A Chat with Andrew Braybrook from issue 11

Pencil drawing of Andrew and Gary

There I was walking down the high street when who should I bump into but . . . Andrew Braybrook.

GARY LIDDON's a right gossip when he's out shopping in Ludlow's main thoroughfare, the High Street. He can't resist stopping for a chat when he just happens to bump into someone. Last month it was Tony Crowther, and now, coming out of the supermarket loaded down by a shopping bag full of PG Tips tea bags, who should he spot but Andrew Braybrook popping in for some groceries and a chance to redeem some 5p off coupons on Tesco disks.

Gosh, if it isn't young Andy Braybrook. Haven't seen you since Wednesday. What have you been doing with yourself recently then?

I've been working on Uridium and when I last saw you I'd just finished working on the character set. Since then I've been working flat out to get the coding in and putting in all the good ideas that Steve Turner gets every now and again like 'wouldn't it be good if'... demanding the impossible.

I know the feeling . . .

We've been developing a game idea. We had to go up to Norwich to study the enemy, see what there was in the arcades and to see if we could get any more ideas for the graphics, and then generally we've been slaving away until all hours of the evening. It's all been coming together very much quicker this time than it did with Paradroid where we used to have problems at various different stages that we would be battling with for weeks on end, but with this one I seem to have discovered how to program at last.

Actually I can write a routine now and it doesn't matter how difficult it is as usually after about two tests it's working. Which is great - every now and then something totally illogical happens that I can't explain, but I think I'm getting quite good at this programming lark, I could probably make a living out of it!

Uridium is all finished now though, it just needs tuning up and letting the test pilots play it and getting their opinions on it. I've had some of the test pilots look at the game and they seem to be very happy with it. I'm used to getting 26 point critcisms in from some people but they seem to like this one. So I'm going all out for the arcade look; I don't want it to look like a cutdown arcade machine, I'm trying to write a game that looks like it should BE In an arcade, and it's working so far.

I was reading through the bit we did on you a few issues back, so I know how you started in programming, but how did it feel when you swapped from the Dragon to the Commodore?

It's a bit different working on the Commodore - the first thing I did was to convert a Spectrum game. The Commodore, I learned, has not as powerful a CPU as the Spectrum. It doesn't have the power to be able to get on and do a job. The version that I finished with was not as fast as when run on the Spectrum. I tried therefore to enhance it to use the colours that were available and I used the sprites as best as I could but it never took off as a conversion. No conversion can work off a program that is so orientated towards what the Spectrum can do - the Commodore isn't going to do it as well. So from that I learnt that a different system of working would be required to give a game that Commodore look, Commodore games do have a distinct look, as each computer has its own look. I would think that converting games is dangerous. Either design a game so that it will work on lots of machines, which will limit the design so that it will not necessarily use any of the machines well. Or you've just not got to want to convert.

I thought the Ultimate conversions were quite good and didn't work that badly, also Sweevo's World is now on the Amstrad and it seems almost identical.

Well, something like Sabre Wulf I mean, that would go anywhere.

I didn't think they did that very well, codes weren't very good, they managed to get the pixels flickering on the corridor.

Photo of Andrew Braybrook

The meanies just appear, and that is a cop-out as far as I'm concerned. There's no point in bumping them into another one - you've just got to zap em. I was impressed with the look of Knight Lore on the Amstrad they actually used colour - you can actually tell that they've got a couple of artists working for them. Their programmers seem to be bottom down programming. They've gone for colours again, and they've got attribute problems. They seem to want colour and they're just overlapping them all over the place willy nilly. I think that there'll always be a colour problem on the Spectrum and they should just accept this and not bother too much with colour. They'll get a more professional look without mucking the colours up. Steve Turner spent most of his time trying to program sprites into his game, a task that is taken for granted on the Commodore and yet he spent most of his time programming in order to try to simulate sprites, to get them to move in front of each other-which he did do in the end. It's good but if you spend so much time on that you don't have the time to get on with the game. Which in his case slowed the game down. It was running at about six cycles a second, whereas the Commodore would have been running at about twenty five - seventeen is the slowest on Paradroid and fifty on Uridium. Obviously when it's running faster you can get a much smoother, more positive game I think. It reacts more to what you're doing much more smoothly when you're accelerating for example.

People do notice too. Subconsciously more.

