In March 2014 Chris agreed to reply to some of our questions. Thanks, Chris!!
How did you end up getting into programming/sound? What was your working relationship with Colin?
I got into it purely by chance. In the 1970's I used to design audio electronics, but I had no interest in computers until Colin brought over a ZX81 and a memory board that he was building.
Working with Colin was always very easy. We used to work on ideas separately and then meet up here a few times a week to put them together and try stuff out. The only mild disagreements we had were about the difficulty level of the games. Colin always wanted to make them more difficult, I always wanted to make them easier! So we met about half way. I still think they are too difficult actually, but I guess if it had been left up to me they would have been TOO easy. If I could go back in time and rewrite Radzone the first thing I'd do would be to reduce the "follow the player" behaviour of sprites such as the starfish and others, they're just far too irritating!
Both of us designed the graphics, the sprites, and the screen layouts. Colin wrote the machine code routines (he was a much more accomplished programmer than myself) and also wrote the graphics editors. I did the Amstrad Basic part of the program which contained the overall framework of the game and passed various parameters to the machine code via RSX's.
What inspired Radzone? How did you come up with the screen designs, general concept, the ocean screen! and of course the awesome music!
I really can't remember how any of the individual game ideas came about. The title music is only 9 bars long, then it keeps repeating but with different envelopes. The oriental sounding music on the "orange" screens consists of randomised pairs of notes from a pentatonic scale. The background sounds on "Boot Hill Mast" are intended to give a vague impression of data communications chatter and maybe natural cosmic radio emissions. The sounds are very varied and sometimes quite amusing (or is that just to me? lol), and they are all generated by one line of Basic. That was one of the things I liked about the Amstrad version of Basic, the way you could compact lots of stuff into a self contained line.
You put an 'easter egg' in - the screen cheat! Why/when did you decide to do that? Was it a testing thing?
Yes, just for our testing purposes. You have keep the Shift/Control/Alt keys held down while you move the player into a green arrow or other link, then enter the number of the screen that you want to jump to, from 1 to 42. However, if you do this more than a few times the input prompts will make the screen scroll, which messes up the room layout and makes it impossible to carry on playing. At this point (in WinAPE) you can press Esc a few times to take you back to the start screen where you can use the cheat again.
Is it actually possible to complete the game without cheating? It's very very difficult!!
It's just about possible to complete Radzone without cheats, but only with a lot of patience and by making frequent use of "safe zones". It's FAR more enjoyable to play the infinite lives version - RADZONE hacked.DSK. But if anyone wants to try it without cheats I'd suggest they start by walking two screens left to Boot Hill Mast. There are just two objects to collect to turn it into a Safe Zone, then you can keep jumping back into it to replenish your Rad suit while clearing adjacent screens.
I would say the "Tower of Babel" is almost impossible to clear if you enter it from the ground level. However, you can enter it from the top by continuing left from Boot Hill until you reach "Nirvana" which leads down to the top level of the tower.
Our previous game "The Scout Steps Out" was even more difficult. In fact it's almost impossible! I did complete it a few times without cheats, just to prove that it could be done before we released it. I played it recently on the emulator and found it even more difficult than I remembered, quite ridiculously so in places. However, you have to remember that it was quite common for games of that era to be extremely difficult - think for example of the critical timing needed for some of the jumps in Jet Set Willy. I think when today's players look back at these old games they might find them a bit frustrating because they approach them as if they are free-flowing action games or Mario type games. But in reality they are more like Puzzle games, you have to stop and work out how to solve each screen.
How was Mastertronic and the other houses you worked for?
Our first game was with Amsoft, who were okay. Radzone was with Mastertronic, but I can't remember much about them other than we had no major problems, nor can I remember much about Firebird who we did Biospheres with. After that, Colin founded The Code Monkeys and I worked for Hewson and others for a while, then I returned to work with Colin for some Sega and GameBoy titles.
Did it pay ok? Good times? any crazy stuff that would be interesting to know about...
The Amstrad games didn't pay quite as much as we expected, which is one of the reasons Colin decided to found his own company. My music work with Hewson paid even less, but I enjoyed it so much I would have done it for free. The money was better for the Sega sound work. Overall I didn't make much money. Crazy stuff? Nope, sorry, just a quiet and uneventful life for me.
What did you think the the Amstrad machine overall, and the Amstrad magazines that came out? and of course, your game reviews!!!
I absolutely loved the Amstrad. I still have a 464 machine, with the colour monitor, and a disk drive and loads of disks. Everything that felt wrong with the Spectrum felt right with the Amstrad! And I had no enthusiasm for the Commodore, even with its superior sound capabilities.
I'm quite happy that Radzone and our other games were only released on the Amstrad. I would hate to have seen those colourful graphics reduced to blocky Spectrum attributes. Obviously the graphics in Radzone are nothing compared to today's games, but I still rather like some of the simple aesthetics. I remember spending far too much time on Zone 2 getting the overall colours and layout looking perfectly balanced, well at least to my eye.
Regarding the magazines, I used to have all the Amstrad mags on monthly order at the local newsagents and I enjoyed reading them and the reviews very much. I still have stacks of them up in the attic.
Still in touch with old developers.... what now, since codemonkeys closed up?
I still hear from Colin, although he doesn't live in the UK at present. It was through him that CPCwiki contacted me. Music collaborator Paul Kenny is still a good friend. The others I have totally lost touch with. I haven't done any games programming since the GameBoy titles for the Code Monkeys.
Anything you might want to be added to the wiki regarding your games, please have a look at the info there and please feel free to edit....a Dave Rogers section could be written...
Can't think of anything at the moment.
Do you ever play your old games? When was the last time?
I hadn't played them for many, many years, but when CPCwiki contacted me I thought I should refresh my memory, so I downloaded some emulators and game files. There were many things I'd completely forgotten about, for example:
- On "Very Heavy Water" if you stand on the middle of the "bath plug" at the bottom of the ocean and press down, it leads to an underground room.
- You can climb up orange columns by keeping UP pressed and alternately pressing Left and Right. But you have to get into the right rhythm. If you find you can't move any higher just hold UP on its own for a few seconds and then start adding Left/Right again.
- On "Tubulifts" the sprites don't harm you but act as lifts. Keep pressing Up when a tube moves up through you.
- I cannot remember how to clear Zone 23. If you're not using cheats you can only enter the room from below. There's a small notched ladder top right, but I've completely forgotten how you get to it.
- The "Boot Hill" screen was a reference to Bootle here in Liverpool.
- The apple out at sea gives you an extra 9 lives. It bobs around in the opposite direction to the players movement, so you have to walk along the sandy sea floor to the middle and then float up. You can re-enter this screen at any time for another 9 lives.
- The non-hacked version of Radzone played on an emulator has a problem restarting after Game Over. The program breaks back into Basic, but typing Run will only give a "memory full" error. To restart the game you have to type "goto 30" to bypass the first few lines.
Is it interesting that there's this huge cpc wiki following and loads of old gamer's from those days still playing and talking about those games... what does he think about that?
It's truly amazing. It was a very interesting time, and I hope the interest continues.