RVG Interviews: Antony Crowther

We are please to announce our latest interview with Antony Crowther, a former designer, programmer, and musician, Tony as he is more commonly known worked for iconic British Software Houses like Alligata and Gremlin Graphics.  We delve into Tony’s career to bring you what we think is another fantastic RVG Interview.

Read on and enjoy!

RVG

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

Tony

I’ve been writing games since I was 16, I started writing game at school helping the library teacher, Ian Warby with his project to produce educational games under the label of Aztec software. The games were written by me, Ben Daglish, Russel Merryman, and another guy.

I am now 54 and still writing games. So, I’ve been involved with games for 38 years, and I have totally lost count of how many games I have worked on, thought I could probably name them all. I am currently working for Sumo Digital, where I have been for the last eight years.

RVG

What was the first game you ever created?

Tony

My first game will have been some educational games, that I will have worked on in the school library. My first game I worked on a home was an adventure game, it was a copy of a BBC game written on a Pet 3032. The pet was borrowed from my Dads friends. The game was a Text adventure I played in the library at school, I attempted to type in as many commands into the game and I wrote down all the responses. When I got home, I coded in basic the same responses. I cannot remember the name of the game, but it kept me happy for ages. As far as I was aware, I had copied the game identically, but thinking about it now, I would have missed loads.

Later my parents bought me a VIC 20, and this is where my first commercial game was, it was a game called Amazing. It generated a maze in a cube, and you have to navigate out, left, right, forward and back were the maze games I had seen until this one, which had the added twist of up and down.

RVG

You have worked for a few iconic British Software Houses, tell us about those days, were they as rock n roll as we all imagined it to be?

Tony

My first real job was a Saturday job, selling computers in Superior Systems. This is where we sold my VIC 20 game called Amazing, the owner offered to give me a C64 if I wrote some games for him. I wrote 6 games that got released under the Alligata label. Looking back, they are not the best games, but they gave me the practice I needed, to work out how to use the C64. Then came games like Blagger, Bug Blaster, Killerwatt and Loco.

There was another software shop nearby, called Just Micro, this is where I used to take my games and show them off at the weekends. The owner of Just Micro was setting up a new software house, and wanted me to be part of it, so I left Alligata, and worked for this new company called Gremlin, for a few games at least. The money wasn’t fantastic, as I felt the software houses were getting more out of it than me, but I was able to do what I loved doing, and the bills were getting paid. I used to love working on a game, then go around the magazines demoing it to them. I was also good friends with Stuart Cooke by now, the editor of Your Commodore. Me and my girlfriend later my wife, used to stop at his house when I visited.

RVG

Do you have any anecdotes you can share from those days?

Tony

Good tools make all the difference. I have always had the tools I needed, and if I don’t, I write them. It was a long time before I started to look at third party solutions. Even the C64 one line assemble I used to write the games was written by me, first in basic, then I used the basic version to write an assembly version, so it ran faster and speeded me along.

RVG

Which software company did you enjoy working for the most and why?

Tony

The problem is, I have enjoyed them all, from Alligata, Gremlin, Wizard Development, Mirror Soft, Mindscape, Infogrames, EA, and Sumo. They all had something cool happen to me while working on projects, and I enjoyed every one of them. It’s like picking your favourite projects I work on, my favourite one is my current one, and it’s the same with employment. Sumo is the latest, and I’m getting to have fun in new ways.

RVG

Who in the industry from those days and now most admire and why?

Tony

I used to go to a computer show to help Alligata sell the games. And that’s where I met Jeff Minter and his Mum and Dad. We were good friends and used to swap stories over a pint. Me and my wife would stop the night at Jeff’s place, I would play in the den with Jeff, and Lisa would sit and talk with is mum and dad.

Another close friend was Ben Daglish, sadly, he is no longer with us. He was a master at listening to a tune and typing it into the computer. He helped me out with a few of my games. I met a few others at Magazine features, like Andy Braybrook, Matt Smith and others, I enjoyed meeting them all, they made for fun times.

RVG

Looking back on your career, did that moment when you were thrust into the limelight affect you in any way, stardom at such a young age, how did you deal with it all?

Tony

I loved it; I was also up for it. I think in the beginning, I was encouraging it. I saw it as down time, as I am working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, until the project I was working on was complete, then I would relax and go see the magazines, then go for a pint afterwards. I had to be careful with the reviews, as you can get good ones, which I love. But you can also get bad ones. I’d try to ignore them as much as possible, because you can never please everyone.

RVG

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Tony

To be honest, I have never seen it go away. I am amazed that people are still adding new content to C64 especially the demo scene.

Antony Crowther
Killerwatt (C64)

RVG

Which one the games you were involved in are you the proudest of and why?

