Firebird Software Ltd

Founded By:British Telecom
Location:Wellington House, Upper St. Martins Lane, London WC2H 9DL
Year Started:1984
Year Wound Up:1989
Titles in Database:186
Rights Now With:Microprose (1989)
Firebird was the first computer game label to be set up at Telecomsoft. It had earlier been christened Firefly Software, but was then renamed by James Leavey, shortly after he arrived from mainstream BT to take over as the label's marketing and PR manager. Leavey did this because he found that the original name was not fully protected.

Two price points were initially established: Firebird Silver would release budget titles priced at 2.50 whereas Firebird Gold would release more prestigious titles at 5.95. The Firebird label was aimed squarely at a teenage market, hoping to entice young spenders to invest their pocket money in good quality, low-priced games rather than records and comics.

Firebird's success allowed them to acquire a number of third party developers and they also established a deal with Ultimate Play The Game, whereby they would convert and publish a number of their successful ZX Spectrum games to the Commodore 64.

Statistics

Titles per Year

Breakdown by Genre
Breakdown by Platform

Company History


Added: 19 Sep 2016
Previously part of the Post Office, the Telecommunications giant British Telecom (BT) was due to be privatised in late 1984. Amidst the uncertainty, Dr Ederyn Williams – General Manager of Information Systems at BT – speculated where the telecoms business was heading.

Both Ederyn and Richard Hooper (Chief Executive for BT’s Value Added Systems and Services division) had been involved in discussions regarding the issue of network versus content on Prestel.

Prestel was an interactive videotex subscription service, originally developed by the Post Office Research Station in the late 1970’s. It looked similar to the free teletext service provided by CEEFAX and ORACLE for suitably equipped UK television sets.

Ederyn and Richard both felt that over time, network services would become cheaper and the true value would be in content, so the decision was made to go into software publishing. In Richard Hooper’s own words, he wanted a software publishing business “just like Penguin” – referring to the successful and long-established Penguin Books publishing empire.

This strategy included the creation of a service called Gamestar (pushing downloadable content to modified Sinclair Spectrums through modems), Program Express (a company that created hardware to be installed in shops that would enable customers to buy software via modem links) and the creation of two new companies – TelecomSoft Business and TelecomSoft Entertainment. Both were to become part of BT’s ‘New Information Services’ division.

Out of those new ventures, only TelecomSoft Entertainment ultimately survived. Gamestar was never officially launched, failing because of the slow start-up of cable TV in the UK and the fact that cable systems were not as interactive as BT had hoped. Also, a similar service in the United States (called the ‘Games Network’) failed miserably, persuading the BT hierarchy that Gamestar wasn’t worth pursuing. TelecomSoft Business officially lasted until 1987 before disappearing, leaving just the entertainment division to be the definitive ‘TelecomSoft’!

James Leavey was working for the Post Office’s Data Processing Executive and was assistant editor of their in-house magazine ‘Database’. He was also the Post Office’s official film and art critic and had regular columns in a raft of other publications connected to BT and the Civil Service.

In late 1983, Dave Laycock read one of James’ articles and rang him to ask if he would put a piece in ‘Database’ magazine, inviting games testers for Gamestar. James signed up immediately and was sent a load of early Spectrum computer games which he tested with his young family. This was followed by James being invited to Dave Laycock’s office to meet Trevor Havelock. The meeting concluded with James being offered the job of PR and Marketing Manager for a new venture. Although he didn’t know it at the time, James was TelecomSoft Entertainment’s first official employee.

Recruited on a temporary promotion in July 1984, James was immediately sent on a course to learn more about marketing. Meanwhile, Micro Gold owner (and coder of their game ‘Run Baby Run‘) Tony Rainbird was approached by Dr Ederyn Williams and offered the job of starting TelecomSoft on the proviso that someone would assume full control further down the road.

Attention quickly turned to finding an identity for TelecomSoft’s publishing label. About thirty names were considered, with ‘Firefly’ emerging as the winner. Soon afterwards, a full-page Firefly Software advert was published in a number of computer magazines promising to explain ‘HOW TO TURN YOUR SOFTWARE INTO HARD CASH’.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before BT received various complaints relating to the Firefly name. James Leavey had just returned from his training when he discovered that the name Firefly Software was already registered. An emergency meeting was quickly convened, and assuming that the ‘fire’ bit of the name was important, they brainstormed for alternatives. James Leavey suggested Firebird, simply because he’d been listening to Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite earlier that day.

Steps were immediately taken to register the name and get a logo, designed by Terry Finnegan, Creative Director at graphic design company Simonson Finnegan Ltd. What Terry came up with was bright, bold and striking and was accepted without any alterations. The classic red Firebird logo with the outstretched wings would have a few tweaks as the brand changed during its six-year life, but otherwise it remained pretty much untouched.

Terry went on to design all of the initial Firebird layout and artwork for TelecomSoft and worked on some of the other publishing labels that emerged later.

There was a huge response to the original Firefly advert. Tony and James were determined to find twenty games to launch in time for Christmas that year. To help, James even drafted in his children and their friends to evaluate some of the games that were sent in.

Whilst the game selection process was in its early stages, marketing consultant Theresa Jackson recommended two labels, with a ‘Gold’ range retailing at £5.95 and a ‘Silver’ Range aimed at the budget price of £2.50.

With their launch titles ready, James and Tony took samples directly to the distributors. The quality of the games, the pricing structure, the trust associated with the Post Office and the BT flotation generated huge interest.

The titles shown below were chosen for Firebird’s launch. They covered a variety of formats, including 16k/48k Spectrums, the Commodore 64, the Commodore Vic 20 and the BBC Model B.

The first batch released in early November 1984 included The Wild Bunch (Sinclair ZX Spectrum), Booty (Commodore 64) and Bird Strike (BBC Micro). These three were rapidly followed by the remaining titles over the next few weeks.

The early Firebird adverts used ‘Seeing is believing’ as part of the campaign. This reflected the decision to go with screenshots on the inlay covers, as BT’s Richard Hooper explained in an early Firebird press release.

Of course, as the market matured, Firebird switched to using artwork on the inlays like everyone else, but at least the original intention was sincere!

Firebird’s crucial first couple of months saw them rack up sales of over 250,000 units without the aid of a Sales Manager. All of the hard work put in by James Leavey, Tony Rainbird and the rest of TelecomSoft paid off, but that was just the start.

The man given the task to run Firebird Software in the long term was James Scoular, who had worked at VNU Publications. Amongst other titles, VNU published Personal Computer World magazine and James had only recently been promoted to Publisher when he resigned and joined TelecomSoft.

