Interview with Jon Ritman
Autumn 1996 and November 1997
This interview was conducted by Blood in Autumn 1996 for Emulate! issue six. Blood has kindly given me permission to reproduce it on my site, so here it is:-
"One of the things missing from the current computer scene is the 'famous programmer'. Back in the good old days of the Speccy, everyone knew the name of their favourite programmer and often it was who wrote the game rather than who published it that affected the sales the most." "One such programming genius was Jon Ritman, the man behind (amongst many others) classics such as Match Day, Batman and Head Over Heels. These days Jon is still around (although not programming for the Spectrum any more!) and is still very much involved in the industry." "Putting on my best 'cheeky young scamp of a journalist' hat, I scampered over and asked him outright if he'd answer a few questions. And guess what - he agreed......! Here we go with Emulate's first Exclusive Interview!" How did you get started in computers? I used to mend TV's for a living, working for Radio Rentals - they were going to rent computers so I decided they would need engineers and bought a ZX81 so I could learn - the rest is history. When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions? Can't remember - pretty cool! Can you remember the first game you ever wrote? What was it like? Of course I can, it was called Namtir Raiders and was released by Artic Computing on the ZX81 - it was a movable ship at the bottom of the screen. (Retro-fans with a ZX81 emulator can grab a copy of Namtir Raiders from NVG! Download the following snaps pack : ftp://ftp.nvg.unit.no/pub/sinclair/zx81/snaps/packs/ZXPRGS10.ARJ It's the file called 'NAMTIR.P'.......) What was your first commercial game? See above (In those days you could get away with a 2k game). What was the first game you wrote that you were really happy with? I don't release games I'm not happy with - of course each game should/must be better than the last. Did you always program full time, or did you start out like the average computer hack working in the back bedroom in the evening? ;-) I stayed at Radio Rentals for my first 3 games before going full time (remember that I was making 4 games a year at this time). Did Knight Lore inspire you to do your isometric 3D games, or was it all your own idea? It was Knight Lore! Did you use the same 3D engine for Monster Max on the Gameboy as you did for your 3D games on the Spectrum? No - it was a complete rewrite. (In case you didn't know, Monster Max was Jon and Bernie's only game for the Nintendo Gameboy. It's a 3D isometric game in a very similar style to Head Over Heels and is well worth a look if you're a fan of the genre!) Head Over Heels is still probably the finest isometric 3D game on any machine and features on MANY peoples' favourite games list. What were your favourite games for the Spectrum and why? Match Day II - Cause I could win ;-) Knight Lore - Cause it blew me away when I first laid eyes on it! Out of all the games you have written, which is your personal favourite? Head Over Heels. (Not surprising, eh?) What was the last Speccy game you wrote? Did you leave anything unfinished? (and if so is there any chance we'll ever get to see it!) I have trouble remembering that far back but it was either HoH or Match Day II! I had started a new game called Starship (working title) when I moved on, the source for this has now gone missing so don't expect to see it! (Shame!) What made you leave the Spectrum scene? It sounds like it wasn't something you expected to happen...... The article about Ultimate appeared (I'm sure you remember it) and I went to see them and then started working with them. (If I remember correctly, the advert Jon is talking about was placed by Ultimate in the late 80s just after they had become RARE. It advertised for programmers to help them progress into the arcade and console business, and appeared in most of the popular Spectrum mags.) Were you sad to see the Spectrum go, or were you eager to move on to more powerful machines? The more power the better! Is there anything you miss about the old days? They were great times but we all move on to bigger and better things, so no, not really. You have a new company now called Cranberry Source. Are there any other names we'd recognise from Spectrum days working for you? Whatever happened to Bernie Drummond? Do you still work together? My business partner, John Cook, was Head of development at Mirrorsoft but he's not a programming type so most would not have come across his name - inside the industry however he is probably better known than me. Bernie does work for CS. (There's another couple for the FAQ then!) What are Cranberry Source working on at the