Homebrew Legends Interview: Allan Turvey.

Allan TurveyWe love to dig deep in to the homebrew scene and bring you some interesting interviews here at Homebrew Legends. This time we chat to Allan Turvey, Allan is best known in and around the Spectrum Homebrew scene for hacks to games like Tiny Airwolf and his Terrapins arcade conversion. Those interested in AGD (Arcade Game Designer) will also be familar with Allan as he is prominent within this part of the community also.

Enjoy

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

Allan

My name is Allan. I’m a balding, middle-aged grumpy man who likes tinkering with old computers. Apparently I’m not alone in any of the above. Oh, I also live and work in Kazakhstan, which I guess is a little different.

HBL

What was the first game you created?

Allan

Well, let me give you some background info. I got a Dragon 32, I guess it was Christmas ’82. I also got a ‘multipack’ tape. As with most multipack tapes most of the games were terrible, although it did provide me with my first experience of a text adventure which fascinated me. So I got a book on making games for the Dragon. It was called ‘Enter the Dragon’ – it even had a Chinese dragon on the front. To me Bruce Lee was like an actual real life superhero and so I got the book. As you might imagine, I was somewhat underwhelmed when I discovered that, unlike the movie, there was no epic fight scene in a hall or mirrors. Fortunately I hadn’t actually seen the movie at that point so my disappointment there is completely retrospective. The book featured a series of type in programs from which I learned a lot. This resulted in me making a game in which two players moved their robots around in a maze and tried to kill each other. Like a cross between Combat and Berzerk. But given the robots were just squares, it was certainly no Fist of Fury.

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Allan

Gosh, no. It’s like asking if I’m surprised that people still like the Beatles or Bob Dylan. Some stuff is timeless isn’t it? I’m not really one for sentimental nostalgia though, I like stuff which I would call classic rather than pure retro. I don’t like retro for the sake of it – like as a fashion statement, or when it’s just blatant appropriation. Nor do I see it as an escape from the present as I guess many seem to. I like, say, pacman because it’s just a brilliantly fun game. I think a lot of it should be left in the past – after all, nobody really listens to the Bay City Rollers anymore do they? Truth is, what I really love about the hobby now is learning and discovering so many new things that I didn’t know back then. I won’t deny that it does make me feel like a kid again, it does give me a little sense of wonder – but it’s not what you would call nostalgia – it’s exciting because most of it is new to me!

HBL

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?

Allan

Unfinished games you say? What kind of a developer do you think I am? I finish every single project I start! Apart from about 95% of them. I have no idea just how many unfinished games I have but it might be more than the number of screens in Jet Set Willy. I haven’t counted either of these things, but I know that in both cases it’s quite a lot. Perhaps I should make a Jet Set Willy style game with each screen being a game I’ve never finished. But if I start doing that, I’ll never finish it.

HBL

What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Allan

As you might tell from my somewhat limited output, my biggest inspiration is still classic arcade games. In many ways they are the original homebrew, often coded by one or two people. To me they are like what the Blues is to modern music – almost all of gaming has its roots in those old machines. I’m a huge fan of Eugene Jarvis who, aside from the obvious Robotron 2084 and Defender, also made some fantastic pinball tables like F14 Tomcat which I love. Another great game of his is Blaster which is a remarkable achievement for 1983 and so trippy! Jarvis was a massive influence on the much loved Jeff Minter of course. From a gaming perspective I’m so happy I lived through that era, it was very exciting, much like the 60s for music I guess, or movies in the 70s, which again I love. In fact that would pretty much sum me up – give me music from the 60s, movies from the 70s and games from the 80s, and I’ll be sorted for life!

HBL

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features title-to-title? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)

Allan

All of the above! But you know, that’s really what makes it fun. If you can’t handle the limitations, you might as well be coding on a modern machine – sometimes you hit a really tricky problem and you’re sure it can’t be done, and then you hit on a new angle and it’s very satisfying. Coding on these old machines is a lot like playing chess – it’s an ancient game that is easy to pick up but impossible to know completely, and thus can still surprise you. I like surprises!

HBL

Do you have a favourite game that you were involved with?

Allan

I honestly haven’t been directly involved in that many games, although I suppose with all my demos and tutorials I hope that I’ve chipped in on quite a few, which is a nice feeling. I do really like Roust though because Joust is such an unconventional quirky game and I don’t think it was ever done properly on the Spectrum. I hope I did it justice.

HBL

Are you a gamer yourself?  Do you own any retro systems?  Modern systems?

Allan

Not as much as I was. I find coding much more fun. But I used to have a huge, huge collection. Well over 100 machines and probably about 5000 games. I had four arcade machines in my front room including a six-slot Neo-Geo which I loved. I still own it but its on loan. A large part of my collection had to be sold when I moved here sadly. But there was a time when you name it, I had it. I still have some real gems back home – Pioneer Laseractive, Hitachi Hi-Saturn, PC Engine LT, that kind of thing, plus some real gaming rarities like Panzer Dragoon Saga, Wily Wars and Zelda’s adventure. And apart from the latter (obviously) I did play them quite a bit. Oh, and I still have the jewel in my collection which is a Parker Brothers store display for the Atari 2600. You can switch between games and choose the one you want. You can also count the number of these in the world on one hand. .

