HBL Interviews: Andy Green.

HBL

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

Andy

Well, for the many who may have heard of my name before, I’m not the person who did a few Spectrum games back in the day (for Gremlin Graphics). Nor am I the holder of the current land speed record, breaking the sound barrier in the Thrust Supersonic Car. Although when I’m older, I’d love a mobility scooter souped up to look like the Ferrari Testarossa Spider of Sega’s arcade hit, Outrun.

I’m a go-with-the-flow type of guy, now 50 years young, originally standing at 6ft 3″ but shrinking thanks to my alter ego called Arthur Rytis. Not to be sneezed at because if you do, it doesn’t half hurt. I have a wonderful wife, 5 amazing children, and a gorgeous granddaughter, three cats and a puppy who is 5 months old. My wife always says I make her laugh at least once a day, and its one of the things she loves most about me, apart from my rugged good looks, sparkling wit, and sometimes talking too much. Those giant gobstoppers as a gift from my wife were the talking point on our wedding day, except I couldn’t talk.

My hobbies consist of retro gaming, and of course being a 8-bit (and sometimes, 16-bit) pixel artist that I find therapeutic and rewarding seeing my work evolve from a blank canvas to the finished piece.

HBL

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in creating pixel art?

Andy

I’ve always been interested in pixel art since my ZX Spectrum days. The majestic loading screens by talented artists blew me away while waiting for a game to load. That’s of course if a game had a loading screen. So I wanted to have a go at pixel art of some sorts, instead of doing pencil drawings.

Drawing loading screens isn’t something I had really thought of doing in the 1980s and mine were either scenery, olde worlde dwellings or just random doodles using cool art programs like The OCP Art Studio or The Artist. I did a few pictures (I think most were in monochrome) but being young and naive, it never occurred to send my work to software companies as I wouldn’t have really classed them as loading screens and I honestly didn’t think my efforts were that good. A trait of mine to this day, never being entirely happy with screens I’ve done. Sadly, any screens I had saved to cassettes are probably in the Alamogordo landfill site next to Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges. Maybe.

When I “upgraded” from the ZX Spectrum to Amiga 500 in 1986, I spent the early years playing games. It wasn’t until around 1993 to 1995 when I explored pixel art once again using the excellent DPaint and produced a few pictures. There was one picture (entitled ‘Snake Attack’) that was around half complete but abandoned in 1995, when my world was turned upside down and four members of my family died, months apart (including my mum and dad). I completely lost all interest in home computers for a few years.

Fast forward to the Interweb and in 2006 I discover that many folks still had their beloved systems and what’s more, you could use emulators on a PC to replay those classic games so ended up buying the Amiga Forever CD-ROM from Cloanto. However, it wasn’t until 2015 when a kind member on an Amiga forum took on the task of converting my disks I still had that contained my game code, music and artwork, to a PC format that could be loaded into WinUAE (Amiga emulator).

I re-discovered the Snake Attack picture and set about finishing it off in DPaintIII as one of my pet hates is unfinished business. I was extremely pleased with the end result which gave me an amazing buzz to do more pixel art but drawing Amiga screens really is time-consuming as I draw them from scratch. One day, a very good friend suggested I should have a go at doing some pixel art on the Spectrum, seeing as that was where I first started back in the day and I’ve been doing screens ever since!

HBL

What was the first loader screen you made?

Andy

Stop the Express (Hudson/Sinclair, 1983). A superb game at the time which didn’t have a loading screen. Here’s one for retro fans; who remembers the “Congraturation! You Success!” message on completing a level?

I initially used ZX Spectrum art programs when drawing the Stop the Express screen but after a gap of a few decades, found them cumbersome and slow. Either that or my dexterity is now shot to pieces with age. Anyhow, I eventually discovered Multipaint for Windows on the ‘net which is like a stripped down version of Amiga DPaint with limited tools that also exports work in Spectrum file format (SCREEN$) which can be loaded up in the original hardware (or emulation).

HBL

Have you ever coded a game and if yes can you tell us about it?

Andy

I’ve coded a few but these were mainly messabouts while I got used to mastering AMOS Pro on the Amiga.

