Sunday, May 12, 2024

Richard Davey

I'm always excited to meet people from the ST world, both past and present. I'm especially thrilled about this interview as it transported me back to the ST's later days, including my emulator years after migrating to the Apple Mac (PPC/1997).

So far, I've interviewed 16 incredible ST guys, which has been an absolute honour. So, let me present the 17th with great pleasure. Yep, it's Rich who you will know as the brains behind the Little Green Desktop! Not only that, but he's also the fella behind those cute visuals in Stario, a gorgeously cute (cough) Mario ripoff.

I found it interesting to discover his motives and passions for the Atari ST. He knows his games and favours some crackers too (do you remember me playing Color Clash?). Not only that, it was fascinating to discover how he came to love the demoscene and its culture. Hearing of his history concerning the MSX and Speccy +3 was fascinating. At least this lead the way to the mighty Atari ST and its Super Pack.

I found Richard kind and enthusiastic although I was shocked by his "modesty" regarding those pixel skills I admire so much. Especially when you consider the Calvin and Hobbes factor. My gratitude to Richard for his time and I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have? Hey, after you've finished reading this, check out even more interviews?

Richard is featured within the Demozoo archives where you can view more of his excellent work.



 Richard Davey ~ The Interview 

Hello Richard, tell us all a bit about yourself

I was born in 1975 and for as long as I can remember, if we went around to friends or family and they had a computer or console. That would be me lost to the sirens' call of the devices :) We'd travel to the seaside on holiday, and I'd vanish into the arcades until my money was exhausted. Once it was so I'd just stand there mesmerized, watching others play. They were captivating to me in a way nothing else was.

To this day, I can remember visiting a friend who owned a BBC. He ran a program on it, which was an animated demo featuring dancing skeletons. They would take their heads off, roll them down their bony arms, and flick them back on again, all in time to music. I was enamoured that a computer could do this. I pestered my parents for a home computer. I didn't care which one. I just wanted one!

They relented and bought a Toshiba MSX. It had many wonderful games, including lots of Konami cartridges such as Antarctic Adventure, Hyper Rally, and Yie Ar Kung Fu. It also came with several books on BASIC programming, which I devoured. The first program I entered, I didn't realise you had to press RETURN at the end of each line, so I just moved the cursor down. Strangely enough, it didn't work :)

However, I didn't know any other kids who owned an MSX, and I was frustrated at being unable to swap games at school. So we "upgraded" to a Spectrum +3, with those crazy expensive disks. Of course, in retrospect, it wasn't an upgrade at all. The MSX is significantly more capable, with a great keyboard and some staggering games that load instantly thanks to the cartridge. The +3 was a technical step down, but the volume of games available to me exploded. Interestingly, MSX content is extremely collectable these days, with good-quality items going for hundreds! And I sold ours just to get a Speccy. Ahhh, the joy of hindsight.


It's a shame that no MSX photo was ever taken. At least we have a later capture with his Falcon!



Tell us about the years that followed

It was less than a year after getting the +3 when I started seeing the Atari ST appearing in anger in magazines like C+VG. To this day, I still remember the C+VG issue that had Xenon on the cover (issue 77, March 1988) and the screenshots inside of it. The graphics were like nothing I had ever seen before. A world apart from the Spectrum and even the MSX.

I knew I had to have one. I saved money from my paper rounds and odd jobs, and combined with a birthday, I took the bus into the city with my Mum one weekend, visited a large department store, and bought the Atari ST Super Pack. I carried it home on the bus, beaming from ear to ear. My life had changed forever.

The Super Pack came with a large bundle of games, including Xenon, Thundercats, Buggy Boy, and Ikari Warriors, all of which sucked-up hours of my life. It also came with a few real duffers like Chopper X and Road Wars! But even those were graphically way beyond the Spectrum I was used to.

Using a mouse was great, and I enjoyed the power of GEM and the loading speed from disk compared to tape. In August 1989, I bought issue 1 of ST Format, and the cover disk contained a demo of Bloodwych, GFA Basic, and what I thought was an amazing sampled sound demo: Stringray.

That, combined with menu disks from the likes of the Pompey Pirates, introduced me to the demoscene. It felt like the disks could hold so much content back then. In terms of actual bytes, of course, they couldn't, but if you look at it from the point of view of the variety of content you could fit on them, they were absolute gold mines.

