Game Developer Interview: Chris Shrigley
With several of his fantastic games available on Antstream, we thought it was about time we caught up with industry veteran Chris Shrigley to chat about how his games development career began, and then grew during the Eighties at the famous Sheffield-based developer Gremlin.
Antstream Arcade: Hi Chris! What was your first experience with computing and video games?
Chris Shrigley: The first video game I ever played was an original Pong in London in the early 1970s. I was on a school trip, and the hotel had a massive Pong machine in the lobby. I spent a lot of time next to, or near it, and played it exactly once! Otherwise, it would be playing on my friend’s Binatone TV Master game system when I was ten years old and when I discovered Commodore PETs hiding at the back of a classroom at school two years later. The first made me aware that TVs could be more interactive, while discovering the computers was one of the most significant things to happen to me.
AA: How so?
CS: Discovering the school computer room really changed my life and put me on track to becoming a game programmer. Before then I wasn’t a great student, and was bored with academics – computers changed that completely, and became an obsession I still have to this day.
AA: Which game did you first fall in love with?
CS: I played on a Space Invaders machine at a local working man’s club sometime in the very early 1980s. Space Invaders was a revelation, particularly the sound, and kicked my love for games and arcades into high gear.
AA: What was your first computer?
CS: The Commodore 64 was the first computer I owned, and I adored it. I got it for Christmas 1982 after persuading my mum it would be a good idea. I cashed in a savings account I had and, along with some hard earned money from Mum, ordered it from First Byte Computers in Derby city centre.
AA: That must have been a magical time!
CS: It was. It came encased in polystyrene and wrapped in a colourful cardboard slip cover, along with a C2N Datasette. I would carefully unpack it each time I wanted to use it, and lovingly repack it once I was done for the day.
AA: What were your first dabblings with coding?
CS: As soon as I started my third year at school I was allowed to choose my subjects, and computer science was top of the list. This gave me access to those Commodore PETs and then BBC Micros, and I would spend every spare minute sitting front of them and programming. Most of it was class-related, writing small programs to solve math problems or display data as bar charts. Then, for my final exam, I programmed a sales and inventory tracking system in BASIC and assembly. Very fancy, but I failed my O-Level, although it transpired that our teacher had taught us the wrong syllabus all year so no one knew any of the exam questions!
AA: What about the games – what were your favourites?
CS: So many… Monty On The Run, Gribbly’s Day Out, Bubble Bobble, Impossible Mission, Paradroid, Mercenary, Boulderdash, Leaderboard Golf, Choplifter, Lode Runner, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon… lots, but these are the ones that come to mind.
AA: What was your own first complete self-coded game?
CS: A daft adventure game called Pub Quest, published by Dream Software. I was very chuffed with it, and a few copies even showed up in Boots! It made me a bit of a celebrity with my friends, and got me some free stuff in the various computer shops around town.
AA: How did you come to start working at Gremlin (or Gremlin Graphics as it was then)?
CS: Some friends and I had made a game called Bounder and we could only afford to send it to one software house! Gremlin was top of our list and they snapped it up, along with us. We were all offered jobs after visiting the Sheffield offices at the end of 1985 and started working there early the next year.
AA: Bounder (available to stream on Anstream Arcade) is great!
CS: Thanks…it was probably our most original game, as it wasn’t a clone or homage to anything in particular – it was just one of those things that sort of evolved over the first couple of months of development, starting out as a fancy parallax scrolling demo, morphing into a Marble Madness clone, and ending up as the game Bounder that everyone knows and loves.
AA: What else did you help create for Gremlin?
CS: Future Knight was our Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins rip-off and although original, lacked inspiration. Then we did Footballer of The Year, which was originally a paper and card board game sent in to Gremlin. They thought it had potential as a computer game, and it was my first solo game for them on the Commodore 64.
AA: Was that a tough time?
CS: The whole project was a baptism of fire and a massive learning curve for me. I learned an awful lot about making ALL of a game, and effectively working with people other than my mates. Terry Lloyd did all the art, but I had to deal with all the nitty-gritty and the unpleasant bits of a project that people don’t tell you about. It was a rocky project, and I lost my mind at times, but by the end of it all I felt confident I could tackle anything.