Antony Crowther interview by Peter Ward and Mark Hellewell
Thank you for this interview it is an honour for me to interview such a Legend….
What did you want to do when you were at school for a career and what was your first job?
- When I was still at school, I was steering my career towards engineering/design. As I love Art, Woodwork
and Engineering Drawing. I ended up with a grade A A-level in Engineering drawing.
When did you realise you wanted to get into game industry and how did it happen?
- While at school around the age of 15, computers were appearing in the schools, I remember playing in the school library on a Sharp MZ80K, typing a listing in that made a Maze game. My Dad manged to borrow a Commodore Pet 4032 from a business associate at work.
This is where I taught myself to learn basic. I had a couple of books that contained lots of listing of tiny games. I spent days typing these in. When you completed typing them in they would be full of bugs and failed to run. Mainly due to miss types. Over time I starting to understand what I was typing in, and errors were becoming less often and less troublesome. I loved the feeling I got when they finally ran, I guess this was the start of my addiction. When the 4032 was returned, my dad bought me a Vic20 to fill the void, I was now a little more competent. I used to play text adventures on the BBC, I can’t remember the name of the game, the but I managed to clone one of these texture adventures onto the Vic20. I had completed it the game, and I believed I knew everything about the game. By the end I had the same text adventure running on the Vic20.
- My friend got me a Saturday job at Superior System, it was a computer shop that sold lots of different home computers, I was in my happy place, testing all the new games released. On the
Acorn Atom, Dragon 32, Apple ][, Vic20. At home, I had written a 3d Maze game for the Vic20, called Amazing. That was duplicated and sold in the shop. I can’t remember how much money I got for doing this, but I started the ball rolling when the Commodore 64 was launched. The owner of the shop, Mike, said he would give me a C64, if I wrote him some games, I agreed. He was seeking out other programmers at the same time, some were a lot better than me. There were 6 games I wrote, each a little better than the next as I improved, and started to learn assembly language.
- Damsel in Distress, Aztec Tomb, Brands, Balloon Rescue, Squash-A-Frog and Bat Attack.
- At this point, I wouldn’t call any of these ground breaking, but compared to other games being released at the time, they weren’t the worst, and they were selling. I ended up with getting royalties as well as the free C64. These games were released under a new software label, called Alligata.
- When I left school, after my A-Levels, Mike offered to employ me writing games, and I agreed, and worked in the back rooms of Superior Systems. Where I wrote a few more games, Bug blaster, Haunted House and Blagger, before we moved up stairs. This is when I discovered scrolling, and I got a real buzz from it. First there was Killer Watt.
Becoming one of the Commodore 64 scenes so-called
- I cant really say i did not clone arcade games, as Squash a frog is Frogger, Bug Blaster is centipede. Loco was inspired by Super Locomotive. Bug Blaster was inspired by Galaxian. Even Challenge of the gobots was a play on Defend. N2O was a child of Tempest. I had a bit of a free reign at Alligata, and i was able to write any game that took my fancy. Something I don’t have the privilege anymore.
Your games were identifiable as being “by you” for their slick presentation, ahead of their time graphical routines and “polish and presentation “, though one particular game, or series was “definitely by Tony Crowther” for even more obvious reasons. The game I’m thinking of is ‘Black Thunder’. Thirty years after the event would you like to tell us how we came to be thinking what we ‘were all thinking’, all those years ago (or were we going Loco)?
- I think by the time i was working on KillerWatt, i found my home with scrolling games. and the next few games helped perfect my skills. in Loco, Monty Mole, Potty Pigeon, Black Thunder, Gryphon, William Wobbler, Trap, Kettle, Challenge of the Gobots, Centurion, Fernaders must die. Zig Zag, Bomb Uzal and Phobia.
The magazines of the 80’s would always like to play You and 80’s counterpart Jeff Minter against each other but we know better than that. We know old pals with an admiration for each other’s work any day, what we’d like to know however is have you ever wondered how things would be today if you had stayed ‘solo’, or ‘independent’, as Mr Minter has, or as close to such a thing as is possible in today’s business model. What if Wizard developments was still alive today?
