Coding with the stars... On Ice!
Ok everyone it's time for another trip through the Portal to meet one of those people who light up the gaming scene, this time however make sure you wear a tie and for the love of god sit up straight because RGG is in the presence of real history.
Megatron finally gets the chance to speak to one of his heroes and an actual games industry veteran who's work helped to mould him into the retro geek he proudly has become.
Meet Jim Bagley, father, husband, lover of bikes and above all else (for meg's anyway) coder of the highest order. If you know then you understand how pleased we are to meet this guy, if you didn't know then prepare to be blown away!
Megatron meets his maker!
Hands up if you remember OCEAN software!..... Fantastic, you are one of the cool kids. Now keep those hands up if you remember a developer called Special FX.
Chances are you fall into one of two camps here folks, camp one are people who are simply not old enough to remember the 1980's home computer scene which makes me sad panda face but all is not lost after all that's what RGG is here for.
Camp 2 are us old farts who grew up praying at the altar of the church of OCEAN and the many developers who worked for and with them of which Special FX were....Pardon the terrible pun.... Special!
In the 80's and early 90's arcade games ruled the world, everything was directly influenced by them and the dream was to bring that excitement from those dark noisey rooms into the home, very few developers could pull it off and Special FX were one of them however one man didn't just pull it off he did it with ease and in such style it made you wonder if he knew something others simply didn't
RGG are over the moon to present to you an interview with a coding legend, the one and only Jim Bagley....Lord Admiral of the Sea (that means he owns the Ocean - Yeah i know it's a crap pun) I will get my coat, you lot read...
The meet and greet, hero worship as standard...
RGG: Firstly let me get this out of the way, your one of my childhood heroes and so many of your games made me smile from ear to ear, how does hearing praise about your work make you feel all these years later, is it fist punch in the air awesome or humbling, or both?
JIM: Haha, thank you very much, it's both fist punch in the air awesome and hugely humbling as back in the day, we never got any feedback from the players, well it certainly wasn't passed back to me at least if there was haha, we were always well onto the next game by the time the game was in the shops anyway. Also, for some reason I only thought they were sold in the UK and not globally, but the games were huge around the globe!
I remember back sometime in 2003, I went into the office, for the first time, it was in London, and I worked remotely, and there was a Greek guy there nicknamed Gore, anyway, he got down and did the we're not worthy thing, as to him I was a legend, it was bizarre, and that was the first time that it had ever happened, basically he grew up playing my games, and they held many great and happy moments in his childhood, and now to actually be working with me, it was a huge honour to him, so yeah it's bizarre, yet totally humbling, as when I was writing the games, I wasn't really thinking about the players, I was given a job to make a game, or conversion of an arcade game, or making a game of a movie, so I just tried to make it something that I would enjoy playing, as I knew I never got feedback from players, only myself, family and friends.
RGG: After looking through your history (we do our research at RGG) I noticed a lot of work for the Amstrad, was this a particular format you liked yourself or something you just found more fun to work with?
JIM: The reason I did Amstrad work, was because no-one else in the office wanted to do Amstrad, plus it was only Joffa and I who did Z80, and the Spectrum screen was only 6K to update, whereas the Amstrad's screen was 16K, so I guess I got the short straw for that one, since Joffa was also one of the bosses lol, the problem is, because of the quick turnaround times, I didn't have much time to actually get to experiment and R&D better ways to use the Amstrad, well that and the fact that I wrote the Spectrum version of most of my Amstrad games too, so it made sense, speed wise, to use spectrum graphics, rather than have to re-write the game to use the commodore maps and sprites etc.I have stated that I would someday like to go back and do a 16colour version of Midnight Resistance or Cabal, to do the games justice for the Amstrad. :)
RGG: Whose side were you on during the 8-Bit home computer war, Speccy, C64, Amstrad, Other??? And why?
JIM: Speccy obviously, because the games had more gameplay and the pixels weren't oblong bricks that blended into a brown blur. ;) even if the C64 did have the awesome SID chip for audio. Don't get me wrong, the C64 did have some awesome games too, but the Speccy had more, and was leader of the class :D And while I've not mentioned the Amstrad here, there was some awesome games for the Amstrad also, just not enough of them, I guess due to the huge display size, although thanks to it's own monitor it's pixels although fat, were a lot clearer than the C64's pixels, although why they had an option of a green screen for a colour computer, I'll never understand that one haha
Origin's of the coin up convertor...