Tony

Trickiest to answer, because I’m proud of all my games. But I will choose one of the earlier ones, Killerwatt. This is special because I think it put me on the map, because that’s when I did a TV interview for Bits’n Pieces in Aberdeen. They even paid for a flight. I don’t remember where from, but I do remember being on a tiny plane with about 12 seats 😊.

RVG

And which game caused you the most headaches?

Tony

The game with the biggest headache was Realms of The Haunting, as that game was supposed to be a two-year project, and turned into a three-year project, it force me to re-adjust my contract. After that I looked at working in house and not as a contractor.

Fernandez Must Die (C64)
Fernandez Must Die (C64)

RVG

Whilst at Imagework you worked on Fernandez Must Die, how did this game come about?

Tony

I had done a couple of games with David Bishop, ZigZag for mirror soft, and Bombuzal for ImageWorks, and they mentioned they were looking for someone to do Fernandez Must Die on C64. It was already being done on Atari/Amiga by Imageworks, but they needed a C64 version. I agreed to do it, but as I couldn’t do it the same, I had to re-designed it a little.

I just looked on the internet, and there is, and Spectrum and Amstrad versions based of the C64 version. How cool. I was not involved in those, and I think the loading screen I did, still looks better on C64.

RVG

Realms of the Haunting was a fantastic DOS game, can you tell us about your involvement in this game?

Realms of the Haunting (DOS)
Realms of the Haunting (DOS)

Tony

I had just completed working on a CD32 game called Liberation with Ross Goodley. Ross was teaching me how 3D works, and we were working on DOOM clone, we had the doom levels sort of running on our new engine. But we were looking for work. I don’t know why we left Mindscape, but I ended up back at Gremlin, the problem was I could not get a contract that would pay for both of us, so we decided to split.

I offered Gremlin two very high-level game designs, a scary game, or a Fantasy type game. They chose the scary one. It was originally a two-year contract. I would work on the tech, and they would supply the writers, designers and artists. I wrote a world editor that would manage all the levels, and the logic. While working on this project, they asked if they could use my engine on another project, Normality it was called. I agreed, so not only was I managing the tech for REALMS, I was feeding the Normality team too. I had worked on the Windows95 version of the engine, but it never got released, but there is a version that runs in a window on windows 95, it is all 32 bit, so needs updating again 😊

Knightmare (Amiga)
Knightmare (Amiga)

RVG

I thought Knightmare was a great game but the reviews at the time were not particularly great, how did reviews of your games affect you and the team?

Tony

Knightmare was written with just two people, and artist called Jan Thwaites, and me. I did all the game designed and coding, and Jan did the artwork, by now the internet was a thing, and we worked with each other remotely. She would send me artwork and would transfer it to game or pass comments back on how we should get it to work. I was proud of what we achieved in the game, but I think it was balanced a little too hard, as you spent most of your time sleeping to regain your health. The game itself used the Captive engine, with better animations, as the animation system was given an overhaul. But as I mentioned before, I don’t let the reviews get me down, as you just move on to the next project.

RVG

Was it hard adapting to the changing hardware over the years?

Tony

I get a bit of a buzz playing with hardware. When I start something, I won’t stop until it is working, this has the advantage that I will always see it working. But nowadays I can rely on others to help me out. So, working on N2O, I had to make the PS1 run at 60FPS, and I manage what the art team was giving me, as every poly counted.
Even on my current project we are pushing the boundaries, making the hardware do cool things.

RVG

Have you thought about getting involved in Retro Game Development?

Tony

I am far too busy riding the crest of new tech, and new hardware. So, it would be impossible to find time for Retro Game Development.

RVG

What games at the time (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Tony

In my early years, I was trying to mimic what I saw in the arcades. But when Dungeon Master came out, I was in shock, that was one hell of an awesome game, I played it to death. But then I wrote Captive. Later I saw Doom, and then I wrote Realms of the haunting. I don’t necessarily copy games, but if something is done right, I won’t not use it. These days, I only advise on engine changes, as it is no longer a one man team.

RVG

Were you ever been involved with the creation of games on systems like the Gizmondo, Konix Multisystem or any of the other lesser known systems or unreleased systems?

Tony

I have never worked on a rare console, but I have worked on a single game on a console, CD32 (liberation) PS1 game (N2o), worked on one Dreamcast game (Wacky Races), DS game (Zubo) and a 3DS game (Katsuma Unleashed)
The CD32 I had, was a wooden plank, with a circuit board and a CD Drive screwed to it, and cardboard box to cover it so the laser didn’t burn my eyes out. I thought I was the only one, but later I found other people have the same set up.

zapiy

Retro head and key holder of RVG.

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