Soon after James arrived, he began to assemble his own team to move TelecomSoft to the next phase. The next phase depended upon Firebird out-bidding rival publishers to the conversion rights of one particular game, called Elite.

Elite for the BBC Micro was a landmark title because of its open-ended design and 3D wireframe graphics. The co-authors – Ian Bell and David Braben – initiated a UK games industry frenzy when agent Jacqui Lyons at Marjacq announced that the rights to publish the Z80 conversions of Elite would be auctioned, in September 1984.

TelecomSoft saw Elite as their chance to become a big player, and a sealed bid of £100,000 was submitted. Rumour has it that this was three or four times larger than the next nearest bid. Inevitably they won, but there’s some mystery around the auction and the outcomes that meant TelecomSoft had costly additional negotiations with Acornsoft to use the name ‘Elite’ and to be able to reproduce some of the documentation that accompanied the original BBC version, including the novella by Robert Holdstock, called “The Dark Wheel”.

The original programmers wrote the Commodore 64 version of Elite, but they had no experience coding for that machine and required a little help to get started. This came in the form of programmers Jez San and Fouad Katan, who had begun creating what was later called PDS (Programmer’s Development System). This tool quickly became used throughout the industry for cross-platform development, and it evolved over the next four to five years.

[Herbert Wright demonstrates Elite on the Commodore 64]
[Elite C64 loading]
[James Scoular]

Ian Bell and David Braben used code created for PDS to get Elite working quickly. As a result, Firebird was able to demonstrate an early version for the Commodore 64 at the February 1985 LET Show in London, just weeks after they had acquired the rights. The sight of the Commodore 64 on the stand being discretely connected to a BBC Micro running PDS did confuse a few onlookers at the time!

The 16-bit rights to publish Elite were negotiated in 1986, with a CGA IBM PC version – courtesy of Realtime Games – appearing soon afterwards. However, it was a couple more years before Elite was available for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.

Sadly, James Scoular didn’t get to see any of the success that Elite ultimately brought to TelecomSoft. Shortly after work had begun on the Commodore 64 conversion, James was taken to hospital with a coronary. He never came out and died 3 weeks later. Everyone at Firebird was stunned. James was only 27, and a fitness fanatic who would get up early to go rowing on the Thames before work.

Herbert Wright had only recently joined TelecomSoft on James Scoular’s invitation, having been a colleague of his at VNU Publications. Herbert project managed the Elite conversions and some other Firebird Gold titles. After the untimely and tragic death of James Scoular, Firebird needed reorganising. Joss Ellis came in as Contract Development Manager and gave vital support to Herbert on Elite and other projects. Herbert was made acting Head of Firebird and four months later was confirmed on a permanent basis. His mission was to maximise Elite and build-up Firebird’s reputation on the higher-priced Gold range of which Elite was the flagship.

Firebird Gold didn’t start with Elite though. The label was launched with the Commodore 64 platformer Demons of Topaz by Andrew Bailey, who had also written Headache for the Firebird Silver budget range. The Sinclair Spectrum got Buggy Blast from future Rainbird publisher Paul Hibbard and musician David Lowe. Both games retailed at £5.95.

The next ‘Gold’ release from Firebird raised the bar a few more notches, but also split opinion within TelecomSoft. James Leavey in particular was left perplexed by what Gyron was really all about. At its heart, ‘Gyron’ was a 3D maze game with giant roaming spheres and deadly towers. It was technically exceptional and looked head and shoulders above most other Spectrum games at the time.

Firebird threw a large amount of marketing behind Gyron, including an in-box competition to win a Porsche 924 LUX sports car (or cash equivalent), a self-running ‘demonstrator’ cassette to run in shops and a big advertising push. Firebird also amended their original ‘Firefly’ advert and pushed it out again with a new look in an attempt to entice more fresh talent to the company.

Having helped get TelecomSoft up and running, James Leavey moved back into mainstream BT to work as a PR manager in the Networks Trunk Services division. Meanwhile, Herbert was impressed with ‘Gyron’ developer Torus, and offered them the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC conversions of ‘Elite’. These versions were enormously successful (despite issues with the infamous Lenslok anti-piracy device and bugs in the CPC version) and they helped elevate TelecomSoft’s reputation throughout Europe along with the Commodore 64 version. However, Europe wasn’t the extent of their ambition.

Ian Bell was asked to write an Apple II version of Elite to help TelecomSoft’s push into the US, via Firebird Licensees Inc.

The money that ‘Elite’ brought to TelecomSoft was significant and it attracted others only too eager to help them spend it. Magazine publisher EMAP decided to tout Beyond Software to TelecomSoft, who were interested as the label was thought to fit in nicely with the current portfolio. Beyond were publishers of Mike Singleton’s epic wargame ‘The Lords of Midnight’ and many other titles.

Around the same time, Liverpool-based Odin Computer Graphics Ltd signed an exclusive 12 month worldwide marketing and distribution deal with TelecomSoft.

Firebird Gold became a major part of the business, but the Silver budget range was also performing well. The £2.50 RRP was reduced to £1.99 a year after launch and now included re-releasing other publisher’s titles alongside new budget games like the classic ‘Thrust’, Twinky Goes Hiking, and Sensible Software’s debut, Galax-i-birds.

When Firebird Gold moved from £5.95 to a higher price-point, another new label was introduced. The Firebird ‘Super Silver’ range had an RRP of £3.95 and was considered to be a premium budget label. It was launched on Monday, 4th November 1985 and included a ‘Thunderbirds’ game based on Gerry Anderson’s TV puppet series, Shahid Ahmad’s isometric adventure Chimera, Willow Pattern Adventure from Mr Micro and ‘Chickin Chase’ from French developer Jawx.

Firebird Super Silver ultimately proved short lived, and many of the titles reappeared less than a year later on the cheaper £1.99 range. The label is probably best remembered for the fragile white clam style plastic cases that broke far too easily.

Another sub-label that came and went was ‘Firebird Hot’ which was looked after by Joss Ellis and Herbert Wright. They came up with the name simply because they felt Fire and Hot were a natural fit, and they also both liked curry! Retailing at £7.95, a small handful of games were released including Costa Capers, Gerry the Germ (Goes Body Poppin’), Runestone, The Comet Game, Vectron and Rasputin.