Previously I had been all about playing games on the MSX and Spectrum, with a little artwork and coding - but the ST represented something different. A new computing era for me. Perhaps it was my age? Perhaps I was just mature enough to be able to explore the creative side of computing now? I was growing as a person, the ST was there, growing with me, showing me all of these great new avenues and communities I never even knew existed. And I dove head-first into it.


The power and versatility of the Atari ST must have been mindblowing at that time.
It eventually led to projects like Stario and many more throughout the 90s.



This is a games website, so what are your faves?

Like lots of gamers, I struggle to maintain a consistent list of favourites. Remembering one title sparks off the memory of another, and soon that list has grown beyond its original bounds. So instead, here are some games that sit very fondly in my mind for several different reasons:

  • Buggy Boy - this came with my ST and I played it for hours! It's a superb racing game and one of those rare titles that I feel has aged well.
  • Bloody Money - there's something addictive about this shooter. I think it's the slow pace, it's almost sedate in nature but dials up the challenge little by little.
  • Turrican 2 - the raster sky effects! The music! The speed! That final level, when you're escaping the exploding thunderball in your spaceship! Just perfection.
  • Dungeon Master - do I need a reason? It's Dungeon Master, for goodness sake!
  • Oids - this game is sublime. A wonderful take on Thrust with a brilliant level editor and great animations. The way you can melt the poor oids with your thruster still makes me grin.
  • Dynabusters+ - this PD game is a brilliant take on Bomberman with great sampled sounds.
  • Flood - this sits alongside Captain Dynamo as one of those often overlooked but sublime to play platform games.
  • Golden Axe - there aren't many arcade conversions I rate on the ST, but this is up there with the best of them.
  • Hunter - definitely responsible for my love of sandbox gaming. Who can forget all of those great vehicles at your disposal?
  • Nitro and Super Cars 2 - they are in the same camp of great overhead racing games. I like my cars to have guns, otherwise I'm just not interested.
  • Special Forces - a tactical espionage/infiltration game from Microprose. I lost hours to this when I should have been doing my GCSEs!
  • Robotz - if you own an ST, you know how great this PD game is.
Me - how odd that he didn't mention Stario ;)


Richard has great tastes and we share many favourite Atari ST games.



Let's talk about Stario and how this came about

I was talking to James (of Top Byte) one day, and he told me about this game he had been sent. It was a complete rip of the NES Mario Bros, right down to the graphics! He wanted to release it but knew he legally couldn't. I said I'd be happy to look at the graphics, and we took it from there.

I received a few disks and set about making sure it wasn't entirely Nintendo's pixels that Atari players would see on screen. I used Deluxe Paint ST because it was (and remains) my favourite art tool on the ST, although I actually did the graphics on my Falcon running under ST emulation. It was a real challenge to maintain the speed of the original, the sprites used dramatically limited bit planes. For all of them, I had 3 colours maximum I could use (from a fixed palette of 16).


Going legit...

I was a big Calvin and Hobbes fan, so I redrew Mario to look like a little pixel version of Calvin. The other creatures I modified as best I could. Strange spikey monsters, frogs, etc. You can tell I was losing steam when it came to the tiles? Because those are very similar to the Nintendo originals. All in all, it only took a few weeks to do. I shipped them back, and that was that.

I did have a little interaction with Adrian (the developer), via his Dad, who requested a few changes. But what you see in the final game is largely the first pass at it all.

Looking at it now, the graphics aren't very good. A real pixel artist could have done a much better job, even with the bitplane limitations. Thankfully, when people play it, they mostly focus on how fast and smooth it is - and because it feels responsive and moves well, they can forgive the amateur graphics.


Any regrets about making the change?

No, it would have been taking the piss to release it with the actual Mario graphics still in it! Plus, I don't think any magazines would have reviewed it. So it was sensible to change the graphics. I'm glad I found the old disks with the Mario graphics on, though, so they eventually got released anyway.


Top Byte/Top Dollar

I liked James (who ran Top Byte). He was an enthusiastic guy and had a knack for cultivating a good little community. That is what the Atari was all about at that point. The big commercial companies had left, and it was the grassroots communities that held it all together. I'd talk with him for ages over the phone.

