When I was a kid, I liked playing computer games on my Amstrad CPC 6128. I enjoyed playing them so much I used to type in the game code listings printed in the manual, and in magazines such as "Amstrad Action". I decided that I wanted to be a computer games programmer, so I could earn money creating the things that I enjoyed doing in my spare time.
I decided (or rather my parents let me) to leave King Edward VI School to go to Taunton's college to do my A-Levels because I wanted to do a Computing A Level, to get me on the road to being a games programmer! At Taunton's I also took A-Level mathematics because I knew it would help with the computing, and was stuck on whether to take French or German. I liked both and thought as well as making me more employable in the future, it would make a nice break from maths and programming! Anyway, it was suggested that I took both French and German in my first year, and then dropped one, when I decided which I preferred, or was better at, or if the workload of for A-levels was too much. It got to the end of my first year, I was asked which one I wanted to drop, my grades in all four subjects were good, so I thought, "Well, I've managed this far, I may as well do all four next year", so I did!
I had a career guidance interview where I decided that a Computer Science degree was for me, and that I should do it with a language again, to break up the tedium of computers! I think I chose Computer Science with French, rather than German because my grades were slightly better at French.
1 year later, 4 A-Levels, A French, C in Computing, Mathematics with Statistics, German, I had enough points to go to University of Essex to do my Computer Science with French degree. I chose Essex because I wanted to go to a university where I could work abroad for a year, most university year abroads were to study abroad for a year. I wanted to work because I thought there's going to be enough inexperienced graduates applying for jobs, if I gain some real world experience, it could give me the edge to get a good job.
My first 2 years of my degree at Essex I tried to choose as many programming modules as possible, unfortunately for me too much of the course concentrated on theory for my liking, i.e. too much time reading notes, and going to lectures and hardly any time sat in front of a computer actually doing the stuff we were learning about!I spent part of my third year on placement in Switzerland for UBS.
I returned to Essex for my final year with the daunting final year project on my mind, I had hoped to be able to carry some of my work experience from UBS with me and be able to continue or adapt one of my projects from there, but that did not seem suitable, or appropriate. Instead from the list of projects given, I chose to develop a sports statistics database, using Visual C++. Visual C++ was one of the modules I had decided to take for my final year, since it was one of very few which appeared to involve any programming, and so by using a module to help with my project I could kill two bird with one stone!
The only other option I chose out of interest was graphics, as I could see where this would be useful for computer games development. Using the PHIGS API, we learned the fundamentals (and maths) for drawing curves, anti-aliasing, and basics for animation, and 3D computer graphics. The involved was quite hard going, but at least in weekly lab sessions the relevance could be seen in actual programming use!
Back to the final year project, like most students this is where I spent most of my time, learning the ins and outs of Visual C++ while using it to write a Statistical Database Management program for basketball. I chose basketball because I enjoyed playing and watching it, and followed the league tables and results anyway! Development was slow, I was using the MFC to code for Windows, so I was trying to learn how to use Microsoft Visual C++ and Microsoft Windows and new programming techniques and ideas, after years of using Emacs on Sun Sparcs running XWindows on UNIX for the last few tears. Towards the end of the project I came to the conclusion that if I had created a simple text based interface using an Xterm, and had used regular C, I would have come a lot further in the code. As it was I had a nice MS Windows based application, with fancy dialogue boxes, pull down menus, and a nice user interface, which unfortunately, despite looking very pretty, only displayed team names, and no details of wins, losses, league positions, as anticipated!
While doing all this I thought I better start looking for a job! The Edge being the only "adult" computer games magazine became an essential purchase every month, but it dawned on me I was going to have difficult getting a job, when all the advertisements in the recruitment section, seemed to require 3 years experience and at least 2 published games. There was also the fact you had to send off a demo. I didn't have my own PC at the time, so I had to fight for computer access, when I did get a computer, I had to do my project, and university assignments, I didn't have time (or any idea) how to write a demo. My assignments for my graphics course didn't involve anything more complicated than a 3D cube spinning off into the distance, or a large asterisk drawn with and without anti-aliased lines!
