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

  Dean Belfield - Interview Conducted January 2001
  Dean Belfield worked for Software Creations at the latter end of the commercial life of the ZX Spectrum. Although Dean is a little critical of his own work within this interview, the 3 games that he produced had a professional polish that a great number of Spectrum games lacked.  
  How did you get started in computers?

Quite a few people from my school (The Kingsway School, formerly The Broadway School) were interested in computers and it was about the time that home computing was taking off in Britain. The Tandy TRS-80 range of computers were quite popular, along with the Acorn Atom and Sinclair had just launched the Sinclair ZX-80. I could not afford either the Acorn Atom or the Tandy computer, so ended up buying a ZX-80.

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

I first saw it in PCW (Personal Computer World). My first impressions were "Must buy one."

What was your first game?

A game called "Vis", which was never released. I wrote it during my O-levels with a friend (Ben Jackson). We tried to flog it, but could not. Ended up showing it to Binary Design, who in turn put me in touch with Software Creations, who gave me a job on the strength of it. Ben ended up working at Binary.

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

Best - It's amazingly small amount of screen memory (quick to move stuff around on screen in code). The fact that you were in complete control (no operating system to speak of). Worst - It's amazingly small amount of screen memory (poor colour resolution) & Microdrives.

What Games have you had published on the Spectrum?

Sly Spy Secret Agent -Software Creations/Ocean
Gauntlet 3 - Software Creation/US Gold
Solar Invasion - Software Creations/Mastertronic
Some light gun games for Trojan / Amstrad (I think)

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

They were all really lame. Mike Follin wrote all the good games on the Spectrum at Software Creations. I did the Amstrad CPC conversions. I only got around to programming the Spectrum after he moved onto programming the Gameboy, and then I had to program both Amstrad and Spectrum versions at the same time. Some compromises had to be made.

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 deserved.

Hahahaha. Good question. All of the companies I've worked for screwed me one way or the other. I don't remember any of my peers having nice cars or homes, just the boss. That's why I decided to get out and get a proper job.

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

I got a job at Malibu Comics, who set myself, Tim, Mike and Geoff Follin and Mark Wilson up in Warrington programming the Super Nintendo and Megadrive versions of a game based on one of their comic book characters, Firearm. We had almost finished it when the company went bust. It was a really good game. I was not particularly sad at leaving the Spectrum scene - the Spectrum had had it's day by then.

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

Pitball (Playstation)

I'm currently working for a marketing company (Clark Marketing Communications) developing e-commerce solutions for companies.

What were your favorite Spectrum games and why?

Ghosts and Goblins - cool scrolling, great conversion.
KnightLore - started a genre.
Starquake - just played really well.

Favorite Spectrum coders/artists/musicians?

Musician - Tim and Geoff Follin. Crazy guys.

Coder - Mike Follin, Steven Tatlock, the Stampers

Artists - Steve Pickford, John Tatlock.

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

Yes, there is a great emulator by Vaggelis Kapartzianis which works just fine on my laptop.

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!)

Gauntlet 3 - and it was finished. No unseen games in the closet (sorry).

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.

No. Absolutely not.

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 the games industry went through a patch of doing really nice looking but dull to play games on the 16 bit consoles. Psygnosis did a bunch of them at one point. People bought them though. It was the same when consoles were able to do 3D worlds well. Great 3D, but no thought behind the games. However, in both instances, a core of developers got to grips with the hardware and started to produce some good games. Psygnosis are doing some really good things with the Sony machines at the moment. I'm currently playing SSX on the PS2 and I'm awaiting Gran Turismo 3 with bated breath.

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

Not really. The people I really got on with from the industry I'm still in touch with. It was the people I had the privilege of working alongside that made the industry bearable.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

I had heard some of the 3 channel music Tim Follin had done on the original Spectrum (the one with the single BEEP'er) before I started work at Software Creations. I'd actually typed in a 4k file (in hex) and was quite amazed with what he'd done. When I started work at Software Creations, I found out that he worked there. I approached him nervously and said "Are you THE Tim Follin?"... I've since found out that he is not really a demi-god.

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

Yes, especially if they are involved in, or interested in getting into the industry, I'd tell them to look at how people managed to squeeze entertainment out of such a primitive machine. 





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