On the downside, I never saw a penny for my work on the game :) So I've no idea how many copies it sold. I doubt it was big numbers, but it did review well, so likely a few hundred copies at least.

Me - I see you have a boxed version. Wanna donate it to the Crypt?

Rich - It sits proudly on my gaming shelf, where it will remain :)
 

Of course, I tried bribing Rich, but sadly, he had none of it. Damn!!



What about other games?

I've never done any serious commercial games. Although to be honest, I never tried to either. I was too fascinated by the PD and demo scene. Games were more just for creating and throwing out there fast, to share with friends, not for 'making money' with them.

Robert Annett, a friend from the Storm / STOS days, and I worked on a couple of games - with me on the graphics. We released Super Tet and Shockwave. He did most of the heavy lifting. I just pixel-pushed for them. Shockwave was a good Asteroids-style game and published as licenseware by New Age PDL, whom I traded disks with a lot at the time. Super Tet was released in 1992 and was a standard Tetris game, although even now, I still like the graphics I did for it. DPaint fills for the win.

Fun fact: the digitised face in the middle of the playfield is Sting. I didn't even like Sting's music, I just had his head on a disk for some reason, and it slotted in well.

I've also worked on other games over the years, including Dopewars, some graphics for Biohazard 2, and a strategy game called Outrider. I was clearly stealing other people's art there! The title screen is obviously a scan from White Dwarf magazine, which I then drew a logo over. And the lady on the credits screen was nicked from an art disk. The 3D intro was taken from the PC. I don't actually remember which game, but I stole the cockpit and 'mini-screens' animation - and then I coded the star field effect and the planet appeared.

The game itself was a fun little strategy title. I did the in-game graphics, which was a nice change of style. Small buildings, tanks, UI, etc. Again, it's not exactly great. I'm absolutely not a good artist! Even so, I enjoyed making it. If I remember correctly, the game was actually called Battle for the Stars. We renamed it to Outrider for Top Byte. There are other silly games, too, like Octopod and GoSub! I still have the graphics lurking around.


All images are kindly supplied by Rich. The middle two are of the unreleased game Blasto.



Tell us about the demos!

I adored the demoscene, and I still do. Storm was never a serious demo group. It was more just a collection of friends, both in school and people I traded disks with. We all used STOS and wanted to make demos with it. So, we did. There are only really two megademos to our name, and I use that term very loosely as the first one didn't even have a proper menu system!

The second demo, Cor Blimey, was mostly the work of Robert Annet and his older brother, who developed a number of the screens and compiled the whole thing together. There were a few STOS crews back then, such as the Radioactive Hedgehogs, and it was a fun rivalry. Although the release of the Misty and Missing Link extensions kind of put paid to that.

The demoscene was and still is all about the community. Sure, there were the technical challenges and one-upmanship, of course. Bragging rights were a big part. But I think most would agree it was the friendships built up and within the demo groups that endured long after the machines fell out of grace.


Storm pushed STOS quite well and Richard created the face image using Crackart (1999).



You appear to enjoy diskmags?

I loved disk magazines! I loved reading them, and I loved helping create them. The ST had loads of great mags: ST News, Maggie, Ledgers, Power Mag, STOSSER, Ictari, etc. They fascinated me, and I spent many a fun evening reading and writing for them.

I bought one of the first Atari Falcon 030s on the market. It was crazy expensive. I had worked for months to save up for it! Yet it was and remains the pinnacle of Atari home computing. I enjoyed many years with my Falcon, running the Falcon Owners Group, a big PD library, publishing a magazine, and squeezing every last drop of love out of that machine before the PC finally took over the world. I still have a Falcon today, which I recently renovated (recapped, new parts, etc) - but perhaps that's a story for another day?

The first 3 (maybe 4) issues of Falcon Update were printed. I've sent you issue 1 and some pics from 2 and 3, but I have not scanned the whole of issue 2. I did scan the whole of issue 3 but don't have the time to convert it to a PDF right now.

The diskmag used a magazine shell that I coded in GFA Basic 3 on my Falcon! I bet it would work on Hatari, might be worth trying. I worked with Anthony Jacques to create a Falcon-specific shell, which was based on the Windows 95 concept of using a start menu. It was nicely coded, lovely for the time - but sadly never used and never released. I did release the prototype shells years ago, but no actual magazine was made using it.

