Richard Aplin

How would you feel about taking part in an interview, relating mainly towards the CPC, which probably means Flyspy & Shinobi, as well as whatever else comes up as a suitable topic?

    It'd be a pleasure (it's always nice to be remembered!). I did Double Dragon II on the Amstrad too (disk only CPC6128 version, which I was quite pleased with). Although I'm not sure what the copyright issues are nowadays, if anyone still has any of my old games and wants to upload files for a CPC emulator, feel free.

    Richard Aplin.


    I just found some Amstrad sites - got CPCEMU13 and now I can stroll down memory lane.. I found Flyspy, DDII & Shinobi too - cool!

Never played DDII, although everybody seems to think that Shinobi was better. Did you leave a nice long story in DDII as well?

    Umm. Well, actually, having just played DDII, it is a bit naff in the playability department. It was a bit rushed - I spent most of my time doing the more interesting techy stuff in it - it uses sprites lifted from the arcade board which are decompressed in realtime as they are drawn.. unfortunately it's not actually much fun to play (Sorry world!). I completely forgot about all that text in Flyspy - I just found it (like you did) with the monitor commands in the emulator! It seems a bit juvenile looking at it now, but it was about 6-7 years ago... I don't remember any DDII text in the game, but I _did_ do a really nice scrolling credits front-end (using mode 2 and a proportional Times font I converted from the Amiga) for it, but bloody Ian Mathias from Virgin didn't take to it and deleted the file off the production disk! (I lost it years ago, unfortunately)

I haven't looked though FlySpy for text, i was reffering to Shinobi.
I thought Flyspy was about 10yrs ago, wasn't it 1986?

    Yeah, my mistake - there was no room for any text in Flyspy (Shinobi text was in a graphics buffer which got used in-game, as I remember)
    Got Shinobi working now, on my machine (DX4/100) there's a problem with the code waiting for the vertical blank bit in port &f5xx. I think it's a case of the emulator not quite being EXACTLY the same as the CPC. I sent the Emulator guy (Bernt?) a mail about it, but if you hack out the VBI waits in Shinobi it works fine. Not a such a bad game actually.. :)

As for copyright issues, nobody seems that bothered, the spectrum sites seem to have no problems. Dave Perry confessed to having most of his games on a Spectrum emulator anyway!

    Fair play, no point in anyone worrying about these things nowadays.

So i suppose the best way to start these things is at the beginning....

What was your first computer?
How did you get into programming?
As far as i'm aware your first game was FlySpy, which got a really good score from AA.
How did you come up with the idea?
What sort of reaction did you get when you tried to get it published, were Mastertronic your first choice to publish it?
What did you next after FlySpy?


    The first one I ever used was a Commodore PET (with that horrible calculator keyboard) in the US when I went there on holiday with my parents (must have been about 12, say 1982/3), and I was well impressed. Got the old 10 PRINT "HELLO":GOTO 10 going in no time! After that, I used my mate's BBC relentlessly and got into Basic programming. Finally got a computer of my own - a Newbrain (ancient and not-very successful Z80 beastie), learnt Z80 (and wrote a simple assembler in basic), and wrote a Space Invaders clone. After a while, a guy in the local computer shop in Bristol (where I lived) lent me a Memotech (Z80 based, same video chip as the MSX) on the condition that I wrote him a game, and 'Miner Dick'(cringe) was my first Manic Miner clone!

    He'd gone bust by this time, so I tried to sell it to a few companies. Unfortunately, the Memotech was never very popular, so not a lot of interest, although Micro Power in Leeds (BBC games mainly) were interested in me, and offered to sell me (cheap) one of the first ever Amstrad CPC machines, to do them a game. This eventually arrived, I got the firmware manuals (I still think it was a great operating system; very 'open' and easy to use) and HiSoft's Devpac, and with 64k of RAM and a tape deck, I got stuck in.

    I was about 14 by then, and as I remember FlySpy took me just under a year (well, I was doing my O-levels and writing everything myself!) - I really don't remember where the game idea came from (I think it just evolved), and -thank god- about half way through I got a disk drive! (Anyone with an Amstrad at that time will remember the simple pleasures of listening to a disk loading on their first disk drive). Eventually I had to convince my parents to lend me the money to buy a second drive, as the source was too big to fit on one - I think the final version of FS took about 15 minutes to assemble.

    The speech at the start was recorded by the Amstrad's built-in tape unit (just played a tape in and sampled the output!), and the music was done by my sister on some dodgy Basic program I wrote. I did the graphics (can't you tell?)

    I seem to remember Micro Power had got cold feet in the games market by about 1986, but for some bizarre reason I didn't send the game to any full-price publishers, I just sent it to Mastertronic, who snapped it up. If I knew then what I know now,etc,etc,etc, but they gave me a grand advance (a lot of money when you're at school!) and 10p a tape royalty - I think it eventually sold about 50,000 copies. Mastertronic tried to get a C64 conversion done, but the programmer arsed it up something chronic and the idea was dropped.

