Interview with Mark R. Jones
November 1997

 

How did you get started in computers?

Well, the usual stuff. Friends had them at school and I got to use them that way (Spectrums of course). Then my mum bought me one for my 14th birthday in 1984 and I mainly played games at first but started messing about on Melbourne Draw and, after that, The Artist and The Art Studio.

In Oct/Nov 1986 I sent some of the stuff I'd stockpiled off to some software houses and found myself at Ocean in Jan 1986.

When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions?

As I said above, some friends had them at school and I went round one their houses and remember being shown Atic Atac, The Hobbit and Jet Set Willy. I remember being amazed at the jumping sound on JSW cause, to me, it sounded like twinkly water!

What was your first game?

The first game I bought was 'Trashman' by New Generation which is a top game!

What have you done on the Speccy?

In game graphics and loading screens:

Wizball Gryzor Vindicator (originally planned to be called Green Beret II, actually I have a print of the original artwork with the Green Beret II logo on it which they had to take off! Ocean didn't want to have to pay Konami for the use of the name!)

Some of Dragoninja

Loading screens only:

Mutants
Magmax
Tai Pan
Arkanoid II

Misc:

Music on Arkanoid
In game screen in Total Recall

What do you think of your games? Which is your personal favourite?

Ermmm....Yuch. You see, when I look at them all I can see is the stuff I couldn't get right and remember the stuff I did that never got put in! (It was very frustrating being a graphics designer because so much was done that had to be junked because the programmer couldn't fit it in even though he asked you to do it in the first place!)

How did you leave the Spectrum scene? Were you sad to leave?

I got homesick and got fed up of hearing one thing from one person and something completely different off someone else, also I didn't think the programmers I was being made to work with were good enough. I wasn't being bigheaded or anything but I was a perfectionist!

What are you doing now?

I live in Northampton, UK. I manage an indie/pop group called 'GLENDON'. I was doing it in my spare time during the last year while working in a record shop called 'Spinadisc' (an independent) but now they've just been signed to MCA/Universal so I'm managing them full time and, for the time being, working at the record shop on Saturdays.

I also DJ at 3 night clubs in Northampton playing indie/60's & 70's stuff. Groups like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pulp, The Verve, Charlatans, stuff like that!

What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?

The thing I enjoyed the most was almost pretending I was in Avalon or Tir Na Nog or wherever. Just getting completely engrossed and forgetting what was around me. You can't do that now because a. I'm too old for that and can't do it and b. Everything's so realistic nowadays I prefer it being left to my imagination a bit, it worked better for me that way (make sense?!?!)

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

Tir Na Nog and both the Avalon games because of the reason mentioned above. Stop The Express because it was a brill game (and still is!) Boulderdash just because it was so playable. Sabre Wulf because at the time it had just the most colourful graphics ever then with a good, playable game to boot.

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

Got a lot of respect for Simon Butler (graphics on Nomad, Neverending Story, Cosmic Wartoad etc..) because he was a good friend and really helped me out at Ocean and was SO enthusiastic about everything games wise and was FULL of fantastic ideas! An industry veteran who is still in the business and is one of the great originals. A super bloke!

The Ultimate team obviously.

Sandy White for doing something a bit different to everyone else (The graphics on I, Of The Mask were amazing for their time!)

Steve Turner for the Avalons.

The Gargoyle team before they turned into Faster Than Light, They were just brilliant, ALL the stuff they did. Heavy On The Magick was their tour-de-force.

Johnathan Smith (Joffa) because he was a genius, I met him a couple of times and once we were out in the pub and I asked him for his autograph which I still have.(I'd had a few drinks!)

John Pickford, he wrote fab games and in '91 I became mates with him and he was a real good laugh and we got on really well. I recently got back in touch with him as he's just set up a new company in Manchester, I was amazed he still remembered me!! Hi John if you're reading this, email me and I'll come up and see ya!

Do you use an emulator to play your old games (or any others)?

Too right, not really my own games that I worked on, I show them to my mates for a laugh! I usually sit down for an hour or 2 and just flick through a load, I don't seriously play them but I like to remind myself of how they looked etc..It's amazing how, after hearing 2 seconds of an in-game tune you instantly remember the rest of it despite not having heard it for at least 10 years!

What do you think about modern games? Can they compete with the classics? Aren't they all presentation and no gameplay?

A lot of them are but I have been amazed by stuff like Dungeon Keeper and Tomb Raider, which, in my opinion, is THE best game EVER written. Well done to the Core team for that. I think it's because it's the only game I've played recently that CAN actually transport you to another place, the way Avalon and Tir Na Nog did with me 13 years ago.

Quake I quite like but how many 3d games can one play???

Magic Carpet is good as well, Bullfrog I reckon are the current equivalent of what Ultimate were back then.

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

Ermmm... not having any bills to pay and having my meals cooked for me, oh and having my washing done for me as well and not having to shave! Oh and one more, not knowing what having your heartbroken feels like! Is that what you meant?

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Not really, I got a strip-a-gram in Gary Bracey's (the boss in the dungeons at Ocean back then) office in front of all the directors and everyone else for my 17th birthday. I was highly embarrassed and still bare the mental scares (!!).

Keith Chegwin interviewed me while I was working on The Vindicator and that was really embarrassing as well. I still have it on video but very rarely show it to people as I HAVE to leave the room when it's on. I was quite spotty and sport a lovely 80's spiked haircut as well as some lovely 80's glasses! (Yuch!) I've got a good 'behind the scenes' video of the shooting of it as well which is quite entertaining.

Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?

When I got a PC and got onto the net it was so good to find all these sites keeping the name of the Spectrum alive. I had no idea that all this stuff was going on, let alone realise that people knew who I was! It was really cool to realise that all this stuff, that should be disintegrating in peoples attics, will be around probably forever now.


Thanks to Mark for doing the interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and Mark R. Jones.