Me - I cannot wait for Rich to complete PDF issues 2 and 3!!

Again, I think it all comes back to the social aspect. I know I keep harping on about this, but for me, that is what made the ST and Falcon special. It wasn't the machines themselves (although that did play their part). It was the people I met while using them. Some of which I'm still in contact with today.


Richard is right, the ST/Falcon has an incredible community to this day!



I couldn't end without asking Rich questions about LGD

Ahhh, good old LGD :) I created the first version of the site back when emulation was really taking off. PaCifiST had been released, and I loved it! I still had most of my Atari disks and a few CDs or burned games, and I was working for an ISP, helping look after their servers and working on web development full-time. So it was the perfect marriage at the perfect time.

When it came to creating the site, I knew it had to look like GEM. I also had all of the Pompey, Automation, Medway, etc. disks available. So I stuck them on my PC in the office of the ISP I worked for and ran an FTP server. When I put the site live, it utterly saturated the bandwidth on our line! So I had to introduce some rate limits, but the ball had started rolling, and visitors to LGD spread like wildfire.

Lots of other ST sites were popping up at the time: Demonburps ST Emporium, Lunar Jetmans site, etc. It was fun to be part of all of this. Like the old community was coming back together again, this time via the web and emulation. I contacted the developer of PaCifST, and LGD became its official home. After which, we added WinSTon (one of my all-time favourite ST emulators), and it grew from there.

LGD itself went through a few variations over the years, adding in the games database, the magazine scans, the YM player music, the TOS ROMs, and more. You have to remember back then, most people were still connecting via dial-up, so a nice speedy site was important. It was a wonderful few years, and I met a lot of famous ST legends thanks to it. I'm pleased with the role it took in bringing the Atari ST back into the public consciousness. Plus, I still believe it did it elegantly, much more so than most other sites at the time :)

And yes, I really ought to get around to fixing it one day. I've gone into the ancient PHP code and had a look a few times over the years, but wow, it's really old. I mean decades old. And I've never justified the time it would take to redo it so it could run on a modern server. One day, perhaps...

An iconic moment and website for many of us back then. Much loved!!



What are you up to these days?

I run my own company, Photon Storm (named after the classic Jeff Minter ST game!), and my day job is the creation/maintenance of the game framework Phaser. This allows developers to create games in and for the browser, although you can take them out to Steam and mobile stores. It's open source, heavily inspired by my love of the Atari, the demoscene, and all things retro, and is financially supported by its great community.

It may be 4 decades later, but that excitement and thrill I got from computers and gaming back in the 80s has never left me. And I'm very happy that I can bring this to fresh new developers today. It's like everything has come full circle. I guess some things just never change :)

Tipbit: I collect ARC games and Photon Storm
is the only one I've left to buy! #spooky



One more thing...

Hey, before you go, how about some insider photos from Richard's years throughout the 90s? These photos are excellent but the PDF of Falcon Update is unbelievable. My gratitude to Rich for everything and thank you for taking the time to answer all my Qs over such a long period of time - we eventually got it done! :)
Don't rush off just yet! Check out this final run of images kindly donated by Rich...


Richard's room at university was taken around 1993.


This photo was taken during his Falcon Update years - around 1994/95.


Check this out, the original Stario with that annoying Italian plumber Mario!


Now this is a cool image!


Does anyone remember this remarkable image?


Taken from issue 7 of Falcon Update.


Unreleased shell from FOG issue #10.

6 comments:

  1. Another brilliant interview Steve, cheers from Belgium

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  2. Great interview. Liked Phaser a lot and hope to give it another change. I sold 5 or 10 copies of STario I bought from Top Byte. Once I send STario with 10 PD's to a customer, during the transport the parcel got lost. The 10 discs later was sent back to me, but STario was missing, even it has the same dimension, so there were many STario fans out there back in time.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment :) What a shame you lost that Stario... sounds rather ominous that being left out like that. Did you ever get a replacement? I'd love to own Stario myself.

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  3. AnonymousMay 25, 2024

    Very interesting interview, and fun to see what the ST was capable of! I had no idea.

    ReplyDelete