I did manage to code one full game; Poker Mania, on the Commodore Amiga and typically of me, I was initially reluctant to send it off to a Public Domain company (17-Bit Software Ltd) as I didn’t think it was that good given the number of card games around at the time. It took me six months solid from start to finish to code along with all the graphics and screens.

Poker Mania basically consisted of two halves. The first being to accumulate 100 pounds in the bank by playing Poker and winnings would be based on hand odds (a pair being the lowest and a Royal Flush, the highest). On any wins, there were opportunities to win extra cash by playing a variety of mini-games, like Chase the Ace, or Higher/Lower to name a couple. I think what made the game unique, which worked well, was the introduction of nudges (up to five at a time), just like a fruit machine, you could nudge a card up or down to the next in sequence (providing you didn’t already have it) to get a better hand. If you were lucky, a pair could be turned into four of a kind. All about playing your cards right, as Brucie use to say.

The second part of the game involved playing Pontoon against the computer and trying to win another 100 pounds, a Brucie bonus is added, and then you were rich beyond your wildest virtual dreams!

Unfortunately, by this point, my program code was so vast that I had run out of RAM and the Amiga had to be reset in order to play again. But, at least you got to see a congrats screen and hear my * cough * music. If I remember right, it was a mixture of heavy metal samples, soft rock drums, strings and Jean Michel Jarre’s robotic speech, Revolutions. How’s that for a mash-up? Seriously, I’ll admit it was probably more of an afterthought adding the music.

You could say my fifteen minutes of fame came about from Poker Mania when one day, while flicking through the latest issue of Amiga Format (June ’95) after exiting WH Smiths, I was totally gobsmacked to see my game reviewed, and a very positive one too. Other Amiga magazines also featured glowing reviews including a Game of the Month in Amiga Action.

HBL

Which one of your loader screens are you the proudest of and why?

Andy

I’m quite proud of the  screen as it contains a lot of detail and colour. Coping with attribute clash was quite challenging too. Note: Apparently a ZX Spectrum version of Toki is in the works (not by me).

But, if I’m totally honest, my personal favourite is for a new Spectrum homebrew game being released early next year; a sequel to Nixy by Andy Johns. I would say it’s the best screen I’ve done to date.

HBL

Which game caused you the most headaches?

Backpackers Guide to the Universe Part 1 stands out more than any other. This was one of those screens where I think I tried TOO hard to replicate the game inlay artwork which is nigh on impossible given the humble Spectrums limited colour palette and resolution. I kept abandoning it and re-trying and eventually after about the fourth attempt, I succeeded. In fact, if anyone has seen the timeline video on my pixel art page, something rather rude pops up in one frame done in frustration. Oops!

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Andy

In a way, no, but have to say it’s fantastic. I’ve been into games ever since the likes of Boot Hill or Super Bug hit the arcades in the late 1970’s and it’s been an amazing journey and experience watching arcade games and home video games evolve over the years with innovative and original ideas.

But now it’s reached a point with current generation consoles where games are so vast, new AAA titles are taking longer to produce (although sequels still seem to be the order of the day…). And the turnout of new top quality games is far from what it was like back in the 1980s or 1990s where the market did end up getting rather saturated but nevertheless, some great classics to be had!

So in between waiting for AAA games, there are tons of indie games along with retro-inspired games so it’s no surprise that some have gone a step further and playing games of yesteryear even to the extent of buying the original hardware and games.

My sons love Fortnite but when they’ve had enough, they like nothing more than to play something like the Rare Replay classics. Jetpac by Ultimate Play the Game is a favourite!

HBL

Who in the industry from the early days and now do you most admire and why?

Andy

To be honest, and I’m ashamed to admit, I was rather ignorant back in the day not really knowing the talented people behind the games other than the developer/publisher. Since I got back into retro gaming in 2006 I take a very keen interest into getting to know the faces behind the games; who they are, how they got into the business, what they are up to now and so on. I’m now friends with a few famous names from back in the day and it did seem surreal at first talking to them knowing the games they were involved. I feel like a kid looking up to idols!

There were so many talented game developers so I’ll name a few: Costa Panyai (Vortex) for his totally original and innovative games on the ZX Spectrum. I still play his games when I get the chance! Jim Bagley, who has done an incredible amount of stuff over the years and is still going strong, working on the ZX Spectrum Next (with the rest of the team).