- Me and Jeff were good friends, we used to meet up at exhibition’s. I was even invited to stop at his home a few times. I used to take my wife Lisa with me, she would spend the time talking to Hazel (Jeffs mom), and I would be in jeffs den playing on his computers. I remember on one visit he had just got a Amiga 1000, and I spent all night drawing pictures in dpaint. The magazines would play us against each other, but this was another excuse to meet up for a few drinks.
- I found that has the new platforms arrived, the projects got bigger and bigger. To be honest I don’t know how Jeff Minter has managed to stay so small. It started getting bigger with Captive / Liberation, then with Realms of the Haunting. I was a large team, and I wasn’t the only programmer. Now it is perfectly normal for me to be in a large programming team. The only time I work on my own, is with tools, but even that has become shared work. When games only took a month to write the risk was small, but when games take years to write the risk is too great for me to take on my own.
You dipped into the world of computer-game music production in the 1980’s with the WeMusic company along with Ben Dalglish. Can you explain how this partnership came to be and how it fitted with your game development projects at the time?
- I first worked with Ben Daglish in the School Library working on educational software for Bradfield School in Sheffield. He loved playing instruments back then. He was able to listen to music, and hear the notes of the base, melody and lead, Something that was impossible for me. so with We Music, i had coded a music player Ben first used in Loco. Prior to that I was just typing in sheet music. I think by the time we had done the Trap demo, the Player had gotten better, so we decided to try this as a business opportunity that we worked on in the evenings and Weekends. First we created a demo disk, I remember one tracked called “My last sig”. I think we spent a week preparing it.
- We went around the software houses looking for work, and we found a couple that I remember, Biggles, and a View to kill. With the Biggles venture, we got invited to the Premier
in London. That was the first and last time I’ve been on a red carper presentation. I almost got Peter Cushions autograph, except i was too scared to ask. Ben then later got a full time job at Gremlin. We worked again later, on Phobia, then on Captain Plannet.
If you could bring back one of your classic 1980’s titles in 2017 for HD re-master which would it be and why?
If I was to bring back one of my 1980’s game for a 2017 HD re-master, I would probably chose Bombuzal. This was a puzzle games would be more when the 2017 want. A close second would have been Blagger (if i could still play it 🙂 ).
There has been an ever growing interest over 15 years or so to look back at the ‘glory days’ of our youth, the gaming culture both of the arcades and what we were playing in the home, and those that made the games that became our lives during those teenage years. Books, films, magazines and dedicated websites seek out those responsible for the entertainment of the dedicated followers.
I love that fact that people are interested in me, and other like me. I will gladly find time to help them out. I am a little shy but i just bite the bullet, and except this as a price you pay for being a little famous. But even in the 1980’s i was working with the mags, especialy with Your Computer. Working on listings and even a book.
Did you think your work from over 30 years ago would still be remembered with such fondness?
I still remember all my games with fondness, I’m just pleased to know its not just me. I put a lot of time and effort into them, at the time doing the best I could do. I suspect, if I attempted to work on the C64, I would give up knowing it would be so much easier on the new platforms. On the new platforms we don’t have to sacrifice so much.
Did your vivid creative imagination that led to such imaginative fantasy concepts such a Killer Watt & Gryphon ever envisage just what a 21 century videogames playing world would look like all those years ago?
- To be honest I was just living in the moment. I had no big picture. I just concentrated on the current project, possibly taking notes on a possible next project. 30 years on, and im still doing the exact same thing 🙂
Please tell me what different roles you have had during your time at Gremlin?
- At the beginning it was just to write C64 games, design, code, draw, and compose music when Ben was not available, but when I returned I worked on Realms of the Haunting, as part of team. I felt i was leading it, but the game plot was handled by Paul Green. I just made sure the tech worked, and the tools did want the users wanted. I remember working on the GDV player, and adding the cross hatching to improve guilty, the days before MPeg.
When the company changed to Gremlin Interactive in 1994 focusing on the 16bit era you produced many classic games what was your favourite game you made at this time and why?
- I don’t really have a favourite, as i enjoyed working on all of them. Realms of the Haunting, N2O and Wacky Races, they all have different enjoyable memories. The highlights
– Realms : visiting Bright light, and seeing the props being made for the filming. N2O : Expanding on my favourite arcade game, then getting the best music EVER for one of my games. Wacky : Seeing physic made the difference to a game. Adding an animation system to my editor that was used in that game.