RGG: Tell us all about the very first game you worked on that was published. What was it called, what was it about, what did you do and what was the public reception of it including reviews from the then popular magazines of the time (if you can remember that is)
JIM: The very first game that I worked on that was published was strangely enough a huge game for a noob to get given, it was called Throne Of Fire, and was a game designed by the late awesome Mike Singleton of Lords of Midnight fame, among others :D not long after leaving school, I went into a local computer shop, as I did quite often after school, looking at the games, and chatting with the guys running the shop, anyway, I asked them if there was any local computer games companies locally, thinking they'd all be down south, little did I know at the time, the North West ( where I live ) was pretty much the birth place of the games industry, anyway, they said yeah there was a couple haha, and I asked them to get me a phone number, so I could ask about a job, and got an interview, and was hired, and not only given a project to do, but one that was designed by a legend, about 3 feuding princes wanting to gain the throne to a castle based on top of a volcano.
RGG: When looking through your C.V. the company OCEAN jumps out a mile, can you tell us all the games you worked on for them please, pick your favourite top 3 and explain what made them special for you.
JIM: Yeah, although I was never on the Ocean payroll, as I worked for Special FX, and we wrote a good few of the Ocean titles, I personally wrote 11 games for Ocean over a period of 4 years.
1, Gutz, for the Spectrum, which was an original design, i.e. not an arcade conversion, or movie tie-in.
2, Batman Caped Crusader, for Amstrad, which was also an original design, based on a comic book look.
3&4 Red Heat, for Spectrum and Amstrad, which was my first Movie tie-in, that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi
5&6 Cabal, for Spectrum and Amstrad, which was my first Ocean Arcade conversion of a shoot-em-up.
7&8 Midnight Resistance, for Spectrum and Amstrad, which was my second and last arcade conversion.
9,10&11 Hudson Hawk, for Spectrum, Amstrad and Nintendo Gameboy, which was my last Movie tie-in and also the last games I wrote for Ocean.
My top 3 Ocean games that I wrote would be in favourite order first, Midnight Resistance, Cabal, Gutz. I'm most proud of these games, as with both Midnight Resistance and Cabal, I managed to squeeze everything that was in the arcade versions into the Spectrum, not only that, but I had the games displaying lots of colours with minimal colour clash, with lots of baddies and lots of bullets, and even every little cut scene in Midnight Resistance was in the Spectrum version. :) and Gutz was an enjoyable game to write, I learnt how to do Joffa's "Push scroll" and enhanced it a little to make the rib cage section that you run through between levels, plus I put a lot of colour pulsing in the menus, multiple colours per attribute.
Coding through the years...
RGG: Is there anything you would do differently if given a time machine from those days? A game you would have said YES to or indeed turned down?
JIM: Haha, good question, but I've enjoyed making the games I've made, if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I'd probably do the same games anyway, besides, we didn't really have a choice, it was you're doing this game next. ;)
RGG: We see that you worked a lot with the original Gameboy, was that console just so fantastic because it was so much like an instant loading version of a spectrum?
JIM: Haha yeah, I loved working on the Original Gameboy, because I used to think, what the Spectrum games would of been like if it had hardware sprites like the Gameboy, 64 little ones though, not 8 big fat ones like the C64. :D and smooth character scrolling would of been nice too! But I guess the fact that the Spectrum was a bare bones computer, with no hardware help, kinda made it what it is today, because the programmers had to make the most of it, as it wasn't an easy ride like the C64 :)
RGG: Whilst searching through the database of games you programmed Megatron’s_Fury noticed you worked on only 1 game for Sega’s master system (Ultimate Soccer) So our question is this….. Do you also love Transbot and would you be interested in helping to create the much needed and hugely sought after by real Sega fans sequel Transbot 2?
JIM: Haha yeah, Although I only published one game for the Master System, I actually worked on two games for it, Ultimate Soccer and Striker/Ultimate Soccer 2, which I was dropped so I could do the Megadrive version. As for Transbot 2, I've not seen Transbot, until just googling a youtube video of it, which didn't show it in a good light, as some guy was saying how bad it is, I did enjoy working on the SMS, but I do have too much on with my own projects that I want to do first. :D so maybe in a couple of years, ask me again.
