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INTERVIEWS: JEFF MINTER

Jeff Minter created some of the best games available for 1980s computers, including Llamatron, Grid Runner and the innovative light synthesizer, Psychedelia.

In the 90s he went on to work with Atari, making what is considered to be the best game ever for the Jaguar console, Tempest 2000.

And now? He's re-making his classic old games for the Windows Pocket PC.

We love him because he understands great game play - and best of all, he's utterly obsessed with furry animals.

He's a B3ta God, so we had no choice but to hunt him down and ask him lots of silly questions.


How did having tons of 11 year olds thinking you were god feel?
(chthonic - an ex-11 year old too scared to come up and say hello when I saw you at some computer games fair.)
Surreal. Probably did me a lot of good because IRL I am prone to a bit of low self-esteem at times. Which contrasted oddly with being considered a minor deity in very specific geekly circles ;-).

What is your favourite scientific fact?
(monkeon)
"There is no dark side of the moon, really. As a matter of fact it's all dark".

What's your favourite mode of transport?
(Station)
Camel, or a very sweaty and amorous donkey.

What is the worst game you have ever played?
(monkeon)
Probably "Asteroids" on the Vic-20 by S. Munnery, sold for seven quid and which was an absolute pile of foetid dingoes' kidneys.

Is it just nostalga or were games better in the 80s?
(monkeon)
I think the very best designs were more satisfying, because designers had to concentrate on the very essence of the gameplay experience - the feedback between the player and the game - and polish it to make it both satisfying and compelling enough to hold the player's attention and keep them coming back for another go. One couldn't satisfy the player "cheaply" by simply overwhelming him with nice graphics and audio. The execution of the game itself had to be what satisfied the player.

There *were* a lot of crap games back then, and many do tend to look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles... but the very best of those old games, those that have withstood the test of time, are still satisfying to play today and remain impressive for their elegance and sparse beauty. Asteroids, Defender, original Tempest, Robotron... these are amongst the best, IMO.

It is rare to find a game today where the same emphasis is laid upon making the experience of playing such a thoroughly rewarding and compelling experience.

What's your favourite joke?
(rob)
Q: Why is the camel called the ship of the desert?
A: Because it's full of Arab semen.

Dodgy, I know, because it contains an ethnic slur. But I just like the idea of camel-insemination.

Who is your all time favourite game character?
(DontHaveAClue)
Ancipital :-).

Crabs piss out of their eyes. What's your favourite animal fact?
(rob)
Male goats are so randy they routinely give themselves blow-jobs.

Did you know turtles can breathe through the walls of their rectums (or cloacas I think it's really called) Impressed?
(james)
I'm rather glad I can't do that, given the amount of used vindaloo that passes through that way.

What is the essence of a good game?
(rob)
From the game designer's perspective, balance. Paying attention to the shape of the learning curve. Making the feedback between the player and the game rewarding, logical and satisfying. Players should never feel cheated.

Can I have a job?
(owebeewan)
Haven't got one myself at the moment :-].

Is it true, the bigger the dog, the smaller the cock?
(minoltion)
I have accidentally stumbled across some alarming Internet pages which would appear to suggest that this is not in fact true.

Is Matthew Smith alright? He seemed err.. confused on that Thumb Candy show on C4.
(rob)
I haven't heard from Matt for at least eight years now, so I don't know what he's up to these days.

Daddy or Chips?
(Station)
Well, chips, obviously.

Jet Set Willy or Manic Miner?
(DontHaveAClue)
Miner 2049er or Montezuma's Revenge?

Potato Cake or Hash Brown?
(DaWolfey)
Potato cake. Hash means something else entirely.

Beer. Good or bad?
(owebeewan)
Mmmm, beer nice :-).

Hats or Gloves?
(owebeewan)
Gloves.

Amiga or Atari ST?
(lumpbucket)
ST.

C64 or Spectrum?
(lumpbucket)
C=64 :-).

Gameboy or Lynx?
(lumpbucket)
Lynx.

Custard or Cream?
(lumpbucket)
(food==HOT)?custard:cream;

Which is the better word Moo or Moose?
(lumpbucket)
Moo; delightfully bovine. Not that I'd kick a moose out of bed ;-).

Who would win in a fight: Mario or Llama?
(bazman)
Llama, especially one of my Metagalactic Llamas with the Laser-Expectoration ;-).

Did you enjoy Pop Idol?
(rob)
The only acceptable parts of shows like that are the early bits where you get to see a lot of talentless oiks who "wannabee famous" making arses of themselves in front of millions. The final products make me want to rip my own ears off and eat them.

