Orpheus’ Young Ones conversion story


Recently I got chatting with the C64 developer of The Mighty Bombjack for Elite back in 1991, Geoff Phillips. Very nice chap, who also had a lot of tales from his earlier development days at Orpheus, who were most famous for their Electrosound tool.

Geoff offered to tell a story behind the development woes of The Young Ones, and was happy for me to post it here. So here it is below… enjoy!

Development of The Young Ones

“So I’ll tell you a bit about the Young Ones game. Paul Kaufman and John Marshall went to meet Rik Mayall, and Lise – possibly Ben Elton. I sadly did not go to that meeting – Paul reported back that Rik leant back too far in his chair and fell backwards… We had permission (with obvious rights payments going to Rik/Ben) to develop the game – would that be 1984? Whichever year, it was early in the year when we started. I say we, but I didn’t do any programming, just possibly bounced some ideas around…

At that point I was still working from London, and coming up as needed to Hatley St George, and obscure place near Biggleswade – so obscure that even the nearest bakery was about a ten mile drive down windy roads. Somehow, John had gotten in his head that the AI needed to be farmed out to another programmer and he knew (somehow) a student at university called Stephen Streeter. He would bring his viola to the office, and we had that bizarre thing of him practising viola in between programming. Time passed by, the summer holidays meant presumably that Stephen would be able to do his bit. Summer drew to a close, but still there seemed to be no progress. At that point, Paul, myself and John drove to Stephen’s digs, a smelly student’s room somewhere in Cambridge and we tried to assess what code he had written.

What Stephen had in mind seemingly was that the characters in the game must *want* to meet their objectives. He was writing code to create true AI, but was struggling [perhaps not unreasonably when I look back – we all used pure assembler back then] to make the code function. Then we looked at the code – developed on the BBC Model B. I was horrified by his coding methods. He was not using a proper symbolic assembler with labels and meaningful names. His code consisted of lines of assembler strung out on a line with manually calculated branches! We looked at a few lines, and immediately (by counting instructions) saw two lines with wrongly calculated branch values.

I don’t want to be too hard on Stephen – he was a very nice fellow, and I went to his parents house once for a meal. Soon after John realised he’d have to do the coding himself – he had already done the graphics side with the animations and main game drawing. Time was pressing on though for a release… possibly too late even then. I think he probably knocked up the game logic in a couple of weeks. He used what any sane programmer would have done – tables of objects. For myself, I had to do the package that would be duplicated…. I had created a turbo loader … the C64’s own loader was always too slow. We tested it and it worked reliably. And so John finished the game.

We all piled in Paul’s car and drove up from Bedfordshire to Batley, Yorkshire, where the tape duplicators were. We had in mind that they would take our master tape, and whizz, done, all good, we could come back again. If only…. The tape went through their test rig to make a sample copy. The copy didn’t load… And the hours passed by, evening fell, then night, and I worked through the night, trying to make the damn thing work when it was copied. It was the timings you see, too tight for the copy to work. In the end the really nice guy there in charge of duplication found a way round it – they had their own duplication code that they knew and trusted. Totally exhausted I put in his code.

It was now the middle of the following day, and I was too tired to continue. We found a b+b nearby and getting very strange looks put our heads down for a few hours sleep. What I remember from that experience is that when I put my trousers on the chair of the room all my loose change fell out, and I didn’t ever remember to collect it. Back to the factory. The replacement code worked… but then that led to some new problems which weren’t of my making… I don’t remember what exactly, the game crashed I think …. but John had to work on the main game itself, and this killed some more time. Finally though, the game was put in the bag… with a few bugs (in the game itself) caused by the rush to complete all the logic in such a short time.

The game was too late for Christmas for the main distributor.. I don’t remember exactly what happened there. I recall piles of Young Ones boxes everywhere. I fell asleep in the car on the way back (glad I wasn’t driving) and slept at Paul’s house. I think it took me days to recover! I remember being annoyed at the others back at the office who didn’t seem the slightest bit grateful at the effort made.

I think the disaster of the Young Ones killed the company as I said previously. If it had been sucessful we would have had the money to develop other games. It was a slow downhill slope to doom afterwards!”

Geoff Phillips

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One thought on “Orpheus’ Young Ones conversion story

  1. Alex Ross-Shaw November 13, 2012 / 9:41 pm

    Great story! Wish we could have had it for Retro Fusion! 🙂

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