Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jon Ritman interview

Jon Ritman, the brain behind the Matchday games, was kind enough to answer a few (burning) questions about game programming in general and, most importantly, Matchday 2. Jon was a Sinclair Spectrum guy but we won't hold it against him.

Q: How did you go about writing a game on the Spectrum? I mean, once you had the game play in your head, was there any tools that could be used to help the process? Was it all assembler? How long did it take?

No tools, all in assembly language including writing an art tool to do the pics, took about 10 months.

Q: How did you learn to code in assembly language?

Bought a Sinclair zx81, read the manual for a week (it was much better than the c64 one) and learned basic, went out and got a book on machine code and started hand coding that (this is one level lower than assembly, pure numbers). It was two months before I discovered that you could get assemblers to make the task easier and by that time I had mostly programmed my first game - it wasn't well programmed but it worked - so totally self taught from a really not very good book (the author was only slightly more experienced than me).

Q: You wrote (among others) Matchday, Batman and Head Over Heels. How did the ideas for the games come about? Personal interests or game market tendencies?

Matchday was due to the wild success of international soccer by Andrew Spencer on the c64, all the distributors were asking for a soccer game. Batman was because I saw Knight Lore and just wanted to make something using same technique (Batman was chosen just in search for a hook in). Head over Heels was a natural follow up to Batman.

Q: Matchday 2 is a superb game. People often complain about the slowness of the game. I think it gives you more time to think about tactics but that's just me. Was it intentional? What's your take on the final product? What things would you have seen changed?

Speed was just as fast as we could make it but I didn't program it on c64. The guy who programmed it did a line for line translation of the assembly code for the z80.

Q: I played Matchday 1 once, Matchday 2 thousands of times. To me, Matchday 2 and Matchday 1 are completely different games, at least on the C64. How was Matchday 2 developed compared to the original Matchday?

The matchday 1 c64 version was farmed out by OCEAN. I was VERY unhappy with the result - I even phoned them and asked if they understood how collisions worked and was told they didn't care, they were just doing a job. MatchDay 2 was done by an independent working directly with me, it even had the same bugs during development.

Q: Matchday 2 had a few glitches (ball and power bar disappearing when playing 2 vs cpu) on the C64 version. Do you know why or was it a C64 only problem?

C64 only so don't know, probably because of a limit of the number of sprites on a given horizontal line.

Q: How did you figure out the AI for Matchday 2? Trial and error?

Lo, now that was funny - on MatchDay 1 I kept putting it off, scared of it. Then one day there was nothing else to do so I started, first asked the question, has man got ball, if the answer was no then he had to run towards it, if the answer was yes he had to kick it up the pitch. This was a whole 10 lines of assembler - I started playing and it scored against me within 10 seconds, I was weeping with relief. It got much more complex of course but that was the very start.

Q: Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and Matchday 2 are often viewed as the best football sims on the C64? What do you think about the game endorsed by the Liverpool legend?

Is that the Andrew Spencer game, if not I haven't played it.

Nope, it's not. Andrew Spencer's game is called International Soccer.

Q: Do you still develop games? If not, what are you involved with these days?

I am developing an iphone game.

Q: Do you still play Spectrum or C64 games? If yes, which ones are your faves?


I hope those were relatively good questions. Anyways, thanks to Jon for being good sports and answering everything I asked. Hmm, I wonder if he would be ok for endorsing my Matchday 2 online venture.

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