RVG Interviews Andrew Hewson.

 

On of the true pioneers of the UK computer industry, Hewson started off publishing books and games for the humble Sinclair ZX81 before working their way up to the 16-bit home computers and consoles. 21st Century Entertainment were started up not long after Hewson left the scene and are most famous for their hugely popular pinball games.


Hewson's games library contains hit after hit and I am sure all of you own at least one of their games in your collection, you can look at their Moby Games profile HERE and games list HERE.

Rogue Trooper

Q) Andrew, before I dive in with the questions, please allow me to say a HUGE thank you to you. You were responsible for such a huge chunk of my gaming life it's unreal, I had a scan through your games list and at rough count, there's well over 20 games published by Hewson that I have such fond memories of, your a living legend.

You are very, very kind. I have to say I was just getting on with doing what I thought was right. It may sound strange but I didn’t spend any time thinking about having an impact on anyone.

Q) Hewson games always seemed to have that extra degree of polish to them, more often than not, as a C64 owner your games so often had stunning music (Cybernoid 1+2, Stormlord 1+2, Firelord, Marauder, Netherworld, Battle Valley, Slayer, Zamzara, Subterranea etc). So was the audio side of a game something you were keen for your products to embrace?

It is my strongly held opinion that sound effects and music create the emotional content of an otherwise entirely visual product. My own personal favourite is the bell which tolls on the Nightmare table of Pinball Dreams. The sound is cold and empty and hollow and makes you feel that the end of the world has been and gone and that you left as the own living thing in a dead landscape.

Of course I can take no personal credit for any of this. My role was simply to stand by holding the reins so to speak whilst other people who were a lot more talented than I could ever be, came up with the goods.


Q) Zamzara: simply stunning for a budget game with a main sprite straight out of the film Enemy Mine, but am I right in thinking it, along with the stunning Moonfall and Octopolis, were the coders only 3 games he ever made? If so do you have any idea why he quit after just 2 games and do you know what became of him? Also how did you get hold of the games? Did he approach you directly? I'd love to know more on how these games came about.

Sorry, I can’t help you much there. He breezed in and breezed out of our lives. Jukka Tapanimäki sadly passed away back in 2000. He also created Netherworld for Hewson.

Q) Hewson's artwork was always bloody marvellous, personal faves would include the 'exploding head' (yours I believe) of Netherworld (beating Sony’s PlayStation head by a good few years) along with Astaroth. So, do you still have the original prints? And how on earth did you source such wonders? Who was your main artist or artists?

Ah, the “exploding head” was actually from a photograph of the programmer Jukka Tapanimaki, who is sadly no longer with us, and we created it because Netherworld was clearly a unique creation straight out of his head. We sourced our artwork locally and I am sorry to say the creator is no longer with us either. Oooh, you’re making me feel old!

Q) Saw film and arcade game influences in many of your games (Enemy Mine, The Black Hole Robots in Steel, R-Type Snakes in Slayer etc) did they ever get you in any hot water? And what of the topless fairy lasses in Stormlord and lass in Insects In Space? Any prudes complain?

No, we’ve never had anyone grumble to us. I’m very clear that it is right and proper to “refer” to outside influences because we’re all swimming in the same cultural soup but I think we always avoided plagiarism.

Q) How gutted were you when the 'cheat' was soon discovered in C64 Alleykat (fly down side of the screen and win race with ease) and how come this wasn’t picked up in play testing?

It was a disappointment of course but actually I don’t think it invalidated the game. In the early days we didn’t do as much play-testing and tuning because Graftgold products came to us more or less ready to release so that’s why we didn’t spot it. With other developers we were much more pro-active, play-testing relentlessly until we were happy with what we had. I always allowed a month after the game was “finished” to tune it up and the games didn’t go into production until we were satisfied with what we’d got.

Q) C64 Rana Rama...looked very much like a Speccy port, still played like a gem, but what's story behind the conversion? We C64 owners expected more, sniff!