Yes, that's another thing if you do something reaIly well, people DON'T notice it. For example in Uridium where I'm flicking the screens doing the titles, the flicking is between two totally different modes and I had it set up and I was flicking the modes at the wrong point and I was getting flashes of colour before I'd set the next screen up. It was very messy and I'm sure I'd get marked down for that. But I won't get marked up for fact that it's doing it and you can't see the screens. If you do something really well people don't notice it - like the smooth scroll. I spent a lot of time getting that really smooth, but so what? Nobody's noing to notice that, but if I'd done it badly they'd say 'Right, that's not so good,' but if you do it averagely nobody minds.

I still think that people do notice it, but it only has an effect at a subconscious level.

Yes, if the person who's playing the game is satisfied enough to want to load it the next day then it's worked, which is all I can really ask for. Though it is nice to be appreciated. But there are a lot of people (reviewers) who don't do their job very well. Dare I say it, in reading some reviews of Paradroid it's blatantly obvious that a lot of people have not played that game for longer than ten minutes. They can't even get their blurb right about what they do say about the game, and you know damn well that they haven't played the game for more than ten minutes and haven't had a chance to see what's in there and just slap down the review and say that it's quite pretty but no more than slightly above average - which is very disappointing.

And it's partly our fault because we bow to the magazines' printing schedules, so we feed them the game early and they have two days in which to rush a review of it. Whereas if we were to say 'Oh stuff it, we'll go over to the next magazine', then they would have three weeks to play the game and suss it out properly. I'd much rather people did that. If I've spent five months writing this game I don't see why they should spend just ten minutes playing it. It can be quite disheartening.

I can imagine.

Well I do try to put a lot of things in there and work hard on the presentation.

You did get rewarded for presentation in ZZAP!

Well yes, but you lot did actually play the game. Which is how it should be. I wouldn't want you to play it to death, to start to 'turn off' as you see new things coming out, but it's nice to be appreciated, thank you very much. There have been some good reviews as well, you can tell that they've played the game but I don't know why some people bother. They're just journalists doing a job, they're not into computers in any way. I'd rather see the game go to someone who knows what the machines can do and therefore know what to expect. That's part of the problem. Having worked on utilities on mainframes I know what sort of things people expect from software - they don't expect it to crash out just because they typed in something wrong. They don't expect to have to fill the whole in again because they keyed something in wrong. It's all to do with standards and presentation otherwise the software's naff. It's got to be user-friendly. A lot of software isn't and it's something that I like to work on hard. I want my software not to frustrate anyone outside of the game. It's this sort of difference between the game that's in there, and the program where the program is the interface between you, the player and the name, and that interface should be totally transparent. You shouldn't feel that the program is holding you up from playing the game by only pulling the joystick once every three seconds, or something, and a lot of games are frustrating because they hold you up from playing the game by pausing for fifteen seconds while they blow you up.

Photo of Andrew, Julian and Steve in the pub
Taken at a recent visit to the Bull Inn, Ludlow.
Andrew Braybrook (left) and his 'boss'
Steve Turner (right) flank Julian Rignall.

That's why I've got my test pilots. It's annoying sometimes seeing what people get away with. that's where presentation comes in. It all depends on how much time you want to spend on it. I do like to work on the game design to make sure that the game works. After all that is the most important part. We are writing a game, not just pretty sprites that move around the screen to great music and backdrops. Once again though, I do think that some people do get away with murder.

I must admit that I'm not that impressed by your Winter Games review. I don't see why you should have to spend that long loading stuff in. You've been reviewing the disk version. I think that you should watch out for a tape version and try that. Having played Winter Games on tape myself, you spend more time loading than you spend playing the game. After every game it loads in the National Anthem, which could surely be hidden away in some cubby hole in the Commodore. Then it loads in the next event which is a 10K pretty backdrop, which they can do, having decided to load in each game. But at the end of the day, that's all it is. There's some nice control work that they've put in. They do think about that, but it's still a bit naughty. I don't really think that any of those games singly could sit on a Mastertronics shelf because they're not going to hold your interest for more than 15 minutes. It's only the fact that each game is part of an overall structure of the eight that holds it all together. It's a bit naughty that. They should try to hold them all in memory and comoromise on the backdrop. A lot of the games are quite similar and could have used the same backdrop. It would be nice if everyone had a disk drive but tape loading is still the greatest portion of the market.

How big do you think the market really is?