    I did a load of freelance work for Mastertronic (tape mastering, and the like) while finishing my O-levels, and after a while I got a C64 and did them a couple of conversions onto that (The Islands of Dr Destructo and U.C.M.) - incidentally, the C64 programs were written with a home-made development system..I wrote a 6502 assembler on the Amstrad (you wrote the 6502 code as if it was Basic, and used an RSX command to assemble it) and downloaded the code to the C64 via the parallel port. When I was 17, Mastertronic offered me an in-house job (sort of technical tea-boy, doing mastering and sorting out techy stuff), and I moved to London. That was great fun (and something of a rude awakening - working in the industry gives you a completely different perspective on how things are done!!!) and I did some fun stuff for them. I did a C64 turbo tape loader that played Space Invaders while loading - Invade-a-load (Classic phone call one day- Q:"I've brought two games for my son and they're both the same!" A:"Leave the tape running for a bit longer, madam"), and an assortment of stuff I really don't remember.

    For those who don't know, Mastertronic were an outfit run by Frank Herman (now recently retired head of Sega Europe) and they hit on the great idea of knocking out cheapo games at 1.99 to sell through petrol stations and newsagents. (Incidentally, their favourite pet programmers were David and Richard Darling, who later set up on their own as Codemasters)

    After a while Mastertronic acquired veteran publishers Melbourne House, who had the license for the arcade hit Double Dragon. A company in Manchester (Binary Design) were doing the home computer conversions, and everything went smoothly for a while until the Amiga programmer went a bit loony and I was sent up there to try and sort things out. I finished the Amiga version (it was awful) for Christmas (obviously an important sales period), and they offered me a job as manager of their new development office in Bristol.

    I left Mastertronic (I was 18 by now) and moved back to Bristol. I arrived about 2 months after the office was set up, and their first project was converting Shinobi for The Sales Curve. The Amstrad programmer was a bit crap and after some frank exchanges of views on how exactly games should be programmed, he left. I put on my programming hat again and rewrote it (we actually used proper PC-based development systems by then - the classic PDS, written by Andrew Glaister, used by almost every game developer during the 1980s, and blindingly quick even on an 8086 PC). Finished Shinobi (quite pleased with it, although it doesn't seem to run on my copy of CPCEMU, so I can't see if it actually _was_ any good!), and then did Double Dragon II on the Atari ST, Amiga, and Amstrad (a bizarre mix of machines- the Amiga one was the best, although the Amstrad version was technically not bad)

      I remember reading about PDS, in a mag interview with Realtime. They had Compaq 386's with accelrator boards using PDS.
      I know somebody wrote to the sinclair newsgroup wanting to know how people managed to write anything without the stuff we have nowadays, and i cited PDS as the main system.
      I'd love to get a copy just for people to play with out of interest.

        I've still got the old 6502 & Z80 versions of PDS 1, but they need the PDS parallel I/O card to run (they check for it on bootup), and you need the target computer interface. It was amazing to use after having hacked about with assemblers on the target machine though. You could use all the RAM in the target machine too, you only had to leave about 150 bytes for the PDS downloader software, you didn't need to bother about the OS memory at all. Gorgeous.

    After that (and a few changes of offices) I did the Amiga/ST versions of Sega's Line of Fire (a bit like a 3D Operation Wolf) and helped out on ESWAT - for these we hacked the arcade boards and converted the graphics directly, which was enormous fun. After that I finished off a dodgy polygon game called Block Racer for Electronic Arts (never released), did a hardware disk copier for the Amiga in my own time (called Cyclone), and did the Amiga/ST versions of Final Fight (a popular beat-em-up by CapCom), which I thought was pretty good. The Sega Megadrive was popular at this time, and I reverse engineered it as a bit of a hobby. I designed and built a development board for it, and as Binary Design weren't interested, I took it to Codemasters (where a friend of mine had a job) who offered me a freelance design contract to do new versions of their 'Game Genie' console cheat device. I worked out my notice with Binary Design doing the PC version of the 'Godfather III' licence for US Gold (naff), and upped sticks to Leamington Spa, home of Codemasters.

      So are BD still going?

        Not by a long shot. They laid off most of their full time staff years ago and became Creative Materials (although they kept us on in the Bristol office), and just after I left they gave up altogether and the remaining two programmers and the director went to work for Microprose (where they still are now, as far as I know)

    At Codies I've done the Gameboy, SNES, GameGear and Megadrive versions of the Game Genie (including a _really_ good Game Genie II, which will never see the light of day - sob), a load of assorted software, hardware, development systems and reverse-engineering, and now I'm working on something fairly secret.

