I interviewed Clive Townsend (Saboteur)

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I interviewed Clive Townsend (Saboteur)

Post by Garrettimus »

Dear friends,

The new issue of my magazine "Jogos 80" is out. I interviewed Clive Townsend, the British programmer that released, via Durell Software, the classic game Saboteur! Here's the interview for you in English! PS: Note the question on a Beeb version of that game...

Jogos 80: How did your first contact with a computer happen? Did you learn programming formally?

Clive Townsend: We had a 380z at school - but, as there was only computer in the entire school, I didn't use it very much! Fortunately my friend Steve had a ZX81 so I'd visit him and we taught ourselves to code. When I heard that the ZX82 would be launched, I begged my dad to get me one and fortunately he agreed. That meant I could program at home and learned far more than I could at school.

J80: How did your involvement with Durell Software begin?

CT: I've often told the story of how I visited a local shop and asked them to sell my home-made games. The boss there told me about Durell Software so I went to visit them instead. Only a few days ago I confirmed that the person I spoke to in the shop was actually Tim Hine - someone I'd became friends with since then. Without Tim there would have been no Saboteur!

J80: Saboteur!, as a programming exercise, was based on your first game, Death Pit, which ended up being not released. Could you, please, tell our readers about that game and your original ideas? Why was it cancelled?

CT: In my school holidays I spent many days at Durell, talking to other programmers and learning assembly language. Two of the coders were working on Death Pit for the Amstrad & BBC, and Robert White (Durell's founder and MD) invited me to make a Spectrum version. I was still learning assembly so I was never entirely happy with the end result, and presumably Rob didn't consider the game to be as polished as Durell's other games. Or perhaps he saw more potential in my pet project called Ninja Darkness..? But the game itself was fun and had a clever puzzle element where different items weighed different amounts. You could only carry so much weight - so do you drop the oxygen in order to carry an extra torch battery? Hmmm... maybe a remake is needed!

J80: Is it true that you’re a martial arts instructor? How did that influence you in creating your game Saboteur!?

CT: I'd practiced Judo and various types of Karate as a child, and often ended up free-running and doing parkour through buildings and nearby countryside. But it wasn't until after Saboteur that I discovered a local Ninjutsu group. I found Ninjutsu to be an excellent blend of the good points of other arts, and added new & historical weaponry, fieldcraft, psychology and much more. As well as teaching, I also created publicity material for the group - so even without squared paper and a Spectrum I was still drawing Ninjas!

J80: As far as Saboteur! is concerned, how did you come up with the idea for it? Was it too difficult for you to transpose the concept and your ideas to the actual game?

CT: There was a huge Ninja trend in the mid 80s, and that was a perfect match for my interest in martial arts, superheroes, and spies. Saboteur was a chance for me to create my own Batman-like hero in a Bond-like story.

J80: Saboteur! is a complex game with many rooms, items to collect etc. How difficult was it for you to “crunch” all of that data into the Speccy’s 48 Kb memory? I guess it was a lot of work!

CT: Definitely! Trying to fit all the rooms into memory was tricky - I had to invent a 'room language' where only a byte or two would cause a geometric shape to appear or add an object into the room. It left the rooms functional but a little empty. With hindsight there are some unused areas of memory so I could have made them better...

J80: Back in the day, some critics said that the Spectrum version of Saboteur featured very few sound effects during gameplay. Did you do that on purpose? Perhaps to enhance the “ninja being silent” thing?

CT: If I'd been a more experienced assembly coder I probably would have written an interrupt-driven sound driver before the rest of the game. Fortunately I wasn't, so the sound effects were quite tame. This did, however, quite suit the game so I decided to just have a tune on the main menu. The one main sound effect in the game is when you pick up the disk - and it's made by taking pitch and duration values from a section of the ROM. Saved me using some memory!

J80: Is there an Easter egg (or maybe more than one!) in Saboteur!?

CT: Not in Saboteur - but there was in Saboteur 2... When you load the game it randomly picks one of 8 high-score tables. They all contain names of people except one. I thought someone might decipher it but as far as I know nobody ever did...

J80: Did the game sell well in the UK?

CT: I was busy creating games - the best job in the world - so I didn't really think about the money. But in the first 6 weeks I earned enough to buy half of a 3-bedroom house. So I'd have to say... it did!

J80: Other than the Speccy version, there are versions of Saboteur for the C64, C16, and Amstrad CPC. Why hasn't Durell released a version for the BBC Micro?

CT: Good question! I can only assume that the market had moved away from the BBC Micro by the mid 80s, or that Rob White thought it too risky. But recently people have made an Atari 800 version of Saboteur and I’ve been approached about a NES version - so maybe it's not too late... Any BBC coders out there?

