Interviews



Interview with Dan Phillips & Robin Levy

Published in Vandalism News #34
Performed by Frank Gasking



After a set of e-mails being exchanged with Dan Phillips, not only has the extremely rare previews of ARMALYTE 2 made it out, but now we bring you an interview with two of the ex-Cyberdyne guys who brought us the incredible Armalyte games to our C64, and almost brought us the stunning looking Deadlock game...

Today we find out what they are up to and what happened to various bits as we talk to Dan Phillips and Robin Levy, programmer and graphician respectively.


F)
Welcome to the GTW page Dan and Robin!... Could you please tell the readers a bit about yourselves.

D)
Hi, I'm 31, married with a couple of kids... oh and I program games... every once in a while :)

R)
I'm 30, work too hard, smoke too much, drink too much, read too many comics and play too many games. Other than that, life is sweet when I'm seeing me darlin' girlfriend, Sara.


F)
How did you first get started working on the C64?

D)
I got an expert cartridge and started to mess about with other people's games... I think Spindizzy was the first one. I changed the title screen to say I wrote it, no I didn't spread it.. :)

R)
I met Dan and the mysterious John Kemp at our local games emporium. We swapped and played a few games, argued about games with llamas and sheep and started mucking around with graphics.

My first graphics experiments were modifying the sprites to Nemesis, Warhawk and Terra Cresta. My first real graphics breakthrough was a copy I drew of the Salamander arcade cabinet artwork (seen on the disk version of Hunters Moon).

(Frank - you may remember this screen actually printed in Commodore Format in its early issues, where Robin gave a talk about the use of vidcom for his artwork)



F)
What was your last ever C64 production?

F)
I did the coding for the Last Ninja 3 Intro.

R)
Hard to say - I did graphics for the C64 versions of Silly Putty and Fuzzball - that were later re-drawn (and IMPROVED!) by a programmer called Jed Adams who took over after the original programmer left the project.

My last real work on the C64 was the presentation graphics for Turbo Charge (with a sick end sequence)


F)
You are famous on the C64 for working on the incredible Thalamus release, Armalyte, working alongside the likes of Robin Levy. Which project did you most enjoy working on?

D)
Had to be Armalyte... it was relatively short (about 8 months) and was a tribute to Salamander my favourite arcade game :) I also enjoyed making Forsaken on the PC... Still one of the best multiplayer experiences to be had (on a lan...)

R)
On the C64 it has to be Armalyte mostly because I really enjoyed designing attack waves and it had that 'first game buzz'. The final game didn't turn out too bad either :) For pure graphics work I really enjoyed churning out the art for the Last Ninja 3 and Turbo Charge. Another favourite that I worked on was RUFF'n'TUMBLE on the Amiga where I did the grafix and
and level/game design, it was hard work at the time but the final game turned out nicely.


F)
Which game was the hardest to work on?

D)
Deadlock... it dragged on and on.

R)
Ditto for Deadlock, it was soul destroying trying to get the ill conceived game design working.



F)
Who's work did you most admire on the C64 at the time, any inspirations?

D)
Gary Liddon came up with some smart ideas... (Bucket Stack Sorting) John Twiddy's stuff was very smart.

R)
I loved Jeff Minters games because I found them such fun to play. I also admired the graphic artistry of Dokk, Hugh Riley and Bob Stevenson. I also thought that Andrew Braybrook's games looked stunning - he may not have been a recognised artist but he sure knew how to make his games look good.


F)
Did you work on any other machines at the time, other than the C64, if so, can you name a few games you did?

D)
I only worked on the 64... would have liked to mess around with the NES/PC Engine.

R)
At the beginning I also only worked on the C64 but started tinkering with the ST and Amiga around the end of Armalyte.



F)
One of the most awaited games on the C64 in the early 90's, came in the form of Deadlock, which many people were eager to see its release. But we heard that the game was eventually shelved for good. So what did actually happen to the game and why wasn't it finished?

D)
Ummmmm big mess... It was shelved... After Armalyte we messed around for a few months… then we spent an awful amount of time getting a demo we were happy with... then we took it to System 3... and they didn't know how to produce games (it was a kind of magic they used... I don't think they understood how games got done... and we weren't experienced enough to lead ourselves).

So with no positive feed back we ended up re-writing the same demo 3 times... each time taking about 3 months...

Every time the graphics would change and the requirements of the engine would get twisted and messed around with. Ultimately we ran out of steam... we had very little money left (Armalyte royalties weren't very good apparently it only sold 19000 units, strange cause at the time we were no2 in Europe for several weeks behind Last Ninja 2 which sold 200000+ units). So our artist was given the chance to go off and do the graphics for Last Ninja 3... and so without an artist who was also the designer we ground to a halt. The basic design of the game was flawed, it was ambitious for the 64.....shame.....

