System 15000 sequel

Craig Communications

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A very quick entry for a title which is listed on Wikipedia as having a sequel due, but was never to be.

System 15000 was a game from 1984 and released by Craig Communications by a development team called A.V.S.   The game was written by Lee Kristofferson (born John Wagstaff) in assembly language and was later ported to the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro.

The game was one of the first games to simulate computer hacking and was released one year after War Games came out.

The game did fairly well overall and as a result a sequel was planned by Lee, but never materialized.

We hope to find out more what happened to the sequel and if anything was ever actually started.  Maybe there are some plans which could be shared?  What was the name of it also?

Watch this space!

Contributions: Fabrizio Bartoloni

Supporting content

Hit Squad: Confessions of a hacker (Sinclair User)

Chris Bourne beats the system with the exotic Lee Kristofferson, rock star and hacker-supreme

THE STRIPPER was awful. Lee Kristofferson turned his jaundiced eye to the empty glass and arrived at a decision. He walked out of the Kingston pub and across the road to the Visions computer store. He was about to sell his first program.

While explaining his game to the people in the shop software publisher David Giles walked in. “That’s who you should be talking to,” they told Lee, so he did.

David Giles was taken aback at first. “When this guy came up to me with a line about being a rock star with flight simulation in 3.5K for the Vic 20 I thought it was a wind-up,” he says. “Then I discovered it was genuine.”

Rock star? What is a rock star doing writing computer games? To answer that we must backtrack, to the years of struggle and dog-food curries. “I was only ever interested in music,” Lee says. Although he did well at school, he parted company with his parents’ ambitions, left, and went to work at the fairground at Chessington Zoo.

“I gravitated downwards after that.” Eventually he found the break he was looking for and began working in record production. On the way he took a course in Behavioural Psychotherapy. “I’ve got a diploma and things,” he says. “It was great. Everyone sat around talking continuously about sex. I’m still very into biofeedback.”

In 1977 he got a chance to record a single himself, rather than produce other people’s records. “I found a song called Dinner With Drac which was a hit in 1959 for someone called John Zacherle. I thought any hit with a title like that deserved attention so I recorded it. I backed the single with one of my own things, Night of the Werewolf.” The name Lee Kristofferson – real name John Wagstaff – came about as a reversal of Christopher Lee.

Lee is not particularly well-known in Britain, but is very successful on the continent. One of his problems is the way foreigners take his black sense of humour seriously.

“I’m really big in Egyptian discos. I did an Egyptian disco number called Cleopatra. You write lines like ‘The night won’t be so scary, when you ride my dromedary’ and people take it seriously.”

The Swiss really get Lee going. “I was in Jordan, in the desert. Jordan is hot, real Lawrence of Arabia stuff. And this Swiss guy turns up; 140 degrees, and he’s immaculate. I say ‘Hot, isn’t it?’ – a typical British thing to say. So he opens his case. There’s everything in it from blood pressure meters to enemas. He pulls out a thermometer, holds it up, looks at it and says ‘Ja’. The Swiss always take me very seriously.”

Moving through such exotic delights as Psychotic Reaction – conceived in order to “liven up Mull of Kintyre, an otherwise wonderful song” and which reached number one in the Sounds alternative record chart in 1980 – Lee found himself using computers more and more in conjunction with sequencers and synthesisers.

“I’m a punter at heart,” he says. “I liked the idea of having a computer so I bought a Vic 20. It was that or the BBC at the time, and I didn’t want to wait for my grandmother to die and all the other things you had to do in order to get a BBC B.”

Like many programmers, Lee decided to write for himself the game he couldn’t find in the shops. In his case he wanted Flight Simulation. A flight simulator in 3.5K was always going to be tough, but he had the good fortune to meet up with David Giles and see it published. Flight 015 spent a good part of 1984 at the top of the Vic 20 software charts.

Lee attributes most of his success to good fortune. “I’ve had a lot of luck,” he says, and drones on about how he is not really a good musician or programmer. “If Russell Harty was to have me on his show in a month’s time it would simply be down to luck. My agent’s been trying to get me an interview with the Sun or the Mirror for years. All of a sudden it’s ‘Rock Star Writes Computer Game’ …”

On then to System 15000, the Spectrum adventure where you play the hacker trying to break into bank accounts and company files. “The truth is, I just thought: ‘Hey, how about a hacking game?’.”

Convinced that such a game must already exist, Lee asked his friends to scour the world for it. It turned out nobody had yet realised the potential of having a computer simulate another computer. Lee decided to write the game on the Commodore 64. “Paul Vincent helped with the Spectrum version,” he says. “The guy deserves a mention.”

The Commodore version is in machine code, but the Spectrum program is in Basic. There is no loss of speed. “Basic sounds naff, but I get sick of the false snobbery involved. If Basic maths is just as fast why bother with code?”

The game was also programmed on the Spectrum, with no extra aids such as microdrives or downloading systems. “I believe in not using mainframes,” says Lee, as if everybody had an IBM in their bedroom. “Theory and practice are not the same. There is usually a bug you have missed which didn’t apply originally but turns up on the Spectrum.

From the beginning, Lee was after complete realism. “The thought was, if you can’t do a spaceship properly, then don’t. It is a bit limiting, though. The only new game I can think of now is about a television maintenance engineer.

Lee’s house in Surrey is full of electronic gadgetry, old computers, monitors, video recorders, movie cameras, photographic equipment, a 24-track mixing desk and other obscure paraphernalia.