Firebird published a number of 8-bit games over the next few years with varying degrees of success. Druid was an excellent Gauntlet-style game that spawned an equally enlightening sequel, IO was a graphically excellent but very tough shoot ‘em up for the Commodore 64, Earthlight was an interesting 3D shoot ‘em up for the Spectrum from Pete Cooke, Samurai Warrior from Beam was an enjoyable arcade adventure based on Usagi Yojimbo, and Beam also produced Fist + which borrowed a few ideas from ‘IK+’ and the Sega coin-op ‘Shinobi’.

A legal wrangle with Hewson delayed Firebird from publishing Graftgold’s Magnetron until early 1988, but this was soon followed by Graftgold’s other 8-bit titles Soldier of Fortune and Intensity.

It was around the time of the transition between 8-bit and 16-bit development in late 1987 that Herbert Wright decided he needed a change. He was enticed to help educational software publisher Logotron set up a new games division.

By early 1988 sales in 8-bit games were dwindling as the 16-bit Atari ST and Commodore Amiga dominated. Firebird was an early adopter, quickly publishing 16-bit games including Golden Path, Steve Bak’s Return to Genesis, Black Lamp by Denton Designs, Pandora by Shahid Ahmad and David Eastman, the much delayed Star Trek: The Rebel Universe by Mike Singleton and Denton Designs, and David Braben’s 3D blaster Virus, based upon his own Archimedes game ‘Zarch’.

ST and Amiga versions of Elite finally appeared in the summer of 1988, developed by Mr Micro, with work starting soon after they had completed the final 8-bit version for the MSX. Firebird had also sub-licensed a Tatung Einstein conversion of ‘Elite’ the year before to Merlin Software.

Despite chart successes with both full price and budget games over the past four and a half years and a strong reputation, TelecomSoft was coming under close scrutiny from within BT. The company didn’t really have a strategic fit with the core telecommunications business, leading to a handful of internal moves in recent years from BT’s New Information Services to Spectrum and then finally the Dialcom division.

There had been stories in UK computer magazines that TelecomSoft was under constant pressure from BT management for some time, possibly since the purchase of Beyond from EMAP in late 1985. Popular Computing Weekly highlighted events in October 1986, soon after TelecomSoft had just moved into new office space in London.

This precarious situation resulted in BT Management approaching General Manager Paula Byrne in August 1988 and asking her to find potential purchasers for the company. It helped that the company was deliberately a lot less financially interlinked with BT than it had been in the past, and that it was deemed financially strong enough to be an attractive proposition to potential buyers.

Paula led a group of senior management in TelecomSoft to organise an MBO (Management Buy Out) from BT. The process was long, arduous and ultimately fruitless as neither party could reach an agreement. On February 19th 1989 the proposed MBO was abandoned and so a press release was issued a few days later, announcing BT’s intention to sell the business.


Softography

The Retro Isle team
Added: 18 Jul 2019
Click here to view a list of titles we have in the database here at Retro Isle.


From Then To Now



Interviews


Added: 19 Sep 2016
Rainbird was the sister label of Firebird Software, a company first set up in 1984 by British Telecom. Here, Tony Rainbird explains how BT went upmarket with the release of its new and looks at the many key releases that helped build the Rainbird brand.

British Telecom recruited Tony Rainbird in 1984 to launch Firebird Software. Firebird’s first year was eventful – the successful launch, the purchase of Beyond Software from EMAP, bidding for and winning the rights to publish conversions of Elite – but Tony felt something was missing from the portfolio. What he came up with was a new publishing label that would be distinct from Firebird Software with regard to quality, content and price, as Tony recalls.

“I believe I proposed the concept of publishing cutting-edge adventures, simulations and utilities on a new label, complete with the Bluebird name and blue packaging,” he told us.
As before, Terry Finnegan was asked to create the logo. The large ice-blue bird with the huge wingspan was a perfect companion to the iconic Firebird emblem. However, mirroring the events that led to Firefly Software being renamed Firebird the year before, Bluebird Software was scotched by BT’s Intellectual Property Unit. A new name was needed, and Tony Rainbird is keen to point out that someone else came up with the alternative.

“I think it was chief executive Richard Hooper who suggested the name Rainbird,” he admits. The name was quickly agreed, but very little money was spent on promoting Rainbird compared to the huge amount BT splashed out on buying Beyond Software just a few months earlier. However, Tony extols the financial commitment that BT made to putting money into the best programming teams ahead of an extensive PR launch. “In order to be profitable it was essential to keep a lid on marketing costs, and so we relied on the PR effort, which often involved the programmers and the award-winning packaging to project the quality image,” he explains, before adding proudly: “It’s hard to describe the sheer enthusiasm that the programmers held in their own projects. So outwardly Rainbird was not a big spender, but was a solid investor in fledgling UK talent.”

Rainbird’s launch titles were an interesting mix of 8-bit and 16-bit products, spread across the genres that Tony felt they should be covering. The OCP Art Studio and The Music System were among the first to be signed, and it helped that they were both finished utilities that could be published and start earning money quickly.

Oxford Computer Publishing developed The OCP Art Studio after programmer James Hutchby saw an Apple Macintosh for the first time, as he remembers: “I admired the Mac but couldn’t afford to own one, so instead I tried to do the same thing on a 48K Spectrum.”

The OCP Art Studio was advertised by OCP, but when managing director Bill Richardson was contacted by Tony Rainbird, this all changed. A deal was struck to market and distribute the program through BT on the new Rainbird label, as well as produce versions for other platforms.

“BT didn’t really require me to change anything, except to add the Lenslok copy-protection system,” says James, remembering the unpopular, technically compromised and ultimately short-lived anti-piracy device. James went on to write the Amstrad CPC version, with Chris Saunders tackling the Commodore 64. Rainbird also initiated new ‘Advanced’ versions for the 128K Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. The 128K Spectrum version was upgraded by Dimitri Koveos, who had helped create the mail-order-only Extended OCP Art Studio, which allowed users to transfer the program from cassette to a Sinclair Microdrive, KDOS or SPDOS disk interfaces. Later, programmer Chris Hinsley approached Rainbird with a 16-bit art package that became the extremely popular Atari ST version.

To complement OCP’s art utility, Rainbird also sought out a music application. The Music System was originally developed and published for Acorn’s BBC Micro, but Rainbird’s deal with the developer Island Logic – a division of Island Records – was for Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC versions. ‘Advanced’ disk-only versions were developed for both platforms, featuring a few new features and some additional musical demos.

