Main Content

Interviews


Click a photo to read one of the exclusive interviews

Kevin Ayre


Kevin Ayre

Kevin was a programmer for Oxford Digital Entertainment. He is now an Indie Developer producing snazzy mobile games under the name Purple Wax Games.

I asked him about his project to port the established game 'Sailing' to the Konix Multi-system and his involvement in the Konix Developer Weekend event.

.

And if you'd like to check out one of his products - I'd recommend DEMINO now available on the Apple store

Interview:


Slipstream
Having re-read the proposal that was discovered a few years back for this game, to be fair, it does sound like it was being pitched as quite an exciting game. My initial view was that it just didn’t seem dynamic enough as a straightforward sailing simulator. What was your view on working on a Sailing game, could it have been an entertaining launch title?

Kevin Ayre
Yes, it was going to be an exciting game (at least in my head!). I saw it more as the futuristic speedboat combat game mentioned as another mode in the proposal document (think Car Wars on the water!). My boss, Dave Pringle, saw it more as a straight sailing game. Either way it didn't get beyond the tech demo you have as video from Jon Dean.

Slipstream
Konix said that the game would make use of its ambitious Power Chair – did the development of the game ever get to the stage where there was a version that could drive the chair? If so, did it provide the desired effect?

Kevin Ayre
Unfortunately not! I never got to sit in the powered chair, although I was tempted when they asked for a volunteer at the developer conference, but figured it made more sense for somebody well known (like Jeff Minter!) to be photographed in the chair. The devkit we had looked very much like a desktop PC box, we had to take the cover off to stop it overheating.

Slipstream
How far through the development did the game get? Were you close to being complete or just at the prototype stage?

Kevin Ayre
It only got as far as a tech demo - scaling sprite of a powerboat, tilting horizon and wave effect. As I remember I was waiting on a newer devkit which was going to change how the GPU worked and since the scaling sprites relied heavily on the GPU, there seemed little point in continuing as it would all need to be re-written.

Slipstream
Have you any code, videos or screen shots from the Konix version – I’ve got one early W.I.P. video with a boat bobbing up and down on the ocean. It would be great to see clearer images to get a sense of if and how the Konix version could have been better than the others.

Kevin Ayre
No, sorry. Any of that stuff stayed at ODE (owned by Entertainment International) when I left around 1990.

Slipstream
Who at that time would have been the team working on this game? Programmer(s), artist(s) and Musician(s)?

Kevin Ayre
It was pretty much just me as a programmer and artist at that time. I had a bit of help from some of the other programmers with how to do the scaling sprite stuff and at what angles to change the sprite.

Slipstream
Would you have been working from scratch to produce something functionally equivalent to the existing game, or would you have converted and reused some of the 68000 code of the 16 bit version and then adapted it to suit the A/V and I/O specifics of the Multi-system?

Kevin Ayre
I had to teach myself 8086 coding (I was used to Z80 on ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC). It was pretty much from scratch with a bit of help in the sprite scaling code from some of the other programmers who had done this kind of thing before on Sleeping Gods Lie for Amiga and Atari ST (published by Empire).

Slipstream
Was there to be any particularly clever use of the Konix’s capabilities to show off this game. Did you have any specific tricks and techniques in mind to make use of the slightly different capability of the machine compared to the others?

Kevin Ayre
Sprite scaling was the main 'clever use', since the Graphics processor (GPU) could do that really well. Other programmers (mainly Steven Green) at ODE had already pioneered this - it was good for detailed objects like people and vehicles instead of using polygons, which was slow for anything more than simple shapes (remember this is before Castle Wolfenstein and Doom perfected scaled sprite tech for their enemies on PC).

Slipstream
The company had a Konix dev-kit, do you have any idea where it ended up?

Kevin Ayre
Sorry, I can't remember what happened to the dev-kit - I think it may have been sent back to Konix - I don't remember it cluttering up the office!

Slipstream
How did the whole experience of developing for this machine feel? Did you ever feel like you were wasting your time and that the machine would never be released?

