An interview with Craig Kelsall

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When doing a bit of research for the C64 mirror of GTW, we got in touch with Craig Kelsall regarding any of his unfinished C64 work and got asking a few questions. In the end it seemed sensible to turn it into a small interview, and so here it is!

Turbo the tortoiseCraig developed late into the C64s life, working for Hi-Tec and Codemasters on titles such as Turbo the Tortoise and Crystal Kingdom Dizzy. We ask him a few questions and find out what happened next after moving on from the C64.

[Q] How did you first get involved with game development on the C64, and how did the Hi-Tec job come about? (Which we assume was your first role?)

[A] It was one of those “being in the right place at the right time” moments. I was working at a computer games shop and one of the guys there was involved in writing games with a friend (these two people being Dave Thompson and Dennis Mulliner) Prior to getting to know them they had already published a game on the Spectrum called “Butch Hard Guy” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BNv11d41Yk) and were in the process of finishing off another one called UCM (Ultimate Combat Mission) which was later converted to the C64.

Dave went to work for Ocean whilst I was making my first attempt at a game called Future Bike Simulator, which never got completed, in part because of my lack of experience. Some time later, Dave setup his own business and was looking for someone to do the C64 version. The rest is history as they say.

[Q] So what equipment did you use when developing? Was it all flash PDS based systems, maybe coding on an Amiga and squirting code down a cable, or maybe even just working on a stock C64?

[A] When I first started to tinker with assembly language I used a program called “Zeus 64” which ran on the C64 itself. So you can imagine how limiting that setup was and how easy it was to loose work when you your program crashes. When I worked on Future Bike Simulator I was using an Amstrad PCW 8256 then later used an Atari ST when working on the Hi-Tec games, both of which downloaded the compiled code to the C64.

[Q] Turbo the Tortoise is probably your best C64 title and was very well received by the likes of Zzap and Commodore Format. Unfortunately Hi-Tec went under just as it was released, giving it a limited shelf life under the label before Codemasters snapped it up. How did the Codemasters linkup come about, and did it affect sales too much?

[A] The Codemasters linkup was probably as a result of Daves move to Codemasters. I do believe it did well when under the Codemasters badge.

Crystal Kingdom Dizzy[Q] Your final C64 release was the vastly colour updated Crystal Kingdom Dizzy – compared to the previous incarnations, it used the C64s multi-colour mode to create the first full colour Dizzy adventure. What was it like to work on the game and what were your experiences like?

[A] Prior to working on this game Id never played any of the other Dizzy titles. When I saw the C64 version of the previous titles I was shocked to see a Spectrum version starring back at me. Financially speaking it made sense, but damn it looked nasty! I guess the fact that the version I worked on wasnt a monochrome port is what set it apart from the others.

Whether it was better or worse than previous versions in terms of playability I couldnt say. Ive read some peoples comments saying it was too easy. I enjoyed writing it because it was different to the previous games which were platformers. Whilst Dizzy was a platformer in some ways, it was also different because of the adventure/puzzle solving aspects so was a welcome break.

[Q] Playing through Crystal Kingdom Dizzy in recent years as an adult for old times sake, we couldnt but notice the “Whip” object which Dizzy has to pick up from Daisys hut, which obviously as an 10yr old had no meaning at all. Was this a deliberate slip of innuendo? 🙂

[A] Lol, yeah the whip was deliberate. Dave and I did joke about doing a Dizzy Nasty.

[Q] Once Crystal Kingdom Dizzy was complete – were you not assigned to any other C64 based titles? Or was it too late at the time in the C64s life to consider any more games?

[A] I did start to work on a conversion of Sylvester, which was released on the Amiga, but that was quickly scrapped. When I moved to Codemasters I switched over to the Amiga, boy was that a pig to code for. The Sega Mega Drive was a piece of cake by comparison.

[Q] Did you at your time at Hi-tec and Codemasters (Or anywhere else?) work on any titles that never saw the light of day?