“The Art Studio and Music System were signed up as finished programs, but they both suffered from the heavy margins expected by games distributors and retailers at the time, combined with high royalties and low sales compared with games,” explains Tony. “They were excellent products so they were good for establishing the Rainbird reputation, but unfortunately they were not so good for making a profit!”

Sadly, this proved to be a contributing factor in OCP’s demise, and it went into liquidation in the summer of 1986, shortly after its art package was published.

On the games front, a handful of potential titles got Tony’s attention. The first was from programmer Jez San, who had recently helped David Braben and Ian Bell get up to speed on Commodore 64 development when they were writing Elite. As Argonaut Software, Jez and his team were writing what started as an homage to Atari’s Star Wars 3D vector coin-op, after his advances to Atari about writing home versions were spurned.

The finished product, Starglider, set an early high standard for Rainbird on the Amiga and ST with its fast and colourful 3D vectors, arcade action, sampled music and stereo sound effects. “Originally I wanted to have a glider in space that flew through stargates to propel itself along, and part of the strategy was gliding from gate to gate,” explains Jez. “But then I figured this wouldn’t be fun if you weren’t under your own power because you couldn’t just fly anywhere, so I dropped the gliding bit but kept the Starglider name.”

The Pawn was a text-only adventure game that had already enjoyed critical, if not commercial, success on the Sinclair QL. Developer Magnetic Scrolls, led by Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon, was naturally keen to port the game onto a platform that had a bigger chance of making a profit. The Amiga and ST computers were based on the same 68000 processor used by the QL, so porting the adventure wasn’t a huge technical challenge. However, at Rainbird’s suggestion the addition of sumptuous illustrations on most versions for key locations gave Magnetic Scrolls’ adventures a much broader appeal.

“The development costs for The Pawn were too high for a single product, and it was always going to be the case that the subsequent adventures using the same system would be cheaper to produce,” explains Tony. This forward-thinking approach resulted in five adventures from Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon’s company over the next four years, adding The Guild Of Thieves, Jinxter, Corruption and Fish! to the success of The Pawn.

Gary Sheinwald joined Telecomsoft’s games development department in May 1986 and was involved in almost every Rainbird title that Telecomsoft produced, including a futuristic Commodore 64 racing and action game called Tracker from new developer Union Software.

“Tracker was in a disastrous state,” laughs Gary. “It didn’t fit into the Commodore 64’s RAM and was incredibly buggy. The pseudo-3D trench portion was practically running at seconds per frame, rather than frames per second!” The original development team had disbanded, so Gary brought in Fouad Katan to rescue the project.

Foo remembers the task quite clearly. “I had to free up around 10K, then finish putting in all the missing bits, fix numerous bugs and put all the pieces back together. I spent about two or three months working on it in the end.” Thankfully, the 16-bit versions by Mindware had no such problems. Developed by Nick Leaton, Tony Lambert and Chris van Es, they created an impressive game for the Apple Macintosh, ST and IBM PC that was far better than the original. “Mindware were Mac-centric for their development environment,” recalls Gary, “and the 16-bit versions were based on the core concept of the C64 original – node-based, with multiple enemy AI units – but they diverged quite a lot and went their own way.”

Level 9 Computing was a well-established family-based developer and publisher of 8-bit text adventures when it signed a marketing and distribution deal with Telecomsoft in late April 1986. The deal included four titles spread across 8-bit and 16-bit formats, including updated versions of three existing Level 9 trilogies. Originally known as the ‘Middle-earth trilogy’, Colossal Adventure, Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure were bundled together as Jewels Of Darkness. Level 9’s science fiction trilogy containing Snowball, Return To Eden and The Worm In Paradise was published as Silicon Dreams, while the final trilogy compilation was Time & Magik, featuring Lords Of Time, Red Moon and The Price Of Magik.

The fourth title in the deal was Knight Orc, a three-part adventure written using Level 9’s new 16-bit KAOS development system. Unlike its previous games, KAOS – which, bizarrely, stood for ‘Knight Orc Adventure System’ – intended to emulate the experience of games like MUDs.

One of Rainbird’s game testers was an adventure enthusiast called Paul Coppins, who had previously been a voluntary member of Keith Campbell’s Adventure Helpline, helping to resolve adventure queries for EMAP’s Computer & Video Games magazine in print and in person at the various public computer shows. Rainbird recruited Paul because he was notoriously tenacious when it came to testing adventures, and he regularly inadvertently upset the Austins at Level 9.

“Paul Coppins drove them bonkers!” laughs Graham Wayne, who at the time was in charge of the testing team at Telecomsoft as well as being responsible for liaising with Level 9. “However, he was the best tester I ever worked with. What I remember best were the enraged phone calls from the Austin brothers, complaining about the ridiculous things 
Paul was doing with their games. He had a way of breaking games in general that was as elegant or mad as it was ingenious. I think he was at his best on the text adventures, but he could break pretty much anything if he put his mind to it!”

Various problems frayed the working relationship between Rainbird and Level 9. Jewels Of Darkness, Silicon Dreams and Knight Orc were all published, but they parted ways before Time & Magik could be finished. Internally, Rainbird cited bugs and constant delays as the reason for the premature end, while Level 9 remained tight-lipped about the experience and quickly moved on to another publisher…

RVG (Sep 2013)
Added: 13 Aug 2014
Here is our interview with the iconic British software house Firebird Software. Taken part was Richard Hewison and James Leavey who both worked for this Firebird at one time or another.

Firebird was founded in 1984 as a publishing label of Telecomsoft, itself a subsidiary of British Telecom. Initially Firebird Software released games primarily for the budget market (under the Firebird and Silverbird labels) before moving into the regular retail market by creating Rainbird software.

During the 1980's it developed and published a wide variety of games for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and other systems.

A Small selection of their games:

Elite
Rainbow Islands
Rick Dangerous
Star Trek: The Rebel Universe
Mr Heli
Crosswize
Black Lamp
Bubble Bobble
Return to Genesis
On The Tiles
Star Pilot
Druid
Warhawk
Mega-Bucks
Virtual Reality Vol. 2
Quartz

Anyway we hope you enjoy this interview and thanks to Richard and James for taking part.





zapiy

Tell us a little about you and how you got in the the gaming sector?

Richard

Sheer fluke. I was writing stuff for BBC 2 CEEFAX (a text adventure helpline and games reviews) and someone I got to know on Prestel/Micronet got a job at TelecomSoft.3 months later he called me out-of-the-blue and told me there was a vacancy in the Games Department. I got interviewed and got the job of a games tester a few months before my 21st birthday.