“I’m dying for the hardware to get really good,” he says. “I can’t wait to give the punters something filmic. System 15000 was the first big game I’ve done, and it upsets me that I can’t do what I can visualise. I’ve been making films and pretentious videos for years.”

He did a video to promote the game for Craig Communications. David Giles and Dick Craig run the company, but the name came out of a private joke on System 15000.

The video was intensely tacky, with a heavy disco backing and speeded-up pictures of American motorways with teletext excerpts from magazine reviews. Every few seconds a leather clad model appeared on the screen with the words ‘Beat it’.

“It was for a conference of salesmen, and they loved it. They thought we were a really big company.”

That sort of production suits Lee’s main career as a musician. “The software business and music are similar because the market’s the same. Also, two of the important things are hype and money – unfortunately. The growing importance of the hype element is a pity. It’s not like the music business in the sixties because then public taste led companies in what they produced.”

Lee’s experience of the music industry leaves him resigned if not bitter about some aspects of business. ‘What I don’t like is big companies trying to dictate. You don’t insult the public’s intelligence. System 15000 is not an insult to the intelligence. If it works, OK. If it doesn’t, well, I’ll probably lose the house …”

Lee regards himself as a maverick in both software and music. He claims to be unpopular within the music industry, and certainly dislikes the conditions retailers and distributors like to make before accepting a piece of software.

“It’s like going to see an adult movie. There’s an outrageous come-on poster, but when you go inside it’s unexciting in every possible way. With some software, you get a pic of immense goings-on and wind up with a blob looking like the detoning sign on a television set.”

His lifestyle as a rock artist reflects the style necessary for success in the industry, though he insists he earns no more than his crust as a musician.

“I don’t want to buy a Roller,” he says, “although I can think of lots of things to do with money. We try very hard to give the appearance of wealth on the business side. Those people don’t buy failure.”

Lee tends to get up in the afternoon, and this interview was conducted in the small hours of the morning, fortified by drink and food ferried into the plush, stylish living-room by Angela and Pip, the two women who live with Lee. “Pip runs me,” he says, simply. “She organises everything. Angela sings in the act.”

He orders the girls about with the sensitivity and politeness of a rhinoceros, but the girls do not seem to object. “I do a lot for Lee and he does a lot for me” says Angela, while Lee is out of the room. “I’m not a feminist.”

Maybe it is all part of the act, the image of what is expected of a star. “Listen, mate” growls Lee. “I’ve got more front than Selfridges.”

Lee dislikes being labelled. “I no more think of myself as a programmer as I do a singer. It is the end product which counts, and whether it’s entertaining. Programming to me is more like having your teeth drawn than for someone who lives and breathes inside a micro. As long as it looks great, I don’t give a damn. A programmer’s job is not to be arrogant about programs, it’s to produce a good game.”

Mind you, there is no doubt Lee would dearly love to be famous in his own country. “There’s a compilation album in America I found by accident. On the jacket it says ‘With Lee Kristofferson’s semi-legendary dance hall stroll smash, Night of the Werewolf‘. What’s the point of being semi-legendary? One day I’ll be really legendary.”

He has every intention of writing a sequel to System 15000, which would involve getting your revenge on the computer criminals by defrauding them. In the original game you simply have to rectify their crimes. However, the sequel depends upon the success of the first game, and although reviews have uniformly good the distributors and retailers are suspicious of an adventure radically different from the norm.

In Germany, where Lee is well known for his music, the game has been much more successful. Particular fans are members of the NATO base at Osnabruck.

“They got in touch because they wanted some help. Phoning a NATO base is complicated, it’s not just a phone book job. The conversation was amazing … ‘Have you cracked the code for SELCRA yet? No? Then try …’ I thought, what if the phone is bugged? MI5 will boot the door in and I’ll get arrested and become a star …”

He says he has no intention of launching a dozen games just to beef up the catalogue, and pulls out a rack of cassettes to indicate he has written plenty. As far as he is concerned, they are not good enough, or not what he wants.

Has he thought of doing something like Automata’s Deus Ex Machina, which carries a full musical tape with the game? “It’s a very brave attempt … no, that sounds patronising, and I don’t mean to be. It’s a brave attempt to break new ground in a mixed media sense and … ” Lee cracks up at the sound of what he is saying, and then pulls himself together. “Yes, I’m very interested but we cannot do it yet. The hardware isn’t available. It has to be right.”

Just because Lee is writing games does not mean he has given up music. He plugs his new album in the style of all good interviewees. It is called The night time is the right time. Lee sings, plays guitar and keyboards, and has a group of girls doing, well … “They’re like a backing group going do-wop, but instead it’s a fronting group not going do-wop. When I record I use one other musician. But if something requires a really good saxophonist, then I’ll get a really good saxophonist, or whatever.”

If System 15000 takes off to the extent that it deserves, he will need a good accountant as well. In the meantime, the company motto is ‘have fun until they throw away the keys.’ “Look, I’m into entertainment, that’s all. Just like you are, mate. We’re both showmen. “

Rock on, man.

One Response to System 15000 sequel

  1. Compounded says:

    A really interesting article that. To me it shows in a nutshell how exciting the early days must have been with some real characters around. I think now with the mega games industry a lot of the individualism has gone both in the games produced and the quality of mainstream gaming journalism.

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