AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVE ROGERS(In the absence of a recent photo of myself, imagine a combination of the Holographic Doctor in Startrek Voyager, Clive Sinclair, and Kenny Everett)
What was your first computer?
How did you get into programming, and what was your first program?
My very first program? I vaguely remember one that made diagonal "wallpaper patterns" from block graphics.
What was your first commercial program? (I remember it being mentioned in the AA interview you did, I should probably dig it out and read it again)
The intro screen still looked as comical as ever ... the gangs of stomping scouts ... the giant bowl of cornflakes ... but the actual game now seems very fiddly and frustrating.
I'd love to know whether anyone completed it, especially the "Sinister Bends" screen, which was a swine of a timing puzzle.
Apart from the Scout, my only other involvements with graphics and game design were in Radzone and Biospheres. They were all co-written with Colin, and they were all "Amstrad-only" programs, written specifically for the CPC. We relied quite heavily on it's features (Radzone for example was Just a mass of RSX's! ) so it would have been a real pain to convert to other platforms.
By the way, it was no accident that there were 42 screens in Radzone and Biospheres... I'm a big fan of Douglas Adams.
And while we're talking trivia, I'd like to explain why I used the title "J.Dave Rogers". It wasn't done for effect, it's just a family tradition to use the middle name (my dad for example is J.L.Rogers but is known as Les).
What came first, programming or music?
How did you break into commercial programming?
After Biospheres, I did music and sound only, and I broke into that by sending a disk of demo tunes to Hewson, one of which ended up being used for Zynaps (another was later used for Turbo Boat Simulator (Probe)).
What was the first game tune you wrote?
The _oldest_ bit of music however, is in Cybernoid, because part of the theme tune was written about ten years before the game! The first part of the tune was written along with the game, but it reminded me of an idea that I'd had years earlier.
Both sequences take you from Gminor to Cmajor, but via different chords, so I joined the two together, with the older part becoming the middle variation of the tune.
I quite liked the thought that this fragment of music eventually made it into the outside world after having survived for ten years in a bunch of half forgotten neurons.
Which was the first game from Hewson to have one of your tunes in it then?
On the demo disk it had the somewhat cringeworthy working-title of "Medieval Rock"!
How did you go about coming up with tunes for games? Did you just get told what the game was about and left to it, or did you get shown graphics or early playable versions to give you a feel for the game?
Then later on, after the programmers had installed the code, I might get a few phone calls if any needed changing. In fact, very few of them ever asked for changes, with the notable exception of Chris Wood when we were doing Nebulus.
He was forever pushing me for improvements, mostly for reductions in the execution time of the driver. But I'm not complaining, it showed that he cared about the end product. Nebulus is still one of my favourite CPC progs for gameplay. Later on, doing music with the Code Monkeys I had more access to previews and more info about what was going on during the development of games, courtesy of Colin, who often calls here when in Liverpool.
Did you ever meet Raft Cecco or did you always work apart - I remember your interview with AA in which you said the stuff was just mailed to him.
Unfortunately, I can't travel to meet anyone myself, because I suffer from panic-disorder/agoraphobia. I hesitate to mention this, because public understanding of it is still in the dark ages, but believe me, it isn't as strange as it may sound, and it has very real physical effects.
What is your favourite tune that you wrote?
My all-time _worst_ music was probably "G.l.Hero", but it was quite fitting really, a crappy tune for a crappy game. This one isn't working properly on the emulators either, but in this case I'm not bothered.
Are there any tunes you weren't that happy with or wish you had more time/memory to improve?
Did you have any other game musicians whose stuff you really liked?
I remember there was one particular sound that everyone seemed to use that I really hated ... the "synth bass drum" (a sharply descending pitch sweep). I couldn't see the point of trying to simulate "real instruments" with the feeble Yamaha sound chip, which basically supplied you with three-beeps-and-a-hiss.