James

Thirty years ago, when I was 35 and my children were in their early teens, I was working as an assistant information officer for the publicity department of the Post Office Data Processing Executive in Moorgate, City of London. The DPE, as it was then known, was responsible for future planning and installation of all the data processing for what would become BT, including electronic billing, the networks etc. Among other things, I was assistant editor of DPE's quarterly house magazine, Database. DPE ran the PO's computer centres around the UK, including London, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Leeds, Portsmouth and Edinburgh. I had left school in south London at 15 - despite being offered a place in a 6th form college (we could't afford the uniform), for I had the day before been offered a job working as an office junior/editorial assistant for a newspaper and magazine publisher, Southern Africa, in St Bride Lane, Fleet Street, for 4 a week. When I told my head master I wanted to be a journalist which is why I was turning down his offer of a 6th form place (I had played truant and missed the 11 plus exam) he asked me to spell chrysanthumum, which I couldn't do, and said I would never become a writer. Three months later I wrote my first article for Southern Africa and became the youngest reporter in Fleet Street. A couple of years later I had to move on (I had no qualifications whatsoever when I left school) and after 30-40 jobs some of which lasted a few hours and some, four years, ended up working for the Post Office Centre Telephone Area in 1974, and DPE in 1980. Up to 1980, I had just had some poems published and was an occasional news stringer for the Daily Express, so when the editor of Database (who had previously worked on the Daily Mirror) gave me the job as her assistant editor, it was an important moment for me. She handed me a list of 6 stories and features on my first Monday morning to be completed by that Friday - - I winged it and took the journalism like a duck to water.

In 1980, the Post Office had 250,000 staff and was the UK's largest employer, and published several inhouse magazines and newspapers. I felt that most of those magazines and newspaper content was very dull and suggested the editors (all in different parts of the Post Office) should feature film, theatre and art reviews. I then approached the film companies and arts council, explaining how I had one of the largest circulations of inhouse publications in the UK (and many of these publications were taken home and read by family and friends, almost certainly doubling - possibly quadrupling - the circulations. Everything went tickety-boo and I found myself with a profitable sideline (all the magazines, apart from one, paid me a fee for each article, which was extra to my usual PO salary).

The publications that didn't pay anything was The PO/Civil Service A5 monthly cheaply printed but widely circulation and read magazine, The Hooter.

Meanwhile, the PO had been busy with Prestel (look it up in wikipedia) was was basically the first phone/PC terminal publicly available. Richard Hooper, Dr Ederyn Williams, Trevor Havelock and Dave Laycock were a major part of the Prestel set-up and were, in 1983, considering adding downloadable computer games to the service. Although Prestel was by today's standards a little primitive, it was proving the vital importance of the forthcoming digital network. Trouble was, it was expensive to rent, and one of the original Prestel team members had taken the idea to France Telecomms, who set up a far more successful (probably because it was a lot cheaper and
more accessible version, known as Minitel. Also, it this is very relevant to the success of Firebird, somehow Dr Williams had fallen foul of the Post Office's Intellectual Property Unit (IPU), and wasn't talking to them.

Anyway, Dave saw my film and other reviews in The Hooter and asked if I could help review some of the computer games he was considering adding to Prestel. And as my son and daughter was of the age (11 and 10, respectively) and had already shown a keen interest in the Spectrum 48 I had bought (and been mesemerised by Tennis, or whatever the fuck it was called - it certainly kept be glued to my TV monitor for hours when I first installed it), naturally I agreed. I thinnk contacted me early 1984, but I can't remember.

Anyway, a few months later Dave invited me over to Mercury House (ironic that Mercury was BT/PO's main rival at the time!) in the Temple, off Fleet Street, for a drink and discussion about a brand new business they were planning to launch later in 1984 when the Post Offrice was split into two businesses - BT and the PO. Richard Hooper, chief at Prestel, was heading up a new Value Added Systems and Services (VASS) division that would be pro-active in adding value to the new BT network. For some reason, not sure why, Richard wanted to set up a games software publishing company which had a strong identity (he often used Penguin Books, as an ideal example). And Ed (Dr Williams), Trevor and Dave felt they could almost make some money publishing hard copies of computer games, presumably because in doing so it would strengthen the image of the company's involvement in this brand new highly competitive sector.

So, over a pint of beer and a ham sandwich in a Fleet Street pub, Ed offered me a job as PR manager for this new company. Now Richard, Ed, Trevor and Dave got on so well partly because they has all been to university. I hadn't, but from 1970-1974, while working for the Post Office, I was a part-time teaching student at Sidney Webb College, Polytechnic of Central London (now University of Westminster) after passing a London University entrance exam (I had, in 1970, managed to get two GCE O'levels (English, and English Literature), and had almost passed an entrance exam at the University of California at Berkeley and been offered a place there (turned
it down, so there would have been no one around in London to be there for my mother, who lived alone). I had also been offered places at Central School of Drama in Swiss Cottage (linked to Sidney Webb) because I had trained as an actor, again part-time, as what is now the Mountview Academy of Theatre arts in North London.

Ed admitted he wasn't initially keen on employing a non-graduate but he could see that I had taken the trouble to self-educate, and that, for him, was enough.

I mention all this so you can see some of the things that influenced the work I did for Firebird.

When Ed & Co invited me to join them I admitted I had no real knowledge of PR aside from the publicity work I had done for DPE so I got sent to the BT Management College in spring 1984 to be trained in advanced PR skills by industry experts, one of whom opened my eyes to the vital importance of making a full search on company names to avoid legal entanglements.

When I arrived at Firebird's offices in Wellington House, St Martin's Lane, London (it was very very posh and expensive for Richard didn't do things by halves) and started looking at the work the team had already done, I immediately spotted a major problem.

A full page display ad had been placed in key UK computer game press announcing the formation of a new BT-driven games company called Fireplay. The result was sackloads of poorly programmed games on cassette, and printouts, usually in BASIC, of games whose young authors would be a huge sucess once the BT team of programmes typed them in. But BT VASS didn't employ any such team. It had, however, found and taken on board, Tony Rainbird, who had impressed Ed and Co which his knowledge of designing and publishing some nice little games. Tony went from being a front-room publisher to the big league.

Ed wasn't talking to the IPU (remember them?!) and hadn't arranged a full company search on Fireplay. But I did, almost as soon as I arrived, and discovered there was at least one other company in a similar area bearing this name, and that it would cost the PO/BT a lot of money to buy them out. Plus Firebird really didn't to attract any kind of bad vibes for the Post Office/BT spli that autumn was the largest of its kind in the world, and the main company would have have crucicified us for incompetence.

