Authors and Interviews

Sean Townsend Interview: May 2007

Sean Townsend grew up in Littleborough which was a mere five miles away from the A&F offices he eventually worked at, in Rochdale. Since the age of 18, he has lived in a quiet village called Wardle, out in the sticks, where he now resides with his family, including two young kids. Sean's career led him to work for A&F in the mid-eighties on the C64 and Atari Chuckie Egg projects, as well as the C64 version of Gumshoe. Sean also worked at Binary Designs on C64 Max Headroom and at Canvas Software on C64 Road Runner, C64 MagMax & C64 Charlie Chaplin. After leaving Canvas Software, Sean moved out of the video games industry, citing the insecurity and the risk of not being paid at the end of the month. He ended up at Barcrest Games UK, programming fruit machines (AWP) and pub video games (SWP) - most notably The Crystal Maze series of games. Sean currently works for Bally Technologies as a software engineer, programming casino games.
Sean happened upon our little corner of the web and we found him very agreeable to answering a few questions on his Chuckie Egg development experiences at A&F and what it was like as a games developer in the eighties ...
 
=== Part I: Coder ===
Did you grow up intending to be a coder? If not, how did you get started as one?

I almost joined the navy as a Weapons Engineering Mechanic but got talked out of it so I guess I didn't intend to be a coder it just happened. I use to write games in basic on the VIC20 just for fun and moved on to 6502 just to get things moving a bit quicker.
As a bedroom coder, what was your first computer? What other machines have you developed with?

My first introduction to computers was at school, we had a few PET's and TRS80's, I borrowed a ZX81 to see If I liked it, which I didn't, so my first computer was a VIC20. The only machines I have actually had released games on are the CBM64 and the 8Bit Atari. I have also developed on other proprietary hardware platforms for companies out of the video game industry.
During your time in the games industry, have you done anything other than programming? Which companies/people have you worked with and what were the most notable games (here notable should be taken to mean the most well-known games and those you've personally enjoyed working on most)?

In the early days the programmer was responsible not only for coding but also the graphics, sound, game/level designs and testing, all of which I have done. I have worked for A&F on C64 CE, C64 CE2, Atari CE and Gumshoe. Binary Designs on C64 Max Headroom and Canvas Software on C64 Road Runner, C64 MagMax, C64 Charlie Chaplin. After canvas software I moved out of the video games industry, it was just too risky back then, you never knew if you were going to get paid at the end of the month and when you have a mortgage to pay you need a bit of security. I ended up working for Barcrest programming fruit machines and pub video games. Out of all those I would say I enjoyed the most working on C64 and Atari CE, and Road Runner, and whilst working for Barcrest I'd say the Crystal Maze series of games.
How did you end up at A&F?

After school I went to ITEC doing micro electronics and found it very easy as I had learnt more than they were teaching at home, the job centre came calling and 2 of us went for interviews at A&F. The rest, as they say is history.
Do you have any memories you'd like to share of working at A&F?

All I can really remember is the office was basically an industrial unit with no natural sunlight as there were no windows, the development office was along the left hand side with the right hand side taken up by a huge array of cassette recorders, Mike Fitzgerald had a big office at the far end, along with another bloke called Martin who I think was sales director.
Are you still in contact with anyone from your days at A&F?

No I'm not, I lost contact when I moved on, I did email Mike a few years back but never got a reply.
 
=== Part II: Chuckie Egg Developer ===
Did you receive any royalties from your C64/Atari versions of Chuckie Egg or were you just paid a flat rate to work on them?

I never received royalties for anything I worked on, just got paid a flat rate.
Who else had a hand in your implementations of Chuckie Egg and what were their contributions?

On the C64 version of CE I had the guiding hand of Mike, as for the rest, it was pretty much left up to me. Mike also worked on Gumshoe with me.
For the geeks, can you recall what languages and tools (if any) were used in the development of your Chuckie Egg games?

