30 ноября 1995

Part 12 - Matthew smith - the legend.

<b>Part 12</b> - Matthew smith - the legend.


Everyone   knows  the  legend  of  Matthew
Smith,  the oft-talked about programmer of
the  Miner  Willy games, who created Manic
Miner  and Jet Set Willy at the tender age
of  seventeen.  Reproduced  below  are two
original  interviews  from  1984  and 1986
where he talks about Miner Willy, Software
Projects   and   the   new  games  he  was
supposedly  working  on  (which have never


Interview with Matthew Smith
Taken from Sinclair User No.33 - Dec 1984

Life after Willy

Matthew   Smith  struck  gold  with  Manic
Miner.  Chris  Bourne  beards  him  in his
jet-set pit.

THE RECEPTION area is stylish. Sofas which
engulf  anybody  foolhardy  enough  to sit
upon   them.   Muted  prints  of  Parisian
posters.  A  small  pile of neatly stacked
brown  paper  parcels.  Clean  carpets. No
empty  gin  bottles.  Matthew  Smith,  the
creator  of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy,
seems  light  years away. All is order and
calm. Where are the chaotic by-products of
the mind which created the animated toilet
seats,   the   pirouetting   rabbits,  the
eternal  off-licence or the kangaroo above
The  Vat.  The madness is here, somewhere,
beneath the surface. But where?
Alan   Maton  enters,  tall  and  nervous,
always  in  motion.  He  is  the  managing
director  of  Software  Projects,  if such
titles have meaning. His looks are faintly
reminiscent  of  a youthful Jimmy Hill. He
does  not  look  like a managing director.
Inside   his   office,   chaos  begins  to
surface.  It  is the usual office chaos of
overflowing desks and not enough ashtrays.
"It's  not a smokeless zone" says Alan. "I
don't think it's even a nuclear free zone.
There should be an ashtray somewhere . "
Alan  hunts  for  an  ashtray.  The coffee
machine  supplies a substitute in the form
of  a  plastic  cup.  The  coffee  machine
claims  to  be  unable  to produce coffee.
"It's lying" says Alan. "How many sugars?"
Alan  produces a cassette of Jet Set Willy
for  the Commodore 64, a new conversion of
the  program. The latest Software Projects
cassettes   are   manufactured   in   blue
plastic.  "Nobody  else  does  them"  says
Alan.   "You  have  to  get  them  ordered
specially."  The idea is to prevent piracy
of  the  commercial  sort which passes off
duplicated    cassettes    under   similar
packaging  to  the  original product. Alan
rummages  about  for the finished product.
Even  the  transparent  section of tape at
the  beginning  of  the  cassette  has the
magic  words printed there. You may gather
that   Software   Projects   takes  piracy
Alan's  sense of humour becomes more overt
as  the  conversation continues. Liverpool
people  are  notorious  for their sense of
humour.     It    is    a    process    of
acclimatisation,  of  course. If reporters
were   directly  confronted  with  Matthew
Smith  there might be trouble. Eventually,
Alan  decides  that  the  time  has  come.
"Let's  go  and see if they've cleaned the
straw out of Matthew's cage" he says.
Matthew Smith lives in the zoo, along with
the   seven   other  contract  programmers
employed  by Software Projects. The zoo is
an  area of the building set aside for the
programmers. It is not at all plush, quite
unlike the reception area. To reach it you
must  climb a concrete staircase, and then
wait  for someone to unlock the door. Alan
has  a key, of course. The animals respect
If Alan is the Head Keeper, Matthew is the
star  exhibit, the money-spinner. He looks
up  from  a  conversation  with  two other
inmates  as Alan approaches. Alan explains
about the interview.
'Do  you  want  to do the interview?' asks
'No'  says  Matthew, tossing back his head
and   laughing,   his   long   black  hair