Yes, I started working on an Amiga version of a Codemasters title called Slicks (originally on the C64). Part way through development it was decided to stop work on it and start on a version for the Sega Megadrive. The theme was changed from F1 to more of a combat racing game. Sadly this, along with other titles, got canned. Codemasters were trying to create a budget market for the consoles. Unfortunately this model just didnt work. People werent going to shell out 15-20 for a budget title.

I remember a version of Dizzy on the Megadrive being developed; technically and visually very good. Think the guy that coded it, Derrick Christian (think thats right) later went to work for the company that created the Tomb Raider titles (the company name escapes me)

Think the other title Codemasters were trying hard to push at the time was based on Seymour; they were even featured on a TV program.

[Q] If I was to list a few titles possibly done by others, would you know or remember anything about them? The games being – Speedy Gonzales (Hi-Tec), CJ in Space (Codemasters), Spooky Castle (Codemasters), Thunderhawk (Codemasters), Top Cat (Codemasters)

Some of the titles do ring a bell, but I never played them. I think Top Cat (the Spectrum version) was written by the guy that I worked for at Visual Impact. David Thompson was his name and it was through him that I was given the opportunity to learn how to create games (a dream of mine from the age of 12) I must credit Dave with the design work for the games I worked on, I pretty much did a conversion job.

Prior to setting up his own business (Visual Impact) Dave had written a game called UCM on the Spectrum (this was later converted by a guy I later met at Codemasters. Dave later spent some time at Ocean where he wrote the Atari ST version of Daley Thompsons decathlon. He later moved on to work for Hi-Tec before setting up shop for himself. That explains why all of the titles we worked on were published through Hi-Tec.

Potsworth and CoRoad Runner was my first ever title and was done in my spare time over a period of about 3 months. The next one was Potsworth & Co, which technically was a huge leap for me (8 way scrolling was a pig). The sound fx was god awful too (my bad) Cant remember why we didnt have someone do them as was done for the other titles. Probably budget constraints.

Next came Turbo the Tortoise. The character was designed by a good friend of Daves, a guy named Dennis Mulliner (he designed UCM) The ridiculous story line for the game featured various friends of ours.

Finally then came Dizzy. Dizzy is like Marmite; you either love it or hate it :->

After Dizzy I went to work for Codemasters where I met a number of very clever people. One guy, who became a good friend, was named Ashley Hogg. Ash was one smart guy. He worked on some of the CJ titles on the C64 as I recall. If you happened to have had any contact with Ash I would be much obliged if you could pass on some contact details.

[Q] At Hi-Tec software around the time you finished Turbo The Tortoise and before Hi-Tec went under, there was another game due out called “Daffy Duck”. For years we have been trying to locate and recover the game, but without luck. Even sadly Ash and Dave no longer have anything of it. Weve been asking various people if by chance they ever had a copy, and were wondering if by a very small chance you may have had a copy from your days there. (Details about the game can be found here http://gtw64.retronet.de/Pages/d/Review_Daffy.php)

[A] I wasnt aware of this one so no sorry I cant help you with that one.

[Q] Currently on the software preservation list called Gamebase 64, you are listed as developer on the following games. Have they missed any others which you may not have been credited for?

[A] No my mis-deeds were limited to just the 4 titles :->

When I left Codemasters I went to work for a company called Datel Electronics where I worked on version 3 of the Action Replay cartridge for the Sega Megadrive. It was a big improvement over the earlier versions, but sadly never saw the light of day because some fool ordered 10,000 PCBs for the version 2. You cant exactly return a custom made PCB for a refund.

[Q] Did you have any special influences from your time on the C64?. Were you inspired by any other developers and their work?

[A] People like Andrew Braybrook, Archer MacLean and Dan Philips who defied what was possible on a C64 with Armalyte. The Germans had some good guys too back then (Rainbow Arts)

[Q] Did you have any favourite games on the C64, or even music on the machine? Or was life with the C64 just purely for work purposes?

[A] Before I could even program in BASIC, the very first games I played on the C64 were Falcon Patrol, Attack / Revenge of the Mutant Camels (a good advert for why you should say no to drugs) and Matrix. I remember when “Way of the Exploding Fist” first appeared and being totally blown away. Others that spring to mind would be Mission Impossible, Raid Over Moscow and Uridium.

