My First Game: Steve Marsden and Technician Ted
Everyone has to start somewhere. Even the most dedicated and renowned game developers begin with a straightforward idea, polishing and honing it until their first game duly appears. Sometimes these were released virtually unnoticed; on other occasions, they’d be a smash hit of epic proportions. In either case, it’s a start, and for the next entry in this series, we present games coder and designer Steve Marsden, telling us about his first fully-published game, the brilliant platformer Technician Ted.
Title: Technician Ted
Format: ZX Spectrum
Year released: 1985
Publisher: Hewson Consultants
Technician Ted Trivia File
Hewson released the Technician Ted 128K Megamix two years later. This added better music, more rooms and made Ted’s tasks a little easier.
Technician Ted was one of the first ZX Spectrum games to use a dynamic loading screen with movement rather than just a static image.
Two pieces from Johann Strauss feature in Technician Ted: The Blue Danube Waltz (title screen) and Radetzky-Marsch op. 228 (in-game).
Steve and his colleague created a sequel, Costa Capers, for Firebird. Instead of a day at work, Ted’s on a somewhat hazardous vacation in the Costa Del Sol.
Technician Ted appeared on the 1986 Beau Jolly compilation 10 Computer Hits 2, alongside games such as Codename MAT and Wizard’s Lair.
Ted works at Micro User Devices Ltd, AKA MUDL. In real life, Steve Marsden and Dave Cooke worked at Marconi Electronic Devices Ltd – MEDL.
Plot: Technician Ted is the tale of one manic day in the work life of its titular star. Ted works at a microprocessor factory, starting at 8.30 am and clocking off at 5. Between these times, he has 21 tasks around the factory, usually involving turning or pressing switches within specific rooms. Unfortunately for Ted, this is one lethal factory, with bouncing gamma rays, rogue fire extinguishers and rival employees all out to get our fearless worker. To make it through the day, Ted must complete all his tasks within the allotted time and make it to the wage department to pick up his paycheck.
Reviews: “Totally uninspiring,” pronounced a grumpy Sinclair Programs in its April 1985 issue. Fortunately for Steve and Hewson, this was a lone dissenting voice from the press. “Some day, all games will have graphics that animate this smoothly,” one Your Spectrum reviewer opined. “This makes [Technician Ted] one of the best platform games I’ve ever seen.” Over at Sinclair User, Clare Edgeley also praised Technician Ted’s graphics, adding that the game was “guaranteed to keep avid arcade adventurers happy for a few days.” But it was left to the other major Spectrum magazine, Crash, to heap the most considerable praise on Technician Ted. “…Technician Ted must go down as one of the best games available for the Spectrum and brings back life to the genre,” noted the Crash reviewers, while Hewson’s relatively low price of £5.95 attracted a 99% score for ‘value for money’. A final total score of 96% and a Crash Smash secured Technician Ted’s legendary status as one of the best platform games on the ZX Spectrum.
After leaving school, Steve worked at a semiconductor factory constructing various silicon devices – chips – which led to an interest in computers, culminating in his first computer game, Technician Ted, in 1984. Steve continued to work as a freelance programmer throughout the Eighties, producing the official sequel Costa Capers for Firebird and the spiritual follow-up City Slicker for Hewson. After a brief salaried stint at Gremlin Graphics, Steve returned to the freelance life before setting up his own company, Spidersoft, in 1992, mainly porting PC and Gameboy conversions for Hewson and its successor, 21st Century Entertainment. After forming another arachnid-related company, Tarantula Studios, Steve eventually became disenfranchised by the volatility of game development, leaving the industry to work for the US State Government.
Antstream Arcade: Hello, Steve! Did you play videogames as a kid?
Steve: Hello! In my childhood, videogames weren’t a thing apart from games such as telly tennis. When games like Space Invaders came out at the end of the Seventies, I was more interested in beer and football!
AA: What was your coding experience before Technician Ted?
Steve: I first programmed on a PDP8-E computer in secondary school. I programmed both BASIC and machine code on that machine, and programs were stored on rolls of punched paper tape. Eventually, games became just one part of the big picture for me – a computer was a tool, and I liked the intellectual side of creating the game code rather than the actual game itself.
AA: Who else was involved in creating Technician Ted?
Steve: I shared the coding with Dave Cooke (pictured above), my work colleague at the semiconductor factory. We had both grown up in our home town of Lincoln, and as electronic hobbyists, we had the same interests in programming and technical innovation.
AA: How did you get the idea for Technician Ted?
Steve: Technician Ted was based on the actual factory where we worked, Marconi Electronic Devices Ltd. The acronym for the plant was "MEDL" (we all pronounced it as "medal"), so in the game, I made it "MUDL" (muddle). Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy also inspired us – we knew we could improve on many things in those games, but they were still superb products. Matthew Smith did a fine job.
AA: Did you have any problems?
Steve: No, no hitches at all. It was developed in the summer/autumn of 1984 without pressure from anyone. We coded it, and new ideas came along and were incorporated until we’d filled up the memory.
AA: Technician Ted was quite a technical achievement, as noted in the magazines of the time.
Steve: I was pretty proud of the pioneering technical features like the animated tape loader, precision collision detection and countdown clock. Dave and I had a methodical way of going about things due to our scientific backgrounds. And as we built things in silicon in our day jobs, nothing fazed us about computer hardware because we knew the limitations very well.
AA: Looking back today, do you think you made Technician Ted a little too tricky to play?
Steve: In retrospect, maybe it was. The precision pixel detection system was a double-edged sword in that it highlighted just how good it was possible to make it function, but then put an undue burden on the player at times. It took a good five to six months for anyone to crack the game, but the fans seemed to like it.
AA: Technician Ted was very well received, particularly by Crash magazine. Do you remember getting a Crash Smash?
Steve: That was extremely pleasing, and the 96% was its highest-scoring game ever at the time. I enjoyed meeting Roger [Kean, Crash editor] and the guys at Newsfield, Ludlow.
AA: Finally, Steve, what does Technician Ted mean to you today?
Steve: Overall, I’m delighted to have been part of the genesis of the UK gaming industry. I like retro games more today than I did back then, as there’s a nostalgic element that obviously wasn’t there when you were immersed in it at the time. I’m glad to have been a kid with an intellectual hobby that enabled me to get into that as a career, and I’m still programming daily and enjoying making electronic projects.
Our thanks to Steve for his time – stay tuned for another veteran videogames developer talking about their first game soon.
To keep up to date with all the retro gaming chat surrounding Antstream Arcade and for exclusive reveals of new games, please visit the Antstream Arcade Discord server: https://discord.gg/antstream.