rearranging itself to hang down in the new
position.He   doesn't   really   mean  it.
Matthew was born in Penge, in Surrey, that
butt  of  a  hundred  jokes about suburban
life.  When  he was seven his family moved
to   Wallasey.   He   attended  the  local
comprehensive,  Mosslands on the Marsh. He
learned  nothing about computers, and left
at sixteen.
His first computer was a Christmas present
in  1979,  when he was a mere stripling of
twelve or thirteen. "It was a 4K TRS-80. I
had  been asking for one every day for six
months,  because  I  wanted  to take it to
bits to find out how it worked. I was very
into electronics."
Truth to tell, he looks today as if he was
once into electronics. His lank hair hangs
down  to his collarbone. He wears a white,
evidently   drip-dry,   nylon   shirt  and
indeterminate  trousers.  He has no socks,
just  a  pair  of  heavy  sandals.  He  is
clearly  a  one-time  electrician.  Or  an
off-duty  journalist. "I didn't take it to
bits   because  it  already  worked  quite
well,"  says Matthew. "I learned Level One
Basic on it, which was no use for anything
at  all.  I started learning machine code.
It  was  tough.  There  were  virtually no
books at all, except a really heavy one by
Rodney Zaks."
Having  discovered  the  delights of Level
One  'Useless'  Basic  he  gave up writing
arcade  games.  "It was two years before I
got  anything  out  of it. The first games
were  shoot-em-up  games.  That  was  what
everybody  played then." The break came in
a  shop.  The local Tandy shop played host
to  teenagers  on  a  Saturday  morning in
those  days,  encouraging  them to come in
and program or play with the computers. It
was  fun  for the kids, and good publicity
for  Tandy,  who  could  demonstrate  that
'even'   children   could   program  their
"People  say  software houses in Liverpool
are  to  do with unemployment,' says Alan.
"It's  not  true.  It's to do with people.
Like  the Tandy store, and Micro -Digital,
getting  people  in  there  hacking  away.
Without them there wouldn't have been much
in the Liverpool area."
Liverpool  is  indeed  a  sort  of Silicon
Valley  of  software houses, with Software
Projects,   Bug-Byte,   the   now  defunct
Imagine,  Voyager  and even personnel from
companies  not based in Liverpool, such as
Ocean  Software. Hit Squad readers will be
familiar  with  Steve Kelly, Chris Urquart
and Mike Singleton, all Liverpudlians.
Matthew  knew  a friend who frequented the
Tandy  shop,  Chris Cannon, now a Software
Projects  programmer.  Chris  Cannon  knew
Eugene Evans, who was writing programs for
Bug-Byte.  Eugene  was later to become the
star programmer at Imagine.
"Chris   managed   to   con   one  of  the
new-fangled  Spectrums  out  of  BugByte,"
says  Matthew  who,  unable  to  afford  a
Spectrum,  asked  for  one on loan too and
said  he would write a game. He showed the
company what he had done on the TRS 80 and
was offered a freelance contract for three
games. The first was Styx. "Trouble was, I
ran  out of memory halfway through. It was
only  a 16K Spectrum. That's why there are
lots  of  empty gaps in the game. It was a
shoot-em-up    game   loosely   based   on
Tutankhamun.  I  wrote it on the Tandy for
the  Spectrum, and wrote a routine to make
a   Spectrum  read  Tandy  tapes.  I  kept
dreaming of a disc drive."
Thus the Manic Miner legend was born. Alan
Maton, then despatch manager for Bug-Byte,
wanted a game similar in concept to Donkey
Kong,  which  had been an enormous success
in  amusement arcades. Matthew suggested a
game  with eight or maybe even 16 screens.
Such an arcade game had not been attempted
before,  not  with  fixed  layout screens.
"The   name  was  Alan's,"  says  Matthew.
"Eugene said 'I don't think it will work,'
which proves what he knows."