As games got better then titles such as Wizball, Armalyte, Sanxion, Delta, International Karate and The Last Ninja stand out from the crowd. I was impressed by some of the titles from Hewson, like Zynaps and Cybernoid. Even some budget titles from Zeppelin too. The best music composers were Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, Martin Galway and Ben Daglish.

[Q] Once moving away from the C64 and as the platform died out, what did you do next?

[A] I moved to a company called Datel Electronics where I worked on a version of the Action Replay Cartridge for the Mega Drive. This sadly never saw the light of day because some fool ordered the wrong PCB.

[Q] So what are you up to now? Are you still working in the games industry?

[A] I departed from the games scene when I left Datel switching over to writing business software, which is what Ive continued to do so ever since. These days I do more technical design with some coding of prototypes; all Microsoft tech.

[Q] When I first got in touch with you, you seemed quite shocked and taken aback that people were still playing old games and talking about the likes of the C64. Does it seem odd that people may still be playing your games today?

[A] I guess so, with machines like the PS3 who would want to play on a relic. I know fancy graphics and sound cant match sheer playability, but there are some corking games of the PS3. Its also funny to see people doing renditions of some classic sound tracks like Wizball and Delta. Its a strange, strange world we live in :->

[CRAIG] A bit more of my life story for you:

The version of future bike I was working on had graphics for one level and consisted of the basic mechanics: bike movement, weapons, enemies ramming and avoiding you, oh and the main explosion sequence with R-Type exposions :-> Basically everything dissappeared to make use of all 8 sprites for the explosion (didnt know how to do a multiplexer back then) The bike movement was quite good in that the bike had momentum, not just a basic left right movement which you could transfer during a ramming movement. Im sure the coding was horrible, but it worked. The collisions were a bit of a pig. If the objects didnt move far enough apart theyd register a second collision and then all hell would let loose before the bikes eventually fired apart.

When I stopped work on it (I was working in the store full time now) I carried on working on it in my own time, it was quite gutting to have not completed it and essentially failing my dream. During the time I was developing it, I was supposed to be working at the store full time (I was on a YTS scheme, which I suspect youre too young to remember) so it was a bit of a fiddle. I also worked on a Pac-Man game, which I confess to have hacked someone elses game to help figure out the “AI” of the ghosts. Worked quite well though.

It was probably couple of years or more later when Dave approached me with an offer. It was trial by fire if you will. I started to convert a shoot-em up that Dave had started working on before he binned it in favour of Road Runner. RR was done in my spare time, after which I started to work for Dave full time. The rest is history as they say. Thats when I had to learn how to do a multiplexer (thank you action replay cartridge for allowing me to hack other peoples code and learn, no Google in those days) I had to prove my worth if you will before Dave would commit to giving me some work, which was perfectly understandable. Just glad I never quit coding, but then that just wasnt going to happen when coding is in your blood.

Incidentally, the reason I was fortunate enough to work at Datel after leaving Codemasters is that during my time on future bike there was another guy working on a gauntlet rip off (called force of 4) He later went to work at Datel and became the product manager. Its all about who you know right?

Before working on the Action Replay I was tasked with working on a utilility for the Amiga that would emulate a floppy disk drive, much like today you can get a virtual dvd drive on a PC (same principle) The idea was to transfer your games to the hard disk so that load times would be much faster. Boy was it a pig to figure out. As I said, no Google back then. I have a couple of books on the Amiga OS and I was no expert at it, in fact it was the first time Id worked with the Amiga OS. Well after a long time I got it working, except of course it needed to work without the OS. That was a whole world of pain as youd need to write your own scsi device driver for the hard disk. Needless to say I had no clue how to do that and it was ultimately canned. Still it was interesting controlling a floppy disk at the hardware level, just remember to stop the head after track 80, unless you want to break it :->

Well Ive waffled on for far too long now.

Thanks Craig for your time!

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