What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten and what did it do?
(monkeon)
Probably some predictably strange mushrooms. Made a session on "Fantasy Zone" on the old 8-bit Sega even more bright and cutesy than normal.

What is your favourite computer game? Recently, and of all time.
(rob)
Recently probably Wipeout Fusion... of all time... jeez, that's hard. Best home computer game, probably Star Raiders. Best coin-op, probably Defender or Robotron. Goat bless Huge Euge.

Which game took the longest and which the shortest to make?
(monkeon)
I often cite Gridrunner as the best weeks' work I ever did; completed start to finish in seven days. Longest definitely T3K - 2.5 years of mostly hand-coded VLIW assembler ;-).

What imagery was rejected from the Attack of the Mutant Camels games?
(monkeon)
I drew the line at exposing my innocent young gamers to images of Margaret Thatcher. Hallucinogenic imagery and implied bestiality seemed mild by comparison.

What is the most unlikely place you have seen your influence?
(monkeon)
I consider it remarkable that sometimes people in quite far-flung reaches of the planet have heard of some of the Llamasoft stuff, which I always considered to be primarily a British thing.

Where do you see game technology going in the future? Will we have interface chips implanted in our visual cortexes, or will they become more like 'Crac a croc' with big hammers?
(MartinH)
I want direct neural input on all channels. In fact there is no way for me to prove that I am not experiencing that right now.

What is your worst animal?
(monkeon)
Probably humans, because they are the species with the highest capacity for being rotten gits ;-].

Why are you always backing consoles that don't get anywhere? (Jaguar, Nuon)
(DaWolfey)
I've always chosen work that interested me the most, rather than that which could potentially get me the most money. Prototype stuff is, by its very nature, interesting. Maybe I've been an arse for doing that, but for me it's essential that I enjoy my work.

What game genre has been under exploited by the games industry?
(rob)
I miss the times when games were original and humorous. Perhaps the opposite of a "genre", in fact.

What is the weirdest experience you've ever had with an animal?
(rob)
I can't legally answer this, but it was a lot of fun and boy, did I smell good afterwards ;-).

If someone ordered you to make a "normal" game (say, a non military flight sim) could you resist the temptation to put llamas in it ?
(DaWolfey)
Not that I can imagine ever writing a game to order - but if I were ever so constrained, yes, you can bet I'd put some beasts in it somewhere ;-).

If you couldn't resist - where would you put the llamas ?
(DaWolfey)
Oh, could be anywhere - in the shape of a map never entirely seen onscreen at one time, for example... or in the shape of a cloud in the sky...

Have you ever riden one?
(monkeon)
*blush*

What do llamas taste like?
(owebeewan)
*blush 2*

Have you ever had to drive around town with a Llama or other unsual animal in your car?
(lumpbucket)
I once had a sheep in the passenger side of my old Escort XR3, but not in the Biblical sense.

Do you get emotionally attached to your pet llamas?
(monkeon)
Well, yes, I do feel fond of them; it's only natural :-).

What think you of the indie band "LlamaFarmers"?
(Station)
I think they have a good name. I think they should get together and play with the High Llamas, Camel, and Lubricated Goat.

What do you do with the spare Llamas?
(technophobe)
Push them onto the stack so I can pop them off when I need them.

Why are there two 'l's in Llama?
(technophobe)
Because otherwise they would be indistinguishable from Tibetan priests.

The following words on the subject are from Hillaire Belloc:

"The Llama is a wolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
With an indolent expression and an undulating throat
Like an unsuccessful literary man.
And I know the place he lives in (or at least-- I think I do)
It is Ecuador, Brazil or Chile-- possibly Peru;
You must find it in the Atlas if you can.
The Llama of the Pampasses you never should confound
(In spite of a deceptive similarity of sound)
With the Lama who is Lord of Turkestan.
For the former is a beautiful and valuable beast,
But the latter is not lovable nor useful in the least;
And the Ruminant is preferable surely to the Priest
Who battens on the woful superstitions of the East,
The Mongol of the Monastery of Shan".

Not exactly PC in this enlightened age, but nonetheless amusing.

Do you ever sing the monty python llama song?
(minoltion)
Very occasionally.

Did you get annoyed at Llamatron always being called "Robotron Clone" ?
(Mr Kipling)
Not really, since Llamatron evolved from Robotron. Llamatron is IMO a nicer game because it has more humour and powerups and weaponry :-). Huge Euge has played Llamatron, and told me that he liked it :-).