Miner Willy starts the legend

Matthew  got to work on Manic Miner, using
a  Model III Tandy, with colour and sound.
"I  did  16 screens, and then worked out a
way   of   adding  another  four.  It  was
finished  in  August  1983." The game used
core  code  routines for most of the basic
action,    but   special   routines   were
introduced  for  particular events on each
screen.  "It upset the people trying to do
a  conversion  to  another machine, " says
Matthew.  "People  working  on  the  Solar
Power Generator become sick."
Yes. Sick. Matthew's games are distinctive
for  their  sense  of  humour. "It started
with   a   skit  on  Eugene  Evans,"  says
Matthew,  reclining  on  his  yellow  foam
mattress  and  smiling benevolently at the
thought  of  Eugene.  "The animated toilet
seats  were  my  little brother's idea. He
wanted  toilet seats in the game." Anthony
Smith was three at the time.
Matthew's  modesty  is disturbing. Is that
all  there  is to it, a few ideas borrowed
from  elsewhere?  "No.  I  was fed up with
little  green  monsters."  Alan decided to
leave  Bug  Byte  and  set  up  on his own
account.  For  six weeks he ran Acme, part
of the Creative Technology Group set up by
Imagine  overlord  Bruce Everiss. He still
receives  letters  from  lawyers as to who
owned  what  and who was paid what. "I was
only  there  for  six  weeks," moans Alan,
Matthew  also  wanted  to  leave Bug Byte.
According to him, there was a small matter
of  royalties  owing.  "I  would have been
quite happy to leave Manic Miner with them
but they bent the contract," he says. Alan
explains.  "The  royalties were to be paid
for  the  duplication  of  cassettes,  not
their  sale.  The  contract was only a few
sentences.   They   were   almost   verbal
agreements in those days."
"They  ran  up a huge debt," says Matthew.
"It was Ь25,000 at one time. I kept asking
for  some of it. Whenever I called in they
either fobbed me off or
refused to see me. Eventually we agreed to
cancel  the  agreement. I had sold Styx to
them  but  they  only  had  a  licence  to
produce Manic Miner, which I cancelled."
Whatever  the  rights  or  wrongs  of  the
business,   and   business   in  Liverpool
certainly seems unnecessarily complicated,
Smith  joined  up  with Alan Maton and his
wife   Soo  to  found  Software  Projects.
Liverpool entrepreneur Tommy Barton joined
them  and  later  Colin  Stokes moved over
from   Imagine,  following  the  notorious
bugging  incident  in  which his telephone
was tapped.
Alan  is  anxious  to  dispel  ideas  that
Liverpool  is  a  sort  of Silicon Dallas.
"It's  a very friendly industry. There are
no hard feelings between me and Tony Badon
at  Bug Byte, for instance. As a matter of
fact,  we're having a meal together. We're
good friends."
Matthew  settles  back and talks about Jet
Set Willy. Jet Set Willy is said to be the
biggest  selling computer game in Britain.
Work  on  Jet  Set Willy began even before
Matthew  had  left  Bug-Byte.  He does not
like  giving  away many of his programming
secrets, but it will be a surprise to some
to  learn  that  the  music,  which  plays
continuously throughout the game, does not
use an interrupt.
"The  first  instruction in the program is
'disable all interrupts'" he claims. "It's
just               move-a-tiny-little-bit,
BEEP-a-tiny-little-bit.  Have you noticed,
the  more  lives  you  lose, the worse the
music  gets?"  Few  will have noticed. The
music  is unutterably disgusting anyway, a
maniac,  stunted  version  of  If I Were A
Rich Man, even worse than the original.

The most POKEd game of all time?