Why will the Genie 2 never come out? 16bit market dead?
Haven't they thought of doing a PC one, like the Action Replay?

    Woe is me, the Genie 2 is dead. It was finished about November '94, but allowing an extra 4-6 months (at least) for the ASIC to be done in Korea, getting the plastic moulding done, etc,etc, it would have only made it out for last Xmas, which, as we knew long ago, would be the era of the 32-bitters. Also, Galoob (the giant US toy company that manufactured/sold it) had several warehouses of the old Genie 1 left, and didn't want to kill the market for it.
    There are 5 prototypes of the SNES Genie II in existance (and it totally blew the Action Replay away), and three of the Sega Megadrive one (software was never finished). It's a great regret to me; if it'd been done 2 years earlier I'd be about a damn sight richer now!

I take it you're being moved to things like the Saturn/PS now?
Or are you moving onto the PC? Or is it really really secret?

    The latter. Unfortunately, I'm not playing with the RISC consoles at the moment, in fact, I'm not doing games at all. That's about all I can say!

Do you wish you'd maybe set up your own company and one things the way you wanted to, or do you feel much happier doing the programming?

    Yeah, still a techy at heart. I'm not the get-up-in-the-morning, suit-wearing type at all. The key is to still get paid as if you are a manager!

Do you have any more control over the way you do things now as opposed to the way you did do them before?

    Ummm... Sort of. I'm not doing games any more, but it's still pretty much "here's what we want doing, now go away and do it and come back in 6 months", which suits me fine. Obviously with arcade conversion you have the original board to base things on, (which is often better than a written game design, because such designs _never_ have enough useful detail in. They usually spend 25 pages going on about the storyline, and about 3 pages defining the game. It's bloody irritating)

I know in Shinobi, you make reference to having being on the C-64, and forgetting how good the CPC was to write for. Do you wish that it had been more succesful than it was so that you could have stayed writing for it as opposed to having to move to the more popular machine?

    The C64 was good in that it had some fairly nice graphics hardware (for the time), but it was like most games consoles in that the video chips were only any good for certain things, and terrible at others, and it had sod-all CPU power. The main problems with the C64 were the limitations of the sprites - there was no practical way to draw moving objects unless you used them, and you had limited pallettes/sizes/sprites per line, so for doing arcade conversions it was a bit of a nightmare. It only really excelled at games specifically designed for it.
    The SNES is a lot like the C64; fine for sprite based platform games, but very hard to use for anything 3D or inherently bitmap based (e.g. isometric/3D games).
    The Amiga is like the CPC, in that it uses a simple bitmap and has a reasonable CPU power, and is much more flexible, but can be worse than dedicated video hardware for certain things.
    The CPC was a brilliant design for the cost, although it did suffer from a slight imbalance between CPU power and screen size (in terms of bytes). The Spectrum had a good balance of CPU power and video memory, but was crap in all other ways! (no hardware scrolling, no double-buffering, and a crap colour system).
    I was most impressed by the CPC firmware - a beautiful bit of programming; they got it EXACTLY right. The BASIC, the accessability and documentation of the operating system, etc,etc. The tape loader was sooo cool, it calculated the tape speed by analysing the header tone, and would therefore work with any baud rate that the tape deck could handle, and what's more, it did it all in software (no hardware timers). CPC wish list:

      1) *Blitter* Not very complicated at all to design; (especially a dedicated MODE 0 blitter), and would have made a _huge_ difference to games. Hardware sprites are OK, but they never seem to do exactly what you want, and they take much more silicon than a blitter. I wish I could go back in time and be on the CPC hardware design team. It's not just a case of cost either, I know the CPC was built 'down' to a price, and they did a good job, but the design is a bit pedestrian in some ways; a lot of off-the-shelf chips. The Amiga is a fantastic example of what a bunch of really inspired and unconventional hardware designers can do when let loose. Actually, the Atari Lynx (same design team) was an even more inspired job, but it never took off.

      2) Faster CPU (e.g. A Z80B at 10Mhz and without the hardware frig in the CPC that stretches instruction cycles) Although a blitter would have made this less necessary.

      3) Proper raster interrupts (very easy to do in hardware - would have taken about 5 mins on their chip design software)

      4) Slight mod to the 6845 CRTC to let you do split-screen hardware scrolling.

      ..And they should all have kept the CPC464 keyboard and have had 128k RAM. Apart from that, a mighty fine machine.

    Anyway, that's me. I'm 26 now, and I feel old. Hope I haven't bored you too much! Give me a mail if you want any more waffle :}

I would like to thank Richard for taking the time to respond to my questions, and for giving far more in answers than i ever could have asked for :)
Of course i don't claim to have asked every question that people may have thought of, therefore if anybody has any other questions they would like asked, just send them to me and i'll get them to Richard.