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

  Mike Follin - Interview Conducted January 2001
  Much Of Mike Follin's Spectrum career was spent working for Software Creations where he produced some superb arcade conversions. Of particular merit are Bubble Bobble, Bionic Commandos and Ghouls 'n' Ghosts. All had great gameplay, detailed graphics and some of the best music ever produced on the Spectrum (provided by Mike's brother Tim)
  How did you get started in computers?

Through owning a Speccy. I used to play arcade games (Space Invaders was still around then), and wondered how they worked. Then I saw adverts for similar games that you could buy for home computers and consoles (e.g. ZX-81and Atari). I didn't want to just play other people's games on a console because I had my own ideas. So I decided to buy a ZX-81.

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

I had just decided to get a ZX-81 when I saw the first adverts for the Spectrum. It did colour, which always impresses me, and had "hi-res" graphics. Of course it couldn't do colour AND hi-res graphics at the same time, but no-one knew at the time. There was a picture of a 3-D graph on an orange screen, and some Microdrives. It could play games too, so that was it - I had to have one. I ordered one, and it arrived a mere 6 months later. It was worth the wait.

What was your first game?

The first one I remember playing was a version of Defender by Quicksilva. As for the first one I programmed; I did a version of the "trench run" from the Star Wars arcade game. This amused me for hours. The first game I had published was a deservedly little-known effort called "Subterranean Stryker".

What Games have you had published on the Spectrum?

Subterranean Stryker; Star Firebirds; Vectron; Future Games; The Sentinel; Bubble Bobble; Black Lamp; Bionic Commando; LED Storm; Robot Attack; Ghouls 'n' Ghosts. I think...

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

There were some rather poor ones, but some pretty good ones too. I have a few favorites, for different reasons. I had lots of fun programming Bubble Bobble and Bionic Commando - they were both great arcade games. Ghouls 'n' Ghosts was fun too - that was a great arcade game, and probably my best programming. The Sentinel was special too, but I can't take much of the credit for that one as I borrowed a lot of code.

What were the best/worse things about working with the Spectrum?

The best thing was that you were in control of everything. The entire machine was available, with no interfering operating system. It was beautifully simple - just some RAM and a processor to shuffle it around. Once you'd learnt the language, you could make it do anything. The worst thing was... I suppose it could have had a more flexible display mode. The attribute clash problem was always there, so you had to do things in low-res or monochrome to some extent.

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

It was when the Gameboy appeared. A new Z80-based machine with a much more vast user-base was very tempting. I didn't see that there was much more to do with the Speccy either - I'd pushed it pretty hard with my last couple of titles. It was sad to leave it behind; but I still own one or two.

What games have you had published since the Spectrum days and what are you doing now?

Since the Spectrum, I've worked on these published titles:

Spot (GameBoy)
Spiderman and the X-Men (SNES)
Toy Story (SNES)
Shadow Master (PC)
Quake 2 (PlayStation)
Pocket Soccer (GameBoy Colour) - released March 2001

...and now I've left the computer industry altogether. I'm at theological college, and I'm training to be a priest in the Church of England. Is that different enough?

What were your favorite Spectrum games and why?

Most impressive at the time was probably Knightlore. The 3-D graphics were just a quantum leap from anything else. Manic Miner was more fun to play, though - and it was a beautifully simple program.

Favorite Spectrum coders/artists/musicians?

The Stampers were always at the forefront; I think Keith Burkhill also deserves a mention (for Ghosts 'n' Goblins.) As for musicians, I'll give you one guess...
(It would'nt be Tim Follin would it Mike? - ed)

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

Yes, I have an emulator on my laptop with all my old games and one or two others.

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!)

The last one was Ghouls 'n' Ghosts. There was something I wrote once that never saw the light of day - it was on 5 1/4 disks, and my drive broke - so I abandoned it. Lost forever, I'm afraid!

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.

If I had a few months on a desert island with my laptop, maybe. Otherwise, there are just too many other things to do.

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

I think that today there is the *possibility* for that to be the case - and it's certainly true of far too many games. But it's not necessarily always the case. There are some great games around - I'd point to Half-Life, and the Command & Conquer series as examples of modern games that have more advanced gameplay than was ever seen on the Spectrum.

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

There was always a good sense of camaraderie in the speccy days, friendly rivalry with the C64 programmers, and lots of great characters (off and on the screen!) I'm still in touch with some of the people from those days, so I suppose that's something to take away from the industry.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

Can't remember any now! But I'm sure there were some...

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

It's easier to use an emulator. Anyone interested in videogames should play some of the Spectrum classics just to get a feel of how things have developed. The world wasn't created already containing PlayStation 2!





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