Bugs  crept  into the game, because of the
pressure  from  distributors and retailers
for  the  new game. That is the reason for
the  secrecy  surrounding  the  third  and
final part of the trilogy.
Bugs  include the double score for some of
the  objects  and  the major problem which
relocates  quantities  of monsters after a
player   has  passed  through  the  Attic.
Software   Projects  originally  announced
that  this  was  a deliberate ploy to make
the  return journey through the house much
more  difficult.  "Great, isn't it?" grins
Alan. "There's no such thing as a bug in a
game."  The  humour became wilder. Some of
the names for the rooms are obscure to the
point  of perversity. Was it true that 'We
must perform a Quirkafleeg' derives from a
cartoon  in that comic beloved of hippies,
The   Furry  Freak  Brolhers?  "Yes"  says
Matthew.  "I've  been reading those comics
for  years,  Furry Freak, and Fat Freddy's
Cat. So does Alan."
"You  told  me  it  was  a  Norwegian Folk
Dance,"  says Alan, accusingly. He does an
impression  of  a massage from the Swedish
Prime Minister.
It  is  indeed  the zoo, and no matter how
involved  the  conversation becomes one is
inescapably  drawn back to it. Some people
never  leave  the zoo. Stuart Fotherington
[sic],     a    punkish    leather'n'studs
programmer,  has  not  been home for days.
"They  know their job's on the line," says
Alan.   "People  see  everybody  wandering
around  and  think,  they're  idle. But as
long  as  they produce a program, we don't
care  how  they  do it. Some of them sleep
here.  Come  on, Stuart, when did you last
go home?"
Stuart  considers.  "Saturday,"  he  says,
uncertainly.  Today  is  Tuesday. "They've
all got keys," says Alan. "I haven't got a
key," says Matthew. "Well go and get one,"
says Alan. Matthew snorts.
Rumours abound that the next game is Willy
Meets  the Taxman with Willy forced to pay
up  for  his  Jet  Set Willy lifestyle. No
decisions  have  been  taken,  says  Alan.
Certainly  the  new  game  will  be  based
around  the  further  exploits  of  Willy.
Matthew  wants  to  have  a hardware-based
game,  involving  some  sort  of extra ROM
chip  which  could be used for programming
applications   as   well   as  forming  an
integral part of the new game.
In the meantime the company is releasing a
new  game,  Lode Runner, for the Spectrum.
It will be another levels and ladders game
but  with  the facility to design your own
screens  as well as use the ones provided.
The  graphics  are  clear but simple, with
blocks  to  be collected and white ladders
connecting   layers   of  brickwork.  Alan
explains  how wonderful the game is. It is
being    marketed   under   licence   from
Broederbond,  an  American  software house
which  has  had  a  great success with the
For  most  people, however, the success of
Software  Projects  centres around Matthew
and  his unorthodox imagination. He is now
the most famous programmer in the country,
the  embodiment  of the otherwise spurious
myth  of  the  schoolboy millionaire. What
does  it feel like to be a cult? "A what?"
frowns  Matthew.  "Am I? You only become a
star  when people ask for your autograph."
"They do," Alan informs him. "They ask for
signed  posters." Matthew pretends to look
puzzled.   "I   forge   your   signature,"
explains Alan, helpfully. "I try not to be
conscious    of    it"    says    Matthew,
self-consciously, eyes glued to the table.
"Stardom  doesn't  really appeal. Too much
hassle.  I  happen  to  be doing something