Somehow I managed to drag Ed and Tony into a taxi for a meeting with IPU just up the road in Gower Street, and they realised the danger of continuing with Firefly.

We then went back to the office for a summit (Ed, Trevor, Dave, Tony, Me and Therese Jackson, a marketing consultant from Canada) to find a new name, pronto. I came up with Firebird cos I'd been listening to Stravinsky's Firebird suite the night before, and as it wasn't a huge stretch from Firefly, it got the nod.

A week or so later, after Terry Finnegan had been brought in to design the new company's logo, Theresa said VASS/Firebird had been invited to place the first ever satellite advert to be beamed across Europe and asked me if I could put something together ASAP. An hour later, I gave her my copy and the Firebird logo, and the whole lot was transmitted across the EU, giving my name as the initial contact. As a result, we got more sackloads of mail and programs, from many countries.

Rogue Trooper

What ever became of the following game Eye Of The Moon' (Mike Singleton) and Tyger! Tyger! (A Black Tiger clone for C64, by Garry Liddon-adverts for the game did appear in Zzap64)?

Richard

The much missed Mike Singleton got distracted by other games! He was asked to help out on a few projects, and so Eye of the Moon kept being delayed. (I wrote about this in my Retro Gamer article all about Beyond Software, in issue #64). In the end, the moment had passed and Mike had always intended on returning to it. In the end, he wrote LOM III: The Citadel for the PC instead in the mid-90s. I had the lucky job of testing that game and writing the manual that came in the box. Outside of Mike, I think I was the second person to ever read the third LOM novella before it was published with the game. Mike hadn't written much on EOTM for the spectrum but I am aware that someone who worked at Maelstrom Games was also doing some work on a C64 version.

Tyger! Tyger! was unfinished. You'd have to ask Gary Liddon for the reasons, but from what I saw of it at the time (and Games That Weren't 64 managed to resurrect a work-in-progress version a while ago now), it had nice visuals on the C64 but the game itself was fairly standard stuff. Gary tried to make real progress on it by being based in the TelecomSoft office for a few weeks at one point, but it was really a big distraction and the whole thing veered spectacularly off course in the
end.

Rogue Trooper

Did anyone ever win the prize offered in Gyron ( a Porsche 924 LUx or equivalent in cash) and:Did you ever expect them too? at was this the 1 and only time you ever offered such a prize for beating a game?

Richard

Yes. It was won by a young guy from Spain - 16 year old Juan Manuel Perez Vazquez - who won the European heat. He opted for the money as he was too young to drive!

Rogue Trooper

What was the thinking behind the unusual tape cases for games like Chimera (which i loved on A8+C64). They were bigger and a 'clam-like' design. Guessing it was marketing idea?

Richard

That's before my time (James might have answered this one) but I would say that the plastic on those things was very brittle and finding a mint one these days is nigh-on impossible! ;-)

Rogue Trooper

Fond memories of your artwork used in various adverts (Druid, IO, Flying Shark etc) but 2 questions 1)Who did you use? and 2) Given that Flying shark is meant to be set in WW1, how come the plane on the magazine advert is from WWII?

Richard

A number of artists were used. I really only know a few of them. David Rowe did a number of the paintings, including Flying Shark and The Sentinel. Herman Serrano also did a number (and he was also very talented at doing art on the 16-bit computers as well as the traditional paintings used on the boxes). I can't answer the Flying Shark question, but it might have been led by the artwork done for the original Taito coin-op.

Rogue Trooper

Intensity was an unusual game from Andrew braybrook, as it featuredno shooting, did you ever get any complaints from people who'd boughtit expecting something like Uridium?

Richard

Not that I can remember. It was a deliberate decision to do something that wasn't a shoot 'em up. As a side note, that was the very first game I ever professioanlly play-tested on my very first day working for TelecomSoft. It remains one of my favourites too!

Rogue Trooper

Star Trek: Rebel Universe i bought on ST and again on C64, i loved it, but at the time the hype for the ST version which had built up was huge, lot of the press felt very let down by final game, what were the issues which effected it during development?

Richard

Loads! Some of this is second-hand info, as I was only involved with the later PC and C64 conversions. When BT bought Beyond from EMAP, it was felt that a big title needed to mark the event so they went for the Star Trek license and got it. The game design was a bit weak, and Mike Singleton was brought in to try and spruce things up a bit. In the end it just didn't really satisfy anyone; neither the Trek fans, 3D fans, adventure fans, etc. It kind of fell between all those genre stools.

It funny but I became the resident expert on the game when the PC and C64 conversions came around, as I play-tested both. I was asked to write some tips for Commodore User and they ended up calling me the C64 programmer!

Rogue Trooper

Rainbow Islands, developed under Telecomsoft, released via Ocean, care to remind us what happened there?

Richard

TelecomSoft and Graftgold did all the work, then BT sold TelecomSoft to MicroProse and it delayed a number of games from being completed. Rainbow Islands had to be published by a certain date, else Taito could withdraw the license to publish and take the already written conversions with them. It was their prerogative and I also felt at the time that MicroProse didn't have the necessary expertise to deal with a Japanese company like Taito and so they lost the license. Taito already had a relationship with Ocean so they snapped the deal up. Must have been the easiest hit they ever released!

Rogue Trooper

You supported the Atari 8 Bit Range, which was a godsend to likesof myself, few questions on that if you don't mind:

A8 Thrust looked bit naff compared to the C64 version, was it given to different coder? and in general did you 'prefer' the A8 versions of you games to look as close to the C64 version as possible?.2)was very surprised (and delighted) to see Druid ported to A8, how did that come about as it was a very late commercial release for the A8, also word had it the coder of A8 Druid, John Crowdy had been assigned the job of converting Druid II: Enlightenment to the A8, was this true? and if so, did any work begin on it?

Richard

Sorry, I have no info on the general Atari 8-bit side of things. I don't remember seeing anything on Druid 2 for the Atari 8-bit machines by the time I was working at TelecomSoft. I did get to test Druid 2 on the Amiga though, which was Pete Molyneux's first ever game!

Rogue Trooper

Was Ninja Master your worse ever release? LOL, i bought it, it was awful! or would that 'honour' go to don't Buy This'?

Richard

Errr... there are a few that I think were quite bad. Obviously DBT! was meant to be bad. Can you imagine anyone deliberately doing something like that now? I think 'GI Hero' was pretty awful, as was 'Whirligig' and a few budget games I could think of!