RGG: Not many people knew this until now but Strike Force Hydra is one of Megatron’s_Fury’s little favourites, he is responsible for selling many copies of this PS ONE game during his ownership of an indie games shop, as the programmer on this what are your memories and thoughts of it?
JIM: Cool, I'm glad it sold well, again I never heard sales figures, so have no idea how well it sold. Basically when I joined Ignition, the company was in dire need of finishing 10 games to get published, some guys were working on the GBA version of Strike Force Hydra, and I was given IK+ and Super Dropzone to do on GBA and to then do it on PS1, but because I did them quickly, I was also given a game called World Tennis Stars to do, and a game called Animal Snap, which was my game idea as they only had 8 titles ( 4 for GBA and again for PS1 ) but needed 10.
I managed to finish them all and convert them to the PS1, and got given the PSX version of Strike Force Hydra to do, as the programmers who did the GBA version moved on elsewhere, and as I was a fast coder, it was easier and faster for me to write the game from scratch by looking at the original game, and doing one of what I call my "Visual ports", where I play the game, and see how it plays/feels and how the baddies move and interact with me, then I replicate it, but as I know my own code and code style I find I can do it a lot quicker that way, than having to read through someone else’s source code. as I used my Visual port method when I wrote IK+ and Super Dropzone. :)
Peeking behind the creator's curtain...
RGG: Those in the retro scene know that remakes are a speciality of yours, talk us through some of the classics you have gone back to, why you did them and what plans have you for more for the future?
JIM: Yeah, I like doing remakes, bringing the classics back :D my first was space invaders, which I would always write when getting a new piece of hardware, like when I got the original Gameboy dev kit to do Hudson Hawk, I wrote space invaders for it, as I knew that once I had something on the screen and having input from controllers, I could write anything on it, within reason obviously haha. I've also done a few remakes of Matthew Smith's Manic Miner, a few times, as I loved playing that game back in the day, first on a Micro-controller chip from Parallax.com called the Propeller, which is a great little chip, that I've made a few games for, I even did a Pac Man hardware version of Manic Miner called PacManicMinerMan, which even got a cabinet purposely built for it courtesy of Craig Turner at Turnarcades.com :D and the awesome 3D Monster Maze from Malcolm Evans for the ZX81, I've written this first for a PIC microcontroller and the Propeller, and I've written Scramble, Dragon's Lair, Frogger, Head Over Heals, all for the Propeller.
Why did I do them? because I love making games, and they were all classics and because I can :D
Do I have more planned for the future, you bet!I intend to soon finish JetPacMan ( for PacMan arcade PCB ), and WCWreckItRalph90 ( for World Cup 90 arcade PCB ), and Pac3DDeathChaseMan ( for PacMan arcade PCB ) :D oh and of course Double Dragon ( for Speccy ) lol.
RGG: Let’s find out what the creators play shall we…. It’s late and your at home, it’s been a long old day of coding and being generally awesome when a knock at the door brings you to the front of the house, this must be that pizza you ordered. But WAIT!!! It’s not, it’s the entire original Sinclair User magazine team and they have decided to kidnap you and take you to their old offices to sit and play games.It seems that they have also taken your pizza and wont return it to you until you list your top 5 games of all time and which machines they are from, those evil bastards eh? Better tell them and us your choices…
JIM: As it's Sinclair User magazine team, I should do a top 5 Speccy games. ( in no particular order ) I've not included any of mine, as that would be wrong haha
1. Manic Miner
2. 3D DeathChase
4. Chase HQ
5. Green Beret
RGG: Whilst we are in the ballpark do you remember your very fist gaming purchase? What was it and for what computer / console and how did it make you feel?
JIM: Haha yeah my "first" gaming purchase, it was 3D Monster Maze for the ZX81 it was an awesome feeling, as it was also my first 16K game, I had just got the 16K expansion for my birthday, I had had a ZX81 for a little while, and had been making my own little games in basic, as much as I could for 1K, as I had the games that came with the ZX81 when I got it, but now that I had 16K this was amazing, and loading 3D Monster Maze, not only was it awesome, it was fast as it had machine code in it also, and I was mesmerised by the simple yet effective exit door, and the huge T-Rex graphics, as it ran towards you and ate you haha which just intensified my thirst for knowledge and understanding of making games.