Kevin Ayre
It was really exciting developing for this machine - I was lucky to be picked by my boss to do the project, as I was still the new boy! I remember going to the 'developer conference' weekend and being surrounded by the likes of Jeff Minter (Llamasoft) and Jez San (Argonaut) - giants in the gaming world at the time. We were all shown the development software and Z80 demos that ATD had done which looked great. The only downside was that Konix had decided to use an 8086 processor so they could say it was 16-bit on the box to compete with Amiga and Atari ST - most of the programmers (including me!) didn't like this and would have been far happier with a Z80 or 68000 chip. I didn't get the feeling that the machine would never be released, I don't think it was all that long after I was waiting for a new dev-kit that we heard the news that Konix was no more.

Slipstream
Can you tell me more about the developers conference? Were there drunken lunches... Were you star-struck by the likes of Jeff and Jez or were they just your colleges.

Kevin Ayre
The developer's weekend was pretty amazing - there were about 20 or so developers, plus the guys from ATD & Flare, Wyn & Jon Dean and probably a few others from Konix. I'd only graduated from University the year before, starting my video game career 'properly' at ODE with Trivial Pursuit: A New Beginning on ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. Now, here I was rubbing shoulders with successful developers, like Jeff Minter and Jez San, that I'd only read about in magazines. Going from these humble 8-bit machines to the Multi-system that could display 256 colours as well as 3D was a big leap for me, maybe not so impressive for those who were used to developing for 16-bit machines like the Amiga and Atari ST. Making the console be the controller was pretty clever, as was the lightgun with recoil, but I think the Power Chair is what really sold people - now you could bring the arcade experience to people's homes! Just a shame so many of the slated games were still relying on joystick control, but I suppose porting existing titles was easier (and cheaper!). A little star struck, I suppose, in that when they wanted a volunteer to pose in the Power Chair, I was tempted but hung back - since nobody would know who I was, unlike Jeff Minter, who eventually was persuaded to get in the chair for the cameras. No drunken lunches, but I do remember having lunch in a pub with Jez San and some of the other developers and trying to convince him that scaled sprites were better than polygons for speed and realism in 3D games, but I didn't succeed!

Slipstream
How long did your involvement with the Konix machine last? Did you enjoy the challenge of learning how a new machine worked and how to push it to do what you wanted?

Kevin Ayre
Only a few months (as far as I can remember!) I enjoyed programming the graphics chip, the 256 colours and how the screen dimensions gave 1 to 1 mapping for pixels! Less enjoyable was learning the limitations of the 8086 chip which was more 12 bit than 16 bit in how it addressed memory!

Slipstream
Did you feel like the machine wasn’t all it was cracked up to be? After all, it suffered constant feature creep which led to constant refactoring of the design to suit new CPUs, demands for extra RAM etc. Were there aspects of the machine and it’s capabilities that you were impressed by or maybe frustrated by?

Kevin Ayre
Not really, I don't think I really got far enough with the game to hit the machines limitations much - as I said, I was waiting on new dev-kit, but we never got one. The GPU was amazing - hats off to Flare! I was frustrated with the 8086 processor (as I've already mentioned!) but that's probably more my inexperience at the time - I went on to write 2 PC games for ODE: The Amazing Spiderman and Deathbringer.

Slipstream
It seems that ODE’s reputation didn’t get damaged in any way by its involvement in the Konix affair – do you know if the wasted development effort had a particularly negative effect on the company’s fortunes?
Kevin Ayre
I don't think so, but don't really know. You'd need to talk with my boss at the time, Dr David Pringle. I remember always being busy working on some project at that time, either programming, creating graphics or designing games.

Slipstream
I assume you’d have dealt with Jon Dean?

Kevin Ayre
Yes, I remember Jon Dean, so didn't have to deal with Konix direct.

Slipstream
Do you recall any other details about the Konix, anecdotes or rumours from inside the industry?

Kevin Ayre
A few rumours I heard about after the MutiSystem's demise:
Disney was interested in buying it and branding it (can you imagine how popular a Disney home console would be?) - but Wyn wanted to keep it Welsh.
They just couldn't get the Power Chair through British Safety/Consumer testing - with metal gears, it was way too noisy and with plastic gears they just didn't last more than half an hour.