that  sells  well. Anything that is really
interesting to do should make money."
Alan  explains his ideal game is something
like  MUD, the Essex University Multi-User
Dungeon   in   which   many   players  can
participate  simultaneously  and interact.
Matthew  says he thinks we are approaching
the  sort  of game he would like to write.
"It  won't  be  written  on  the  Spectrum
first,"  he  says.  "We'll  get someone to
convert it."
Matthew's  lifestyle is experimental. Alan
says  Matthew  has discovered the sixties.
"I   don't   do   a   lot"  says  Matthew.
"Computing  was  my only hobby but I don't
do that any more. I like partying, getting
drunk and falling over a lot." He explains
how   he  went  to  a  nightclub  recently
dressed  in  a  toga,  'as an experiment'.
"Will they let you back again?" says Alan.
"Not in a toga," says Matthew darkly.
Unlike  many programmers, Matthew is still
a  fan  of computer games. "If I had to be
shut  in  a room with one Spectrum tape it
would have to be Atic Atac" he says. "It's
closer  to  what Jet Set Willy should have
been   than  Jet  Set  Willy  as  it  is."
Unusually,   Matthew   does  not  entirely
approve  of  games,  although he plays and
makes  a  living from them. "I think it is
harmful playing games - as well as writing
them.  Computers are going to have to stop
giving out gamma radiation, keyboards have
to   go.   Computers   should  be  totally
adaptable  machines.  I can see them being
used  - well, in a toothbrush, to keep the
bristles at the right angle."
Matthew expands on his view of the future.
"Things  get  hairy  when  we get machines
which  are  more  intelligent than us," he
says.  "I  keep going on to Alan and Tommy
when  they  are  planning to take over the
world.  I  want  to  lead a simple life. I
think  a lot of people do. The world can't
sustain  itself.  The  time  comes when we
can't  all  be  comfortable  and happy and
warm and fed. We have to blow ourselves up
or find a way of being contented. There is
not   enough  land.  True  communists  are
people  who  live  in  communes, villages,
tribes.  I'd  like  to live like that, but
always  with the communications we've got.
There  should  be an end to cities. Cities
should  have walls around them to keep the
city in."
Matthew  contrasts himself with that other
star  programmer,  Jeff Minter, whose Grid
Wars series for Commodore machines rapidly
achieved  cult  status. "What I don't like
about   Minter  games  is  they're  not  a
simulation  of  any  kind of real problem.
I'm  not into simulated violence. It's not
really   that  much  fun."  Minter  claims
Matthew's  games  are boring because there
is  a single route to success. "The single
route  doesn't present new problems," says
Matthew,  "but one fixed problem allows it
to   be  a  real  scorcher.  It's  bad  to
encourage violence . " What about the foot
that  crushes Willy if he loses? Is that a
violent  image? "No" says Matthew, firmly.
"The  foot  is comedy. Comedy is important
to negate violence."
Matthew  returns  to his work, and we take
our  leave of the zoo. Alan telephones for
a  cab.  The  coffee  machine produces one
last  cup of murky instant. Alan answers a
call. "No," he says, "there's nobody here.
You'll   have   to   call   again  in  the
morning.".  "I  have to be my own security
guard,"  he jokes, replacing the receiver.
"Here's  the  cab.  It  should  only  take
fifteen  minutes  to  the station. Nice to
have met you. Goodbye."