RGG: If you could pick any game in history that you wish you had made what game would it be and why?
JIM: That's a hard one to choose, as there have been many fantastic games over the years. If I had to choose just one ( which I do now apparently haha ) it would probably have to be 3D Monster Maze, ( which I have written a clone of ) basically because it was the first home computer game that I got, and the one that made me want to learn more than just basic programming, I wanted to learn machine code too! as you could only do so much in basic before it started getting slow, yes it would have been lovely to have written Mario, or Sonic etc for bigger fame, but it'd have to be 3D Monster Maze for me. It showed me that the machine doesn't have to be powerful to display powerful images immersing you in a virtual 3D world with the ability to instil the fear of being chased by a T-Rex :)
Let's play in the here and now shall we...
RGG: Let’s talk about the present, tell our readers what Jim Bagley is doing now, spill the beans sir!
JIM: At the moment I'm putting the finishing touches on Apple Bob for Windows 8 Mobile, and Windows 8 PC, I'm also working on some other projects, that are on the sidelines at the moment whilst paying work takes the forefront, as I need to pay my bills also lol these projects are in no particular order Double Dragon Remake for ZX Spectrum, Wreck It Ralph for World Cup 90 Arcade PCB hardware, Wreck it Ralph for ZX Spectrum, 3D Death Chase for Pac Man Hardware, they will all get finished at sometime, I don't know when yet, as real work takes the priority.
RGG: What are your thoughts on the booming indie scene right now? How does it compare to the home computer days of the 80’s?
JIM: I like the fact that it's booming, I'm not liking the Free2Play method though that everyone seems to be employing, for 2 simple reasons!
1. It destroys the gameplay, as they make it annoying and impossible to beat levels unless you pay!
2. It preys on the people who will pay and pay and pay, making it free for those who don't want to pay for a game! Which to me is ethically wrong, I know there will come a time when I'll have to fold and do it. but I prefer not to, whilst I can.
You have parents giving their children a bad time because they were stupid enough to give them access to their account, to be able to build up huge bills! and I mean when has a next gen triple A game cost £300+ to play? ( OK, WOW and the likes don't count! haha nor does having to buy the console also! :D ) and some of you will say, but you don't need to pay £300+ to play it, that's because they're using those £300+ players to recoup the development costs for those who don't pay a penny to play it, and the only way to stop this kind of behaviour is to stop downloading the "FREE" games. But that'll never happen because the majority of the downloaders are people who won't pay for it anyway.
Other than that, I think the Indie scene is awesome! I've enjoyed being in it, it's given me time to write games I want to write, to allow my creativity to flow again, like it did back in the early days, it seems more like a procedure now, you're only given a small part to do in a big game, as I feel there are too many people working on them, and tight deadlines means creativity and R&D goes out of the window, so thankfully to the re-emergence of the indie scene, back to the bedroom coding as it where, a lot of creative innovative works are coming out!
RGG: Right now in the world someone is playing a game that you made, hand to heart describe how that feels.
JIM: Totally gobsmackingly awesome! :D it's what makes it worth continuing for! Over the last couple of years especially I've been hearing more and more awesome stories from the people played my games growing up ( and some still do ) and that it held a special place in their hearts because of the good times it gave them! that to me is worth everything! I've loved making all the games I've written over the years, and the many amazingly talented people I've worked with! Yet that all fades into insignificance because of the stories I've heard from the players! You guys make it all worth while!
RGG: What are your hopes for the next 12 months, what will 2014 be for you, your projects and the retro community scene?
JIM: My hopes for 2014 is that I can keep going as an indie developer, I'm loving the freedom we had back in the day to explore new ways of doing things, I want to be able to have more time to do talks to gaming course students in universities and schools, and be able to have time to finish my retro projects also, I'm looking forward to all the Replay and Retro Revival events this year also!
Get to the chopper, leave no man (or question) behind...
RGG: This is the part where I like to ask my interviewee what question or topic he/she wished I had asked, basically a write your own question and answer moment, what will you choose to focus on I wonder…..
JIM: I guess you have covered most things :) well done! maybe how I got into programming?