HBL

When you’re not working on games what are some of your favorites to play?

Allan

Well, I could reel off a load of classics that most people play and I do love the classics but I’m going to go for something different to make the answer more interesting. I’ve always had a thing for twin stick games, or games which need a special controller of some kind such as a spinner. There are some real classics that don’t get the love they deserve because they aren’t designed for a single stick. Crazy Climber from Nichibutsu is a wonderful game, but you have to play it with the twin sticks. Mad planets (Mega Apocalypse on the Spectrum / c64) is another example – joystick and spinner combination. Brilliant, and just not the same with out it. Not to mention Robotron, Tempest and Karate Champ. Oh, and let’s not forget Virtual On – so underrated because it just doesn’t shine without the proper controls. I was lucky enough to play it in the arcade quite a few times and it’s epic.

HBL

What company back in the day did you most admire and why?

Allan

Well, I have to go with the hipster gamers here and say Toaplan / Cave / Raizing, Treasure and of course Sega, mainly because Yu Suzuki is just the boss as far as I’m concerned. If you want something a little more obscure that makes me sound knowledgeable I’ll mention Nichibutsu again because of Crazy Climber, Moon Cresta and such. I would walk miles just to play Moon Cresta back then. Their games aren’t all time classics by any means but they have this weird quirky charm like a band you like and you can’t quite say why. Plus they released a game called Booby Kids.

HBL

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?

Allan

Well, as I said, it’s just a fun challenge isn’t it? A way to learn more about old computers and keep the old grey matter active. It’s nice to see people getting enjoyment from the work I do as well.

HBL

Are you doing all the development individually?

Allan

In one sense I’m a lone bedroom coder and the core coding I do myself, but I like working with others and they can often help add the bangs and whistles that make the game shine that little bit brighter – David Saphier gave up a fair bit of time to help me with both Roust and Terrapins, especially with the music which just wouldn’t be there without him – he taught me loads when I was first learning assembly, and Craig Howard has also chipped in with loading screens and background graphics which again really help a game to stand out.

HBL

Terrapins is a stunning game, what was the inspiration for this game?

Allan

Oh, I wouldn’t call it stunning. It’s just an old arcade conversion of another not so well known but really fun early 80s arcade game, with some nice polish from David and Craig. People seem to like it though which is great. I guess the nice thing about it was that it kind of made me known in the homebrew community, it was like a rite of passage in that respect, you know, finally get a Spectrum game published on a tape.

HBL

You have done some hacks like the Tiny Airwolf one, what’s the inspiration behind these?

Allan

Again, it’s just fun isn’t it? Something new. Despite its bad press, I’ve always like the Airwolf game. So I asked David to put the original music into it. Then Craig got involved and wanted to help put a more realistic helicopter in there – so many people hated that original helicopter sprite. Once that was done I wondered what would happen if I made the sprite really small, and it turned out it made the game a bit easier and more fun. Just don’t ask about us putting the Benny Hill theme into Benny Hill’s Madcap Chase – I hate to admit it, but it’s still the most popular thing I’ve been involved with! I just hope Don Priestley isn’t too miffed – I heard he never really liked the game and my idea ended up bringing it back from out of the shadows. Such a silly game, but it did make me laugh.

HBL

Whats up next for the homebrew scene from you?

Allan

Well, I’m still working hard on AGDX and doing some more tutorial videos. I’ve got a version of Pacman / Ms Pacman that should get done fairly soon, and I have another conversion in the pipeline but I’m not announcing it yet, there’s still a lot to do. And then I’ll dig out a few more of those unfinished projects and see where I get.
Q: Have you ever thought about releasing games for the SNES, Megadrive or Amiga?
Oh for sure. I’m still learning so much about programming the Z80 on the Spectrum but I can see myself branching out eventually. The Master System for example, isn’t so different to the Spectrum, and I have a bit of a soft spot for that machine, underdog that it often is. I did actually release software on the Amiga – I developed a program called CMED which let you edit and build your own save games on Amiga Championship Manager. It made it onto a coverdisk, though I doubt many people remember it.

HBL

Can you tell us about your use of AGD? I’m currently making a little game with it and yours give me inspiration to carry on.

Allan

That’s nice to know. I started using AGD about a year ago, and was pleasantly surprised at what was possible. In truth it’s what brought me back to coding. I have huge respect for the author, Jonathan Cauldwell, for creating something that has opened up game development for so many of us. He was also incredibly generous in giving me access to the source code which has meant both David and I could work on AGDX. AGD was originally designed to work on an actual spectrum and is designed as such. These days most people use emulators, and that’s really the idea behind AGDX – hopefully it takes out some of the long winded work that is involved in old school coding and helps people be more productive. The nice thing about the Spectrum scene is that it has one of the most active homebrew scenes out there, and, as I said, that’s what I love to see – You treasure the past but keep learning and pushing things forward, and homebrew is a nice way to do that whilst still keeping to the bedroom coder roots.

Finally

A huge thanks to Allan for taking the time to chat with us, keep watch us for more from Allan in the near future.

Also you can support Allan and purchase some of his creations HERE

 

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