CROWTHER : Super being a superstar!

Photo of TonyIts barely a year since the yellow-topped, lightning-fingered Tony Crowther burst upon the games-playing scene with a series of stunning programs for Alligata: Killer Watt, Blagger, Loco and Son of Blagger. Heís continued to make waves since then, changing companies twice and rewriting his earlier hits as well as producing new graphical wonders. But what kind of person really is this 19-year-old whizz kid? Zzap!64 reveals for the first time the full Tony Crowther story in this interview with editor Chris Anderson

I think probably most people In the industry now see you as one of THE big names - do you actually feel like a star?

Yes. Two reasons. One, you get fan mail. I really like that. I usually reply to it which is good fun - you get replies back again and you keep in touch that way. And then, people come to see you. The other day someone just came round from York just to meet me.

How much mail do you get in fact?

Oh, about one a month (laughs), usually from Sweden and places like that. You get the odd one from Great Britain. Then you get these obscene phone calls. What they do is, they ring up to speak to Tony and then they say ĎIíve just bought this. Itís brilliant! Bye!í Bang. Thatís all they say.

The thing that seems to mark out your games is their amazing graphical quality. Whereís that come from?

Oh, Iíd always been top of my art class. I passed my O level with a grade A. Went for the A level but kept flunking it because I could never turn up for the exam. So I never really passed the A level. I wanted to go to art college - in fact I was going to, but I thought: oh, Iíll have a look at software for a bit. So I stayed on that for a year with Alligata - and then I thought: ay-up, this is quite fun this. So I ended up staying on it and l never went to art college.

But most people think that if youíre good at art, youíre bad at science and vice versa. So how come you can program?

I am bad at science. I never passed my Physics - I took it four times, the O level, and failed every time.

So how come you can program?

(laughs)I think because Iíve taught myself. If someone had tried to teach me Iíd have had no chance.

All right, letís take it through. When did your computer bug start?

Two to three years ago when Iwas about 16. My Dad has got one of these rich friends who keeps flying away and marrying millions of people and then divorcing them again. He had a computer and he lent it to me - it was a Pet 4032. So I borrowed that for a bit, and I couldnít make head or tail of it. I had it for three months - I couldnít work a thing on it, nothing. I used to type in listings, but they never used to work.

They never do.

So I thought right, Iím going to learn it, find out whatís getting me mad. So I picked up a little bit and wrote a program on it. You know Mastermind - I wrote that on the Pet. A really good version. It worked. You know the plastic model version you can get with the pegs. It looked identical to that.

So Mastermind was the first Crowther game?

Well, it never got anywhere. I sent it off as a listing to Computer and Video Games and waited ages and ages for a reply. I showed my mates and they loved it - and it never even got anywhere, they never even replied back. So whether they used it I donít know, but I never got anything for it. It was just getting me mad, so I bought a Vic - out of frustration. It was a new machine - it had colour! So I started playing around with that obviously. I also started picking up machine code, not very well but. . . I wrote a type of Galaxian game, and I was quite pleased with that. But it didnít get anywhere. Then I wrote a car game on it - Iíd just got a machine code monitor for it, I was obsessed by it - so I showed it to Superior Systems who had just started. Mike looked at it and he said: Look, tell you what, Tony, Iíll give you a Commodore 64 on loan. I canít pay you, but you can have it as advance royalties. The 64 had just come out, it was at £299. I thought: free computer, I wonít complain.

Two weeks later I came up with a program, Lunar Rescue. It was the first commercial program I ever did.

Do you think youíre a particularly competitive person?

I love competing with people. But I also love people to tell the truth, what they really feel about my programs. When I write a program itís how I like it, but that isnít the way it should be when you think about it because itís not just me thatís having the program. So what I do is I usually show it to people. If theyíre not impressed with it I scrap it and start again.

Youíre working on a new program at the moment. Tell me about it - as much as you can at this stage.

Well, itís a system - how can you explain it without giving too much away? - well hopefully itís going to be a new side to computer games, that 99 per cent of them will appear like this is. If other people feel about it what I feel, theyíll follow it. Itís going to make a package worth the money . . . um . . . itís difficult to explain. Iíd love to show you, but itís best not to . . . Iíd say itís going to be a new format to games. You know youíve got scrolling screens as a format, and flick screens - those two types - well itís a new type.

Youíre spending quite a bit of time on it by your own standards. Over a month.

It is a long time, but Iím hoping, with it being my first program for my new company, Wizard, I want it to be a success. In fact my working companion doesnít like it. But my brother has never liked any of my games, but heís never stopped playing this one.

Youíve had quite an interesting history over the last year or so, Some people feel you have a reputation for not being at all settled, for chopping and changing a lot, What actually happened? Why did you leave Alligata?

I know a lot of people whoíve got standard jobs, like working in insurance. If theyíre not happy with the people theyíre working with they leave. Some people stick at it, some people decide to leave. Iíve become one of those people.

So were there particular reasons for leaving Alligata?

I think itís just the fact I wasnít happy working. I didnít get out of the company what I wanted to, I could have got a lot more. I was told in fact that I should do what Minterís doing - work on my own, get my own company. But obviously - Iíd just left school, I didnít like that idea at all. What I did was leave Alligata and attempt to work along those lines. But as soon as I left I got tied up with Gremlin Graphics.

Were you actually lured away from Alligata by Gremlin Graphics?

No I had already left.

So you stayed with Gremlin Graphics for three or four months, was it?

Yeah, around that.

And what happened there?

Well again I didnít like the people I was working with - well, not so much I didnít like them. . . it was just that.. . Iíd never seen a company in my life, and suddenly I was in one. All right the company was doing well, but I wasnít satisfied with that. Itís not the money I was after, itís a satisfying job. I noticed that the company was not set up correctly, it seemed as though no one knew exactly how to run the company. . . I donít want to go into that. . . I lost interest in that and didnít find I was getting what I wanted out of it.

Did you feel they werenít giving you enough share in royalties?

No itís nothing to do with the money - I was quite happy with what I was on. There were just certain advantages I wasnít getting.

To do with control over how the programs were marketed?

I had no say whatsoever, the way I saw it. Obviously I said what I wanted, and they just said, itís all right, weíll do it. I was left on the outside writing my programs. So I decided to leave. I met up with Roger Taylor and we decided to split Wizard in half - we would own half each. Now we have the situation if I want to do something Iíll do it. If Zzap!64 wants an interview Iíll do it.

So you feel more settled now?

I donít think Iíll be leaving Wizard, donít worry about that.

[n.b. Click on the right arrow below to continue to the second part of this article ]

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