James

I came up with the idea for Don't Buy This! Early 1985 (I think), we had employed some young programmers to test new product. Now and then one of them would fall off their chair laughing at some really stupid game they had been given. I asked Andy Watson, Firebird's back-up manager and good all-round man (unfortunately he died, at 29) who ran those testers to chuck the game in question in a bucket and let me know when they got to five. Tony and I then decided to put 5 of those games (so badly written, they were almost good) out as a Firebird Silver (originally 2.50 each and then 1.99) to demonstrate that the Bad Boys from Buzby were busy changing the new BT's image from a dusty old Civil Service organisations to a dynamic international force to be reckoned with.

I wrote a joke press release which the The Times picked and ran a whole page on (they were already impressed by Firebird's games and somehow trusted us not to completely screw out customers, which we hadn't really, cos Don't Buy This was fun, if stupid). The next day, WH Smith ordered 30,000 copies and some point of display (which we had to rustle up quickly for we had no idea this sill game would take off the way it did). Don't know how many copies we sold in the end, but as those five naff programs only cost us 500, it was an unexpected result. And DBT really did help strengthen Firebird's image and distance us, in a nice way, from BT's core business.

Rogue Trooper

A lot of your games featured a Rob Hubbard soundtrack (Thrust,Warhawk, BMX Kidz, I.Ball etc) were you aware a lot of us would buy the C64 versions of your games just for the music? And what happened with review copies of Thrust? Story goes the music was messed up, so it received a lower score than it deserved in Zzap 64.

Richard

Sorry. I don't have any first or second hand knowledge to fall back on.

Rogue Trooper

Star Glider and Weird Dreams ended up being played as part of a saturday morning kids show on ITV (Get Fresh?) how did that come about and did it help sales of those 2 titles?

Richard

I'm pretty sure that Jez (San) told me that Starglider benefited from the TV exposure. Weird Dreams didn't because there was a huge delay between the TV version and the released game due to the sale of Firebird and Rainbird to MicroProse. It also didn't help that the game itself was weird (duh!) and far too hard to play!

Rogue Trooper

The Speccy 128K version of Carrier command was stunning. Not assmooth as ST version, but fast, better sound FX etc, plus had features not found in the 16 Bit version. The C64 version however, very different kettle of fish, top down 2D as C64 CPU too slow to handlethe 3D, but having seen Battle Command on C64 cartridge, did you ever consider releasing a 'Special edition' of Carrier command of C64 cartridge?

Richard

No. To be honest, I don't think anyone really wanted the C64 version at the end. The Spectrum version took so long (partly due to me finding so many bugs in it!) that BT had sold Rainbird off before the last few conversions were finished, and they really didn't put much effort into the C64 version at all. IMHO I don't think it should have been attempted at all, and I think very low sales reflected that opinion. I'm pretty sure that TelecomSoft had never dipped a toe into C64 cartridges and MicroProse certainly weren't going to do that for a format that was almost dead by then.

Rogue Trooper

What 'went wrong' with 'Dynamic Duo'? Coming from the team behind Savage, i expected something rather special, but this turned out to bit of a disaster across all 3 8 Bit micro's. Did you ever consider scrapping the game?

Richard

What could possibly go wrong with a game that involved a duck on a man's head? I can clearly remember thinking that the game had budget written all over it, yet somehow it ended up on the Firebird label instead of Silverbird. No doubt Fergus (Probe's owner) managed to convince a few people to release it at full price due to the strength of Savage! (which was developed under the name 'Roman Games' for a while!)

Rogue Trooper

Re:Star Trek, there were numerous delay's between you announcing you had secured the licence and game appearing on ST, what were the nature of the delays?-also game was originally ST only, it was then converted to the C64- was the conversion an attempt to claw back money on the cost of producing the ST game and securing the licence?

Richard

From what I've been told, it was just slow progress and the delay of getting approval from the US. Stuff had to be sent out to Paramount and it took a while before they'd look at it and comment back. Remember how long ago this was - no email or Internet back then. Also, the ST wasn't big in the US at all so C64 and PC had to be included so the game could be sold in the US.

Rogue Trooper

Was Steve Bak's Goldrunner originally planned as a full game? or did the reaction of him showing off an ST game demo to the PCW show, which proved the ST could cope with high-speed, horizontal, parallax scrolling, in all 16 colours, spur him onto turning it into a full blown game?.

Richard

Err. Goldrunner was by Microdeal. Steve's game for Firebird for Return to Genesis!

Rogue Trooper

Samuari warrior: Battles Of Usagi Yojimbo, made for an unusual choice for conversion to computer, but was a brilliant one (i had and loved the C64 game, picked up a graphic novel, years later, didn't take to it at all), which received great reviews, seemed to have decent advertising, but i never saw a sequel, were sales lower than expected?.

Richard

I think so. The game was 8-bit only at a time when the rising star was 16-bit.

Rogue Trooper

Telecomsoft lured away Graftgold coders of Morpheus+Magnetron at a PCw show, with events developing into a rather public falling out, court hearings, finally a settlement etc. In hindsight, could the situation have been handled very differently and thus avoiding the whole 'dragged through the courts' aspect?

Richard

Yes! (Full story from both sides can be found in two RG articles I wrote in issues #77 for the Hewson perspective and #98 from the BT side). Legally BT felt obliged to throw in an injunction because Graftgold had given Hewson an early development version of Morpheus even though no formal contract ever existed between the developer and the publisher. Clearly Hewson weren't going to publish that version as it was incomplete, but BT's lawyers felt they had to protect the investment they'd just made in signing up Gratfgold and that game in particular. To the men in suits, that was just standard business practice, but to Hewson it seemed a very odd thing to do and it tied up the release in legal knots for over 6 months before a sensible and amicable agreement was reached out of court.

Rogue Trooper

What sort of play testing went into your games? Gothik on C64 for example was frustrating, as screen only scrolled once you got near the edge, so you could walk slap bang into a nasty and Pandora, with it's very Paradroid looking interior of spaceship, was great, but the lack of a save game option was an annoyance.

Richard

Well, I can only say that testing from early '88 onwards was exemplary as that was when I joined as a tester! ;-) Seriously though, testing is a pretty hard and grinding thing to do and sometimes pressure form the Sales and Marketing departments meant that games went out when perhaps a few more weeks tweaking would have been a good idea! Typically any game would have had 2-3 people testing it, sometimes more depending on the title and the number of formats we had to test.