All versions of CE that I was involved with were developed on the Atari with MAC65, and then squirted over to the C64, before doing a sys on it to get it running.
Can you remember anything of note about the development - did you experience any problems?

There's always problems developing code, I can't think of any individual ones, but I did have a pad and pen by my bed, usually the answers came to me while I was asleep, and if I didn't write them down I would have forgotten by the morning.
What were your thoughts on the results of your labour, both back in 1984/85 and now in 2007? Do you have them prominently displayed on your CV or do you see them as early games which are "best forgotten"?!

Back in the 80's it was something special, everyone had heard of CE, even now new people who I work with still seemed pretty impressed, but it's not something I have on my CV.
As much as the Dragon community would protest, it's fairly well known that the two most well-remembered releases of Chuckie Egg were on the ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro. What do you think of the two and how they compare? (Answering along the lines of I-can't-remember-I-havent-played-any-of-them-for-20-years is acceptable ... :)?

I-can't-remember-I-havent-played-any-of-them-for-20-years.
Did you base your ports on either of the two main versions (BBC Micro/Spectrum) or, as both your Chuckie Egg ports have radically different looks and your C64 version even has additional speed options, did you set out to be different to what had gone before?

If I remember correctly they were based on the Speccy version, the only reason the C64 had the speed options was down to the hardware sprites, and the only reason the Atari version looked slightly different was the fact I could easily get the sprites to go behind the platforms when required.
Do you remember if you included any hidden cheats or easter eggs in your ports?

No there were no hidden cheats, or anything like that.
The C64 port of Chuckie Egg 2 is infamous for containing a bug which made it un-completable (see entry on site for more info). We've found references to someone who apparently managed to obtain a bug-fixed tape from A&F but, so far, it doesn't appear to have reached the internet. Don't suppose you'd still have one? ... :)

I know nothing about it, once it was finished I moved on, and had no more dealings with A&F, so if there is a fix, it wasn't me who did it.
Does anyone in Real LifeTM (your friends, family, colleagues, bloke in a pub etc.) know you coded a version of Chuckie Egg? What do they think?

Most of my family know, and my close friends (most of who were my friends back in the 80's) know, and a few of my work colleagues (past and present) know. It's not something I make a big deal about really.
Did you realise at any point that Chuckie Egg was going to be regarded by some as the classic that it is now?

No, never, it was just another platformer at the time.
Are you surprised by the continuing popularity of Chuckie Egg?

Yes, it's very odd really, I guess it has that something which is missing from a lot of games, playability. A lot of games rely on eye candy rather than playability these days.
When was the last time you played Chuckie Egg (and which version)?

Probably a few years back on a 64 emulator, I could never play the Speccy version the colour clashing always bothered me.
Can you remember what level of Chuckie Egg you used to (still can?!) be able to get to - on any version?

No, if I was to play it now I would probably be level 3 or something.
Have you played any of the other official releases of Chuckie Egg?

I played all of the original 8Bit versions that were done whilst I worked for A&F.
There have been many retro remakes of Chuckie Egg, do you have any thoughts on those?

People wanting to get into the games industry have to start somewhere, so why not with a classic such as CE.
What are your views on Chuckie Egg's future (if any!)?

Maybe a 3D version called Chuckie Egg World is being developed right now :o)
Have you ever felt inclined to knock up a modern follow-up or remake? :)

No, never. My spare time is taken up with other interests.
 
=== Part III: Final Thoughts ===
Are you still a big gamer and do you have any favourite computer games?

I used to spend a lot of time playing games, there has been a computer or a console in my house forever, but nowadays I don't spend as much time as I did, with 2 young kids its difficult, although my 4 year old is constantly nagging me to play Pacman World and Burnout on the PS2, so they are the only games I've been playing recently. But I think my personal favourite has to be the Sonic series on the Mega Drive.
Do you like eggs? :)

Cadburys crème eggs NO, Kinder Eggs YES.
... and, finally - is there anything you'd like to leave us with?

Phrrrrraaaaarpppppp..... an eggy fart :o)