Jonathan Smith | Dougie Burns | Mike Follin | Dean Belfield | Simon Butler

  Dougie Burns - Interview Conducted January 2001
  Dougie Burns aka Bernie Dugggs worked for the original Imagine before being unceremoniously turfed out about 4 to 6 weeks before they went bust. This resulted him missing the camera crew of the infamous BBC documentary 'Commercial Breaks' that featured the demise the once powerful software house. He then went on to work for Ocean/Imagine where he produced the excellent Ping Pong. Doug finished his Spectrum career at Odin where he programmed Hypaball and the commercially unreleased P.L.O.D. 
  How did you get started in computers?

The first computer I used was a friend's ZX80 at boarding school. Then, when I left and was on the dole, my Mum bought me a ZX81 and 16K Ram Pack for Christmas when I was 16 (thanks Mum). I sat at home suffering RAM pack wobble and hand-disassembling Quicksilva's Defender using a notepad and a Z80 book (Toni Baker's Mastering Machine Code for your ZX81 I think). I basically messed around and became quite a competent disassembler and a less competent programmer.

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

The Spectrum was released at about the time I got my ZX81, but it was a bit too dear for me (or maybe it was a bit later). I thought it looked tremendous, but I have to say that it didn't really register with me properly until I played Jetpac round at my mates. The strange thing here is that I never actually owned a ZX Spectrum in my life - the only one I had access to was my Dad's, that I managed to acquire from Imagine (No doubt the liquidators will be on the phone shortly)

What was your first game?

I used to write adventure games at home in BASIC that were completely rubbish and I was even stupid enough to send a 'press release' for my non-existent efforts into PCW (or whatever that weekly one was called). It appeared 6 months later, I wet myself and started to get down to business. Fortunately, I soon realized that no-one would be ordering games from me!

The first commercial game was Ping Pong, but I'll always regret not finishing Grog's Revenge for US Gold, because it was looking good (it was the only thing of mine that my great friend Jonathan Smith ever rated and got me the job at Ocean). I was thoroughly sick of it when Jon Woods (good guy) managed to get me off the project and cancel the game.

What Games have you had published on the Spectrum?

Ping Pong - Imagine
Hypaball - Odin

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

Although everyone likes Ping Pong more, I (unbelievably) prefer Hypaball, because it's difficult to get out of my head that Ping Pong was so basic. But I do prefer playing it to Hypaball, I suppose.

The computer media of the 80's gave a somewhat false impression that all games programmers were earning an absolute fortune and living a great life. Recent interviews with past programmers have painted a rather different story. How did you feel you were personally treated within the industry and do you think you got the credit (and rewards) you dese rved.

My starting wages at the origin al Imagine were 3500 - when the Sun was printing stories about Eugene Evans earning 35K (also rubbish). However, I once made the mistake of saying that I'd work there for nothing (true). As one of the artists put it -'Doug you've got a poster of Dave Lawson (Arcadia) on your wall and you gaze at it every night before going to sleep'. Eventually I got a pay rise to 5,500. I probably got about 1000 per month in perks, though ;-) When I was at Ocean, I got something like 7 or 8 and the same at Odin. However, all of that has to be offset against me being a) crap, b) lazy and c) an extremely large consumer of the miscellaneous perks on offer.

But the life was brilliant, and I got more than enough credit for the very small amount of work that I actually did.

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

Odin was falling apart - I was falling apart even more - and we parted on very bad terms with them making some strange tax deductions from money that they owed me. There was never any money in the games industry really and a lot of the characters in control were pretty shifty (not real businessmen at all). I'm glad I got out when I did, but I wish I'd been a bit older and I would have enjoyed it more and done a better job. Still, I was lucky to have been there and met some wonderful people.

What are you doing now?

I'm a contractor and get paid reasonable money for doing something that is child's play compared to games programming. (Weird world!) I speak at conferences, teach courses and all sorts of stuff. Business people are easily pleased! More at http://doug.burns/tripod.com

What were your favorite Spectrum games and why?

It would have to be Knight Lore, I think. there were other games I loved (in fact, I probably prefer playing Jetpac or Manic Miner) but most programmers would have something admiring to say about Knight Lore. It re-wrote the rule-book. As far as technical achievements go - anything by Joffa Smiff (sorry, but I'm tired of working out how many F's go where!)

Favorite Spectrum coders/artists/musicians?

Coders - Jonathan Smith, Steve Wetherill, Ultimate

Artists - Colin Grunes, Joff, Ultimate, All the girls at Imagine (being a creep there)

Musicians - Fred Gray (Good guy, top taste in music, ripped off the Russian national anthem for Imagine's Cosmic Cruiser - at least I say so)

Do you use an emulator to play any of your old games?

Yeah, sometimes. I used some very early emulators and thought they were a bit pants, but then I stumbled across a WinSPec CD in HMV a year or two ago and freaked. It was scary/nostalgic for a month or two. My dad was nearly in tears playing Pimania - he can die happy now!

What was the last Spectrum game you wrote? Did you leave anything unfinished? (and if so is there any chance we'll ever get to see it!)

I was working on a game called P.L.O.D. for Odin, which I was absolutely shattered for, heart not in it, blah ... blah ... blah ... Anyway, I finished it (just - rushed) but I reckon it was completely terrible and was never released. There is almost no chance that I'll ever see it again, but I'd love to (incidentally, I'm pretty sure that Joff came up with the name, which had something to do with the local police as well as a Northern expression for nudity). Also as mentioned above Grog's Revenge for US Gold was left unfinished.

Don't you ever feel like throwing together another Spectrum game nowadays just for old times sake? The reception on the net would be unbelievable.

It's completely stupid, but I flirted with this idea for a couple of months (got as far as starting to disassemble Ping Pong to remind myself of how it was done) just to do some decent work again, but the big problem is the amount of effort involved and all the other things I could be doing instead. Having said that, it would be nice to finally get it right!

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

I went off games completely and didn't touch them for years. The past couple of years have been different. Anyone who thinks that Spectrum games can *touch* the likes of Half-Life needs to have another look. But I do think that, given the technical resources at their disposal, modern games generally leave quite a bit to be desired. At the moment I'm utterly consumed by Red Alert 2 - that's more my cup of tea these days. (Check out those between-mission videos, lads!)

Is there anything or anybody that you miss about the old days?

There are loads of things that will never be recreated, but it's quite good fun being a) good at my job, b) well paid and c) older.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

The people and situations were different class - especially the Imagine days and a couple of years Liverpool city centre lunacy with Joff (deliberately crossing roads slowly - don't ask what that was all about!)

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

Good on you - each to their own and all that! (I can't believe it when people say 'get a life' and stuff like that - they don't understand passion when they see it). Oh, and comp.sys.sinclair is really good for cheering me up when I'm miserable - that's what I call humour.

I suppose I was into games before I was a programmer, so I can appreciate why they mean so much to people - it's my childhood, too!





Content, Coding And Design 2001 ZX SPECTICLE - D.J.MCCOWAN