R)
I agree with Dan on most points, the game engine was crippled by the ridiculously sprite intensive main character that I designed, ultimately it just wasn't fun to play... it's all my fault really.


F)
Were there any other games which you worked on which never saw the light of day?

D)
Scimitar was started, a kind of Sinistar clone with huge amounts of bullets and very nice graphics :)

R)
Dan's missed out a hell of a lot of game concepts we started designing and working on, the general idea was that we got some quick "concept" games on the go to finance the development of the bigger games such as Deadlock. Scimitar was a Sinistar inspired deep space shoot-em-up with defender style strategy and would have played very differently to the linear gameplay of
Armalyte. We started designing an unnamed futuristic racing game that is best described as WipEout in a Rally Speedway POV as well as a room based arcade adventure.

I won't tell you it's name but it's working title has the initials H.L. and had nothing to do with the classic game released in recent years.



F)
Just recently you allowed GTW to archive the very rare preview to the long awaited sequel to Armalyte 2. Things certainly looked very promising, and I'm sure it could have been a fantastic sequel... What were the reasons for its demise?

D)
We were made a better offer. System 3 offered us 6 times the money Thalamus had. We were also still under contract to System 3 to do Deadlock. Thalamus knew it was risky to sign us up while we were still contractually obligated to System 3. So we went
with System 3.

R)
Dan's said it all really, Deadlock died because I went to work on the Last Ninja, while was a relief to us at the time. So Dan and John Kemp started ARMALYTE 2 and the plan was that I return to finish the game with them but in the end, it all comes down to hard cash.

During Armalyte and Deadlock we would have had more money if we had lived on the dole and we were all living with our parents at the time.


F)
Was there any C64 game which you saw released, looked at the game and though "I could have done that much better!" ?

D)
All the Rowland's games..... (I know them and I am joking, right Rob?)

R)
Yes, Dan's joking, :) There were plenty of games out at the time that were just crap in general. You look at the best and try to better them and ultimately you end up doing something different, but it's always nice when people like your work.


F)
What was your favourite game on the C64?

D)
Lazer Squad... followed by DropZone/Morpheus


R)
Dan forgot to mention Wasteland, a cracking RPG that we used to play in competition with each other. In addition to Dan's list I'd have to mention Impossible Mission, Sheep in Space, Paradroid, Wizball, Boulderdash and numerous other games that I'll kick myself for not mentioning. I hate questions like these because I never know what to put in the no.1 slot.


F)
Who was your favourite C64 musician?

D)
Rob Hubbard.... although I thought Martin Walker was excellent (where are you Martin?)

R)
Hubbard was god of the SID chip but really I liked Galway's music.


F)
What impressed you most about the C64 at the time and for what reasons?

D)
Hardware scrolling and sprites... made it the dogs...

R)
It was colour! The games were IMHO the best at the time.


F)
Was the C64 just a step in your gaming life or was it a major inspiration?

D)
It was the beginning.

R)
Ditto.


F)
Do you still own a C64 today?

D)
I think my parents have still got a old brown one in the loft, I've still got a 1541.

R)
All my C64's have long since gone to silicon heaven - I had a knack of breaking the keyboards.


F)
What are your current activities these days? Are you working on systems of today for anyone?

D)
Xbox/PS2/AGB... all the best ones basically (had to use "basically" at some point)

R)
After 6 years of messing around on the PC I started work on an original 3D beat-em up/party game concept that, sadly, will never see the light of day. For the past two years I've been working with John and Steve Rowlands (formerly known as Apex) on developing this concept further and together we have had 3 Gameboy Color games released. We're now working on the Gameboy Advance.

(Trivia - Robin and the Rowland twins, along with Jon Wells all worked as a team to produce the stunning International Karate 2000 for the Gameboy Color last year)


F)
Have you ever had any disagreements with anyone through computer related activities in the past? (Anything you are allowed to mention anyway :) )

D)
See below.... :(

R)
Yes... and I'll leave it at that :)


F)
Just a little mystery that has made a few sceners wonder over the years... On the C64 tape loading of Armalyte, there was a text screen before the loading picture came up with "ARMALYTE - Copyright 1988 Thalamus LTD", if you froze this text screen and scanned the black areas of the background just below, there was hidden text (in black on black), which said the following "Uncredited programming and games design by John Harries". How did this come about?

D)
John was an original member of Cyberdyne... he left under bad circumstances and went to work for Thalamus. He was then in charge of the mastering, so when I went down to see the tape duplication machines he slipped the screen in there.

R)
Grrrrrr.



F)
What is your favourite:

D)
Food: Curry
Drink:

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