In terms of loading screens, Mark R Jones (Ocean) did some top-notch pixel art. I’m also a fan of the late Bob Wakelin, especially the numerous game inlay art he had produced.

When it comes to game music, musicians Allister Brimble and Bjorn Lynne (Dr Awesome) spring to mind, especially for great tunes on the Amiga. I have a few of their CD’s.

HBL

You have made some pixel art and in particular loading screens for some recent homebrew titles, how did this come about?

Andy

After being persuaded to start my own pixel page on Facebook and posting a few alternative game loading screens, I was inboxed by a coder who has done a few homebrew titles asking if I would be interested in doing a new loading screen for Zukinox, a game that had already been released as he wasn’t happy with his scanned effort. Bearing in mind that at that point, I hadn’t really done anything original other than copy game inlay artwork. and as I do like a challenge, I agreed to do one. All I had to go on was the story and a graphic sprite of a small ship. I used that as the basis, filling up nearly the whole screen with a detailed space ship and adding a backdrop consisting of a launch pad, mountains and a starry sky. Lucky for me, he was ecstatic with the results and I’ve done more for him since, and a few other people as well, of whom I’ve become great friends with.

HBL

Which games have you made art for, whether that’s loader screens, sprites or whatever?

Andy

Well, I have got carried away somewhat and there are far too many to list but a very good friend is currently assembling a fantastic looking book containing all my pixel art and bits and bobs to date, initially as a personal keepsake but more copies could be printed if there is enough interest.

HBL

Which 5 of your loading screens are your favorites and why?

Andy

1. New Zealand Story: The Amiga version was a brilliant arcade port yet also fiendishly difficult and it has only taken me 20 odd years to finally complete it! I never knew a Spectrum version existed until a few years ago and while it’s never my intention to discredit any original loading screen artist, I really admired Bob Wakelin’s inlay art and did originally think it would be too hard to replicate on the Spectrum. So I started off by drawing Tiki the Kiwi first (who you control in the game), then added all the other characters one by one, slightly padding each one to minimise colour clash and to my surprise, everything slotted into place relatively smoothly. A very colourful screen I’m very proud of and a fitting tribute to the late Bob Wakelin.

2 Wheelie: This is a game I loved and played for many hours on end as the gameplay was quite original for its time. The loading screen is partially a custom one. The motorbike was copied from the re-released inlay artwork, the Routemaster buses from a photo, and everything else is the original game graphics, blown up in size. The number 5 bus in the screen was one I use to take to/from work (Isle of Dogs) in the late 1980s.

 

 

3. River Raid: A true classic by Carol Shaw that many will remember on the Atari 2600 and ported to many other systems. The original loading screen I thought was a bit bland so to do the game justice, I copied the brilliant inlay artwork but I’ve never been able to trace who the original artist is to give credit,

 

 

 

4. Astronaut Labyrinth (Homebrew game): Although copied from an original painting by ‘Starder’, I was really pleased with the transition to the Spectrum giving the illusion of depth and a feeling of ‘being there’.

 

 

 

 

5. Doomsday Castle: The sequel to The Pyramid, another I had done a screen for (and excellent games by the way) is based on the inlay artwork which, in my opinion, looked a little ‘washed out’ so I strived to give it a more vibrant look with the shiny castle facade atop a perilous landscape and striking backdrop to bring it all together.

HBL

Any thoughts about getting more involved yourself with a homebrew project?

Andy

Certainly not to the extent of coding a game as it’s too time-consuming. I’ve had my day and 15 minutes of fame so I’m quite happy to provide loading screens and/or game sprites/graphics for the talented people who code the games. I have been involved in a few projects already, such as playtesting, and providing 11 mission based screens for Richard Langfords excellent ZX Spectrum nostalgia filled game, Project ZX2 (Windows).

HBL

How long does each loader screen take to create?

Andy

If I’m drawing an alternative loading screen for a game, the majority of these are based on the original game inlay art or other media (like magazine adverts) and depending on the level of detail, anything from 5 to 10 hours.

If it’s an original screen, for example, one required for a new homebrew game, I normally request some basic ideas as to what the coder would like and take it from there. These screens can take around 10 hours plus as I provide WIP updates to ensure it meets the game developers criteria.