As many other kids my age, I used to love playing games in the arcades, and when I started high school, they had computers, they had 1 BBC model B and 6 Sharp MZ80Ks and whilst everyone wanted to play games on the BBC, the 6 Sharps were sitting there not doing much, so whilst waiting my go on the BBC, I decided I wanted to learn to program on the Sharp, as I knew I wanted to know how to make my own games from playing them in the arcades, now I had a chance to learn, so I soaked up the Sharp BASIC programming book, and managed to teach myself faster than the teacher could learn it himself ( he was a maths teacher who was told to teach programming ) anyway, my Mum saw my massive interest in computers, and she went all out and got a ZX81 for me :) I was hooked.
I used to make games every night after school and weekends, they were in BASIC so although I could make lots of games, they just weren't fast enough like bought games, I had to learn machine code, thankfully the teacher had a program on the BBC ( as to the joy of many, the school got more BBCs ) which I can't for the life of me remember, but it had a 10x10 grid of boxes, where in each grid you could put a number, each number did a task, like add the value of a box with another box or subtract the value of a box from another box etc. so you could write little programs in a form of machine code, this was awesome, and I took to it like a duck to water, it was so clear how it worked.
Then at around the same time, ( PS I had a ZX Spectrum at this stage ) I had got the latest Sinclair User ( or Your Sinclair, I can't remember which as I used to get both ) which had a type in program that made white noise, doesn't sound like much, but it was a very small basic program that read data statements and poked them to memory, the data statements was Z80 machine code, and thanks to the Sinclair Basic manual that you got with the Spectrum having a list of the Z80 codes and mnemonics and the program being small, I decided to write out each number and it's relevant Z80 instruction, and because I knew what the outcome of the program was, I could mess around with the instructions, to make the sound effect that it made different, thus starting my understanding of the Z80 to the point where I started to write my own little bits of assembly to get things on the screen, like draw game maps udgs as basic was too slow for that :) and the rest is history!
RGG: It’s tradition here to ask one question, where do we come from, what’s the meaning of life, where do we go when it’s time to leave this mortal coil etc etc, all of those are valid and important things to ask however not as important as this one…… Mario or Sonic, and Why?
JIM: 42 is the answer :D
On a more serious note, I'm a huge Sega fan, and Sonic fan, but it has to be Mario for the win! He's always upped the anti, and always adapted with time and tech and re-invented himself, as for Sonic, he got a car, which should technically be slower than he is? that's just backwards haha
RGG: Did you enjoy us reaching into your life and pestering the crap out of you, would you recommend us to your friends or point and laugh at us behind our backs when we were not looking?
JIM: Yes, it's been an enjoyable blast into the past :D and of course I would recommend you to my friends! :)
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
Some people have a C.V. and at first glance it looks really cool but scratch the surface and it's mostly padding and fancy words. I want to be very clear here.... This man has a C.V.
It is impossible to overstate two things, 1.) How important and how influencial the home computer scene of the 1980's and early 1990's was. In America and Japan at several points gaming was in the toilet however Europe never had such problems because of computers like the Spectrum, the Commodore 64 and of course the Mighty Amiga.
Number 2 is how big OCEAN were, seriously if you call yourself a gamer and you're in say the 30 and above bracket age wise you had to be raised on this like I was.
History has done a great job at recording the movie tie ins from this once great company and it's coding houses like Special FX however the arcade ports from them were of equal and in this writers opinion sometimes better quality.
When you see Midnight Resistance and Cabal running on a humble spectrum with glorious amounts of colour and see it all run like a dream it leaves such a lasting impression on you, suddenly the gap between playing games once a year on holiday in seaside resorts and what you got at home didn't seem so far anymore.
Jim Bagley helped define my childhood, that's a huge statement but without people like him making such incredible games it's possible I would never have become hooked on videogames to the extent that one day I would make games myself, Own a games shop and co-create a website. With that in mind and with my most sincere and humble face on I want to take this opportunity of saying this...
Thank you Jim, for the late nights on my speccy full of more fun that my limited use of vocabulary can explain, thank you for some of my most favourite games of all time. For me you don't just code games, you make art and having the opportunity to actually speak to you has blown my mind. This has been one of my most favourite gaming experiences.
There's a saying that goes.... Never meet your heroes! Well whoever came up with that has never met Jim Bagley. My advice is for those who have never experienced this man's work to get your butt's onto ebay and grab some of his stuff. Play it, love it and protect it for future generations. This man was not just a part of history, he made it..... Think about that.
Midnight Resistance till I die! (pipe bomb!)