Added: 9 Mar 2013
Profile, A&B May 1987
This series normally depends on programmers baring their souls before you, but this month we have to make allowances. Orlando is well known in the games world for his personal discretion as well as his talent. He and I chatted for a couple of hours but much of our talk was, I'm afraid, 'off the record' and not for publication. Why? Well, that's a question we returned to again and again but the answer I think still eluded us. As simply as I can put it, Orlando is Orlando precisely because games programming is only one part of his life - he has options and choices in all sorts of directions and, although proud of his work and recognition, there is more to the pleasant young man I met than a few computer games, however good they are.
So, A&8 will not reveal again his real name (although it is a fairly open secret by now) and must gloss over at least one of his credits for fear of revealing it. Just be thankful for the games and for the amount he decided to reveal to Arcade readers.
Firstly, THAT name? Well, he once spent a few days with a party of civil engineers thinking it might be a useful career choice and met a Monty Python addict. A sense of mischief prompted him to say he was Orlando M Pilchard - boring old Acornsoft cut it down to Orlando on the credits of Arcadians.
He is 22, single(ish), Home Counties, drinks Guinness and has a degree in Maths and Philosophy from Manchester University. His software company (founded in 1982), Aardvark, was so named because all the other bizarre names were already taken!
Unusually, his first games were self-published, although Aardvark is now hibernating for reasons we'll cover later. So, game credits:
1981 - Hedgehog
1982 - Galaxians, Invaders
All three written for the Atom and released by Aardvark.
Acornsoft then approached him to write Arcadians and he worked for them for a time under his real name. One release (I'm sorry I promised I wouldn't tell!) and some unreleased revamping work.
1983 - BBC Zalaga
1984 - BBC Frak!, Electron Zalaga
1985 - demo of BBC 3D Wars (free gift with Personal Computer Games), Electron Frak!
1986/7 - BBC Firetrack, C64 Firetrack
Not much to build such a reputation on - did I mention how unassuming he is, aware honestly of his talent but a little surprised that he should be so unusual? Anyway, hidden in that lot are some gems - secret music in the BBC Frak! (3 channel Pugwash theme), the Electron Frak! (1 channel BASIC Benny Hill theme) and the Electron Zalaga (1 channel Pugwash). Any BBC players, incidentally, who don't have the Electron Frak! should seek it out for its better collision detection, editor, screen and level access.
Well, that's all we've seen so far but there are dark secrets lurking in the Orlando past - I'm not even going to mention his projected game of Totally Mindless Violence, where he would seek real interaction between player and death of pixels on the screen.
How about multi-way scroller Malus? Or, 'the first computer space opera - too ambitious', the enigmatic The Dark War with 3D solids 'and all that kind of thing'? Or his 'ultimate shape editor', Viewshape, in use since the Summer of 1983 with additions at the start of 1984? Or some invoicing programs? Or a robot control program called Armresl, written for a friend at Polytechnic? Or the 'world's first swing jazz detective pig', Porky PI, for the Spectrum, BBC and Electron?
No, I'm not sure how many we'll ever see either although the idea of Orlando's Undiscovered Hits kept him amused for a moment. What was really intriguing, though, was news of an unfinished Frak! 2 storyboard, scrolling routines and graphics completed. Described as the 'world's first computer musical', it promised Trogg's son in a 3D fixed perspective world, armed with skateboard and magic boomerang, together with frequent little dances!
What is perhaps more likely to see the light of day is a book containing his BBC knowledge - the BBC taken to the limit. Although the most important part would be a lesson that ideas are the most important thing (technique follows), I did manage to establish a few of the book's dictums:
1. Computers are nothing more than jumped-up typewriters
2. Computers can't help you understand
3. Flash routines don't work
But what about his own techniques? Well, they've been described to him as 'like Wimpey building foundations'! He reckons it takes about three days to write the guts of a game ('if you know what you want') and offered as an example how he managed an entirely software 'version of the famous Amiga bouncing ball in a day and a half.
So what inspires him? Favourite TV includes Dangermouse and Tales from Fat Tulip's Garden; Favourite film: Ruthless people. He doesn't really play other people's computer games (with most he wonders 'Why? Why Do this?') but rates Planetoids as a game to play and one of my own favourites Simon Birrell's Microbe as an excellent example of someone knew exactly what they wanted and created a gem. His pet hates in the industry? Superficiality more than anything - 'it's all so obvious'.
Which leaves us only, I suppose, with the story of the demise of Aardvark. Complicated story and not really one for retelling, but basically Orlando spent much time, effort and money trying to acquire the rights for Joust from Atarisoft so he could publish friend Delos D Harriman's excellent conversion, without success. Delos had to resort to publishing it himself in the end and for once Orlando's elusiveness meant that he got bad publicity for the delays. These things happen; just be as thankful as I am that he's back, and with a vengeance!
This article appeared in the May 1987 edition of "A & B Computing", published by Argus Press.