HBL

Talk us through a typical process of making a loading screen?

I hand draw them (with a mouse) pixel by pixel or do a rough sketch using the line tool to define objects, characters, etc. and then applying details/colour/shading after. With every picture I’ve done, I try to save my work in progress often using a numbered file system. Two benefits; one – in case I don’t like what I’ve done and can revert to an earlier saved file, and two – creation of timeline videos so people can see these unfold step by step from beginning to end.

HBL

You have created pixel art based on TV Shows, Amiga games and much more, can you tell us the inspiration of some of these, especially Auf Wiedersehen Pet & First Samurai?

Andy

Auf Wiedersehen Pet was a TV programme I absolutely loved watching with my parents and I did have high expectations of the game. Sadly, the game was pants! An unfortunate waste of a tie-in license. Even Oz (Jimmy Nail) on the original loading screen looked miserable and disgusted with the game! The screen I did with the whole cast was more fan art than anything and to get over my personal hurdle of drawing faces but my screen did get integrated into the original game to do it justice.

First Samurai is a brilliant well-designed platform game that I thoroughly enjoyed on the Amiga. Prior to this particular title, I had done ZX Spectrum mock-up in-game screens for Another World and Flashback, purely for fun. What I didn’t expect was such a positive reaction from social network groups discussing the possibilities of the aforementioned games being made for real! So who knows… maybe one day.

The same reaction also occurred with the First Samurai mock-up screen. To the extent that Mevlut Dinc (co-founder of Vivid Image) and Jim Bagley (games programmer) would be greatly interested in First Samurai gracing the ZX Spectrum Next! I repeat; who knows… maybe one day…

HBL

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

Andy

Namely ZX Spectrum games I had back in the day that didn’t have a loading screen. Drawing these brings back happy gaming memories. To name a few: Stop the Express, Quazatron, The Pyramid, 3D Tunnel, Chuckie Egg and Maziacs.

No particular games around now give me any inspirations if I’m honest.

HBL

Are you a retro gamer and what games do you like to play?

Andy

Definitely a retro gamer at heart as I have no interest in modern fangled current gen consoles (sorry!), The PS2 was my last. Or put it another way; I don’t have time for them. Games have become so vast, then you’ve got your add-ons, DLC’s, skins, makeup, whatever you like to call them, and while it’s all clever to retain the game players interest, I much prefer the pickup and play of retro games and a lot of them were also very difficult. Wasn’t that long ago that I discovered many other retro gamers found some games (especially 8 bit) were hard as nails to play or even complete, which is a relief as many a time I thought it was just me not actually being a true retro gamer at all!

I don’t really have a list of favourite games as I tend to change my mind like the weather. But I do have an all-time firm favourite and that is Slam Tilt on the Amiga. The pinnacle of pinball simulation after the likes of Pinball Dreams, Fantasies and Illusions. Gets loaded up at least once a week. Other games that I play when I get the chance varies on the mood I’m in. For examples; slow-paced: Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis or Monkey Island – marvellous point and click adventures, or The Settlers, a brilliant strategy game. Ramp up the ante and it’ll be something like Slam Tilt, SWIV, Back to Skool, Mazogs or even 3D Monster Maze (last two were ZX81 games).

HBL

Favourite system and why?

Andy

I loved both the ZX Spectrum and Amiga and as much as I loved my Speccy with all those innovative and original games, my favourite is the Commodore Amiga 1200 as I did practically everything on that amazing machine; typing and printing documents, composing music in OctaMED (still got those choons somewhere although I’d only listen to them if you need a reason for a headache), pixel art (using DPaint), programming in AMOS Pro, and of course, the countless memorable games.

HBL

What is up next for you?

Andy

Nothing specific up my sleeve aside from what I’ve been doing but hoping to do some pixel art on the ZX Spectrum Next, having been gifted one recently by a good friend. Amazing machine! And maybe try to fit in some Amiga pixel art too. We’ll see how the year pans out.

Finally

A huge thanks to Andy for chatting to us, you can see all of Andy’s work on ZX Art or Facebook, we will also keep you updated on any future homebrew projects that Andy is involved with.

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1 Response

  1. Dave King says:

    Top bloke & top talent.

    Deserves all plaudits for his art.

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