Blimey, I have to say I can’t remember. Sorry!

Q) See the Atari 7800 listed among supported formats, but you never did any Atari 8-bit Micro games did you? (I only discovered your works when I moved from the 800XL to the C64) did you never consider the Atari 8 Bit range a worthy market? Not even for your budget range? If not, why?

Dunno, it never really crossed my mind to get involved. Atari seemed a step backwards to me.

Q)Looking at people you had working on your games (Steve Turner, Andrew Braybrook, Nick Jones, Raf Cecco, Stephen Roberts etc) would it be fair to say Hewson had pretty much the cream of the 8-bit coding scene on-board at one time or another? And how on earth did you manage to secure such talent?

My guess is I became a “name” relatively early on because I wrote books about the ZX 80, ZX 81 and ZX Spectrum and then went on to write a monthly magazine column in Sinclair User. I named the games company of myself almost by accident (Hewson Consultants was the trading name I used when I did some consultancy work in the late 1970s). We spotted Steve Turner’s talent when he sent a sample of 3D Space Wars to us and we had the common sense to be nice to him. He took Andrew Braybrook under his wing.

I was always very clear that it was important to promote the programmers as the creators and so talented people like Raf Cecco started contacting us. Basically, we created a virtuous circle for ourselves.


Q) How was your relationship with Zzap 64 (pretty much THE C64 bible back then)? Know your company placed a lot of adverts in the magazine, had games getting some fantastic scores, but often they were a little too harsh i thought Marauder only 66%, Exolon only 64% etc, let alone Eagles coming in at 47%. Did it piss you off a little to see a product scored lower than you'd hoped for? And did it have a knock-on effect on sales?

Marauder was a disappointment. I accepted that Exolon was a conversion and would therefore be marked down. Eagles you either liked or you didn’t – it was that sort of game. Did it piss me off? Hmmm, I’m not the sort to bear a grudge and life is too short to waste on grumbling. Yes, of course poor scores had a massive effect on sales but I was always searching for the next big hit rather than fretting over what might have been.
 
Q) Also rumour has it Hewson started making its games hard on purpose, as to give Zzap reviewers a real challenge, any truth in this? And if so, what about us mere mortals who lacked the ninja-gaming skills of the Zzap crew. I really struggled with Zynaps, no checkpoints? Ohhh man!

No truth at all. I think we probably did err on the side of making games too hard but that’s not something we realised or set out to do at the time.

Q) If you don't mind me saying, you seemed a very generous company to work for, know Stephen Roberts (who did the superb loading screens to Exolon, Cybernoid etc) spoke very highly, saying he was paid £100 per screen (bearing in mind this was the 1980's). Did you feel it was important those working on your products were rewarded well?

My motto is that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. I not interested in ripping people off. Life is too short.

Q) Your 4th Dimension compilation, just bloody superb VFM, were there ever plans for a Vol. 2?

If we’d had the products to hand we’d have done another one…

Q) How did the licensing of Stormlord to Razorsoft for the MD/Genesis conversion come about? And did you ever look at their version, if so any thoughts? (I think it added 4? extra levels if nothing else).

I met one of the staff of Razorsoft at a show in the US and he raved about Stormlord. He was young and enthusiastic and I have to say I didn’t take him too seriously. But I followed up and he bent his boss’s ear and lo and behold, we got a deal. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember their conversion. Sorry!

Q) Steel turned up on ST/Amiga on a Zero magazine cover disk (which was fantastic as I got a 16-bit version of a C64 fave of mine, for free!). How did that come about and were there ever any other Hewson games given away on magazine cover disks/tapes?

We licensed lots of past products for magazine cover disks. It was a helpful income stream for a period.

Q) Rubicon C64, looked stunning, sounded fantastic, but release was delayed as Hewson went under, 21st century Entertainment was born. Did the delay effect the 8-bit version in terms of sales? (in fact, I assume it was released at retail, only ever seen it running on video) and where did the coding team, 'Twisted Minds' come from?

