Pole Position

(Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48/128) ( Atarisoft )

Another of the Atarisoft conversions for local systems, that we made and published for Sinclair Spectrum.  I recall Steve White (?) was heavily involved, as I think this was the first conversion underway from the UK Atarisoft team.  Built by a 3rd-party developer, produced by John Norledge, tech supervision by East-end Steve, me helping out anyway I could!

I think we made a BBC version too, but I don't recall if we ever got that to market before the big Atari crash.

ZX Spectrum

ZX Spectrum

BBC Micro


Pac Man

(Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48/128, IBM PC) ( Atarisoft )

Another of the Atarisoft conversions for local systems, that we made and published for Sinclair Spectrum and, for some reason, the PC!

John Norledge was producer and I was assistant!  

Donkey Kong

(BBC Micro) ( Atarisoft )

Another of the Atarisoft conversions for local systems for the BBC Micro.  I have a feeling this was a casualty of the collapse of the original Atari company and the closure of Atarisoft.  I seem to recall that all the boxes were made!

John Norledge was producer and I was tea-boy!  

I don't think we knew back then just what a big deal this game would become in gaming history!

Dig Dug

(BBC Micro) ( Atarisoft )

Another of the Atarisoft conversions for local systems.  I have a feeling this was a casualty of the collapse of the original Atari company and the closure of Atarisoft.

John Norledge was producer and I was tea-boy!  I used to love playing the coin-op of this as part of our testing process! 

Video F.I.L.M.S.

One of the data sheets I created to provide the high concept for the test sites

(Atari XL/XE) ( Atari )

This was the first title I ever produced - and it wasn't a game!  It was Atarisoft's first non-games title for the Atari Home Computer System.  As a sister company to Warner Home Video, we created a commercial inventory and rental package that utilized 8 x Atari 1050 hard disk drives in parallel, an Atari 800XL, a TV and a dot matrix printer!   It booted from a handful of 5.25" diskettes and likewise saved to even more!  It was developed by a 3rd party husband and wife developer (whose name I forget, sorry!) based on their business software suite that they were selling for home computers.

Kind of like this - but x8 of them!  I have some photos somewhere which - when I may one day find - I will update here

I came up with the snazzy name - "Film Inventory and Loan Management System" (F.I.L.M.S.). I was very proud of that! My responsibilities included the contract negotiation, product naming, developer liaison and product testing.  I arranged the live testing of the product at video stores in the south-east of England. This included installing the hardware and software, staff training at the video stores, product support, troubleshooting and analysis of results. I also scripted a short promotional video on the "F.I.L.M.S" project, and traveled to Warner Studios in Geneva, Switzerland, to record and edit the final video production!

Hard to believe we ever trusted any data on these flimsy babies!

The product worked pretty well - certainly better than the manual records that our test sites were using - but the Atari systems were underpowered for the needs and would have been problematic had it ever been commercially released.

The title was one of many casualties when Warners sold Atari in 1984.  

Crystal Castles

(BBC Micro) ( Atarisoft )

Another of the Atarisoft conversions for local systems. I believe the developer was Peter Johnson, producer John Norledge with me helping out!

Found these screeshots on stairwaytohell.com

Jon Dean makes the news as the voice of heavy-handed corporation!

I don't recall if this ever got released by Atarisoft due to the collapse of the parent company and the sale to the Tramiels, but it must have been close as I have a copy of some press at the time when Atari went after clone versions, and for some reason I don't recall, I became the spokesperson for all this!

On www.stairwaytohell.com there is an interview with the author of Castle of Gems, Paul Shave, with the other side of this story!  Back in those heady days, it was the norm in Europe to clone coin-op games that you liked.  People really didn't think much about infringement as the laws on games hadn't been tested!

Captain Atari and the Hotline

My first job in the games industry was product and technical support.  Although back then, we didn't know there was a games industry - it was just the coolest job a 22-year old could ever have!

No email - everything was phone or letter. 

I had two types of customers that I supported - users of Atari home computers who wanted to know how to things like connect their electric typewriters to use with AtariWriter, people having problems with 6502 Assembler Editor programming, or maybe upgrading their Atari 800 to it's full potential of 16K!  

The other type of customer were kids - they would call and ask for hints on how to progress in Pac Man or Space Invaders, or any of the other cool games on the Atari 2600.  And for them, I was Captain Atari!  True!

I would also attend no end of trade shows in the UK or Ireland (I recall giving several demos in the early mornings at London railway stations too), attend user group meetings, or writing letters and responding to hundreds or questions every week.  Also, writing for the UK user magazine called I/O.

The department was part of the Atari Service division, and run by George West.  These pictures are stills from a video that was made to show the state-of-the-art operation we were running back then, in the days when Wham! were the hot pop stars!

George

George's pet - he loved this machine, which at the time was state-of-the-art!  It kept track of how many calls we were handling, how long people had to wait etc

atari-george.JPG

The front line customer support phones were manned by Helen and Dawn.

Helen

Dawn

Sha pretending to work - look at that top-end tech!

The guy that taught me the job was John Norledge, who moved upstairs to setup Atarisoft London (Slough!), and later recruited me there - and hence I became a games producer.  John's replacement, who I trained, was a brilliant teacher looking for better pay - Shamus Kelly.

We had a blast!  Those were great days.

The fine folks of Atari Service, UK, circa 1983

Ms Pac Man

(BBC Micro) ( Atarisoft )

Atari's IP was getting ripped-off... er... creating some inspired look-alike games in the early 80s, and Atari's answer was to create versions of their killer IP for other systems.  The job of this fell to Atarisoft London for UK systems such as the BBC Micro, Acorn, Amstrad, Sinclair and others I no longer recall. 

John Norledge was producer of all of these, assisted by Steve ? (sorry can't recall last name, I think it may have been White) who provided technical engineering support.  As ever I was the Assistant Producer, which typically meant admin in those days, keeping the lab organized plus playing the builds.

We would videotape the coin-op (which we had in the lab), and work with 3rd party developers who would replicate what we saw on screen.  In some cases we could get real assets to work from, but mostly it was copying as best we could. 

Ms Pac Man was one of several games we created for the BBC Micro, as well as the ZX Spectrum. 

The Lone Raider

I was part of the newly created Atarisoft London.  I was learning the ropes from the brilliant John Norledge who had first recruited me to Atari UK a year prior. 

Justin getting his packaged game from the Atari UK MD Graham Clark

We all used to regularly contribute to Atari's user magazine, called I/O.  It was decided to run a programming competition to create a game for Atari's home computer systems - the winning game being commercially published by Atari!

The contest was won by 17-year old Justin Whittaker and his game was The Lone Raider.

John worked with Justin to tweak his game and make it truly commercially viable.

Basic, cheap packaging! Job done!

My connection to the Lone Raider, other than helping out John where he needed it, was a couple of years later, when Atari was sold to Jack Tramiel (ex-Commodore).  They fired almost everyone at Atari UK and closed down Atarisoft.  I think they kept me on because I was cheap and knew all of the products.  I was moved into marketing, and asked to think up game bundles for the new XL product range.  I did - one of the titles was The Lone Raider!  This natty red design was made by me - red pens and all!  There was no money so I copied the line art from the XL literature and made this basic artwork, to be used as a template on all the repackaged material!  Crazy to think that in those days it was easier to use pens than to use our home computers for such design!