Software Creations may be a relatively small company, but it had some great talent and produced some great games during its lifetime. Stee Ruffy and the Pickford brothers are from the studio and have been involved in a variety of amazing games from Bubble Bobble to Solstice and Plock. Founder Richard Kay reveals how it all started.
It may not be as famous as Tim and Chris Stamper’s famed studio Rare, but in addition to producing some of the best arcade ports of the eighties, Software Creations has the reputation of being one of the first European companies to create games for a new breed. Shares respect. of Japanese game consoles. It was a journey that took founder Richard Kay from moving boxes across the ocean to hiring over a hundred employees, striking exclusive deals with Nintendo and Sony, and meeting the creators of Space Invaders and Mario. And this, to quote one of its best-known releases, is a rather great story.
“When I joined Ocean I wasn’t a programmer, I was packing in the warehouse,” Richard explains. “But I was always interested in old Atari materials, it intrigued me how he wrote these things. Eventually I built BBC Micro with the money I earned at Ocean and taught myself to program assembly language. They were doing a game called Mr Wimpy on the Commodore 64 and I did all the graphics and sound at home. I went in and showed it [Ocean director] John Woods. And they took over and continued to pay me a box-packer salary but I was happy because I was writing the game. However, after completing a few titles at Amstrad (Hunchback and Hyper Sports), Richard decided to move to new pastures.
“I was always interested in flying so I signed up for the Air Force,” he says. “I was accepted, but it turned out I had a slight vision problem that they didn’t initially pick up on. But I really enjoyed it, actually when I was there in November ’85, people found out That’s what I did, and it was like being a pop star… I was signing autographs for Hyper Sports, which went on to number one on Christmas.” Richard went on to play Mermaid Madness and Repton for C64 Coding an unpublished port, he continued to program, despite the RAF asking him back if he could take an A-level physics course.
Richard Kay founded Software Creations in 1985. He currently resides in Jersey.
“Business really took off,” he confesses. “If you worked at Ocean in those days it was like you were at Oxford University, it was a free pass. So many people were calling… Firebird Software and many other companies contacted me, and businessmen Being I didn’t want to put this job down. I was working out of my bedroom at the time and I started on enterprise allowance; it was about five pounds more than the dole but it gave you a little more dignity. This copy The week was £40, but I didn’t need much in those days, and that allowed me to run the company. And so I put an ad in the Manchester Evening News and Steve Rudy replied.”
“Steve and I hit it off right away. They worked from home, and they did a boxing game called The Big Keo. We worked very closely with each other for about 12 months. I saw Mike Egger and Andrew Threlfall was hired, and we were the first four at Software Creations. I found an office on Oxford Road and it was upstairs of a computer shop right in front of the BBC. We did a lot of games for Firebird – they were all about three or four Were a hundred pounds.”
Most of the early Firebird games were ports of budget releases such as the Spectrum version of the dubious bonkers Mad Nurse by Steve Rudy and several specs for C64 adaptations. “The early projects for Firebird were enjoyable and they required me to use C64 in new ways,” recalls Steve. “For example, Kinetic used a color bitmap mode, and Mystery of the Nile used software sprites and a sprite multiplexer.”
Plok is one of Miyamoto’s favorite games, according to Pickford.
He clearly has good taste.
“The company grew and we took on Mike Folin to do The Sentinel on the Spectrum,” Richard continues. “Everyone said it couldn’t be done, but he proved them wrong. Mike had heard of Steve because Steve was from Wigan and Follins was from St. Helens and knew each other. After taking Mike handjob [his brothers] Tim and Geoff followed, and a man named Mark Wilson was a very talented artist. He already had his own company and we did some follow-up for some of his games, like Agent X 2 on all 8-bit formats.
Tim Folin is considered one of the best composers to have worked on C64, as well as his later work on games such as Solstice and Equinox. As Steve remembers, a particularly funny jingle was picked up from the current British TV ad in Agent X 2. “I worked very closely with Tim because I wrote some of the music drivers he used on the C64, Amstrad, Speccy and NES,” he says. “After writing Drivers I was amazed by Tim’s voice, not to mention his composure and sense of humor – Shake N’ Wack was a classic!”