Oh dear, another product that I can’t remember too much about. I’m not doing too well methinks!

Q) Ammotrack (an ST P.D game that I nabbed off a magazine cover disk) was originally from your back catalogue but was 'lost' when Hewson (sadly) went under. Can you recall how it ended up in terms of a P.D release and did any other unreleased titles from you suffer the same fate?

And another! You remember a lot more about my back catalogue than I do. I don’t think we lost any other titles in the changeover.

Q) On average, how long was someone like say Andrew Braybrook given to finish a game? And when they said 'I need more time', how flexible were you in giving them the time needed to finish a game? Basically what was your release policy? It'll ship when ready, or something like, you can have say 3 months more, then it's shipping?

My conversations were generally the other way around. Everyone knew the Christmas market was important and so I didn’t have to make a big thing about it. I’d ask when a game was likely to be finished and work from there. As I am sure you are aware if people set their own goals they are more likely to stick to them. The better programmers were good at keeping to their estimates. The not so good ones tended to bite off more than they could chew. But that’s life isn’t it?

Q) Uridium+, which turned up on compilation, was if I recall an 'improved' version of the original, which also gave the player a few extra levels. Did any of your other releases feature such bonus stuff when re-released? Very generous approach I must say.

Ha! The day before we shipped Uridium on the Spectrum the programmer, Dominic Robinson, gleefully told me he’d hidden a complete duplicate set of levels in the game. I could have brained him. If he told me with a month to go we’d have used it in the press releases etc but by the day before it was too late.

Q) Iridis Alpha was something of a departure for a Hewson release. Can you tell us a little how it came about as a joint Llamasoft/Hewson project? And also how the business relationship worked out (don't think Jeff had any other releases on Hewson label).

Jeff was based about twenty miles away and there was another games company / cassette duplicator near to him. We met one another and Jeff was looking around, in his own slightly eccentric way, for a publisher and Iridis Alpha came about. I’m not sure why we didn’t repeat the process.

Q) Andrew, you were working with 16-bit computers back in 1973 when you were working for the British Museum, but they were size of a small room etc, were you 'surprised' by advances in home micro tech some 15 years later when you started developing games for ST/Amiga?

Yes, I think it would be fair to say that I have been surprised by almost everything in computing from 1973 to the present day. I look at all sorts of things – Wikipedia, Skype, text messaging and think, “I didn’t expect that.” I think it’ll be another fifty years before computers become old and staid and boring.

Q) Was it true most of your coders worked 'out-of-house'? And if so, what would you say were the pros & cons of such a system? Did coders appreciate the freedom? How often did you check on progress they were making?.

Pros – you never know what’s coming next. Cons – it’s difficult to arrange cross-fertilisation of techniques. I don’t think it would work these days.

Q) Some of your games changed name during development (Eliminator was originally 'Roadstar XRi and Astaroth originally known as Azimodius, if I’m thinking straight) any reasons for the name changes?

I remember we changed the name for Eliminator because we felt Roadstar was a bit boring. I’m not sure about the other one.

Q) Telecomsoft 'lured away' your Graftgold coders behind Morpheus and Magnetron at a PCW show, which led to a rather unpleasant legal battle, before being settled. Just how narked off to put it mildly, were you to have this happen to you? And if you don't mind me asking, in hindsight, could the situation have been avoided?

That was all very unfortunate. Andrew had devised Morpheus and I couldn’t get my head round it. Next thing I knew they’d de-camped to BT. The legal “battle” was complete nonsense. BT got it into their collective heads that we would attempt to release an incomplete version of the game which was bizarre. Why on earth would I shoot myself in the foot like that?

I was disappointed to lose Graftgold but I never fell out with Steve. I think he regretted the move almost immediately because BT, like other “corporate” publishers, was run by clowns. We survived and kept on “buggering on” to quote Winston Churchill. We all due respect to Steve and Andrew they weren’t the only talented programmers out there.