J80: How do you compare all the versions Durell released (Speccy, C64, Amstrad CPC, C16)?

CT: Well the Speccy was the original and the best - although I may be biased. The other versions all could have been better if we'd worked as a team. There was no real cross-platform development in those days but if we'd re-used code (such as the map compression) then I'm sure we could have added more content to each version. The Amstrad version was slower than I'd hoped, due to converting Spectrum to Amstrad graphics in real time. Handy for deadlines but not for game quality. The C64 version was probably best after the Speccy but had graphics and other bits missing. And - despite the graphics - I'm really impressed that the C16 conversion could be squashed into memory. Some impressive code there!

J80: Saboteur! was very very popular in Brazil at the time. How do you feel about that?

CT: It's amazing that the game has travelled so far! In the days before the internet it was very hard to track the game's reception, so I had no idea. I have a Greek copy of Saboteur 2 though :-)

J80: How about Saboteur II: Avenging Angel? How did that happen?

CT: My original plan was to send the Ninja out on a another mission, but I hadn't fully planned the game - just a few ideas. Over the years I've thought more about it, and I'd still like to do a spin-off game with the original ninja. I'm currently imagining it to be set in New York, but containing flashbacks to early ninja training times. So the game that would have been Saboteur Two is now going to be Saboteur Zero...

J80: Saboteur II was one of the first games to feature a female as the main character. Did you have the idea of going with a girl yourself or was it someone else’s? That was a breakthrough!

CT: My memory is poor - it's been a long time! My boss at Durell - Robert White - recently mentioned that it was his wife Veronica's idea but I can't remember the details. He obviously thought it was a risk worth taking from a marketing perspective, and having a female ninja was not a problem for me. If anything, the Kunoichi can cause even more trouble than their male equivalents!

J80: Was Saboteur 2 a commercial success if compared with the first installment?

CT: I can't remember! I honestly didn't follow the money side of things. But my mortgage was paid so that was enough for me.

J80: Did you think at the time about releasing a third installment? There are mentions of a third game on World of Spectrum that hasn’t been released.

CT: I've wanted to make a Saboteur 3 for many years, but never had the financial backing to make it happen. In 1998 I teamed up with some colleagues to form Pukka Games, and the plan was to complete The Ravaging then use the game engine to make Saboteur 3. Despite having an amazingly advanced 3D engine, the publisher (Telstar) closed down so the deal fell through and we had to resort to making Game Boy games to pay the bills :-(

J80: Have you ever thought about bringing Saboteur! into a new generation of consoles like Rare/Ultimate did?

CT: Yes - I have a full game design for Saboteur 3, intended to be a huge 3D game for high-end consoles. But I'd need to work with a large team to make that happen, so I'm waiting for the right deal. This would also involve telling a whole generation of game players about Saboteur 1 and 2 - so I'm working on that right now...

J80: Please, tell our readers about your new version of Saboteur! which has been just released for PC, Mac and mobile devices. How did you come up with that? It features extended gameplay and story, right?

CT: The new Saboteur is like a retro remake and sequel combined, so more like a Saboteur 1.5 except that the original bit is only about 15% of the new game. You still start off playing the original game but once you reach the helicopter you start to learn a lot more about what's going on. The code uses exactly the same game logic as the Spectrum version so it feels identical, and the enhanced graphics are still within Spectrum or C64 limitations. Imagine a 1280k Spectrum... And it even has built-in colour clash! You'll get to explore many more environments in the extended map, and face new challenges and puzzles. You can even win real prizes for certain tasks. And you'll also be there, in 1985, as the Saboteur learns the truth behind his mission - setting the scene for Saboteur 2 and more...

J80: Tell us about your expectations for the new game as well as future projects.

CT: Well I hope to do Saboteur Zero, the prequel, explaining the character's history and origin. But first I'll probably work on an extended remake of the sequel, so that'll be a Saboteur 2.5. Oh, and bits of Saboteur 1.5, Saboteur 2.5 and Saboteur 3 all combine to influence the plot of Saboteur 4. You'll just have to be a little patient :-)

You can sign up to play the brand new Saboteur on http://www.clivetownsend.com
Signing up costs £3.99 and all fees go towards the development of Saboteur and the sequels!
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Re: I interviewed Clive Townsend (Saboteur)

Post by flaxcottage »

Great interview, Marcus. =D> =D>
- John

Check out the Educational Software Archive at www.flaxcottage.com
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Re: I interviewed Clive Townsend (Saboteur)

Post by richardtoohey »

flaxcottage wrote:Great interview, Marcus. =D> =D>
Hear, hear! Thanks for sharing. :D
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Re: I interviewed Clive Townsend (Saboteur)

Post by Zarchos »

Yes, thanks for sharing this, very interesting.
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