Interview with Matthew Smith
Taken from Your Sinclair No.2 - Feb 1986

"I  s'pose there's not much sex in Jet Set
Willy.  Maria's  a  bit on the stocky side
and  as  for  Esmerelda, she zaps you when
you touch her."

Matthew   Smith   isn't   the  tidiest  of
programmers.  Take  the  time he went to a
posh  restaurant  in the Sears Building in
New  York.  No  corduroys, no cut-offs, no
sweat  shirts,  no  sandals - that was the
house  rules.  Bit  of a shame really 'cos
that   just   about   describes  Matthew's
wardrobe!  Yep,  he's a right scruffbag on
the  outside,  but  on  the  inside - well
that's   another   matter.   Beneath   the
crumpled  clothes  and the hippy hair is a
razor   sharp   wit   and   a   phenomenal
programming   talent.   Well,  what  d'you
expect  from  the  man  who  created every
(well,   nearly   every)   Speccy  owner's
favourite  comic  character  that's right,
the manic jetsetter himself, Miner Willy.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?
A. A Spectrum (big grin!)

Q.  Lets  rephrase  that.  Is it true that
you're working on Willy meets the Taxman?
A.  No  comment.  (Even  bigger grin!) Oh,
okay  yes.  I'm designing it and doing the
graphics   and   there's  a  team  on  the
programming. This time Willy's going to be
taller  than  before - he's grown up since

Q.   Will  it  be  another  platforms  and
ladders  job  like Manic Miner and JSW? A.
There  are things that can be described as
platforms  but  they'll be hidden. And the
baddies,  about fifty of 'em, won't be the
stupid  bouncing up and down type. They'll
be  intelligent - well, all except for the
stupid ones that is!

Q.  Is  this  the  end of Willy as we know
A.  Yep.  He won't even be brought back by
public   demand.   The   platform   game's
finished  - JSW was the best ever. There's
no  new  programming  ideas in this game -
well  it's  not really anything to do with
me.  They  won't  even program the game as
I've  designed  it  - must be 'cos I can't
design  properly!  The  only  way  to  get
results is to program myself.

Q.  So  what    you working on at the
A.  No  comment  (Theres that grin again!)
Well,  I am working on a project. It's not
just  a  game - more a way of life...state
of      the      art...fast     loader....
interactive...it's   a   mental  challenge
controlled   by   the   computer   and....
pheweee...Everything  but the games called
Limbo  -  in  fact, everything's in Limbo.
And  when  you  stop  playing, you go into
Limbo too! It's also an expandable game so
don't  think  you'll  get away with buying
just one tape. And it'll take advantage of
different  memory  sizes.  It'll work on a
normal  Spectrum  but  it'll use the extra
memory of a 128k if you've got one.

Q. Have you got one?
A. Yeah...er,no! Sorry Sinclair! I saw one
on my holidays in Italy..er Spain.

Q. What's your favourite new game?
A.   The  only  decent  game  recently  is

Q.  Do  you  mind people taking the mickey
out of JSW?
A. No, I take the piss myself. That's what
he's  there  for - he's a bit like Charlie

Q.   Isn't   JSW   a  bit  like  a  waking
A. A woken-up too early nightmare! Most of
the  game  was planned under the influence
of alcohol and written under the influence
of other noxious sunstances.

Q.  D'you  think  there's  anything deeply
psychologically   disturbing   about  your
games. All those Willies and toilets?
A.  No. But you'd better ask my analyst. I
s'pose  there's  not  much  sex in Jet Set
Willy.  Maria's  a  bit on the stocky side
and  as  for  Esmerelda, she just zaps you
when  you  go to touch her. Originally you
were  going  to  have to take her to bed -
and  then  she'd  kill  you. But I dropped
that   for   deep  psychological  reasons.

Q. D'you still live at home?
A.  (An  eavesdropper:  I thought everyone
lived  at  home.)  Wherever  I lay my hat,
that's my home!

Q. Have you got any fluff in your navel?
A. No..oh, hang on, yes there is some.

Q. What colour is it?
A. Purple.

Q. How old are you now?
A. Nineteen. No longer the boy wonder, eh?
Not over the hill yet though!

Q. Are you a trainspotter?
A. Not since I lost my paintbrush.


So,  the only question that remains is....
Where  is  he  now?? Will anyone ever find


Другие статьи номера:

Intro - Contents.

Part 1 - Editorial and news.

Part 2 - Playing tips.

Part 3 - Games instructions.

Part 4 - Haven't i seen you before?

Part 5 - Emulate letters.

Part 6 - Spectrum quiz II.

Part 7 - Technical forum.

Part 8 - Reviews.

Part 9 - Spectrum books database (part 2).

Part 10 - Spectrum history (part 4).

Part 11 - A-Z Of Spectrum games reviews (part 4).

Part 12 - Matthew smith - the legend.

Part 13 - Spectrum games charts.

Part 14 - Spectrum on the Net.

Part 15 - Adventures.

Part 16 - Past, present and future.

Темы: Игры, Программное обеспечение, Пресса, Аппаратное обеспечение, Сеть, Демосцена, Люди, Программирование

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