanks to Chris for taking the time to chat to us, you can follow his progress on those amazing looking C64 games on his twitter feed.

Discussion Thread

Retro head and key holder of RVG.

zapiy

Retro head and key holder of RVG.