Here we have our latest interview with Kevin Edwards, Kevin has been in the industry for 35 Years starting with game creation on the BBC Micro, through the NES, SNES, MD/Genesis era’s a beyond.
Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?Kevin
Hi. I’m currently working in the core technology department of Traveller’s Tales, the company that develops LEGO games for PC and game console platforms. I moved away from gameplay programming about 20 years ago to focus on the core technology that games are built on. My first commercial game was published way back in 1983, but I started programming in 1979. Since then I have developed game technology for many console, mobile and home computer platforms. I’ve worked in-house at a number of game development studios in the North West of England, including Software Creations, Acclaim, EA, GenePool, Rage Software and Juice Games. When I’m not at work I have a busy family life.Zapiy
What was the first game you created?Kevin
That would be a simple 2D ‘top down’ maze game on the Commodore PET computer when I was at high school aged about 13. I would spend my breaks and lunchtimes in the computer room learning to program and writing games. I typed in listings from computer magazines and books at first to gain as much knowledge as I could. I had a great Computer Studies teacher, Pete Davidson, who knew his stuff and really encouraged us with our programming. He was teaching us 6502 machine code at the same time as BASIC.Zapiy
Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?Kevin
Not at all, it’s great to see the simpler, early games being re-played by new generations. People get nostalgic about lots of things from their childhood and gaming has been a popular pastime of mine since the early arcade games and home computers of the 1980s. Retro gaming is just growing and growing. In some ways the early games are a lot more fun that the latest AAA titles. The experience is even better if you are using the original hardware, but the emulation scene has made it possible to play all of your old favourites on your PC, tablet and mobile. You can find more of my retro ramblings on Twitter @KevEdwardsRetro.Zapiy
Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?Kevin
Over the last few years I have been re-discovering lots of old software as I archive boxes full of old computer disks. I started with my own game disks and managed to recover lots of source code and data. One lost game I did find was called Amnesia for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron. This has been made available on a popular BBC Micro User website. The game was abandoned for one reason or another after only a few weeks of development so there wasn’t much to see. Another game, which I still haven’t found, was called Storky. This was a sideways scrolling game influenced by the arcade title ‘Fast Freddie’ – featuring a guy on a hang glider. In Storky, the player controlled a basketball throwing/kicking stork that had to avoid ground and air based baddies and missiles that were trying to knock you out of the sky. Sadly, I haven’t located any of the disks associated with the project and I can only guess that the game is lost forever. I did start work on technology for an isometric game, like Knight Lore, and a 3D line-drawing engine. The idea being to create some tech and see how I could make it into a game, the latter was always the tricky bit. When the Archimedes came out I did spend some time on a sprite editor and other tools with the intention of making a sideways scrolling combat game of some kind. A bit of Stryker’s Run, combined with great visuals from games such as Shadow of the Beast. Sadly, the Archimedes was expensive and didn’t sell well enough to make it commercially viable so I had to look elsewhere for work.Zapiy
Any thoughts on doing a game for BBC Micro again?Kevin
There are many people still actively writing and publishing games for the BBC Micro and Master 128. If I had some spare time then I’d give it a go, but sadly I don’t. Maybe one day when I retire! Perhaps an enhanced version of Planetoid ( Defender ) or some other shoot-em-up!Zapiy
What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?Kevin
The early arcade games such as Space Invaders, Galaxians, Defender, Fantasia, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Missile Command, Scramble and Galaga were all a massive inspiration. I love shoot-em-ups and still do! That’s how Galaforce came about. I just had to write my own fast arcade style shoot-em-up!
I also love many Nintendo NES, SNES and Wii titles including Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario World, Mega-Man, Duck Tales, Pilot Wings, Zelda, F-Zero, Super Mario Kart ( all of them ), Super Mario Galaxy 1/2 and many more.
These early games were more varied and fun than the new games we see today. However, from a visual point of view I admire the latest games for the realism of their rendering technology.Shadowrunner
How did you get started in the video game industry?Kevin
When I was in the middle of my A levels I was offered a job, along with my school friend Martin Galway, writing software during the summer holidays. The company was called Optima Software and was owned by Database Publications who were responsible for many top-selling computer magazines at the time. I was paid £50 a week and wrote a game called Atomic Protector for the BBC Micro during the 6 weeks I was there. The game was published in Autumn 1983 and that was my first commercial title. Martin did all the sound effects for the game and worked on a ‘Sound Effect’ editor on the BBC Micro too.Shadowrunner
I see you have worked on a lot of licensed Marvel and Star Wars games. Were you told what you could or could not do with some of the characters or did you have freedom to do what you wanted? Also were you a fan of the comics and movies?Kevin
Because you are working with someone elses intellectual property (IP) you have to play by their rules and respect their wishes. Some license holders give you a lot of flexibility and you have few restrictions on what you can do – assuming you aren’t being stupid. Others are more active and have a clear plan for the game and what you can and can’t do with their IP. If something isn’t ‘red’ enough they will ask you to change it. Imagine if the roles were reversed and that you had created an amazing franchise and some developer wanted to mess with it and do things that just didn’t make sense to you. You’d be annoyed and want them to fall into line and make it work your way. Experienced developers understand how the relationship has to work.Shadowrunner
Do you have a favourite game that you were involved with?Kevin
That would have to be Nintendo’s “Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball” for the SNES. The developer, Software Creations, managed to convince Nintendo of America (NOA) that they could create an awesome baseball game for them. You must consider that Software Creations were a fairly small UK based developer who were competing against a number of large US based developers for a huge American sports game deal. We won the contract and a small team of about 7 people worked really hard and completed the game in about a year. We knew nothing about Baseball, but had an American guy, Brian Ullrich, who designed and ran the project from our offices. The game reviewed and sold well and we were all genuinely proud of the final product. It was the people I worked with that made this a great project to be involved with, including Ste Pickford, Ste Ruddy, Brian and the people at NOA.Shadowrunner