Q) Can you explain how Atari 7800 version of Nebulus came to be in hands of US Gold for the USA release and why the name change to Tower Toppler?

US Gold made us an offer and it went from there. The change of name is a fine example of clueless marketing people misunderstanding the product that’s been put into there hands. For the Yanks it was just another game…

Q) Is it true you had a PC Engine version of Paradroid '90 all finished and it was to be Hewson's 1st crack at the emerging console market? If so, what became of it? Was it never released because PC Engine didn’t get a UK release?

Umm, that’s news to me.

TrekMD

Q) The list of games Hewson has published is remarkable not only because they have been hits but also because of the variety of genres of games.  Is there a particular genre that you found better to develop games for?

In later years I realised that you needed to develop a niche – hence the Pinball products.

Q) This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Atari Jaguar.  The Jag version of Pinball Fantasies was great. Were there any games for the Jaguar that you had planned that never saw release? 

No, sorry.

Q) Apart from Tower Toppler and Pinball Fantasies on the Jaguar, were there plans for additional games for other Atari systems?

No, I was never a great Atari fan.

Katzkatz

Q) How come the Atari ST got a port of Rana Rama and the Amiga didn't?

I suspect that we couldn’t find anyone to write the code for us.

Q) Did you ever get into trouble with the BBC over putting the Dalek graphic into Paradroid? 

No. Does it look like a Dalek? Maybe but I never thought of it that way. That’s a new one on me.

Q) Do you think that looking back on it, the Spectrum probably could have handled a full port of Paradroid, maybe a version for the 128K Spectrum?

We hadn’t really learnt about conversions when Paradroid came out so the conversation never came up.

Q) Was the inclusion of the mini-games in certain games of yours (e.g. Paradroid droid control and the same in the Quazatron, the "Ranarama" rune casting in Rana Rama) to differentiate them from arcade games and offer a unique gameplay experience for the home computer formats?

It’s funny looking back on it but we have a period when we concerned that there was not enough gameplay in the games. It started with Paradroid and went from there. I think the sub-games added a balance to the games, a variation in intensity, and so it was not a bad move.

Gone

Q) How come 20th Century Software focused on pinball games? Was there a specific reason for this?

I’d come to realise that being relentlessly original is blooming hard work. Pinball products sold very well and so we focussed time and energy one being very good at them.

Q) Hewson started off by publishing books to help people program, how did you get into programming yourself and did you spot this as a gap in the market?

To be honest, I wanted to write a book, or books, in order to prove to myself that I could. The ZX80 book and the others were all a way of testing myself.

Q) Is there any reason you never got into publishing console games with Hewson, rather than just making a few games for other publishers here and there?

The problem with the consoles is that you can’t just get on and play with them. You have to talk to all sorts of middle men to get hold of the kit and so on. I can’t be bothered. It doesn’t suit my style. The creative edge disappears.

Q) Did you see that somebody converted Stormlord to the vintage Oric 1 computer a few years ago (very impressively I may add), if so what did you think of it?

Sorry, I’ve never seen it but good for them!

Q) Do you ever regret calling a day on Hewson? Do you feel you could have taken the label further?

Yes, I do regret it. I was very worn down by the time it happened. Our German distributor invited me up to London to his hotel suite and then told me he couldn’t pay his bills and was going bust. If I’d been in a better frame of mind I’d have battled on and almost certainly survived. But I decided not to. Not my finest hour.

Q) What persuaded you to get back into games development with 20th Century Software?

Three weeks later, a friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how much I would need to pick up the pieces. I told him and he raised the finance and a support team (which is what I really needed). Suddenly we were back in business.

Q) And finally what became of 20th Century Software and what have you done since?

We closed it down and went our separate ways. I worked for someone else for a year or two (a bit of a holiday whilst still working), then did nothing for about two years and then launched an accountancy company which I still run…

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