What websites do you like?
(rob)
Oh, a lot of the mad sites you find looking at Portal of Evil, and anything that smells strongly of goat.

Do you wear underwear?
(owebeewan)
Until it rots off.

What is your favourite easter egg you have sneaked into one of your games?
(rob)
Flossie Mode in Defender 2000.

Why did you choose to develop for the PPC instead of the more popular Palm Pilot?
(rob)
Faster CPU, mainly. And Microsoft were giving away the SDK for free.

Do you think the '3d revolution' in games has taken the character and charm out of them?
(PistolBitch)
3D is another display technology, nothing more. I think some people think that everything *must* be in 3D these days, but I think that's bollocks - it's like saying that everything must be a film now and that books are obsolete. 3D is something that I use where it is appropriate - as in the Tempest games - and I use 2D where that is appropriate - as in Hover Bovver on the PPC, for example. You probably *could* do that in 3D of some kind, but it would ruin the game!

The game is the important thing, not the technique used to display the game.

Who is the best games developer?
(rob)
Well, I revere Huge Euge for his '80s designs, and Shigeru Miyamoto is probably the most consistantly excellent individual designer still working.

I want to know more about the psychology of game theory. Can you recommend a book good?
(rob)
Can't be of much help really, 'coz I never studied game design in any way, just sort of made it up as I went along :-]. Ignorant git, me :-].

If I gave you 1000, how would you spend it?
(rob)
Drugs and loose, slutty ungulates.

What magazines do you like to read?
(rob)
Edge, Fortean Times, Rampant Goats Get It On

Tell us about the biggest bastard in the games industry.
(rob)
Probably some of the people I worked with just before and around the time that Llamasoft started up. I've documented that stuff elsewhere, so I'm not going to go into it all again here. Bad stuff is best mooved on from rather than dwelt on, anyway ;-].

Ever thought about having short hair?
(rob)
My hair does what it will. I believe in a zero-maintenence policy.

Any chance of Ancipital 3D for modern consoles?
(Agent Smith)
Well, I wouldn't mind updating Ancipital, and who knows, now that the GeForce4 can render fur in real time?

Given the content of your games, many people may think you're insane. What would you like to say to all these people?
(DaWolfey)
Blibble blobble goo goo nardle nardle ping.

Are we ever going to see a 3D Hover Bover? or Sheep in Space?
(lumpbucket)
3D would not be appropriate to those games - in both cases the player needs to see all around their character inorder to evaluate threats and respond accordingly.

Are those "back in time" nights as cool as they sound like they are?
(lumpbucket)
They are a laugh, and an excellent opportunity to indulge in a bit of nostalgia-wallowing, see old mates, and get monumentally pissed ;-).

Do you take your animals inside on fireworks night?
(monkeon)
Don't really need to - I live at least 10 miles from the nearest organised firework displays, so the beasts are undisturbed.

Would you consider making an openGL version of Trip'o'tron?
(technophobe)
Updating the whole lightsynth idea to modern graphics systems is something I very much hope I get the chance to do fairly soon.

What colour is the sky on your planet?
(technophobe)
Any Colour You Like.

Was writing games for the C64 more fun than writing modern games or vice versa?
(lumpbucket)
It was easier in that the development cycle was short - not so much memory to fill ;-). However I am enjoying writing nuLlamasoft games just as much, the dev cycle is short (not taking more than 2 months on any one game) and there is a lot more power in modern systems, which is a lot more fun!

Why do I love hover bover so much?
(lumpbucket)
Weird game that - it has a much broader appeal than many of my shooters. I think it's just the very British, somewhat slapstick humour of the game, and its gentle pace makes it quite an accessible game, not too forbidding :-). I always maintained it would make a good Colour Game Boy game, and I guess I've come close now that I have a PPC version done.

Was it you I saw in the Mason's Arms in Alltwalis? If so do you want to email me?
(HoTWire)
The Mason's is my local :-). So if you saw a scruffy, smelly git in there chances are it was me :-). Sure, email if you like :-).

Do you think there really are clangers on the moon?
(minoltion)
The Soup Dragon comes to me in dreams and tells me it's so. And it would account for where all the odd socks go.

Whats the best way to drink marmite?
(minoltion)
Washed down with fresh goat-secretions.

What question would you ask Jeff Minter in our position?
(new_matt)
"Can I borrow your sheep?"


Visit Jeff's website at www.llamasoft.co.uk. Go on - it's lovely. It's got a great blog detailing the amount of tea he drinks & the amount of code he's written.

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(:-) - Yak
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