I thought it preferable to envelope the chip's outputs into whatever abstract shapes optimised the psychoacoustic illusion of a densely populated amplitude/time/frequency perceptional phase-space :-) Eh? Ask Richard Fairhurst, he explained it much better in comp.sys.amstrad.8bit :-)
Were there ever any games you wish you'd got to write the music for? Did you play games and be more critical, thinking the tune really didn't go with the game etc..
You mention using Cubase nowadays to write tunes on and convert them to the computers. What did you use back in the 8bit days when cubase wasn't around?
Once the basics had been entered, there would be lots of fiddling about with different arrangements, harmonies, etc, and I usually spent more time on this than anything else, so I put an option in the compiler to allow it to quickly recompile individual sections, so I could try out ideas very quickly, but at the expense of producing non-compacted data. The compiler had a slower "final mode" which would pack it all together.
The envelope format was very open-ended. An envelope could have as few or as many stages as you liked, and could be used for any purpose, pitch, volume or noise-frequency modulation. Parameters were entered as groups of three;- C1,S1,N1 ... Cn,Sn,Nn ... End Marker.
Where C = Countdown, S = Step-size (+ or -), N = Number of steps.
You write your own sound engines, did you write new one for each game or was each game containing a further evolution of the same engine?
Exactly the same engine and data were used for the Spectrum 128k, the only differences being the write-to-sound-chip routine and a couple of lines to adjust pitches to compensate for the different clock rates. It was moved over to the Spec by using CPC/+3 disk compatibility.
For the 48k Spec I sometimes did a separate driver and sometimes a completely different tune, e.g. Cybernoid, but when I could get away with it I just used the CPC driver, with all three channels, envelopes, the whole lot, plus an extra bit of code stuck on the end to boil it all down to a mono "beep"! A terribly inefficient and lazy solution I admit, but anything to avoid spending time on a 48k Spectrum.
For the Atari S.T., again it was the same engine, converted more or less instruction-by-instruction.
Everything revolved around the CPC, with the ST and Speccy getting it all second-hand as it were, which I reckon is only fair and befitting of their status as lesser computers :)
Later on, with the Code Monkeys, all the drivers, voice editors and the odd bit of reverse engineering were combined efforts, mostly with Colin again.
What happened to Hewson? When did you leave them?
What have you been doing since we last heard of you (Deliverance for me), are you still involved with the games industry?
During this period I did mostly Sega Megadrive and Gameboy ... games such as Turrican, Onslaught and Universal Soldier. The music was roughly 70% conversions / 30% original, and sometimes I teamed up with fellow musician Paul Kenny.
The music was all done on Cubase, running on an ST, then the Midi files were converted to our driver format (mostly for the sake of compression, midi data is full of redundancy) and it was ported over. Then came the FM voicing but this is supposed to be 8bit nostalgia, so I'll stop here.
You don't happen to have a list of all the stuff you've done do you?
ZX81 type-in programs, 1984/85, in "ZX Computing" and "My Computer" magazines, mostly co-authored with Colin Hogg;-
Hi Rise Hive.
Odds and ends;-
CPC Games (co-author C.Hogg);-
Music, Hewson games;-
Music, Code Monkeys
Today (1998) I'm completely out of touch with games programming. As I said at the beginning, I only got into it by accident, and I always felt a bit out on the edge, certainly not a mainstream coder like Colin, who will tell you that I used to oscillate between bursts of enthusiasm and wanting to give it all up!
Currently, I'm interested in a.i., artificial life, neural nets, etc. I like
the idea that programmers of the future will be more like "digital farmers",
using genetic programming to grow and evolve code rather than having to
construct it by hand in all it's tedious detail. I'm on the "strong a.i."
side, so I'm betting on the emergence of true artificial intelligence,
machine consciousness and artificial lifeforms.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the creators and maintainers of the CPC Emulators, and all those who support them with web pages, etc. for keeping the CPC alive.
Dave Rogers. 1998.
I would like to thank Dave for taking the time to answer my questions and for releasing his music source code for people to look at.