While budget-renting certainly helped pay the rent, it was with a spectacular arcade conversion that Software Creations finally hit the big time. “We were always interested in arcades and then Firebird offered us Bubble Bobble,” Richard says. “He actually launched the company because they said you can’t do that on 8-bit machines. I think the Commodore 64 version was the one that really pushed us, and it won all kinds of awards.” [which] Showed how good the team was. ,
The Pickford brothers are still in the industry and currently working on iOS games.
We ask coder Steve Rudy if he has any concerns about turning up such a huge arcade hit. “It wasn’t hard originally, because it looked like a fairly straightforward platform and sprite game,” he replies. “However, once you started playing you saw how the bubbles follow the air flow pattern and how they all collect in certain places – too many sprites on the same line meant the sprite multiplexer was not suitable. Luckily, having worked on BBC Micro and Mystery of the Nile, I didn’t mind using software sprites. We spent a very long time playing the game; it’s a great arcade game! We don’t understand all the secrets So we implemented the game to mimic what we notice. So how the pickups appear is not the same as the arcade on the C64, but it should be very similar to how the pickups appear after the machine is powered up .
Adaptations of more major arcade Coin-op titles, including Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and the extremely well-received port of Bionic Commando, also featured the stunning Tim Folin soundtrack. “Trying to get recognizable versions of the maps, sprites, and gameplay on the Commodore 64 was very difficult for both,” acknowledged Steve, who wrote both Commodore versions. “Bionic Commando was about the bionic arm and how the player controls it. I spent a lot of time working on the mechanics of the Bionic Arm and it was worth it because I found that with just one fire-button I could use the arm when needed without having to think about it. Plus, we were really good at it with the cabinets available in the office, and raced to see how fast we could get it done! Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was largely about the villains with the complexity of the maps and frames of animation.
But it was Bubble Bobble that really made a splash across the pond, too. “Once we did that conversion we got a lot of calls from America,” says Richard. “Tato himself asked us to do a lot of games for him like Sky Shark [aka Flying Shark] and Paznik. Taito actually brought on Space Invaders creator Tomohiro Nishikado, and for us it was like meeting the father of videogames. We all literally lined up and bowed. He was definitely a highlight of that era. And we became famous for doing coin-op conversions and a lot of things that other people wouldn’t. So we started to grow and the company ended up with about 105 employees, and we had an office in Seattle which was exciting, and that was really to serve Nintendo. ,
Ste Ruddy coded amazing adaptations of Bionic Commando and Bubble Bobble for the Commodore 64.
“I’ve been following Nintendo for a long time,” Richard revealed. “It was Colin Fuse, one of the makers of the Firebird, who first introduced me to the NES. Colin opened this draw and pulled out this original Famicom, and he said ‘this is what you want to get into’ .’ I missed the old days of the Atari cartridge system and wanted to go back to the days of consoles, so I contacted the Chamber of Commerce in Manchester and found Nintendo’s number. And for about three months I called Howard Lincoln incessantly [the chairman of Nintendo of America at the time], Eventually he picked up the phone and I said ‘My name is Richard Kay from Software Creations, we have a small team in Manchester, and I would be very interested to work on your machine.’ They said ‘If you can get the info on the machine and write a demo, we’ll give you the info…’ In other words ‘Stuffed!'”
“Then I found out that Mike Webb was reverse engineering the NES, which is where Mike got into business. I worked with Mike at Ocean’s and he was a genius. Not only could he program, he was an electronics guy.” There was also an engineer – he worked for a company that designed high-voltage switchgear for power stations. So Mike had this unique combination of electronics skills and software skills, and he was brilliant at both. I called Howard again about three months after my first call. Mike wrote the initial code for what was to finally happen Solstice. I spoke to Nintendo again and said ‘look we have a demo’ and at the end of the phone call It was deadly silence… and I said ‘I’ll be in Seattle next week can I show you the game?’ I didn’t even have a passport! ‘Surely if you’re here next week, come on Thursday,’ Howard said. So we booked a cheap flight and flew to Seattle. Things were about to get very exciting for Software Creation…
Notable Software Creation Games