There are over half a million Commodore owners out there but not many of them buy a specific game. I don't think any Commodore game has sold more than 50,000 yet, allowing for the fact that you have to take the number quoted by the manufacturers and divide by something or other. I mean, they're not on sale or return and distributors are not going to sit around with thousands on stock, so most of them are in supermarkets and so on. A lot of them are dead stock.

Moving on from the dead to the living, where does most of the inspiration for your games come from?

I do like to keep my eyes open on the arcades, I must admit, to see what sort of games are in and talking to my test pilots is always a good way, seeing what they enjoy playing. Areas of inspiration sort of build up as the game goes along. I seem to start more from a technical angle. I ask myself, 'What did I do last time?' and try to improve on that and,'What would I like to see on the screen?' and develop it slowly. I certainly don't start out at the beginning of a game and know what it's going to end up like. Uridium has come along a lot quicker because I knew roughly what I wanted it to look like after looking at the arcades this year, but in the past it's been a slow process. Talking to friends and so on. Watching science fiction on the television -things like that. Seeing other people's games too and thinking,'well I can do that and make it better.' I can see what they're getting at but they didn take it far enough.

There are lots of different combinations; control modes and so on that I'd like to put in and so on. At the end of the day though, I want to be able to enjoy playing the games and I eventually do.

I'm usually pretty fed up with a game once I've finished it because I've been in front of it for months. I can live with Paradroid now. I had to leave it for a couple of months after I'd finished it but I can actually get back into it now.

What do you think about the way in which control routines have changed for games?

Well, with the control modes I'm playing with you can't just pick them up in few minutes. You've got to appreciate all the different sorts of effects going on, friction, gravity and so on and use them to your advantage. What I've changed in Uridium is that you've got no friction. Left and right will only accelerate you in those directions. You will only continue in those directions. Obviously, it wouldn't be appropriate for Paradroid, but Uridium tries to keep you on the move all the time. The control mode is the way in which to do this, to really let you develop a feel for the game. The letters that I've had show that is the thing that people comment on - the Inertia effect. Most games still have this Space Invaders type of control. No speeding up and slowing down which is okay for simple concepts but as games are now becoming more advanced you need a more sophisticated vehicle to be able to perform its task. So as 'nasties' become more advanced you need a better equiped vehicle to deal with the more difficult task. It should only be the limitations of your own skill that gets you blown up in the end.

It's comimg back to this idea of not being limited by the software. In Dropzone you don't get enough bullets, there are quite a lot and they're quite fast but when under a lot of pressure you've got to be Julian Rignall or you're going to be blown up, you've got to have the fire power to do the job. It's little things like that that can spoil an otherwise good game.

Have you any other hobbies at all?

Photography. I actually do a lot of the screen shots. I'm a great Doctor Who fan, I like watching films, and music is my other great love. I enjoy sitting upstairs and playing with computers and listening to loud music. I'm not quite as freaked out as Mr Minter though. But we do seem to like similar types of music.

It seems that within the computing fraternity most people seem to like the same types of music.

Yes. We're all the same sort of people really. I don't think anybody could be quite like Mr Minter though.

You said you had been looking in at the arcades recently. What's your next project going to be?

Somebody mentioned that I was doing a trilogy, Paradroid being the first one, but I don't know where they got that idea from. Well, after I've finished a game it's very much a case of sitting down and designing some character sets and hopefully that will inspire me to write a game. But I don't really have any firm plans concerning the Commodore. I'd like to write a game that doesn't involve a scrolling screen. I think that I've taken that to its limit now. It can't get any smoother than it has. It's very difficult to design a game that works and to get it to do so within a fixed screen and system. Scrolling isn't very nice but it does give you a larger playing arena, you don't feel confined.

I don't want to get involved in a 3D game where you go into the screen because that's much more difficult to judge what's going on. I mean, Gyruss was a supergame in the arcade. I'd like to do something on a fixed screen somehow so I can use more of the CPU and do more in the game itself rather than spending it all on scrolling. It's all very open at the moment. ST Software, or Graft Gold as we're known now, are moving in January to 4 miles away, a little village called Witham. I'll have to catch a bus into work and stuff so I'll need a lot of extra time to do that, so once I've sorted that turmoil out I'll be ready to do something. Anyway, talking of moving, I must push on with the shopping and get these 5p off tokens redeemed at exceptional value for money.

Yeah, it was nice bumping into you, Andrew. see you again soon.

Bye. Ta ta.

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Brigadon - Zzap!64 Online