Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most dedicated and renowned game developers began with one simple idea, polishing and honing it until their first game duly appeared. Sometimes these would be released virtually unnoticed; on other occasions, they’d hit the ground running with a smash hit of epic proportions. For our second entry in this new series, we present Chris Shrigley, an industry veteran of some 35-odd years, telling us about his first fully-published game, the magnificent Bounder.
Format: Commodore 64
Year released: 1986
Publisher: Gremlin Graphics
Plot: Plot? Who needs a plot? Certainly Bounder doesn’t, the main character in this bouncing ball game from 1986. Bounder is an anthropomorphic tennis ball, constantly bouncing across several lethal landscapes. You can safely jump on hexagonal tiles while avoiding aliens and other hazards. Fancy testing your luck? The tiles with a question mark bestow a mystery bonus, but beware: it’s not always something good, and watch out for the yawning chasms!
Reviews: Bounder received uniformly glowing reviews back in early 1986. “Bounder is definitely one of those ‘Just one more go’ type of games and a must for any serious Commodore 64 collection,” enthused Your Commodore magazine. But the warmest praise was from the normally ultra-critical Zzap! 64 magazine. “Bounder is one computer game that would not look out of place in the arcades, as it looks and plays so good,” opined Gary Penn. Fellow reviewer Julian Rignall echoed his colleague’s sentiments. “Once you start playing [Bounder], it’s almost impossible to put the joystick down! It’s one of the most frustrating and maddeningly addictive programs yet.” A final overall score of 97% secured Bounder a coveted Zzap Gold Medal Award.
Born in Derby during the Seventies, Chris first discovered computers via a Commodore PET, tucked away at the back of his class at school. A below-average student, this discovery changed his life, fascinating and engaging the young man like nothing else. After tasting success with Bounder, Chris and his friends produced several more games for Gremlin before leaving to start their own games company, Core Design. Chris soon parted ways with Core, forming another company, Eurocom, and developing for consoles, specifically the Nintendo Entertainment System. After moving across the Atlantic to the US, Chris worked for Acme Interactive, soon Malibu Interactive. More console development ensued before he took on a role at conversion specialists Mass Media and then Disney. Today he runs his own studio, Giant Space Monster. Phew.
Antstream Arcade: Hello Chris! So tell us how you met the rest of your team on Bounder, Robert Toone, Andy Green and Terry Lloyd.
Chris: Hello! I met Rob at an ICPUG meeting early in 1982. He was showing off a text adventure game written in BASIC. We hit it off, and I went to his house to play with his computer and talk about games and programming. Andy was Rob's friend and lived around the corner from him. He showed me the game he was making – it was a really cool version of Q*Bert written in BASIC and machine code. Very impressive stuff. Terry worked in First Byte Computers, a Derby City centre computer shop I frequented at every opportunity. He was a bit of a programmer back then, and he'd made a little flip-screen platform game on the Speccy. We became firm friends, and I ended up hanging out at his house a fair bit. He'd hook me up with free floppies and games from the shop from time to time too.
AA: Bounder began as a scrolling demo. How did it turn into a game?
Chris: Slowly, very slowly! I made a parallax scroller demo and showed it to Rob and Andy. When we finally decided to make an actual game together, I converted the parallax demo into the prototype with the Bounder ball bouncing around. Really it was just the scroller demo with a controllable ball sprite added, my ball animation and no collision detection. I also worked on an elaborate sprite and character editor, which we used for the project.
AA: What did you each do?
Chris: Andy figured out the map system with the blocks and strips, and Rob started designing maps on squared paper, hand encoding them and inputting the data into a BASIC tool he wrote. Things just progressed from there. Rob did art and design, and Andy and I were all over the place, programming stuff as we needed. Terry joined us early on, did some enemy sprites for us, and quickly took over all the art tasks, including drawing a proper Bounder ball and level graphics.
AA: This was a new experience for you all – did you hit any snags?
Chris: We had all the typical problems developing the game. Mysterious crashes we couldn't track down, spaghetti code, falling-outs, but eventually, we had a game. One of the last things I programmed was the title page because we needed one before we sent it off to publishers.
AA: Was there anything you couldn’t do in Bounder that you wanted to?
Chris: I’m sure there was. The game design evolved as we went along and ended up exactly how it was supposed to be. I can't imagine Bounder being any different. I'm positive there was a point where we were just done with it, regardless of what we wanted to do or what was or wasn't in it. I think we put everything in that we practically could.
AA: How did Bounder end up with Gremlin Graphics?
Chris: Gremlin was top of our list, and they snapped it up, along with us. After visiting the Sheffield offices around November 1985, we were all offered jobs and started working there in January 1986. We were going to send it to Ocean too, but we could only afford to make one package to send off.
AA: What did your parents think of all this?
Chris: No one really understood what I was doing or was interested in it. It wasn't until much later that my parents discovered my career and were shocked at what I'd done and achieved. That said, my Mum was supportive from the beginning (although a little bemused by it all), buying me my first C64 and tolerating my antics. When Bounder was published in Boots, she was very proud, but still didn't get it. She did appreciate the new sofa I bought her with my first pay cheque, though!
AA: What did you learn while making Bounder?
Chris: I learned an awful lot. Obviously, a lot of programming stuff and how to structure an actual game. Also, how hard it is to finish a game and how to actually finish a game (hint: just say it's finished). And how to work with (or not) other people. That last one was a big one.
AA: What does Bounder mean to you today?
Chris: I'm very fond of Bounder. It is framed by a wonderful and liberating time of my life, and it started a chain of events that completely changed my life. It gave me the opportunity to work in the games industry and have a career. All the good things and opportunities I've had since have really come from that.