Rogue Trooper

Crosswize (Sidewize II) on the 128K Speccy, didn't seem to take any advantage of the extra Ram, sound seemed no better, no extra levelsetc, still a multi-load etc.any reasons the extra ram wasn't tapped into?.

Richard

Crosswize came fairly late on in the publishing deal with Odin, and 8-bit sales were on the decline by then. Only a few games really took advantage of the 128k to make that extra development effort worthwhile, so it wasn't that unusual to still see plain vanilla 48k games being produced at that time. In fact, only a few of the Firebird releases from that period had 128k enhancements. Most didn't.

Rogue Trooper

How would you describe your relationship with the games press back in the day? people like myself used to use the likes of Zzap 64 as a games buying 'bible' and they often seemed a nightmare to please. How did it feel to see Zzap tearing into your products at times (Gothik 44%, gunstar 38%, Denarius 57%, Pandora 60%, Beam Rider 51% etc etc). Were you ever tempted to write in and say you thought they were being a little unfair/too harsh?.

Richard

Press relationships were love/hate most of the time. There were times when magazines were threatened with advertising revenues being pulled by publishers if certain games weren't looked at in a favourable light. I'm not saying we did this, but it was known to happen! You had to take the rough with the smooth, but there were a few very unfair reviews but on the flipside sometimes games we weren't that happy with got good reviews so it was definitely swings and roundabouts!

Rogue Trooper

Talking of Zzap 64, they mauled one of your more expensive titles, Gerry The Germ, giving it 39%, saving it was too expensive at 7.95 for what it offered (a simple 6 screen arcade game) and would have been better off coming in at 1.99.So, what factors decided what made a game go into which price range?.

Richard

That's a marketing question I can't really answer, but Gerry was actually re-released as a budget game the following year.

Rogue Trooper

Sega's Action Fighter was a pretty obscure coin-op to say the least, how on earth did you end up with the conversion? (and Zzap didn't rate it on either C64 or Amiga either, lol).

Richard

It was probably because it was cheap. That was a period when TelecomSoft signed up a number of coin-op conversions from Japanese companies. Jaleco's P47 was another one that was odd, but sometimes you get a few good ones too. For example, Bubble Bobble wasn't what Firebird was going after. To sign Flying Shark, Bubble Bobble had to be signed up too!

Rogue Trooper

You released a few Sensible software titles ( OH NO! and Galaxibirds for example) who approached who, in terms of getting these games done and out?

Richard

Sensible's first coding job for Firebird was actually a C64 conversion of the Spectrum adventure title Runestone, which Chris Yates polished off in less than two weeks. Unfortunately, an internal dispute meant that Sensible were never paid and the conversion was never published. Firebird claimed that the game ran too slowly, but Jon Hare believed the problem was caused by Firebird's C64 loader. The dispute was never resolved, so the C64 conversion was never released. However, GTW64 managed to unearth a near finished version a few years ago. Galaxibirds was written quite quickly and was perfect for a budget release, but I'd have to ask Jon to try and remember who contacted whom and when!

Rogue Trooper

You bought Odin and had them under contract to produce 10 ? games, but studio was shut down before they released everything they were working on. Were sales well below what you expected? and if so, what would you put that down to?. Also can you shed any light on their unfinished projects, PLOD, RMS Lusitania and the Gladiator type fighting game?

Richard

It's a common misconception that BT bought Odin. BT approached Odin in 1985 and negotiated a contract (paid in monthly installments) to exclusively market Odin's games worldwide for twelve months. The contract specified that Odin would produce ten titles for BT across a number of different publishing platforms. It also included a clause that gave marketing rights to a game back to Odin if Telecomsoft failed to promote the title for a period of six months. For a while, Telecomsoft also used part of Odin's own warehouse space for storing unsold stock of Rainbird, Firebird and Beyond games. The deal ended up going on for longer, mainly due to creative differences between publisher and developer, payment problems and all manner of other issues. By the end of the contract the company had closed and the various management, coders, musicians and artists all went their separate ways.

Rogue Trooper

What happened with EPT (working title which stood for 'Elite Piss Take!) on paper it sounded like an Epic ST/Amiga space opera, with everything Elite did, but you could explore space stations, talk to other space jocks, go into cryo sleep to speed up time etc.

Richard

Starting at the end, EPT finally saw the light of day in 2007 to help mark the 5th anniversary of my web site. The full story and a whole plethora of info is available at http://birdsanctuary.co.uk/ept/i.php.

Rogue Trooper

Did you perhaps feel market was 'too crowded' with games of this type as you had elite, Starglider 1+2, Hewson had Moonfall, Gremlin had FOFT, Space Rogue was out etc. (great working name mind).

Richard

Space games were very popular. If it was good enough, it would have sold regardless.

zapiy

Do you know of any unreleased code that you may still have in a box somewhere?

Richard

The one thing I wish I had done when BT sold us to MicroProse was to have kept copies of stuff that was sitting in drawers in the TelecomSoft office that never got to be finished. There is a photo on my web site showing me next to the filing cabinet that contained everything we were working on, including lost stuff like the Spectrum and CPC versions of Star Trek, Dick Special for the Amiga, Broadsword on the ST, Dragon on the ST, Lazers and Labyrinths on the ST and so on. Developers do sometimes unearth old stuff, like how I was able to bring EPT back to life almost 20 years later. The search goes on, but those versions lie with the developers rather than the publisher if they are out there somewhere.

zapiy

What are you up to these days?

Richard

Apart from my web site and writing for Retro Gamer, I worked in Higher Education at a University in IT Support where I do - amongst other things - IT training.

James

The long answer can be found in About James Leavey (www.jamesleavey.info). The short answer is that I am now in my 66th year and a grandfather and have lived in Cowes, Isle of Wight for the last decade. Currently I am putting together an ebook of the 240 columns I wrote for Virgin Holidays Cruises (see www.jamesleavey.info) - the company moved this summer and all the blogs are currently in limbo, but still online, many of them - mine, anway, featuring kind-of relevant links to one or more youtube videos. I am also putting together a collection of my smoker-friendly travel articles(as former editor of The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London, and Scotland, etc)

As a sideline, I work with two friends, one whom runs The Decent Cigar Emporium in Dublin, for which I write the occasional very politically incorrect blog (this website will betransformed before Christmas and, I'm told, will heavily feature my blogs. Another friend runs www.cigars.co.uk and I help as an occasional PR consultant. I do all this cos I love fine cigars and booze and enjoying life.

zapiy

What would you say was your favourite title from the complete catalogue of games you were directly involved in a


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