Was it hard adapting to the changing hardware over the years?Kevin
Not really. New hardware always brings new challenges, but that’s part of the fun. It’s always exciting when new technology arrives and you want to know what it can and can’t do. Because it’s always better and faster than the current hardware it’s nice to have extra head-room to do new things. If you are lucky you get a bit of R&D time to try out different techniques and ideas.Shadowrunner
When you first started did you ever think that the video game industry would become as big as it has and still be going strong all these years later?Kevin
Most adults thought that video gaming was just a fad and it would disappear in a year or two. I believed that gaming was going to be popular because so many of my generation were consumed by computers and gaming. I guess adults didn’t want to see us ‘wasting time’ looking at TV screens! However, I didn’t expect gaming would be quite as big as it is now with massive game development budgets and takings that exceeding that of the movie industry!Shadowrunner
When you’re not working on games what are some of your favourites to play?Kevin
It depends what’s to hand, who’s around and how much time I’ve got. It could be some old BBC Micro games such as Planetoid ( Defender ), Elite, Repton, Revs, Exile. If the Wii controllers are charged up then Mario Kart is always fun – especially with four of us playing. The Raspberry Pi is running MAME, so that’s where I go for classic arcade games.TrekMD
You’ve developed games for various systems, from PC to consoles. What is your preferred platform to make games for?Kevin
SNES. I love this platform. Great, simple to use hardware. Very flexible and it has a 65c816 processor – a 16-bit 6502 variant. You had to work in assembly language, but you had full control of the hardware. Always challenging, but fun at the same time.TrekMD
What differences did you face when programming the same game for competing consoles like the SNES and the Genesis?Kevin
On the few occasions that we wrote a game for both platforms, separated teams would be used for each version. I worked almost exclusively on the SNES so I’m biased when it comes to saying which is best. Each hardware platform has its own pros and cons so you always have different challenges to overcome. I loved the SNES and found it easy to work with. It had lots of background playfields that you could scroll independently and the awesome Mode 7 one which you could scale and rotate – used by games such as Pilot Wings, Mario Kart and F-Zero. The Genesis was popular with programmers who’d worked on the Atari ST and Amiga because it had a 68000 CPU. I had a 6502 programming background so the SNES’s 65c816 ( 16-bit 6502 ) was an easy step.TrekMD
Are you a gamer yourself? Do you own any retro systems? Modern systems?Kevin
Due to my chaotic, busy lifestyle I don’t have as much spare time for gaming as I’d like. However, I have a SNES mini, 2 Wiis, PS4, XBox One, PS3, PS2 and 360 hooked up to various TVs around the house. There’s also a couple of PCs and A Raspberry Pi ready to go. My family has more time to play games than I do!TrekMD
How different has it been to work in the gaming industry through the years?Kevin
There have been massive changes over the years. We have gone from sole ‘bedroom coders’ to corporate owned mega-development studios with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of staff. Early game development was typically done by a single programmer working in their spare time. They would do the coding, design, artwork, audio and testing on their own. When the game was done they either approached a publisher or advertised and sold the game via mail-order. As time went on, the quality of games had to improve as gamers expected more for their money. Programmers then worked with people who could create artwork or help them build levels and other content. Music and SFX were recognised as being important too and ‘chip’ programmers / musicians made the games stand out with better audio content. Because games now needed larger teams to make them happen it became almost impossible to survive as a sole or mini-developer. Game development then moved to large dedicated game development studios or in some cases software publishers who had their own game teams. Games that were once created by a single person in 2 or 3 months are now typically made by a team of 50 to 150 people over a 12 month period. On top of this you have huge marketing, advertising and sales teams that get the product to market and make the world know of its existence. It’s a tough world out there if you’re an Indie developer!Zapiy
You seemed to program a lot of American Sport games, how did that come about?Kevin
At that time a lot of US based contract work was available for NES and later SNES titles. This was due to several factors. You had to be an official developer to have access to technical information required to write the games. There was a shortage of experienced game developers in the US. There was a lot of respect for UK software developers. We were also a lot cheaper!Zapiy
Did you have much dealings with Tradewest or any other publishers?Kevin
When you are working for yourself you deal directly with the publishers. Most of my BBC Micro and Electron games were published by Superior Software so I worked directly with Richard Hanson and his team. Superior were great to deal with and were thoroughly professional and helpful. Once I moved in-house I was solely responsible for writing the software and other people communicated with the publishers. This was good as it meant they acted as a filter between the development team and the client so we could get on with creating the games. Tradewest were great too. I got an invite to visit them and we travelled to Los Angeles to watch the LA Lakers play at the Forum stadium. I was working on the basketball game “Magic Johnson’s Fast Break” for the NES at the time so this was for research purposes! It’s nice when you get to travel, but sadly these kind of treats are few and far between now for the development team.Zapiy
What company back in the day did you most admire and why? (Bitmap, Sensible and so on)Kevin
There were many great companies developing and publishing games so I can’t pick just one I’m afraid.
First, Ultimate Play the Game. Tim and Chris Stamper were years ahead of everyone else in the industry. The quality of their games were second to none. Great original design, artwork, packaging and technically brilliant. Just Amazing!
Second, Acornsoft. In the early years Acornsoft produced some of the best software for the BBC Micro and Electron. Great arcade conversions and original titles such as Elite. Again, the quality of their titles was always high.
Third, Superior Software. Superior produced a massive catalogue of top BBC Micro and Electron games. They still exist today and in 1986 took over the Acornsoft name and software catalogue. Great software run by really nice people.Finally
A huge thanks to Kev for taking the time to answer our questions, please comment HERE.