minute? Which machines are you concentrating on? Three games each on PC, Playstation & Saturn - Q.A.D. - A fly over a stunning landscape rescuing hostages game (2player) The Net - A multiplayer soccer game Redemption - An epic game, this would take me too long to describe! Do you still program, or do you let other people get their hands dirty these days? ;-) I find there are too many distractions for me to program, running a company almost 30 strong means you get interrupted every three minutes. Do you miss programming? Or are you glad you're out of it?! Running a company this size is still very much a learning experience and I've always enjoyed learning (isn't that what is fun about programming?) - I still look at the odd inner machine code loop to see if I can optimise it any better than my staff (and sometimes I can :-) so I'm not completely out of programming. Any plans to convert any of your old games to the PC or consoles? I remember seeing Head Over Heels converted onto the 16 bit computers some time ago - what did you think of the conversions? HoH 16 bit conversions were all done by a guy at Ocean and they were as perfect as any conversion I've ever seen. I wouldn't convert an old game but of course The Net is a soccer game and I wouldn't release it if it wasn't much better than Match Day - For HoH fans I suggest a look at Redemption (it wont be released until the end of next year). (eek! That's a long time!) Do you ever get the urge to just go and write a Spectrum game instead of getting all hot and bothered over this PC and Super-Console business? ;-) No! (Shame again... but it was worth a try!) Retro-mania has arrived with a bang and suddenly everyone is playing old games and getting all teary-eyed over the 'old days'. Do you think that modern games can really compete with the old classics? Aren't they just all graphics and no gameplay? Unfortunately many games have just been FMV fests but that doesn't mean a great modern game can't have superb graphics - of course it's possible to make ace games on a super powerful PC and that's just what CS plans to do. Is it easier to produce a good game for the PC / Superconsoles than it was for the Spectrum because of the increased hardware? Or does it just make it easier for less scrupulous people than yourself to produce sloppy software? It isn't any easier for me because the games are much larger than the speccy days, what the PC does provide is less restrictions than the old machines - I suppose it does make it easy to knock up those collections of FMV sequences that some people call games though... Are you in on the Retro-mania? Do you ever pull out an old computer or an emulator and play some old games? Or don't you have the time any more! ;-) I've got the Z80 emulator but I only really look at my own products on it. (Well, I could think of a lot WORSE things to use it for!) And that was it! My first ever interview and it was with a complete Speccy God! Hopefully that's given you all a little insight into Jon and his work - let's hope his future programming projects go on to be timeless classics too, eh? I'd like to thank Jon for taking time out from his incredibly busy schedule to talk to me - I hope it's been as interesting for you lot as it has been for me! Next month I'll be talking to Matthew Smith (in my dreams!). ;-) Blood.
A small 'update' interview by Philip Bee (November 1997) ...
What were your favourite Speccy games and why?
JSW - because is was big and fun
Knight Lore & Alien 8 - because they were stunning to look at
Err... My memory fails me now
What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?
Best - easy to handle the system
Worst - low res colour 'attribute' system
Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?
Bernie was always my favourite artist, that may explain why we worked together :-)
Chris Stamper & Simon Bratell (how is that spelt) as the best coders
No idea about music
Is there anything you miss about the old days?
Only the ability to put a game together without a big team.
Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc. about the old days?
Err... that memory problem again, I must of jogged my ram pack
What happended with the game(s) on Rare's Razz Board? Did any come out?
Why did you decide to do Match Day III?
Publishers keep asking me to make a soccer game - anyway I don't like the other soccer games that are available.
What are Cranberry Source working on now? Any plans for N64 games?
Just starting a N64 game.
Any plans for Head Over Heels II? ;-)
Our N64 game won't have H&H in it but will use some of the gameplay ideas.
Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?
You're a sad bunch ;-)
Thanks to Jon for the update.
Text Copyright (c) Lee Tonks, Philip Bee and Jon Ritman.