What is the funniest thing and most frustrating thing that happened to you at
- The funniest thing i can remember at Gremlin was the T-shirts.
When I was working for Allagata, I used to be invited to shows to help sell the product. Which was always a blast. People used to come up to me, asking if I was Tony Crowther, and if so could they have my autograph. So one year I made my self a couple of T-shirts that said “yes I’m Tony Crowther” which I thought was hilarious. So I hand been working on Reals of the Haunting for a couple of years, and we were showing it at an exhibition. And some one remembered the time I wore the t-shirt few years before . So they had T -Shirts made for the whole crew, and it said “Yes i’m Their Name’’.
- The most frustrating thing at Gremlin was working on a game called the Haunt. It started off as a lady in a train station, changed to a little girl running round in the woods. Then ended up with a ghost game in a house. It went through many incantations, but never got released.
What is the favourite
- If I had to pick one, it would have to be Realms of the Haunting, mainly because it took so long, It took over three years to complete. But I have found memories off all the projects. Potty pigeon, monty mole, suicide express, N2o and Wacky Races.
Tell us what your current working on?
- I am currently working on Dead Island 2, but I’m afraid i cant reveal any more than that. The previous project was Disney Infinity 3 Speedway, and Disney Infinity 3 on Apple TV.
I enjoy some modern games but feel more love for the smaller teams of the past I feel the fun factor has gone in modern games and are more like movie productions; games can be bug ridden now as patches can be made. in the past we didn’t have updates and in app purchases. What is your view of our industry now?
- I have enjoyed working of every game I have worked on, but the earlier games I feel were mine, the latter ones were created by a team and dilutes the ownership. I collected nearly every magazine clipping that I was mentioned in or review of one of my games. I think the last one I collected was N2O .
- The biggest change from now and then, its the risks are now bigger. When there is one person working on a game for a month, the cost is tiny, compared to a team of a hundred people for over a year is massive. So my role has changed. Now I here to reduce the risk, by identifying issues early and developing tools tl ease development.
- I did a little work on the demo scene, but it was just a picture a scrolling message and some music. But my interest was writing games, and I put the demos in games. For example the trap demo, and kettle menus, or the book in challenge of the Gobots. Or even the intro to Liberation.
Do your own kids ever play your earliest games, if so how do they react to them, having been born “after the event” as it were?
- My kids are not really interested in retro games, I think they have played N2O and wacky races, battlefield, burnout paradise and forza horizon 2.
Speaking of “after the event”, have you ever googled yourself and did you like what you found?
- I would be mad not to google myself, I am very proud of what I have worked on, and I’m pleased that other appreciate my hard work.
As a gamer and fan of game coding heroes of the past, I find myself collecting works of my favorite software houses from the 80s as an ongoing hobby, do you have any favorites from the past be it Software houses or individuals whose work you admired or games you enjoyed playing and whose games did you buy or collect during those earliest days?
- I used to collect free goodies from exhibitions, like games, t-shirts and stuff. I used to swap for copies of my games.
The only things I used to collect were art books. Books with pictures of artists work. I have loads of them, about 50, I think they are still in the loft.
Do you keep a copy of all your released games in their retail boxed format for prosperity and as a personal historical record of “everything you ever did?”
- I have a copy of nearly everyone of my games, my oldest is balloon rescue. and I have a cassette insert or disk insert of all my games in my scrap book. I also have kept the adverts for my games too.
Here are some questions about retro games:
My favourite computer was my Amiga and 2 of my favourite games were Cannon Fodder and SWOS 🙂 and my favourite console the
- My first console was a Ps2. And I loved my ps3, Nd now my ps4 pro?. My favourite game was Dungeon Master, this inspired me to write Captive. I’ve just started plying Crystal Rift on Psv, this brings it to life in an awesome way.
What is your favourite retro game?
- I loved thing on a spring
, music was fantastic.
Do you still game on the current consoles if so
- My new toy is the psv, I’m loving all games on it so far. The wow factor has not gone away yet.
- I was never able to play defender, there was just too many buttons, and I was never able to complete a level.
Finally what game or feature would you like to see on
- My favourite arcade games, was tempest, so the story of tempest sound interesting to me, as I know Jeffs worked on a few clones.