Amongst the job adverts in the Edge a series of course at Bournemouth University struck my eye. They offered an MSc in Digital Entertainment, which reading between the lines, was a qualification in learning how to write computer games. I went to the website, read the information, sent off for an application form, sent that off, had an interview, and later was offered a place, assuming I got a 2ii. An opportunity to study to learn to write PC games, and PlayStation games using the PlayStation Yarozes they had seemed great.
This filled me with hope and dread! I could see that there was definite route into writing computer games, however if I didn't get a 2ii, I wouldn't be able to do it, and would hardly have a good enough grade to get a good job, so time to buckle down. I got a 2ii, to be honest I was disappointed I thought I was headed for a 2i, but at least I got to go to Bournemouth to do my MSc.
The first term was a bit of a disappointment, the course was shared with MA students, and the course was actually available in MA/MSc Computer Animation, MA/MSc Digital Special Effects, and MA/MSc Digital Entertainment Systems. For the first term we were all lumped together for tutorials on Eddie (for compositing special Effects), SoftImage|3D (3d animation and modelling), and various lectures on animation, cinematography, and even art classes! Only 2 hours a week were devoted to programming for the MScs. Admittedly that was interesting using the Silicon Graphics O2 workstations to learn OpenGL, but what with the other classes, and assignments (none of which involved OpenGL) the course was beginning to appear to be a bit of a waste of time (and money). PCs had been ordered for us to use in another lab for using the PlayStation Yarozes, but that lab was being used by the people who worked for the department!
Christmas I bought my own PC, £1800 for a PII450, 128Mb ram, with a DVD player, 2x CD burner, 8.6 GB harddrive, Nvidia Riva TNT. Top specs at the time! I also bought myself a PlayStation Yaroze. I had no choice, we were supposed to be able to use the University's equipment but the time needed for assignments, and to learn anything made the extra expense essential. In the second term we were separated more, so we had one PlayStation Yaroze class, and one OpenGL class a week, but not enough access to equipment to use our new found knowledge! In any case I started working on the PlayStation Yaroze version of Tower Power 1250 Tournament Edition with 2 fellow students of mine, (Richard and Alex). They were to be the artists, and me the programmer on my project. I did the original design for the game, then the three of us sat around and discussed how it could be improved, and changed. This was to be our group project for this term.
We worked well as a team, Richard and Alex designed four characters each, and I did the code, and together we discussed the gameplay, along with other people who happened to be in the lab at the time.
The following term I started an OpenGL version of the game. With more OpenGL resources available than PlayStation Yaroze this version soon caught up with and then overtook the PlayStation Yaroze version in terms of quality and completeness. One day their hard work in terms of animation of the characters they designed will be implemented in the game!
I carried on with TP1250 TE alone as my main MSc project, while Richard and Alex did their own MA project involving a gangster FPS, using the Unreal engine. I think the TP1250TE project was a success, Richard, Alex and I got along well, socialised, and still keep in contact!
I finished my MSc at Bournemouth September 1999, I passed, but I did not feel that TP1250TE was complete enough for it to be sent off to companies for my demodisc. I was worried that if I sent it off as was, in such an incomplete stage, it would ruin my chanced of employment, what that improve them!
I did however send it to 1 or 2 agencies, and it can't have been as bad as it was since fairly soon I was travelling up and down the country! My first interview was quite successful, however they got back to me via the agency suggesting I wrote a breakout game using the TP1250 engine, but used it to display various special effects techniques. So I did that, but I think I was too slow in sending it back to them, i.e. I didn't look keen enough so I never heard from them again, but at least I had something else on my demo disc. So in short, this experience gave me enough confidence to send of my demodisc to companies I was interested in (I wanted to work in London at the time), and after several interviews, I got offered a job at Interactive Entertainment Ltd. Greenwich London.
September 2001, I quit IEL, I was unhappy with the both the physical workplace, lack of job security, and there was no chance to keep up to date with modern developemts in the ever evolving games industry! Trust me to quit my job and move back to my parents when the IT industry is hit by a recession, and programmers are no longer in demand! At least I have some time to devote to TP1250TE again!