Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Brits who made the modern world

There was a short 30min documentary on Ch5 in the UK last night, about the guys who made the game ‘Elite‘. They were 2 college kids from Cambridge, UK. One of the best facts from the program was that when they released the game, there were 150,000 BBC computers in the UK. And their game sold 150,000 copies. Now THAT is a hit game. That makes World Of Warcraft look like barbies riding school.

The bits I enjoyed hearing about was how obsessed theyr were with optimising the code and getting the machine to do much more than anyone had before. They had no debugger, and no tools. If the game crashed, they couldn’t step through code line by line as we do now, they had to stare at the code (all 16k of it) until they found the bug. That’s serious hardcore programming. I managed to code 4 games before I worked out how a debugger worked. I never even saw people step through code until I got my first job at Elixir. Sad eh? It’s MUCH easier with breakpoints and a debugger, trust me!

I miss the days of having to optimise code to oblivion. I love reading about tricks like compiled sprites and loop-unrolling, even though many of them are irrelevant now. I’m not the worlds best programmer, but I have managed to code some pretty optimised stuff now and then. I’m very happy with the particle systems I’ve coded, especially how well they run on low spec machines. Given no worries about actually finishing games and shipping them to bring in some rent-money, I think I’d happily spend ages ripping out huge parts of my games are re-optimising the, just for the hell of it. One day maybe…

5 thoughts on Brits who made the modern world

  1. If anyone wants to watch the documentary mentioned you can find it on the channel 5 website :) Off too watch it now.

  2. It’s a small world sometimes isn’t it? The following is a disorganised list of amusing coincidences:

    1: I’ve a friend currently working at Frontier (David Braben’s company); we were both Cambridge students, he’s a computer scientist and I’m a philosopher.

    2: I introduced him to your work via Democracy. I kind of had to really, as I’d been saying the week before that there weren’t any really good games about politics (Hidden Agenda is great imho but a little hard to grasp; the various US Election Campaign games (etc) are fun, but aren’t very political in content) and the next week I discovered Democracy.

    3: The same week he was accepted at Frontier at my urging he went to an interview at Lionhead which – as I understand it – is where you got started, right?

    4: He didn’t get the position, but when we were speaking to Peter Molyneux in the Cambridge Union he told us that he co-founded Lionhead with his friend, who was a philosophy graduate.

    5: And here you are talking about David Braben. The world’s a funny old place sometimes. Massive fan of your work by the way; very interesting stuff. I can’t promise David Braben knows about it, but can promise someone working at his company does.

    Best wishes.

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