Our roving reporter JOHN MINSON meets a couple of Dutchmen over a Hungarian meal in London.
This is a tale of two men who were, unknown to me at the time of the interview, about to take my beloved away. Not in person but... well, read on and you’ll see.
It all started with a call from David Cuddlesome Carlos (he insists I treat him with more formal respect nowadays) asking me if I’d like to meet Ernieware.
“The programmers of Split Personalities,” asked I, “from the land of clogs and tulips?”
“The same,” said the bearded one. “They’d like to meet you because you were the only person to review their first game when they tried to sell it on import over here. Can we arrange a lunch?”
Never one to turn down free nosh, a few days later I found myself walking through Soho accompanying brothers Ruud and Ernest Peske, Mark Strachan — the part of Domark that’s not DO — and Carlos the chaperone, there to see fair play.
“Will Hungarian do?” he asked.
Well, by this time I was hungry enough to eat anything and gorging on goulash seemed like a great idea so in we stepped.
The interview began well. I conducted the first two or three tape recorded questions with the Pause button on. Eventually we restarted, and briefly recapped the History of Dutch Software — or the History of Ernieware, which is virtually the same thing.
The Netherlands software scene is, “Very poor,” according to Ruud. It seems that the Dutch have failed to take the Spectrum to their hearts, which has made it rather an uphill struggle for the Ernies. There isn’t even a native Spectrum magazine.
But Ruud had studied computer languages for four years before becoming a teacher, and bought his first Spectrum only eighteen months ago. Ernest, who had taken the same computer course, was put in charge of the graphics.
The Evolution, the program that I reviewed (for another publication!), was one of the first things the brothers wrote. Though it was rather primitive in gameplay, being a block sliding puzzle, the programming was excellent.
Together they approached Dutch retailers, having decided to go it alone. Unluckily, sales were not that great, so they looked for a company to publish their work. At this stage Mark takes up the story.
“What happened was Ernieware sent us a demonstration tape with these ten pictures on it. Richard, our software manager, loaded it up and said, ‘Come and have a look.’ There was one of Kate Bush. I was used to looking at arcade games and I’d never seen a picture like that on the Spectrum and I said, ‘That’s brilliant’.
“As a layman I really thought that it was not possible to produce Spectrum drawings like that one of Kate Bush. Then I thought, well they’ve put so much memory into that one screen to make it look superb. But they hadn’t as there were so many pictures.
“I was then not sure whether they could draw better pictures than other people or...”
“We had to improve a lot,” says Ernest, with undue modesty.
“Anyhow, I said to Richard, ‘Phone them up and find out if they do other things.” Mark continues.
As it happened, Ernieware did do other things and already had the game that was to become Splitting Images. I’m interested in how the satirical tie-in came about.
“We wanted to put some humour in,” Ruud explains, “It’s very important, I think.”
In fact it was the pictures of faces in the demo that had worked best, even though most people who do Spectrum graphics have problems with the human visage, according to the brothers Peske.
“But how long did it take you to draw them?” Mark asks. I like this. He’s doing my job for me.
“What do you use to draw them?” I slip in.
“My own utility. It’s not very usable for the window routines.”
Ernest works from photographs though he doesn’t rate digitising — and everybody who’s ogled the grainy renditions of Sam Fox is liable to agree that a good artist will beat the photographic image on the Spectrum, hands down.
“Choosing the ten pictures was interesting,” Dave remembers.
“Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart were classics and Maggie and Ronnie and Kinnock were obvious. Sir Clive and Alan Sugar were specific to the marketplace, but after that it was very open. Everybody was throwing in ideas.”
Mark picks up the story, “Together we thought of the Queen and wrote to her but the Lord Chamberlain wrote back saying that the answer to that question was really ‘No’.”
Luckily the Prince and Princess of Wales were delighted with the idea, and Andy and Fergie, a picture which Ruud seems extremely proud of, left (sic) it was up to Domark.
Mark stresses that they contacted all the subjects to get their okay and avoid problems, except in cases where it was impossible. If Bogey or Monroe wants to sue no doubt there will be angry table raps from Doris Stokes.
The other legal matter I raise is the question of the game’s title, which is, it must be confessed rather similar to a certain satirical TV show.
At this stage Mark categorically denies that Central Television is at all concerned about the title and that Domark are sure that they are on safe ground because nobody can copyright a caricature.
However, when the phone rings the next day and it’s Mark telling me that Splitting Images is now Split Personalities, I’m not entirely surprised. When it comes to the law courts the first rule is never to get involved in a long and costly action if you can help it.
Before we take our leave of the Old Budapest I have a complaint to make. Cuddlesome Dave has neglected to send me a copy of the program, which is Domark’S first CRASH smash (and their first good game, some would say).
“Have you finished it?” Ruud asks.
“Nowhere near,” I say.
“It’s really quite simple, I think.”
There is much laughter, through which the tape recorder has caught Mark’s comment that, “Programmers always say that.”
But get a copy I do, and a few days ater my girlfriend arrives from Sweden to spend the summer with me. Now she says she hates computers and computer games but out of interest she looks over my shoulder, asks how to play, takes over the joystick...
Ernieware, I am going to sue you for alienating her affections, For the past week or so I’ve only seen her back as she tackles picture after picture. And I wouldn’t mind, but while I’m still struggling with Alan Sugar, she’s completing Marilyn with consumate ease!
It’s enough to make you Spit!